By Madeleine Wilson
Secluded beaches, UNESCO buildings, fairytale castles… coming right up. France has a rich and diverse heritage with both architectural and natural treasures to ogle. From the stunning aquamarine gorges of Verdon to the proud medieval city of Carcassonne, we have put together a list of 14 beautiful spots in France, each with their own je ne sais quoi, that promise to spark a lifelong romance!
1. Cliffs of Etretat
Several cliffs form what is commonly called the “falaises d’Etretat,” great white chalk cliffs that depict perhaps one of the most famous and beautiful landscapes in France. Their beauty has inspired many artists and writers including Monet and Maupassant who both fell in love with the Aval cliff, the most recognisable of the cliffs at Etretat with its arch and the two huge rocks created over the years by sculptural erosion. Situated a little further along the English Channel, the Manneporte, another cliff, is also known for its arch resembling something like a gateway to the ocean.
The little village of Etretat is also very picturesque. On your visit, do not miss the market in Les Halles de Bois with its historic wooden structure and discover the beautiful old mansions and villas that give this region its the architectural beauty.
2. Castles of the Loire
Who has not heard of the beautiful Chateau de Chambord! A true architectural marvel built in the early sixteenth century under King Francis I. The King made this his prime hunting stomping ground, and the castle was built in what is now the largest forest park in Europe. Other castles such as those of Sully-sur-Loire, Chalon, Villandry, Chinon and Ussé are also beautiful and have a world renowned reputation. All these castles of the Loire (19 in total!) are masterpieces of the Renaissance and some are even UNESCO World Heritage sites. Need another excuse to visit? The wines are fantastic!
3. Gorges du Verdon
Var, Alpes de Haute Provence
The Gorges du Verdon are something of a natural wonder with the turquoise waters of the Verdon Rivers flowing through the giant canyon surrounded by limestone cliffs. For kayakers, swimmers or hikers exploring the gorges from below, the Styx de Verdon is one of the remarkable points. Above the gorge, at Valensole, you will find huge fields of lavender with delicate scents of purple wafting across the carpeted landscape. All these elements are part of the natural park of the Verdon Gorges, which remains one of the finest regional parks in France.
4. Medieval Carcassonne
The historic walled city of Carcassonne is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This beautiful medieval city includes the magnificent Basilica of Saint-Nazaire and le Château Comtal – the Castle of Counts. The Roman city of Carcassonne has been in existence since the first century and was transformed into a fortress in the ninth century to defend the city against the Spanish. after undergoing major renovation in the nineteenth century, the city is now open to the public. By night, the illuminated walls of the fortress are superb and give the city its magical charm.
5. A vista of Mont-Saint-Michel
The small town of Mont-Saint-Michel, situated on top of a rocky island, is one of the most famous landscapes in France. At the top of this hill is the magnificent Norman abbey of Mont-Saint-Michel, also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The village, populated by only 42 people, has been the subject of a controversy between Brittany and Normandy, both of which claim the abbey as their own. The small island welcomes nearly 3 million visitors every year! If you decide to visit, pay attention to the tides: at low tide, it is possible to walk across from the mainland. But the waters rise quickly and at high tide, the sandy path disappears.
6. Palace of Versailles
The Palace of Versailles, located to the west of Paris, is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful castles in the world. Originally, it was a humble hunting lodge built in the early 17th century by Louis XIII. It was his son, Louis XIV, who decided that he could no longer bear the incredible stench that was Paris at the time and made haste to turn Versailles into the official royal residence in place of the Louvre. And thus began the colossal task of transforming the lodge into a sumptuous palace fit for a king. Both interior and exterior are magnificent. The gardens, designed by Le Nôtre, are exceptional with the beautiful Grand Canal, the Orangerie, the pond of Switzerland, the Neptune Fountain, La Ferme de Marie-Antoinette, Le Grand Trianon as well as Le Petit Trianon. The best time to admire the splendour of the palace and the surrounding grounds is at sunset. Go right at the end of the Grand Canal by bike (you can rent these in the park) and watch the sun set across the water and behind castle.
7. Regional Natural Park of Camargue
The sea, the Rhone, the horses running in the water, pink flamingos taking flight over the salt ponds…The Camargue Regional Nature Park is a marvel! This huge and protected wetland is located in the Rhône Delta along the Mediterranean coast. It is a regional nature reserve with valuable botanical and zoological specimens. Salt from the sea permeated the soil depth and encouraged vegetation such as lavender and sea samphire to flourish. The waters changes color depending on the season and creates an ever changing landscape. The breeding of horses and bulls is practised in this region, and the best way to explore the area is on horseback.
8. Monuments of Paris
Yes, yes I’m sure you have heard of Paris, but have you been? Paris is full of beautiful sites and monuments and it’s as much a city to visit when you are in love as it is a city to fall in love with. The Louvre, a former royal residence is simply stunning . The outdoor courtyard, with its glass pyramid contrasts with the centuries-old palace, especially at night! Also admire Notre-Dame de Paris and the Latin Quarter, a small wonder of the capital. The Pantheon is imposing and magnificent, while the Eiffel Tower is the symbol of Paris throughout the world, not to mention the Montmartre and the Sacred Heart which offer a breathtaking view of Paris. For lovers of modern art, the Beaubourg Museum and the Pompidou Centre, are also essential. Finally, take a walk at night on the Pont des Arts and the Ile Saint-Louis and see why Paris is one of the most visited cities in Europe! If you’ve heard rumours that this is an expensive city, don’t worry, we offer plenty of cheap hotels in Paris.
9. Beaches in the Gulf of Porto
It is named the l’Ile de Beauté (The Island of Beauty) for a reason the entire island is gorgeous! However, the Gulf of Porto has a reputation as one of the most beautiful places in Corsica. Located on the sea and in the Regional Natural Park of Corsica, you can discover the Creeks of Piana, Scandola Reserve and the Gulf of Giralota all of which are UNESCO World Heritage Sites. With beautiful weather, one of the best places to enjoy all this nature is at the Gulf of Porto with dozens of beaches including the glorious Plage de Bussaglia. The surrounding villages also offer hours of happy wandering.
10. Volcanoes of Auvergne
The Parc Naturel Régional des Volcans d’Auvergne is the largest regional park in Europe and is home to four volcanic giants. The youngest volcanoes in the region (8000 years old!) form the famous Chaine des Puys the most impressive being the Puy de Dome. All these volcanoes have been dormant for thousands of years but now offer spectacular and unique vistas that must be experienced, especially when cloud creeps over the peaks.
The theme park Vulcania tells you all about how these natural wonders were formed as well as offering plenty of other fascinating insight into natural geography. Definitely worth a visit!
11. Port of Honfleur
This pretty harbour town is reminiscent of Amsterdam with its narrow brick and colourful houses. Honfleur is a city of artists, specifically the Impressionists. And despite its small size you can browse dozens of art galleries including the Musée Eugène Boudin (who painted many visitors to Honfleur such as Claude Monet and Gustave Courbet) and the beautiful Church of St. Catherine and craft shops. A stroll along the harbour is a must and why not dine on a bistro terrace to enjoy a glass of Calvados or traditional mussels in white wine. Do not forget to lose yourself among the cobbled streets in the hills above the town.
12. Canals of the Marais Poitevin
Pays de la Loire – Poitou-Charentes
“Green Venice”…this is the nickname given to 29,000 hectares of wetland that cover some of the regions of the Pays de la Loire and Poitou-Charentes. Dozens of light green channels (the colour is due to the deposits of poplars, willows and reeds) form the Marais Poitevin, a tranquil haven where you board a boat and glide in absolute calm and admire the unique flora and fauna of the area. Beside the canals there are pretty houses with colorful shutters, often covered with Virginia creeper and blend into the landscape. A guide will steer the boat in a similar fashion to the gondoliers in Venice through shaded channels of mysterious water. You’d be forgiven for falling asleep!
13. Caves of Lascaux
Located in the Valley of Vézère in Périgord, the caves of Lascaux are prehistoric sites of international interest, and a moving testimony left by men who lived there 17,000 years ago. This cave, dating from the Palaeolithic discovery in 1940, is decorated with paintings depicting horses, deer, bison and cats. This site, listed by UNESCO, is considered by many scholars as a quasi-sacred site and its preservation is somewhat endangered by the influx of tourists and natural erosion. the quality of the works adorning the cavity, make them some of the most important examples of prehistoric caves in the world.
14. Ile de Ré
Ah the little cobbled streets of Ile de Re, with shops, restaurants and beautiful beaches…what a show! Located in the Atlantic Ocean and connected to La Rochelle by a bridge, the island appeals to a whole host of traveller types including lovers of history, nature adventure. Nothing beats an early summer morning breakfast in one of the cafes at the port of La Flotte-en-Ré, followed by a walk in the afternoon through the small streets lined with hollyhocks and houses with shutters pastel colors. Saint-Martin-de-Ré is probably the prettiest village on the island and also the administrative centre, It is another UNESCO World Heritage site with seventeenth century fortifications.
Wherever you are headed, you can book cheap accommodation and hostels in France with us!
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Thanks to LoboStudio Hamburg, caspermoller, Manu – mars, rioncm, luc.viatour, Roman Lashkin, dani_tic, sybarite48, Zingaro. I am a gipsy too., dynamosquito, JackVersloot, Jeremie R and Ludo29880 for the images off Flickr. Please note, at the time of publication all images were suitable for use according to the Creative Commons license.