Image credit: Atout France, Michel Angot
Enjoy France at its best with Katie McGonagle’s guide to where to go at any time of year
The French know a thing or two about timing: take a vintage bordeaux or a perfectly aged comté vieux and it’s clear they have a knack for timing things just right.
So it should be no surprise to know its many regions come into their own at different times of year. Fancy strolling along the Seine in springtime, driving through vineyards in the midst of the grape harvest, or hitting the beach in the height of summer?
Here’s our guide to France at its seasonal best.
What: City life in Paris
Why: “Spring is the perfect time to visit the beautiful capital,” says Caroline Brown, commercial director at Shearings.
“Paris is bursting with stunning colours as flowers come to life, lightening the mood and creating a magical atmosphere.”
Take a verdant city break; Osprey Holidays recommends wandering through the Jardin de Tuileries, or people-watching with coffee and pastries at a pavement cafe now it’s warm enough to sit outside.
Or use Paris as the starting point for a tour. Insight Vacations’ Easy Pace France devotes three days to the city before heading south to Monaco and the Cote d’Azur.
What: Blooms in Provence
Why: Seeing the natural world wake up is even more rewarding in rural regions.
Keesia Samuels of Cosmos Tours & Cruises says: “Spring is a wonderful time to visit Provence, with warm temperatures and beautiful almond and cherry tree blossom making a spectacular sight.”
The operator’s eight-day Discover Provence trip stays in Marseille and Avignon, visiting Chateauneuf-du-Pape, Nimes and Aix-en-Provence.
The cider region of Normandy is similarly pretty in pink, with delicate apple blossom making for picture-postcard views without a hefty price tag: Brittany Ferries offers a cottage stay in Lieurey with sailings and a car from £520.
What: Cycling in the Alps
Why: Active breaks are best taken in shoulder seasons, when moderate temperatures and fewer tourists offer ideal conditions for hiking and cycling.
Eurocamp has added five road cycling parcs to its Active portfolio this year, including Les Fontaines in the French Alps, on the edge of Lake Annecy and at the foot of some challenging cycle routes.
National sales manager Michelle Betley-Jones says: “Spring is perfect for pedalling on some of Europe’s most famous cycling routes, after the extreme winter weather but before the crowds descend as alpine passes open to motorists.”
What: Behind the scenes in Bordeaux
Why: Summer is not the time to be racing from one place to another, so escorted touring clients should consider a slower-paced itinerary.
That’s key to Trafalgar’s new Secrets of France tour around Bordeaux and the Dordogne, part of its Hidden Journeys collection, which has free time in Arcachon – famed for beachfront cafes serving oysters – as well as Rocamadour, Limoges and Paris, so guests can top up guided excursions with time to explore (10 days from £2,104, land-only).
What: Camping in Picardy
Why: Family holidays don’t always mean a package flight and all-inclusive hotel – bundle the kids in the car and cross the Channel for a fun-packed camping trip without worrying about the weather.
Brittany Ferries has chalet campsites from Normandy to the Mediterranean, although the sandy beaches of the western Loire are the most sought-after in summer.
Similarly easy to access, La Croix du Vieux Pont is Al Fresco’s best-selling park through agents thanks to its proximity to Calais – just a three-hour drive – and Disneyland Paris.
There is regular transport to the theme park, plus a kids’ club, waterpark, lakes for swimming and canoeing, and mini-golf.
What: Music in Toulouse
Why: Barely a week goes by without a jazz festival here or sailing regatta there, but don’t just ignore these events – they can bring a destination to life and help you close a sale.
Festivals devoted to food, wine, music, drama or sports are found across the country, but one prime example is the Toulouse Summer Festival from July 15-August 8, featuring 50 events bringing classical music, rock, jazz and other eclectic genres together.
Alan Cross, trade sales manager at Jet2holidays, says: “Toulouse is a beautiful city. During the Summer Festival, the city buzzes with visitors looking to take in the array of emerging sounds – the ideal time for budding musicians to enjoy this gem of a city.”
What: Self-catering in Corsica
Why: Prefer to avoid summer crowds? The beaches are still as beautiful and the sea still warm enough for swimming in autumn, especially in Corsica, which basks in mid-20s temperatures until early October.
Villa specialist Corsican Places has added 11 properties across the island this year, including stylish two-bedroom Apartment la Cuve in lively Porto Vecchio, just moments from the harbour but with spectacular mountain views.
What: Walking on the Côte d’Azur
Why: While a walking holiday would be a bit on the sweaty side in the height of summer, it’s ideal in autumn, which is why the Cote d’Azur tour from singles specialist Just You takes a break in the summer months and resumes departures in September, October and November.
The six-day tour includes four to five hours’ walking per day, strolling through Nice, Monaco and smaller villages, and hiking along the coastline for some magnificent views. The tour starts at £1,099.
What: Lyon by Eurostar
Why: This new Eurostar route, starting on May 1, will open up a host of possibilities for travel in central and southern France, not least of which to Lyon itself.
Often regarded as France’s culinary capital, Lyon is famed for its hearty home-cooking in local bouchons, best washed down with a few glasses of beaujolais.
Despite its oft-maligned reputation, this young, fruity red wine is cause for much celebration in the region, especially on Beaujolais Nouveau Day – the third Thursday in November – when the first wine of the season is marked with fireworks and parties.
Accommodation and rail packages are set to go on sale shortly through SuperBreak.
What: Skiing in the Alps
Why: Come winter, France’s mountains become a playground for all manner of snowsports.
Inghams product manager Bryony Moger says: “France is known for high-altitude skiing, ski-in ski-out resorts and large ski areas. Many resorts like Tignes, Val d’Isere and La Plagne have glaciers, which means guaranteed snow.
The lower resorts – still at around 1,500m – have beautiful tree-lined runs which provide great cover on snowy days with poor visibility.”
Inghams operates in 16 resorts across the French Alps, while Club Med can be found in 15 of the region’s best ski spots including new 4T-rated resort Val Thorens Sensations, which combines alpine skiing and snowboarding with a Carita spa for après-ski relaxation.
What: Christmas markets
Why: Market tours book well in advance so it’s worth getting a head start on this year’s festive season.
France’s Christmas markets are easily visited by coach, rail or river, with many northern towns also including some battlefields visits. See the Christmas lights at Amiens, have a festive pint at Arras and watch the illuminated Ferris wheel in Lille on Shearings’ five day tour of Lille, Amiens and Arras (from £269).
What: Festive French Riviera
Why: Christmas fun doesn’t have to end with gift-shopping – clients who fancy a Christmas getaway will find France’s mild winter and charming coastal towns a refreshing way to spend the season.
Think Christmas Eve in Cannes, Christmas Day on Nice’s famous Promenade des Anglais, and Boxing Day exploring the jaw-dropping marina in Monaco.
Spring: Osprey Holidays offers two nights’ B&B at Hotel de Noailles in Paris from £279, including flights.
Summer: A week in a Rossini mobile home at La Croix du Vieux Pont starts at £939 accommodation-only with Al Fresco, starting August 8.
Autumn: Corsican Places offers a week in Apartment la Cuve in Porto Vecchio from £599 based on four sharing, with flights, car hire and a welcome pack, arriving September 13 or 20.
Winter: Newmarket Holidays’Christmas on the French Riviera is a six-day tour departing December 22, starting at £739 including coach travel and Christmas Day lunch.
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