Travel gems in France to take you off the beaten track!

Inspiration

Nature and Outdoor ActivitiesCultural Heritage

 Eric Sander
© Eric Sander

Reading time: 0 minPublished on 19 March 2024, updated on 21 May 2024

France is packed with must-see sights like the Eiffel Tower, the Arc de Triomphe, the châteaux of the Loire Valley, Deauville and the Mont-Saint-Michel! But there are other, less famous places too, well-kept secrets that are worth their weight in gold. Here’s our list of favourites.

Castles and châteaux... precious gems!

-The little Château de Troussay in the Loire Valley Located a short distance from Cheverny en Sologne, this château is said to be the smallest in the entire Loire Valley! Visitors can explore the Renaissance château and its lush green grounds, but also taste the estate’s own wine and visit its small museum to learn more about wine-growing and agriculture.

-The Château de Courances, within an hour of Paris The Courances estate in the Gâtinais region is open to visitors who will enjoy strolling around the grounds, which features 200-year-old trees as well as a restaurant and tearoom. Alternatively, you can join a guided tour of the château itself, despite the fact that it is still inhabited.

-The Château de Menthon-Saint-Bernard in the Alps Just a few kilometres from Annecy, the Menthon-Saint-Bernard Castle is a jewel of architecture that just has to be seen. Built in the 12th century, the castle is still owned by the same family after 23 generations. Some features of added interest are the estate’s biodynamically grown vines and the permaculture kitchen garden.

Nature spots… waiting to be explored

-The volcanoes of Auvergne The nature park consists of four volcanic zones - the Monts Dôme, home to the famous Puys mountain chain, the Cézalier, the Monts Dore and the Monts du Cantal - all of which can be explored via a network of hiking trails. Whatever happens, be sure to visit the Limagne Rift, a UNESCO World Heritage site in the Puys mountain chain!

-Roccapina Beach in Corsica Located between Bonifacio and Sartène, the beach of Roccapina is less crowded than the neighbouring beaches because it is difficult to reach. You’ll be rewarded with a sandy beach and turquoise water. A Caribbean feel…

-The Bay of Somme in Hauts-de-France The Bay of Somme in Hauts-de-France may not be as famous, but it has nothing to envy of Mont-Saint-Michel Bay. Like its Norman counterpart, it has an enormous tidal range and there are guided tours to learn about the local wildlife, vegetation and quicksand areas.

-The coves of the Blue Coast in Provence Head south, to visit Marseille and the surrounding coves! The less well-known coves along the Blue Coast, northwest of Marseille, have some fabulous surprises in store. Those of Niolon, Redonne and Erevine, for example, have beautiful crystal-clear water.

History-steeped sites… that deserve to be better known

-The Villa Cavrois and La Piscine, an Art Museum housed in the old swimming baths, in Hauts-de-France A mix of art and history in Roubaix, near Lille. The Villa Cavrois and the André Diligent Museum of Art and Industry at La Piscine are two key attractions. The museum, which opened in 2001, occupies the site of the former Art Deco swimming baths of Roubaix. A unique showcase for the many applied art collections (sketches, textiles, ceramics), as well as ancient sculptures and paintings.

-The medieval village of Clisson in Pays de la Loire Located some thirty kilometres from Nantes, this village is worth a visit for its Italian-style architecture. Bearing witness to its unique history, the 12th-century castle is a must-see.

-The trenches of Les Sablonnières in the Loire Valley The forest of Blois conceals the remains of this First World War training site. The trenches were only discovered about ten years ago. You can join a guided tour to really immerse yourself in this chapter of the history of France.

Less trodden hiking trails…

-The paths of Iraty in the Basque Country When it starts snowing, head for Larrau where the snow-covered summits of Iraty offer a winter wonderland to snowshoers. You’ll find a number of waymarked snowshoe trails. You’ll never forget your walk across the immaculate white landscape!

-The Cirque d’Estaubé in the Pyrenees Less famous than the neighbouring Cirque de Gavarnie, this glacial cirque is just as breathtaking and it too has a place on the UNESCO World Heritage list. It offers some easy and beautiful walks. Come and feast your eyes on the mountain pastures, lakes and waterfalls of this lovely tranquil site.

-The GR des Côteaux in the Paris region You don’t have to travel far to find beautiful hiking terrain. This new long-distance itinerary which opened in January 2023 can be covered in 4 or 5 days. It reveals untouched landscapes and some of the region’s built heritage, including the Château of Ménilles and the old districts of Louviers, which have been renovated.

Secret vineyards… waiting to be explored!

-The vineyards of Beaune and Burgundy The Burgundy wine road has nothing to envy of its counterparts in the Bordeaux region. The Route des Grands Crus running between Dijon and Santenay invites visitors to stop and visit some famous wine estates. But we recommend the less famous vineyards around the village of Couches, where a few winegrowers produce Burgundy wines of excellent quality.

-Little-known Champagne producers! Did you know that there are Champagne producers in Haute-Marne as well? In the villages of Argentolles and Rizaucourt-Buchey, you'll find a handful of vineyards belonging to the Champagne appellation area!

-The Château de Mons vineyard in Occitanie Head for Gers to discover Gascony wines and Armagnac, starting with those produced at the Château de Mons. A tour of the wine estate to see the different grape varieties, and a break at the château’s own hotel and restaurant!

Secret surfing spots

-The Pointe de la Torche in Brittany Despite the water being colder here, over the last few years, Brittany has become heaven for surfers in search of less frequented spots. La Torche is well known for its beach break (when the waves break over a sandy sea floor) which makes it ideal for all levels, when the swell is right.

-The waves at Mimizan on the Atlantic Coast The Landes coast has plenty of world-class surfing spots, especially along the beaches near Seignosse and Hossegor. But fabulous waves can also be found further north, as they are formed by the sandbanks typically seen off the vast beaches of Landes. Mimizan is the best example, between the beaches of Remember and Lespecier.

-Surfing spots near Marseille in Provence The Mediterranean Sea is generally on the calm side, but when the wind gets up, it sometimes reveals a few surfing spots. Surfers generally look out for waves from October to May, off the beaches of Les Epluchures, La Corniche and Le Verdon, among others.

Panoramic views that have yet to be posted on Instagram!

-Belleville Park in Paris You don’t have to brave the crowds around the most famous landmarks to enjoy amazing views over Paris! Take to the heights of Belleville in the 20th arrondissement, where the park offers a view that’s just as beautiful over the rooftops and monuments of Paris! This is the ideal place to watch the sun setting over the city.

-The resort of Thollon-les-Mémises in the French Alps This resort in Haute-Savoie overlooks Lake Geneva and offers an amazing view of the Alps that extends across the entire range, all the way to the mountains of Jura. It makes a great place to dine at a mountain restaurant.

-Hiking around Venaco in Corsica After gaining 1,000 metres in elevation, you’ll be rewarded for your efforts by a beautiful panoramic view of the surrounding villages. When it comes to hiking trails and viewpoints, walkers are spoilt for choice here.

-Tips and suggestions:

Help us protect these less frequented sites by observing a few basic rules! Carry a container to take your rubbish away with you, do not disturb wildlife by trying to get too close, avoid picking wild flowers and do not leave the designated paths. You can also enquire at the Tourist Offices to find out about local habits and customs.

-Further reading : Escale totalement nature en Auvergne 6 balades hors des sentiers battus dans le Val de Loire

By Redazione France.fr

The magazine of the destination unravels an unexpected France that revisits tradition and cultivates creativity. A France far beyond what you can imagine…