Having just spent a very pleasant week in and around Menton it is clear that some places are lovely at one time of the year – but at other times would be intolerably crowded, a traffic and parking nightmare, or have weather that would keep you inside all week.
But lots of people need or prefer to visit France outside the high season, and I’m sure there is somewhere for all times of the year. Here are my suggestions:
January: a tricky start to the year given the weather is unlikely to be magnificent so the simple suggestion is that you go skiing in the Alps! If you don’t like skiing you might take a chance on a city like Lyon where there is lots to see and do indoors if the weather is a bit grim!
February: keep your fingers crossed and leave the ski slopes behind for a week following the Route des Mimosas through south-east France. A chance to see the mimosas in flower, the route passes through Bormes-les-Mimosas, Saint-Raphael and Grasse among others.
March: we can hardly plan a year in France without a stay in Paris! As long as the worst of winter has passed the spring should be a great time to be strolling through Montmartre…and if the weather isn’t ideal you can pass days exploring the cathedrals, churches, museums…
April: a good time to enjoy the French countryside, but you still want sunshine which is more likely in the south, so I suggest somewhere in the Gascony – Lot-et-Garonne – Tarn region of south-west France as a good place to see spring emerging enthusiastically.
May: at last we can confidently head for the north of France, although perhaps not quite yet for sunbathing. Enjoy some of the most beautiful countryside and villages that France has to offer with a visit to Normandy – perhaps following the Normandy Cider Route as a good introduction?
June: this is a perfect time to start exploring central France, either with a trip that visits some of the most popular of the Loire Valley castles – or perhaps further to the east with a trip to Burgundy around Noyers-sur-Serein or the Jura around Chateau-Chalon?
July: at last it’s time for the beach! The French Riviera will probably be slightly warmer, but also more crowded so why not try the south-west? There is more than 100 kilometres of broad sandy beach and you can explore towns like Biarritz and Saint-Jean-de-Luz.
August: Brittany is a very lovely part of France but in truth the weather can be a bit variable. August should be good so set off to discover the beaches and fishing ports – we suggest the Cote de Granit Rose to the north or Vannes and Morbihan to the south but you are unlikely to be disappointed wherever you choose.
September: sharp eyed readers will have noticed that we haven’t yet suggested the Dordogne despite it being on our own doorstep. September should be a perfect time to explore the castles and villages, with most sights still open but less visitors on the roads. Highlight: Sarlat, probably the best medieval towns in France.
October: it’s our last chance to visit the picture-postcard villages of Alsace before the weather becomes much too unreliable, and if you are lucky you will see the grape harvests in progress if you follow the Alsace Wine Route as it passes through several villages listed among the ‘most beautiful villages in France’
November: if you are searching for those last rays of sunshine your best bet is probably Corsica which barely knows the meaning of the word winter. Another option is to visit Nice – if the weather is good you can stroll along the Promenade des Anglais in the sunshine, if it’s not there are several very high quality art museums.
December: forget about the weather and start thinking about Christmas! France can still tempt you with one of the famous Christmas markets held in the northern towns such as Lille and Strasbourg, and you can find plenty of unusual things to buy the folks back home for Christmas while you are here…
Somewhere I forgot to mention that you think should be included? Let us know below the best time of year to explore your own favourite region of France – and why we should visit!