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When planning a trip to France, it can be tempting to stick to those few, go-to cities topping everyone’s travel list. And while Paris and Nice hardly ever disappoint, there is much more to France than just its capital and southern coast.
Below is a list of five off-the-beaten-path French cities guaranteed to deliver a quintessential French experience. With adventure-packed activities, regional cuisine offerings, historic sights and, of course, wine, travelers will experience the best of France without the unbearable crowds and touristy vibes.
Chamonix-Mont-BlancClients looking for a taste of adventure will find more than a mouthful in this thrilling French resort town. During the winter, Chamonix (or Chamonix-Mont-Blanc) attracts skiers of all different levels, providing both manageable beginner runs and challenging, world-class routes. For an adrenaline-rush without the skis, clients can take the cable car up to the Aiguille du Midi — one of the tallest mountains in the Mont Blanc massif. The cable car holds the record as the highest vertical ascent cable car in the world, providing an altitude gain of more than 9,200 feet.
There are also many activities to enjoy in Chamonix during the summer, such as hiking, mountain biking and paragliding. Don’t miss the crystal-blue alpine lakes for a chance to see cascading waterfalls and panoramic views of the Mont Blanc massif.
OrleansThe town of Orleans may be small, but its sizable boulevards brim with a proud history and lasting legacy of the French heroine, Joan of Arc. Known as the peasant girl who helped pave the way for the French victory in the Hundred Years’ War, Joan of Arc is an important figure to the French people, and the many statues displayed in her hometown of Orleans support this fact.
In addition to the statues, there’s much to see in the city. Musee des Beaux-Arts houses thousands of works, with the second-largest collection of pastels after the Louvre. Visitors looking to relax for the day should head to Parc Floral de la Source, considered one of the top parks in France. Finish the trip with a visit to the Chateau La Ferte Saint-Aubin for a tour of the remarkable refurbished castle and vast, well-maintained grounds. The castle also features a working kitchen where visitors can watch cooks bake buttery, crisp madeleine cookies from scratch.
NantesContemporary modern art and traditional historic wonders harmoniously converge in this dreamily artistic French city. All one has to do is visit the Chateau des ducs de Bretagne, a magnificent castle built in the 13th century, and the Machines of the Isle of Nantes, known for its giant mechanical and rideable elephant, to understand the contrast.
For a comprehensive introduction, visitors can follow Le Voyage a Nantes — a 10-mile long green line painted on the ground that passes by all the must-see stops in the city. From museums and gardens to shops and food markets, there’s much to take in here, and with Nantes’ excellent transportation system and city planning, visitors will be impressed by the ease of this task.
Travelers looking to add a new destination to their French itineraries have quite a few options; the resort-town of Chamonix is a great place to start, where skiers of all levels can enjoy a day spent on the Alps. // © 2017 Creative Commons user paulyork
Hikers and cyclists flock to Chamonix during the summer months. // © 2017 Creative Commons user willj
At the Chateau La Ferte Saint-Aubin, the cooks dress in traditional clothing as they demonstrate the art of baking French madeleine cookies. // © 2017 Giselle Abcarian
With this towering statue, the people of Orleans celebrate Joan of Arc heading into battle atop a prancing steed. // © 2017 Creative Commons user izrailit
While on Le Voyage a Nantes, visitors will stop by the Chateau des ducs de Bretagne to appreciate the historic architecture and beauty of the castle. // © 2017 Creative Commons user dalbera
The tour of the city will continue with a visit to the Machines of the Isle of Nantes — an artistic contemporary exhibit featuring a gigantic, mechanical elephant. // © 2017 Creative Commons user dalbera
People enjoying evening drinks on La Rue Saint Michel before the mobs of university kids arrive. // © 2017 Creative Commons user boklm
A highly historic city, Rennes boasts the highest number of medieval timber-framed houses in the Brittany region. // © 2017 Creative Commons user hectorlo
Rows of vineyards surround the peaceful town of Vaux-en-Beaujolais. // © 2017 Giselle Abcarian
At The Clochemerle Cave, visitors can taste wines while munching on charcuterie and cheese. // © 2017 Creative Commons user weekendwayfarers
RennesWhile known as the birthplace of the iconic French crepe, the Brittany region and its dynamic capital of Rennes offer much more than just this delectable snack. Sitting at a crossroads between England and a few other major French cities, Rennes has been an important town since Roman times and still maintains a key role in administration and communication for the region.
With its notable universities attracting students from all over the world, Rennes has also become a cultural hub with a booming nightlife. A Thursday night on La Rue Saint Michel —known as “la rue de la soif” (the street of thirst) to the locals — is a sight to behold. The street is lined exclusively with bars, making it the most popular block in the area after midnight.
Vaux-en-BeaujolaisWine lovers most likely know the Beaujolais region for its red wines, from the premium variety to the barely fermented Beaujolais Nouveau — yet, the province is often left out of traveler itineraries.
Located just a short ride away from the popular city of Lyon, Vaux-en-Beaujolais is a majestic, old town surrounded by rows of some of the country’s most beautiful vineyards. Its charm inspired French writer Gabriel Chevallier, whose famous 1934 novel, Clochemerle, revolved around a fictional town based on Vaux-en-Beaujolais. While visiting, clients should take a trip up to “The Clochemerle Cave,” where they can taste and buy some of the best wines in the region while enjoying stunning views of the vineyards and Alps mountain range.