Enough with the Seine quays-strolling, the macaron-eating, and Eiffel Tower-climbing. I invite you to step into the rest of France (where 55 million of us live). Here are some of my favorite spots, from a Breton island to the peaks of Haute-Savoie.
1. Les falaises d’Etretat
There are spectacular chalk cliffs in Etretat; the best way to explore is walking the beach at low tide. This way you can really check out Manneporte and the Porte d’Aval. Another option is following the path from above (and scaring yourself half to death by looking down.)
It might not be the most cheerful places to visit, but the beaches of the Nomandy landings have incredible historical and educational value. Sword Beach, Omaha Beach, Utah Beach, Juno Beach, and Gold Beach were where the Allied forces landed, shifting the outcome of WWII. There is still a hallowed, powerful feeling to this entire area.
3. Strasbourg’s Christmas market
It’s not called the “Christmas capital of Europe” for nothing. Cathedral Notre Dame de Strasbourg is illuminated and decorated in one of the most beautiful displays anywhere. And it’s worth it just to go walking from artisan chalet to artisan chalet downing cups of mulled wine and stuffing your face with chocolate-covered pretzels.
4. La Dune du Pilat
In my opinion, there’s only one perfect way to check out the highest dune in Europe: set out before sunset with a pack filled with a good bottle of wine and a jambon beurre, hit the steep path to the top, and enjoy the view of the Atlantic Ocean, the Bay of Arcachon, and the massive pine forest while eating the most French of all meals.
5. Les Gorges du Verdon
Perhaps Europe’s most beautiful canyon, this place is popular and draws the crowds, but you can still find secluded spots along the 25 kilometre gorge to swim, kayak, rock climb, or hike in peace and tranquility.
6. The old city of Dinan
My favourite thing to do when in Dinan is to walk the narrow cobblestone streets, stopping in art galleries and craft shops, until my stomach begs for a crêpe filled with confiture de lait.
Because you deserve to wake up early (after a night filled with tartiflette) surrounded by the beauty of the French Alps at least once in your life.
8. Bonifacio, Corsica
If Red Bull chose Bonifacio to host the French leg of the Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series, it’s not by accident. The place is beautiful, the water is hot, the sun shines a lot more there than anywhere else in France, and there’s great adventure potential.
9. L’Ile de Sein
Bonus point if there’s a nasty storm during your visit; there’s nothing like looking at the ocean getting angry from the shore of a tiny island to get to know Brittany. I’m ready to bet big money that after spending a few days cycling around Sein you’ll want to take sailing lessons, move into a quaint little house/a boat/a lighthouse by the harbour, and settle for good.
You may come to see the Camargue horses roaming free in the wetlands, but you’ll stay for the pink flamingoes and the French cowboys.
Although the historic city of Carcassonne is a busy spot crammed with tourists in the high season, it is still very much a place worth visiting. Just make sure you explore the narrow streets and the ramparts of this fortified medieval town later in the evening when illuminated, or very early in the morning, and you might just have the whole place to yourself.