The 8 Most Underrated Destinations in France
Thanks to a strong dollar, lower fuel costs, and more competition for Transatlantic routes, getting to Europe is about as cheap as it’s ever been. And last year, when Norwegian launched flights to Paris, suddenly the idea of a glamorous French vacation—one marked by cozy, dimly lit cocktail bars and summertime strolls along the Seine—didn’t seem so far out of reach.
To be sure, Paris is one of those cities you could keep returning to, again and again. But with 22 regions spread out over nearly 250,000 square miles, France has so many other, quieter destinations to visit.
Here, eight worth considering for your next getaway.
Lyon, the third-largest French city (by population) and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is the gastronomic heart of France. Paul Bocuse, the nonagenarian granddaddy of French cuisine, was born here, and today his eponymous empire includes a cooking school and a three-Michelin-star restaurant.
Even without splurging on a tasting menu, travelers can get a taste of what makes the regional dining culture so unique, from L'epicerie Bistrot a Tartines, where the namesake toast comes piled high with rillettes and sardines, to Daniel et Denise, a traditional
The most famous food market, Les Halles de Lyon Paul Bocuse, is also the most touristy, with 50 indoor vendors peddling everything from cheese, meat, and fish to chocolates and painstakingly decorated mignardises to mussels smothered in ice-cold cream and chives (a must-order at MERLE oyster bar).
To browse a quieter market, head to Marche Saint-Antoine Celestins on the bank of the Saône. Turn in for the night at Mama Shelter Lyon, a funky, reasonably priced boutique hotel designed by Philippe Starck.
Getting to Megève, located due east of Lyon near the Swiss border, requires navigating a narrow, windy complex of roads, but the views of Mont Blanc (the highest peak in the Alps) and the picture-perfect chalets and blossoming flower boxes help make the white-knuckling worth it.
Though Megève is the quintessential French ski town, it’s also wonderful in summer, when the mountains are an impossible shade of green, and when you can hear the faint sounds of cowbells somewhere off in the distance.
Be sure to stay for a night or two at Flocons de Sel, an intimate Relais & Chateaux hotel and spa that achieves just the right mix of rustic and modern decor.
The property’s eponymous three-Michelin-star restaurant is helmed by chef Emmanuel Renault, who owns Flocons de Sel with his wife, Kristine. Particularly adventurous eaters can enroll in a half-day cooking class; you’ll help prep for lunch service before sitting down to an indulgent multi-course feast of your own.
It is in French Basque Country where one can learn how to properly summer (as-a-verb) like a European. Start at The Beach House in Anglet, which, with its juices, salads, and beachy vibe, seems plucked straight from Playa del Rey. The boardwalk across the street offers prime views of the waves, and of the surfers who flock here from near and far to ride them.
Ten minutes down the coast, Biarritz is marked by obvious signs of glitz, like the massive Hermès boutique presiding over Boulevard du Général de Gaulle.
Thanks to the perfect weather, Biarritz is packed in August; hordes of French vacationers descend upon its glistening beaches, cute little surf shops, and terrific restaurants. But don’t let the crowds deter you: find a bare strip of sand, throw your stuff down, and dive into the resplendent, lukewarm waters of the Eastern Atlantic. Hang on the beach long past sunset, then retreat to the Hotel du Palais, a palatial high-end hotel built in the 19th century as a summer escape for Empress Eugenie, Napoleon III’s wife.
If you’ve ever dreamed of pulling a Peter Mayle and moving to a lavender-flecked town, don’t sleep on Avignon, tucked along the Rhone River at the northwestern edge Provence. In the 1300s, the city served as a brief and temporary home of the Papacy; on summer nights, the Palais des Papes (pictured here), the former papal residence, retells this history by projecting an illustrated light show onto its Gothic exterior.
Medieval architecture abounds throughout Avignon’s historic city center, a UNESCO World Heritage Site encircled by ramparts and dotted with picturesque cafes and wine bars (like the terrific AOC).
And although it may be tempting to book a room somewhere grand, like La Mirande, smaller, off-the-beaten-path hotels like Le Colbert stand to remind you of that quintessentially European charm, the sort where husband-and-wife proprietors serve homemade croissants, baguettes, and smoothies out on a cheery back patio.
If Biarritz gives a taste of French beach culture, Annecy offers a glimpse of French
The best way to see Annecy is by bike—there’s a 25-mile bike path that winds around the full circumference of the lake, and rentals are easy at
Take breaks at any of the the quaint little beaches, crepes stands, and parks along the way, and then return to the town center for a brew at Beer O’Clock, an unfortunately named, yet truly excellent, bar pouring dozens of obscure craft beers from high-tech, self-serve taps. Across the street, Le Poivrier offers charcuterie plates, herbed lamb, coquilles St.-Jaques, and other contemporary French dishes.
Eze, about 30 minutes north of Nice on the Cote d’Azur, has charmed everyone from the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, who once lived here, to filmmaker Alfred Hitchcock, who used the location for a scene in 1955’s “To Catch a Thief.” Spend even two days in this village, which was founded in 400 B.C., and it’s easy to see what the fuss was about, from the cobblestoned streets lined with Medieval houses to a manicured garden of succulents
But the crown jewel of Eze is the Chateau de la Chevre d’Or, a Relais & Chateaux property that feels as if it’s been carved into the mountain. Marked on the exterior by cascading terraces, gardens, and greenery, the boutique hotel has 40 rooms and suites, some with private hot tubs—and one with a white Yamaha piano that matches the creams and neutrals of the decor.
Nurse a Campari on the rocks while gazing out over the Mediterranean—when the weather is clear, you can see cruise ships and yachts dawdling near Cap Ferrat and points south—then retire for dinner at the hotel's eponymous two-Michelin star restaurant. Executive chef Arnauld Faye puts thoughtful, at times avant-garde, twists on traditional
Another Cote d’Azur jewel, Menton, right on the French-Italian border, has clusters of pastel stucco buildings that create a surreal, patchwork-like tableau.
But even the even the farthest-flung point in France is not without its Michelin stars, and when people talk about going to any lengths for a great meal, they surely have establishments like Mirazur in mind.
Currently ranked No. 4 on the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list, the restaurant is helmed by Marco Colagreco, who fuses French and Italian traditions with his Argentine upbringing. A meal at Mirazur will be long, but never boring or serious—squid is meant to be twirled like spaghetti, turbot is enhanced by dollops of rainbow-colored accompaniments. Mirazur’s spare interior lets the food—not to mention those expansive views of the Mediterranean, and of Italy off in the distance—take center stage.
If Saint-Émilion the less touristy cousin of Bordeaux, Ruch, just outside both, is a notch or two even more low key. Roads dotted with grapevines, hidden driveways that lead to tasting rooms: this is French wine country at its most charming—sans crowds.
Rather blissfully, there’s not much to do in Ruch other than
This story originally appeared on Townandcountrymag.com.
* Minor edits have been made by the Townandcountry.ph editors.