The 30 greatest holidays in France

The 30 greatest holidays in France for 2024
If you want to capture the essence of this enduring holiday favourite, make a beeline for Provence - 4cornersimages.com

France is a holiday favourite for a reason. As off-the-beaten-track destinations enjoy their moment in the limelight, it has classic, timeless appeal. It’s not hard to see why: mountains that rise to almost 5,000 metres high, lush vineyards, a coastline both wild and rugged and soft with glassy seas. Let’s not forget Paris, which regularly tops lists as the most visited city in the world.

This is also a country with more Michelin-starred restaurants than any other in the world (625), and one that’s deservedly proud of its fare, from 10-course tasting menus to croque monsieurs. This year, more than ever, as Paris hosts the Olympic Games for the first time in a century, it’s the place to visit, and there are plenty of events happening in Marseille, Lille and other French cities too.

Best of all, it’s so close. For those of us trying to cut back on flying, Eurostar, the Channel Tunnel and multiple ferry companies run services several times a day.

Whether your holiday style is sightseeing, soaking up the sun or saturating in fine food and wine, these 30 ideas promise not to give you Paris syndrome.


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Best for culture

1. Escape to the châteaux of the Loire

There are more than 300 châteaux in the Loire, from vast palaces sporting hundreds of turrets, to châteaux built on aqueducts crossing rivers, to “modest” castles now used as family homes or hotels.

The 16th-century Château de Chenonceau
The 16th-century Château de Chenonceau - Alamy

Particular highlights include the Château de Chambord, the largest in the Loire with 440 rooms and impeccably manicured gardens; Château de Chenonceau, a 16th-century castle built on a bridge spanning the River Cher; and Château de Saumur, which sports a decorative spire covered with gold leaf.

G Adventures (0800 913812) has a nine-day France Family Journey group trip from £2,999 per person, including hotels, transfers and activities, and taking in the Loire Valley, Bayeux and Versailles.

2. Shop at Lille’s 900-year-old flea market

Lille’s braderie (or flea market) – dating from the 12th century and still the largest in Europe – includes 10,000 exhibitors. So many moules-frites are consumed when it takes place on the first Sunday of September, that little heaps of mussel shells line the streets.

Lille’s flea market is the largest in Europe
Lille’s flea market is the largest in Europe - Getty

If you can tear yourself away from the party atmosphere and Flemish beer, visit swimming pool-turned-gallery La Piscine de Roubaix, 20 minutes away. Among the artists with permanent exhibits are Ingres, Picasso and Rodin.

Byway Travel (020 4525 6215) has the three-night Hauts-de-France trip to Lille, Amiens and Paris from £522 per person.

3. See a show in the Palace of the Popes

As the Edinburgh Fringe Festival tumbled onto the world stage in 1947, so did the Avignon Festival across the Channel. Held annually in July, it’s similar to the Fringe in that it lasts the best part of a month and includes more than 1,000 shows, workshops and dance performances.

Palace of the Popes Square in Avignon during the festival
Palace of the Popes Square in Avignon during the festival - Alamy

The city itself inspires creativity. Home to seven successive popes during the 14th century, it’s impossible to stroll the terracotta ramparts of the walled old city without feeling like you’re travelling back in time, and hidden in the historic courtyards are cafés, bars and boutiques.

Avignon Festival runs from June 29 to July 21, with OFF Avignon, the alternative arts festival, running almost in parallel from July 3 to 21. Vintage Travel (01954 261 431) has villas to rent just outside Avignon starting from £5,100 per week, based on eight people sharing.

4. Study a vast Roman mosaic at Vienne’s Musée Saint-Romain-en-Gal

Unearthed in 1890, this 24m2 mosaic depicting the changing of the seasons and their different agricultural practices (with Dionysus and various big cats thrown in for dramatic effect), was on display at the Louvre. After undergoing a two-year renovation process, for the first time it’s back where it was discovered, at the Musée Saint-Romain-en-Gal, Vienne. The exhibition will run from June 21 2024 until 2027, and the different squares have been mounted on the walls individually, so you can see each minute mosaic piece in detail.

Bed & Bicycle’s (0033 4 65 84 02 73) luxury péniche (barge) accommodation on the Rhône River opened their latest property in Vienne in 2023. Doubles start from £127.

5. Sing sea shanties at Brittany’s Celtic festival

You only have to look at the abundance of black-and-white striped Breton flags decorating buildings here to see this is a region that’s proud to be different. Now in its 53rd year, the Lorient Interceltic Festival is only growing in popularity. For two weeks every August, the port town of Lorient comes alive with Breton dancing, fancy dress, sea shanties and concerts. Little Lorient, usually home to just over 50,000, swells to accommodate over 700,000 visitors.

Tickets to the Grand Celtic Nations Parade (August 15) cost £15 per person. Headwater (01606 218854) has the six-night Coastal Walking in Brittany trip from £1,579 per person, including hotels, luggage transfers and maps, staying in 3 or 4-star hotels.

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Best for families

6. Surf into the sunset at France’s mini Sahara

Mirage-like, the 100 metre high Dune of Pilat is the largest sand dune in Europe, making a stark contrast with the cerulean sea where it meets the Atlantic. The dune in itself is an attraction that will keep adventurers of all ages busy, but don’t miss the sea and sky-based activities, which include surfing, paddleboarding and paragliding. With a panoramic view over the ocean, the Dune of Pilat also offers one of the best sunset views in the country.

The 100-metre high Dune of Pilat
The 100-metre high Dune of Pilat - Getty

Eurostar (03432 186 186) has fares from London to Bordeaux starting from €77 per person.

7. Take a dip and a spin in the Annecy mountains

Lake Annecy was famously described as the Pearl of the French Alps by French geographer Raoul Blanchard, and there can be little argument that it’s deserving of the name to this day. France’s cleanest lake is equipped with paddleboard rental, kayaks and pedalos, and the surrounding mountains serve up year-round thrills.

Take a stand: paddleboard among the Alps at Lake Annecy
Take a stand: paddleboard among the Alps at Lake Annecy - Monica DALMASSO

Summers are made for hiking, mountain biking and paragliding, while the winter brings snow-sure slopes aplenty. A largely flat bicycle route goes all the way around the lake, taking approximately half a day to complete (rent bikes from one of the many outlets in town).

Hôtel les Trésoms (00 33 4 50 51 43 84) has double rooms from £140 per night with breakfast.

8. Be a lighthouse (keeper) on Brittany’s Île Vierge

Maybe we read too much Enid Blyton, but staying in a lighthouse is mystical. The tall stone lighthouse of Île Vierge, Finistère was built in 1845, and inhabited by keepers until 2010. Now lovingly restored, it has many more home comforts than the lighthouse keepers would have been accustomed to, but has kept plenty of original features too. The lantern tower has 360 degree panoramic views, accessed via a steep, spiral staircase, and the only sounds you’ll hear will be waves and sea birds. It’s enough to bring out the child in anyone.

La Maison des Gardiens (sleeps nine) is priced £630 for a one-night stay in low season. Book through Abers Tourisme.

9. Spot seals in the Somme

The sandy flats of the Bay of the Somme drain six rivers into the Channel, creating a marble-like area of wetlands that’s a haven for birdlife. But the big pull – particularly for young nature-lovers – is the seals, with the bay home to both the harbour and grey variety. There are no jeeps on this marine safari: instead, hire a kayak or, more novel still, ride on horseback through the shallows.

Seal appeal: spot the harbour and grey varieties in the Bay of the Somme
Seal appeal: spot the harbour and grey varieties in the Bay of the Somme - Getty

Pierre et Vacances (00 33 173 01 85 66) has holiday rentals in the Somme from £339 for a week, based on two people, self-catering.

10. Step back in time at Puy du Fou

Done Disneyland a dozen times? It’s time to try out Puy du Fou. With four replicas of historic villages and 26 shows – including the burning of a Viking longship and gladiator fights in a Roman amphitheatre – it’s like Center Parcs and Horrible Histories combined. There are even specially trained rooks which swoop around the park picking up litter. Better still, as Puy du Fou is in the heart of the Vendée, there are plenty of real castles nearby to keep the adults happy, too.

Entry to Puy de Fou starts from £37 per person. Eurocamp (01606 787125) has chalets at Le Clarys Plage from £310 a week, sleeping four.

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Best for foodies

11. Make your own cheese in the heart of Paris

Savoir faire wasn’t just for 2020, and French company Wecandoo organises workshops led by artisans all over the country — everything from forging your own knife to making your own cheese. La Latteria in Paris 9th is an Italian delicatessen serving up a mouthwatering selection of French and Italian cheeses, and you can choose whether to make an Italian cheese (mozzarella) or to stay patriotic and make a French tomme. Classes are washed down with a wine and cheese tasting, naturally.

A workshop at La Latteria with Wecandoo starts from £39pp. Hôtel Rochechouart (0033 1 42 81 91 00) is a 12-minute walk away, and has doubles from £118, room only.

12. Sip sangria in French Catalonia

Tapas, seafood, sangria and a sparkling sea might have you wondering which country you’re in – but in Collioure, the picture-perfect Catalan harbour town just north of the Spanish border, rest assured you’re still in France. A honeypot for artists, during the 20th century Picasso, Matisse and Braque were some of its notable regulars.

Bite size: sample Spanish-style tapas with a twist in the Catalan harbour town of Collioure
Bite size: sample Spanish-style tapas with a twist in the Catalan harbour town of Collioure - Alamy

Visit for the Wednesday or Sunday market, when the already kaleidoscopic town bursts with colour and stimulates every sense. If you go to the harbour early enough, you might see traditional wooden Catalan fishing boats bringing in the catch of the day.

100-year-old Hôtel La Frégate (00 33 4 6882 0605) has sea views, a central location and doubles from £101 per night with breakfast.

13. Over-indulge in the gastronomic capital

The difficulty in Lyon isn’t finding somewhere to eat, it’s choosing. Ranking fifth in the world for Michelin-starred restaurants, it packs a punch for its size. Many first-time visitors fall into the trap of visiting the old town’s bouchons – traditional “mother’s cooking” restaurants, except that Lyonnaise mothers served up offal rather than turkey dinosaurs and chips. For more variety, and generally better quality, take a food tour. Why is Lyon’s praline brioche pink? What is the unappetising sounding “silk worker’s brain”? And can you eat vegan in France’s meat-heavy capital? (Yes, and exceptionally well.)

No Diet Club has a 3.5 hour walking and tasting tour from £53 per person

14. Drink among the vines in Bordeaux

Of all of the wine regions in France, none is so well known as Bordeaux, often considered the finest wine region in the world. There are plenty of domaines to choose from, many of which pair their vintages with a delicious selection of regional cheeses and charcuteries, but more are adding seasonal vegetables into the mix. Who knew butternut squash and celeriac could match so well with bordeaux?

pair the wines of Bordeaux with charcuterie, cheese… and seasonal vegetables
Mixed message: pair the wines of Bordeaux with charcuterie, cheese… and seasonal vegetables - Getty

Wine tastings at Château Troplong Mondot (00 33 5 57 55 32 05) start from £43 per person, with overnight stays from £220 for a double room including breakfast

15. Feast on flammekueche and gingerbread in Strasbourg

Strasbourg is widely considered to have the finest Christmas market in France, but with mouth-watering markets year-round and plenty of tasting tours, this picture-perfect city isn’t just for Christmas. In December it may be more festive than Will Ferrell prancing about in yellow tights, but the immense Gothic cathedral and half-timbered houses are always a feast for the eyes – and that’s before you get started on the cuisine. This city sits squarely in the middle of the Alsace Wine Route, and culinary specialities include flammekueche (similar to a thin, crispy white-sauce pizza), gingerbread and choucroute.

The French Travel (0033 6 6904 8494) has the two-night Alsace Getaway from £2,244 for two people, including return trains from Paris and accommodation in neighbouring Colmar.

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Best for couples

16. Hit the beach in Calvi

Corsica remains relatively unexplored by British tourists, so if you’re the type of couple who would prefer not to run the risk of bumping into your neighbours, a trip to the medieval citadel of Calvi is a safe bet. Jutting out like a sandcastle into the Mediterranean, the narrow little streets reveal a wealth of seafood restaurants, cocktail bars and sun-drenched terrasses.

Some of the finest beaches in the country are to be found near Calvi, in Corsica
Some of the finest beaches in the country are to be found near Calvi, in Corsica - Alamy

Some of the finest beaches in the country, if not Europe, line the coastline between Calvi and Cap Corse, and – if you rent a car and go beach-hopping – it’s not difficult to find one all to yourself, even in peak season.

Relais & Chateaux’s (0203 519 1967) La Signoria & Spa, in an 18th century Genoese estate, has doubles starting from £380.

17. Smell the lavender in Provence

Every June, the lavender fields of Provence turn the vivid purple of a Parma violet, and the warm air is perfumed with the scent of the flowers in full bloom. But how do you avoid the snap-happy masses that descend upon Provence in June brandishing selfie sticks? Head to Crillon-le-Brave, a fortified village, for views of Mont Ventoux (a name familiar with disciples of the Tour de France) and the quieter lavender fields nearby.

Intrepid Travel (0330 808 7336) has the eight-night Cycle Provence trip from £1,594 per person, including accommodation, activities and breakfast, and taking in Orange and Arles

18. Spot street art in Eastern Paris

Central Paris is an evergreen choice for first-time visitors, but staying in edgy, grungy Belleville helps to save pennies and skip clichés. (Comparatively) affordable rent in the quartier has seen an influx of street artists, and the murals are a feast for the eyes. Forget the flashy rooftop terraces which dominate the city centre, bars here are intimate, cosy and full of character. Mixologists at unpretentious cocktail bar Combat can whip up blends beyond your wildest dreams.

Mural paintings in Belleville
Mural paintings in Belleville - Getty

Hôtel Au Boeuf Couronné (0033 1 4239 4444) in Belleville has doubles from £131 a night with breakfast, and an excellent steakhouse

19. Taste fossil-infused champagne

Some of the fossils at Champagne’s La Cave aux Coquillages are more than 45 million years old, and many winemakers believe it enhances the flavour of the champagne grown in the area. The tipple is, of course, said to be an aphrodisiac – but if the bubbles don’t go to your head, emerging to the bucolic view of tiny villages, windmills and neat rows of vines surely will.

Headwater’s (01606 720199) six-day self-guided Cycle the Wine Route of Champagne starts from £1,649pp, including flights, B&B accommodation, local bike hire and listed transfers.

20. Test out Nancy’s new thermal spa complex

Opened in spring 2023, Le spa thermal has been a work in progress for over 100 years. Thermal springs were discovered in Nancy, East France, at the start of the 20th century, but it wasn’t until 2019 that a project began to finally open the spa complex. This gold-gilded city was modelled on Versailles and built to welcome Louis XV, but here there’s none of the thousands of daytrippers that Versailles experiences. Don’t miss all the exquisite Art Nouveau architecture, best experienced over dinner at La Brasserie Excelsior.

Entry to Le spa thermal starts from £6.50pp. The Best Western Plus Crystal doubles from £134, including breakfast.

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Best for outdoor adventure

21. Hit the slopes in Serre Chevalier Vallée Briançon

With 81 pistes, more than 80 per cent of which sit above 2,000 metres, Serre Chevalier is one of the few places that has remained relatively unruffled by this winter’s lack of snow, with its season set to keep going until at least mid-April.

Snowboarders survey the Serre Chevalier valley
Snowboarders survey the Serre Chevalier valley - Getty

More than 155 miles of runs will keep the pickiest skiers busy for days on end, but for a truly novel experience, try out the zipline – which whizzes you more than half a mile down the mountain in just over a minute – for a bird’s-eye view over the snowy slopes. Summer is no less exciting, with world-class hiking and mountain biking.

Hôtel le Monetier has rooms from £135 per night with breakfast.

22. Hike Corsica’s toughest trails

The beaches may get the glory in Corsica, but did you know the island is also home to some of Europe’s toughest but most rewarding hiking trails? Snaking the bony spine of the Corsican mountains is the two-week GR20 (110 miles), often extolled as Europe’s toughest trek. For those short of time, the Mare e Monti (Sea and Mountain) South from Propriano to Porto Vecchio takes five to six days. Day hikers head to Vizzavona (the north/south divide on the GR20) where a pleasant two-hour walk takes you to the Cascade des Anglais (the English waterfall).

Couleur Corse organises six-day self-guided hikes of the Mare e Monti for £672 per person.

23. Climb in the Calanques National Park

France’s most spectacular natural playground was formed nearly 120 million years ago, leaving 26 rocky inlets – known as calanques – spread over the 16-mile stretch between Marseille and Cassis. Most can only be accessed by the water or via steep hiking trails, but this does mean that it’s possible to find a quiet calanque, even in the height of summer. If travelling by road or sea instead, head to the Calanque de Morgiou, where King Louis XIII famously went to fish tuna.

The calanques of Marseille make for a stunning playground
The calanques of Marseille make for a stunning playground - Christian Kober

Oliver’s Travels has self-catering villas near the calanques from £596 per week.

24. Cross the Jura Massif by bike

Infatigable adventurers tackle the Grande Traversée du Jura, a hilly 233-mile cycle route close to the border with Switzerland, which starts in Montbéliard and finishes in Culoz. But you don’t need to have been born in clip shoes to enjoy Jura – often described as France’s last “wild” region – by bicycle. Electric bicycle tours cruise through the Jurassien vineyards, taking in some of the most spectacular waterfalls in the area. Particularly impressive is Baume-les-Messieurs.

France’s last ‘wild’ region: one of the best ways to enjoy the Jura hills is by bicycle
France’s last ‘wild’ region: one of the best ways to enjoy the Jura hills is by bicycle - Alamy

Les Chambres du Parc has rooms from £119 per night with breakfast.

25. Paddleboard around Mont-St-Michel on an incoming tide

Not one to be attempted alone — the tidal waters around Mont-St-Michel can be unpredictable and treacherous, and much of the muddy sand is quicksand — a sunrise trip with Kayak La Baie gives a wonderful, and unique view, of France’s eighth-century island monastery. Watch seals bob around in the waves and marvel at the speed and roar of the tidal bore, the wave which rushes in on the incoming tide. This trip is best for people that have some paddle boarding experience. If you’re a novice, try one of Kayak La Baie’s guided kayak trips down the Sélune River, at the end of which you’ll also get views of Mont-St-Michel.

Kayak La Baie’s paddle boarding tours around Mont-St-Michel start from £64pp. Trailfinders has the eight-night Jewels of France, including Normandy tour, starting from £1,225pp, including B&B accommodation and two evening meals.

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Best for slow travel

26. Ride the rails in the Cévennes

The GR 70 is a hiking trail which retraces the exact route taken by Robert Louis Stevenson in 1878, immortalised in his book Travels with a Donkey in the Cévennes. At just over 170 miles, the trail may be the ultimate way to experience France’s heartland at your own pace, though Le Cévenol, the scenic train which traces the route, takes some beating. In five hours, you’ll chug by rail across the 185 miles between Clermont-Ferrand and Nîmes, passing through a part of France which time forgot, with extinct volcanoes, millennia-old monasteries and Renaissance festivals.

Book a ticket for Le Cévenol via the SNCF (online booking recommended). Prices vary.

27. Cruise along the Canal du Midi

A Unesco World Heritage site, the 225-mile Canal du Midi, which aimed to link the Mediterranean with the Atlantic, was built in the late 17th century. From Toulouse, it joins the Canal de Garonne to reach Bordeaux, and eastwards splits into two branches, one finishing at Narbonne and the other at Agde. The best way to experience it is by renting a boat and exploring the canal at your own speed, with the walled city of Carcassonne a particular highlight.

Still waters: the Canal du Midi is a Unesco World Heritage site
Still waters: the Canal du Midi is a Unesco World Heritage site - Getty

Locaboat rents boats from Négra or Argens. A seven-night rental in September starts from £1,272 per boat.

28. Cycle languidly through the vines in Hérault

One of the least-visited parts of southern France, Hérault, where the massif of the Auvergne softens into the arid vineyards of Languedoc-Roussillon, before meeting the sea in a patchwork-like mass of salt lagoons, has off-the-scale scenery. The Pyrenées, often still snow-capped until late spring, are visible from here, and peachy flamingos stand sentry in front of waterside towns. The latest trail to open in early 2024 was the 80km Oenovélo route, winding through dozens of vineyards, best split over two days.

Chateau les Carasses sits almost squarely on the Oenovélo route and lends bikes to guests free of charge. Doubles start from £210 per night, room only.

29. Enjoy farm-to-fork food and slow living in the Dordogne

Périgord in rural Dordogne is the perfect place to escape and unplug. With lush, green vineyards, square-towered châteaux and limestone plateaux, the views are a feast in themselves – and that’s before you get to the markets. Bergerac’s market (Wednesday and Saturday) is deserving of its international reputation (truffled goods are a particular highlight), but don’t miss the smaller towns: the Saturday market at Sainte-Foy-la-Grande is particularly fine.

Have a gander at the Château de Belcastel, in the Dordogne
Have a gander at the Château de Belcastel, in the Dordogne - Getty

Sawday’s offers self-catering stays for four at The Wine Lodge, seven miles from Sainte-Foy-la-Grande, from £145 per night in low season.

30. Coast along the Breton shoreline in a vintage VW Camper

The French Riviera often gets the glory, but don’t overlook Brittany’s wild and varied 1,675-mile coastline. Between sheltered sandy coves, islands shaped like paint splatters and pink granite, you could spend a lifetime exploring this region and still not experience all it has to offer. Here, a laidback lifestyle reigns supreme: there are more than 200 campsites, so hire a vintage camper and explore at your own pace.

Vintage Camper has vintage VW camper vans from £526 for the weekend.

This article was first published in April 2023, and has been revised and updated.

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