Tucked away in the vast vineyards of Bordeaux, lies Saint Emilion, a historic and picturesque, UNESCO world heritage site - not to mention one of the most famous wine villages on the world.
What to see and do in Saint Emilion
Wander: Every corner is a photo opp here, it’s seriously pretty, a town of terracotta roof tops, medieval architecture and cobbled streets lined with wine shops, wine bars, restaurants, galleries and boutiques. It’s an easy town to discover on foot – as long as you don’t mind hills. It’s traditional to climb the steep hill in the centre of the village, but make sure you wear flat shoes, you really won’t want to go up or down this cobbled challenge with heels on! There is a central railing part of the way and hardly anyone makes it without clinging on at some point, even the locals are respectful on this hill. You’ll get the most beautiful views from the bell tower or the square above the church – simply stunning.
Vineyard on the edge of St Emilion
Tour the Vineyards: Surrounded by miles and miles of beautiful vineyards, you can just stroll to the outskirts of town to take in the sight but better still, take a tour and see the vines up close and learn the history of the area. You can book a guided tour with the tourist office or a tuk tuk, Segway or ebike tour – all roads lead to the vineyards. There are more than 1000 wine makers here spread out over 5,500 hectares producing 2.5million cases each year – cheers!
Take a break: There are around 40 restaurants in the town ranging from snack food to Michelin starred. Push the boat out at the Logis de la Cadene – Chef Alexandre Baumard and his team prepare utterly exquisite food in a gorgeous location for a memorable dining experience, though its not formal or stuff, just delicious. On a hot day, buy an ice cream and dip your feet in the ice-cold waters from the natural spring that flow into the ancient wash house where town folk once gathered to launder their clothes. Enjoy a bit of shade and tranquil ambience with a glass of wine at the 14th century Cordeliers Cloisters, a listed Historic Monument. Nibble on one of the famous Saint Emilion macarons, they’re very moreish and perfect for keeping your energy up as you saunter the streets, visit the vineyards and drink in the delectable sites.
Discover the history of the monk Emilion, after whom the town is named: You’d never know from looking at the monolithic Church (the largest in Europe) in the main square that it hides an incredible secret. You’ll need to book a tour at the tourist office to get inside this now private venue to discover the cave where Emilion, a humble man of God, arrived in the 8th century. It’s also the location for what was the town’s catacombs and don’t be surprised to see a bone or two still sticking out of the ground! It’s a fascinating place, the sense of history is evident, and very cool on a hot day – well worth booking up for (at the tourist office).
Wine tasting: You can’t really visit Saint Emilion and not do a wine tasting – there’s loads of choice, so just pick what appeals. If you want to have a really fun tasting and learn loads while drinking some of the best and mostly organic Saint Emilion wines, head to Le Wine Buff St Emilion, 2 rue du Marche, where you’ll meet Paddy O’Flynn, an affable Irishman whose been in Saint Emilion for decades - and what he doesn’t know about wine doesn’t count. Enjoy a wine tasting, the most delicious tapas in a shady courtyard and get a bottle or several to take home from the excellent selection in store.
There’s also La Maison du vin close to the tourist office which holds workshops, wine tastings and has a very good boutique of wine.
Top tip: Head to Saint Emilion tourist office first and pick up a map and lots of info about the town.
As officially the sunniest place in France, with the greatest number of sunshine hours (264 days), Marseille makes for a terrific year-round destination.
There’s heaps to do in this colourful city on the edge of the Mediterranean and in the last few years its been cleaned up, spruced up and tuned up with new museums, shops, restaurants and bars. Best way to find your bearings: Take a tour. You might like the “petite train”, there are two routes, the Notre Dame de la Gare one is best and saves you climbing some very steep hills. Pick up a city pass from the tourist office which will give you coverage on public transport, entry to major attractions and includes a guided bus tour or boat ride – it’s a bargain.
Vieux Port – the old Port of Marseille
Anchors clanking, Wedgewood blue sky, turquoise waters, wide boulevards lined with restaurants that are teeming with people lingering over coffee and pastries in the morning, long long lunches, afternoon refreshment and late late dinners. In fact, you’d be forgiven for thinking no one goes to work in Marseilles since bars, cafes and restaurants around the Port seem to be permanently buzzing! Watch the fishermen selling fresh fish direct to the public from the quayside, admire the fabulous Norman Foster-designed Miroir Ombriere, an enormous mirrored shade and soak up the ambiance in one of the most exciting areas of Marseille.
Eating and Drinking: Around the bay is very picturesque and tends to be pricier. Head off the main tourist tracks to experience real Bouillabaise, the ubiquitous fish dish of Marseille and expect to pay around 40 Euros a head, it’s worth it, a memorable dish.
Vieux Ville – the old town of Marseille
Head up to Le Panier, the old town to explore the little lanes, boutiques and art galleries. It’s a great place for lunch (not for dinner, the choice is less).
Notre Dame de la Garde
The view from the Basilica is simply breath-taking as you see Marseille spread out below and around you. You can easily pick out the white dome of the football stadium where the local football team Olympique Marseille play, but what really strikes you is the way the town looks almost Roman, with terracotta roofs galore and pastel coloured buildings that reflect the sun. Here, with the smell of pine trees, is an air of tranquillity despite the hordes of tourists staggering around with selfie sticks. You almost feel as though you’re on the edge of a bowl in which Marseille is contained.
They say in Marseille that La Bonne Mère, the gold statue atop the Church, looks after believers on the way up, making sure they’re safe climbing those hills and stairs, struggling to reach her and praise her. Apparently she takes no notice on the way down so watch your step!
Unveilled in 2013 to mark Marseille’s role as European Capital of Culture, the Museum of European and Mediterranean Civilisations is a waterfront spectacle crafted by local Algerian-born "starchitect" Rudy Ricciotti. Linked by footbridge to Fort Saint-Jean, a maze-like 17th century stronghold constructed for Louis XIV. MuCEM is a spectacular sight with its fishnet style concrete walls. A terrific permanent collection, superb temporary exhibitions, café at Fort St-Jean and cookery school and gastronomic restaurant on the roof of MuCEM run by 3 Michel star chef Gérald Passedat. Don’t miss this one.
Relax on the beach
You could head to the Calanques National Park by boat from the Vieux Port (about 40 mins) or by bus. The turquoise coloured crystal-clear waters that are the stuff of dreams. Situated between Marseille and Cassis, this place has wow factor in bucket loads, great for swimming, walking, boating or just drinking in those magnificent views.
Or relax on Marseille’s city beaches. We like La Corniche, a picturesque seaside roadway that meanders along the Mediterranean coast. This 5 km stretch includes a three-kilometre segment that was renamed in honour of President Kennedy. Head down to the area below the Corniche where you’ll find rocky inlets and sandy beaches and the Vallon des Auffes, a little fishing port that retains a traditional feel with little huts and some really great restaurants – here is where you’ll find some of the best bouillabaise.
Nip over to our rentals pages to find your dream holiday area in the south of France…
Almost at the point where Normandy meets Brittany at the water’s edge in the Manche region of northern France, you’ll discover one of the wonders of the world.
The region has 355km of coastline, the largest network of country roads in France and several truly spectacular must-visit locations.
Utah Beach, where the American troops landed on D-Day, on 6 June 1944, is now home to a magnificent museum with its very own B26 bomber plane.
Saint-Lô in the heart of the Manche has a terrific market, and horse-lovers are sure to enjoy a visit the town’s National Stud.
Granville, the “Monaco of the North”, is a bustling seaside resort with marina and fishing port, rock pools, and sandy beaches plus an 18-hole links course. Christian Dior, the great French designer, was born here and his birthplace with haute couture exhibition, rose garden and tearooms are open to visitors in the summer months
And La Manche is also where you’ll discover an ancient abbey on a tiny island in the English Channel that looks like a dream of a fairytale village.
This incredible island, with its wiggly, wobbly cobbles roads that wind around and up like a giant stone helter-skelter, topped with a majestic abbey, leaves most visitors speechless. In 708 AD, the Bishop of Avranches dreamed that the Archangel Michael told him to build a church on the little island, just off the coast at the mouth of the River Couesnon. Over the next few hundred years, monks settled in the abbey and a village started to take shape. By the 14th century, it looked much as it does today. It was and still is, on the pilgrimage route, but more so on the tourist route and can get very busy in peak season.
Streets lined with medieval houses, cafés, and shops, views over the bay which has the highest tides in Europe and the incredible abbey make Mont-Saint-Michel one of the most popular landmarks of France. The climb to the top is not for the faint-hearted or those with disabilities, it’s steep and long, and generally less crowded as 2 out of 3 visitors give it a pass. But if you make it, you’ll be rewarded with the most amazing views and a tour of a fascinating building.
Park your car in the designated car park, take the shuttle bus, horse, and cart or 45-minute walk over to the island. Despite the hordes of tourists at peak visiting times, Mont-Saint-Michel really does live up to the hype.
French Connection has loads of fabulous holiday rental homes in the Manche area from a gite at a chateau to a bijou bakery, cottages, farmhouses and more… we love making your holiday dreams come true
Village of Saint Martin de Ré Copyright Region Poitou-Charentes Pacal Baudry
If you’re after a holiday that offers some of the best beaches in Europe, glorious countryside, great gastronomy and a whole lot more, Poitou-Charentes, now part of Nouvelle-Aquitaine, may well be your dream destination.
A few years back, Dordogne was where everyone wanted to go. And quite right, it’s a beautiful area and there’s a ton to fall in love with, it’s still massively popular. For a while though, for many it felt as if Poitou-Charentes was just a region to drive through in the rush to reach the delights of Dordogne. The area lies on the west coast of France between the rivers Loire and Gironde, spreading inland from the Atlantic at La Rochelle to just north of Poitiers.
Then savvy travellers started to stop off, they lingered, and they discovered that Poitou-Charentes has drop dead gorgeous sandy beaches, islands where you can get away from it all in style or in tranquillity. They found a landscape of rolling hills, lush forests and lakes, mouth-watering markets and artisan boulangeries in picturesque towns. There’s also some of the country’s top attractions like award-winning Futuroscope multimedia theme park and the Valley of the Monkeys. Word got out. But, in spite of its growing popularity, it never seems to get overcrowded, making it a top-notch place to take a holiday.
If you’re a nature and sporty activities lover, the Marais Poitevin, the “green Venice”” of France with its cycling and hiking paths and waterways that criss cross the landscape will really float your boat.
Well-known and historic seaside towns like Île de Ré, Île d'Oléron, La Rochelle and Rochefort are all popular with visitors. But there’s plenty of choice in the area for getting off the beaten track and discovering your own bit of coastal paradise.
Cognac, famous for its production of Cognac, Angoulême a beautiful town famous for its wall murals and annual comic festival are great for days out. La Rochelle, Royan Saintes are also terrific choices for days out as well as holidays in the area.
Ile de Ré copyright: Ile de Ré Tourism
Boasting the same number of hours of sunshine as St Tropez on the French Riviera but not so far to get to, Ile De Ré is chic, charming, elegant and authentic. This lovely island is a firm favourite with Parisians and those who go there always long to return. Think pastel coloured shutters, white villas, superb markets, beautiful beaches, cafés along the waterside, watching the sun set…
Ile d’Aix is tranquil and has a bit of an air of the Caribbean to it with its lush vegetation growing right up to the beach. This car free paradise makes for a great day trip by ferry, just leave your car at the ferry car park at Fouras.
Ile d’Oléron is the second largest island in France after Corsica and it’s perfect for cyclists - with more than 100km of cycling routes. With its beautiful coast line, oyster farms and scenic countryside, prepare to be bewitched by the charms of Oléron.
At French Connections we have hundreds of fabulous rentals in the Poitou-Charentes, Nouvelle-Aquitaine, area, just click here to see them all – we love to help you make your holiday dreams come true…
There are hundreds of Chateaux in the Loire Valley ranging from small, gorgeous and rather cosy like the Chateau du Clos Lucé, former home of Leonardo da Vinci, to the grand and imposing like the Chateau de Chambord, a Renaissance masterpiece.
The Chateau de Chenonceau is one of the most grand and gorgeous of them all, like a fairy tale castle, nestling on the banks of the River Cher where former owner Diane de Poitiers (1499-1566), mistress of King Henri II used to bathe. The waters, it was said, made her even more beautiful.
The chateau today is owned by the Menier family, famous for making chocolate in France. It is open to the public year-round and has a unique attraction – flowers!
The Chateau de Chenonceau has a reputation for being a “ladies castle” as, other than Diane de Poitiers, several women have had a strong influence over its destiny, including Catherine de Medici, wife of Henry II. Both women loved the gardens of the chateau and would have grand bouquets displayed in the rooms. Go there today and every room in the chateau provides the most amazing backdrop for beautiful floral displays.
Most of the flowers are grown in the chateau grounds by a master gardener. And the displays are created by Jean-Francois Bouchet an internationally renowned florist. He and his team make the magnificent bouquets in a tiny workshop at the castle, and the colour, scent and life they bring to the rooms are world famous.
Beautiful furnishings, tapestries, paintings and historic rooms including a 60m long gallery across the river Cher where balls were held, make Chenonceau a real must see for any chateau lover.
Visit this chateau and it’s not just the gorgeous interior with its flowers that you get to enjoy but the stunning gardens too. Head gardener Nicholas Tomlan, an American, has distinct areas to look after. Diane’s Garden (with a fountain in the middle) and Catherine de Medici’s Garden (with a pond in the middle) are a riot of colour and formal beds filled with beautiful flowers – around 130,000 bedding plants are grown for the summer borders alone.
The potager is where flowers grow side by side with fruit and veg, destined for the chateau’s delectable L’Orangerie Restaurant. There’s also a maze, a grand Green Garden, stunning avenue of trees that lead to the castle and a recently developed small garden dedicated to the great botanist Russel Page.
The gardens are illuminated on summer nights and on some weekends, classical music is played, the perfect accompaniment to a fairy tale stroll.
This is a fabulous year-round visit including at Christmas, when the chateau de Chenonceau is decked out in style.
The region formerly known as Limousin is an area of outstanding natural beauty, perfect for those who enjoy outdoor living and activities, while Limoges, formerly the capital of Limousin, offers the culture and lifestyle of a vibrant city. Now incorporated into a much bigger region known as Nouvelle Aquitaine, three departments made up the former area of Limousin: Corrèze, Creuse, and Haute-Vienne. The Regional Natural Park of Millevaches, with its forests, meadows and fabulous wildlife, it’s the “wild west of Limousin”, straddles all three departments.
The picturesque villages of the regional park of the Perigord-Limousin offer tranquil countryside holidays and the local countryside offers endless walks.
Three reasons to fall in love with Limousin…
Turenne is classified as one of the most beautiful villages in France (Les Plus Beaux Villages de France). It’s a popular tourist destination thanks to its height and unique position on top of a cliff. What makes this so unusual and so spectacular is the sheer height – 320m up and perched on a very distinct hill. Full of beautiful windings streets, old buildings, castle ruins and a famous tower, Turenne sits atop a limestone hill known as the Martel Causse. The views from the top are spectacular, green fields, forests and beautiful countryside lay all around in an almost 360-degree application. On a clear day you can see for 20 miles around – mountains, villages, forests and fields making a verdant patchwork of the beautiful landscape.
The cobbled streets, burgher houses made from limestone, abundance of towers and turrets make this little medieval village in the sky a place for exploration and discovery though the hilly paths are steep
You’ll also find Collanges-la-Rouge in Correze, a beautiful town with Renaissance, colourful buildings that are simply outstanding. Tulle, the capital of Turenne is also well worth a visit.
Home to Limoges, known internationally for its production of porcelain and the officially classified “City of Art and History” is also a fabulous town to visit. Don’t miss the National Museum Adrien Dubouché which has an astonishing collection of porcelain, some 12000 pieces.
There are several museums in the city from fine arts to a distiller and you can also take a tour of Porcelain producers which makes for a fascinating visit.
Take a tour of the old part of the city and enjoy watching the world go by from one of the numerous cafés and enjoy the fantastic local cuisine. We love Chez Mimi for its great ambiance and superb menu.
Oradour-sur-Glane, the Village of Martyrs and Memorial Centre makes for an emotional and sobering visit but it is a must-visit if you are in the area.
This is the least visited department of France, which is strange because it is incredibly beautiful. Monet captured its beauty in a series of paintings of Crozant. In the north of Creuze, is the “Valley of the Painters”, writer George Sand said of it: “everything fires the imagination here” with a landscape so rich “the painter doesn’t know where to stop”.
Lake Vassivière is often compared to Canada with its dramatic landscape and huge forests and lakes peppered with islands.
It’s home to Aubusson, famous for its tapestries, which started to be produced here 600 years ago and still are to this day. Today that heritage is celebrated in the Museum, where you’ll discover an incredible collection of old and new tapestries.
French Connections has loads of great rentals in the area – helping to make your holiday dreams come true…
If you’re headed to France this autumn, then you’re in for a treat as at this time of the year there are so many fabulous festivals, events, and celebrations taking place.
Here are just a few of our favourites:
Braderie de Lille
Braderie de Lille 1-2 September, Europe’s biggest flea market www.lilletourism.com
Journées Européennes du Patrimoine – European Heritage Days: Nationwide event 15-16 September. Hundreds of historical buildings, famous monuments, Government sites and places of interest, some of which are normally closed to the public, open their doors and welcome visitors. It is an amazing opportunity to explore and find out more about some truly fantastic buildings in France. Discover the heritage of France, more about Journées Européennes du Patrimoine. www.journeesdupatrimoine.culture.fr/
Fete de la Gastronomie 21-23 September, every corner of France will come alive with events to celebrate its UNESCO-listed ‘world intangible heritage’ status. From grand-scale concerts to local sing-a-longs, Michelin-star set menus to small village banquets, the country will be in lively spirits to celebrate one of its most popular claims to fame. www.economie.gouv.fr/fete-gastronomie
Festival Musica, Strasbourg (contemporary classical music) September 19–October 6.
Monaco Yacht Show (pricey exhibition of mega-yachts) September 26–29.
Nuit Blanche Paris
Paris Nuit Blanche – a fabulous artfest of illuminated public art and concerts in the streets of Paris. First Saturday in October.
Paris Grape Harvest Festival, Montmartre. Did you know that there is a vineyard in Paris, it’s a tiny relic of the once abundant vineyards that flourished in Paris. Once a year, Montmartre celebrates the Fete des Vendanges de Montmartre - the Grape Harvest festival. 10 to 14 October. www.fetedesvendangesdemontmartre.com
National Event: Semaine du Gout – Taste Week: 8-14 October. Throughout France, this foodie event focuses on original and varied cuisine. As part of the event, workshops for the public include cooking classes, tastings and entertainment. www.legout.com
Chartres en Lumières ends October 13. Chartres is universally known for its UNESCO listed cathedral. “Chartres en Lumières” reveals dozens of cultural and architectural sites of a city that brightly shines every night from dusk until 1 am, thanks to original lighting and outstanding video technology (April – October). Chartres-Tourism.com
Paris Salon de Chocolat: Chocolate lovers will be thrilled with this event as dozens of chocolatiers from all over France and as far away as Italy, Germany, Switzerland, Belgium, Russia, Japan and Canada present their wares on more than 400 stands. The Chocolate Fashion Show is a must! 31 October to 4 November at the Porte de Versailles. www.salonduchocolat.fr
Hospices de Beaune
La Toussaint, All Saints Day. A national holiday in France. Public offices and lots of shops will be closed. November 1.
Dijon International and Gastronomic Fair November 1–11 www.burgundy-tourism.com
Annecy Wine and Food Festival. Wine and gastronomic exhibition with tastings galore. www.salondesvins.org 9-11 November
Armistice Day. Public offices and lots of shops will be closed. November 11.
Beaujolais Nouveau Day. Held the third Thursday of November, the festivities start at midnight on Wednesday for the celebration of new wine from the Beaujolais region, Burgundy. November 15.
Les Trois Glorieuses, Beaune, Burgundy. Wine auction and festival. November 16–8. www.beaune-tourism.com
And, as if that’s not enough, France will be gearing up for the Christmas markets from the end of November!
French Connections has hundreds of holiday homes for rent all over France, enjoy the festivals with us, we love to make your holiday dreams come true…