The best places to visit outside of Paris, selected by a Parisian (who travels a lot!)
By Mathilde Vuillemenot | Last update on September 13, 2023
Paris is undeniably beautiful, but if you want to explore more of France, I highly recommend visiting places outside the city.
There are numerous hidden gems waiting to be discovered beyond Paris. These lesser-known destinations offer a glimpse into French history, breathtaking landscapes, and local traditions. So, let's step outside Paris and embark on a journey to uncover the extraordinary wonders that France has to offer.
- For short-term visitors, 10 ideas for a day trip outside Paris
- A road trip in the South of France, to discover the enchanting regions of Provence and the Riviera
- Loire Valley castles: at the heart of French History and gastronomic traditions
For short-term visitors, 10 ideas for a day trip outside Paris
Escape the bustling streets of Paris and explore the fascinating destinations just a stone's throw away, reachable within a mere one or two-hour journey by car or train. Here are my personal favorite day trips:
- Calling all art enthusiasts! Immerse yourself in the world of painting by visiting Monet's enchanting house and the picturesque village of Giverny (if you go between April and September, I recommend the lunch at La Guinguette de Giverny). Alternatively, indulge in the allure of Auvers-sur-Oise, where you can explore the Van Gogh House. (My preference definitely goes to Giverny!). These 2 places are best between May and September. And note that Claude Monet house at Giverny is closed from November until the end of March.
- If you have a penchant for religious architecture, Chartres beckons with its magnificent cathedral, a true masterpiece that will leave you in awe.
- For the foodies among us, embark on a delightful Champagne cellar tour near Reims, where you can savor the finest bubbly and immerse yourself in the art of Champagne making. You can visit the cellars of the famous Veuve Clicquot, Ruinart, G.H.Mumm or Taittinger, for example.
- History buffs will find solace in the captivating World War II sites of Normandy or the medieval wonders of the city of Provins, each offering a window into France's rich History.
- Families and Disney enthusiasts won't want to miss the magical realm of Disneyland Paris, where dreams come to life and cherished memories are made.
- For a tranquil alternative to the grandeur of Versailles, escape to the serene beauty of Fontainebleau castle or Vaux-le-Vicomte castle, havens of tranquility and regal charm.
- Lastly, for a romantic getaway, the seaside towns of Deauville and Honfleur beckon with their idyllic landscapes, picturesque harbors, and enchanting ambiance.
Venture beyond the borders of Paris and embark on these unforgettable day trips, each offering a unique experience!
A road trip in the South of France, to discover the enchanting regions of Provence and the Riviera
Embark on an unforgettable journey by hopping aboard the train (TGV) from Paris, bound for the charming destinations of Aix-en-Provence, Marseille, or Nice. Brace yourself for an exhilarating experience as you board one of the fastest trains in the world, reaching speeds of up to 200 mph!
Once you arrive, enhance your adventure by renting an electric car and setting off on an enchanting tour of these two captivating regions. But before you embark on this thrilling road trip, here are some essential tips for your TGV journey: make sure to arrive at the platform at least 2 minutes before departure. This small detail, mentioned on your train ticket, often catches travelers by surprise. To avoid any mishaps, it's best to arrive even earlier than the designated 2-minute mark.
Now, let's explore the myriad of road trip options available, catering to every taste and preference:
- Indulge in a luxurious road trip, immersing yourself in the wonders of Provence and the Riviera. Discover the finest hotels, restaurants, and hidden gems along the way. (Link: https://www.tatler.com/article/south-of-france-road-trip-guide-autumn-holiday-best-hotels-restaurants)
- For art lovers, embark on a road trip along the French Riviera, exploring the region's artistic treasures and cultural marvels. (Link: https://www.travelandleisure.com/trip-ideas/road-trips/french-riviera-art-road-trip)
- If time is limited, spend two memorable days in the iconic city of Nice, combining it with a scenic train journey to uncover the inland marvels of the region. (Link: https://www.telegraph.co.uk/travel/destinations/europe/france/cote-d-azur/nice/articles/nice-travel-guide/ Train Journey: https://www.travelandleisure.com/train-des-merveilles-south-of-france-7510192)
- Explore the 20 top-rated places in the South of France, visiting the most incredible destinations that will leave you in awe. (Link: https://www.travelandleisure.com/best-places-to-visit-in-south-of-france-7488163)
- Discover the charm of 12 picturesque villages that deserve a special stop on your journey. (Link: https://www.houseandgarden.co.uk/gallery/beautiful-provence-france-villages-towns)
- Immerse yourself in the fragrant lavender fields and visit quaint villages, such as Parc de Valensole or the less crowded Parc Naturel Régional du Verdon
- Drive along the stunning coastline, treating yourself to breathtaking views and exceptional beaches. Explore Calanque En Vau in Marseille, Almanarre Beach in Hyères, Pampelonne near Saint-Tropez, and conclude your scenic drive along the captivating Corniche de l'Esterel, with a final stop at Paloma Beach in Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat.
Allow yourself to be enchanted by the magic that awaits beyond Paris, as you embark on an unforgettable road trip through these captivating southern regions of France.
Loire Valley castles: at the heart of French History and gastronomic traditions
The Loire Valley, a UNESCO World Heritage site, is an ideal day trip from Paris, where you can visit captivating places like Bois or Chambord. However, I strongly advise dedicating a minimum of 2 or 3 days to truly savor its wonders. Rushing through a one-day trip will allow you to explore just one castle, and at best, two. But the Loire Valley has so much more to offer beyond castles – you can leisurely stroll or bike along the serene Loire river, indulge in delicious gastronomy and wine tastings, and partake in unique activities that create unforgettable memories.
First, immerse yourself in the life within the walls of a 16th-century castle. Many private castles have been transformed into hotels, retaining the authentic charm of that era. Among my top 3 luxury favorites are:
- Chateau Louise: https://www.chateaulouise.com/en/
- Hauts de Loire: https://www.hautsdeloire.com/en/
- Chateau de Noizay: https://www.chateaudenoizay.com/en/
Next, plan your castle visits, but here arises the dilemma – which Loire Valley castles to visit? If you have a week, you can explore almost all the famous castles, but for a shorter trip, consider these three criteria to select your castles:
- Mix of styles: The Loire Valley castles epitomize Renaissance architecture, but some also blend various styles, showcasing their historical evolution. For instance:
- Chambord and Chenonceau represent the pinnacle of Renaissance design,
- Castles like Loches, Chinon, and Langeais retain remnants of Medieval architecture,
- Blois Castle stands out with its combination of Gothic, Medieval, Renaissance, and Classic styles, reflecting centuries of architectural evolution,
- Chaumont and Amboise castles demonstrate the transition from Gothic to Renaissance,
- Cheverny and Villandry exhibit post-Renaissance Classic architecture.
- Varied landscapes: explore castles located near the riverside and those tucked away in the countryside. In the countryside, visit Chambord, Cheverny, or Valençay; along or above the river, explore Chenonceau, Amboise, Chaumont, Azay le Rideau, or Blois. And also discover the diversity of gardens that blend various styles. French gardens, exemplified by Chambord, exhibit an orderly and precise layout, featuring geometric elements. In contrast, English-style gardens, such as Chaumont, captivate visitors with their delightful blend of carefully cultivated wildness, presenting a beautifully untamed 'thoughtful mess'.
- Exclusive activities: customize your trip by selecting unique activities offered by certain castles. At Cheverny, experience a dinner served in a castle with a table set like the 16th century. Clos Lucé offers a lunch experience in period costumes. Consider kayaking to Chenonceau castle at sunrise and enjoying breakfast with a stunning view. During summer or Christmas season, enjoy sound and light shows by night. Relais de Chambord provides a luxury picnic option in its beautiful gardens. And for adventurous travelers, two exceptional activities await: a Hot-Air Balloon Ride over the picturesque Loire Valley and (or!) a scenic bike trip alongside the tranquil River Loire.
Amidst this historically rich itinerary, take time to savor delightful gastronomic experiences. Visit vineyards for wine tastings or enjoy a lunch at charming spots like Sancerre, Chinon, Saumur, Vouvray, or Bourgueil. Additionally, explore local biscuit factories, truffle patches, and cheese farms for a taste of authentic regional treats.
In conclusion, the Loire Valley promises a complete sensory experience, blending history, visuals, flavors, and adventure. Don't miss the chance to immerse yourself in the serene luxury of the French countryside and explore the treasures this enchanting region has to offer.