Second Cities: The best destinations to add onto a trip to Paris

Jan 11, 2020

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Welcome to TPG’s Second Cities series, where we help you find amazing places that are only a couple of hours away from your original destination. This is the way to get the most out of your itinerary and visit destinations that see fewer tourists but deserve attention.

Paris is aptly nicknamed both the City of Love and the City of Light. Even though winters can be cold and rainy, there’s never really a bad time to go. It’s romantic year-round and the lights of the Eiffel Tower glitter, rain or shine. With Valentine’s Day coming, Paris may be on your mind — for a couples escape, a family vacation or a getaway with friends.

But why limit your adventure to Paris? France is full of medieval castles, gorgeous coastline, charming villages and more.

(Photo by paul gaudriault/Unsplash)
(Photo by paul gaudriault/Unsplash)

The French Riviera, Bordeaux’s vineyards and Provence’s lavender fields may already be on your radar, but there’s still more to see and do. Sip wine in a castle in the French countryside, explore one of France’s most incredible medieval citadels or admire 6,000-year-old megaliths. Here are some other destinations to visit in combination with Paris.

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Visit castles and sip wine in the Loire Valley

Why go: All of France is special for wine lovers but the Loire Valley is one of the best regions for oenophiles, especially if you’re also into castles. The area features hundreds of towering châteaux, many of them with vineyards of their own. This is an ideal way to taste with kids in tow — younger children, tweens and teens will all love exploring the castles as you savor your sauvignon blanc or cabernet franc.

The Loire Valley in France. (Photo by Philippe Sainte Laudy Photography/Getty Images)
The Loire Valley in France. (Photo by Philippe Sainte Laudy Photography/Getty Images)

Getting there: The Loire Valley is only a few hours away from Paris by car. If you’d prefer, you can take the train from Paris to Tours and then rent a car.

Where to stay: With Hyatt’s Small Luxury Hotels program, you can stay at some seriously charming hotels (and castles) while earning and burning Hyatt points. Enjoy a walk in the vineyards or a visit to the Caudalie spa at the 18th-century château Les Sources de Cheverny ($230/25,000 points per night).

Read more: How to redeem points with the World of Hyatt program

What to do: Start by exploring the city of Tours, visiting the gothic cathedral, Les Halles de Tours market and the Musée des Beaux-Arts de Tours with masterpieces by Rembrandt, Monet, Rodin and more. Then head east to the countryside to begin your castle and wine adventure. Although the Château de Chenonceau is one of the most popular attractions in the region, you should still visit to wander and wine taste. The only castle in the region to be built over the water, the structure actually spans the Cher River.

Chateau Chenonceaux on the Cher River in Loire, France. (Photo by Arthur Tilley/Getty Images)
Chateau de Chenonceau on the Cher River in the Loire region. (Photo by Arthur Tilley/Getty Images)

Head west toward Nantes through the Loire-Anjour-Touraine Natural Park. Follow the Loire River, which has a number of cycling paths, stopping at châteaux along the way, like the wine-centered Château de Minière or the Château de Targé, hidden among the greenery.

If it’s bubbles you’re after, follow the river northwest to the Bouvet Ladubay winery, where you can sample the Loire Valley’s renowned sparkling wine, Crémant. Both traditional and cycling tours of the cellars and grounds are available.

Discover the beauty of Brittany and Normandy

Why go: Brittany and Normandy make for the perfect road trip from Paris. Drive past walled cities, blustery beaches and hilltop castles. History lovers, foodies and anyone wanting to get out of the city will love these western regions.

Mont Saint Michel. (Photo by Christian Krieglsteiner/Getty Images)
Mont Saint-Michel. (Photo by Christian Krieglsteiner/Getty Images)

Getting there: Take a train from Paris to Rennes, the capital of Brittany (just an hour and a half on the high-speed line). After a quick stop to check out the impressive Palais du Parlement de Bretagne building and the manicured Thabor Gardens with their own aviary, rent a car and start your road trip. Alternatively, rent a car in Paris and drive a few hours to Normandy. There also are river cruises along the Seine from Paris that stop in various parts of Normandy if you’d prefer that to a road trip.

Read more: The best ways to get to Paris using points and miles

Where to stay: These regions don’t have much of a selection when it comes to points hotels, so it may be best to consider a home rental, like this picturesque countryside cottage or this romantic treehouse, both available on Airbnb.

What to do: Options for a Brittany/Normandy itinerary are endless, but there are some stops you must include. The majestic Mont Saint-Michel is home to the Monastery of Saint Michel, a monastery-turned-jail-turned-church set atop its own mountainous island. Farther west, Saint Malo is a medieval walled city set upon a golden-sand beach.

Étretat on the coast of Normandy in France. (Photo by Ellen van Bodegom/Getty Images)
Étretat on the coast of Normandy. (Photo by Ellen van Bodegom/Getty Images)

Southern Brittany is known for its Carnac Stones. These aren’t just any rocks, though — you can see over 3,000 prehistoric megaliths. Check out some of the dolmen stone formations which were once tombs. Further inland, the caves, boulders and trails of the Huelgoat Forest are perfect for nature enthusiasts. The Nantes-Brest canal runs for over 200 miles through the Brittany region. Explore the villages lining the canal or kayak/canoe in its waters.

If you want to absorb the history of D-Day, drive through spots like Omaha Beach, Juno Beach, Arromanches, Utah Beach and Caen. Here, you’ll find memorials, museums and beaches where the Allies landed in 1944. Further north in Normandy, drive through the beautiful cliffs and seashore of Étretat. The breathtaking scenery once served as inspiration for great artists like Claude Monet. Closer to Paris, Giverny was Monet’s longtime home and the site of the water lily pond and bridge that he often painted.

Explore the Occitanie and Languedoc-Roussillon regions in southern France

Why go: Most visitors associate southern France with Nice and the French Riviera, but you can avoid all the glitz with a relaxing getaway to lesser-explored areas like Occitanie and Languedoc. These regions have a little bit of everything: medieval villages, sandy stretches of beach, cultural cities and delicious wine and cuisine. Although they lack the international glamour of St.Tropez and Cannes, you’ll have a truly charming French experience instead.

The city walls of Carcassonne, France. (Photo by FvanderVeer/Getty Images)
The city walls of Carcassonne. (Photo by Jon Lovette/Getty Images)

Getting there: Fly just over an hour on airlines like EasyJet (from ORY) or Air France (from CDG) from Paris to Toulouse. Once there, rent a car.

Where to stay: The DoubleTree by Hilton Carcassone sits on the banks of the Aude River and overlooks the famous fortified hilltop historic center of Carcassone. Room rates start at $150/49,000 points per night.

Read more: The award traveler’s guide to Hilton Honors

What to do: Start by heading southeast toward Carcassone, a medieval city set atop a hill. The walled citadel (which dates back to Roman times) has over 53 towers to be explored. Then veer north to Albi, a beautiful town spanning the Tarn River. Highlights include the Albi cathedral and the 13th-century Berbie Palace.

From Albi, head east, passing through natural parks like Grands Causses, where castles are scattered throughout the dense forests, hilly countryside and the famous Tarn gorges. Slightly south, the Haut Languedoc park has extensive hiking trails — keep your eyes out for the many sheep that roam the park. Continue on until you reach the coast, where you’ll find a number of beautiful, quiet beaches.

The seaside town of Sète is particularly interesting. It’s often called the Venice of Languedoc for its lengthy canal system. Béziers is another medieval city worth visiting, especially if you’re looking to avoid crowds; it sees fewer visitors than the more popular Carcassone. Nearby, you’ll find many Languedoc-Roussillon vineyards.

Grands Causses in France. (Photo by FvanderVeer/Getty Images)
Grands Causses in France. (Photo by FvanderVeer/Getty Images)

Alternatively, there’s plenty to do if you’d prefer to ditch the road trip and hang out in Toulouse. Known as the Pink City for its terra-cotta rooftops, the city has many historical buildings, museums and monuments worth seeing. Stroll (or perhaps ride a bike) across the Pont Neuf, one of the city’s most beautiful bridges, stretching across the Garonne River. AvGeeks should tour the Airbus factory just outside the city center near the airport.

Bottom line

Paris is an incredible city with endless activities, but adding a stop in one of these easy-to-reach destinations will expose you to so much more of France’s history, culture and way of life. After all, Paris doesn’t have limestone cliffs, hundreds of castles, miles of vineyards, medieval citadels or sandy beaches. Explore a second city and voilà — your France adventure will be even better.

Featured photo by Valeria Schettino/Getty Images.

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