Paris is cultured and romantic, the Champagne region is perfect for wine lovers, and Nice has one of the most beautiful promenades in France, but unfortunately, these places also have a lot of tourists. Zut alors! Fortunately, France is huge and there are plenty of places to uncover a hidden gem far from the main attractions. And if you’re searching for an under-the-radar spot in France, who better to follow than the French themselves? From the Atlantic Coast to the alpine escapes of the Jura region, here are six destinations in France where the French go.
1. Gorges du Loup and the Gorges du Verdon
The Cote d’Azur is popular with international tourists, and unsurprisingly, it’s equally as attractive to the French. However, while tourists might head for coastal towns like Nice and Cannes, the French make the most of the incredible natural landscape north of the Mediterranean Sea. When not camping, towns like Grasse (famous for its perfume) are popular with French visitors who want to explore beautiful areas like the Gorges de Loup, a series of rocky waterfalls and hiking trails that cut through the hills. In addition to Gorges du Loup, the larger and more accessible Gorges du Verdon is another area that the French visit for outstanding natural beauty. The winding roads that lead to it take a steady hand at the wheel, but the views over the popular gorge are well worth the rocky ride.
When the weather warms up, Parisians take off to Normandy, heading for the seaside town of Deauville. Located about an hour from Paris by train, the romantic town is place where large villas buttress the beach, hotels overlook the sea, and evening entertainment can be found in the form of a roulette wheel at the town’s casino. One of the most popular spots on Normandy’s Cote Fleurie, Deauville retains a glamorous reputation, with its music and film festivals, restaurants, bars, and long stretch of beach — all of which attract a hip (and moneyed) clientele.
If the Parisians aren’t heading to the Cote Fleurie and Deauville, then chances are they’re taking off for La Rochelle and Ile de Re on the Atlantic Coast. Why do the French love La Rochelle? It’s simple — for the seafood, the beaches, and the beautiful old port town that holds up a mirror to the past. For a super French take on the Atlantic Coast, get off the mainland and head for the small island of Ile de Re, a stunning expanse of white sandy beaches, deserted dunes, white-washed villages, and family-run restaurants. If you think it sounds impossibly idyllic, you’d be right, especially if you visit the main port town of Saint-Martin-de-Re.
4. The Jura Region
If there’s one thing the French love on vacation, it’s a lake, and in the Jura region, lakes are aplenty. Situated in eastern France and not far from the Alps, this region is home to forests, lakes, and charming towns where you’ll more than likely get to eat one of the best fondues you’ll ever try. When visiting, look for Lac de Chalain, which is great for water sports and swimming, and makes for a good base from which to explore the region. Lac Genin is another beautiful spot, equally amazing in the summer and winter. In the winter, the water freezes and the French partake in cross-country skiing, snow hiking, and eating steaming bowls of fondue and tartiflette. In addition to its beautiful landscape, the region is famous for its cheeses, so you’re never far from a fromagerie or two.
With its perfect climate, historic glamour, and stunning coastline, the Cote d’Azur unsurprisingly lures tourists as well as locals. Cannes, Nice, and Antibes have an international reputation, meaning they attract a large number of vacationers from around the world. Marseille is one place that some French locals tend to avoid, due to its reputation as a rough port town. However, for others from the south, Marseille represents the beauty of modern France — a place with diverse cuisine, architecture, and culture. For a city alternative to Paris, Marseille is an edgy choice that delivers on art, music, food, and culture in a way that few other French cities can. Just down the coast from Marseille, the town of Cassis is a great alternative to the larger destinations on the French Riviera. Despite its popularity with northern European visitors, it holds a large appeal for French visitors who come for the relaxed pace of life and the grand expanse of Calanques National Park.
Pack your Breton striped top to fit in while exploring the historic beauty of Brittany. The French love this destination for its gorgeous beaches, historic monuments and buildings, tasty culinary scene, and beautiful medieval towns. For beaches, the Cote de Granit Rose is particularly popular, thanks to its excellent hiking trails and stunning beaches. For towns, try the well-preserved medieval fortress town of Dinan. For history, visit Carnac, a Breton village believed to be the oldest continuously inhabited settlement on the continent. It also happens to be a place where you can find France’s version of the Stonehenge, an arrangement of boulders surrounded by a breathtaking landscape. While the British are also partial to Brittany, due to its close proximity, you’ll still find the area attracts a large number of French visitors all year round. Oh, and don’t overlook the city of Rennes for its eclectic museums, lively nightlife, and top-notch food.
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