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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...

Below we suggest some great destinations for your next summer holiday in France which offer an attractive mix of places of interest, scenery and things to do and make a change from the better known destinations.

Inspiration for a French summer holiday

Carcassonne with Toulouse and the Cathar castles

This idea for a summer holiday has a focus on sites of historical interest such as Carcassonne and ancient castles but with the added attraction of being with 'day trip' distance of the lovely city of Toulouse.

Carcassonne itself - or at least the ancient walled city rather than the more recent town nearby - is truly a remarkable place to visit, quite unlike any other medieval town in France. Half castle, half town, it stands on an extended ridge and is still surrounded by the double line of fortifications that defended the city in medieval times.

The medieval centre of Carcassonne within these walls is very extensive and also very authentic in medieval appearance with high standard renovations (albeit some are 19th century restorations 'in the medieval style' rather than architecturally accurate).

As one of the most visited historic destinations in France it is not surprising that there are also rather a lot of gift shops and expensive restaurants but on balance they add to the appeal of the town rather than detract from it. See the Carcassonne guide.

To the south of Carcassonne there are a good number of small picturesque villages to explore, such as Saissac and Lagrasse.

You should also head into the hills to see the 'Cathar Castles' such as those at Queribus and Peyrepertuse. These castles were strongholds used by the persecuted Cathars in the middle ages until their religion was brutally crushed by a Crusade. The castles are in remote hilltop locations - you will quickly see why they were chosen as defensive sites!

As a change from all this history we recommend you take a day trip to explore Toulouse, which is one of the most attractive cities in France. Toulouse is famous for its red-brick architecture, and has an extensive historic centre with numerous streets and squares to explore. Being a university town it is busy all year round.

Note: we suggest Toulouse as a day-trip from Carcassonne rather than the main base for your visit, because although it is very lovely it is also a reasonable distance from the other highlights in the region so a holiday based in Toulouse might involve rather too much travelling on day trips.

Villages of north Lot-et-Garonne & south Dordogne

We suggest you stay in or near Villereal or Monflanquin for your summer holiday in this region of southern France.

The Dordogne receives many thousands of visitors each year and is famous for its many highlights - but not so many visitors travel 50 kilometres south to explore the northern part of the Lot-et-Garonne department, where you will find rolling fields of woodlands and sunflower fields and lovely medieval villages, unspoiled by the passage of the centuries.

Among the principal highlights are the medieval bastide towns of Villereal (has an excellent evening market each monday during high season) and Monflanquin and Monpazier, both listed among the most beautiful villages in France.The ancient village of Issigeac is very famous in the region for its Sunday market in summer and Eymet is another highlight.

There are also several impressive castles to visit including the Chateau de Biron, the Chateau de Bonaguil and the clifftop fortress in the scenic Gavaudun Valley.

It is true that a visit here will have an emphasis on quiet enjoyment of the countryside and strolling around medieval towns and castles - but you will also find lively evening markets where you eat outdoors after selecting your food from stalls selling traditional regional produce, medieval re-enactment days, and even a 'treetop' adventure park (at Lacapelle Biron) where the children can use up their excess energy.

The area is only about 25 kilometres south-east of Bergerac, a very attractive medieval town on the banks of the Dordogne river. Bergerac has an interesting medieval centre and an attractive port area so we do recommend you visit during your stay here. See the Bergerac guide for details.

Note: Holiday rental 'gites' are more popular than hotels with visitors to this part of France - especially ones with a swimming pool to relax around after a hard day exploring!


Annecy and Lake Annecy

I think that most people who have been to Annecy, in the mountains of eastern France, would agree with this choice with its ideal combination of city, villages and scenery!

Annecy itself is a bustling and beautiful city with an extensive historic centre containing numerous monuments of interest. It is also one of the most photogenic cities in France, being surrounded by high mountains that further add to its appeal.

As well as enjoying the highlights you could easily spend a few days in the city just sitting in the cafes and enjoying the atmosphere, and strolling along the shores of the lake if the city centre gets a bit tiring. See Annecy guide.

Continuing into the mountains south-east of the city, Lake Annecy is probably the most beautiful lake in France. It is surrounded by mountains and beautiful scenery and there are several villages along the lake shores that are very pleasant to explore such as Talloires and Veyrier-du-Lac.

Of course there are numerous leisure activities both on the lake and in the surrounding mountains so the area around Annecy is also an ideal choice for hikers and cyclists. See Lake Annecy guide for details.

Ile de Ré and La Rochelle

The attractions of the island of Ile-de-Ré, off the coast of Charente-Maritime in western France, have been long established as a summer holiday destination. There are lovely sandy beaches along the southern coast and some very pretty villages along the northern coast including two that are listed among the 'most beautiful villages in France'.

Personally we would stay in the village of Saint-Martin de Ré to the north of the island but if immediate access to beaches is your priority you might prefer one of the more recent developments to the south (although Ile-de-Ré is only a few kilometres north to south so you are never far from a beach wherever you stay).

The island is especially popular with families with young children, in large part because it is very safe and easy to explore by bike with numerous dedicated (and level!) cycle paths being the main way to get around. We highly recommend you bring bikes or hire them when you get here. See the Ile-de-Ré guide.

For us the main thing that raises this destination above the many other resorts in France is the close proximity to La Rochelle, one of the most attractive towns in France. Centred around its large harbour area, still protected by Napoleonic defences, there is also an extensive pedestrianised old town jam-packed with shops and restaurants to explore.

Note that while cycling is very easy on Ile-de-Ré it is not practical to cycle to La Rochelle from the island, due to the long bridge and the busy roads. The bridge also has quite a hefty toll charge so you might not want to cross too many times during your stay on Ile-de-Ré.

Principal attractions in La Rochelle also include the daily market, an evening promenade around the harbour with numerous street artists and entertainers to stop and watch and the fascinating Aquarium. See La Rochelle guide.

The Ile-de-Rė has a sunny microclimate which mean it gets more sunshine than elsewhere in Poitou-Charentes.

Arcachon with Bordeaux and Cap Ferret

For this visit we suggest you stay at Arcachon on the coast of south-west France, with trips to Bordeaux and Cap Ferret as part of your visit.

Arcachon is our favourite French seaside resort for lots of reasons including: beautiful sandy beaches both in the town centre and nearby at Plage Pereire with plenty of space for everyone; a lively town centre with a vibrant summertime atmosphere and good choice of bars and restaurants; the glamorous 19th century architecture in the Ville d'Hiver; the Dune de Pilat (the highest sand dune in Europe) is a great day out just a few kilometres down the road...see Arcachon travel guide.

Note: if you have visited Arcachon before you will find that it has been very much improved in recent years with unattractive city centre buildings now removed to make way for a new market square in the centre, the beaches kept spotlessly clean and much of the town now pedestrianised.

During the last few years the city of Bordeaux, a 45 minute trip east from Arcachon, has also been improved dramatically, transforming a rather neglected town into a leading destination.

For decades Bordeaux was described as a 'sleeping beauty' city, its natural beauty and monuments hidden behind grime and industrial development. This has all completely changed in the last 10 years with changes including a new tram system, a startingly effective cleaning of the city centre, and substantial redevelopment of the riverside area...see Bordeaux travel guide

Bordeaux was recently voted as the number two city in France (after Paris) where people would like to live.

Another lovely day trip is across the Bassin d'Arcachon (by boat from Arcachon town centre jetty or you can drive around if you prefer) to see the Cap Ferret peninsula. Cap Ferret is quite long but it is the beaches and villages towards the south of the peninsula that are the highlight for visitors.

The beaches are mostly on the west coast of Cap Ferret, facing across the Atlantic, while the villages are typically on the east coast, facing across the Bassin d'Arcachon. The ancient oyster growing villages are quite remarkable, and different from villages you have seen elsewhere in France with rows of pretty small cottages separated by narrow alleys overflowing with flowers and plants. See Cap Ferret guide and also Le Canon and l'Herbe guide for the best of the villages.

Hint: allow plenty of time for your visit so you can spend the afternon enjoying a long lunch in one of the 'oysters and wine' restaurants!

Not enough to tempt you? Close to Arcachon you will also find several other resorts and beaches, one of the largest forests in Europe, a large amount of dedicated cycle routes, a highly renowned golf course and several leisure lakes while further afield wine enthusiasts will enjoy a visit to the lovely town of Saint-Emilion.

Not enough ideas?

If you don't like the ideas above there are always the very popular destinations such as Paris, Brittany, Dordogne and the Riviera to tempt you...

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