We always advise our travelers on the best way to discover the most popular tourist sites in France. It’s also important to us to help people explore away from the well-trodden tourist path. Here we list some of our favorite less-explored French towns and villages and places of interest. We can include any of these places in our France tour packages, so if you’re traveling to France with us, let us know, and we’ll do our best to fit them into your self-drive itinerary!

Saint-Émilion, Bordeaux: World-Class Wines

If you’re visiting this cobble-street, UNESCO-listed village in the heart of Bordeaux wine country (which we warmly recommend) 

Take a walk through it and see that around every corner there are beautifully preserved buildings and squares that echo centuries of history. If you're feeling up for it, climb the Tour du Roy for panoramic views over the red rooftops and vineyards of the surrounding countryside.

There’s also a stunning monolithic church carved straight from the limestone hill. You may take the opportunity to discover its underground catacombs and chapels and be captivated by the stories!

And of course, we mustn’t forget the wine! St Emilion is renowned for producing some of the world's finest red wine, particularly Merlot and Cabernet Franc blends. We recommend our favorite local vineyards and wine-tasting experiences to our travelers, helping them enjoy Bordeaux’s celebrated wine culture.

Find out more about our self guided tours of Bordeaux

View of a wine estate in St Emilion
Wine estate in St Emilion
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Nicolas Claris

Beaune, Burgundy: Medieval History & Exceptional Wineries

Beaune, located in the heart of Burgundy, is celebrated for its fascinating history, beautiful medieval architecture, and world-class wines. The first place to head to is the Hospices de Beaune (now also known as Hôtel-Dieu). With its colorful, glazed-tile roofs, it’s a stunning example of Burgundian-Flemish architecture, and as the name suggests, the building used to be a hospice for the sick and dying. Be sure to visit the centuries-old pharmacy and see the polyptych of The Last Judgment inside the hospice.

Beaune's old town is very walkable and beautifully quaint, and like many French villages it boasts cobbled streets, half-timbered houses, and pretty squares.

Since Beaune is the wine capital of Burgundy, we always recommend that our travelers do a tour of some of our favorite wine cellars. Whether you're a casual wine drinker or a seasoned oenophile, you'll appreciate the complex flavors of the region's Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays. 

These pair well with regional delicacies like escargots (snails) or boeuf bourguignon.
Take a quick look at our tours of Burgundy, France

Saumur, Loire Valley: Castles and Elegance

At the lovely Château de Saumur, you’ll enjoy stunning views over the Loire River and learn about the castle’s fascinating history. History buffs will be interested to know that Saumur castle was originally built as a fortress by Thibault I, Count of Blois, in the 10th century. In the 12th century, it came under the control of the Plantagenet kings, and in the 14th century Louis I, Duke of Anjou, converted the fortress into a lavish palace. It later served as a prison, a depot, and even a symbol of national resistance during World War II.

The old town of Saumur is characterized by historic houses and cobbled streets, and is a lovely place to take a stroll. To get a sense of the region's equestrian legacy, you may like to visit the Decorative Arts & Horse Museum inside Saumur Castle or visit the Cadre Noir, a prestigious riding school which puts on spectacular horse-riding displays.

In terms of Loire Valley gastronomy, Saumur is famous for its fine sparkling wines. If you visit a local winery, you’ll learn about the region's wine production and have the chance to sample some exquisite bubbly. It pairs deliciously with local Sainte-Maure de Touraine goat’s cheese.

A unique feature of this town is its troglodyte caves, which are ancient dwellings carved into the region's limestone hills. These give you an intriguing insight into Saumur's past.

We can help you discover much more about this beautiful region on our self-drive Loire Valley tours.

Saumur Castle, Loire Valley
Chateau de Saumur, Loire Valley
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Pedro Szekely, Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 2.0

Bayonne, Basque Country: A Unique Culture and Gastronomy

If you’re traveling to the scenic heart of the French Basque Country, you'll soon realize this is a city that dances to its own rhythm. This is particularly true in late July or early August during the Bayonne festival, the largest festival in France. This vibrant celebration showcases regional music, dance, and traditional Basque costumes. It’s a wonderful way to immerse yourself in the Basque culture while you’re visiting the city.

Again, like many of France’s beautiful villages, Bayonne’s medieval old town is also known for its cobblestone streets lined by vibrant half-timbered houses. If you visit the magnificent Bayonne Cathedral, you can take in marvelous panoramic city views from the top.

In terms of the city's gastronomic wonders, you can't leave without savoring the local Bayonne chocolate, delicious pintxos and the famous jambon de Bayonne, a melt-in-your-mouth cured ham that embodies the essence of Basque flavors.

Discover our self-drive Basque Country tours

Colmar, Alsace: A Colorful Fairy-Tale Village

The picturesque town of Colmar in eastern France is also known as 'Little Venice' due to its cobbled streets, meandering canals and well-preserved medieval architecture.

It’s wonderful to lose yourself in the old town, where colorful half-timbered houses and pretty flowers line the canals. You may like to take a serene boat ride along the Lauch River, as it’s the ideal way to appreciate the beauty of the old town. 

Don't miss the Unterlinden Museum, which hosts a rich array of artworks, including the renowned Isenheim Altarpiece.

If you’re doing a wine tour of France between late spring and early fall, you mustn’t miss the Alsace Wine Route. Also called the Route des Vins, this 100-mile stretch is renowned for its world-class vineyards and lovely little Alsatian towns. If you book with us, we’ll recommend to you some of our favorite winstubs, where you can try and buy Alsatian wine, including Riesling, Gewürztraminer, Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc and Muscat.

If you’re visiting Alsace around Christmas time, you’ll discover the fairytale magic of the Christmas markets! The streets are adorned with twinkling lights and decorations, and you’ll find plenty of festive treats to try at the local bakeries. Try some pain d'épices, spiced bread similar to gingerbread or a petit kugelhopf, a distinctive, crown-shaped yeast cake studded with raisins and almonds and dusted with powdered sugar. Yum!

You may also try some traditional Alsatian dishes, such as choucroute garnie (sauerkraut with mixed meats) and tarte flambée (a bit like a pizza) or baeckeoffe (an Alsatian casserole).

If you would like discover the magic of Alsace, check out our Alsace tours

Annecy: The Venice of the Alps

Another ‘Little Venice’, we think you’ll fall in love with Annecy, a charming alpine town. Cradled by mountains and a crystal-clear lake, Annecy captivates visitors with both its beautiful scenery and historical charm.

Wander through the old town and admire the winding canals, flower-decked bridges, colorful houses, and quaint alleyways. You’ll see that the iconic Palais de l'Isle, a 12th-century fortress, seems to float on the Thiou canal.

Enjoy a gentle boat ride on Lake Annecy, one of Europe's cleanest lakes, and soak in the stunning panoramas of snow-capped peaks and green hills.

At the local markets, you’ll find Savoyard cheeses, charcuterie, and other regional specialties to try. And when the sun sets, the town's streets and lakefront promenade buzz with lively cafes and restaurants.

The aquamarine canal and colorful buildings of Annecy in the French Alps
Annecy
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France Just For You

Amiens, Somme: Floating Gardens, Art & History

Amiens in the Somme region is a city brimming with history and culture. It’s the ideal place to base yourself if you want to explore the Somme region by car and visit key WWI battle sites.

But the city itself also has a lot to offer. We warmly recommend a visit to the "hortillonnages", a network of peaceful, floating gardens crisscrossed by canals. Then stroll through the charming St-Leu district, a nice place to stop at a cafe for a drink or explore a market.

Literature lovers may be interested in visiting the Maison de Jules Verne, where the visionary French author lived and wrote some of his most famous works. 

Amiens Cathedral, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is the largest Gothic cathedral in France and a must-see. In the summer (mid-June through mid-September) and around Christmas time, you can see a stunning light show on the facade of the cathedral in the evening.

Browse our Somme Battlefield Tours

Verdun: A Moving Journey Through History

Best known for the World War I Battle of Verdun, this region stands as a poignant testament to the resilience of the human spirit. A visit here will take you on an immersive journey through a critical chapter of world history. 

The Verdun Memorial Museum, set amidst the haunting landscapes of well-preserved former battlegrounds, provides an insight into the hardships of the soldiers. The Douaumont Ossuary houses the remains of thousands who fell on these battlefields. We can arrange for an expert private guide to take you to key sites from the Battle of Verdun and explain to you exactly what happened there. If you have a family member who fought or perished in the battle, our guide will try to take you to the places where they would have fought and their grave. 

Beyond world war history, you can also visit Joan of Arc’s place of birth and follow in the footsteps of King Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette as they attempted to escape during the French Revolution.
Verdun’s culinary delights include sugared almonds, a local specialty since the 13th century. We’ll tell you where you can see them being made!

Take a journey through France's history on one of ou self-drive tours in Verdun.

Montfaucon sur Argonne Cemetery in Verdun. The graves are white stone crosses.
Montfaucon sur Argonne Cemetery in Verdun, the biggest American military cemetery in Europe
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France Just For You

Roubaix, Lille: A Vibrant Tapestry of Art, Architecture, and Innovation

Roubaix is an intriguing city in the metropolitan area of Lille, often dubbed the 'Manchester of France'. This former textile powerhouse has reinvented itself as a hub of art and creativity. At the center is La Piscine, a stunning Art Deco swimming pool transformed into a museum of art and industry.

Naturally, Roubaix is famous for its fashion and textiles shopping scene, thanks to its history as a textile industry hub. There are several shopping outlets, including McArthur Glen and L'Usine, where you can find great deals on designer brands.

If you want to take a break from exploring or shopping, Parc Barbieux is the perfect place for a relaxing stroll or picnic, with its landscaped flower beds, vast lawns, and ponds.

You may also like to indulge in local gastronomic specialties such as moules-frites (mussels and fries), potjevleesch (a local favorite cold jellied meat dish typically made from chicken, rabbit, veal, and pork) or tarte au sucre, a sweet, sugary tart typical of Northern France.

A visit to Lille will be included in our Flanders Fields Battlefield Tours and our tours of Northern France.

Valley of the Saints, Brittany: Breton Faith & Heritage

The mystical beauty of the Valley of the Saints in Brittany is still quite a well-kept secret! This open-air gallery is perched on a high hill and home to over 100 monumental sculptures, each representing a Breton saint. 

Wandering through these towering granite figures, you may feel a profound sense of peace and reverence as you take in the fusion of art, spirituality, and nature that this beauty spot offers. 

The panoramic views of the surrounding countryside from this spiritual haven are simply breathtaking. You may even get the chance to meet the sculptors in action, as they are often on-site chiseling the next saint. 

Remember to bring your camera to capture these magnificent statues against the backdrop of the stunning Breton landscape. The Valley of the Saints is not just a visit; it's an unforgettable spiritual journey and a homage to Breton faith and heritage that every visitor to Brittany should experience.

Check out our Brittany self-drive tours

Menton, French Riviera: Sunshine & Citrus Colors by the Sea

Get away from the hustle and bustle of the tourist crowds in Nice and head to Menton, a beautiful unspoiled gem along the French Riviera, just a stone’s throw from the Italian border.

If you’re arriving in France by road from Italy (or vice versa) this charming coastal town is a lovely stop on the way. 

Nestled between the Mediterranean Sea and the Alps, Menton is an enticing blend of Italian flair and French sophistication. The old town's pastel-hued houses and winding staircases are particularly beautiful. Visit Saint-Michel-Archange basilica or the exotic splendor of the Val Rahmeh and Serre de la Madone gardens, where you can admire tropical plants, including giant water lilies on the ponds. 

The town's annual Lemon Festival takes place in February, and is a vibrant spectacle of citrus-themed floats and displays. It’s definitely worth experiencing if you’re visiting the French Riviera at that time of year (it also coincides with the Nice Carnival). 

For culinary delicacies, you’ll notice both the French and the Italian influence on the cuisine in Menton. Try the local specialty, the Menton lemon tart, at one of the beachfront cafes, and take back some lemon-infused olive oil as a souvenir!

Let us help you discover the south of France’s hidden gems on one of our self-drive tours of the French Riviera

Vaison-la-Romaine, Provence: A Beautiful Ancient Village

Exploring Vaison-la-Romaine is like taking a step back in time. This ancient gem hidden away in the lush landscapes of Provence has a history spanning over two millennia. The quaint village has cobblestone streets, medieval houses and a beautiful hilltop chateau. 
There are some remarkably well-preserved Roman ruins that are worth visiting, including a Roman bridge, a Roman theater, and the archaeological site of Puymin.

The local market will offer a sensory feast of Provençal flavors and fragrances, such as olives, olive oil and tapenade, which you can enjoy with a glass of Rhone Valley wine.

Discover the beautiful pearls of Provence on one of our Provence tours.

Vaison-la-Romaine in the hills in the background
Vaison-la-Romaine
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Rodeo Media

Sarlat-la-Canéda: The Gateway to Dordogne

We love this medieval gem tucked away in the Périgord Noir region of Dordogne. Its enchanting old town is a labyrinth of narrow streets lined with honey-colored buildings, and has been beautifully preserved. 

The soaring Saint Sacerdos Cathedral, set against the azure backdrop, is a testament to the town's spiritual and architectural heritage. 

Pay a visit to the bustling Sarlat Market, where the air is filled with the tantalizing aroma of truffles, foie gras, walnut-infused dishes and other Périgord specialties. 
Then take a stroll to the scenic viewpoint at the Jardin des Enfeus for a panoramic view of the town and surrounding rolling hills. In the evening, there’s a sense of magic as the light of the street lanterns fill the streets.

Discover stunning Sarlat on a self-drive tour through Dordogne.

Honfleur, Normandy: A Pretty Harbor Town

Honfleur is a picturesque harbor town nestled on the estuary of the Seine in Normandy, known for its well-preserved old dock lined with colorful fishing boats and timeless buildings.

Dominating the port is the striking Saint Catherine's Church, constructed entirely of wood by shipbuilders. It actually looks like an upside-down ship's hull, a tribute to Honfleur's ship-building heritage.

You’ll find lots of lovely boutiques and little eateries to explore in the town. It’s a great place to pick up some local crafts and authentic souvenirs. You could also try a regional apple-themed delicacy, like a glass of cider or Calvados brandy or an apple tart.

If you enjoy art, take a peek inside the Eugene Boudin Museum, an homage to the local artist who inspired the likes of Monet, capturing the unique light of this maritime town. 

Then enjoy a walk along the waterfront promenade before settling down for some fresh seafood while taking in the views of the 16th-century salt granaries.

Our travelers always have wonderful feedback about Honfleur. We can include a trip there in any of our self-guided tours of Normandy.

Beuvron-en-Auge, Normandy: Picture-Perfect Village Charm

Another gem, this time in the heart of Normandy's picturesque Auge region, is the lovely quintessential Norman village of Beuvron-en-Auge. The village's central square, lined with beautifully restored half-timbered houses and floral displays, epitomizes the charm of rural France. Visit the quaint antique market and you’ll definitely want to take some photos of the flower-covered town hall.

Stroll along the cobbled lanes to discover artisan shops offering locally made crafts and products, including Normandy’s celebrated cider and calvados. The village church may be of interest to history buffs, as it dates back to the 17th century and provides an interesting peek into Beuvron-en-Auge's past.

The village is a perfect stop if you’re out exploring the surrounding countryside, with its apple orchards, dairy farms, and rolling hills. It's a sight that has delighted many of our travelers!

Explore the Normandy back roads and beyond on one of our self guided tours!

The half-timbered houses along a street in Beuvron-en-Auge on a sunny day in Normandy
Beuvron-en-Auge, Normandy
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Calvados Tourism

Albi, Occitanie: An Irresistible Blend of History and Culture

Albi is a rustic city nestled in the heart of the Occitanie region. You’ll see that the labyrinth of narrow streets demonstrate features of both ancient and contemporary life. 

The city's highlight is the Sainte-Cécile cathedral, a UNESCO World Heritage site boasting a striking red-brick façade. It’s a masterpiece of Southern Gothic architecture, with its intricate sculptures and stunning frescoes.

Right next door, art lovers will definitely want to visit the Toulouse-Lautrec Museum, which is home to the most extensive collection of the artist's works. You can take in the stunning views of the old city with its distinct red-brick buildings on a stroll along the banks of the River Tarn. 

You’ll love sampling the local gastronomy, such as cassoulet, a hearty stew of white beans, pork, and duck or a choice from a wide range of pastries and sweets from one of Albi’s bakeries.We can incorporate a visit to Albi in our self-drive tours in Carcassonne & Cathar country or on a Dordogne self-drive tour.

Gordes, Provence: A Jewel in the Luberon Hills

We love to recommend Gordes, a mesmerizing village perched on the edge of the Plateau de Vaucluse in Provence. Its stone houses climb up the hillside forming a harmonious cascade of terracotta rooftops against the Provencal blue sky. 

As you explore the winding alleyways, each turn offers a spectacular vista of the surrounding Luberon hills. 

The majestic Château de Gordes anchors the village with its impressive Renaissance architecture. Also nearby is the gorgeous Sénanque Abbey surrounded by fields of lavender in the summer.

For a truly immersive experience, join the locals at the weekly market, brimming with regional produce, artisanal cheeses, and the alluring scent of herbs de Provence.

Enjoy the scents of Provence and the shades of the French Riviera with France Just For You!

A panoramic view of hilltop village Gordes in Provence
Gordes, Provence
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CC0

We hope these hidden gems have given you a sense of the charms, history, and picturesque landscapes that await you on a unique tour of the lovely towns and villages of France. This is what we always aim to provide as we craft your unique self-drive tour of France.

 

France Just For You

Experts in self-drive tours in France

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