As the old saying goes: 'eat where the locals eat' – but why not travel like them too? Here are six Gallic-approved destinations in France to put on your radar.
Not just a liqueur, this charming Mediterranean fishing port in southern France is a magnet for discerning Gallic tourists. It’s easy to see why. It possesses all of the picturesque landscape and warm weather that epitomises France’s southern shores, with none of the cost and crush of the Cote D’Azur. It is unfairly labelled ‘the poor man’s St Tropez,’ but why pass up the opportunity for analogous charm for half the price and a fraction of the crowds? The draw here is the portside drag, where pastel-hued buildings with cafés and bars line the marina and – within- the typical attractions of a Provençal village (don’t miss the sprawling markets) envelop you. It is overlooked by a medieval castle (sadly, now a privately-owned B&B) perched upon the looming cliffs above the port, on what was the original outline of the village. The surrounding nature, however, is worth the hike, as Cassis sits within the breathtakingly rugged Calanques national park. When you’ve worked up a sweat, you can cool yourself off on any number of Cassis’s stunning sandy beaches. Those with more stamina than most will earn their sunbathing spot at Calanque d’En Vau- where a steep rocky slope leads you to one of the most beautiful secluded beaches in the world.
Though Brittany already has its grips on the British tourist, there are perhaps fewer channel hoppers who flock to one of its hidden gems: Crozon. With heather-dappled cliffs and beautiful beaches, it has the craggy, deserted feel of some of Cornwall’s wilder spots and those travellers who prefer a slice of bucolic peace with fewer hordes of buckets and spades should find their idyll here. The Crozon peninsula is not blessed with as many luxury hotels or tourist spots as Brittany’s other draws, but it has an unrivalled atmosphere. Check out the gorgeous coastal town of Morgat or the fishing village Camaret-sur-Mer- where you can pick up some of the finest seafood in the country. Then, take your book and beach towel to any number of Crozon’s clandestine coves which have the look of a Caribbean island secreted in a West Country village.
Evian les Bains
The French alps are a grossly underestimated summer destination- but not by the French themselves, who flock to the mountain lakes in particular. One of the most popular of these lakeside resorts is Evian les Bains, in the Haute Savoie region of France. It hugs the shores of Lake Geneva and is, yes, home to Evian mineral water. Besides arresting views of the lake and mountains around it, Evian les Bains is also a historic spa town with an Art Deco feel that owes much to its heightened popularity during the roaring twenties. There are myriad sights to visit, from the old thermal Baths, the Buvette Cachat pavilion and Villa Lumière where the town hall is located; all of which retain the inter-war and turn of the century character of the destination. Of course, no trip to Lake Geneva would be complete without water sports or, at the very least, a boat trip. At Evian les Bains you can, of course, simply opt to lounge at one of the lakeside bars and take in the view over a cocktail.
Ile de Ré
Where do fashionable Parisians (is there any other kind?) head to en vacances? Ile de Ré. This under-the-radar island, off the coast of La Rochelle is one of France’s most diverting, atmospheric holiday spots. Commonly known as ‘Ré la Blanche’ thanks to its signature white-washed houses, Ile de Ré possesses its own unique culture (don’t miss the donkeys wearing trousers, trust me) and a micro climate as warm and sunny as the south. Ten villages make up the island, which include quaint fishing communities and bucolic hamlets surrounded by undulating green fields. The natural landscape here is varied and sublime; taking you from pine forests to salt marshes, from sand dunes to moorland. Roughly small enough to explore in a week; it still offers a huge amount of diversity; with enough historical sites of interest, great bike trails and amazing sea food to keep you entertained before you even get to the pristine sandy beaches.
Surfers and sunseekers alike have long flocked to this Basque resort’s sublime coastline but this hugely popular destination for the French, is far more than just its beaches. The historical fishing port is overlooked by the Église de Sainte-Eugénie – patron saint of Napoleon III’s wife, Eugénie de Montijo, who essentially put on the map Biarritz as a holiday resort in the mid-19th century- and is a vast neo-Gothic structure well worth a visit, as is the iconic Phare de Biarritz lighthouse. There are also gorgeous lakes to be found just outside the city, and more isolated coves away from the main grande plage, as well as great hiking and biking trails. Food is excellent here also. Don’t miss the steak at Haragia and pick up the finest produce in Biarritz’s famed covered markets.
Outside of school trips, Normandy rarely makes it on British travel lists. It’s a great shame, for some of France’s most distinct character and lively towns are to be found in the region. One of these criminally overlooked resorts is a Gallic favourite; Trouville-sur-Mer; a stone’s throw away from the chic Norman seaside town of Deauville. Here, the dynamic port is abuzz with restaurants and bars overlooking brightly painted fishing boats and serving the freshest seafood. There are long sandy beaches, avenues full of Belle Epoque charm and a boardwalk so chic it would make Brighton blush with shame. During your stay, don’t miss the fish markets and be sure to pack your copy of Madame Bovary. Gustave Flaubert would summer at Trouville and it was here he met the woman who would inspire his most famous eponymous heroine.