France – the land flourishing with Art, incredible architecture and mighty fine local cuisine. I bet each of you dreamed about visiting France at least once in your life!
Paris has been a hype travel destination for decades with 15.6 million people visiting the City of Lights in 2013. Yes, the city is truly magical. Incredible views open from the top of the Eiffel tower and Arc de Triomphe. Wandering around Montmartre makes you feel lost in time and you can’t stop having the feeling that you will run into Francis and Zelda Fitzgerald at the next corner.
Iconic Tuileries gardens are perfect for a Sunday stroll and if you look for more green space – head to Bois de Vincennes. However, living and traveling around France for over a year made me realize – France is not all about Paris. There are way more jaw-dropping and unknown places to visit in France that you should be on your travel bucket list.
Here are just more 10 lesser known places to explore in France.
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Now, you may have never heard of it, but the city has a long lasting history going back to the days of Julius Cesar. Today, you can still notice a few remains of the Roman presence – columns appearing here and there at the petite town squares and a few sections of the glorious amphitheater turned into a park.
Besancon is all narrow, crooked lanes going among pinkish stone buildings dating back to 16-18th century. The city’s skyline – perfect to watch from Fort Griffon – is all orange tiled rooftops, endless chimneys with a few pointed cathedral tops, peaking here and there.
You can’t miss visiting the Grand Citadel of Besancon – a UNESCO sight, overlooking the city from Mount Saint Etienne. The views are breathtaking, plus you can check out the local Zoo and Museum of Comtois household hosted there.
Fort de Joux
Did you know there are over 100 castles and chateaux scattered around Eastern France?
Fort Joux is one of my favorite! It’s huge, fairy-tale like and looks absolutely impregnable, overlooking the city of Pontarlier. It’s is open for visiting from April till November. Be sure to take a guided tour, as the latest statistic says there were 3 travelers locked down in the basement last year, by accidence 🙂
I often heard Colmar to be named the most charming town in France. Well, I haven’t yet explored all of them, so would just say Colmar is as fairy-tale like as it looks on pictures.
Postcard-perfect half-timbered bright houses with flower pots hanging down from each second window will enchant you from the first sight. Walk around Petite Venice neighborhood or explore it by boat and settle in a cozy bistro afterwards to try Tarte flambée with a glass of local Riesling.
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Lac de Chalain
Crystal clear alpine Lake, hidden among sloppy Jura mounts. It’s a perfect summer getaway for those who’d love to embrace the nature. There are plenty of incredible hiking trails around the area, with all sort of water sports to enjoy and great fishing spots. P.S. You can get a cozy double room in a lovely family-owned B&B for just 30 euro per night.
If you think the best beaches in France are at Cote d’Azur, I seriously recommend you visiting Corsica first. Landscapes here are way more spectacular and you can always escape the crowds by choosing to stay in a small town like Cargèse.
There are more secluded bays with amazing beaches around the area than you can imagine! Plus, they serve mighty fine fresh sea food here, fished early in the morning and served super fresh!
Hometown of Gustav Courbet, whose pictures you’ve probably seen in the Louvre and D’Orsay museums, Ornans is often called the French Venice.
Colorful small houses lie so low on the banks of river Doubes that actually seem to be floating over the surface. Ornans is one of those small towns to catch the true French vibe.
La route de l’absinthe
My views may be biased, but I would dare to say it’s one of the most spectacular hiking trails in France (that actually ends in Switzerland!). You will walk through incredible emerald fields and hills, with views on Mont Blanc opening from the top on a sunny day. Along with a lot of sights dedicated to absinthe – the main drink of the region. Think fields of herb, degustation points and even former smugglers’ points.
Travel to Pontalier – the starting point of the route – in mid-July when they held a huge festival dedicated to the Green Fairy. But don’t drink too much as you’ll need to walk a lot on the next few days!
Saline Royale d’Arc-et-Senans
Saline Royale d’Arc-et-Senans
Another incredible UNESCO sight, just 35 km away from Besancon. The Grand Royal Saltworks have been built in the 18th century by utopist architecture Claude Nicolas Ledoux, who was obsessed with the idea of creating an absolutely perfect circle-shaped sight.
Unfortunately, the French Revolution started and Ledoux could not complete the project. Nevertheless, Royal Saltworks still look grand today as a perfectly planned semi-circle, divided into perfect sectors with gardens and peculiar buildings.
For those, who love absolute serenity – Peyresq has a permanent population of just 3 residents and a lot of vacant houses for rent. The village’s hidden deep in the Alps, with marvelous views opening from your porch.
However, the place gets lively with students during July and August as there’s some property owned by French and Belgium Universities.
Lac Kir in Dijon
Dijon, the capital city of Burgundy and the mustard capital of France, looks like a mixture of Paris and Besancon to me, with some unusual details of its own.
After wandering around the old city center, head to the edge of town to have a glass of Burgundy special drink Kir – white wine mixed with Crème de Cassis (blackcurrant liqueur) enjoying the perfect views of the huge tranquil lake.