Best French Getaways (Outside of Paris!)

It may be hard to imagine feeling the necessity to skip town when the capital has so much to offer. But to really understand France - its people, culture, values and storied past - you’ll need to reach beyond the well-heeled streets of Paris. Some of these spots make ideal day trips from the city while others deserve your undivided attention. All are picture- perfect so keep your cameras handy.

77300 Fontainebleau, France
A quick 40-minute train ride from the Gare de Lyon in central Paris takes you to one of the best day trips out of the city: a forest preserve surrounding a palace that dates back nine centuries. The Forêt de Fontainebleau offers a hundred square miles of protected land for hiking, biking, and horseback-riding—all surrounding the magnificent Château de Fontainebleau. Although a castle has been here since the 1100s, most of the current construction dates from the Renaissance. Site of Napoléon I’s abdication in 1814, this château is much less crowded than Versailles. When I lived in Paris, this was the closest ‘wilderness’ available. If you want a break from the hectic urbanity of Paris, come to Fontainebleau mid-week; you’ll feel as if you have a forest and château to yourself.
Place d'Armes, 78000 Versailles, France
Without a doubt Versailles is the most luxurious palace in Europe, built to astound visitors and impress the king’s subjects into awed submission with crystal chandeliers, gilt, and fine art. This opulent monument is also attractive to those with simpler tastes: Visitors with green thumbs will love the king’s kitchen gardens while others may want to rent bicycles to pedal the lavish grounds, and animal lovers will enjoy the sheep, goats, and chickens receiving the royal treatment at the queen’s quaint hamlet. La Petite Venise, an excellent restaurant on the grounds, offers garden seating on sunny days.
10 Rue de la Paix, 06360 Èze, France
A maze of narrow medieval streets wind up and down this village perched along the Grande Corniche. The ruins of a château are now an exotic garden, and the 18th-century neoclassical Notre Dame of the Assumption church is a national monument. Spectacular views inspire artists and artisans, and their galleries fill the village. Exceptional restaurants like the Château Eza are happy to welcome guests for a drink or a Michelin-starred meal as they relax and savor the scenery.
Velleron, France
Early summer in Provence--cicadas in the trees and lines of lavender stretching to the horizon under a Van Gogh sky...Clichéd it might be, but the setting is heady...
Place Charles de Gaulle, 78100 Saint-Germain-en-Laye, France
Château de Saint-Germain-en-Laye. One of the lesser-known, but just as incredible, châteaus in the suburbs of Paris. I flew to Paris and was wandering around the grounds of the beautiful château forty-five minutes after leaving the airport . The grounds are impressively immaculate, and the solitude is all-encompassing. I encountered only three other people during my entire walk, one of which was watering the flowers whilst singing a tune. It is the kind of place you can do that--sing your heart out and with the only audience being the standing ovation of trees ahead of you. Perfect.
L'Île-Rousse, France
For our first visit to Corsica, friends encouraged us to start in the south- the Michelin-starred stronghold of the island and beachy birthplace of Napoleon. But crisp turquoise water and a mountainous landscape awaited to the north. We began in Bastia then drove the sinuous roads that led up to the Cap Corse, where we spent days exploring the wild beaches and sand coves that endow the peninsula. The drive to there was unforgettable as much for its vistas as its surprises. Traveling before the height of tourist season meant that the narrow, vertiginous roads were mostly clear of other drivers but we hadn’t anticipated the herds of cattle that dangerously roamed behind sharp turns and jagged cliffs. Caution is key, we learned. Next destination: Corte, the island’s historic capital and fortress town but not before stopping in the coastal towns Ile Rousse (the photo above) and Calvi. Ominous clouds welcomed us to Ile Rousse and soon gave way to pelting rain and buffeting winds, nearly ruining our brief stay. Fortunately, the gloomy veil never sticks around long. One of my fondest memories from our trip was the moment the rain tapered off and sparks of sunshine suffused the sky from behind a few lingering clouds. We ambled the beach for a while before nestling into a spot on the sand as sundown approached. Staring fixedly into the horizon, we wondered if we had ever seen a place so beautiful. Nature’s offering here wasn’t merely the backdrop but the power to transform.
Aiguille du Midi, 74400 Chamonix, France
France’s Chamonix Valley is one of the most scenic places on the European continent. It’s a narrow river valley which houses everything from rock-climbing centers to pulsing bars and pubs, and on both sides of the river the peaks of the French Alps explode thousands of feet into the sky. While there are numerous ways to experience the grandeur of the mountains from Chamonix—boarding the ski lift at Les Grands Montets, biking along the steep ridges, or paragliding off the many peaks—the most accessible might be a ride on the Aiguille du Midi cable car, a hair-raising ascent that gains 9,200 vertical feet over the course of 20 minutes. From the summit perch you can take in a 360-degree view beneath Mont Blanc, and from this frigid vantage point set nearly at the top of Europe, it’s almost possible to reach straight out and touch the sky.
Strasbourg, France
Nothing in life is perfect, but Strasbourg’s historic district, La Petite France, comes pretty close. Located at the west end of the Grand Île (the first entire city center to be named a UNESCO World Heritage site thanks to its French and German architecture), this picturesque neighborhood is the stuff storybooks are made of, complete with canal bridges and half-timbered homes. Gaze at the sloping rooftops of the 16th-century buildings and imagine the tanners who used to dry their skins in those attics, or picture the fishermen and millers who used to live and work here when it was the poorest area of the city. Buy some salted caramel or raspberry–milk shake macarons at Elisabeth Biscarratat on Rue de la Vignette, then savor them along the ponts couverts that cross the four river channels (these “covered bridges” were built in 1250 to defend the city, but their protective wooden roofs were torn down in 1784).

All roads here lead to Place Kleber, a giant square that can be a tad commercial save for the book market on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Saturdays, and the world-renowned Christmas market, during which a 100-foot tree from the Vosges Mountains takes over the square from the end of November through December.
84250 Le Thor, France
Summer, mid-afternoon in the South of France--there’s no better place to be than in the shade, cicadas singing overhead, taking a nap in a hammock hung from a medieval village-wall by a lazy, quiet river... My wife and I were visiting friends in the Provençal village of Le Thor. Their house was built in to the medieval wall, with just enough space between the wall and the river for a few chairs and a hammock. Close to Avignon, but off the beaten path, the surrounding sunflower fields were the perfect place for tandem-bike-rides...we kayaked in the Sorgue river, floating down past the village walls to the Romanesque church...and after a snack of olives and pastis, it was my turn for a ‘sieste’ in the hammock... Ah, the allure of villages in the South of France; pick one and stay a while. Soak it up.
108 Quai du Port
It isn’t wine or cocktails that mark happy hour for locals in Marseille but Pastis, the anise-flavored drink of choice first commercialized by Paul Ricard during the prohibition of absinthe. Ricard’s recipe and formula– star anise, licorice root; five volumes of water for one volume of Pastis - proved an instant hit back in the early 1930’s and is largely responsible for popularizing the aperitif-hour tradition in the south. Today’s experts can be found at La Maison du Pastis, a shop tucked deep in the colonnades of the Vieux Port specialized in 75 different varieties of Pastis and Absinthe. Be sure to ask for a taste before you pick up a bottle, the staff is more than happy to oblige.
Like most of the quaint towns in the Basque country, Espelette is brimming with cultural and culinary riches. Just twenty minutes from the coast and hugged by mountains, this town of 2,000 is best known for the pepper of the same known grown locally. Sea salt and Espelette pepper mixes, peppered chocolate and a variety of other regional specialties can be found in shops throughout the scenic town - tasty commodities worth bringing home with you.

Traditional homes with red-painted shutters and woodwork line each street in many Basque towns but here you’ll see most homes and shops draped in plump peppers. Whether you’re into food or architecture, Espelette is a picture-perfect little spot worth adding to your tour through the region.
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