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10 fabulous French weekends

10 Fabulous French weekend break ideas – On the Luce travel blog

I’ve spent more time in France than anywhere else in the world – from childhood holidays in Normandy to house-sitting in Paris and a winter skiing in the Alps. And one of the things I love most about the country is its diversity. Whatever kind of trip you fancy you can find it in France – museum hop around a city, laze on a sandy beach, taste wine from the vineyard, live it up in a luxurious château – the possibilities are endless. So to get you started here are ten of my favourite, tried-and-tested French weekend break destinations.

1. Honfleur

Why visit? A Normandy harbour town that’s straight out of an Impressionist painting, Honfleur was the haunt of painters like Monet and Cézanne, and it doesn’t look like it’s changed much since.

What can you see and do? The Vieux Bassin, or historic port, is the heart of Honfleur, surrounded by narrow, tall merchants’ houses and old stone salt stores. Watch the boats come in over a drink at one of the harbourside cafés, and make sure to try some local seafood or Normandy apples – used in everything from tarte tatin to Calvados liqueur. You can take a boat trip around the port and out to the Pont de Normandie – one of the world’s largest cable bridges. Also check out the wooden church of Saint Catherine, and the museum dedicated to Impressionist painter Eugène Boudin. If you’re inspired by the artistic atmosphere you can join a painting class – or leave it to the experts at the town’s art galleries and studios.

How do you get there? Honfleur is close to cross-Channel ferry ports at Le Havre (25km) and Caen (75km), with ferries to Portsmouth taking around five hours. The nearest airport is in Paris, where you can get a train to nearby Deauville/Trouville (1 hour 45 mins) then a local bus or taxi to Honfleur.

Read more… An artistic weekend in Honfleur, Normandy

Honfleur harbour, Normandy France

Honfleur’s picturesque harbour

2. Reims

Why visit? Gallons of bubbly – need I say more? The capital of France’s Champagne wine region is home to  big-name Champagne houses as well as plenty of great restaurants and historic sights.

What can you see and do? Champagne is everywhere in this town – from the famous Champagne houses to the pavement bars around the Place Drouet d’Erlon, to the miles of tunnels in the underground cellars beneath your feet. Taittinger, Mumm and Pommery are all within walking distance of the city centre and run tours without an appointment, or you can take a trip out into the countryside to discover some of the smaller producers. When you’ve had your fill of bubbles, check out the city’s Roman Porte Mars gate, the UNESCO-listed Notre-Dame Cathedral and the museums dedicated to art and Second World War history.

How do you get there? The nearest airport is in Paris, then it’s a 45-minute train trip from the Gare d’Est (a five-minute walk from the Eurostar terminal at Gare du Nord) to Reims.

Read more… A taste of bubbly: Touring the Champagne vineyards

Champagne tasting

Tasting at one of the Champagne houses near Reims

3. Strasbourg

Why visit? France meets Germany in one of the country’s most unique regions – the Alsace. Strasbourg mixed postcard-pretty canalside scenes with a contemporary European political district.

What can you see and do? Wander the backstreets of historic Petite-France, where half-timbered houses decked with baskets of flowers surround the canals. It’s the perfect spot for a glass of Alsace wine and a flammekueche (thin-crust pizza with crème fraîche, bacon and onions). Take a boat trip along the canals and out to the ultra-modern European Parliament. You can also get a great view over the city from the top of the cathedral, and watch the world’s largest astronomical clock strike ‘noon’ (at, er, 12.30pm). On summer evenings catch the sound and light show at Barrage Vauban and the cathedral, or in winter Petite-France turns into a winter wonderland of Christmas market stalls and steaming cups of vin chaud.

How do you get there? Strasbourg has a small airport with flights from various French and central European destinations. Or by train it’s 2 hours 15 mins from Paris Gare de l’Est to Strasbourg.

Read more… Canals and cathedrals: What to do and see in Strasbourg

Strasbourg's historic Petite-France district

Waterfront half-timbered houses in Petite-France

4. Beaune

Why visit? A historic city at the heart of Burgundy, one of France’s most well-known – and pricey – wine regions, where you can feast on fantastic food and drink in beautiful surroundings.

What can you see and do? Start at the Marché au Vins to get an introduction to Burgundy wine before heading to one of the town’s caves – or wine cellars – like family-owned Bouchard Aîné et Fils. You can also follow the 60km-long Routes des Grands Crus (‘route of great wines’) by bike or on a tour to discover the Côte d’Or and Côte de Beaune wine-growing areas. Visit the ornate Hôtel Dieu des Hospices de Beaune, a hospital-turned-museum where you can see how former patients lived (four-poster beds and velvet curtains included). It now hosts an annual wine auction and festival each November. And you can eat your wine as well as drink it with everything from beef to eggs cooked à la Bourguignonne (in Burgundy wine).

How do you get there? The nearest airports are in Paris or Lyon. You can reach Beaune by train from Paris Gare de Lyon in just over 2 hours or from Lyon airport in 2 hours 45 mins.

Hôtel Dieu des Hospices de Beaune, France

The Hôtel Dieu des Hospices de Beaune

5. Arcachon

Why visit? On France’s Atlantic coast just south of the Medoc wine region, Arcachon’s a hidden gem with unspoilt beaches, pine forests and sprawling dunes, along with great seafood.

What can you see and do? Arcachon is part of a stretch of coastline called the Côte D’Argent – or silver coast – which has over 200km of sandy beaches. Explore the historic grand villas along Arcachon’s seafront and feast on local oysters from the Bassin d’Arcachon, which come steamed over pine needles. Hire a car to get out and explore some of the surrounding area – like the Caribbean-style white-sand beaches of Cap Ferret, the vineyards of Bordeaux’s Haut Medoc, and the surfing beaches and sailing lakes of Carcans and Lacanau. Or you can clamber to the top of Europe’s largest sand dune, the Dune du Pyla, which towers 100 metres high and has panoramic views out across the Atlantic coastline.

How do you get there? The nearest airport is in Bordeaux, around 2 hours 15 mins away by train. Or from Paris Montparnasse it’s 5 hours by train to Arcachon (change in Bordeaux).

Read more… Striking silver on France’s Côte D’Argent

Dune du Pyla, the Côte D'Argent

Views over the coast from the top of the Dune du Pyla

6. Biarritz

Why visit? Originally an elegant seaside resort for holidaying French aristocrats, Biarritz has had a new lease of life as a surfing mecca come luxurious coastal spa destination.

What can you see and do? Nicknamed France’s California, the fantastic Atlantic waves have made Biarritz Europe’s surfing capital – try out the waves yourself with a surf lesson or watch the pros from one of the city’s six beaches. But originally the city’s visitors were more European royalty than surfer dudes, and you can join the promenade along the seafront past Belle Époque mansions from its glamourous heyday. As it’s only 15 miles from the border, Biarritz mixes in Spanish influences so you can feast on pintxos (Basque tapas), or take a day trip to the Spanish gastronomic hotspot San Sebastián, an hour away by train.

How do you get there? Biarritz has its own airport, with direct flights from France, Spain and the UK. Or it’s 5.5 hours by train from Paris Montparnasse to Biarritz.

Biarritz, France

On the beach in Biarritz

7. Carcassonne

Why visit? With its pointed towers, drawbridges, portcullises and moats, Carcassonne’s medieval citadel could have come straight out of a fairytale – or a film set.

What can you see and do? Towering over the city from a hilltop, you can’t miss Carcassonne’s ancient walled city. Its 53 watchtowers and two layers of walls protected it from invaders until it fell into disrepair and was reconstructed in 19th century. Today’s invaders are tourists, with four million visiting each year. Come in spring or autumn, or stay after sunset when the day-trip hoards leave and the city’s most magical. Away from the castle you’ll find the best cafés, restaurants and shops in the Ville Basse lower town. Or for a change take a trip out to the nearby Canal du Midi for a boat ride or to walk or cycle the towpath.

How do you get there? Carcassonne airport has direct flights from the UK, Spain, Portugal, France and Belgium, or Toulouse airport is 2 hours away. Carcassonne is 5.5 hours by train from Paris Gare de Lyon.

Carcassonne in France

The citadel of Carcassonne

8. Annecy

Why visit? Canals, castles, a clear blue lake and snow-capped mountains – Annecy has a bit of everything. Sail, ski, hike or just get lost in the old town and find your perfect canalside gelato spot.

What can you see and do? Annecy’s old town has more waterways than roads, as the river splits to create tiny islands linked by covered bridges and narrow passageways. Set between two forks of the river, the triangular Palais de l’Île is the city’s most photographed building. Over the years it’s been a mint, courthouse and prison but it’s now a museum and is lit up beautifully by night. Up the hill in the Château d’Annecy there’s another museum with information on the city’s history and the lake’s ecology as well as panoramic views from the terrace. Set sail on Lake Annecy on a boat trip or dinner cruise, or catch the shuttle boat to one of the neighbouring lakeside villages and then cycle or walk back along the lakefront path.

How do you get there? The nearest airports are in Geneva (1 hour 30 mins) or Chambery (45 mins), both with connections by bus. It’s 3.5 hours by train from Paris Gare de Lyon, or 1 hour 40 mins from Geneva.

Read more… Castles and canals: What to see and do in Annecy

Annecy in France

The Palais de l’Île and Annecy’s canals

9. Antibes

Why visit? Côte d’Azur glamour meets 16th-century historic walled town, with a side of golden Mediterranean beaches. If you think you know the South of France, Antibes will surprise you.

What can you see and do? Within the city walls, Vieil Antibes is a maze of cobbled streets and pastel buildings. Visit the Musée Picasso, where his work is on show in the château he lived in for six months. The town’s still a favourite for artists, with studios in the city walls and Jaume Plensa’s Nomade sculpture on top of them. Call in at the Marché Provençal to stock up on cheeses, olives and charcuterie then grab a bottle of local rosé for a beach picnic. The Plage de la Gravette is right in town, or if you walk south you’ll find a string of sandy beaches, or head north for a spot of fantasy yacht shopping in the Med’s largest marina.

How do you get there? The nearest airport is in Nice, 15 minutes away from Annecy by train or taxi, and Monaco airport is 50 minutes by train. Or its 5 hours 15 mins by train from Paris Gare de Lyon.

Read more… Boats and beaches: What to see and do in Antibes

What to see and do in Antibes, South of France

Antibes’ walled old town

10. Paris

Why visit? Because Paris is always a good idea. Whether you’re a romantic or just more of a food-lover, history-lover, art-lover or culture-lover, you’ll never get bored in the French capital.

What can you see and do? What can’t you do – Paris has something for everyone. You can focus on the classic Parisian experiences and climb the Eiffel Tower, watch the painters in Montmartre, visit the Mona Lisa in the Louvre and take a boat trip down the Seine. Or you can uncover some of the city’s more unusual attractions like the ornate cemeteries, the Promenade Plantée railway line-turned-park and the quirky museums dedicated to everything from the sewers and perfume-making to fairground rides. Or you can just eat, drink and shop your way around the city’s huge array of world-class boutiques, restaurants and bars.

How do you get there? Paris has two main international airports – Charles de Gaulle and Orly – with flights from across the world. Or it’s 2 hours 20 mins by Eurostar from London St Pancras.

Read more… Paris on a budget, Alternative things to do in Paris

Eiffel Tower at dusk

Classic Paris – sunset at the Eiffel Tower

Which would you most like to visit – or do you have another favourite French weekend destination?

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Ten of the best tried-and-tested French weekend break destinations – with everything from city breaks to beach escapes, castles to wine regions – ontheluce.com

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24 Comments

  • Reply
    Emily Stearn
    March 28, 2016 at 2:15 pm

    I loved this post – your blog is one of my favourites! Having travelled almost every summer to spend 10 days or so at various locations in France since early childhood, I completely agree it never fails to delight – there’s so much to see and do! Where’s your favourite location to visit in France?

    • Reply
      Lucy
      March 29, 2016 at 3:14 pm

      Thanks so much. Don’t think I could count the number of times I have been to France either! So hard to pick a favourite, I’ve got a big soft spot for Paris but the other favourites change so much, loved Annecy and Antibes last year but I suspect there’s lots more great places to discover.

  • Reply
    connie
    March 28, 2016 at 2:52 pm

    Such a fabulous list – I’ve only been to Biarritz and that was on the way home to London from San Sebastian/Aix/Avignon/Toulouse trip but I’d love to visit more of France… Riems sounds great!

    • Reply
      Lucy
      March 29, 2016 at 3:15 pm

      If you like Champagne you’ve got to get to Reims! I’ve not been to Avignon yet so that’s one for the wishlist.

  • Reply
    Tanja
    March 28, 2016 at 5:14 pm

    I’ve been to Paris and Antibes of the places on this list:)

    • Reply
      Lucy
      March 29, 2016 at 3:15 pm

      Both great places! I don’t think I could ever get tired of visiting Paris.

  • Reply
    Stacey @ One Trip at a Time
    March 29, 2016 at 1:35 am

    I’d definitely second Honfleur. It is such a pretty little town you could easily enjoy wandering the streets and soaking in all it’s delicious ‘French’ness” for the weekend.
    I’ll have to stay on the look out for opportunities to add some of the other places to my weekend getaway list.

    • Reply
      Lucy
      March 29, 2016 at 3:17 pm

      Honfleur is so pretty, we stayed in an apartment overlooking the harbour and I spent ages soaking up that view!

  • Reply
    tony
    March 29, 2016 at 6:08 am

    Fantastic post Luce,

    I really like your posts on individual places but the current post is marvellous because it gives a wonderful overview of your favourite places in France, from a person with real experience.

    I think many travel posts fail to help people who may be planning a trip to see what fantastic options are on offer. This is a far richer and more fertile ground than that offered by guide books, which really can only present highlights that everyone wants to see. Whereas, the world has changed and most travellers want an educational or culturally enriching experience.

    Congratulations
    Tony
    http://breadtagsagas.com/

    • Reply
      Lucy
      March 29, 2016 at 3:19 pm

      Thanks so much, there are lots of places I’d not blogged about yes (Carcassonne, Biarritz, Beaune) as they were from my pre-blogging days so I didn’t have enough photos and details, so this was so nice to be able to share them and relive some great memories!

  • Reply
    Nicola
    March 29, 2016 at 12:56 pm

    Great post! I love both Honfleur and Paris – and Carcassonne and Annecy are both on my list of places I’d like to go. I’ve recently come back from Amiens which I thoroughly enjoyed – and it’s not too far from Rouen either so you could do visit them both in the same trip 🙂

    Think your blog is fab!

    • Reply
      Lucy
      March 29, 2016 at 3:09 pm

      Thanks so much! Amiens and Rouen sound great, will definitely look into them for a next French trip – keep finding more and more places to visit out there, the list never gets any shorter!

  • Reply
    atravelingb
    March 29, 2016 at 9:21 pm

    Wonderful list! I’m eager to see more of France. After two trips to Paris, I’m ready to see more of the country. I did sneak a trip to Normandy in last time and loved the experience. Beaune and Provence are my top two now, but we will see where the next year takes me!

    • Reply
      Lucy
      March 31, 2016 at 1:23 pm

      There are quite a few places in Provence I\d like to explore still so that might be next for me. The trains in France are great so it’s really easy to get around and combine a few places in one trip!

  • Reply
    Suzanne Jones
    March 30, 2016 at 7:26 pm

    Ten fabulous reasons to visit France – I really should make an effort to visit Honfleur seeing as it’s so close to home!

    • Reply
      Lucy
      March 31, 2016 at 1:24 pm

      Honfleur is a beauty – I’ve got a big soft spot for that part of France after lots of childhood holidays in Normandy.

  • Reply
    SOPHIE
    March 30, 2016 at 8:38 pm

    Totally agree with this list:)

    • Reply
      Lucy
      March 31, 2016 at 1:21 pm

      Thanks!

  • Reply
    roundtriptravel
    April 2, 2016 at 9:10 pm

    These are fabulous! I loved that you combined classics like Paris with lots of small French cities! Love this blog 🙂

    • Reply
      Lucy
      April 5, 2016 at 6:58 pm

      Thanks so much, really enjoyed reliving some of my favourite French spots!

  • Reply
    thebritishberliner
    April 6, 2016 at 12:03 pm

    ‘Love this post! I love them all. Why choose!
    France is such a great destination as it’s near enough for people to visit, looks lovely, has superb food, and wine and champagne is to die for. And French people are nice. In their own French little way lol!

    As much as I like city destinations, I also like the sea. Outside of Paris, my favourite place in France is Brittany. I booked a little stone house in Cancale because It’s a little fishing village that’s specialised in oysters.
    A wonderful, wonderful place!
    p.s. It’s quite close to Saint-Malo. So close that we even took a ferry to the island of Jersey!

    • Reply
      Lucy
      April 8, 2016 at 1:52 pm

      Thanks, just love France too – I did lots of childhood holidays to Brittany but haven’t been back for years, Cancale sounds lovely I’ll have to look that one up.

  • Reply
    sonthego
    April 17, 2016 at 7:48 pm

    Great post! Makes me want to book a flight and go explore! All those little towns look divine

    • Reply
      Lucy
      April 19, 2016 at 2:20 pm

      Thanks – hope you get to explore a few of them someday!

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