We asked three of our correspondents in France for their favorite summer-vacation destinations that are off the typical international tourist trail. Their picks offer a varied cross-section of the country from tucked away calanques on the Côte d’Azur to a forested mountain trail to a cliff-top medieval castle.

Read on for under-the-radar spots in France you probably haven't heard of before, and get planning a side trip on your next European vacation.

Calanque De Port D'Alon, bay with clear water near Cassis and Bandol in France
Enjoy the crystal clear waters of uncrowded Calanque De Port D'Alon near Bandol © Gugu Mannschatz / Shutterstock

1. Bandol, Côte d’Azur

Daphné Leprince-Ringuet is a travel and tech writer from Paris.

Why Bandol?

Tucked between Marseille and Toulon, away from the crowds of Cassis and La Ciotat, the charming port town of Bandol is nestled among the Côte d’Azur’s rocky inlets, or calanques.

A stunning train ride along the coast from Marseille takes you to this region of hidden gems, accessible from a cliffside coastal footpath packed with outstanding photo opportunities.

Must-do activities

The dreamy Calanque de Port d’Alon will draw you in for a refreshing swim. A 15-minute drive will take you on to Le Castellet, a picturesque medieval town perched in the heights of the Var department. Sit down at Le Pied de Nez restaurant for a taste of local specialties with an exceptional view of the village’s surroundings. 

You cannot leave Bandol without learning more about its most famous product: wine – and local wine bar Le 8.27 offers a wide selection of local cuvées. Be advised you are unlikely to leave without having purchased one (or several) bottles from one of the many neighboring wine merchants.

Bandol tips

The typically Provençal town of Bandol makes for a great stay. If you have access to a car, however, it is worth considering more remote accommodation options nearer to the calanques.

Aerial view of the Fleckenstein castle in the middle of the forest, Alsace France
Discover sites like the medieval Château de Fleckenstein during a hike in northern Alsace © Shutterstock / U. Eisenlohr

2. Parc Naturel Régional des Vosges du Nord, northern Alsace

Jean-Bernard Carrilet is a writer, photographer and videographer from Metz, Lorraine.

Why northern Alsace? 

Alsace is far more than Strasbourg and the well-known Route des Vins (Wine Road). If you’re keen to discover under-the-radar spots in the eastern French region, I recommend northern Alsace, especially the Parc Naturel Régional des Vosges du Nord, an hour northwest of Strasbourg. 

This gentle, unhurried region boasts rolling hills, picturesque lakes, dense forests, meandering rivers, charming villages and hilltop castles.

Must-do activities

The stunning landscape of Northern Alsace sets the stage for such outdoor activities as hiking and cycling; Parc Naturel Régional des Vosges du Nord is crisscrossed by a seemingly endless network of trails winding through wild forests. For the most stunning views, head to Château de Fleckenstein, a red-sandstone medieval pile that teeters at the top of a rocky spur near the German border. 

Art enthusiasts shouldn’t miss the impressive Musée Lalique in Wingen-sur-Moder. This state-of-the-art museum showcases a stunning collection of jewelry, perfume bottles and sculptures adorned with exquisite gems and enamel, all crafted by renowned French art-nouveau designer René Lalique.

Northern Alsace tips

When I need to relax and recharge, I always make a stop at Zuem Buerestuebel in the mineral spa resort of Niederbronn-les-Bains. It's a traditional winstub (bistro) that serves delicious Alsatian specialties like tarte à l'oignon (onion tart) and grumbeerekiechle (potato pancakes). For accommodation, my top choice in the area is Ferme-Auberge du Moulin des 7 Fontaines, a charming 18th-century farmhouse in a picturesque countryside setting.

View of  Jules Sandeau Quay and boats moored in the port of Le Pouliguen Channel in La Baule, the seaside resort in Southern Britany. Loire-Atlantic
La Baule offer charming harbors, miles of sand, boutiques, restaurants and sunsets over the bay © Sasha64f / Shutterstock 

3. La Baule and the Côte d’Amour

Sixtine Lerouge is a journalist from Paris with a love of train travel.

Why La Baule?

As far back as I can remember, I spent summer holidays under the shade of the pines of La Baule les Pins. Nestled just a few miles north of the Loire’s estuary, this charming seaside destination on the Atlantic Coast in France’s northeast is renowned for its 9km (5.5-mile) beach, and the rugged and craggy Côte Sauvage (wild coast) to the west of the bay. Here, hidden among wild grass and cliffs, you’ll discover secluded creeks perfect for unwinding with a novel. 

Must-do activities

Two pleasures I can never resist are spending the morning exploring the market to purchase fresh oysters, and the early evening watching the sun set over the bay.

In this area, you’ll also find numerous hotels, gourmet restaurants and bars. For accommodation, I'd recommend the Hotel Saint-Christophe, near the Place du Marché, and a few meters from the shore. It's a stone villa typical of the area, really charming, with climbing vines around the windows.

In the evening, a great choice for food is the Crêperie du Derwin, which offers delicious seafood and crêpes. For a drink, I suggest hopping on a bicycle and pedaling eastward toward Pornichet’s marina. There, you’ll find La P’tite Case, a local gem renowned for its excellent cocktails.

La Bule tips

La Bule is the gateway to Brière Regional Nature Park, France's second-largest wetlands and where you can enjoy nature walks and wildlife-spotting.

This article was first published Jun 20, 2023 and updated May 29, 2024.

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