France is full of natural, cultural, artistic and gastronomic wonders, it’s not surprising that it consistently sits proudly at the top of the list of the world’s most visited countries. Given this, many of its popular cities and sites can become unbearingly crowded in peak season. Escape the masses with the help of our local experts as we venture to some lesser known corners of la Belle France.
Cathar Country – Carcassonne
One of the loveliest secret places in France can be found in the western nook of the Mediterranean above Spain and nestled on the fringe of the Pyrenee Mountains. This is the offbeat and beautiful Languedoc-Roussillon, a favorite French region of Marina Gratsos of Carpe Diem Luxury Travel.
“It’s next door to Provence but a world apart!” reveals Marina. “As you enter from the Provence side, there’s a massive sign saying ‘Bienvenue en Pays Cathare’ and you know right away that you are in an ancient world in a wild, rugged and monumental landscape heavy with the atmosphere of its violent Medieval past.”
A highlight of the area is the fabulous walled city of Carcassonne, which sets the tone of the era of the crusades. Scattered on the craggy hilltops of the area are the ruins of many other Cathar castles. Hiking up to these affords exceptional views, but be sure to wear a good pair of shoes. There are plentiful of other things to do and see in the area from wandering picturesque villages to wine tasting or biking along the Canal du Midi.
Where to Stay Near Carcassonne
Located a 15-minute drive from Carcassonne is this secluded villa, lovingly built from an old Corbières wine store and available through Carpe Diem Luxury Travel. Not only do you have 120 acres in a gorgeous valley all the yourself, the house is organized with open spaces and tucked away corners, perfect for enjoy time together or savour peace and quiet, all year round.
The living space in the main house runs the full length of the building, from the grandeur of the Salle des Fêtes and the intimacy of the bar, to the open plan, professional kitchen and the comfort of the fumoir cinema space. The kitchen has been designed for those who love to cook and should you wish, arrangements can easily be made for a chef.
There are six double bedrooms that comfortably accommodate up to 14 guests and a separate two-bedroom apartment. Outside, there are landscape gardens, a tennis court and pool.
The ground floor and garden wing have direct access to the gardens, pool area, courtyard and tennis court. The courtyard has an outside kitchen and an 18th-century fireplace. The garden wing is a less-formal sitting and acts as a games room or a luxurious, casual snug to get away from the crowd.
In summer take in the famous Carcassonne Festival or in autumn and winter you’ll be as warm as toast: the house has three roaring open fires and under-floor heating. There are many vibrant markets to visit nearby and abundant wine tasting opportunities. For outdoor pursuits, the area offers amazing hiking, biking and river boat activities or relax on beautiful beaches found a mere short drive away.
Experience the simple luxury of this breathtaking region with Carpe Diem Travel here.
Secret Provence – Saignon
Provence might be a highly visited part of France, nevertheless, it still has some hidden areas. Erica Berman of Haven in Paris takes us one of these: the splendid town of Saignon.
“Saignon a tiny hillside village perched above Apt in the heart of the Luberon/Vaucluse area of Provence. It’s the perfect spot for lunch and a hike. Make sure to check out Le Potager d’un Curieux for heirloom seeds and fresh vegetables (in season). For original artwork in a gorgeous setting, check out Chambre avec Vue, a Provencal home turned gallery and bed and breakfast curated lovingly by its artist and gallerist owners.
“For a tasty lunch or dinner on a charming terrace try La Maison de Solveig. Down the road is Apt which holds an enormous bi-weekly market full of food and produce, local products, clothes, fabrics, bedspreads, table cloths flowers, herbs, toiletries, perfume, and more. It has existed for hundreds of years (read more about it in our markets article here).
Where to Stay Near Saignon
A short ride from Saignon and Apt is Haven in Paris‘s gorgeous St Saturnin villa, an elegant and spacious vacation home located in the Luberon National Park. It’s a 45-minute drive from the larger cities of Avignon and about an hour to Aix-en-Provence.
Encircled by fields of lavender and fruit trees, this beautiful 450 m2 / 4844 square foot Provence vacation rental villa is set in a lovely enclosed courtyard, where a traditional basin and old fountain form an unusual and exquisite swimming pool.
Originally a 13th-century Templar site, the property was turned into a 18th-century convent and then was more recently converted into a stunning six-bedroom and five-bathroom holiday home. Decorated by its architect/designer owners, the furniture is a refined collection of French and English antiques. The living areas are spread over three floors; on the ground floor you will find a classic reception parlour, a formal dining room, a large and professionally equipped kitchen, and a casual and comfortable lounging room with a large sofa and a flat screen television.
The bedrooms occupy the top two floors, with a back studio and its private kitchen available for extra visitors. Each bedroom and bathroom is decorated in its own unique style, with charming canopies, luxurious sleigh beds, claw foot bathtubs and sinks set in wrought iron powder tables.
Due to its charm and ideal, discreet location, this is a magical vacation rental to take in the authentic pleasures of Provence including wine tasting, antique shopping, hiking, biking and dining.
Plan your peaceful Provencal holiday with Haven in Paris at this link.
Jewel of the Alps – Sainte Foy
Our experts at Ultimate Luxury Chalets know the Alps like the back of their hands and they’ve revealed their favorite lesser known town of Savoie: Sainte Foy, the ‘Jewel of the Crown’ of the French Alps.
“Sainte Foy is surrounded by the world famous resorts of Val d’Isère, Tignes, Les Arcs and Rosière. However, unlike these other resorts it benefits from being one of the least busy you will ever visit,” explains Hannah of Ultimate Luxury Chalets.
“The beautiful and authentic village remains remarkably unspoilt, having preserved its authentic charm and local architecture, despite offering excellent traditional restaurants and bars. A perfect location for everyone and if you love the idea of skiing off-piste in complete wilderness and tranquillity then even better.”
Where to Stay in Sainte Foy
Ultimate Luxury Chalets have just added the magnificent Chalet Pelerin to their portfolio. This spectacular chalet is set miles from the main road, located at the top of the historic farming village Le Miroir, high up in the Tarentaise Valley on the French/Italian border.
Guests benefit from being able to start the day from the private off-piste mountain refuge accompanied by your personal guide and have access to six world class ski resorts, which include Sainte Foy, Val d’Isère, La Thuile, La Rosière, Les Arcs and Tignes.
The chalet sleeps 8-14 guests making it ideal for a group of friends or for a family reunion. It offers fabulous amenities, which include a stunning indoor swimming pool, outdoor hot tub, Finnish sauna, steam room, spa (where an in-house massage can be arranged), media room and wine cellar.
Ultimate Luxury Chalets can create custom-designed unique alpine adventures from snowshoeing with the kids to a candlelight fondue dinner at the remote Chalet Alpage, and from heli-skiing 8,000 metre runs from the neighbouring Italian Alps to the front door of the Chalet or simply relax after a day of skiing at Sainte Foy by sipping a glass of wine in the outdoor hot tub and enjoy the spectacular sunset. To top it all off, the chalet is sold on a fully catered basis with an open bar and your own in-house professional chef to prepare you breakfast, dinner and snacks.
Have a spectacular holiday at this unique skiing destination by contacting Ultimate Luxury Chalets here.
Moret-sur-Loing – Outside Paris
You don’t have to go far from Paris to visit some of France’s cutest towns and villages, like Moret-sur-Loing. This walled medieval town is located at the edge of the vast Fontainebleau Forest, the woods of the French Kings, and sits on the banks of the Loing River, which empties into the Seine downstream.
The town has a rich and royal history. It was annexed to France by Philippe I in the 11th century and, due to its proximity to the Chateau de Fontainebleau, many other royals passed under the imposing medieval gate which protected the city. These fortifications and the stone bridge surrounding date back to the Middle Ages. Walking down its cobbled streets and past other historic buildings will help evoke these bygone eras.
The town is also famous for being the home of painter Alfred Sisley, one of the key figures in French Impressionism. It was at a time when artists sought to paint en plein air, in the countryside and from 1889 to 1899 Sisley lovingly painted the scenic landscape surrounding the town.
You can visit this and other picturesque villages on the banks of France’s waterways while cruising with Barge Lady Cruises.
St.-Jean-de-Côle – Dordogne
The region of Dordogne, situated northeast of Bordeaux wine country, brings together many of the treasures of France, enjoyed at the leisurely pace of country living. The verdant landscape of rolling hills and forests is dotted with castles, abbeys and fortresses in addition to some of the country’s most precious prehistoric caves. It’s also well known for its gastronomic delights like foie gras and truffles which go down splendidly with the strong red wines produced from the area’s grapevines.
One place to experience these many wonders is the medieval village of St.-Jean-de-Côle, classified as one of the most beautiful villages of France. Located on the river Côle, visitors to the town can admire its half timbered houses, the stoic 11th-century Romanesque St. Jean Baptiste church with its impressive bell tower, a medieval stone bridge which has withstood the test of time and the 15th-century Chateau de la Marthonie with its austere towers and dungeon. Be sure to save time for a hearty lunch while you’re there or collect some tasty treats for a picnic lunch.