Welcome to France

A land filled with fairy tale Châteaux, stunning landscape, world renowned museums, superb cuisine and even better wines (if that were possible!). France is without a doubt, my favourite country in the world to visit… why? Because every square inch contrast with the other, yet somehow stills feels undeniably French!

Writers, artists, history buffs, fashion lovers, sports enthusiasts, food connoisseurs and everyone else flocks to this country in search of something only the French truly understand – their characteristic and almost indescribable je ne sais quoi.

Whatever your dream trip to France includes, there is something for everyone here.

ÎLE-DE-FRANCE

In the heart of France, and surrounding its capital Paris, the île-de-France is the most population area of the eighteen regions of France. Stretching out from the lively streets of Paris, the region is filled with lovely towns, forests and fields which were renowned for inspiring artists such as Corot and Cézanne.

Royals and aristocrats kept their stunning châteaux here, where they could easily escape the rush of the city. You’ll find the world-famous Châteaux of Versailles and Fontainebleau here, as well as the most popular theme park in Europe – Disneyland®.

Home to: The Palace and Garden of Versailles, Disneyland®, Chateau de Fontainebleau, Churches and Abbeys

Experience: Strolling through stunning ornamental gardens at Fontainebleau

View of the Eiffel tower and the city of Paris at sunset
Paris, the centre of île-de-France (Photo by Pierre Blaché from Pexels)

LE NORD AND PICARDY

Nestled up against the border of Belgium and the English Channel, this northern corner of France is filled with contrasts. From gabled houses and local beer to modern art museums urban cool Lille.

Stroll along the pretty villas and bathing huts of belle-époque era seaside resorts such as Le Touquet. Or visit Calais, the busiest seaport in France. Head a little south to the haunting memorials to the World Wars in the Somme Valley. Stand in awe of the soaring Gothic cathedrals in Amiens and Beauvais, before stepping into the fantasy inspired home of Jules Verne.

Home to: Amiens Cathedral, Maison de Jules Verne, Somme Valley, glamorous seaside resorts

Experience: Touring the World War battlefields in the Somme Valley

View of Amiens cathedral from the river
The old town of Amiens (Photo by Gintarė Kairaitytė from Pexels)

NORMANDY

Further south, but still very much north, is the region of Normandy. Best known for being the site of the D-Day landing, the coastline is filled with white-chalk cliffs and WWII beachheads. Bicycle is the best way to explore the postcard perfect harbour towns and seaside resorts that line the pretty Côte Fleurie.

Villages of half-timbered houses, apple orchards and bucolic fields stretch as far as the eye can see. Influencing countless artists such as Monet, who painted his famous Water Lillies series in the garden at Giverny.

Further south is the ancient fortification of Mont-St-Michel, which rises up on the edge of the ocean, accessible by a tidal causeway.

Home to: Mont-St-Michel, Caen, Rouen, sweeping beaches, D-Day landing, cheese and cider

Experience: Be inspired by Monet’s Garden at Giverny

The ancient fortress of Mont-St-Michel
The impressive Mont-St-Michel (Image by gehrmannmike from Pixabay )

BRETAGNE (BRITTANY)

Wild, remote and beautiful, Bretagne feels like a world away from the rest of France. On one side you will find incredible beaches and coastlines facing the Atlantic, on the other remote primeval forest where wild wolves still roam.

The Breton language is still spoken here, a reminder of the ancient Celtic heritage in the region. Food specialities range from local cider to the famous crêpes, and of course delicious seafood dishes.

Prehistoric menhirs (megaliths) are found all over Bretagne, such as in Carnac and the Golfe du Morbihan. Visit the medieval capital, Rennes or perhaps a beach resort such as Saint-Malo – built on rock in the English Channel and walled to protect itself from the vagaries of the ocean.

Home to: St-Malo, Côte de Granit Rose, ancient Celtic culture, prehistoric menhirs

Experience: Exploring the towering cliffs and wild beaches of the Côte de Granit Rose

the walled city of Saint Malo, France
The walled city of Saint-Malo, Bretagne (Image by Eddy Blondey from Pixabay)

POITOU AND AQUITAINE

Edging the French Atlantic coast, Poitou is rich in history. Ancient Romans, the Renaissance and Medieval eras have all left their mark on this incredible corner of France.

Some highlights include a visit to the low-lying islands of Île de Ré and Île d’Oléron for freshly caught oysters and seafood. Or head inland to Poitiers, the hilltop capital dating back to the Roman times.

Aquitaine however borders both Spain and the Atlantic, with a much more gothic and dramatic feel. Bordeaux is the capital of this region, a port city filled with 18th and 19th Century mansion, gothic cathedrals and incredible museums. 

Because it is France, the region also has vineyards producing the Bordeaux wines so of course a tasting session is a must!

Home to: Poitiers, Bordeaux, Cathédrale Saint-André, world-class wine, historic villages, dramatic landscapes

Experience: Touring the celebrated wine chateaux of Bordeaux

The city of Bordeaux, France
The city of Bordeaux, France (Image by Niki Nagy from Pixabay)

THE PYRÉNÉES

Bordering France and Spain and stretching all the way from the Atlantic to the Mediterranean, the Pyrénées is a stunning natural border.

Home to rate flora and fauna, the imposing peaks and valleys found in the Pyrénées are perfect for nature photographers and botanists. Hiking trails are found throughout to keep you on track.

Castles and Fortresses are also scattered at strategic locations, a reminder of the region’s historical importance. The Basques are the most ancient inhabitants of these mountains, and their unique language and culture are also found in towns such as Bayonne and St-Jean-de Luz.

Home to: Parc National des Pyrenees, Foix, Montségur, rare flora and fauna, historic citadels, regional cuisine

Experience: Learn about the Basque culture and sample the local cuisine in Bayonne

The mountaintops of the Pyrénées
The mountaintops of the Pyrénées (Image by Jean Louis Tosque from Pixabay)

LANGUEDOC-ROUSSILLON

Spanning from the Pyrénées to Provence is the region Languedoc-Roussillon. Filled with sun-kissed beaches, fields of flowers, vineyards and rolling hills.

Visit the perfectly preserved citadel of Carcassonne, the historic Cathar castles such as Quéribus and Puylaurens which cling perilously to the edges of rocky outlooks, and the incredible Roman ruins scattered throughout such as the Pont du Gard.

The compact capital Montpellier is home a well-preserved medieval quarter, whereas Nimes is filled with Roman ruins. Hire a bicycle and ride along Le Canal du midi, the world’s oldest commercial canal, built in the 17th Century.

Home to: Carcassonne, Montpellier, Nimes, Cathar Castles, Roman Ruins, historic canals, beach towns and flower filled fields

Experience: Exploring the stunning Cathar region with its deep forests and dizzying castles

The citadel of Carcassonne, France (Image by zippo_1968 from Pixabay)

PROVENCE AND THE CÔTE D’AZUR (FRENCH RIVIERA)

It would be hard to believe that anyone has not heard of Provence, let alone the Côte D’Azur!

Everything postcards are made of, this world-famous region is filled with lavender fields, glamorous beach side towns and stunning beaches.

The ancient cities of Orange and Avignon are filled with Roman monuments and medieval palaces. Frolic through the lavender fields of Provence. Follow the coastline of the Mediterranean while stopping at the chic towns that make up the French Riviera. 

Spend a day in Monaco, people watching the ultra-rich and famous from the iconic Café de Paris. Or for the complete opposite, spend a day exploring the UNESCO designation biosphere Camargue Natural Park. During Spring and Autumn bird watchers flock to the area to watch the spectacle of migrating birds.

Home to: Glamorous resorts, beautiful beaches, lavender fields, Mediterranean landscapes, the Camargue, Nice, Monaco, Cannes, Antibes

Experience: Horse riding and flamingo spotting in the Camargue

The rolling hills of Lavender in Provence
The rolling hills of Lavender in Provence (Image by RD LH from Pixabay)

VALLÉE DE LA LOIRE (THE LOIRE VALLEY)

The verdant green valley that is the Loire Valley, is best described as visiting a fairy tale. Stunning châteaux dot the landscape, homes to the former French aristocracy. 42 of which are designated as UNESCO World Heritage sites.

Constructed at the request of François I and designed by Leonardo da Vinci, the former royal palace Château du Chambord is a must see. Or perhaps visit the Château de Chenonceau, part of which spans an entire river leading to the main residence. There are so many châteaux to choose from, that you will be spoiled for choice.

Surrounding the châteaux are beautifully preserved historic towns and villages which produce the region’s famous wines.

Home to: Wine, gardens, fairy tale châteaux, Chartres Cathedral

Experience: A night visit to the illuminated gardens of the lovely Château de Chenonceau

Château du Chambord, Loire Valley, France
The gorgeous Château du Chambord (Image by Jerome Clarysse from Pixabay)

THE DORDOGNE

Hidden between the Loire Valley and the Pyrénées mountains, the Dordogne is known for the prehistoric cave paintings in the Vézère Valley and at Lascaux.

The numerous prehistoric caves in the area are proof that the region has been inhabited for tens of thousands of years. The hunting scenes found in the caves at Lascaux alone are about 20,000 years old. Venture into the caves around Les Eyzies to witness the prehistoric statues of women, known as ‘Venuses’.

The Dordogne river winds its way through farmland and gorges, surrounded by ancient towns such as Rocamadour. Visit the Cathedrale St-Front with its five domes in the town of Périgueux, or the Vesynna Museum which was built on Roman ruins.

Home to: Sarlat, Rocamadour, Abbaye du St-Pierre, Toulouse, Regional cuisine, prehistoric cave paintings

Experience: Exploring the prehistoric caves to discover extraordinary prehistoric art.

Beynac Castle in Dordogne
Beynac Castle in Dordogne (Image by Dominique Devroye from Pixabay)

CHAMPAGNE

Champagne, you know exactly what you are in for when you hear the name. The delicious sparkling wine is named for this region and only sparkling wines produced in Champagne can be called Champagne.

Visit the ‘Sacred Triangle’ of Champagne region by stopping for taste tests (mandatory of course!) at Epernay, Chalons-en-Champagne and Reims.

The region is filled with rolling hills, historic towns, grape vines (of course), peaceful lakes and a must-see Gothic cathedral in Reims. For something slightly darker, head to the ancient forests of Ardennes which cross over into Belgium.

Home to: Reims Cathedral, Champagne, Historic towns, Ardennes Forest

Experience: Taste testing the Champagne varieties across the region

Vineyards in Reims (Image by KING LI from Pixabay)

ALSACE AND LORRAINE

Heading slightly south, and along the border of Germany and Switzerland are the regions of Alsace and Lorraine. Reflecting its past where control varied between the countries, the region is a curious mix of both French and German culture and cuisine.

Medieval villages are dotted amongst the rolling hills where vines grow for the famous wines of the Alsace region.

Alsace is famous for its wines, so for a truly local experience try a wine tasting in a winstub (wine cellar) in one of the many medieval villages which are dotted amongst the hills. Visit Strasbourg, the capital of Alsace to wander along the canals or watch the animated astronomical clock in the Gothic Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Strasbourg.

Neighbouring Lorraine is more rural, filled with the Vosges mountains and the Verdun forest, perfect for hiking and skiing.

Home to: Strasbourg, Wine cellars, medieval villages, gothic cathedrals and outdoor activities

Experience: Go wine tasting in a winstub

Houses along a river in Strasbourg, France
Houses along the canals of Strasbourg (Image by Konevi from Pixabay)

MASSIF CENTRAL

Off the well-worn tourist path is the Massif Central region. Located in Southern France, the region is filled with plateaus, mountain ranges, ancient pilgrim paths, volcanic landscapes and one of France’s deepest gorges.

This beautiful region is perfect for adventure lovers, hikers, cross country skiers and outdoor photographers. For those willing to visit somewhere where tourists rarely venture, Massif Central will surprise and amaze with some of the hidden secrets found in this region.

Make sure to take some time to visit some of the area’s medieval castles and Romanesque churches, while enjoying some of the hearty regional food and wine.

Home to: Le Puy-en-Velay, Abbaye de Ste-Foy, gorges du Tarn, dramatic landscapes, outdoor activities

Experience: Hiking down into the gorges du Tarn

Cathédrale Notre-Dame du Puy in Le Puy-en-
Cathédrale Notre-Dame du Puy in Le Puy-en-Velay, Massif Central (PMRMaeyaert, CC BY-SA 3.0 , via Wikimedia Commons)

BOURGOGNE & FRANCHE-COMTÉ

The number one destination for all foodies and wine connoisseurs. All the things France does best are found in Burgundy (Bourgogne) and Franche-Comté.

Sample Burgundy wines, pinot noirs, Chardonnay, Chablis and Beaujolais while tasting superb examples of French cuisine. Visit the town of Dijon – home to the world-famous mustard of the same name.

Explore historic towns, grand châteaux and the network of canals across Bourgogne. Vézelay, Fontenay and Cluny are all remarkable examples of Romanesque architecture.

Adventure lovers will find the forests, waterfalls and alpine heights found across Franche-Comté, perfect for hiking, canoeing and even swimming. By contrast, the regions capital, Besançon, was once the clock making capital of France.

Home to: Abbaye de Fontenay, Basilique Ste-Madeleine, Dijon, incredible wine region, Romanesque architecture, Musée du Temps

Experience: Spend an afternoon swimming in natural pools and waterfalls in Franche-Comté

The centre of Dijon in Bourgogne and Franche-Comté
The centre of Dijon in Bourgogne and Franche-Comté

THE RHÔNE VALLEY AND FRENCH ALPS

Neighbouring Switzerland and Italy, the snow-capped peaks of the French Alps tower over the farmland and plains across eastern France.

The top destination for winter sports in France, you will find an array of activities to fill your days in the snow. Or for those who prefer a slower pace, indulge at one of the charming historic spa towns.

While here, make sure to visit the top of Mont Blanc, so that you can stand on the border of France and Italy and stand in awe of the view below.

Like Burgundy, the Rhône Valley is famous for the wines produced in the region which bear the same name. It is even believed that grapes have been cultivated in the region from as far back as 600BC!

Home to: Lyon, Grenoble, Annecy, Chambéry, historic spa towns, winter sports, hiking the alps

Experience: Enjoy a picnic on Mont Blanc, while enjoying uninterrupted views across the countryside.

A stunning view from a resort on Mont Blanc in the French Alps
A stunning view from a resort on Mont Blanc in the French Alps (Image by mel_88 from Pixabay)

CORSICA

Off the coast of mainland France and halfway to Italy, is the island of Corsica.

Half the island is filled with dense forest and mountain trails. The hiking trails are not for the faint of heart, yet the views are well worth the effort.

The forests give way to vineyards and citrus groves leading to stunning beaches and chic coastal towns.  Spend sunny afternoons exploring the hidden coves and beaches around the island.

Home to: Bonifacio, stunning beaches, outdoor sports, hiking trails, hilltop villages

Experience: Explore the remote Réserve Naturelle de Scandola, accessible only by boat

One of the many beaches in Corsica
One of the many beaches in Corsica (Image by Kai Pilger from Pixabay)

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Your ultimate guide to the regions of France

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