10 most underrated destinations in France to visit now the travel ban has eased
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British holidaymakers will once again be able to travel to France from 14 January after a 27-day ban from the country following restrictions imposed at Christmas.
The new rules for British travellers visiting France mean that you will no longer have to self-isolate on arrival or show proof that your trip is essential. Great news for anyone wanting to take advantage of the tail end of the ski season or discover France’s incredible vineyards.
French holidays often mean a weekend jaunt to Paris or a glamorous sunshine holiday in Cannes. But there’s so much more to France beyond just the Eiffel Tower and the French Riviera. In fact, it’s easy to combine visits to these famous tourist destinations with side trips to more underrated, lesser-visited, and more off-the-beaten-path destinations in France.
Religion, art and ancient Rome: Arles, Nimes and Avignon
We couldn’t choose just one of these three towns in southern France — you should visit all three. Arles is home to both a Roman amphitheatre and Roman theatre among other ruins. In fact, the entire area is considered a UNESCO World Heritage site. And, the town’s tourism board offers a self-guided Van Gogh Walking tour — Arles inspired over 300 of the artist’s works in the late 19th century.
Nimes also has its fair share of Roman ruins, including an amphitheatre and Roman aqueduct, the Pont du Gard. The city also features the Jardins de la Fontaine, a regal green space rumoured to be Europe’s first public garden.
Avignon, less than an hour up the Rhone River from Arles, is home to the famous Palais des Papes, the site of the Roman Catholic Papacy in the 14th Century. Families with small children should see Avignon via the Petite Train, a small train that takes tourists to see the Avigon’s sites.
Charming villages: Cévennes National Park
This UNESCO Biosphere Reserve is located in the south of the country in Lozère, proof that there’s so much beyond just the French Riviera in the south of France.
The national park boasts natural wonders like the Aven Armand limestone cave with massively large stalagmites, and the Gorges Du Tarn, a deep canyon that towers over quaint French villages and the Tarn River.
With numerous hiking trails and walking routes, it’s easy to get a dose of French greenery on foot, but the park can be explored by car, too. Make sure to visit the fairy tale village of La Malène, which sits in the shadow of the Gorge, Castelbouc, another stunning village built into the Gorge’s rock as well as Sainte-Enimie, where you can rent kayaks or canoes and paddle down the river.
When art and nature meet: Giverny
Fans of impressionist painter Claude Monet should consider a day trip from Paris to see the famous gardens of Giverny, which inspired the artist to paint his iconic water lily series. The gardens are home to the iconic Japanese bridge, which art lovers may recognize in Monet’s works.
While the village is famous for its gardens, art enthusiasts can also enjoy the Impressionism Museum and the Claude Monet Foundation, as well as private galleries. For a stroll, enjoy many quaint walking paths with country views in Giverny and nearby town Vernon, which are reachable by train from Paris in under an hour.
The wild card: Corsica
While you’ve likely heard of Corsica, you may have never considered it for a holiday. Those planning summer jaunts often select the French Riviera, Spain’s southern coast or Italy‘s famed tourist spots like Capri or the Amalfi coast. But Corsica is an idyllic island, especially in the shoulder seasons like September and May when it feels delightfully wild and void of tourists.
For breathtaking, scenic views, visit the Calanques de Piana. These iconic red cliffs loom over the Mediterranean Sea and are part of a UNESCO World Heritage site that includes the Gulf of Porto.
Don’t miss the quaint Genovese-inspired harbour of Bonifacio in the south of the island, or the white sands and green pines of Plage de Saleccia in the north.
Wine and mustard: Dijon and Jura
Jura is one of France’s smallest wine regions, producing the one-of-a-kind, almost nutty-flavoured Vin Jaune. The ‘yellow’ wine is actually a white wine that’s closer to sherry than anything else, as it’s aged under a filter of yeast called a voile.
The region’s hilly terrior makes for a perfect vacation. Drive through the verdant, rolling hills and explore the vineyards, which sit at the base of the Jura mountains. One of the few wine regions to have a wine festival in winter, the La Percée du Vin Jaune is set for celebration in February of 2022 in the village of Cramans.
The nearby town of Dijon (yes, home of the mustard) is an ideal base to discover Burgundy’s wines. From there, you can set off on the wine trail ‘La Route des Grands Crus,’ which runs through almost 40 different wine villages, UNESCO World Heritage sites and gorgeous, rural French terrain.
If you find the mustard intriguing, visit the Musee de la Vie Bourguignonne, where you can learn more about the history of the town and its famous, delicious condiment.
A far-flung island escape: Île d’Yeu
For a picturesque island escape, head to the Nantes region of France, where you can catch a ferry from ports such as Fromentine or Saint Gilles Croix de Vie to Yeu.
If you’re an #AvGeeks or those looking to arrive in style, helicopters leave from La-Barre-de-Monts to the island, or you can do air tours and even flight lessons over the Ile d’Yeu. Because it’s the second-furthest island from the French mainland, Yeu feels more remote than many of the other French islands, apt for explorers wanting to get away from it all.
Yeu has much to offer visitors — sandy beaches, more than 40 cycling routes, quiet fishing villages and ruins of historic forts and old castles. Walkers can take advantage of group walking tours in different areas of the island, and explore spots like lighthouses, woodlands, as well as one of the most beautiful beach coves on the island, Belle Maison.
Secrets of Alsace: Eguisheim
Colmar gets all the fame, but Eguisheim is another one of Alsace’s German-inspired villages, so plan to visit them both. Popular among the French, who’ve voted the village one of the most beautiful in France, Eguisheim’s medieval courtyards, cobblestone streets and colourful Swiss-German architecture will charm any traveller.
Make sure to head up to the three castle towers on Schlossberg Hill, which overlooks the village. Eguisheim has many small wine bars, tasting rooms and wine caves and the surrounding area offers a number of beautiful domaines and vineyards perfect for tours and tastings.
France is full of alluring destinations, from popular hubs like Paris and St. Tropez to tiny villages, far-flung natural wonders and wild islands. Visitors can (and should) see them all! There’s nothing wrong with a holiday in a more popular French destination, but if you want to sample the best of France’s more underrated spots (and some of their lesser-known wines, too), check out one of the areas on this list.
Featured image – Castlebouc and the Gorges du Tarn, France by GlobalP/Getty)Getty
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