France: 10 secret places for your next holidays

In 2023, France was once again the most visited country in the world. Its History, its rich and diverse Culture, its internationally renown Gastronomy, its fascinating architectural heritage, its changing and breathtaking scenery, its unique - often copied but never quite matched- art de vivre, its ability to modernise while remaining faithful to its traditions, its countless activities, the so-called Hexagon still attracts millions of visitors all seasons of the year. 

But crowded sites are precisely what you want to avoid… Dieu merci! The French territory is vast and secret locations, remote areas, peaceful and little known towns abound, allowing you to enjoy a quiet holiday, far from the madding -or simply loud- crowd! 

  1. Between land and sea in Finistère 
  2. Endless beaches with a view on the English coast 
  3. Secret swimming in Corsica
  4. Down the stream in Charente 
  5. Hedonist pleasures in Dordogne 
  6. Dancing with wolves in Lozère
  7. Another Pays Basque
  8. Mediterranean getaway on l’Île Verte
  9. A breath of fresh air in the Jura 
  10. Lavender infusions in the Alpes-de-Haute-Provence 

1. Brittany: The end of all worlds on a little island in Finistère

Gaze at the horizon and contemplate the beauty of the World. You are on the isle of Molène, between sea and land, about 1 km long and 72 hectares of surface area located 15 km off the Finistère coast. The perfect illustration of the saying “good things come in small packages". 

Relax on one of the white sand beaches. Count the rocks appearing and disappearing in the waves or could they be grey seals? If you’re lucky you can even catch a glimpse of some dolphins frolicking in the distance. 

Combine Nature and Culture by heading for a 4km (GR34) trek at the heart of the first French natural marine park and discover the many historic sites of this remote corner of Brittany. After a busy day, enjoy a seafood platter while admiring the sunset over the Iroise Sea… who could ask for anything more?

2. Hauts-de-France: Endless beaches with a view on the English coast

Dreaming of peaceful settings and beautiful scenery as far as the eye can see but without being completely cut off from human life? Deux Caps (in the Pas-de-Calais department) will meet all your expectations. This protected natural area located on the enchantress Opal coast, unfolds on over 7,500 hectares between Boulogne-sur-Mer and Calais and along a 23 km coastline. Enough space for everyone to find their perfect secret spot!

Facing the sea, only a few miles from Great Britain, between the cliffs of Caps Blanc-Nez and Gris-Nez, endless immaculate beaches spread out along the Channel, protected by sand dunes. Trekking on the coast, kite surfing, sand yachting, paddling… sports activities are numerous. Each of the 8 neighbouring towns has its own identity: Belle Époque seaside villas in Wimereux, rich plant biodiversity in Ambleteuse, marine fauna in Audresselles… The perfect holiday is at your fingertips! 

To find out more: https://www.visitpasdecalais.com/

3. A hidden paradise beach in south Corsica

What if a small piece of the Indian Ocean had wandered off and landed on the commonly known Isle of Beauty? The Roccapina Beach in south Corsica offers a breathtaking setting to those who venture off the most common paths. 

Contrary to many remote bays, reaching this little gem requires little physical effort. Nestled between the picturesque Bonifacio and Sartene - Prosper Mérimée’s fav’- it is easily accessible by car. 

144 meters above, a lying lion naturally carved in pink granite watches over the 400 meter long beach where a few visitors sunbathe on Roccapina’s powder-white sand and dive in its transparent water. 

Find out more: https://www.bonifacio.co.uk/visite-decouverte/the-lion-of-roccapina/

4. Down the Charente on a canal boat

You want to move around without changing accommodation every night? Booking a licence-free canal boat is the ideal solution. Board this comfortable floating vehicle and wander down the river Charente where recreational boating is allowed. This river, considered by Henry IV of France as “the most beautiful of the kingdom”, flows into the Atlantic Ocean but remains one of the lesser known French river routes. 

Wandering down the current, along the vineyards, you might catch a glimpse of a few river otters, minks and turtles while admiring the natural and architectural heritage of the area. A few stops on your agenda: in Angoulême to discover its unmissable Comics Museum, another in Saintes to visit its Roman ruins and one in Cognac to taste the famous amber beverage of the same name. If temperatures rise and in authorized areas, enjoy a swim or a little fishing a few meters away from your boat before reaching Rochefort where you will undoubtedly start humming a few of the famous tunes of the Jacques Demy movie. 

Find out more: https://www.atlantic-cognac.com/

5. Food, sports and peace and quiet in Dordogne

Forget the beautiful but crowded Sarlat and choose another, lesser known area of Dordogne. Head to the green Périgord, less touristy than the black or red one but still as charming. Jules Verne gave it its name when he discovered the colours of its valleys, hills and many rivers. Canoe down the Dronne, enjoy a trek by foot, bike or horseback on the 2,000 km trails of the Périgord-Limousin regional nature park, you can then discover the picturesque streets of Brantôme, nicknamed the Venice of Périgord or be initiated to gold panning in Jumilhac-le-Grand. 

In this Land of Gastronomy, your taste buds will be delighted by the local specialities: cochon cul noir (black bottom pig), walnuts, ceps or Boletus mushrooms, truffles and the legendary Périgord foie gras… 

Find out more: https://www.france.fr/en/campaign/perigord-dordogne

6. Dancing with wolves in Lozère

In need of a little solitude and a lot of space? Welcome to Lozère, the least populated French department! Head to the Causse de Sauveterre plateau, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and set camp at Laval-du-Tarn, a small village overlooking the majestic Gorges du Tarn and where in 1789 a counter-Revolution was organised. After exploring the Caze castle and admiring the many menhirs and dolmens, discover one of Nature’s masterpieces: the Aven Arman and Dargilan caves (or grottes). Once you return to the surface, venture into the wilderness and follow the legendary (but historic!) tracks of the Gévaudan beast in Saint-Léger-de-Peyre where you will discover the biggest wolf park in Europe. For further exciting observation, book a night in one of the dens with immediate view on the wolf enclosure. 

To find out more: https://www.en.lozere-tourisme.com/ 

7. Undisclosed Pays Basque

Of course Biarritz and Saint-Jean-de-Luz remain the must-see towns of the French south-west region but if you are searching for quiet and preserved areas, you will need to push your exploration of the Basque Country further. 

Head for Saint-Étienne-de-Baïgorry in the Pyrénées-Atlantiques department and located close to the Spanish border. Hidden in the emerald valley, its village houses are typical of Navarrese architecture. 

After visiting the almost thousand-year-old Etxauz castle -where Charlie Chaplin stayed several times- and a vivifying trek through the forest to reach the Autza summit, take the time to say hello to the sea! Between the mountains and the Atlantic Ocean, take the coastline path starting from Hendaye, you will then reach the discreet Bay of Loya where the low tide reveals its wild beach. You can also enjoy the bay from another perspective if you arrive by boat. 

To find out more: https://www.en-pays-basque.fr/en/

8. An Unusual getaway on the Île Verte of la Grande Bleue

A Robinson Crusoe experience on the French Riviera seems mission impossible? Think again! From the Old Port of La Ciotat (Bouches-du-Rhône), board a small sea-shuttle to reach, after a 15 minute crossing, the Île Verte. Uninhabited, wooded and tiny, it, nonetheless, shelters 3 beaches! 

Throughout the day, you can either choose the smallest and more confidential Plageolle, or the Calanque de Saint-Pierre where you will find the landing stage and a little restaurant or yet again the more remote Seynerolles Crique with its breathtaking view. For lack of accommodation, it is not possible to spend the night on the island. To avoid the crowd, staying further inland is recommended. The preserved and perched village of Ceyreste, between the Mediterranean Sea and the hilly countryside is located only 5 minutes away from La Ciotat. Enjoy its typical Provencal art de vivre

To find out more

9. Altitude swimming in the Jura

No need to choose between nautical or mountain activities when you visit the Jura. Nature enjoys its reflection in the crystal clear waters of its mysterious lakes. The Bonlieu Lake, located 2 km from the eponymous village, is a perfect starting point for a trek between land and sky. In its wooden setting, it fuels the impressive Hérisson Falls which can be seen from the trail. Further away, the turquoise basins of Clairvaux-les-Lacs welcome its warm and shallow waters, swimmers, anglers and windsurfers. 

Book your stay in a rental home typical of the so-called Land of Lakes and fully enjoy this original holiday at the heart of a preserved nature.

Information: https://www.jura-tourism.com/#

10. Lavender explosion in the Alpes-de-Haute-Provence

In 2017, Digne les Bains featured In The Times’s top 5 of the most beautiful and confidential French cities. The British daily was quite right in its appreciation of the historic capital of lavender, a peaceful city located 608 meters high and bordering the Pre-Alps. 

To reach Digne and complete your Provencal adventure, board the incomparable Train de Pignes in Nice. Leaving the Riviera palm trees behind, it travels through fields of thyme and olive groves to reach the city encircled by immense purple flower prairies. Moments of calm and exquisite pleasures await! Relax in one of the city’s thermal baths or go swimming in the Ferréol Lake before sunbathing on its beautiful grass beaches. For another unique experience, visit the Musée Promenade and its four paths of different atmospheres and sensory experiences. 

To find out more: https://www.dignelesbains-tourisme.com/en/ 



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Where do I apply for a Schengen Visa for France?

Depending on your country of residence, you will have to hand in your visa application and compulsory documents (including a travel insurance certificate) either to French consular services or to a certified visa application centre.

Will my visa allow me to travel to other European countries?

Yes, provided the countries you wish to visit are part of the Schengen Area.

Can I use my Schengen valid visa to enter and stay in a French overseas department or territory?

A French visa does not allow you to enter and stay in any of the French overseas departments or territories unless you possess a visa that specifically allows you to.