6 off-the-beaten-path places to explore in France

10th Apr 2017

France is consistently a top destination for travelers looking to indulge in fine European culture. It is known for its exquisite art, world class wine, pâtisseries on every corner, and air of romance. Its rich historical sites like Normandy, famous landmarks like the Eiffel Tower, and internationally acclaimed arts events like the Cannes Film Festival have made certain French cities hot spots for tourist to explore over the years. Although all these places are beautiful and worthy of a visit in their own right, in tourism driven cities you may struggle to find affordable accommodation, unique adventures, and an authentic French experience. France has plenty of stunning destinations off-the-beaten-path to truly give you a taste.

France is truly one of the most geographically stunning destinations Europe has to offer, but you wouldn’t know it if you only planned an itinerary to hit up the major cities. I highly recommend taking time to do a day trip to the small town of Clermont-Ferrand if you want a unique experience in nature. This is the closest town to the Puy de Dôme, a large inactive volcano completely covered by vegetation. Even cooler, it’s not the only one! It’s actually just one of the volcanos in a chain of inactive volcanoes of this region called the Chaîne des Puys.

A chain of inactive volcanoes as far as the eye can see

Photo of Puy-de-Dome, France by Adriana Minali

Reach the top to enjoy a stunning view of this geographic phenomenon. If you’re feeling extra adventurous, arrange a paragliding experience for 120 euros to truly get a bird’s eye view.

Where to eat

At the summit, find a beautiful gastronomic restaurant with a panoramic view of the landscape. Plan ahead as Le 1911 is only open the March 18 to December 31 (exact dates change annually). If you're on a budget pack a lunch of fruits, trail mix, and a cheese and tomato baguette for a picnic with a view!

The view always makes the hike worth it

Photo of Le 1911, Sommet du Puy de Dôme, Orcines, France by Adriana Minali

It’s approximately 2, 50 euros for the half hour shuttle bus ride from the Clermont-Ferrand main coach bus depot to the starting point of the hike. The hike itself is approximately two hours, with both a beginner and an experienced hiker trail options. Don’t feel like hiking? Take the Panoramique des Dômes for as little as 12,30 euros. This is a train which takes the scenic route up the volcano giving you stunning views as you ride up the landscape.

Where to stay

Auberge de la Moréno

There are some incredibly unique accommodations near Puy de Dôme! If you want to stay in touch with nature, stay in one of the various lodges. You can find some great options which include room and half board for as little as 60 euros a night!

This stunning city nestled right at the France-Germany border is famous for it’s winter Christmas markets but truly a year-round gem! What makes it so special is the fusion of French and German culture. Mingle with locals and take note of their dialect, an intertwining version of both countries’ languages. While you’re there, don’t pass up making a stop to the stunning Cathedral of Our Lady.

Cathedral of Our Lady

Photo of Cathedral of Our Lady of Strasbourg, Strasbourg, France by Adriana Minali

Where to eat

And of course, if you can plan it right, visiting their Marché de Noël from the end of November to the New Year is a must! It’s renown in Europe for it’s whimsical light decorations adorning every inch of the city. Save your appetite for the evening and enjoy a taste traditional bretzels (pretzels) loved by the Germans and vin chaud (mulled wine) loved by the French! Don’t miss out on this taste of winter.

Bretzels and Vin Chaud!!

Photo of Place de la Cathédrale, 67000 Strasbourg, France by Adriana Minali

Where to stay

There are many accommodation options near the heart of city. Finding a hotel near the Cathedral, Christmas Market, and city attractions can be accomplished for around 140 euros per night.

This quaint alpine town makes for a perfect day trip in any season, but has a special place in my heart on a hot summer’s day. Start off by taking a stroll in the Vieille Ville, old town, to see the cobblestone streets, wooden shutter windows, and pastel houses.

Where to stay

These old quarters make a lovely place to find an accommodation. Imagine waking up to the sun shining on one of the many canals of Annecy. Expect to pay around 100 euros per night, but in return you'll be rewarded with views of the calm waters and colourful architecture.

A lovely stroll through Annecy's Old Town

Photo of Hotel du Palais de l'Isle Annecy, Rue Perrière, Annecy, France by Adriana Minali

Where to eat

It will feel like you’re in a fairy tale! No need to sit in a fancy restaurant if the sun is shining. Head to the closest Lidl, a European supermarket chain, to grab a bottle of wine, some cheese, and snacks to enjoy as the sun kisses your skin. If you are looking for a true French cuisine experience with a breath taking view of the alpine scenery, dine at Le Belvédère.

Pass a relaxing day swimming in the beautiful natural Lac d’Annecy, which France boasts as being the purest lake in Europe. Soak in the sun and the breathtaking views as you float alongside the magnificent landscape.

Taking in the view at Lac Annecy

Photo of Lake Annecy, Haute-Savoie, France by Adriana Minali


When it comes to French wine, one of the most famous French cities is Bordeaux, but I’ll let you in on my secret spot for an authentic French experience. Head to the region of Beaujolais to experience the Beaujolais Nouveau festivities. Every year on the third Thursday of November, according to tradition the French people of this region would celebrate the arrival of the unique Beaujolais wine. The Gamay grape is harvested in late August, fermented for a few short days, then enjoyed by all! A festival for the arrival of wine? Doesn’t get much more French than that!

Ville Fleurie, known for its beautiful flowers and Beaujolais wine

Photo of 6 off-the-beaten-path places to explore in France by Adriana Minali

Where to wine taste

For a Beaujolais wine tasting experience, visit the Cave de Fleurie in the elegant town of Fleurie. This town is dedicated to the Beaujolais and has attracted many passionate wine makers over the years.

Where to stay

If you're looking to stay in Fleurie can be difficult to book during the Beaujolais festival so plan ahead! Keep in mind it's a small town and very popular among the French residents of this region. This being said, waking up surrounded by vineyards is definitely like a dream come true. Anticipate prices ranging from 85 euros and up.

If you’re looking to venture to the South of France, don’t pass up this spot loved by locals. You may be thinking how a well known city like Marseille made this list, but there’s more to it outside of the crowded city center. Come here to experience Les Calanques, or coves, where adrenaline junkies can jump off cliffs into the sea or you can lounge in the sun.

Soak in the salt and sun

Photo of Marseille, France by Adriana Minali

There are so many of these coves to discover that an entire area has been designated as the Parc National des Calanques. One of the most accessible of these coves is Calanque de Sugiton. If you arriving to Marseille by train or coach, from the main station take the public transportation bus #20 or #21 to the University of Luminy.

One of the view point along the hike, perfect for taking in the magnificent scenery

Photo of Calanque de Sugiton, Marseille, France by Adriana Minali

From here it’s about a light 2 hour hike to reach the coves. Make sure to pack a hat, sun block, and snacks as the path is mostly exposed and you’ll definitely want to stop at one of the many viewpoints.

Where to eat

After your fun in the French sun, head back to the Marseille city center for a bite to eat. Dive into the delectable seafood this coastal city has to offer. The Old Port of Marseille is lined with options from the sea.

Where to stay

The Old Port is not only a spot a dine but also a great place to look for an accommodation if you want to stay close to bars and nightlife. It doesn't have to be expensive either! You can even find some great budget options in the 50 euros per night range.

This tiny town nestled in the heart of the French Alps is a must for anyone travelling to France. In the winter, it’s a hot spot for skiers and snowboarders as it’s the perfect chalet town and easily accessible by coach bus or car. In the late spring it’s clear of tourists and a magnificent destination for hiking, horseback riding, and enjoying the majestic beauty of Europe’s crown jewel, Mont Blanc.

Where to stay

Luckily, since Chamonix is a popular destination for Europeans during ski season, there are plenty of accommodation options. The perks of visiting during off season for hiking are the low rates and greater vacancies. It can be very affordable to rent an apartment accommodation with friends which typically also has a kitchenette with cutlery and kitchenware provided. During off season, prices are around 100 euros per night, which can then be split by you and your group!

Hiking to Lac Blanc

Photo of Hôtel Croix-Blanche Chamonix, Rue Joseph Vallot, Chamonix, France by Adriana Minali

There are an endless amount of trails at various skill levels you can try out. Try the 3.5 hour hike to Les Rochers Des Mottets or the 8 hour hike to Lac Blanc. Most hikes, even the easier ones, end up at a great elevation for getting not only a view of Chamonix, but also of the giant mountains all around you.

Stunning views from the Lac Blanc hike

Photo of 6 off-the-beaten-path places to explore in France by Adriana Minali

Where to eat

Chamonix is so close to the Swiss boarder, you can't miss out on the opportunity to taste their answer to every cheese-lovers dream: raclette! Essentially this dish is a heaping gooey pile of melted cheese on an assortment of hearty staples like potatoes and grilled meats. You can try it for yourself at La Calèche.

Transportation around France

By bus

All of the locations mentioned are accessible by coach buses, a popular and cost effective method of transportation in France. I recommend booking with either Flixbus or Ouibus. Prices start from as low as 5 euros a journey! Both operators have excellent service, free Wi-Fi on board, comfortable reclining seats, charging outlets, and an app to make purchasing and keeping track of your tickets easy.

By car

Having access is great when traveling to destinations off of the beaten path. They allow you to take the scenic route and find truly authentic experiences. Don't worry though, there is no need to rent a car if you don't plan on driving to all of your destinations. Check out BlaBlaCar, a popular and safe option in France. Think of it as Uber for longer distances. Coordinate with local drivers heading to your destination of choice. This usually gets you to your destination quicker as you don't have to waste time in an airport or on detour routes of coach buses. Prices are based on distance traveled and any tolls the route may incur.

If you’re on a budget, book ahead for the best fares. Happy and safe travels!