When it comes to tourism in France, Paris definitely dominates the headlines.
And while it is charming, magical and a place everyone should visit at least one, this doesn’t mean other French cities should be overlooked!
Snowy mountains, golden sand beaches, no-house-for-miles countryside, buzzy cities, adorable little towns, France has it all.
And because there’ll be more than enough ‘Paris’ content coming to this blog very, very soon (I’m on my way there as you read this!), I thought it was only fair to balance things out by sharing 10 other French places you absolutely must put on your travel bucket list.
Located in the South East of France, near the Swiss border, there are many reasons to put Lyon at the very top of your travel bucket list.
First things first, food.
France is always acclaimed for its gastronomy, and Lyon is the capital city of French gastronomy. No molecular food to be seen there! Lyonnaise cuisine focuses on home cooked dishes and the classics, with the ultimate aim of highlighting carefully chosen ingredients.
Lyon’s ‘bouchon’ restaurants are the place to go to taste the best local dishes such as sausages, duck pâté or roast pork along with local wines. Much like tapas bars in Barcelona, the locals have their favourites and will happily give you tips.
Besides being a delicious city, Lyon is also a beautiful one and is home to 2,000 years of history. The Historic Site of Lyons has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1998 and includes examples of Roman and Renaissance architecture.
2. Saint Malo
Located on the English Channel, Saint Malo is a walled port city with a badass history!
Traditionally with an independent streak (and a tradition of asserting its autonomy in dealings with the French authorities and even with the local Breton authorities), Saint-Malo was in the past notorious for privateering.
The city still shows marks of its hectic past, making it the perfect destination for history nerds and pirates lovers!
And then, there are some of the most beautiful beaches in France, green-toned water, the freshest seafood… and SALTED CARAMEL!
A small island in the middle of the Mediterranean sea (and the birthplace of Napoleon), Corsica is nothing like mainland France.
Mountains make up two-thirds of the island, forming a single chain and creating jaw-droppingly beautiful landscapes and the dreamiest of backgrounds for hiking.
Surrounded by the sea, covered in forests and under a rather mild weather, Corsica is the perfect destination if you’re in for a bit of a walk on the wild side!
Strasbourg, the capital city of the Alsace region, sits near the German border in northwestern France and it’s the perfect example of what makes border cities so special.
Strasbourg architecture, much like its culture, blends German and French influences perfectly.
And there’s a lot to see: from the breath-taking gothic Cathedrale Notre Dame to the hyper-modern European Parliament building, as well as many other EU-related buildings and the too-cute-for-words Petite France area, Strasbourg is a small city that packs up a lot!
Perfect for a (potentially Flamenküche-and-beer-fueled) weekend city break!
Long rated one of France’s best places to live, the capital of the western Loire was once a powerful maritime city. Nowadays, the waterways are not as influential as they once were, but Nantes has many other aces up its sleeves.
There’s something fascinating about how the old (including the Château des Ducs de Bretagne, former home of the Dukes of Brittany and Anne de Bretagne) mixes with the new and a walk through Nantes will take you way into the past and back.
Even more interesting is Nantes’ ever-growing number of art and cultural diversions. Highlights include open-air Les Machines de L’Ile, an unprecedented artistic project channeling Jules Verne’s “invented worlds”, of the mechanical universe of Leonardo da Vinci, where you can ride a 12-m elephant-machine, as well as a trip to Le Lieu Unique,the national center for contemporary arts, housed in a former biscuit factory at the center of the city.
And no visit to Nantes is complete without a feast on the region’s food specialities, including fish with beurre blanc sauce, Gateau Nantais (a kind of iced almond cake), all washed down with a chilled glass of crisp muscadet!
Lille is an architectural beauty with strong Flemish influences, but it’s also a historical hot-spot.
Long an industrial centre, Lille has made major efforts to reviev itself in the last two decades it has made great efforts to revive itself, efforts that were rewarded with Lille becoming the European City of Culture in 2004.
Most of the city old buildings have been renovated to their original beauty and are well worth a look, especially the Old Stock Exchange building and the magnificent Grand’ Place, which has many historic houses and is also home to markets and other public events.
Less famous but equally stunning is La Piscine, the craft & industry museum, worth a visit for the outstanding art deco interior and the mosaic indoor swimming pool alone!
Flea market lovers will want to plan their visit around the Grande Braderie de Lille, the largest flea market in Europe, taking place at the beginning of September and gathering about 2.5 millions visitors each year.
Bordeaux is of course the destination of choice for any wine lover. From vineyard tours to pretigious tasting sessions and wine festivals, there’s something for everyone and every budget.
And while oenology and gastronomy are at the heart of many a trip to Bordeaux, there are many more reasons to pay the European Best Destination 2015 a visit.
A city at the crossings between past and future, Bordeaux is elegant and surprising. From the amazing mirror of water to the monumental Grand Theatre and its small-street city centre, it’s truly a city of contrasts.
On foot, by bike, tram, Bordeaux deserves to be explored before re-joining the docks in the evening for a stroll and a taste of the region’s many specialties on the edge of the river.
Settled on the shores of the Lake, and surrounded by mountains and woods, Annecy is one of the most popular towns in the Alps, and with good reasons as it combines the advantages of a town with unlimited water-based and mountain-related activities, such as hicking, cycling, pedal-boat on the lake, or even swimming.
The old town is also well worth climbing to, with buildings dating back to the 12th century and many a great ice cream parlour to reward your effort!
9. Ile de Ré
Located bang in the middle of continental France only a couple of miles away from the Atlantic coast, Ile de Ré is my happy place.
It’s where I spent all my holidays growing up, and I go back every opportunity I get.
It’s a beautiful little island, all in shades of blue and green, with white houses, endless beaches of golden sand, salt marshes as far as the eye can see and loads of bikes.
There’s more markets than you could possbily hope for, all bursting with fresh produce, gorgeous little restaurants dotted around the island, and the best ice cream I’ve ever eaten in my life.
(and seeing that as you read that, I’m wiggling my toes in the sand on one of Ile de Ré’s beautiful beaches, expect more Ile de Ré pics coming your way very, very soon!)
Alright, alright, that last one is cheating a little bit… But then, when a place makes perfectly responsible adults act like 6-year-olds, surely it is worth a visit!