After the summer crowds are gone but sunny days are still plentiful, it’s the ideal time for a trip to the exquisite little Ile de Ré, just off the coast of La Rochelle in Charente-Maritime, Poitou-Charentes.
You can drive to the island by car via a toll bridge or take a bus from the centre of La Rochelle. Or you could leave the car behind and take the pedestrian only boat from La Rochelle to Saint-Martin-de-Ré – one of the loveliest towns on the island, though there are many. You don’t need a car to enjoy its many charms though you might wish you had one if you like to shop, there are loads of fabulous boutiques here.
Saint-Martin-de-Ré is the main town on the island, the mini capital of Ile de Ré. There are great restaurants, bistros, bars, and ice cream shops. The town is protected by Vauban build fortressed walls which give it world heritage site status and spreads out around a stunningly pretty waterfront.. In the 1670s, Louis XIV’s French military engineer Vauban, was commissioned to overhaul the island’s defences - they were listed on the UNESCO heritage list in 2008. Climb the bell tower of the church for a panoramic view over the roofs of the terracotta-roofed houses in this “Plus beaux village de France” (official list of prettiest villages in France). If you’re lucky you’ll spot donkeys dressed in stripy trousers, a local tradition from the days when mosquitoes were a problem. They’re not now but hey, who doesn’t love a donkey in a pair of trousers!
Another “plus beaux village” on Ile de Ré, La Flotte is a tiny harbour town that well worth stopping off at. Wander the narrow streets to discover lovely coffee shops and bistros, shops and art galleries. Don’t, whatever you do, miss the market, it really is fantastically pretty with a great atmosphere.
Salt has been produced on the island since the middle ages. Fleur de sel salt is famous in France but it was hardly known outside of the Ile de Ré 20 years ago. People saw it on TV on programmes like MasterChef and wanted to buy it, now fleur de sel is revered. It costs several times what the originally salt costs as production time is much more consuming and depends on terroir, the strange French word that’s untranslatable into English but includes the climate, the land and more. The little tubs of salt make for a perfect (not heavy) souvenir of your visit.
New to the Ile de Ré and brilliant fun, tuk tuk rides can now be booked in La Flotte, Le Bois-Plage, La Couarde and Saint Martin de Ré. This fleet of environmentally friendly, 100% electric tuk tuks are the most fun way to take a tour. You can even get picked up from your holiday accommodation and dropped off in town or back at your pickup point. The great thing about a Tuk tour is that they can access all areas so you get to see the tiny oyster shacks that cars can’t reach, the local drivers can show you the secret places, the salt marshes and off the beaten track. Book at the tourist office or through https://www.retuktuk.com/
Cycling is a favourite pastime on the island and we’re not surprised. It’s pretty much completely flat, takes around two hours to go from one end of the island to the other and has more than 60 miles of signposted cycle paths which wind through vineyards and fields. And with the same number of sunshine hours as the south of France, cycling is the best way to see the best bits of this pretty little island. It’s easy to hire a bike on the island with loads of outlets in the towns.
Once a flourishing textile and manufacturing powerhouse, Mulhouse in Alsace, Eastern France is now undergoing a metamorphosis following a downturn in its major industries of engineering, printing and textiles. With an impressive number of museums, including the biggest car museum in the world, and home to the largest artists’ residence in France, Mulhouse is once again thriving.
The no. 1 attraction in Mulhouse, drawing visitors from all around the world is the Cité de l’Automobile. There are over 400 cars at this immense museum. Drool over incredibly well preserved masterpieces dating as far back as the first days of French motoring in the 1870s to the 1970s. There’s also a collection of awesome racing cars that are more modern. Priceless Bugatti’s take centre stage, gleaming and sleek, they’re as rare as hens teeth. Hire a classic car to drive round the private track at the museum, take the kids to enjoy a go kart track, games and workshops. There’s so much here you can easily spend an entire day at this one.
The train museum of Mulhouse has the biggest collection of trains in the world. There are locomotives from the 1840’s through to the newer steam and diesel and electric trains that are still in use. Get your bearings on the Petite train ride round the museum which is monumental. Ride a diesel train on the museum’s private track and hope on a mini-railways to see the exhibits in the huge yard. With impressive, interactive exhibits, no matter what your age, this museum is huge fun.
The town hall was built in 1553 and is famous for its trompe l'oeil paintings – medieval street art! The eagle eyed will spot a stone head hanging from a chain, known as the klapperstein, which weighs 12 kilos and used to be hung from the necks of gossipers and scandalmongers, who were made to wear it while riding around the city backwards on a donkey!
A museum dedicated to electricity? Well Yes. It’s right next door to the train museum and, it’s the biggest of its kind in Europe. There’s a working steam generator from 1901, an exhibition covering early experiments conducted from the 17th century up to modern day, and plenty of vintage machinery, from Thomas Edison’s Dictaphone to early versions of TV’s and fridges.
Founded in 1868 and covering more than 20 hectares of the Tannenwald Forest, Mulhouse zoo contains over 1000 animals. More than 170 different species live here including polar bears and artic foxes, Siberian tigers, snow leopards and meerkats. The botanical gardens make for a tranquil break. In the summer months over 400 types of Iris flowers bloom beautifully alongside exotic trees from Japan and America.
Website: Discover more to see and do in Mulhouse at: https://www.tourisme-mulhouse.com/EN/home.html
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Le Mans old town
You might know Sarthe for one thing – Le Mans. But, there’s much more to this area than motor racing. Glorious countryside, chateaux, vineyards and historic towns galore. Here are our top tips for what to see and do in the department of Sarthe…
Le Mans racing is the biggest draw in Sarthe and quite rightly, there is a museum dedicated to the sport. Discover the history of the 24 Hours of Le Mans, a collection of more than 100 vehicles including 11 winners of the 24 Hour Race. Exclusive film and photos bring the tale of this iconic race to life, plus there are working models and animated games.
Around a quarter of a million people visit Le Mans for the racing in June and around 99% of them are unaware of the old town a few steps from the legendary racecourse. Don’t miss out on the medieval town with its cobbled alleys and wonky half-timbered houses, once a Plantagenet stronghold (top photo). And, there are Roman ruins too! On the edge of the old town is the Cathedral of Saint Julian of Le Mans, the city’s first bishop. Built between the 6th and the 14th century, it features many French Gothic elements. From July to early September, the town puts on a sound and light show known as Nuits des Chimeres.
5 minutes by car or about 15 minutes by tram from Le Mans city centre you’ll find the Domaine de l’Épau and the Abbaye Royale de l’Épau, one of the finest examples of Cistercian architecture in France. It was commissioned in 1229 by Berengaria of Navarre, widow of Richard the Lionheart, who is buried there. There’s also a delightful café where they make delicious home-made cakes!
The Domaine de l’Épau, next to the abbey, is an area of outstanding natural beauty. It covers 600 hectares and hosts two restaurants and a bar, ideal for a taste of the countryside. There’s plenty to do for the whole family from canoeing to climbing.
The Zoo de La Fleche is home to an impressive 1500 animals and is very popular with kids. The town of La Fleche is interesting to visit and has a lovely Sunday morning market. Close by is the impressive Chateau de la Lude which is still lived in but you can visit the Chateau and gardens. The Chateau at Baugé close by is also worth a visit with its ancient Plantagenet staircase and vaulted ceilings. Baugé is classified one of the “Most beautiful detours of France” for its pretty town, surrounded by wonderful countryside and vineyards. It’s also home to an incredible 17th century pharmacy and hospital museum and yes, it really is well worth a detour.
Chestnut and oak trees, forests, chateaux and grand houses, the river Loir, medieval towns, boulangeries and brasseries – welcome to the Vallée du Loir. We’ve all heard of La Loire with its famous Chateaux and fabulous vineyards but Le Loir, its neighbour is not quite so well known. Literally translated it means the Valley of the Dormouse.
The wines of this area are unique – peppery Côteaux du Loir and crisp Jasnières. You rarely see them outside of the area, so leave room in the car to stock up.
With more than 40 attractions, Papea Parc is the biggest amusement park in Pays de la Loire.
Located near Huisne, there are rides water games a Magic Show, circus and huge park just right for kids that need to let off steam.
Discover more at Sarthe tourism
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October in France is just right for a few sunshine days out and heaps to see and do. You might need a jacket or cardigan for sitting outside - but that just gives you an excuse to enjoy a cup of chocolat chaud!
Here are 5 places to go this October…
Get an end of year dose of vitamin. Head to the south of France where the crowds are thinned out but in early October the Mediterranean Sea is just warm enough for swimming and the days hot enough to sunbathe or an afternoon doze under an olive tree with average temperatures of 18˚C and plenty of sunshine. Book a table by the beach for lunch and in the evening head into the town or to Nice by train, it takes just 15 minutes.
Enjoy a day in Monaco, the train takes around 40 minutes or head into the interior for a spot of hiking. You could even pop over the border to Italy which is a short drive or a train journey of around 50 minutes to Ventimiglia. It’s a very pretty town with a historic district, lovely beaches and a gem of a market selling fabulous local specialities like ravioli and pizza.
Bordeaux city is the perfect place to visit in October, pleasantly warm and with loads to see and do. Enjoy the wonderful restaurants and bars and of course a spot of wine tasting is de rigeur in one of France’s best wine regions. In fact October is a great month for foodies with an annual food and wine festival in the centre. Head out into the vineyards and little wine towns - Saint Emilion is irresistible and in October holds an annual hot air balloon festival. There are plenty of museums including Bordeaux’s work famous wine museum.
Known as the foodie capital of France, it’s THE place to go if you like great food. The historic old town is atmospheric and as the nights draw in earlier in October, perfect for a just before dusk stroll and an aperitif in the cobbled streets before dinner in a warmly lit bouchon – traditional restaurant. October also sees the Festival Lumière take plage. A prestigious festival which sees many film celebrities head to Lyon for nearly a week (for instance2019 Lumiere Award winner Francis Ford Coppola). Conferences, exhibitions, parties and more than 180 projections are open to the public.
UNESCO listed Loire Valley is an any time of the year place to visit but in October when the vines are all colours of red and gold, this lovely part of France is nigh on perfect. It’s a sensory overload region with historic, exquisite chateaux such as Chenonceau, Azay le Rideau and Chambord. There are beautiful little villages and towns to discover. And you can catch the end of France’s biggest garden festival at the Chateau de Chaumont-sur-Loire (April-November).
Pairs is always a good idea and in autumn – even more so! October in Paris means the weather is usually cool but dry, culture is on the menu with exhibitions galore, plus you can enjoy walks in parks where the leaves on the trees are red and gold and finish with hot chocolate in a café wrapped up against the cool, crisp air.
Make the most of new season’s shopping and head to a wine festival in the centre of Paris. Held every October, the Fête des vendanges de Montmartre celebrates the art of food and wine. It’s one of the most popular events with Parisians and includes free concerts, exhibitions, parades and tastings in the heart of the city.
And the unmissable event of the month, held every first Saturday of October is the Nuit Blanche Paris Art Festival. For one night only, each year Paris becomes an open-air museum. There is nothing quite like this truly astonishing night of art, culture and surprises. As dusk falls, the city springs to life as an extravaganza of luminous installations and sensory experiences astonish audiences. Nuit Blanche hands the city over to contemporary artists to reimagine its streets and buildings and the public are invited to join in. This is an exceptional night of art that will thrill, provoke and amaze from dusk to dawn. This one event alone is enough reason to visit Paris in the Autumn!
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France is the most visited country in the world – and no wonder, with a diverse landscape which includes mountains, glorious countryside, beautiful beaches, historic cities and towns and gorgeous villages. Here are the regions of France at a glance…
There are 13 metropolitan regions in France (as at January 2016 when some regions merged to become super regions).
The northernmost region of France made up of Pas de Calais, Nord and Picardy. The capital is Lille and the region has the lovely Opal Coast beaches, beautiful countryside and many memorials to WWI and WWII. Get there by Eurostar (Calais Frethun), Eurotunnel and ferry.
Normandy used to be broken down to upper and lower Normandy. A land of beaches, countryside and famous for its food and cider. Get there via ferry direct from the UK and a few hours drive from Calais. The no. 1 attraction is Mont St Michel, a medieval island town but there’s much more to fall in love with from Honfleur to Monet’s garden at Giverny.
In the northwest of France Brittany is famous for its beaches and pretty country villages. The coast of Brittany is the most popular for beach lovers after the Mediterranean. Ferries go direct from southern England to Brittany.
With Paris at its centre, this region receives the most visits of any region in France. It’s also home to Disney Europe and many of the big chateaux such as Vaux-le-Vicomte. Easy to reach by Eurostar direct to Paris and two international airports.
In the centre of France, this is where you’ll find the famed Loire Valley and the famous Valley of the Kings where the country chateaux of the nobles were built. Chenonceau, Azay le Rideau, Blois, Chambord, Amboise. It’s wine country too – the vineyards of the Loire are renowned. Easy to reach via fast train from Paris but this is great touring by car or bike country.
With its stunning western beaches of the Loire-Atlantique and the Vendee departments plus gorgeous countryside, the Pays de la Loire is one of the most underrated regions of France. It’s home to Le Mans and the capital Nantes is just 2 hours from Paris by train.
This is the biggest super region of France consisting of the former regions of Limousin, Poitou-Charentes and Aquitaine. Dordogne, Bordeaux, La Rochelle, vineyards, beaches, countryside – there’s everything you could possibly want from a holiday in France here.
Another big super region, formerly Languedoc-Roussillon and Midi-Pyrenees and the southernmost region of France (excluding Corsica). Toulouse, Carcassonne, Nimes, Albi, Montpellier – there’s no shortage of fabulous places to visit here and several international airports for ease of access.
The former regions of Champagne-Ardenne, Lorraine and Alsace joined to become super region Grand Est and what a varied landscape this is. Vineyards galore, historic towns, pictures villages, mountains, lakes and unforgettable countryside. Champagne is easy to reach from Calais, it’s just a couple of hours by car to Reims. There are international airports and fast trains to the major towns including Strasbourg.
No prizes for guessing that the former regions of Burgundy linked up with Franche-Comté to create this new region. Wine, mountains, wonderful cities like Dijon and Besancon, chateaux galore and truly beautiful countryside make this a standout region that’s strangely not that well known to visitors. Connected by fast train to major cities.
In the south east of France the Auvergne and Rhone Alpes regions joined to form one big super region. Mountainous and popular for winter sports, home to the French side of Mont Blanc, as well as home to the foodie city of Lyon.
The most visited of the French regions outside of Ile de France thanks to its many attractions – Provence, Marseille, the Mediterranean to name but a few. Easy to reach by plane or train and great touring country by car and bike. Served by international airports and fast train services.
With its sunny climate and diverse landscape, the island of Corsica lures some 3 million visitors a year. Said to have the best beaches in Europe, historic cities, unique gastronomy and mountainous interior. Reach it by ferry from mainland France or by air.
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Autumn is the ideal time to take a holiday or short break in France. Summer isn’t quite over, the crowds have slipped away and the sun is still warm…
A major bonus of spending time in France now is that you can find beautiful accommodation at great value prices. French Connections website lists thousands of holiday lets, gites and B&Bs in France and in autumn many owners adjust their rates for low season and have special offers for autumn weeks.
After the long summer holidays, as the leaves turn colour and the grapes are harvested, France has an air of celebration. It’s a great time to enjoy the relaxing pace of life, visit the colourful countryside, autumn vineyards, deserted beaches and cities that aren’t crowded.
A holiday let or gite offers plenty of space for your money and the opportunity to settle into a home from home with excellent amenities. This means you can return from a day’s activities to your own private retreat. Choose whether to dine out or light the log fire and have a meal of delicious local food and wine in your own cosy dining room. We have a range of holiday lets from budget to luxury in all regions of France.
Chateau du Rivau autumn
France offers a great choice of outdoor activities and many people prefer the cooler conditions of autumn for fishing or golf. It’s also the ideal time to take to the impressive network of tracks and paths for cycling, horse riding, walking and trekking. Autumnal hues provide a colourful subject on which to practice – or even learn – the skills of painting and photography.
It’s also a good time for staying in the country and planning sightseeing in towns and cities. Annecy in the Haute-Savoie has clear air, lakeside strolls and mountain views, while Carcassonne’s winding medieval lanes take you on a trip back in time. Hop on a train to visit sunny Avignon, the city of the popes, Bordeaux for the wine or Tours for the Loire chateaux – many of them are famous for their autumn gardens, such as the lovely Chateau du Rideau (above). For history there is Chartres, while for glamour and beaches, Nice is hard to beat.
A wine tour is a great idea for autumn, with the chance to take in harvest celebrations and the launch of this year’s Beaujolais Nouveau. Smaller vineyards offer tastings and the opportunity to learn more about grapes, wine and that mysterious ‘terroir’ factor.
Many owners of gites and B&Bs love to share their knowledge about what to see and do as well as the history of their area to help you make the most of your autumn break.
To book your autumn break and see all the special offers, head to our home page and enjoy picking out your dream holiday home…
The department of Charente in southwest France, is in Nouvelle Aquitaine, previously known as Poitou-Charentes. It’s one of the sunniest corners of France with roughly 25% more sunshine hours than the UK. It’s a land of vineyards, fields of sunflowers, and small villages and towns. Just 45 minutes’ drive will bring you to the Atlantic Coast. It’s served by excellent motorways, airports close by, plus fast trains to Paris from the departmental capital Angouleme.
We look at some of the main attractions and best things to do in Charente…
The upper town of the city of Angoulême is a fascinating place to visit. The view from the ramparts of its hilltop perch are stunning. The streets of the old district are peppered with bars, cafés and restaurants with tables spilling out onto cobbled terraces.
The city is famous for its Comic Museum, La Cité Internationale de la Bande Dessinée et de l’Image. Comics are taken seriously in France, they are accepted as a respected art form. Each year the Comic Museum of Angoulême holds a comic festival that attracts more than 200,000 visitors.
The town is also the street art capital of France and you can hardly turn a corner without spotting a fabulous wall mural, speech-bubble street name or statue honouring a comic artist.
Don’t miss the Cathedral “Tresors” when you go to Angoulême. You’ll need to join a guided tour but it’s absolutely worth it. The art installations in this cathedral were created by artist Jean-Michel Othoniel including a room created from glass and metal which houses the treasures which gave this exhibition its name “Le Tresor”, the treasury. Ancient religious relics, including some rather gory body parts of saints, crowns embellished with jewels and diamonds, altar art, candles and more. It is quite simply dazzling.
Afterwards pop next door to the Museum of Angoulême to learn more about the history of the city and admire the eclectic collection of paintings, furniture, ancient artefacts and more.
Tourist office: www.angouleme-tourisme.com
Cognac is a pretty town with a “City of Art and History” label. It’s easy to spend a day here wandering it’s ancient streets, taking in the sights, relaxing by the river and indulging in the local cuisine. The town has a feeling of peacefulness, prosperity and good living.
If you want to know about cognac the drink as well as the region, the Museum dedicated to Cognac is a great place to start. You’ll discover all there is to know about the creation of cognac and the area in which it is made. There are thousands of objects to bring the story to life as well as a rather fascinating section of posters and labels.
Nip next door to the Discovery centre to find out all about the heritage of Cognac and the Charente area. You’ll get a great overview of how Cognac came to be, the different areas of Cognac production, the vineyards, landscape and villages.
You really have to do a cognac tasting in Cognac, (the Royal Chateau de Cognac is simply superb in the former chateau where King Francis 1 was born in 1515). It’s a great town to wander the old and winding streets, taking a break in one of the many restaurants or bars.
Cognac Tourist Office: www.tourism-cognac.com/uk
Aubeterre-Sur-Dronne (top photo) is officially one of the prettiest little villages in France. Surrounded by beautiful rolling countryside, the town has narrow twisting streets and lots of artisan shops. Don’t miss a visit to the extraordinary, monolithic, underground Church of St Jean and the Romanesque Church of St Jacques, with its stunning façade. If you’re feeling active there are plenty of waterfront activities along the river Dronne from Kayaking to boating. Relax in the lively Place Trarieux where you’ll find some great restaurants.
Aubeterre-sur-Dronne Tourist Office: www.aubeterresurdronne.com
For more to see and do in Charente: www.infiniment-charentes.com
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