So many times I’ve got lost in old medieval villages hidden away in France off the beaten path. Small charming corners I can’t even remember the name of and not mentioning search for on the map. Endless France road trips that led me across lavender fields and local markets for baguettes, olives, and fresh fruit. France really does live up to its reputation and there is so much undiscovered beauty beyond visiting Paris.
This post is all about France off the beaten track destinations so you can experience more of this amazing country while escaping the tourist crowds.
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France off the beaten path
Here are some of the best places to go off the beaten path in France so you can experience more than the most visited tourist destinations.
Metz is less than an hour and a half east of Paris, yet one of those underrated places in France you should visit. It’s an easy day trip from Paris by train or you can drive there and stay a few nights.
There are plenty of things to do in Metz, and a day trip might just not be enough. The most prominent landmark that rises above the city is Metz Cathedral, but there are so many other amazing medieval buildings there too.
Walk through Porte des Allemands, the fortified wall protecting two medieval towers, crossing the ancient stone bridge across the river, and walk through the narrow streets of Metz.
It the old town, you find the 14th-century square, Place Saint-Louis, which is surrounded by pastel-colored houses with Mediterranean-style windows and restaurants.
Art lovers will enjoy Centre Pompidou-Metz and the Opéra-Théâtre de Metz Métropole, while history buffs will love to visit one of the oldest churches in France, the Basilica of Saint-Pierre-Aux-Nonnains.
One of the prettiest sights in Metz is the Temple Neuf, a Romanesque Revival style church built on a small island in the middle of the Moselle river, only connected by stone bridges to the mainland.
Where to stay: Flow Hostel Metz
Recommended by Mark from Wyld Family Travel
Lunéville is one of those smallish non-descript French towns with a population of just over 17,000 people and not typically on the tourist trail. It’s a town you could easily pass as you head to the Alsace region.
Lunéville has 2 outstanding attractions. The grand Château de Lunéville, built-in 1702 for Leopold, Duke of Lorraine.
The château was designed to resemble Versailles for Leopold’s wife, Élisabeth Charlotte d’Orléans, who was the niece of Louis XIV.
Leopold and his wife were the parents of Francis I, Holy Roman Emperor (through him, they were the grandparents of Marie Antoinette).
The other is Église Sainte-Jeanne-d’Arc de Lunéville, a catholic church that pays homage to Joan of Arc through painting and stain glass windows.
Lunéville is located in western France some 128 km from Strasbourg and 344 km from Paris, Nancy is the nearest major city.
Where to stay: Chateau d’Adomenil
Recommended by Ucman of Brown Boy Travels
Grasse is often overlooked for its famous neighbors on Côte d’Azur; Cannes and Nice. Yet, it’s one of the most beautiful places in south of France. It’s a small city that offers the charm and nostalgia of medieval France with a specialty of its very own; Perfumes.
You’re in the perfume capital of France if not the world. The town has one of the three colleges of perfumery in France and has been an established center for this fine art for centuries. It even prompted the making of the famous novel and movie, The Perfume.
Grasse is quite easily accessible by Nice airport, it is also a stone’s throw away from Cannes and a short drive away from Monaco.
The center of the medieval town is the best spot to stay and offers great views from many viewpoints in the city.
The old town of Grasse still has the same winding, narrow streets, and old buildings. The food is also fresh and great in that Mediterranean style.
The most important thing to do in Grasse is to visit a perfumery and get a tour of how perfumes are made. The level of detail and intricacy of this art is amazing. (It takes 8-13 years of studying before one can call themselves a ‘nose’).
Grasse is not just a beautiful city with historical significance it’s also cozy and offers everything you expect from a French town.
Where to stay: Les Passiflores
Fontaine de Vaucluse
Recommended by Ophelie of Limitless Secrets
Fontaine de Vaucluse is an enchanting village located in a valley at the foot of a cliff of the Monts de Vaucluse in Provence.
This unique place is worth the visit because of the mythical source of water surging forth from the cliff in the area. Historically named “Vallis Clausa” (meaning closed valley), this spring is the most powerful one in France and the fifth in the world.
Here are a few things you can do in Fontaine de Vaucluse. You can start by walking around the village and enjoy the scenery. The place is full of charm with its traditional houses painted with ocher colors and the river flowing through the village!
Then you should definitely do the little hike that will take you to the source of the spring: it’s impressive!
You can also take a look at the shops selling local and traditional handicrafts and enjoy a yummy lavender ice cream.
The best way to get there and to travel around is to explore Provence by car.
Where to stay: Hotel Restaurant du Parc
Recommended by Carol of Is This Even A Road
Travel off the beaten path in France, slow down, and enjoy the old world charm of Dorres. This rustic 19th century Cerdan village is located in the heart of the Catalan Pyrenees Regional Park in South France.
Ancient stone buildings line the winding narrow streets. Snow-capped peaks surround the small village (Population 164) that sits at an altitude of 1400 meters.
Dorres is known for its hot sulfurous Roman Baths. The spring water can be heard trickling down the streets towards the pools.
Soak in the ancient outdoor baths with a breathtaking mountain panorama (Cost=5 Euros). A larger soaking area maintains a 38°C temperature while the small individual granite baths can reach a temperature of 41°C.
A short walk through the quaint village past the old wash house brings a couple of dining options. La Bistrot de La Place and Cal Xandera offer authentic French cuisine.
Hike the many mountain trails or ski the nearby slopes. Visit the ancient churches in town including Notre-Dame-de-Belloc Chapel. The 12th century Église Saint Jean de Dorres houses a rare black Madonna.
You can easily combine the trip with a ride into nearby Spain to stay on a rolling vineyard.
Where to stay: Le Château Brangoly
Recommended by Josh and Sarah of Veggie Vagabonds
Vézelay is one of those hidden gems in France that really make an impression. The hilltop village is just southeast of Paris, in the direction of Dijon.
Vézelay is perched up high above the surrounding landscape, looming over the nearby fields and vineyards. The outer stone fort was built to protect Vézelay Abbey, a UNESCO heritage site, giving the village an imposing and impressive feel from afar.
The abbey itself was built as early as 1150 and really is a marvel of architecture, making Vézelay an important part of French Christiandom.
You’ll also notice many scallop shells around the village as this is a starting point for the Camino de Santiago, one of the most famous hiking routes in France, traveling all the way to Northern Spain.
Vezelay isn’t the easiest place to reach by public transport and most visitors drive. There is no train station and to arrive by bus is possible but complicated. However, this helps the village remain a lesser-visited destination!
You’ll find a number of traditional guesthouses and gites within the village walls, or, for the campers among you, you’ll find a cheap and cheerful campsite only a stone’s throw away.
Where to stay: La Maison Carolane
Recommended by Christina of Explore Now Or Never
Just east of its more famous neighbor, Marseille, cute little Cassis offers an idyllic base for seeing the fabulous Cote d’Azur in the south of France without the crowds or traffic of bigger cities.
As a small fishing village nestled up to the turquoise water of the Mediterranean on the French Riviera, Cassis is one of the most charming villages in Provence.
Beaches in Cassis are pebbly, rather than sandy, as they are all along the French Riviera. The village is washed in pastel colors and filled with quaint boutiques and restaurants with a harbor view of colorful fishing boats.
In fact, one of the best things to do in Cassis is to take a day tour by boat to the nearby Calanques – narrow limestone valleys that create Scandinavian-like fjords at the water’s edge.
Wine tasting is also an excellent idea in this region. Even though Provence is recognized as the land of rosé around the world, this region makes excellent white wines.
The best way to arrive in Cassis? Drive the incredible Routes des Cretes, one of the most beautiful drives in France. It winds high in the mountains along the coast, passing by the ancient castle, and dropping down into little Cassis at the end for a dramatic arrival.
Where to stay: Puerta Del Sol
Recommended by Veronika of Travel Geekery
Crozon Peninsula can be found in Brittany in the Finistère department, all the way in the west of the country. The landscape is uniquely beautiful and forms a part of Armorica Regional Natural Park.
It’s amazing for hiking adventures – on a section of the famous hiking trail GR34 covering the whole coast of Brittany. You have to explore the tip of the peninsula called Pointe de Pen-Hir. The cliffside views are absolutely stunning.
From there, you can observe a unique cluster of little islands called a Pile of Peas. A small path lines the coastline and takes you on an amazing walk with dramatic cliffs on one side and lovely heather on the other.
You’ll encounter a few reminders of the Second World War – there’s a large cross remembering the fallen Britons of the Liberation Army, as well as remnants of Hitler’s Atlantic Wall with several bunkers.
It’s ideal to have a car to get there. Public transport does work from the towns nearby, but it’s not easy to navigate.
You can stay in the village of Camaret sur Mer. If you don’t mind a longer drive, I can highly recommend mobile homes at a beachside campsite Camping de la Plage de Treguer, which is an hour away.
Where to stay: Hôtel de France
Recommended by Dym Abroad
A great place to explore France off the beaten path is Menton. This is without a doubt one of the most beautiful places in France and located in the south of the country along the French Riviera.
You can get there easily from many other parts of the country. For example, from the city of Nice, it is just 40 minutes by train and from Monaco, it is only 10 minutes.
One of the best things to do in Menton is to go to the beach. Not only are the sand and the sea amazing, but there are a lot of colorful houses next to the beach that together are very beautiful to see.
Besides that, Menton is known for its gardens. One of the best gardens is the Jardin Botanique Exotique de Menton, with many exotic plants.
Where to stay: Hôtel Vacances Bleues Royal Westminster
Recommended by Pauline of Beeloved City
If you are looking for a true hidden gem in South West France, Figeac must be on your bucket list.
This beautiful medieval town is located in the Lot. Famous for being the birthplace of Champollion, who deciphered the Egyptians hieroglyphs, Figeac has a lot to offer to visitors in search of authenticity.
The town center is pretty small and very easy to explore on foot. The main square is called Place de la Halle. On Saturday morning, it hosts one of the biggest markets in the area.
Another beautiful sight is the Calvaire Stairs. They zigzag all the way up to the Jeanne D’arc school, a beautiful example of old french convent.
If you are into history, visiting the Champollion Museum is a must-do. You will learn loads about Egypt and how Champollion cracked the ancient language.
Just behind it, hidden in the small streets is the Place des Ecritures. It features a giant Rosetta stone replica on the ground.
Finally, you will also be able to admire the beautiful example of medieval architecture. Some of the houses and shops are over 800 years old.
Where to stay: Hôtel des Bains
Recommended by Jacquie of Flashpacking Family
Camon is located in the Ariège department of France in the foothills of the Pyrenees. It is officially classified as one of the most beautiful villages in France and it is easy to see why.
The tiny village is nicknamed ‘Little Carcassonne’ because of its fortified walls surrounding a Benedictine abbey. Another striking feature of the village is that it is home to one hundred rose bushes that burst with color during the spring and summer.
It is ideally located for exploring south-west France and is only 45 minutes from the famous medieval fortress town, Carcassonne.
Camon is such a small village that you will quickly be able to wander around it. It is particularly beautiful at sunset when the village is quiet, and the fortified walls take on a golden glow, but if you want a guided tour of the ramparts, you need to visit during the day.
Where to stay: Château de Camon
Recommended by Elisa of France Bucket List
The Jura is a French department in eastern France, part of the French region of Bourgogne-Franche Comté and not far from the border with Switzerland. Best known for its mountains, pristine lakes, and waterfalls, the Jura is truly off the beaten path France on its best.
Public transportation in the Jura is scarce and with schedules mostly adapted to the locals, so the best way to explore the area is with your own car, on a road trip.
A road trip through the Jura is one of the best road trips in France for nature lovers. There are many easy hikes to enjoy the natural wonders in this area and we recommend doing at least the Belvedère des 4 Lacs hike that visits the lakes of Lac Ilay, Grand Maclu, Petit Maclu, and Narlay.
From some places, if the sky is clear, you can even see the Montblanc! There are also many picturesque small towns and great food.
Where to stay: L’allée des peupliers
Recommended by Nadine of Le Long Weekend
The petite fishing village of Niolon is tucked away in the Côte Bleue – a stunning area of immense natural beauty where you’ll find some of the best beaches near Marseille.
Few tourists venture along this stretch of coast, but the locals appreciate its quiet and rugged appeal. Niolon itself is small, with just a tiny settlement centered around a picturesque port, but it comes alive in the summer months when the restaurants are buzzing, and the wharf is full of sun-worshipers and swimmers.
Spend a few days here discovering the quiet way of life and the local walks. This is a hidden France destination for sure.
Wander over to the Calanque de la Vesse next door, before heading over to the wild and hidden Plage de la Pointe de Figuerolles for a swim.
Or go the other way, stopping at the Fort de Niolon and appreciating the view, before trekking along to Calanque de l’Erevine (pictured) – a hidden beach that you could have entirely to yourself in the off-season.
It’s also the perfect place to go diving. To get there, you can drive the short distance from Marseille, or take a scenic train ride along the coast.
Where to stay: Hôtel Restaurant les Pielettes
Saint Paul de Vence
Recommended by Emma of Emma Jane Explores
The tiny well-preserved medieval town of Saint Paul de Vence is the perfect off the beaten path getaway in France.
Located just a little way inland from the French Riviera, this hilltop village is surrounded by rolling hills and olive groves and is the perfect day trip for holidaymakers based in Nice.
The easiest way to get there is to take the 400 bus from Parc Phoenix in Nice to Saint Paul de Vence which will cost just 1.5 euros.
The town itself is picturesque, with winding cobblestone streets leading visitors through a maze of art galleries, boutiques, and produce stores.
A walk atop the village’s ramparts provides gorgeous views from every angle and a stroll through the town cemetery will lead visitors to the grave of famed French artist Marc Chagall.
In the town is also the beautifully decadent store, Maison de Parfums Godet, which another well-known artist, Henri Matisse frequented.
Where to stay: La Maison aux Bonsais
Recommended by Kay of The Awkward Traveller
Although Poitiers is not on the radar for most visitors in France, the small town just 3.5 hours from Paris by train has a surprising amount of things to offer.
First, Poitiers is a university town, with a large community of study abroad students, so the nightlife is always lively with fun events going on every weekend.
Poitiers is known for its medieval architecture, and the city center is full of chic cafes and bars to both start and end your day.
For history lovers, Poitiers is home to the 4th century Baptisterie Saint-Jean, (reputedly) the oldest church in France, as well as other incredibly beautiful cathedrals and chapels.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, you can spend the day at the region’s only theme park, Futuroscope.
However, if nature is more your calling, you can opt for a relaxing stroll along the river that runs through the town or read a book in Jardin des Plantes, Poitiers famed botanical garden.
Where to stay: Mercure Poitiers Centre
Recommended by Nichola of Globalmouse Travels
The Opal Coast is still a much less worn track than some of the more obvious French destinations. Spanning the distance between Calais and Boulogne this can often be merely a route out to holidaymakers exiting the ferry or tunnel from England and heading on.
Head to the coast though for some beautiful beaches like Hardelot and Berck-sur-Mer which are so much quieter than some of their more popular counterparts.
There are some great places to visit from the old town of Boulogne which is full of lovely restaurants to the museums and fortifications around Calais that serve as a testament to the part this area played in the Second World War.
Where to stay: La Minaudière 62
Recommended by Larch of The Silver Nomad
About 2 hours inland from Nice is Fayence, one of the many hilltop towns in the Var area of France. It was a fortified town and some of the remnants of the medieval fortifications are still visible including the 14th Century Port Sarrasine.
Fayence’s winding streets take you up to the Clock Tower at the top of town for a magnificent 360-degree view over the surrounding plains and hills. Around the edges of the clock tower is a tiled frieze that shows the view.
Three times a week, Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays, there is a market in the square where you can pick up fresh produce, olives, honey, and linens.
You will find art galleries, antique shops, and independent clothes shops in the narrow streets. Look out for La Cave de Fayence for a delicious range of wines and gifts.
Where to stay: Hotel les Oliviers
Be responsible when traveling France off the beaten track
When traveling off the beaten track in France, it’s important to respect the places and protect them from mass tourism and future destruction.
Always be mindful about what you tag on Instagram and other social media to avoid the negative effect of Insta-tourism, bringing hordes of people to one single spot to hunt for that single Insta-worthy picture.
It creates huge pressure on the locals. Imagine if that Insta-worthy spot was your own front door. Would you like strangers lining up in queues to take photos of your door? I don’t think so.
So respect private property, respect physical boundaries (they’re there for a reason), and take care of the planet. Bring your own reusable water bottle and coffee cup, and if you’re a fan of drinking with a straw, bring your own reusable one. this goes a long way towards plastic waste.
Finally, I always encourage connecting with the locals wherever you travel to learn their stories, culture, and history.
Not only do you get a great connection, but by showing respect and curiosity, you give the locals a good feeling about having travelers there. Unique travel experiences often start with a conversation with a local.
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