France retains its title as the most visited country in the world, with 82.6 million visitors in 2016. It is home to the city of love, mouth-watering food and some of the most stunning landscapes Europe has to offer. With all these factors, however, come the classic tourist traps. Here’s how to escape them and ensure you have a memorable, unique trip.
Visit local vineyards
One of the reasons why you might decide to go to France is to visit vineyards and indulge in wine-tasting. Synonymous with wine, France offers almost too much choice as to where to use as your base. From Alsace to Bordeaux, Languedoc to the Loire Valley, you’ll be able to book onto winery tours and tastings. It is always better to try and visit local or smaller vineyards rather than get seduced by the big names. Prices will be a lot more reasonable and you often get more of an authentic experience, too.
View landmarks from a distance
It’s really not necessary to get as close as possible to the big landmarks in France. Especially in the big cities, Paris, of course, and Bordeaux, Nice, Marseille and others. Most of the big buildings, structures and historical sights are even better viewed from a distance, away from the crowds accompanied by a killer view.
Swap Chambord for Chantilly
Château de Chambord in the Loire Valley is one of the most iconic castles and is therefore one of the most popular and crowded. In high season especially, there can be so many visitors that the seemingly serene setting is overrun with tourists. If it is an impressive castle you’re after, why not visit Château de Chantilly, 50km north of Paris. The Loire Valley is the place to visit if you’re hoping to see multiple chateaux, but by choosing one outside this region of France, again, you’ll avoid the crowds while still enjoy the experience.
Château de Chantilly, 60500 Chantilly, France, +33 3 44 27 31 80
Eat out at lunch
If you want to eat out while on holiday, we’re certainly not going to try and put you off! But eating out at lunch in France is where the real buzz is, any day of the week. In France, the meal in the middle of the day is taken seriously and so it won’t just be holiday-makers filling up the tables. At lunchtime, you’ll have the biggest varieties of formule du midi (set lunch menu) and the plat du jour is always a great choice, too. Eating out at lunch is particularly popular in the colder months when it’s not as appealing to have a long sun-drenched streetside dinners later on in the day.
Head south for snow
If it’s snow you’re after, then opting for the Pyrénées over the Alps might just feel like a trap well-avoided. The Pyrénées mountain range is still relatively unknown for skiing, snow sports and general snow frolicking compared to the Alps. Read on here to find out just why your next ski holiday should be in the Pyrénées.
Select your seasons carefully
This goes for all countries really, but there is a lot of value in considering the season to visit France. The seasons that undoubtedly tick the most boxes for a French trip are spring and autumn. Especially in the southern regions, these two seasons have weather that is perfect for exploring, but without being among crowds of tourists. September is the time for wine with wine harvest festivals across France, while planning a trip around 8 May for France’s Fête de la Victoire 1945 VE Day, where celebration, remembrance and parades will be at the forefront. August is the month where many French people take their own summer holidays, so a lot of shops and cafés could close during this time.
Escape the main streets
France is certainly not the cheapest country to visit, but there is a very simple way to help yourself out – stay away from the main streets when you’re looking for restaurants, cafés and bars. You want to be where the locals are for the best prices and best examples of regional cuisine. You’ll also gain the best feeling of the town or city by walking the local streets, and popping into the unique shops hidden away from the usual tourist trails.
Know the opening hours
Get the French working week down before you arrive. Even in big cities, you could easily be caught out by supposing you could buy milk on a Sunday afternoon or you only think about buying bread for your lunch at lunch time! So, let’s start with general opening hours. For smaller shops (not department stores), you can expect these to close between 12pm and 2pm. Sunday trading varies, but a general rule of thumb is that small food shops will be open for a few hours in the morning around 9am to 12pm. Also, expect many restaurants to be closed on Mondays.