You don’t need TNT to tell you that France – filled as it is with first-class food and wine, culture, countryside and Europe’s finest coastline – is one of the all time great holiday destinations. But with so much on offer, where to start? Help is at hand: here’s the low-down on a few of our favourite French regions. Just don’t forget to send us a postcard…
Best for activities: The Alps
An adrenaline junkie? Then the French Alps – with its amazing snow-capped peaks, mountain chalets, icy rivers, lakes, hiking trails and bike paths – is the destination for you.
Mont Blanc towers – well it’s not Europe’s highest summit for nothing – above some of the world’s most famous ski resorts. After snowboarding in Tignes and skiing in Les Arcs, enjoy a raft of après-ski activities in the lively, student-packed town of Grenoble. If the cold stuff isn’t for you, head for La Clusaz where you can hike the spectacular Via Ferrata – the alpine route once used by partisans to carry munitions, or try white water rafting in the Giffre River, which fumes and foams its way through the narrow Tines gorge.
Europe’s highest town, Briançon, is a great destination for cyclists seeking a challenge. A Unesco world heritage site since 2008, this high-flung town, conceived by engineering wizard Vauban, is an amazing labyrinth of 17th- and 18th-century forts and star-shaped fortifications where you can wander a while before whizzing through breathtaking scenery to the panoramic Col Du Lautaret.
If you want to get higher still, head for Annecy, where you can glide over this stunning medieval town known as the region’s paragliding capital, before hiring a canoe and paddling around this pretty city’s vast lake.
For a change of pace, make for Grenoble’s fabulous Muséedes Beaux-Arts where you can discover Chagall, Matisse and more. Alternatively soothe those bumps and bruises in one of Courchevel’s sumptuous spas.
Best for foodies: Wine Country
Visiting gourmands will be in seventh heaven in France but equally, so will oenophiles. Boasting more than five dozen different appellations, Bordeaux is an ideal destination for wine lovers. Hire a bike to get around this pancake-flat city and make a beeline for the Musée du Vin et du Négoce to learn more about the city’s long wine history. Next, pedal over to Quartier St-Pierre and sample local specialities such as Lamproie à la Bordelaise (lamprey eels in red wine sauce) and Esturgeon à la Libournaise (sturgeon in a white wine sauce) in one of the cafes on this lively central square.
The next morning, get up early and head out of the Route de Médoc to sample some of the region’s celebrated wines. Alternatively, head north to Burgundy’s medieval capital Beaune, where vines have been grown along the banks of the river Saone for several millenniums. Here you can view winemakers’ tools and learn about local traditions in the Musee de la Vigne et du Vin then head out on a walking tour of the surrounding villages to sample some of those dry red wines made from Pinot noir grapes and white wines made from Chardonnay grapes in local farms.
Had your fill of wine? Make a beeline for Cognac, home of fine brandy since the Middle Ages, where you can visit the ancient Cognac houses, learn how the brew is made, then sample some of that heady brown stuff in cafes and restaurants along the cobbled streets of this picturesque town beside the Charente river.
Best for romance: Paris
Paris has long been viewed as one of the most romantic destinations in the world and rightly so: whether you dine by candlelight as you glide along the Seine river, hold hands as you stroll through the hip-and-happening Latin quarter or lock eyes while sipping a cocktail at the top of the Eiffel Tower, romance is never far away. But love can’t survive on an empty stomach, so when you need to feed the flame pick up a snack at Bastille, the city’s best food market, or splurge on some creative cuisine at the achingly atmospheric, celebrity-loved gourmet restaurant Le Grand Vefour.
Then burn off the extra calories consumed, as a couple, by hiring a tandem from Paris Velo Sympa and taking a tour of the city’s sights. Next up, it’s time to check out some of the Latin Quarter’s legendary nightlife: we can vouch for Les Bains Douches. Well if this glamorous club is good enough for the likes of Leo DiCaprio…
Play at being a millionaire by window shopping along Champs Elysees and check out Mona Lisa’s enigmatic smile at the Louvre. Next up is the gothic Notre Dame – often referred to as ‘Our Lady’, Paris’ most visited unticketed site is arguably the most famous of all cathedrals.
Best for sun and sea: Province
In search of the three Ss (that’s sun, sand and sea)? Province – whose luminous landscapes inspired artist Van Gogh – is where it’s at. Whether it’s aniseed-scented Marseilles pastis, the glorious sheltered calanques (creeks) of Cassis, or that catchy tune ‘Sur Le Pont d’Avignon’, Province, the region whose luminous landscapes inspired artist Van Gogh, is the place to head when you want to have fun in the sun.
In France’s second largest city you can wander for days along cobbled streets discovering Roman ruins and eclectic museums, shopping in the old city’s bustling bazaars, supping traditional Bouillabaisse fish stew in one of the cafes along the old port, or just lazing on one of the glorious beaches in nearby La Ciotat. When it’s time to flash that tan, make your way to the celebrity-studded beaches of St Tropez, or join crowds wandering along La Croisette in famed film festival venue, Cannes. Once you’ve had enough of those madding crowds, ride a bike into the wild and wonderful Camargue region, where you can spot pretty pink flamingos and white horses, picnic in the dunes or simply swim from some of Province’s best beaches.
Too much sun? Soak up some culture in the museums and sites of medieval Avignon. If you’re in town on the weekend, seek out Isle sur la Sorgue – the place too pick up some cool shades and other vintage bargains in the city’s vast marché aux puces (flea market).