Lille – 1 hour from Gare du Nord
Located within easy reach of Paris, London and Brussels, Lille is France’s fourth city and the capital of the northern Hauts-de-France region. The city has a history dating back over 4,000 years and an incredible architectural heritage to match — the Gothic Église Saint-Maurice, the Renaissance Vielle Bourse, and the art deco belfry of the city hall are just a few shining examples. There are plenty of great restaurants celebrating the hearty northern cuisine as well as a fair share of lively bars, many of which can be found in the Moulins district to the south.
Luxembourg – 2h13m from Gare de l’Est
Yes, shrewd readers, Luxembourg is not a French town or city at all. It is, of course, its own tiny country with its own national language. Luxembourg City is one of the three capitals of the European Union and home to the European Court of Justice and the iconic Golden Lady statue. There are astounding contemporary art galleries to be found in towns across the country and the free e-Lake music festival is held on the second weekend in August on the banks of Lake Echternach, which lies on the border of Germany.
Strasbourg – 1h47m from Gare de l’Est
Smack bang on the Franco-German border, Strasbourg has been shaken and shaped by the alternatingly turbulent and cooperative relationship of these two nations. As a result, there is no shortage of things to see and do in the city, not least its historic center on the Grande Île, a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1988. During the day, you can fill your belly at trendy brunch spots and walk off the calories in some of the beautiful parks. Fine dining options exist across the city as do sleek bars in which to finish off the day with a nightcap. There is also a summer festival with music and artistic performances taking place across the weekend of Assumption Day.
Lyon – 1h58m from Gare de Lyon
With two large hills to its north and west and the confluence of the Rhône and the Saône around its historic central island, Lyon is a city with a truly unique topography. Like Paris, the city is divided into arrondissements and has many neighbourhoods with a distinct character such as Cité Internationale and Les Brotteaux. You won’t struggle to find any of the customary 3Bs (breakfast, brunch, and bars) in Lyon and, as the gastronomic capital of the world, haute cuisine isn’t hard to come by either.
Nîmes – 2h50m from Gare de Lyon
France’s very own Rome, Nîmes hosts several important and remarkably well-preserved remains from the time of the Roman Empire including its amphitheatre, the Arena of Nîmes, its temple, the Maison Carrée, and its aqueduct, the Pont du Gard. There are a number of luxury hotels to call home for the weekend while you explore the city’s history and soak up the southern sun. In mid-August, the city celebrates the Magic of Water festival in the Jardins de la Fontaine with events throughout the day and night including fountains of light, fireworks, and music.
Marseille – 3h17m from Gare de Lyon
Marseille, located on the Mediterranean coast, is France’s second-largest city and is famous for, amongst other things, its bouillabaisse, pastis and Old Port. As you’d expect, it has a healthy supply of bars, restaurants, museums and local galleries. Its cultural life has been stimulated by its designation as the European Capital of Culture in 2013 and the European Capital of Sport for 2017. The open-air, electro POSITIV Festival takes place at the Docks des Suds.
Bordeaux – 3h17m from Gare Montparnasse
Bordeaux is the wine capital of the world — with a local viticulture economy worth 14.5 billion euros annually and second only to Paris in terms of the number of preserved buildings for a French city, many of which are located within its Old Town and the fashionable Chartrons district. There is no end to the number of great places to eat, drink, and take in the local culture. You can celebrate Assumption Day in Bordeaux with KIZ’ESTIVALE, a two-day dance party, or with the locals of the nearby beach town of Arcachon who hold their simultaneous Fêtes de la Mer.
Nantes – 2h16m from Gare Montparnasse
Once named “the most liveable city in Europe”, Nantes is the largest city in Brittany and located just 50 kilometers from the Atlantic coast. The Breton cuisine is best sampled for brunch and dinner in and around the city center and any meal can be washed down with a locally brewed beer or cocktail in one of its many bars. Various religious celebrations take place to mark Assumption Day and the locals are treated to free parking by the town hall.
Saint-Malo – 3h03m from Gare Montparnasse
Saint-Malo is a picturesque walled city on the English Channel in north-western France. In its past, it had a reputation for harbouring pirates and privateers but today is better known as a popular destination for French holidaymakers, many of whom are ardent foodies. The music festival La Route du Rock is being held in Saint-Malo over the bank holiday weekend as is the Branlebas Regatta. Buses also run year-round to the unmissable Mont Saint-Michel further along the Breton coast.
Le Puy-en-Velay – 4h40m from Gare de Lyon
Le Puy-en-Velay is a bit further afield but this stunning town in south-central France is included on this list because of the international significance of its Assumption Day celebrations. The annual processions through the streets of the city draws 10,000-strong crowds from around the world. 2016 marks the Jubilee of Notre Dame du Puy, an event that won’t occur again until 2157.