France in summer is probably one of the most beautiful places on earth – unspoilt beaches, gorgeous countryside drives, chateau’s and timber-framed villages only fit for Disney princesses and grand old coastal resorts that have serviced the rich and famous for decades. But if you’re still in the planning stages and feel a bit flummoxed over all the different destinations in France you could book a holiday, we reckon you’ve found the right article!
Spending the summer in France is an easy choice for thousands of Brits each year; a stressless suboceanic journey on a train built for cars and you’re casually dumped in a foreign land where the sun shines and wine is cheap. And, thankfully, some of the best holiday destinations in France lay only a stone’s throw from Calais where you disembark. Northern France is a melting pot of culture, cuisine and cute places – so many different types of French holidays to choose from.
We’ve chosen our favourite French vacation areas no further than half a days drive from the channel tunnel in Calais. A mixture of holidays in north France with something for everyone. To be honest though – regardless of whether you’re looking for an easy road trip idea from the UK or not – these places should be on everybody’s bucket list!
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Our Top 5 Best Holiday Destinations In France
Whether it’s beautiful beaches, countryside hikes and bike rides, historical sites or cute little towns, we’ve got you covered with our top 5 choices of the best northern holiday destinations France has to offer. Something for everyone, now you’ve just got to choose the type of holiday for you…
The Alsace region totally took us by surprise and to us seems like one of the most beautiful holiday destinations France has managed to keep a secret. We’d previously seen photo’s of Colmar whilst we were planning our holiday in France and thought ‘wow – but that’s gotta be a one-off though, right!?’. Nope. Alsace is a beauty. A place to visit in France where everything has been touched up in photoshop it seems. Cobbled towns of colourful half-timbered houses and little details that make you wondered if you’ve stumbled into Germany by mistake (it’s been owned by Germany several times through the ages – and it definitely shows!).
Most tourists visit the Alsace region to do the wine route; a collection of fairytale villages spanning 170km. A holiday destination where French and German cultures blend to make quite a unique french region. The rainbow-painted houses stoop over cobbled streets filled with classically-styled shop windows and blossoming hanging baskets. Whilst outside the towns the winding country roads are lined with vineyards and dotted with castles upon hills. Anyone is just free to pop into the vineyards and sample their wines, accompanied by plates of cheeses and meats, no bookings necessary. Or, if you’d rather, you can make appointments and do tours, followed by wine-pairings and a chance to buy in bulk. Either way, you have to experience at least some of the wine route when in Alsace.
The people in the Alsace region are particularly warm and friendly and life revolves around food and drink. But, it’s not your normal French cuisine – Alsace is strongly influenced by its old Germanic roots in many ways and the food is more typical of Frankfurt than of Paris. You could easily spend a week in Alsace and still not sample all the different tarte flambee’s, choucroutes and bretzels.
Whilst Colmar is certainly one of the main towns of Alsace (and many make it a day-trip from Paris, so it can get very busy) there are a good handful of smaller Alsation towns and villages that are equally as pretty and perhaps a little more authentic too. Bergheim, Ribeauville and Kaysersberg-Vignoble are our favourites. And if you were spending a week in this area of France you must set aside a day to visit the French city of Strasbourg too.
In fact, since this region of France borders the Black Forest in Germany, it’s a very easy day trip to visit one of the most stunning mountain ranges in Europe and an opportunity to add another country to your France holiday. In short, a holiday to Alsace is a waistband-expander surrounded by warm, friendly locals where you’ll never put your camera away!
More Information About Holidaying In Alsace, France
- Alsace is approximately a 6-hour drive from Calais, or 5 from Paris.
- Alsace probably isn’t the best place in France for family holidays as the focus is more on history and food and drink, along with incredible scenery. But, it’s one of the best french vacation idea’s for couples wanting a romantic holiday.
- You will find the largest selection of accommodation in Colmar but we would recommend staying in Ribeauville for a less-touristy, better value, french vacation.
- Tourist attractions include Château-de-Saint-Ulrich, Château du Haut-Kœnigsbourg, the Ballons des Vosges National Park.
- Pretty Alsace towns include; Colmar, Strasbourg, Eguisheim, Ribeauville, Bergheim, Obernai, Kaysersberg-Vignoble.
For more France holiday ideas in the region of Alsace, we have a few more posts about this region…
Brittany is perhaps the most ideal solution of where to go for a beach holiday in France with the family. An easy 5-hour drive from the Euro-Tunnel will get you to some beautiful old resorts along the northern edge of Brittany. French holiday destinations like Dinard and Saint-Lunaire were once geared up for the wealthy elite travelling from Paris for a seaside vacation and still ooze style and sophistication today. Grand villa’s sit upon the rocky cliffs looking out to sea and long sandy beaches are broken up by small harbours and waterfront restaurants.
Alternatively, head a bit further south to the bottom edge of Brittany. Here you will encounter quieter, more rugged coastlines and one of the most enchanting places to holiday in France. Brittany has long been synonymous with magic and mystery because of its connections to King Arthur and also the infamous Carnac Stones – France’s answer to Stonehenge. But there’s also a certain air to the ancient towns in Southern Brittany, with their old granite houses and overhanging gables – you really get the sense you’ve been transported back a thousand years in time. Add to all of this the unspoilt beaches, opportunity for watersports and family cottages available to rent on the Gulf of Morbihan and you really have found the perfect spot for a family holiday in France. Brittany’s beaches are less contrived than the resorts of Normandy or the South of France and more about connecting with the sea and nature, more remote and beautiful.
More Information About Holidaying In Brittany
- Northern Brittany is approximately a 5 hour drive from Calais, Southern Brittany 6.5 hours.
- Brittany is one of the more popular holiday destinations in France and as a result a lot of accommodations only like you to book for a whole week during the summer. Larger cities like Vannes it is possible to just book for one night.
- We would recommend booking a beach house for families on the Gulf of Morbihan. Or if you are a couple looking for a hotel/bed and breakfast set-up, we cannot recommend Saint Goustan enough – it’s the most beautiful little port town, an ideal location for exploring this French region and full of options for places to eat and drink on an evening.
- Tourist attractions and notable towns include; Saint-Malo, Dinard, several plus-beaux-villes but especially Rocheforte-en-Terre. The city of Vannes. The Carnac stones, Josselin Castle and the ancient enchanted forest of King Arthur at Brocéliande.
For more ideas of places to visit if you were thinking of a holiday in Brittany, check out an article we wrote about all our Brittany highlights here.
3. The Loire Valley
It just sounds posh doesn’t it, ‘La Loire’, and it is! It’s like once upon a time, before the towns grew, there were just dozens and dozens of palaces and castles neighbouring each other by a few miles or so just competing for who had the poshest pad. I have more turrets than you. Yes, but do you have a moat? No, but Leonardo Da Vinci lives at my place. Ok, you win.
And it may well be one of the most glamourous France regions there is, but that’s not to say you should immediately write it off as unaffordable and highfaluting. The Loire Valley is one of the top France holiday destinations for regulars like you and me despite its glamour. And that’s because it has far more to offer than just Chateaux-hunting, although don’t get me wrong – you’ve gotta see them, they’re incredible!
As you have probably guessed, this French region was established along the Loire River and over the centuries wealthy towns have popped up on its banks to take advantage of its sources. But as the term ‘valley’ suggests, the river has forged itself through the landscape and carved out steep chalk walls which have then been used as mushroom caves, wine cellars and even houses. It’s really quite a unique area of France in terms of aesthetics. Many of these cellars and caves can be visited and some even go hundreds of metres into the rock face.
A special Loire Valley bike train operates throughout the summer and many take the opportunity to hire bikes and enjoy cycling through some of the most beautiful French countryside lanes knowing their journey home is an easy one on the train. There are routes to suit all skill levels and even a few for young children, check out the Loire à vélo riverside trail routes here.
If you’re planning to spend the summer in France then some say the Loire has the perfect temperate climate – not too hot, not too cold. Plus, once the playground of Renaissance elite, there are so many sheltered parks (once used for hunting) ideal for day trips and picnics; it has earned its nickname The Garden of France for sure. And if you are on holiday with the kids, the Loire is close to two of Frances best theme parks – Puy du Fou and Futuroscope.
More Information About Holidaying In The Loire Valley
- The Loire Valley is one of the most popular regions of France to visit on holiday so you are better to book accommodation several months ahead of your trip for the best deals.
- The prettiest section of the Loire Valley with the most to see and do is the area between Tours and Angers and takes approximately 5.5 hours by car from Calais.
- There are SO many tourist attractions in The Loire Valley but our most recommended would be; The town of Amboise (including Leonardo Da Vinci’s home – Clos Lucé. Château de Chambord and Château de Saumur. Tepacap – a forest activity theme park. Troô – a troglodyte village built into the rock face. Kayaking on the Loire and the dancing horses of Saumur. Also, the night market in Orleans – but make sure you turn up hungry!
During our France summer holiday we had the pleasure of staying at hotel La Seignère, near to Saumur. A beautiful manor house, renovated to the highest standards and owned by a wonderful couple who are so pleased to share with you their home and their neighbourhood. The breakfast array was incredible and the hosts are on hand to pour you a glass of local wine at any time of day should you desire one. Plus the pool is heated and the grounds are so pretty to enjoy some relaxation in. We actually found that despite being incredibly beautiful and one of the nicest hotels we have ever stayed in, La Seignère was actually great value for money – for the best deals check here.
Whilst you are probably familiar with the areas of Normandy famous for the D-Day landings and associations with World War II, this region of France has a lot more to offer than just historical reminiscing. In fact, several of France’s famous tourist attractions reside in Normandy – Mont Saint Michel, the historical city of Rouen and the medieval harbour of Honfleur just to name a few. But it’s also one of the best northern France holiday destinations because it’s packed with variety and you won’t run out of things to do.
The beaches, like the north coast of Brittany, were geared up for holiday-makers a long time ago. Tired city-dwellers found their way to the nearest coast from Paris for a week of clean air and resort entertainment. And, today they still retain a lot of that 19th-century charm and glamour. The beach resort town of Deauville has attracted film-stars and wealthy business owners since the 1800s and you can actually visit the huge Rothschild’s mansion – Villa Strassburger – for a grand tour.
But it’s not just beaches and harbours in Normandy. The countryside beyond is a road-trippers dream; winding country lanes from one cute village onto another. It’s no surprise several famous artists have retired to Normandy to paint these canvassable surroundings. Visit the little village of Camembert and sample its infamous cheeses and some local apple cider at a picnic down by the river. Or, head further south in this French region to an area dubbed as Suisse Normande (Normandy’s Switzerland) if you’re a nature lover and like a few forests and hills in your landscapes. It’s one of the France holiday locations that ticks a lot of boxes – beaches, food, history and hiking. The coastal towns (with the exception of Honfleur) haven’t wowed us as much as some of Brittany’s have, but it’s certainly provided us with some very interesting holidays in the past. There is so much to see and do in Normandy.
More Information About Your French Holiday To Normandy
- It is just over 3 hours by car to the Normandy region and your journey takes you over the impressive ‘Pont de Normandie’ in Le Havre.
- Whilst in Normandy you must make sure you try all the local smelly cheeses (including Camembert), Marmite Dieppoise (a seafood broth in cider) and anything with local apples, the region’s speciality.
- Tourist attractions include; The Bayeaux Tapestry, the medieval city of Rouen, the D-Day Beaches, the historical port of Honfleur and Mont Saint Michel. We also loved the clifftop town of Étretat too – France’s answer to the White Cliffs of Dover, attached to a pretty medieval village.
We love the busy port-side town of Trouville-sur-Mer – the poorer cousin to Deauville but more alive with locals and a more authentic experience all-round. You maybe wouldn’t want to stay a full week here but we can definitely recommend a couple of nights here followed by several days more inland for a peaceful retreat. We found this great apartment overlooking the sea and with a balcony too – it’s perfect for bringing back all the food-goodies from the market and enjoying with the view.
5. Île de France And Paris
Last but not least on our list of best places to holiday in France is Paris and the surrounding area. This area may not be the most obvious choice for a weeks holiday in France, because Paris is probably more associated with short breaks, but you shouldn’t rule it out. Let’s face it – Paris has always been one of the best places to go on holiday in France, so why not combine a mini-break in the capital with a few days relaxing in the adjacent region – Île de France.
Over the last few years it has definitely become a more popular France family holiday destination due to the option of adding a couple of days in Disney Land onto your itinerary. As a result, accommodation choices for families has vastly improved. Lot’s of people prefer the holiday camp style accommodation, caravanning and camping, as the parks usually have amenities for the kids like evening entertainment and great swimming pools. But it is also easy to find villa’s in the region with their own pool and a lot more privacy. We would recommend staying in the area around the Parc Natural Regional du Gâtinais Français as you’re surrounded by nature, there are lots of activities in the area for children and you are only an hour from the centre of Paris, the Palace of Versailles and Disneyland.
But, even if you don’t have kids Île de France is still a great area to explore. As already mentioned, there is the famous French tourist attraction – the Palace of Versailles, where the Royal Court of France was once held and Marie Antoinette left her most elaborate stamp in the details. You will never have seen so much gilt in your life!
Almost as ostentatious is the Palace of Fontainbleau, but especially beautiful are the nearby royal hunting forests and the Gorges de Franchard – an opportunity to get back to nature once you’ve explored the gilded grandeur of Paris and its equally elegant neighbouring towns.
More Information For The Region Of Île de France
- The beautiful National Parc area just south of Paris, near Fontainebleau, where we recommend you stay, takes just over 4 hours by car from Calais.
- Other tourist attractions in this region include; the city of Orleans, the world-famous medieval cathedral at Chartres and the Château de Chantilly. Claude Monet’s house at Giverny is also a sight to behold, with its ornate gardens and collection of art – it’s quite something to see the famous water-lilies pond exactly like the painting.
So there you have it – our favourites list of best holiday destinations in France within easy distance from the Eurotunnel in Calais. There are SO many places to go on holiday in France, and many beautiful regions as you have seen. However, we hope that our list of France vacation ideas has given you a bit of inspiration for your next trip. Happy planning – and do drop us a line to tell us where you decide!
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