Saint-Malo sits on the Emerald Coast, department of Ille-et-Villaine, Brittany. It’s a port town with ferries crossing from England, Guernsey and Jersey to this gateway to the rest of further afield, but it’s well worth stopping off for in its own right. Channel your inner Jack Sparrow and follow in the footsteps of the famous seafarers and pirates and grab your bucket and spade and head to the beach.
The old town is well preserved with ramparts, cobbled streets and ancient buildings, a great place to wander. Saint-Malo is known as the “town of corsairs”. Corsairs were sailors on a civilian ship officially sanctioned by government to attack enemy ships. A bit like pirates, their targets were mainly commercial ships, except their activities were “legal”. There are several museums in Saint-Malo – including one on a boat.
At the foot of the ramparts visit the Etoile du Roy (Star of the King) ship - and be an honorary Corsair for the day. Etoile du Roy is a replica of a 1745 built frigate. A 3-masted, 47m long boat with 20 cannon guns, on this floating museum you can learn about life on board almost 300 years ago. Great for the whole family.
Meet around 10,000 fish in the Saint-Malo Aquarium. More than 600 species of every shape and colour of fish live here including sharks. Board the ‘Nautibus’ submarine to navigate underwater among 5,000 fish.
Saint-Malo is famous for its spectacular tides, the difference between high and low tides at Saint-Malo is among the largest in the world. There are vast sandy beaches peppered with rock pools. Off the coast there are tiny granite islands including one with a fort.
Fort du Petit Bé was built in the late 17th century and was armed with 15 guns, including two mortars. Climb to the top and you’ll immediately know why this location was chosen, there are wonderful views all round. You can walk out when the tide is low, otherwise a boat ride is necessary.
In the charming cobblestone Rue de l’Orme you will find La Maison du Beurre. Here, Monsieur Bordier sells his world famous butter from a blue painted store front. Since founding his company in 1985, this famous Brittany butter-maker has used a traditional method of kneading butter using a teak frame and wheel. This technique dates from the end of the 19th century and serves to both homogenize and soften the butter. Salt is added by hand and the kneading time is dependent on the season - longer in winter and shorter in summer. The butter reacts to the salt and releases water, prompting locals to say the butter is “crying”. A great take home edible memento if you bring your cool box.
When you’re in Brittany, it’s pretty much the law to eat crêpes (pancakes) so it’s no surprise to find that Saint-Malo has plenty of delicious creperies. Crêperie La Touline (6 Place de la Poissonnerie) is a quaint little restaurant in the central area; they serve both sweet and savoury buckwheat crêpes and have a small terrace at the front that’s great for people watching. It’s very popular with the locals both for the crêpes and the homemade ice cream. Bouche en Folie (14 rue du Boyer) is a friendly family run restaurant with a superb menu and delicious fresh sea food, and the locals love it!
Four miles north of Saint-Malo in the former fishing village of Rotheneuf, the huge granite cliffs are well worth a detour. In the late 19th century, a priest named Adolphe Julien Foure lived almost as a recluse, after a stroke left him deaf and partially paralyzed, yet he chiselled hundreds of figures into the granite cliffs using only a hammer and chisel. It’s an extraordinary and quite beautiful sight.
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On Place Rihour just off the huge Grand Place in the centre of the historic part of Lille, 80 wooden chalets are filled with gift ideas, nativity figurines, Christmas decorations and festive food. You’ll find lots of regional specialities here, and arts and crafts from Russia, Canada and Poland. With around 4000 shops in the city, restaurants galore and more cultural venues than you can shake a stick at – Lille is a fabulous Christmas destination.
Lille Christmas Market: 22nd November to 29th December 2019
Over 300 chalets are set up for the big Christmas market in Strasbourg, and there are several markets spread throughout the city. Delicious Alsacian food, local crafts including toys, lights, jewellery and wooden accessories are definitely tempting. The town squares are lit up and decorated in a traditional style and various concerts and shows take place. Standing at over 30 metres high, the Christmas tree on Place Kléber is one of the tallest, decorated trees in Europe. It’s no surprise that Strasbourg is known as The Capital of Christmas!
Strasbourg Christmas Market: 22nd November to 30th December 2019
For six weeks, the whole of Old Colmar becomes one huge colourful Christmas Market. More than 160 stalls make for a magical Christmas event. Colmar's six Christmas Markets essentially create their own mini-village, each inhabited by passionate craftsmen.
Colmar Christmas Market: 22nd November to 29th December 2019
Amiens town centre turns into a winter wonderland during the lead up to Christmas. More than 130 chalets that take over the main shopping streets! Some are from local sellers from France, but others have come from as far as Canada and India. You'll find a huge variety of handmade crafts and original Christmas gifts for sale. Don’t miss a visit to the city’s 800 Gothic Cathedral…
Amiens Christmas Market: 23rd November to 30th December 2019
Get into the spirit of the Christmas when you visit the markets on the city’s six main squares. Find hand-crafted gifts in the Christmas pyramid and taste the finest gingerbread biscuits. Take a turn around the open-air ice-rink, then warm up your cold hands around a mulled wine or hot chocolate. Stock up on delicacies at the city market hall or take a ride on the big wheel and ogle the twinkling illuminations.
Metz Christmas Market: 20th November to 29th December 2019
The Mulhouse Christmas Market features exceptional fabric, not surprising in this city which is famous for its textile heritage. There are regional delicacies from the Alsace and with the scent of cinnamon and mulled wine combined with the magical illuminations, it makes for a shopping pleasure. This market features a unique tradition, as the Renaissance former town hall (now museum) is transformed into a giant advent calendar, and every night in the lead up to Christmas a window is opened and lit up.
Mulhouse Christmas Market: 23rd November to 29th December 2019
At the Christmas market in Champagne’s capital city, discover more than 140 chalets on the Parvis of the Cathedrale. There are lovely illuminations and, new for 2019, having browsed the stalls, overflowing with delicacies and treasures, what could be better than a glass of bubbly on the big wheel? Sipping a glass of champagne above the beautiful illuminated city – what’s not to love?!
Reims Christmas Market: 21st November to 28th December 2019
The Christmas market starts late November and runs through to late December at the famous Place du Capitole, the heart of Toulouse. Chalets filled with original gift ideas from local woodcrafts to regional specialities, and with toys, pottery, jewellery, candles, clothing and leather goods – there’s something for everyone. Nibble on grilled chestnuts, accompanied by a warm drink or stop for a mulled wine at one of the chalet bars while you admire the twinkling decorations and illuminations. Father Christmas can also be found among the chalets, handing out sweets!
Toulouse Christmas Market: 22nd November to 26th December 2019
Montpellier, the sunny southern French city is lovely at Christmas. There’s a giant Christmas tree on the main square, Place de la Comedie, a Christmas market and late night market where you can enjoy local foods and drink wine in a giant heated tent. Christmas parades, workshop, ice-skating rink and much more.
Montpellier Christmas Market: 28th November to 28th December 2019
Montbéliard in the department of Doubs, Franche-Comté, holds its annual Christmas Festival of Lights – thousands of twinkling lights – and lovely, festive Christmas market which is one of the best in the area. There’s a craft fair and many other seasonal festivities. Attractions include pastry-making workshops for children, wine tasting and sleigh rides.
Montbeliard Christmas Market: 23rd November to 24th December 2019
Morbihan in southern Brittany has a beautiful coastline as well as the Gulf du Morbihan, an inner sea. Beautiful countryside, historic towns and a sunny climate make this a holiday paradise.
Here are some of our favourite things to do…
Visitors often miss the 15th century port of St Goustan on their way to see the famous stones of nearby Carnac, but it’s well worth a stop. You’ll find a perfectly preserved 600 year old harbour that is today full of restaurants and cafés including one with a plaque commemorating a famous visitor. Benjamin Franklin landed here in December 1776 for secret meetings with the King of France. Franklin took the road to Paris to ask France for help in the American War of Independence and one of the quays is now named after him. From June to September take a boat ride from here around the little islands in the Gulf of Morbihan. Don’t miss exploring the town, cross the narrow 13th century stone bridge, which links the two banks of the Loc’h and then make your way up Les Rampes du Loc’h. This specially built walkway leads up the hill to the site where the château once stood and from where you’ll have an amazing view.
You can’t fail to be impressed by the Alignements du Ménec – lines of stones, 1km long, 100 metres wide, as well as the Alignements de Kermario, more than 1km long. These mysterious stones have baffled historians for centuries. There are more than 4000 of them, some weighing up to 350 tons. Burial chambers, giant observatories marking the stars, gravestones? No one is absolutely sure but it’s thought they were erected around the same time as Stonehenge. Nearby the beach of Carnac is a great place to contemplate the meaning of the stones!
The region takes its name from the words: Mor-Bihan, which means "little sea" in the Breton language. The natural harbour of the Gulf of Morbihan is the most famous feature of the coastline and is classified as one of the "Club of The Most Beautiful Bays in the World". Apart from its good looks it’s also great for nautical jaunts. And if that’s not enough, there are, apparently, 365 islands off the coast, perfect for explorers!
This old town of Vannes is a place of winding cobbled streets, full of history, character, colour and beautiful medieval architecture. Head to the Place Henri IV in the centre, lined with half-timbered houses, and discover its authentic cafés, restaurants and quaint little shops selling local produce and gifts. There are two museums, plenty going on year round, including a summer Jazz Festival and there’s even a beach – the Conleau Peninsula. Vannes is a great base for visiting the gulf of Morbihan.
Take a break at La Tete En L’air a gastronomic restaurant in the old part of Vannes. Known for their innovative menu using fresh locally sourced food, beautifully presented.
Josselin in the interior of Morbihan is famous for its medieval castle with a doll museum, a beautiful old town for enjoying walks, stopping to eat a pancake or a bowl of cider or delicious fresh seafood. There’s a lively Saturday morning market too.
Lorient close to the coast, is the second most important fishing port of France. It’s quayside is a hive of activity each morning and there are five ports to explore. Great for coastal walks, delicious seafood cuisine, fabulous beaches and the annual Interceltic Festival.
French Connections has loads of fabulous holiday homes in Morbihan and Brittany, head to our home to browse and find your dream holiday home…
Christmas Paris style Photo: Amelie Dupont, Paris Tourist Office
Christmas in France means wonderful festive events, beautiful illuminations and gifts galore! Enjoy the festive season and discover the special magic of this happy time - France is the perfect place for a fabulous celebration.
At this time of year towns, villages and cities across France arrange brilliant arrays of festivities, special events, gourmet fairs, shows, shopping, decorate the wonderful chateaux and of course, fabulous markets to create an unforgettable Christmas visit.
You could watch turkeys parade down a high street in northern France (Licques), see the lights in Paris or enjoy a spot of winter sunshine in the south of France while you indulge in a spot of al fresco dining.
Here are some of our favourite places to spend Christmas in France…
Nice, Cannes and Marseille generally have plenty of winter sunshine in the winter. In fact you can often eat your lunch outside on Christmas Day in a T-shirt.
The city of Aix-en-Provence is popular for summer visitors but it’s great for Christmas breaks too. Streets decked out in shimmering lights and shop windows dressed up to the nines make for a very festive atmosphere. Aix has a lovely vibrant Christmas market where you’ll find artisan goods and local specialities. There’s also a December olive oil and truffle fair - perfect for foodie gifts.
A different kind of fair is the Foire aux Santons, a sort of miniature village of little, terracotta, hand-painted figurines. Expect to see the usual biblical figures as well as figures from Provençal village life, such as a woman carrying an armful of lavender, or a man playing boules – the locals adore their santons, and they make great souvenirs too.
In the south of France, it’s a tradition to celebrate Christmas Eve with dinner followed by a dessert known as Les Treize Desserts (yes you read that right – 13 desserts) which symbolises Christ and his twelve apostles. In Aix, from mid-December through the end of the month, there is a Marché des Treize Desserts at the Place Jeanne d’Arc where you can buy loads of sweet things for your Christmas celebration.
Reims Christmas Market Photo: Greg Oxley, Reims Tourist Office
There’s nothing quite like a glass of Champagne in Champagne to usher in the Christmas spirit.
The Christmas market at Reims is the biggest in the region and of course has a fabulous Champagne bar. The centre is beautifully lit up with Christmas lights and there’s an ice rink, Ferris Wheel and fun fair.
Not far away, Epernay, home to Moët et Chandon and a host of other legendary Champagne houses also has a lovely Christmas market.
Champagne is home to the ‘World Nativity Scene Route’, an astonishing collection of crib scenes of all shapes, sizes, materials and origin, from hand-knitted settings to historic hand-carved figures, all with their own unique charm. The cribs are on show throughout December in and around the churches of 46 towns and villages between the coronation city of Reims, Epernay, Châlons-en-Champagne and the historic town of Fismes.
In the Loire Valley, several of the chateaux put on their Christmas finery, which definitely delivers the wow factor! Chenonceau is full of sumptuous banquets.
Vaux le Vicomte in the Ile de France looks amazing with a carousel, fake snow and thousands of decorations. It will feel truly magical wandering the grounds and rooms of the chateaux, seeing the huge Christmas trees and experiencing what Christmas might have been like when the chateaux were in their prime.
Meanwhile, in the royal city of Blois the annual Winter Festival presents 50 shows and street theatre performances, concerts, choirs, sleigh rides, ice-skating, and more. For those of you looking for ideas for Christmas gifts, there’s the lively St. Nicolas rummage sale and the fabulous Marché de Noël, place Louis XII, with its cheerfully decked stalls and tempting aromas of gingerbread and mulled wine.
The locals love their festival and throw themselves wholeheartedly into the event, decorating and illuminating streets and storefronts from the cobblestoned downtown area up to the Château Royal de Blois, perched majestically above the town and overlooking the Loire. Wander to your heart’s content, taking in the Christmas sights, sounds and magic.
While you’re at it, don’t miss a visit to the château, the home of 7 kings and 10 queens of France, and a splendid example of medieval, Renaissance and 17th century architecture. The château was magnificently restored in 1984 and has since been used as a model for the restoration of numerous other chateaux.
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The far north of France is one of those places that many don’t know about. Rushing off to the south for a bit of sun, they completely miss this surprising, vibrant and authentic corner of France that’s on the doorstep of England.
Here’s why you should really add Nord-Pas-de-Calais to your visit list – from great gastronomy to a long history, more museums than any region outside of Ile de France (Paris) and friendly folk…
The beautiful city of Arras is a fabulous, atmospheric, and architecturally striking place to visit. It was decimated during WW1 and rebuilt but it’s hard to tell what is original and what is not. There’s plenty to do and see in this 2000 year old city from climbing the UNESCO listed Belfry for great views, wandering the pretty cobbled streets, a very good Fine Arts Museum, shops, bars and restaurants.
Le Touquet Paris-Plage is a small seaside resort on the beautiful Opal Coast. Architecturally it has a mix of British Edwardian and French Belle Epoque styles. Combined with a zest for outdoor living (and its own microclimate), swanky shops and excellent bars and restaurants. It’s a brilliant place for a weekend break (or longer). With loads of activities from relaxing on the endless sandy beach to water sports, a historic golf course, horse riding in the sand dunes, tennis and much more – you seriously won’t want for things to do here.
Around an hour from the port town of Calais, Montreuil-sur-Mer in northern France offers a slice of history and gastronomy as this little town is home to a superb Michelin star restaurant and a dozen truly excellent brasseries, restaurants and cafés, with the label “Destination Gastronomique”. Wander the ramparts, stroll the cobbled streets and in the summer don’t miss the chance to see “Les Miserables” performed at the citadel. Hundreds of local townsfolk take part in this homage to Victor Hugo and his famous tale which was inspired by the writer’s visit to the town in 1837.
Take the D940 road, the Route 66 of northern France to discover the beautiful coastline known as the Opal Coast thanks to its extraordinary light. Dramatic cliffs, secret sandy coves where sealions bask authentic fishing villages and seaside towns brimming with cosy bistros. Stop off at for a spot of sand yachting in Wimereux, famous for its colourful Belle Epoque villas and Wissant where General Charles de Gaulle used to holiday. There’s 124 miles of beaches, historic sites and natural areas that have been preserved.
Boulogne-sur-Mer is known for many things – its lovely old town with cobbled streets and elegant squares, the premier fishing port in France and home to Nausicaa, the French National Sea Centre and the largest aquarium in Europe. The old town is extraordinarily pretty, like a film set with its ached entrances to the former walled city, chateau museum and fascinating Basilica which has the longest crypt in France. The town is also place of pilgrimage for many Argentinians who flock to visit the Casa San Martin, the last home of the famous general who liberated South America in the 19th Century.
Lille is one of the most cultural cities in the country. There are more than a dozen museums and art venues in the city and every three years or so Lille goes arty-party mad with a major several-months-long art festival known as Lille3000 in public buildings and the streets. A fabulous food scene and great bars, beautiful historic old city and brilliant shopping – what more can you ask!
Famous for its football team and rich mining history, the city of Lens, with its art deco facades, is at the heart of a culturally dynamic region that boasts a strong network of museums including an astonishing branch of the Louvre Museum.This very modern gallery, built on the site of an old coal mine is stunningly innovative and despite its youth has a lot of soul. The exhibitions range from ancient to contemporary and you can walk around and get up close and personal in a way that’s not possible in most museums.
Immortalised in history by Operation Dynamo, the evacuation of some 400,000 men from the beaches in 1940. Visit the Dunkirk War Museum to find out more. Don’t miss dinner or lunch aboard the paddle steamer Princess Elizabeth in Dunkirk. She was built in Southampton in 1927 and took part in the evacuation as well as in the in blockbuster Dunkirk by Christopher Nolan. Every year on the Sunday before Ash Wednesday, the town goes carnival crazy with one of the most fun and friendly carnivals in France.
Cars wind their way helter-skelter-like, up and around the Mont of Cassel until suddenly, they reach the cobbled roads that lead into the small town voted favourite town of the French in 2018. Go for the big views at the top of this famous hill of French Flanders where the “Grand Old Duke of York marched 10,000 men”. Don’t miss the multi award winning garden known as the Jardins du Mont des Récollets. This rather unusual garden is famous in France, in fact it was voted favourite garden of the French in 2011.
The great artist Henri Matisse was born in Cambrai and in 1952, he established a museum there defining how the 82 paintings he donated to the museum should be arranged. Now housed in the 18th century former Archbishops Palace, the Matisse collection has expanded and the museum also includes works by Chagall, Léger, Rouault, Miro, and Le Corbusier plus photos by Henri Cartier-Bresson
French Connections has a great choice of thousands of holiday rentals all over France – see our home page to browse and find the perfect holiday home for you…
Take advantage of off-peak season visits and enjoy the most beautiful towns and cities of France without the crowds. Taking a late break holiday is easy with French Connections Special Offers and Last Minute Deals…
Plan your autumn or winter break in France and enjoy the relaxing peace and quiet of late season destinations. You’ll find that in the off-season (November to end March) accommodation is cheaper (except for the French Alps of course where the snow makes this the peak season for visitors). This is also when you can find some great offers – we’ve got a comprehensive listing here – easy to browse and find your dream holiday home.
When it comes to sight-seeing, you’ll have museums and chateaux to yourself, no crowds standing in front of the glorious paintings and sculptures or queuing to traipse through gorgeous rooms. Some of the busiest places in France become so much more accessible out of season and if you like to roam cobbled streets and ogle stunning buildings in peace – now’s the time to do it.
Some of our favourite out of peak season visits in France include:
Carcassonne in Languedoc-Roussillon (Occitanie). The citadel with its castle and hilltop town is teeming with romantic turrets and winding medieval lanes taking you on a trip back through time (top photo).
Annecy in the Haute-Savoie has pure air, lakeside strolls and mountain views. Wander the streets of this little Venice of the Alps as it’s known and you’ll feel like you’re in a town straight out of a fairy tale.
Sunny Avignon in Provence is known as the city of the popes with its monumental Palace that popes once called home. It’s a great base for touring Provence and is lively all year round.
Bordeaux city is a great place to visit in winter with its mellow climate. There are loads of museums including the terrific Cite du Vin. It also has the longest pedestrianised shopping street in Europe so leave plenty of room in your case for a bit of retail therapy.
The Loire Valley is great to visit in the winter. The chateaux aren’t all open week round, some only at weekends but you will feel like you have them all to yourself!
Nice is always nice – whatever the time of the year. In winter you’ll often find its warm enough to dine al fresco even in January though it’s a bit chillier at night.
At French Connections, we make it easy to find your destination and choose your accommodation, so start searching for your off-season break now and check out our Discounts and Special Offers…
Toulouse in the Haute Garonne department far south of France, within easy driving distance of the Spanish border, is a brilliant all year round place to visit. But in Autumn, when the crowds have thinned and the low golden sun licks the red brick buildings and makes them glow, and falling leaves flutter along the cobbled streets – Toulouse is just about perfect…
It’s impossible not fall under the spell of the Capitole in the centre of Toulouse. The emblematic building with a stunning 17th century neoclassical style façade is the beating heart of the city. Around it are a series of districts each quite different from the other and all easy to reach on foot. Pick up a map from the tourist office and go walkabout to discover Toulouse’s many charms.
Autumn is the ideal time to visit the museums of Toulouse – and you’ve certainly got plenty of choice.
Don’ t miss Les Abbatoirs Museum, which you won’t be surprised to discover is in a former abattoir.
The museum and guided tour of Aeroscopia 'Let's visit Airbus' opened in January 2015 and presents the legendary models of French aviation.
The Toulouse Museum, located in the city centre, is the second largest natural history museum in France. The museum has a superb collection of modern and contemporary art with works by Picasso many Spanish artists exiled from Spain when General Franco seized power during the Spanish Civil War. This is no elitist museum, you can do yoga classes amongst the artworks, workshops, a library and at Christmas they hold a market where artists sell their works. After your visit pop to the park next door to enjoy the views over the river Garonne and the soft sun puts on a dazzling show turning the autumn leaves every shade of gold.
The Bemberg Museum has an exquisite collection of artwork in a former 16th century mansion where each room has been restored to 19th century glory to showcase the wonderful collection of paintings, furniture and ornaments including Degas, Monet, Matisse and Boudin.
The Augustins Museum, Museum of Fine Arts located in the former Augustinian monastery is home to medieval sculptures and a large collection of paintings from the fifteenth to nineteenth century. It’s one of the oldest museums in France.
The Museum of Old Toulouse offers a large collection of pieces representing the artistic and historical past of the city.
The Museum of Companionship, former residence of the companions, the museum now displays the objects they produced there.
The Paul Dupuy museum displays many decorative and graphic objects.
The Georges Labit Museum has an extensive art collection of ancient civilizations.
In the vast space of the Halle de la Machine mysterious inhabitants are waiting to meet you. Amongst the exhibits are a walking 37 ton spider called Ariane and musical machines which make up the strangest orchestra you’re ever likely to see. There’s a giant set of wings piloted by a machiniste, pipes which spout flames, twirling guitars and a table laid for an enchanted dinner where the pepper is sprinkled by a flying waiter. And best of all you can ride on a giant minotaur (half bull, half man) who roams the streets carrying passengers in a temple on his back!
With mild temperatures in autumn, al fresco dining can feel like summer. It’s usually still warm enough to sit at a terrace café in the sun most days though you might need a jacket in the evenings. It’s the perfect time to enjoy a glass of local red wine in one of the many elegant squares in the city. We like lively Place St Georges in the historic centre. one of the most popular places with the locals. Try Monsieur Georges bar/restaurant with its colourful décor is ideal for a rendezvous with a glass of wine and in the evening it’s perfect for dinner on the terrace. Indulge in a seriously tasty menu, deliciously decadent desserts and scrumptious cocktails.
Check out our range of holiday homes in Haute Garonne – we love making your holiday dreams come true…