France is a vast, beautiful and diverse country with thousands of places to discover and visit. Whether you’re into high mountains with glaciers, calm seas, rolling barrels, rivers with gorges or lakes, huge forests, salt marshes, volcanoes – or almost any other geographic feature – you will find it in “the Hexagon”, as the natives call it!
Of course, its beauty and diversity make France one of the most visited countries in the world. There are a whole host of popular places which attract many tourists year-round. However, there are also a lot of lesser-known little nuggets of open-air joy for you to discover. We have put together 10 hidden gems in France, for those who want to avoid the crowds:
1 – Labeaume in Ardèche
This charming town, located in the Gorges de la Baume, has a serene atmosphere and its very own character. On the banks of the river Baume, alongside limestone cliffs that once housed troglodytic caves, you will find a church and old houses lining narrow streets. This village is perfect for walking, so lose yourself in its narrow streets, which will guide you to the top of the village. Enjoy the exceptional view from the top. If it’s hot, don’t forget your swimwear so you can take advantage of the river to cool off! This is the perfect place to wild swim and feel your batteries recharging.
2 – Cap Blanc-Nez and Gris-Nez on the Opal Coast
Cap Blanc-Nez and Cap Gris-Nez together form one of the 13 national tourism spots with the “Grand Site de France” label.
At Cap Blanc-Nez, admire chalk cliffs which fall into the sea, taking a hike along the high part of the cliffs. There is a 6.5km route called the Cap Blanc-Nez loop.
As for Cap Gris-Nez, the closest point on the French coast to England, it is distinguished by its sandstone and clay cliffs. Its lighthouse is listed as a Historic Monument. There are many waymarked trails to walk, such as the ‘Cap Gris-Nez 3km loop’, the GR120 long distance hiking trail or the ‘Customs path’. Read our article on the Côte d’Opale for more.
3 – Cap d’Erquy and Cap Fréhel in Brittany
Get a change of scenery when you visit the Capes of Erquy and Fréhel. Discover a mixture of pink sandstone cliffs, wild moors, beaches and pine woods, all with the backdrop of an emerald sea and dotted with characterful villages.
In the spring, the pink of the cliffs is mixed with the bright yellow of gorse flowers, while in the summer, you’ll see the purple of heather. Numerous plant species live here and the Cap d’Erquy is a haven for seabirds. Meanwhile, the view from Cap Fréhel is probably one of the most beautiful in Brittany.
You can hike the GR34 between the two Capes and enjoy the beautiful scenery, beaches and coves. Cool off with a swim in the clear waters. After, don’t forget to taste the Erquy scallops.
4 – Vulvoz waterfall in the Jura
In the Jura, about 13km south of Saint Claude, the 22-metre Vulvoz waterfall is a real wonder. It has numerous levels, plateaus of emerald green water. Superb photos guaranteed! Access to the waterfall is quite easy, you only need to do about a 5-minute walk. But do make sure you wear the right shoes, as the path is steep.
5 – Grotte Saint-Marcel in Ardèche
With 60 km of galleries, Grotte Saint-Marcel, discovered in 1836, is one of the largest caves in France. Although not unknown, it is less frequented than some caves, which makes it one of the best hidden gems of France. Unique in Europe, you can discover a 400 m long circuit which follows an ancient underground river, large rooms and galleries and a waterfall of about 100 calcite basins. Light shows and music make nature’s show even more dramatic. The Saint Marcel cellar nearby also offers wine-making tours.
6 – The Soubeyrane cliffs in the Bouches-du-Rhône
Love hiking challenges and magnificent views? This trail is for you! It runs along the highest sea cliff in France, almost 400 metres above sea level, between La Ciotat and Cassis. You’ll come across lots of viewpoints to admire the landscape over Cassis or the bay of La Ciotat. At the end of the afternoon or at sunset, you’ll enjoy a panoramic view, with magnificent colours. (Note that this walk is probably not suitable for anyone with a fear of heights or small children.)
7 – Néouvielle National Nature Reserve in the Hautes-Pyrénées
Rising from 1,800 to 3,091 metres, the Néouvielle reserve is a “mountain in the heart of the Pyrenees”, an imposing granite barrier between the valley and the 2,313-hectare national nature reserve in the Néouvielle massif. What makes it special? Its very diverse fauna and flora: around 370 animal species and 570 types of algae.
This reserve is only 15-20 km from Aragnouet, the last town before the Spanish border, and was classified as a national nature reserve in 1968. Meadows, crystal clear waters, pine forests and glaciers – you will be amazed by the splendid landscapes and panoramas. We recommend visiting between June and September to enjoy it at its best, and to plan to discover it on foot or by e-bike (available for hire on site). Canoes or kayaks are also available to rent on site. Get more information at the Pyrenees National Park information point at the Orédon car park.
8 – Commarque Castle in the Dordogne
The Dordogne is well known for its magnificent châteaux and its sublime nature, and many tourists come to visit them every year. A little less popular and frequented than others, Commarque Castle is one of the hidden gems of France well worth a visit. It is a hillside castle located between Sarlat and Les Eyzies.
Built in the 12th and 14th centuries, the fortress of Commarque is probably the most intricate medieval complex in the Périgord. We guarantee that your visit will be unique, as activities and shows complement the natural and built interest: an escape game, a display of knights’ skills, a guided tour and a hot air balloon flight from the foot of the Castrum.
Discover more castles in our article on the castles of the Dordogne and Loire Valley.
9 – Lake Lauvitel in Isère
Located in the commune of Le Bourg-d’Oisans, this is the largest lake in the Écrins massif. A great way to enjoy it is to hike for about an hour and a half up the wooded hill, from La Danchère to La Lauvitel. There are a few nice viewpoints along the way to catch your breath. But the view from the top is really magnificent: you will be amazed by the beauty of the blue water and the surrounding mountains, but also the waterfall in the middle that feeds the lake with fresh glacial water. After your hike, you’ll have earned a refreshing dip and a picnic.
10 – The village of Salers in Cantal
The village of Salers, classified among the most beautiful villages of France, is a medieval village, located above the Maronne valley, in the regional natural park of the volcanoes of Auvergne. The Belfry Gate and the Martille Gate are the only remains of the medieval ramparts that once protected the village.
You will fall under the spell of this unique village, which takes you back in time as you stroll through its streets. Don’t miss the church of Saint-Mathieu, with its Romanesque porch, tombs, chandeliers and Aubusson tapestries.
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