5 Lesser-Known Towns In France Well Worth A Visit

5 Lesser-Known Towns In France Well Worth A Visit

Tourism is a huge industry in France. In 2013, 84.7 million foreign travelers visited, making it the most popular tourist destination in the world. And it’s easy to see why. From world-class monuments in Paris to abundant vineyards in Bordeaux to pristine beaches along the Cote d'Azur, France certainly has a lot to offer. While these destinations all merit a visit, there are many other towns in France well worth visiting that are frequently overlooked by tourists and locals alike. Not only do these spots exude the same amount of charm as their bigger, more popular counterparts, but you’ll be able to enjoy them without constantly fighting the crowds. From small villages close to the capital, to hidden wine regions, to little-known castles, France is a whole lot more than meets the eye. Read on to discover your next destination in La Belle France (the beautiful France).

1. Saint Germain-en-Laye

The castle in Saint Germain-en-Laye

This town is so close to Paris that it’s considered a suburb. In fact, you can reach Saint Germain-en-Laye in just 45 minutes via a local train from central Paris. However, despite its proximity, it couldn’t be more different than the capital. The town greets visitors with calm, shop-filled streets, cozy restaurants, and a lively outdoor market. Visitors will have no trouble finding authentic French souvenirs nor sampling traditional French food. Perhaps the biggest draw to this little town is the castle. It was here that King Louis XIV was born and lived for 30 years before moving his court to Versailles. The castle has been completely renovated and is now home to the National Archeological Museum, with pieces dating from the Paleolithic to the Merovingian times. Outside the castle, take a long stroll through the perfectly manicured French gardens and enjoy a clear view all the way to the Eiffel Tower.

2. Provins

There are great restaurants in the old town

Another town close to Paris that is well worth a detour is Provins. Located an hour east of Paris, this former medieval town maintains its charm through winding cobblestone streets, fascinating monuments, and a UNESCO-listed old town. One of the top attractions include Caesar’s Tower, which was constructed in the 12th century as a lookout point when Provins was an important trading post. From the top of the tower, visitors enjoy views of the old town and the town church. Another attraction well worth a visit are the underground passages. While their existence is a bit of a mystery, it is clear that these tunnels were vital for storing supplies and as a hideout between the 19th and mid-20th centuries. Finally, if you visit in the spring, make sure to stop by the rose garden. These roses are very popular in town, inspiring all kinds of foods, from rose ice cream to rose honey. These treats make for a delicious ending to a day in Provins.

3. Rouen

The Gros Horlage in the town center

This town, located in the Upper Normandy region of France, truly deserves a place in history. It was here that Joan of Arc’s execution took place. In addition, much of the town was destroyed in World War II bombings, but luckily the most historically significant monuments were spared. At the top of the must-see list is Notre Dame Cathedral. Located in the city center, it is a stunning Gothic masterpiece that inspired a series of paintings from Monet. Not far from the cathedral, find the medieval quarter. Cobblestone streets lead to outdoor markets, food vendors, and shops filled with every item the francophile could wish for. Find also the Gros Horloge (Big Clock Tower) in this area. This intricately decorated clock is open for visits and offers a unique view of the town and its surrounding areas. As you head out of town, make sure to stop by the Joan of Arc tower. It was here that the young hero’s trial took place.

4. Blois

A view of Blois

Blois is located in the Loire Valley and is a must-see for wine enthusiasts and castle lovers. The wine produced in the Loire Valley is often overshadowed by more popular regions such as Bordeaux, but it is equally delicious and abundant in the many boutiques and cafes in Blois so make sure to sample some or pick up a bottle for later. Blois is also known for its castle. It is unique because it features four distinctly different architectural styles including: Gothic, Flamboyant Gothic, early Renaissance, and classical. This makes for a great architectural introduction if you plan to visit other castles in the Loire Valley.

5. Chamonix-Mont Blanc

Hiking trails in Chamonix

Chamonix-Mont Blanc is nestled in the heart of the French Alps and is the outdoor sports lover’s dream. In the winter, skiing, snowboarding, and ice skating opportunities abound. But the fun isn’t limited only to the winter. During the warmer months, enjoy plenty of hiking and mountain biking. Regardless of the season, visitors can enjoy spectacular views of the Aiguille du Midi, a breathtaking rock formation at the top of Mont Blanc, by taking a short cable car ride. At the end of the day, enjoy the cozy village and sample local dishes like fondue and tartiflette (a hearty mix of potatoes, cheese, and bacon).

Get creative when planning your next trip to France

If you’re thinking about a trip to France, make sure to look beyond the typical tourist sites. France is a culturally rich and interesting country so there’s no need to fear that you’ll miss out on something if you take a detour from the typically traveled paths. On the contrary, you’ll enjoy a more authentic visit without fighting lots of other visitors. Wherever you decide to go, bon voyage (have a good trip!).

Disclosure: Trip101 selects the listings in our articles independently. Some of the listings in this article contain affiliate links.

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Audrey is a 25-year-old American living in South Korea and teaching English. She lived in Paris for two years as a French language student and au pair. During that time she also mastered the art...Read more

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