The Loire Valley is made up of orchards, vineyards and farmlands, châteaux and picturesque villages. In spring the fruit trees burst into colour and so do the chateaux gardens. Intoxicating detours are plentiful in this region but these are a few of our favourites…
Saumur is a tranquil sort of town with a friendly ambience. It’s a great place for those who love culture, history, beautiful architecture, wine and great French cuisine. And, let’s face it, it doesn’t get much more tempting than that does it?! Saumur is a flowery town and a great place for wandering. You’ll discover the remains of the ancient walls of the city, and plenty of cafés and places to while away the hours while you enjoy the local wine and produce. Try the friendly Bistrot de Place where the tables spill out onto the pedestrianised square on a sunny day. And then admire the view of the fairy tale looking 12th century castle on a hill overlooking the Loire river.
Lively, buzzing and festive, this remarkably compact city is one of the greenest in France. The massive Chateau d’Angers, a Plantaganet stronghold, is home to a unique masterpiece: the 14th century Tapestry of the Apocalypse. Just as extraordinary, the modern version, Le Chant du Monde, a series of ten tapestries by Jean Lurcat is housed at the Gothic Hôpital Saint-Jean close by. Wine lovers will enjoy the smallest vineyard in Angers, within the castle walls.
The city makes for a great base for touring the Loire. Place Plumereau is perfect for an aperitif, in fact it was once voted, the square most loved by the French for just that reason! Lined with half-timbered buildings of the 15th century with plenty of lively bars, it’s easy to see why it’s so popular. There are several cultural venues in the town including the fabulous Centre of Contemporary Art Olivier Debré.
The chateau of Chenonceau is one of the most visited castles in France – we’re not surprised, it’s gorgeous. Turrets and towers, and rooms filled with flowers at the chateau which is as famous for its gardens as its beautiful rooms, once the home of Diane de Poitiers, mistress of Henry II, and later the home of his wife, Catherine de Medici. The castle’s master florist is Jean-François Bouchet, a Master Craftsman of France for his floral skills. With a small team, he creates 200 bouquets a week to fills the rooms, hallways and the lovely onsite restaurant.
The Chateau de Chambord is a French Renaissance masterpiece. This jewel of the Loire Valley was begun in 1519, the year Francis 1 became King of France. The flamboyant king loved to put on a show and at Chambord, his imagination ran wild. This grand castle in true Renaissance style was designed to shout to the world that this was the home of the greatest King that ever lived. It’s also famous for its double helix staircase, said to have been inspired by Leonardo da Vinci.
A magnificent royal fortress, in which Richard the Lionheart was born, sits majestically watching over its domain, located high on the banks of the river Loire, right in the centre of the city. In the old town medieval houses line winding cobble stone streets, rue Voltaire is particularly beautiful. Place General de Gaulle is great for restaurants and it’s close to the elevator that takes you up to the chateau, saving you a climb.
Discover more great things to do in the Loire Valley: www.loirevalley-france.co.uk
French Connections loves to help you make your holiday dreams come true – check out our listings of holiday homes in the Loire Valley…
Celebrating its 800th year in 2020, the great Gothic Cathedral of Amiens is awe-inspiring. By day the Cathedral attracts pilgrims and tourists eager to see its vast interior, filled with statues and frescoes, soaring vaulted ceiling and to feel its majestic presence, witness to eight centuries of history. At night though, it’s an altogether different place as the exterior of the cathedral is smothered in a technicolour light performance in a show that makes audiences gasp in wonder. This free 50 minute show runs throughout the summer, as well as in December during the Christmas market. It’s an absolute must-see.
A classified “plus beaux village de France”, officially one of the prettiest villages, Gerberoy has oodles of charm. Think cobbled streets, half-timbered buildings dripping with roses and wonderful views over the lush countryside. Gerberoy, one of the smallest towns in France is on the border of Seine-Maritime, Normandy.
The Hortillonnages of Amiens are floating market gardens. They’ve been cultivated since the Middle Ages on a maze of canals, on the edge of the city. The best way to experience this historic heritage site is with a guided electric (environmentally friendly) boat tour (from April to October). It’s incredible to see the city’s Cathedral spire in the background while you spot dragon flies, wild birds and even herons on the tranquil waterways. The lush, flower filled island gardens reflect a close relationship between man and nature and make for a unique nature escape right in the heart of the metropolis. From spring to autumn a fabulous Arts and Garden festival is held in the Hortillonages. Details: www.hortillonnages-amiens.fr/
From the Middle Ages to the 19th century, the castle has preserved its exceptional and imposing setting. Visit the various galleries of paintings (the second greatest collection of antique paintings after the Louvre) and stroll through the romantic gardens, especially the one designed by André Le Nôtre, as well as the great stables of the 18th century and the horse museum. Details: www.domainedechantilly.com/fr/
Yes you did read that right. If you thought Champagne only comes from Champagne – think again. It might surprise you to learn that the vineyards of Château-Thierry in the Aisne department of Picardy, Hauts-de-France account for a whopping 10% of AOC Champagne production. The perfect visit for fans of fizz!
There’s heaps more to do in Picardy including Asterix Parc, a theme park inspired by comic book characters Asterix and Obelisk; the medieval chateau of Pierrefonds; fabulous Marquenterre bird & wildlife park and the pretty port town of St Valery-sur-Somme.
Browse our selection of holiday homes in Picardie – we love to help you make your holidays dreams come true…
UNESCO listed Le Havre has incredible contemporary architecture and a world famous museum of modern art. It’s a vibrant, friendly and fascinating city to visit with a seriously innovative vibe…
Le Havre’s contemporary architecture has UNESCO heritage status in recognition of its exceptional urban design on a monumental scale. The inner city of Le Havre is a masterpiece of modern planning. After the city suffered enormous damage caused during WWII, the project to rebuild required speed to take care of so many homeless inhabitants. The re-design was overseen by architect Auguste Perret. A teacher of France’s famous architect Le Corbusier, he had distinct ideas a love of reinforced concrete, a material which certainly helped speed up the build. There’s nowhere else quite like it in France.
Perret’s show flat: In 1949, Auguste Perret created a show flat to allow local people to see what he was proposing with the rebuilding of Le Havre. His ideas for concrete weren’t always well received but this show flat homage, re-created in 2005, reveals just how visionary he was.
Neimeyer Library: Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer’s concrete Volcanoes, the name given to the cultural centre in Le Havre, are mesmerising. The recently renovated small volcano is now the public library - as extraordinary inside as it is outside. You’ll feel like you’re inside a spaceship with futuristic style seats in bright colours and a sweeping staircase. There are regular exhibitions and a cool coffee shop. This has to be one of the most remarkable libraries in the world.
Les Bains des Docks: This extraordinary aquatic centre was designed by legendary architect Jean Nouvel. Book a swim in one of its 12 pools and admire the strikingly beautiful white architecture.
Follow in the footsteps of the impressionists at Le Havre, where Claude Monet painted “Impression, Rising Sun” which gave the movement its name. He also found inspiration nearby at Etretat, Rouen and Trouville. Travel just 30 minutes from Le Havre to gorgeous Honfleur and fall in love with the 17th century Vieux Basin, lined with friendly restaurants serving fresh seafood. Around an hour and 30 minutes will bring you to Giverny where you will discover Monet’s enchanting house and garden.
MuMa – Museum of Modern Art: A stunning building with an outstanding collection Impressionist works, one of the largest in France. Enjoy works by Renoir, Pissarro, Sisley, Degas, Courbet and Corot. Details: www.muma-lehavre.fr/en
It’s just a short walk from the city centre to Le Havre’s beach, 2km of sand and pebbles, a big draw for the locals as well as for savvy visitors. The beach hosts the biggest free skate park in France (a legend amongst skate boarders) and in the summer there are water sports, fun activities and pop up restaurants. Further round the coast is the beach of Saint-Adresse. Here the resort and old houses are built on the slopes of Cape Hève, the gateway to the Alabaster Coast. It’s a great place to drink in the spectacular sea views, just as Monet loved to do.
Normandy is famous for its food and Le Havre has loads of great restaurants.
Locals love: The Architect restaurant in the newly renovated Southampton Wharf area. Owned by an Australian, it’s perfect for a taste of Aussie cuisine (and wine!) ...
Wine and dine: Restaurant Les Enfants Sages (the wise children) is in a former school masters house, built in 1905. The rooms have been converted into individual dining areas rooms decorated to reflect its previous incarnation. It’s very cool and the food is fabulous…
Authentic: Bistro Au Caid is a listed building and an institution in Le Havre. Opened in 1954 it’s one of the favourite meeting places for the locals and has a lovely terrace bar. The 50s style interior is cosy and charming. Situated next to the Perret show flat building, and overlooking the famous Volcanoes, it’s a great place for a snack or lunch with a fresh, seasonal plat du jour.
We have lots of great holiday rentals Normandy, check out our selection and find your dream holiday home…
Picture-perfect lavender fields, quaint and pretty street markets, exquisite little cafés where you can sit and watch the world go by, chilled wine and wonderful architecture – Provence is one of the most beautiful places in the world. Blessed with a sunny disposition, it’s also one of the best places to take a holiday...
There’s a wide choice of holiday rentals available in Provence, something to suit every taste and budget. We have a huge selection of stunning properties in all parts of Provence from the Luberon, Vaucluse, Mont Ventoux and the Alpilles areas as well as the French Riviera. Whether you’re looking for a bijou, romantic villa for two, or a holiday home big enough for friends and family, they have a huge choice.
If its lavender fields you want, then some of the best are in the Luberon area, around the hilltop village of Sault and the iconic Abbaye de Senanque, Gordes, where the resident monks grow and harvest lavender. The Plateau of Valensole is the largest lavender field area in France, located between the Luberon and stunning Verdon where there is a Gorge, considered one of the most beautiful in Europe.
Provence is peppered with pretty villages where life revolves around the village square, lined with cafés and restaurants, shops and art galleries. From Menerbes to L’Isle-sur-la-Sorge, the antiques capital of Provence, Bonnieux and Saint-Remy-de-Provence, you’ll find a wonderful selection of villas to rent in the villages, the countryside and in elegant towns like Aix-en-Provence, Arles and Avignon.
Wherever you go in Provence, you’ll be inspired by the beautiful sights, as well as by the local cuisine and wines. The tastes and flavours you’ll discover are part of what makes your vacation in Provence so memorable. The olives, garlic, fresh herbs, jewel like cakes, rosé wines from legendary vineyards such as Chateauneuf-du-Pape and Bandol, markets where the scents, sights and sounds will stay with you forever. There’s nothing quite like cycling through the gorgeous countryside, stopping to enjoy lunch and a glass of chilled rosé in an authentic bistro en route. Or dining under the stars at a grand restaurant where the dishes are like works of art.
There are activities galore from water sports to hiking, cookery lessons, museums, wine tasting and rejuvenations spas – or simply relaxing and soaking up all that this area of southern France, with its light filled skies has to offer.
Here at French Connections we love to help your Provence holiday dreams come true… click here to browse our listings of holiday homes in the Provence-Alpes-Cote-D’azur region.
Montpellier, the capital city of Herault, Occitanie was once a tranquil fishing village. Now it’s a cool city with a hip vibe.
Here’s some of our favourite things to do in this sun-baked city…
Start your visit at Place la Comedie. This oval shaped square (known as place de l’Oeuf to the locals, is the beating heart of the city and a popular meeting point. Take a break at Café Riche, a favourite ren
dezvous for locals, with 300 days of sunshine a year, sitting outside is de rigeur!
The old city is a labyrinth of hilly cobbled streets, festooned with bunting and lined with chic boutiques, art galleries, bars, cafés and restaurants. Book a guided tour with the Tourist Office to discover the secrets of the city and explore it’s most beautiful streets and street art. Don’t miss the optical illusion trompe l’oeil at Place Saint Roche which reflects the church opposite and plays tricks with your eyes. There are secret places too, like rue Rocher where proud locals have decorated the street. Get your walking shoes on and explore…
St Pierre Church
Deconsecrated in the 1980s, the church of Carré Sainte Anne is now a spectacular setting for contemporary art exhibitions and installations.
Musée Fabre has a fabulous collection of more than 800 works spanning several centuries. Don’t miss the monumental and provocative works by Pierre Soulages, one of France’s greatest living artists. You can easily spend half a day browsing at this museum and on a hot day, it’s lovely and cool inside!
MOCO is a contemporary art centre which opened in June 2019, showing temporary exhibitions from international collectors. It’s an art “ecosystem” which pulls three major venues together to bring a diverse and enormous range of contemporary art to the city. There are two exhibition centres and an art school: the Hôtel des collections, in the former Montcalm hotel, a 19th century mansion, with exhibitions of international collections (public or private); La Panacée, free contemporary art centre located in the former historic Royal College of Medicine and a fabulous restaurant; and the ESBA (Montpellier Superior Fine Arts School).
The Antigone neighbourhood, named after the ancient Greek play, was erected principally during the 1970s and 1980s. It has plenty of grand neo-classical style buildings and wide-open boulevards, including the central axis, nicknamed the Champs-Elysées by locals. The most innovative architects in the world have designed buildings here but it’s happened in a very organised way. It’s not a messy hotchpotch of looks, there’s a consistent theme being woven through this new part of Montpellier. Wide open spaces, building height restrictions, even the look has to a certain extent been controlled although architects have been given a free hand overall. The New York Times listed Montpellier in its top 100 architectural cities to see before you die.
There are several superb markets in Montpellier. Don’t miss the wonderful Marché des Arceaux in the Peyroux district, west of the old town under the arches of the town’s Romanesque style aqueduct. At Les Halles Laissac, in the old town you can buy fresh produce and enjoy it straight away at a table beneath the vibrant stained-glass dome designed by a student and teacher team from the MoCo Ecole Supérieure des Beaux-Arts.
A visit to the seaside is an essential part of the Montpellier experience. Hop on tram line 3 in the city centre for an 8km, 20 minute city centre to Pérols, the stop is a mere 800m from the Mediterranean Sea.
In this lively city, there’s no shortage of bars and restaurants to choose from. If you’re looking for a bar with a relaxed vibe and great wine list, L’Atelier Bar a Vin in the Place de la Canourgue is hard to beat. Locals love it but visitors rarely find this romantic square, the oldest in Montpellier, from where you have a wonderful view over the St Pierre Cathedral. For sheer glamour, the terrace of the Hotel Mercure is perfect for an aperitif in its lush green courtyard (you don’t have to be resident to enjoy it).
See our Foodies guide to Montpellier for more great recommendations
Montpellier is a great base for seeing the surrounding area. Nimes is close by, and home to one of the best preserved Roman arenas in the world, it’s well worth a visit. Not far from Nimes is one of the most famous Roman monuments of the area, the Roman Aqueduct Pont du Gard. Just 20km north is the Pic Saint-Loup mountain. Go kayaking in Saint-Guilhem-le-Désert (bus 308 if you don’t have a car). Take the train to Séte and explore the lovely town that’s famous for its oyster production…The tourist office offers a wide range of day trips to local areas. https://www.montpellier-france.com/
French Connections has a great range of holiday homes in the Herault department – take a look to discover your perfect French holiday home…
We reckon it’s time to blow those winter cobwebs away and give yourself a well-deserved break and a bit of French sunshine.
Here are our top French destinations for a fun break in the sun:
The capital of the Côte d’Azur is renowned for its rainbow of colours all year round. Popular sites include the Promenade des Anglais, the cobbled streets of the old town, Cours Saleya and a picturesque market. There are museums galore including the fabulous Matisse Museum, Roman ruins, the “Chateau de Nice”, boutiques and stunning restaurants. With regular, short flights from the UK, what’s not to love?
West of Nice on the French Riviera, this town is famous for its Film and Shopping Festival. But it’s not all bling. There are stunning beaches, exceptional golf courses, sites of outstanding natural beauty like the Lerins Islands and a charming, authentic old town. For a relaxed, luxury break – Cannes is just about perfect.
The French Island of Beauty boasts 1,000km of coastline lapped by turquoise waves and 2000m high mountains. Whether you want to relax in the sun on a sandy beach, cycle or hike, there’s something for everyone on this island of endless possibilities. Corsican gastronomy is famous and there’s not much that beats dining al fresco in the sun looking over the Mediterranean Sea from an island village…
The sunny ‘Belle Epoque’ town of the French Riviera is home to remarkable natural heritage such as the National Park of Port-Cros and the Ile d’Or Archipelago. Hyères has over 2400 years of history, a ruins of a medieval castle, gorgeous beaches and wonderful arts, and cultural venues. From here you can visit the Porquerolles islands, one of the most beautiful in France. Hyères is a mere 20 minutes east of Toulon and its airport.
In the south of France, spanning from the Spanish border all the way to Provence, this region has the sea and gorgeous beaches plus mountains and famous vineyards. With many Plus Beaux Villages de France (“Most Beautiful Villages in France”), Montpellier, 11 historic Cathar castles and an extensively rich cultural and historical heritage (including several UNESCO world heritage sites), this region has everything on offer.
Located in the far north of France, the department of Pas-de-Calais is the closest to the UK. It’s a land of rolling countryside, forests and rivers. Dotted with pretty villages, there are historic cities, elegant seaside resorts and fabulous beaches.
Here are some of the best things to do in Pas de Calais:
120 kilometres of varied coastline boasting golden sandy beaches, dunes, cliffs and wild beaches dotted with seaside resorts makes up the shoreline of the Opal Coast. A place with a rich heritage going back thousands of years where Julius Caesar stood and contemplated the invasion of England and centuries later Napoleon did the same.
The Opal Coast earned its name thanks to the special quality of light that artists tried to capture here in days gone by. Painters have flocked here for centuries, it was a favourite place of JM Turner who adored the light. The view across the English Channel from the cliff tops along by Cap Blanc Nez and Cap Gris Nez is stunning…
There are dozens of great beaches to stop off at all along the Opal Coast, here are a few of our favourites:
Hardelot: Golden sands, a chic little town and never crowded. Charles Dickens lived here in the 1800s and loved the area.
Berck-sur-Mer Great for families, clean, safe and the perfect kite flying beach plus the little beach huts are so pretty!
Merlimont: Another family favourite with its long expanse of golden sands
Le Touquet: Town and seaside combine in this swish little resort which is a Paris secret and was once THE jet set place to go, nicknamed the “Monaco of the north”. The beach at Le Touquet was voted as one of the top ten in France by Trip Advisor users. (Photo above at sunset on a sunny day).
St Cecile Plage: Empty beaches with beautiful views, huge dunes to run up and down and a tranquil little town.
Arras: Historic and charming Arras is a place to walk and wonder. Incredibly much of the old town was re-built after being destroyed in WWI, but you would never know. With its tall Flemish style houses, cobbled stone squares it is a beauty…
Boulogne-sur-Mer: If you’ve never visited the old town you’ll be very surprised to go through the vast stone gateways and discover you’ve stepped back in time. Pretty, quirky, little shops and charming restaurants in the rue de Lille.
Montreuil-sur-Mer: Victor Hugo visited this town in 1847 and never forgot it. The history of this place goes back millennia. Today it is a pretty place of cobble stones squares, narrow alleys, ancient houses and a lovely walkway all around the town on the ramparts giving magnificent views over the surrounding countryside.
Saint Omer: the quintessential rural French town with a history. A lovely town square, little shops, great restaurants, brilliant boulangeries and a great ambience. Take a boat tide on the Marais, the marshlands of St Omer, to spot wildlife galore.
Wimereux: This small town is an off the beaten-track seaside resort that people can’t help falling in love with. Colourful and elegant with lots of Belle Epoque style villas, plus quirky shops and plenty of cafés and bars. You won’t only go there once!
Basilica Notre Dame
La Chartreuse de Neuville: The Charterhouse at Neuville sous Montreuil (near Montreuil-sur-Mer) was founded in the 14th Century. An incredible monument with a long and rich history. Open from April to November, visit the beautiful gardens and take a guided tour to see the stunning interior and cloisters… www.lachartreusedeneuville.org
The Basilica of Notre Dame in Boulogne-sur-Mer: The crypt of the church has been carefully restored and is the biggest in France. Dating back to Roman times, it is astoundingly beautiful and houses many precious treasures. The Basilica is a beautiful building, famous for the many miracles said to have come from it’s most previous relic, a slither of wood from a statue of the Virgin Mary.
Musée de Beaux Arts Arras: A great museum in an ancient Abbey. There’s a super collection of paintings, sculpture and porcelain plus an exhibition about the history of Arras.
Agincourt centre: The Medieval Historical Center of Agincourt (revamped in 2019) reveals the history of the legendary battle of the Hundred Years' War.
Sound and Light Show of Les Miserables in Montreuil-sur-Mer. Shows take place on the town’s ramparts in July and August. A brilliant night out for the whole family as hundreds of local people present a musical show in the town that inspired Victor Hugo to write the story. See the tourist office website for details.
Market Le Touquet
Nausicaa: The National Sea Centre is the biggest aquarium in Europe. More than 36,000 animals including sea lions, penguins, giant tortoises, shark and an incredible array of fish. Book a backstage tour and meet the animals in the nursery, take in a show, gaze in awe at the colour and size of the many forms of sea life and watch as sea lions swim under your feet in a glass tunnel. www.nausicaa.co.uk
Markets: There are street markets in almost every town but a few you shouldn’t miss are: Le Touquet – Saturday morning the listed art deco market is a hive of activity and there are some great stalls selling such diverse items as wicker baskets and second-hand hotel linen.
St Omer – Saturday morning, lovely market in front of the Renaissance style town hall, great atmosphere and the best vegetables anywhere in the area – straight from the marshes where they’re grown close by…
Hesdin – Thursday morning, vibrant, buzzing, fun market that sprawls out into the streets around the church in the centre of town – great for people watching!
Horse riding: Romantic rides in the forest, exciting rides along the cliff tops, up and down dunes or on the beach – there are lots of opportunities in the area with equestrian centres in Le Touquet.
La Coupole: A visit to this enormous bunker left over from World War II, located 5 km from Saint-Omer, is sobering and astounding. It is among the most impressive remnants of the Second World War in Europe. It was from La Coupole that the V2 rocket was to take off, the ancestor of all modern rockets. It is now a History and Memory Centre and today, on the launch site, there is a spectacular Planetarium which offers an unforgettable journey into space. www.lacoupole-france.co.uk