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Top French summer escapes according to Parisians

Top French summer escapes according to Parisians

The French know their wine, their cheese, and their incredible holiday destinations. Rather than resorting to a Google search to plan your summer escape like countless other eager travellers, ask a local. Or better yet, let me, the American in the Paris Rail Europe office, tap into the expertise of my dear colleagues and gather up all their insider tips. All you need to do is prepare your luggage! 

Top French summer escapes according to Parisians

Ready? On y va!

“Noirmoutier-en-l’Île. There’s nothing like it.” – Caroline 

Not far from Paris hides a coastal paradise known as Noirmoutier-en-l’Île. From delicious seafood to leisurely bike rides along the waterfront, this charming seaside village is a gem waiting to be discovered. 

Fun fact: Noirmoutier en Île is salty. Seriously! Its famous salt marshes have produced high-quality salt for centuries. When in town, you can visit these marshes and see the harvesting process up close. Fancy a taste of the salt? Indulge in the island’s seafood delicacies, like mussels and oysters, seasoned with Noirmoutier’s famous salt and served up with the region’s renowned potatoes.

No need to hire a car during your stay. Instead, rent a bike and ride up and down the shores at your leisure. The best news? The region is mostly flat so scooting around is a breeze!

Getting there: Take a train from Paris to Nantes then connect to Noirmoutier-en-l’Île by bus or taxi. 

Chablis – that’s a no-brainer!” -David

To David, Chablis means excellent wine and even better food. With just over an hour’s train journey from Paris, you can reach this famous wine region and indulge in some of the best culinary delights and tasty tannins France has to offer. As an added bonus, Chablis offers more budget-friendly wine tastings compared to other wine regions in France. But don’t stop at a full glass, fill up your plate with mouth-watering favorites like:

  • Gougère: a delectable, cheesy baked choux dough pastry typically prepared with Gruyère cheese and herbs.
  • Boeuf bourguignon: the iconic dish of tender beef chunks patiently braised in red wine alongside carrots, onions, garlic and herbs. 
  • Endives au vin blanc: endives braised in local white wine. 

Getting there: You can either take the RER commuter train from Paris or book a train from Paris to Auxerre-St-Gervais and catch a bus or taxi to your final destination.

Top French summer escapes according to Parisians

“Head to the crystal blue waters of Lake Annecy.” – Atta

Beautiful mountains? Check! Relaxing beaches? Check! Endless outdoor activities? Double check! Nature lovers travelling to Annecy are in for a treat that only the French Alps can provide. Those keen on aquatic adventures can swim, kayak, go boating and paddleboard on the pristine waters of Lake Annecy, known for being one of the cleanest lakes in all of Europe. Those who don’t want to get wet will have their choice of numerous outdoor activities, from serene hikes to the adrenaline-pumping paragliding. 

Once you’ve had your fill of nature, stroll the charming cobblestone streets of the old town, pay a visit to the Cathedral of Saint-Pierre, and admire the unbeatable panoramic views from Château d’Annecy. With activities for all ages, Lake Annecy is a great holiday destination for the whole family.

Getting there: With multiple travel options a day, getting to Annecy by train is easy. Take the non-direct journeys if you want to save some money.

“Nice is the perfect balance between Italy and France!” – Alexis

Alexis, proudly hailing from the south of France, prefers the turquoise blue waters of Nice to the less-than-crystal-clear beaches of his hometown of Montpellier – and it is not just because of the color of the water, it’s also a question of sand. Nice has stone beaches, a welcome alternative for those who hate the beach day souvenir of sand-filled pants and shoes. 

According to Alexis, Nice strikes the ideal balance between Italian and French cuisines and ambience. With scrumptious Italian cuisine in your tummy, a spritz in hand and a Mediterranean vista straight out of your Pinterest board right in front of your eyes, you could easily mistake the destination on your train ticket for a seaside village in Italy.

However, it’s worth noting that Nice can be somewhat pricey. To stay within Alexis’s student budget when visiting, he avoids the touristy spots and seeks out the local bistros, which are not only more affordable, they’re also more delicious. And speaking of delicious, under no circumstances can you miss a mouthful of pissaladière, a traditional favorite from Nice. With a thick pizza dough base and yummy caramelized onions, black olives and locally-sourced anchovies, this is the perfect pre-beach bite.

Getting thereThe journey to Nice is worth the adventure alone. As you sit aboard your high-, mid- or low- speed train, you can take in the scenic seaside view right from the comfort of your seat. 

Top French summer escapes according to Parisians

“Enter your elegance era in Cannes.” – Kiitan

Step away from the city grind and bask in the seaside shine and splendour of Cannes. Admittedly, Cannes is not the most budget-friendly option on this list, but that’s part of the allure.

Marvel at the star-studded red carpets, wade into the warm Mediterranean waters, indulge in luxury shopping, dine al fresco, sip wine on a stylish terrasse, mingle with the who’s who and try your luck at the casinos. In Cannes, there’s a little something for everyone looking to add a sprinkle of chic into their holidays. And if your wardrobe starts to feel lacking, head to one of the local linen shops for a bohemian-chic outfit that effortlessly transitions from day to night, like only a vacation outfit could. 

Oh, and those incessant emails pinging on your phone? Ignore. In Cannes, “Out of Office” is taken very seriously.

Getting there: With around fifty daily journeys between Paris and Cannes, you will have a number of booking options to suit your budget and schedule. 

“Go biking along the Route des Grands Crus, of course!” – Margaux

What could be better than walking through the world’s most famous vineyards? Biking through them! Without pause, Margaux nominates her top French summer destination as the Route des Grands Crus – a must-visit for fans of French wine and French sunshine. Starting off in Dijon and following the route south through the Burgundy region to Beaune, you can bike the well-marked (and thankfully mostly flat) trails by bike. Not a seasoned cyclist? No worries! The path is suited for all different levels of abilities, and there’s no obligation to cover the entire distance.

Along the Route des Grands Crus, you can rent bikes, arrange cellar tours and wine tastings, and stay in hotels with spas and pools – which is a top recommendation because after cycling all day in the warm Burgundy summer climate, your body will crave a refreshing dip into a pool as crisp as a locally-sourced Chardonnay.

Getting there: Most travellers start the Route des Grands Crus in Dijon, so book your trains from around France or greater Europe to Dijon

No one has ever regretted a trip to Besançon!” – Michael 

Besançon is jam-packed with sights to see, so get your checklist out, because you won’t want to miss a thing.

  • Kayak or cycle along the River Doubs: Did you know that this river serves as natural border between France and Switzerland?
  • Visit the famous Time Museum: Besaçon is known as the home of French watchmaking. This museum holds 2,000+ timepieces on display plus watchmaking workshops and exhibits where visitors can interact with a watch’s mechanisms.
  • Behold the Porte Noire, an arch dating back to the 2nd century: Before becoming the charming French city that it is today, Besançon was Vesontio, an ancient Roman town. This 15-metre-tall arch offers a glimpse into the ingenious architecture of the time, dating back nearly 2000 years.
  • Wander among the wine grapes growing along the hills of the city: The local climate, proximity to the Doubs River, altitude and diverse soil types contribute to the region’s exceptional wines. Some local varieties to seek out include Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Gamay.
  • And, of course, take in the most iconic spot in Besançon, the Citadel: Designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Citadel has served many purposes throughout history, including a fortress, a residence for the royals and even a prison. Now, it holds multiple museums, and most notably, the best view of the city and the entire Doubs River valley.
  • Bonus: If you start missing your sweet kitty back home, Michael recommends a stop at Café des Felins, the local cat cafe! It’s the purr-fect spot to relax after a busy day of sightseeing, snack on a delicious homemade cookie and play with the local cats. We give it a 10 out of 10 for cat lovers!

Getting there: Besançon is well connected by train, making it easy to reach.

“My heart is forever in La Loire” – Aurélie

In just an hour from Paris on a high-speed train, you will find the Loire River valley region, which is often referred to as “Garden of France” for its lush greenery, rare bird and fish species, and protected wildlife reserves. With endless outdoor activities, including canoeing on the Loire River and cycling up and down the valley and nearby towns, La Loire is the epitome of summer fun.

First stop: Tours, a charming city located in the La Loire region, known for its medieval architecture, enviable cuisine and plethora of cultural activites, especially during the summer. According to Aurélie, Place Plumereau, the town’s historic square, is the best place on earth for a French apéro, or cocktail hour. Get to know some other travellers and the lay of the land with an interactive outdoor escape game (l’Enquête Tourangelle). And during summer months, you simply cannot miss La Guinguette of the Loire River. What is a ‘guinguette’ you may ask? (I also asked.) It is an outdoor tavern often located on the banks of a river where locals go to enjoy a few drinks with good weather and even better company.

And the list of adventures to be had in La Loire continues. Explore one of the many (and we mean many) castles, including Chenonceaux or Amboise. Want to see all of the castles in France all in one convenient location? You’re in luck! Visit the Parc des Mini-Châteaux near Amboise, where you’ll find mini replicas (complete with identical decorative details) of the most famous castles in the Loire Valley and beyond. 

Looking for some entertainment for the kids? Treat the entire family to a day at the Aquarium de Touraine and learn about the unique ecosystems of the Loire Valley and behold the marine wildlife that calls it home.  Searching for some entertainment for the adults? Delight in the fruits, quite literally, of this region’s labor with an exceptional wine tasting in Vouvray and Saint-Nicolas-de-Bourgueil. Whatever your definition of summertime fun is…La Loire’s got it!

Getting there: Make the quick ride from Paris to Tours by train.

“Arles is a walk through ancient Rome and the mind of Van Gogh!” – Judith

Despite often being overshadowed by its more frequently visited neighbor Avignon, the New York Times notes that Arles is becoming a “cultural center” of France. So get there (by train, of course) before the rest of the world does! With twice-daily direct trains from Paris, it’s easy to do so.

Located on the Rhône River delta in the south of France, Arles is most famous for its Roman ruins, including an amphitheatre, church, graveyard and baths, as well as being the place where Van Gogh was most prolific. 

During his year in Arles, Van Gogh managed to create over 300 pieces of art, many of which depict scenes you can still visit in Arles to this day! Take the painting “Terrasse du Café le Soir,” for example. If you head to Arles’ Place du Forum, you will find this working cafe decorated in the style of the famous painting. Next, you can visit the hospital, now a community center open to the public, where Van Gogh received treatment after cutting off his ear. This is the location depicted in his painting “Le Jardin de la Maison de Santé.” Van Gogh fan’s will also recognise the local Langlois Bridge from a number of pieces by the artist, including the iconic “Le Pont Langlois à Arles avec des Femmes Lavan,t” depicting a day-in-life scene of the Arles women.

Off the canvas and outside of Arles’ city limits, you will find plenty of intriguing activities including tours of the famous vineyards of Provence or a day trip to the Camargue Regional Natural Park. There you can walk, bike or ride horses through Mediterranean marshlands, lagoons, salt flats and sand dunes and, if you are lucky, catch a glimpse of flamingos, wild horses and rare birds. And who knows? It may just be the scenery that inspires your next creative masterpiece. Van Gogh would be proud.

Getting there: Whether you are starting from Avignon, Marseille or Paris, you will have a number of journey options to choose from. 

Travel across France with ease 

Feeling inspired yet? Now is time to get your tickets aboard France’s national rail provider, SNCF. Travel swiftly alongside locals and fully immerse yourself in the beauty of France by train. 

This article was kindly provided to Quest Magazine by Helen Schenck at Rail Europe


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