Off the beaten path: Tips on visiting and exploring France

Aug 8, 2020

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As the travel industry reopens following COVID-19 shutdowns, TPG suggests that you talk to your doctor, follow health officials’ guidance and research local travel restrictions before booking that next trip. And we’ll be here to help you prepare, whether it’s next month or next year.

Paris is probably the first place on most people’s list of places to visit in France — and with good reason, of course. It is such an incredible city with plenty of things to do, see and eat. Then there are other popular spots like Brittany, Marseille, Nice and the French Riviera — and you’re spoiled for choice in terms of ski resorts and spa towns like Evian.

At TPG we are all about maximizing your travel and one of the ways we like to do that is by highlighting off-the-beaten-path places that you might never have heard of. Here are some hidden gems that you might want to consider when planning your next trip.

Annecy

Also known as “the Venice of France,” this tiny city is guaranteed to mesmerize you with its beauty and charm. Almost everyone who lives in Annecy does some kind of sport. Whether it’s rollerblading, tennis, hiking or cycling, you’ll be hard pushed to find someone who just sits at home and watches TV. It’s mainly because nobody would want to stay indoors. The city is on a beautiful, man-made lake, which is perfect for all kinds of water sports. If water isn’t your thing, there are some incredible hikes as the foothills of the Alps wrap around the east and southern part of the lake. A couple of hours climb and the views are spectacular — you can even see Mont Blanc on a good day.

View of Lake Annecy while climbing La Tournette, France. (Photo by Pauline Bernard/Getty Images)

If heights aren’t your thing and you prefer to be on dry land, then you can get lost wandering the streets of the enchanting old town. Annecy is in the Haute-Savoie region, which has, like many regions in France, a famous dish that the locals will tell you that you must try. It’s a piping hot dish of potatoes, onions and lardons covered in reblochon cheese and goes by the name of tartiflette.

Annecy, Savoie, France
The old town of Annecy, France. (Photo by robertharding/Getty Images)

How to get there: The closest airport with the most frequent flights from all over is Geneva (GVA) in Switzerland. You can expect around 30 to 45 minutes of drive time, depending on traffic. In winter months there are flights to Chambery (CMF), but it’s worth noting that this airport is often plagued with fog and flight delays and cancellations. If the train is your thing, then the Eurostar will be stopping in Lyon, which is only a couple of hours away by train from Annecy.

Cassis and Les Calanques

Tucked away on the Côte d’Azur (The French Riviera) is the tiny fishing town of Cassis. The town itself has charming little streets and colorful houses. The beaches, though they’re pebbly rather than sandy, are blessed with the kind of crystal clear waters that you’d associate with the Caribbean.

Head a little farther west and take a hike up through the Calanques National Park for cliff top views that will completely take your breath away. Les Calanques are long, steep, limestone and dolomite inlets, with harbor calm blue waters and idyllic little beaches.

Related reading: Flying with Air France? All you need to know about the menu

(Photo by Nicky Kelvin/The Points Guy)

How to get there: Your closest airport is Marseille (MRS), which is about 50 minutes drive from Cassis.

If you prefer to take the train, there are up to four return Eurostars per week direct to Marseille, which takes just less than six and a half-hours. Prices start at about $89 one-way in March.

Corsica

“The island of beauty” as it’s known in French, Corsica is a stunning jewel in the middle of the Mediterranean. The tiny French island boasts over 600 miles of coastline with miles upon miles of white, sandy beaches that are worth a visit all year round.

Related reading: Beyond Paris: Choose from these 10 beautiful French islands for your next vacation

Houses at Bonifacio in Corsica is built on cliff.
Houses at Bonifacio in Corsica is built on cliff. (Photo by Pascal Poggi).

The many restaurants in the old towns of Ajaccio and Bastia are well worth a visit as you can sample the local charcuterie, jams and honey.

How to get there: Options are quite limited to get to this tiny island paradise. Or, fly to places along the Mediterranean Coast like Marseille, Genoa and Rome (for the port of Civitavecchia) and get the boat from there.

La Clusaz and Grand Bornand

France is renowned in the skiing world for its long, windy, tree-lined Alpine pistes. Not only that, but the après ski is like nowhere else in the world — The Folie Douce being the place to be seen after a long day (or short morning) of skiing. If you’ve skied in some of the biggest and most well-known resorts in France such as The Three Valleys, Tignes/Val D’Isère and, of course, Chamonix, you’ll probably know that at peak times of year the ski lift lines can be unbearable. Enter Le Grand Bornand and La Clusaz.

La Clusaz, located in the French Alps in Haute Savoie, is a beautiful little village and a famous winter sports resort.
The center of La Clusaz, Haute-Savoie, France. (Photo by Benoitbruchez/Getty Images)

How to get there: As these resorts are close to Annecy, the best ways to get there are pretty much the same. From Geneva, you’re looking at just over an hour to get to both resorts. In winter months, there are flights to Chambery (CMF) but it’s worth noting, as mentioned above, that this airport is often plagued with fog and flight delays and cancellations.

La Dune de Pilat/Bordeaux

As the biggest mountain of sand in Europe, the Dune de Pilat has a lot to live up to. On the edge of the Landes de Gascogne regional park, the dune is definitely a place to add to your list — especially if you’re into sports. From the top of the dunes can you go paragliding and at the base, you can go kayaking.

Though it’s definitely worth a visit, you’re probably not going to want to spend more than a day at the dune. Bordeaux is just around the corner, which, if you like fancy hotels and fine wines, might be right up your alley.

DUNE DE PILAT, ARCACHON, FRANCE - 2016/08/03: Dune de Pilat, Europe's tallest sand dune nestled between the Atlantic Ocean, an enormous pine forest, the Arcachon Bay, a sandbank and a peninsula. (Photo by Raquel Maria Carbonell Pagola/LightRocket via Getty Images)
The view from the top of the Dune. (Photo by Raquel Maria Carbonell Pagola/LightRocket/Getty Images)

How to get there: The closest airport is Bordeaux.

Le Lac de Sainte Croix, Moustiers Sainte-Marie

As Brits, we love to be by the seaside — and for good reason. But sometimes, it’s just as good or, dare I say it, even better to relax on a lake. The water is often calmer, the scenery completely different and more often than not you’ll be able to leave without finding sand in your socks and shoes months later.

Le Lac de Sainte-Croix. (Photo by Michel Craig via Flickr)

And that’s exactly what you’ll find at Le Lac de Sainte Croix. A calm, tranquil spot, miles away from the hoards of tourists who flock to the French coast during the summer — perfect for a relaxing family vacation.

How to get there: Similar to Cassis and Les Calanques, the closest airport is also Marseille.

Bottom line

France is a massive country with forests, lakes, beaches, mountains and much, much more, and we’ve only highlighted a tiny part of it. Sometimes it pays to do a little bit more exploring and head off-the-beaten-track a little — bon voyage.

Featured image by Allard Schager/Getty Images

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