I have been in France for five years now and have done countless weekend and longer trips throughout l’Hexagone (the Hexagon, as France is often described). And every time I visit somewhere new, I end up adding more weekend getaways in France to my list instead of crossing them off! There is still so much to explore. And yet, there are several corners of the country that keep drawing me back—physically and in my dreams! Here are my top weekend trip picks for the summer and fall seasons.
1. The Luberon, Provence
Earthy stone buildings with bright-colored shutters, hills of purple and sage, flavorful Mediterranean cuisine, deep red wines and refreshing whites and rosés. Visit in the fall for lingering warm days and the grape harvest, or save the trip for early May to witness endless fields of red poppies. There are countless villages to explore: Gordes, Roussillon, Saint-Saturnin-lès-Apt and Fontaine de Vaucluse in the neighboring Vaucluse. But whichever direction you choose to drive in, it is hard to go wrong.
2. The Morbihan, Brittany
The region surrounding the Gulf of Morbihan is known to many French, but it’s not as well traveled by foreigners. Wander some of the thousands of kilometers of coastal and inland paths, discover the islands of the gulf and visit prehistoric sites. At the top of my list are Saint-Cado, Le Vieux Passage, Carnac (Saint-Colomban), Larmor-Baden and, farther east, La Roche Bernard. Summer brings a better chance for good weather, but fall marks the return of oysters—the freshest and plumpest around!
3. The Dordogne and Lot
Look in any direction across the green rolling hills and you are bound to see a castle, if not several. The Dordogne has the highest concentration of “prettiest villages in France”: Monpazier, Domme, Castelnaud la Chapelle, La Roque Gageac, Beynac et Cazenac, Rocamadour (Lot) and Saint-Cirq-Lapopie (Lot), to name a few. Hike in the valleys, canoe or kayak along the Dordogne or Lot Rivers, and be prepared to replenish with hearty southwestern cuisine. The Dordogne is surprisingly not overrun with tourists in August, but of course the fall brings even more respite from the masses.
Corsica may be the closest the world comes to a perfect destination. The meeting of French and Italian cuisine, hidden pristine beaches and the fortress towns of Calvi, Bastia or Bonifacio offer easy weekend destinations for those seeking a sunny and restful getaway. For the most active and adventurous of travelers, the GR20 and numerous other trails offer ambitious hiking with varied and spectacular views. Hiking at higher altitudes is best in the summer months, but warm days at sea level continue well into the fall.
5. The Marais Poitevin
The Marais Poitevin, or Green Venice, is my newest discovery of the list but one I am certain to return to soon. Embark from Coulon or La Garette, then wind your way through the network of canals with a guide or on your own to explore this low-lying “swamp,” whose location has miraculously remained a secret to mosquitoes. The architecture and climate here are reminiscent of those of Provence, yet this region is only a four-and-a-half-hour drive from Paris. Combine this trip with a visit to nearby La Rochelle, Ile de Ré or the smaller town of Vouvant in the Vendée. You are unlikely to run into many non-French tourists, but as the Marais Poitevin has few access points, it is best to avoid or prepare for crowds in July or August.
Abby Gordon is the author of the Paris Weekender blog, a resource for maximizing your Paris weekends—by staying put or getting out of town. Paris Weekender offers suggestions for restaurants and bars in Paris, as well as things to do whether you are a tourist, an expat or a lifelong Parisien. The site also includes ideas for day trips and full itineraries for a (growing) number of weekend trips from Paris. Abby also maintains a guide to the region of Boothbay Harbor, Maine, and a website where you can view and purchase her photos.
Marais Poitevin (French only)