The 'cathar castles' is the name given to the 11th-12th century castles in the Languedoc-Roussillon and Midi-Pyrénées regions of France that were either owned by or gave shelter to members of the religious group known as the cathars during the crusade against the cathars led by Simon de Montfort for the Catholic Church under Pope Innocent IV in the years 1209-1229.
France has almost limitless possibilities for visitors - which is why it is the most popular country in the world with overseas visitors! The only challenge is knowing where to start when planning your visit...
Despite its enormous variety of natural beauty, we don't perhaps usually associate France with lakes. But there are actually lakes in almost all regions of France that deserve exploring, from small mountain lakes in the Alps to the large leisure lakes near the Atlantic Coast of south-west France and from the many lakes of the Dombes Plateau to the quiet lakes of the high Limousin and Auvergne plateaux.
The Perigord-Limousin Regional Natural Park is in south-west France, between Angouleme to the west and Limoges to the east. The park is within two different French departments: the northern part of the Dordogne, between Nontron and Jumilhac-le-Grand, and the Haute-Vienne department of Limousin to the south of Rochechouart. It covers a region of almost 2000 square kilometres.
When you are exploring this area it is the diversity of the countryside that you will enjoy, with a large amount of woodlands and forests, lots of lakes and streams, and also a substantial amount of open moorland type scenery.
There are 35 villages in France that are designated as "villages etapes".
These villages are selected because they offer a good way of making your journey more interesting - instead of stopping at a boring motorway services you can stop at a village that has character and places of interest, and offers the facilities that you need.
These villages are a good option when you are travelling during day time and usual opening hours. A motorway services might stay open 24 hours a day but a cafe in a small village probably will not!
The Creuse river is very picturesque as it crosses the Indre department, and this is a very pleasant region to explore with an interesting mix of towns, villages and scenery to enjoy.
Do you think you have travelled a lot in France? Think there's not much left to see? Try our test! See how many of 50 of the most popular towns, villages and cities in France you have already visited - and get some inspiration for your next visit...
The Dordogne river crosses much of south-west France, a journey of almost 500 kilometres from its source in the mountains of the Massif Central to its final confluence with the Garonne River before entering the Atlantic Ocean near Bordeaux.
The river changes completely in character during its voyage to the sea but retains one very important characteristic wherever you are along its course - there are numerous towns and villages and a great deal of beautiful countryside to discover nearby.
The Gatinais is a region of forests, open fields, orchards and hedgerows about 120 kilometres to the south-east of Paris and 50 kilometres east of Orleans. The Gatinais falls within three separate regions: Paris-Ile-de-France (Essonne and Seine-et-Marne departments), Centre (Loiret department) and Burgundy (Yonne department).
You have perhaps never heard the name of the Causses du Quercy Regional Natural Park, but if you have visited the south of France you might have ventured in and across the park without realising it.
Among the famous places you may have visited without realising that you are within the Causses du Quercy are the pilgrimage village of Rocamadour, the picturesque village of Saint-Cirq Lapopie and the prehistoric caves at Pech Merle. Each of these sites is listed among the 'Grand Sites of the Midi-Pyrenees' and highly recommended.
The third weekend of September in Angouleme sees the race known as “Circuit des Ramparts’”, which has been held in Angoulême for more than 70 years.
The first ever Circuit des Ramparts was held in Angoulême in 1939.
Throughout France there are several hundred places of such beauty that they have been officially listed as 'Sites of Natural Beauty'.If you are staying in the region of one or more of these we strongly recommend you find the time to visit.
Of course, there are lots of other places to visit that you will consider to be very beautiful, but which aren't officially listed!
The Loire-Anjou-Touraine regional natural park is an extensive region covering approximately 100 kilometres east to west, centred around Montsoreau in the Maine-et-Loire department (with Chinon to the east and Saumur to the west). Angers represents the western border of the natural park, and Tours the eastern frontier.
The parc approximately follows the course of the Loire River between Angers and Langeais, and also the Vienne river between L'Ile Bouchard and Montsoreau (where it joins with the Loire).
If you are looking for an excuse to escape the winter weather for a while, and also see some extraordinary scenery and natural beauty at the same time, the Route du Mimosa could be just what you are looking for.
The 'Route du Mimosa' is a scenic route through south-east Provence, largely near the coast of the French Riviera, that is designed to show the countryside and towns of the region at their best during the early spring when the mimosas are in flower
In places it is exceptionally beautiful and there is a great deal to discover in the region - especially the colours, with the contrast between the yellow of the mimosas and the blue of the sea - and also the fragrant smell of the flowers.
One of the most interesting architectural highlights in the north-west of Brittany, mostly in the Finistere department, is the large number of so-called 'Enclos paroissial' churches to be found in small villages across the region.
With the advent of cheap flights, and the lower hotel prices available outside high season, a short break in France is both affordable and a great way to get away for a few days. We have visited and reviewed a few of the most popular options for you.
Our main criteria for recommending a particular destination are:
Most people need to plan an annual holiday that packs as much as possible into two weeks - while also allowing plenty of time to relax and perhaps spend time as a family, since that's probably the main purpose of the trip!
Luckily there are numerous places in France where a two week visit gives you plenty of opportunities to explore lots of new sights and places, as well taking part in a few entertainments and activities - and also spending time at the beach or around the pool.
The Roya Valley follows the French-Italian border near Tende and through the southern Alps from the Mediterranean at Ventimiglia (Italy), and a day following its course makes a very enjoyable day trip from Menton or Nice on the French Riviera.
For our visit we are starting at Breil-sur-Roya and following the Upper Roya Valley upstream as far as Tende - south of Breil the river is largely in Italy.
The French Riviera has many places of great beauty just waiting to be discovered but there is a problem, especially if you visit in the summer months - the roads can be very busy and parking is often a major challenge.
Luckily there is an exceptionally convenient train service that operates along the coast which is cheap to use, has a regular service and stops at all of the most important towns and villages.
Shopping in France means different things to different people! For some it simply means browsing the gift shops in their favourite village or seaside town, for others a visit to one of the (many) traditional local French markets is the highlight of a visit.
For foreign visitors to simply stroll through a French supermarket to see how it is different from those at home is an event in itself....
In 1814 Napoleon was sent into exile on the Island of Elba. The following year he returned from exile with a handful of followers, a small army of about 1200 soldiers, and a plan to overthrow the newly restored monarchy under King Louis XVIII. Napoleon landed at Golfe Juan on 1st March 1815.
From Golfe Juan he headed north, passing through the southern Alps to reach Grenoble. This route was chosen because of its remoteness, and therefore the chance that Napoleon's small army would avoid hostile royalists - in particular those around Marseille. Napoleon also moved very fast across the countryside in order to reduce the chances of meeting opposition.
The Lower Lot Valley here refers to the picturesque stretch of the Lot River between Figeac and Cahors. Along the course of the river there are numerous small villages to explore, several larger towns, castles and caves to visit.
There is also a great deal of beautiful scenery, with cliffs and wooded slopes rising either side of the broad river valley.The river here is passing through the Natural Regional Parc of the Causses de Quercy.
The eastern part of the Rhone Alpes contains some of the most dramatic scenery in France. This beautiful countryside in the Savoie and Haute Savoie departments includes mountains, lakes and verdant valleys.
This area contains a wealth of alpine towns, lake-side towns and villages and a number of spa towns as well as some really stunning scenery.
It contains a great deal of interesting sights and villages and a visit is highly recommended. We travelled from the east towards the west, starting on the main road west from Perpignan.
First time visiting France and no idea where to start? Our quick guide shows 'at a glance' which areas most visitors - both first-time visitors and others - are drawn to the most often.
As you can see this is hardly a detailed guide to all that France has to offer but should at least get you started with a few ideas and reminders of where to visit! Below the map are the links to the relevant sections of france This Way where you can find more details.
The town of Biarritz and the surrounding region are ideal for a short break, with the town itself a pleasure to explore, the chance to stroll along the beach, and lots of interesting places nearby to visit.
Low price flights are also often available to get here from the UK, so it is quite easy and cheap to plan your off-season break.
The French riviera, with Nice and the surrounding coastal towns, is of course best known as a summer holiday destination and the region attracts many millions of visitors each year.
But this coastal part of south-east France also has the most consistently sunny and warm weather to be found in France even in the winter months, and a long weekend here in spring or autumn is sure to be a memorable experience - and a great way to shake off the winter blues until next summer!
There are cheap flights to Bergerac Roumanieres airport all year around, making it the perfect destination for an escape from the winter blues (or autum, summer and spring blues!)
You will also find that there is a lot to discover in the surrounding countryside, making it perfect to combine a stroll around an attractive historical town with meals in quality French restaurants and an excursion or two into the countryside of the Dordogne.
With cheap flights to Bordeaux from the UK it is now very practical to visit Bordeaux for a long weekend without breaking the bank.
Bordeaux centre has a wide range of hotels and an excellent tram-system making car hire unnecessary unless you want to explore the surrounding countryside.
With the arrival of cheap flights to Carcassonne from the UK it is now very practical to visit for a long weekend and a have a great time at a very reasonable cost.
We stayed in Carcassonne itself as a base for our visit...
Many of the most important historical town centres in France are now protected from further development with the 'secteur sauvegardé' classification, with the goal of preserving the appearance of the historical centre from any further development.
Any construction or renovation in these areas is closely monitored and controlled to ensure that the whole town centre remains unspoiled by new or inappropriate developments - for example, renovations are required to use the historical materials and techniques.
The River Vézère flows 190 kilometres from its source in the Massif Central to its confluence with the Dordogne River near Le Bugue.
In addition to the world renowned Lascaux caves, the Vézere Valley contains numerous other traces of prehistoric and early settlement - according to UNESCO - who have the valley listed as a UNESCO French world Heritage sites - there are 147 prehistoric sites and 25 painted caves in the valley.
Roses are blooming ....... by Terry Burke
The Valley of the lower Somme is beautiful on a bright cold winter’s day when the snow lies deep and crisp and even over the Picardy countryside.
Rolling dark green tree clad hills lift over the black gently flowing streams. The roads on the map corresponded to the terrain, white. Villages hibernate more deeply in the winter snow than they will slumber in the summer sun. Nothing stirs, except a covey of ducks and a few new Eolions lazily turning in the light breeze. The sky above is a delicate light blue with high wispy clouds.
The cathar period lasted more or less a hundred years, from about 1165 - 1271, in the period of the violence of the Dark Ages.
A turbulent and oppressive period of crusades and battles for power, the cathar history is one of a much abused religion which dared to challenge the power of the catholic church and proposed a more 'basic' form of Christianity (see cathars for details).
The Church deemed that the religion should be dealt with using very severe repression - principally a crusade against the cathars with the sole goal of destroying them.
Some villages come back to haunt your memories for years after a visit - a scenic location, fine historical architecture, lovely gardens, traditional shops and cafes, all can play their part in creating these 'extra-special' places.
Lots of factors play their part in whether a village stands out as special - not just 'unchanging' features such as the landscape and the architecture but others that change with time:
The Medoc region produces many of the finest wines in the world (Margaux, Pauillac, Chateau Lafite-Rothschild...), has more than 100 kilometres of fine sandy beaches, and is just north of one of the most vibrant cities in France.
It sounds like the perfect destination for wine buffs and beach lovers alike - but I wonder how many visitors to France could point to it on a map?
The colourful character of the medieval 'Black Prince' perhaps owes as much to legend as to fact, and many places in France have a legacy to the English Prince who conquered so much of France in the early decades of the Hundred Years War.
In many places in France you are likely to come across mention of the Black Prince, from a quiet town in Gascony to the site of a battlefield in central France, and a little knowledge of the 'life and times' of the Black Prince makes a visit more interesting
There are 30 sites in France that are of such importance that UNESCO has designated them as World Heritage Sites.
Covering a wide range of sites and places, they all share one common feature: they offer something beyond the ordinary.
Most of the French heritage sites are covered in more detail this guide, see the list and map below to see if there are any to visit near your planned destination in France
The 'towns and villages in bloom' award (ville fleurie) is given to French places that make a special effort to create a pleasant natural environment for both residents and visitors by focussing on plants, flowers and open areas within the town.
Across France there are almost 20 aquariums open to the public and nearly 50 zoos, nature reserves and animal parks.
Of course, some are more exciting than others, and occasionally they are restricted in the type of wildlife you will see (e.g. vultures or monkeys).
While we can't claim to have visited most of the zoos and aquariums we suggest you use the list and map below to see if there are any to visit near you when you visit - and ideally leave a comment below if you have visited one of them!
One of the most popular ways to discover the vineyards and villages of southern Burgundy is to follow the 'route des Grands Crus'.
This route follows a quiet road (the D122), largely between Beaune and Dijon but also continuing south to Santenay, that passes many of the most famous wine chateaux of the region.
By Antonia Anderson
Burgundy is a French Mecca for seekers of gourmet cuisine and devotees of wine.
The richness of the culture, history and visual splendor deserves leisurely exploration. Don't rush through the towns and vineyards with a checklist and camera. Instead, take the time to delve into one remarkable and distinctive department of Burgundy: the Cote d'Or.
There is a deep 600 foot drop from the cliff tops in Le Thord, commune of St Haon, to the river. The Gorges are only occasionally accessible by road. They are heavily wooded with deciduous and conifer trees, and in autumn very colourful. The woods abound with wildlife and many happy hours have been passed watching soaring buzzards and hovering birds of prey; rabbits and small cats beware!
Bird watchers frequently descend the paths below the cliffs, complete with binoculars, notebooks and cameras, ...... and twitch for an hour or so and leave as silently as they arrive.
Here on the 1000 metre contour, towards the southern edge of the Massif Central, the air is clear, the wind is fresh, the temperatures range from very hot, in excess of 40 degrees without any humidity, to minus 15; crisp, dry and exceedingly beautiful. There are few people about.
by Peter Saborowsky
I have been a serious cyclist most of my life. Almost 30 years ago I started cycling in South Western France. It's an idyllic region beginning on Atlantic beaches, winding through the Basque country, and climbing into the Pyrenees.
The area's lovely weather, famous sights, and varied terrains make cycling an inspirational affair. It was when I saw professional cyclists and national teams vacationing and training in this same area that I realized just how much magnificent scenery and enjoyable roads can improve one's competitive advantage.
There are numerous attractive villages to be found in the Ardeche department of the Rhone-Alpes, and exploring them adds to the pleasure of a visit to this scenic part of southern France.
Seventeen of these Ardeche villages have also been classified as 'villages of character', and these provide good examples of the villages across the department as a whole.
A holiday in the Lot Valley offers some fabulous scenery, beautiful medieval villages, historic monuments and a superb gastronomical experience.
The Lot river flows for 500km starting at Mont Lozere and flowing into the Garonne River before reaching the Atlantic Ocean. As it flows it passes through the fertile farming lands of Aquitaine, the high plateaux of the Aubrac and the beautiful wooded valleys of the Lozere.
The Dropt River runs from Capdrot, east of Monpazier, to La Reole near Langon where it meets the Garonne River.
It is close to the border between the Dordogne and Lot-et-Garonne departments for much of the journey westwards, before entering the Gironde between Duras and Monsegur.
Along the way it passes through and near several attractive villages and towns, and a great deal of attractive countryside, making it an interesting way to spend a few days exploring this region of south-west France.
So near but yet so far from the busy coastal strip, the rural way of life still prevails, eggs and goats' cheese are sold direct from the farm, roads are single track and you are very lightly to meet a flock of transhumance sheep coming the other way.
It is impossible to say which is the best French beach, because it depends, of course, on what you are looking for in a beach, and whether the beaches are the only priority on your visit or you want to also see countryside, attractions nd places of interest. But somewhere in France there is the perfect beach for you, whatever you are looking for.
There are many beautiful beaches around the French coastline, which is almost 3,500 kilometres long - and it is not practical to list (or visit) them all so here we simply try and show what you might expect of the most popular beaches in each region of France.
The comments describing the beaches for each region below are extremely broad and there are many exceptions!
Amusement parks are very popular in france - four of the theme parks below appear in the 'top places to visit in France' list (Disneyland, Puy de Fou, Asterix and Futuroscope) and no trip to France would be complete without a visit to one of the renowned theme parks
A total of 56 belfries across France and Belgium have together been listed as a 'combined' World Heritage Site because of their importance and unusual architectural style. 23 of these belfries are in northern France, in the Picardy and North Calais regions of northern France.
Originally these belfries were usually built either as independent towers or as part of a town hall.
There are seven National Parks in France, covering slightly over 2% of the land surface of the country. They are maintained by Parcs Nationaux de France:
The label 'Grand Site de France' has been granted to 33 locations in mainland France, which belong to the organisation known as the RGSF (Réseau des Grands Sites de France - network of Grand Sites of France).
All are listed sites, in attractive locations that attract large numbers of visitors each year. They each share the common challenges of meeting the conflicting needs of local residents, the environment, and exceptionally large numbers of visitors.
The four main starting points for pilgrims in France are from the cities of Tours, Vézelay, Le Puy-en-Velay and Arles. They are all signed routes of the Grande Randonnée network.
Every year thousands of pilgrims cross France, usually on foot or on bicycle, on the four main pilgrimage routes that lead, via Spain, to the shrine of St James at Santiago de Compostella (often spelt Compostela) in north-west Spain. These routes are also known as the 'Ways of St James'.
St James (James the Great) was beheaded by Herod - he was the first of the apostles to be martyred - and was thought to have been buried in north-west Spain. His tomb was, so they say, discovered in the 9th century, and a church was built on the site.
Cycling in France is a national pastime. Extremely popular among all ages, but there are a very large number of active cyclists in the 40 - 65 year old age group. Why is the sport so popular, when in many countries (eg the UK) it is reasonably unusual?
Perhaps the weather plays a part - cycling is almost a year around activity in France, especially in the South. The endless availability of quiet roads in peaceful beautiful countryside has a role to play. Very often I will cycle 50 - 70 kilometres and only see two or three cars. The roads are usually well maintained, and many popular cycling areas e.g. in the Pyrenees, will have cycle routes on the larger roads.
The Canal du Midi is a canal in the south of France that connects the Garonne river (and therefore the Atlantic) with the Etang de Thau (and the Mediterranean).
With lovely sunny beaches often backed by pine trees along almost all its coastline, the Vendée beaches are especially famed for being children friendly - long, sandy, and safe because they slope gently into the sea. The coast here is known as the Cote de Lumiere ('coast of light') and stretches in an almost unbroken string of beaches and resorts from Noirmoutier in the north to Bretignolles in the south.
The French Riviera, the Mediterranean coast of Provence in south-east France, is famous all over the world, not just for its beaches of course but also for the towns and villages, resorts and scenery, all of which are spectacular in places - and less spectacular in others.
The weather has also played an important role in the popularity of the coast here with sunny warm weather almost guaranteed from late spring to late autumn, and usually very pleasant even in winter. Conditions are more certain to be sunny and warm here than any other region of France.
When we think of beaches in Normandy we think first of all of the Normandy Landing Beaches, where the troops landed during the start of the D-Day invasion - and which ultimately helped bring an end to World War 2.
It is true that these landing beaches still attract many visitors, and are also very attractive beaches in their own right, but a great deal of the coast of Normandy has noteworthy towns and seaside resorts, and there are a lot of beaches of interest in all coastal parts of the region.
Languedoc has many quality sandy beaches along its extensive coastline, and below we mention some of the most popular - note that there are lots of other smaller resorts along the coast in Languedoc-Roussillon, sometimes little more than a long beach, a car park and a small cafe...
We should issue a word of warning - while Languedoc-Roussillon has some very lovely beaches it also has some that are much less so with excessive amounts of development and very little character. As a general rule we have not included these beaches and resorts below - but of course there may be other small resorts and beaches we have overlooked that may be very lovely so omission doesn't necessarily mean unpleasant!
The region is also well known for its naturist beaches such as Cap d'Agde and Aphrodite. The Mediterranean coast in Languedoc, moving from south-west to north-east, is divided into two regions:
Brittany has some of the loveliest beaches and coastline to be found in France, with picturesque fishing villages scattered between rocky coves, and lots of beautiful sandy beaches.
France This Way comment: the nature of the coast in Brittany, with hundreds of very small beaches and coves, does mean it is more or less impossible for us to visit, review and comment on every beach and resort since there are literally hundreds of these small beaches and coves that you will discover as you explore - and which add greatly to the pleasures of a visit.
Along the western coast of Aquitaine in south-west France there is an almost unbroken line of beaches facing the Atlantic Ocean. The main characteristics of these beaches are almost the same all along this coast: long, sandy, sunny and sometimes with quite large waves coming in from the ocean.
Behind the beaches there are often large sand dunes, extensive forests that were planted in the 19th century when the land was reclaimed, and also several leisure lakes (useful when the waves on the coast are too big for children to deal with!)
The extensive forests and limited roads mean that certain parts of the coast are rather slow to get to, so choose carefully when you visit. It is also these same forests that provide many of the leisure opportunities such as hiking and cycling in the region.
At more than 1000 kilometres long the Loire River is the longest river in France.
It flows from the eastern side of the Massif central (to the west of Valence), then flowing broadly north to reach Orleans, then towards the west through Tours, Angers and Nantes until it reaches the Atlantic at Saint-Nazaire on the western coast of France.
Between Sully-sur-Loire in Loiret and Chalonnes-sur-Loire in Maine-et-Loire, the Loire Valley, under the name of the Val de Loire, is listed as a French world heritage site by UNESCO. This is also the region that most people would generally consider as being the 'Loire Valley'
Planning a trip to France with the children but don’t know where to go? Looking for theme park excitement in Europe to rival that of America?
Then why not visit Paris – not only is it one of the most beautiful cities in the world, but it also has two great theme parks nearby, which children will love. Enter the cartoon world of Gaul at Parc Asterix or mingle with Mickey, Minnie and company at Disneyland Paris.
One of the highlights of a visit to the Dordogne, as with many other parts of France, is the chance to visit the local French markets.
Although most markets do now sell products aimed at the tourist market, especially during the summer months, they are still a great way to find and buy the local produce, the freshest produce, and the products of the local artisan-farmers.
There are several types of market:
One of the most popular activities for visitors to France is visiting the local French markets in the nearby town. All areas and places will have a local market town, usually held in the same location every week for many centuries (our own town has held its Saturday market for the last 820 years and still going strong).
French markets really do still have great produce to tempt you, and you will be lucky to get away without a large bag of delicious fresh produce...and an empty purse! There are reputedly more than 10,000 traditional markets in France, so you should have no difficulty finding one - although small markets out of high season can be very small!
In addition to the 'most famous places in France' it is interesting to see which places are top by number of visitors - the most visited places in France.
Surprisingly the two lists are not the same, although certain key Paris landmarks appear on both lists. Theme Parks play a much larger role in the list of 'top places in France' when judged by visitor numbers. The top places to see when judged by numbers of visitors are:
Where do you think of when asked to name the most famous sights in France? Here we have prepared a list of what we believe are the most famous places. We have selected just 10 places. Your own list will be different, I'm sure, and there are many top places in France that are contenders for the list.
Below we show the most famous individual highlights. See also most popular regions at where to go on your first visit to France.
There are a few ways to classify the size of a town, but the most usual (and probably the most effective) is to use the population as measured in the most recent census of the country.
Hence the schedule below represents the 'most populated' biggest French towns and has been prepared on this basis. The list is in descending order and uses data from 2011. The populations have changed slightly since, but the ranking according to size remains unchanged.
We also have an article highlighting the most visited places in France if that is what you are looking for.
Think of Normandy, and for most people this conjures up images of the D-Day beaches, the Bayeaux Tapestry and le Mont St Michel. All of these important and interesting sites are in what is Basse Normandie.
Less well known is Haute Normandie, an area that most people simply drive through on their way further south. But this area is as rewarding and interesting as any of the other regions of France, with history stretching from the earliest Stone Age peoples to the more recent political alliances between the United Kingdom and France.
To fully understand Normandy, one has to visit more than WWII sites and museums. To experience this region and understand its history and culture, one should visit these eight venues:
The Cider Route is found in Normandy, and following its course makes for a pleasant day or two exploring some of the Normandy villages, and discovering how and where in Normandy cider is made. Cider tasting is of course obligatory!
Meanwhile you will also see some lovely Normandy Villages, and for many people this is the main reason for following the route.
If you’re planning to spend your next holiday in France, then perhaps you will want to add something new to your itinerary. Besides the sightseeing, rich culture, art museum tours, and the deliciously delectable French cuisine, there truly is a lot more in store for you here - and if you’re the type who enjoys aqua sports and exciting activities, then you’re in for a treat.
When speaking about the finest beaches in France, people will immediately mention the world-famous French Riviera, or the Côte d'Azur, located along the southern region of the country. Extending westward from the eastern commune of Menton to St. Tropez near the southern tip, the French Riviera is a 115 kilometer stretch of nothing but sun, sand, surf, and of course, fun.
There are several regions of France that have navigable canals and rivers, a very pleasant way to explore the countryside and to enjoy the towns that are passed during the journey.
The most popular regions with visitors wanting to explore these French canals and rivers include:
To the south of the very popular Dordogne department there is a sprinkling of towns and castles set in attractive countryside that are slightly beyond the better known tourist destinations - yet would make an ideal base for a holiday. While you won't entirely escape the tourist throngs, they are certainly less here than in the Sarlat region slightly to the north.
In this article we look at a few of the highlights of your visit. ( I am not going to describe all the attractions of the Dordogne region here - the caves, the villages, the river and countryside are renowned the world over and covered elsewhere in this guide at Dordogne.)
In the past, skiing in the French Pyrenees has played a secondary role to its more glamorous rival, the Alps. In the last decade however, great advances have been made to turn what was perhaps considered rather dull Pyrenean mountain towns and villages into excellent skiing resorts.
There are black runs in all the Pyrenean resorts, but the pistes are less crowded than the Alpine slopes, so there is less chance of the beginner being involved in an accident, or incurring the wrath of the chair lift operator for holding up the loading because of a tangled the ski pole. And who hasn’t done that, at least once?
The so-called 'villages-perchés' are found in various parts of Provence, especially in the Luberon region but also in several other regions / departments, and are instantly recognisable because of the distinguishing features of these villages:
- they are located high up on a rocky crag. As a result the perched villages in Provence all have very impressive views across the surrounding countryside
Many regions of France have attractive medieval villages to discover and explore, frequently with an 'old town' that is astonishingly well preserved given the age of these medieval towns - and the wars that have ravaged the country at various points in the last 600 years.
Two of the most well known (and most attractive) 'groups' of medieval villages are the bastide towns of south-west France, and the perched Luberon villages (see separate feature) of south-east France.
Many visitors to France like to see a vineyard or visit the occasional wine chateaux for a little sampling of the local produce, while many wine enthusiasts make an entire visit planned around visiting the vineyards of their selected region.
The map below shows the main wine-producing regions of France (and below that is a photo gallery of pictures taken in each of the principal wine regions):
The Alsace wine route is one of the most popular and attractive ways to explore the traditional villages of the Alsace region, and to learn more about the wines that are produced.
The route covers more than 170 km as it traces a line from north to south broadly following the eastern edge of the Vosges mountains, and crosses the southern half of the Bas-Rhin department and the northern half of the Haut-Rhin department.
The Alpine ski resorts mostly fall into a few very extensive regions, which combine several villages and ski areas in one large resort with interconnecting ski slopes and transport links. This has the advantage for the visitor that there are always new slopes and variety close to hand.
To understand the rivers of France it is useful to first have a little knowledge of the geography of the country.
Essentially France is mountainous along its eastern border with (from north to south) the mountains of the Vosges, Jura and Alpes, with further mountains in south-central France (Massif central) and along the southern border with Spain (the Pyrenees)
The Pays-de-la-Loire region is usually visited for its long sandy beaches, the important historical towns such as Nantes and Guerande, and castles such as those at Angers and Nantes.
While these are all recommended to visitors, you might like to also consider a journey into the quieter parts of the region by following one of the rivers that traverse the Pays-de-la-Loire.
For many years it has been popular to make a day trip to France, especially for those living within easy access of the ports of southern England.
The pleasure of shopping in a different environment, the even greater pleasure of buying wine and other items at much cheaper prices than they can be bought at home, or simply for the fun of an adventurous day out - it's always a great way to spend a day.
On this page you can see the list of places that we have 'photo galleries' for - several hundred towns and villages that we and our contributors have visited and photographed.
The castles of the Loire Valley are renowned the world over, and a very major attraction with visitors to France. Altogether there are more than 300 chateaux in the region, many built in the heyday of the French royalty and nobility, centred around the 17th-18th centuries.
Some of the castles were built 'new' at this time, while others were based on converting an earlier medieval castle on the same location into a more habitable and luxurious castle.
The Dordogne is said to have 1001 castles. Many of these are not open to the public, however, and also the name 'chateau' can be applied to any house that has been a centre of wine production - so many places that are called 'chateaux' will be distinctly less imposing than others.
If you have never holidayed in a French castle before, here are some reasons why you should consider one for your next luxury holiday.
By their nature, chateaux are large pieces of architecture. However the reception rooms on the ground floor are typically huge and wonderful rooms to relax in and soak up the ambience. French chateaux lend themselves perfectly for wedding venues.