There is no humbler pleasure than exploring villages of gold stone, pink granite or whitewash. Cobbled lanes ensnare ornate fountains, flowery squares and houses strung with wisteria, vines or drying peppers.
Pérouges Day trip it from Lyon for cider and galettes de Pérouges (thin, sugar-crusted tarts) between yellow-gold medieval stone.
St-Émilion A Unesco-listed medieval village perched dramatically amid Bordeaux vines.
St-Jean Pied de Port Ancient pilgrim outpost en route to Santiago de Compostela in Spain.
Yvoire On Lake Geneva's southern shore, this flowery, fortified Savoyard village is a privileged address.
The Luberon A part of Provence lavishly strewn with hilltop villages; Bonnieux, Gordes and red-rock Roussillon are pure brilliance.
Èze Fuses a stunning hilltop village with sweeping Riviera panoramas.
The Dordogne Extraordinary bastides (fortified hilltop towns) at every turn.
Cordes-sur-Ciel The beautiful village to be in the Toulouse area.
Locronan Breton stunner, best savoured off-season when you can have it all to yourself.
Be it tasting in cellars, watching grape harvests or sleeping au château, French wine culture demands immediate road-testing.
Bordeaux The Médoc, St-Émilion and Cognac set connoisseurs’ hearts aflutter.
Burgundy Sample renowned vintages in Beaune, the Côte d’Or and Chablis.
Châteauneuf-du-Pape Vines planted by 14th-century popes yield southern France’s most illustrious red.
Gigondas Taste raved-about reds in this gold-stone village in Provence.
Bandol & Cassis Wine tasting in these two Riviera villages is as much about the majestic Med setting as the wonderful wine.
Route des Vins d'Alsace Pair wine tasting with castle-topped villages in this storybook region, rich in rieslings, pinots and sylvaners.
Beaujolais Gentle cycling and wine tasting through bucolic vine-ribboned hills near Lyon.
Arbois Discover the potent, liquid gold of the Jura's memorable vin jaune; if red is more your cup of tea, search out the region's less-known Poulsard reds.
The Loire Valley is the prime stop for French châteaux, dripping in period gold leaf. But venture elsewhere and you’ll be surprised by what hides behind lumbering stone walls.
Versailles France's largest and grandest château, a stone’s throw from Paris.
Chambord Renaissance castle of preposterous proportion where no one ever lived.
Azay-le-Rideau Classic French château with moat, turrets and sweeping staircase.
Villandry The formal French gardens framing this Renaissance Loire Valley château are glorious.
Cathar fortresses Now ruined, these dramatic, heat-sizzled hilltop castles in Languedoc evoke 13th-century persecution.
Château de Foix A château in Vallée de l'Ariège with amazing views of the Pyrenees.
Château Gaillard Magnificent, ruined bastion built in Normandy by Richard the Lionheart; to-die-for River Seine views.
From white cliff to red rock, pebble cove to golden sand strip, France’s coastline is dramatically different. Explore on a windswept sentier du littoral (coastal trail), scented with sea salt and herbal scrub.
St-Tropez This sentier du littoral leads from fishing coves to celebrity-laced sands.
Bandol Stride the coast between inland vines and waterfront rock formations.
Sentier Nietzsche Spectacular, steep rocky footpath in Éze near Nice where the German philosopher once hung out.
Corsica Hike from Bonifacio to a lighthouse, or past Genoese watchtowers along Cap Corse’s Customs Officers’ Trail.
Côte d'Opale Savour opal blues from windswept clifftops near Cap Blanc-Nez and Cap Griz Nez.
Atlantic island capers Fall in love with Brittany’s Belle Île or Île d’Ouessant; hobnob with Parisians on chic Île de Ré.
Île de Porquerolles Mediterranean island beauty strung with sea-facing cycling and hiking trails.
Sentier du Littoral One of the Basque Country's best-kept secrets linking Bidart and Hendaye.
Art nouveau hangar or tree-shaded village square… French markets spill across an enticing mix of spaces. Every town and village has one – they operate in the mornings, at least once a week. Bring your own bag.
Les Halles This market and Croix Rousse are Lyon’s two celebrated market divas, endowed with stalls heaving with fruit, veg, meat and runny St-Marcellin cheese.
Place des Lices No town square is as celebrity-studded as St-Tropez.
Marché des Capucins Enjoy oysters and white wine at Bordeaux's historic covered market.
Marché Couvert Once a bishop’s palace, now a temple to local produce in Metz.
Uzès Languedoc’s most splendid farmers market.
Carpentras This Friday-morning marché steals the Provençal market show; nearby Apt is the Saturday-morning star.
Marché Victor Hugo Lunch with locals on the 1st floor of Toulouse’s covered food market.
St-Girons Riverside extravaganza of food, crafts, antiques and delectable Pyrenean produce.
Amboise Lovely Loire Valley outdoor market.
Islands & Beaches
The country’s 3427km-long coastline morphs from white chalk cliffs (Normandy) to treacherous promontories (Brittany) to broad expanses of fine sand (Atlantic coast) and pebbly or sandy beaches (Mediterranean coast).
Îles d’Hyères France’s only marine national park and a pedestrian paradise fringed with near-tropical beaches.
Plage de Pampelonne Stars love this hip beach in St-Tropez, darling, and for good reason – it’s glam and golden.
Île de Ré Follow the flock from Paris to this chic, beach-laced island off France's west coast.
Belle Île Its name means ‘Beautiful Island’ and that is just what this island off the coast of Brittany is.
Plage de Palombaggia Near Porto-Vecchio, this is a Corsican beauty to die for, along with nearby Plage de Santa Giulia.
Les Landes Surfers' secret backed by dunes on the Atlantic Coast.
Côte d’Opale Rousing, wind-buffeted beaches across from the white cliffs of Dover.
Gorges de l’Ardèche River beaches are all the rage and those around Pont d'Arc are great fun; arrive by kayak.
Incredible Train Journeys
There is nothing quite like watching mountains, valleys, gorges and rivers jog past kaleidoscope-style from the window of an old-fashioned steam train or mountain railway.
Train du Montenvers Ride this historic rack-and-pinion train from Chamonix to Montenvers, then catch a cable car to the Mer de Glace, France’s biggest glacier.
Tramway du Mont Blanc Travel in the shade of Europe’s biggest mountain aboard France’s highest train from St-Gervais-Le-Fayet.
Le Train Jaune Mind-blowing Pyrenean scenery aboard a mountain train in Roussillon.
Train des Pignes Narrow-gauge railway from Nice.
Chemin de Fer Touristique du Haut-Quercy Savour the sun-baked vineyards, oak forests and rivers of the Lot in southwest France aboard a vintage steam train.
La Vapeur du Trieux Journey riverside on this steam train from a Breton harbour to an artists’ village.
Le Petit Train de la Rhune Chug past miniature Pottok ponies to the summit of the most famous Basque mountain.
Chemin de Fer de la Corse Cross from coast to coast, via Corsica’s mountainous interior, on this awesome single-track railway.
Solitude is sweet and there's ample opportunity to stray off the beaten track sans the crowds.
Marais Poitevin Paddle by boat through this tranquil, bird-filled wetland dubbed 'Green Venice'.
Vallée d’Aspe The 21st century has yet to reach this quiet valley, sprinkled with tiny hamlets and rural farms, in the Pyrenees.
Essoyes Watch vine-streaked landscapes of Champagne fade into watercolour distance in this riverside village, Renoir's summer home.
Le Crotoy The mood is laid-back and the panorama superb in this picturesque fishing town on the northern bank of the Baie de Somme.
Forêt de Paimpont Recharge your batteries in this Breton forest, far from the coastal crowds.
Ota Picturesque Corsican village amid chestnut groves in the rolling hills above Porto.
À la Crécia Experience life on a farm at a rural retreat in Parc Naturel Régional du Vercors in the French Alps.
Domaine de la Palissade Trek on horseback through this remote, coastal nature park in the Camargue, kissed pink by salt pans and flamingos.
Massif des Maures Chestnut forest, right next door to – but a million miles away from – the French Riviera glitz.
On sunny days, views from atop France's highest mountains are breathtaking. Cable cars and mountain railways often take out the legwork.
Aiguille du Midi, Chamonix If you can handle the height (3842m), unforgettable summit views of the French, Swiss and Italian Alps await.
Pic Blanc, Alpe d'Huez Scale the 3330m peak year-round by cable car – magical views ripple across the French Alps into Italy and Switzerland.
Massif de l’Estérel, French Riviera Stupendous views of red rock, green forest and big blue – only on foot!
Ballon d'Alsace See where Alsace, Franche-Comté and Lorraine converge from this rounded, 1247m-high mountain.
Puy de Dôme, Auvergne Gulp at extinct volcanoes, pea-green and grassy, from this wind-swept summit reached by foot or cog railway.
Cirque de Gavarnie Near Lourdes, a mind-blowing mountain amphitheatre ringed by icy Pyrenean peaks.
Pic du Midi Eye-popping panorama of the entire Pyrenees; catch a cable car from La Mongie.