Discover France Off-the-Beaten Path: 30 Gems Worth Exploring

Bonjour! Welcome to France, the land of love, wine, and cheese. While Paris and the French Riviera are undoubtedly beautiful destinations that should be on every traveller’s bucket list, there’s so much more to this country than meets the eye.

Let’s discover France off-the-beaten path! From charming medieval towns to stunning natural landscapes, France boasts a plethora of hidden gems waiting to be explored.

Undoubtedly France is my favourite country to visit! And, visit I have! I’ve been to France 8 times, and love everything about it! Each time I go, I like to go to a different region where there are some subtle differences in its cuisine, landscape, weather and things to do. But, they all share the same similarity – it remains to be equally charming.

In this article, I’ll take you on a journey through 30 under-the-radar places in France that will inspire your wanderlust and invite you to discover a different side of this enchanting country. So grab your map and let’s go!

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France Off-the-Beaten Path – Northern France

Arromanches-les-Bains

beach with rocks and barrier in off the beaten path france
Photo and contributed by Taylor from Traverse With Taylor

Arromanches, also known as Arromanches-les-Bains, is a little port town that flies under the radar but actually is a significant landmark for history buffs. For those travelling in Paris and the nearby region, a visit to the D-Day Museum to learn about the WWII D-Day landings and the battle of Normandy is a must! You can also see film footage of the Arromanches Militaria.

The town itself is a stunning foray back in time, giving off old seaport vibes. Taking a stroll through the downtown cobblestone streets is incredibly charming. A couple more highlights of things to do in Arromanches include:

  • The Mulberry Harbor where concrete blocks and other items from the Allied forces still remain
  • Numerous wartime antique and artifact shops, gift boutiques with striped shirts and rain jackets,
  • Enjoy a delicious garlic butter mussels steam pot from any of the adorable little restaurants and cafes serving up fresh seafood.

Location: Arromanches-les-Bains is located in the Normandy region of northern France, on the coast of the English Channel. It’s about 20 km (12 miles) east of the city of Bayeux and approximately 30 km (18 miles) northwest of the city of Caen.

Where to stay: Across the Map of Stormy Seas – a 3-bedroom charming house with a cozy style mere minutes from the beach

Étretat

cliff with church overlooking the sea in france hidden gems
Photo and contributed by Chris from AroundTheWorldWithMe

Along the English Channel, white cliffs rise from the sea, towering over the water below. Grassy meadows sit atop the cliffs, with a charming village to look down on. No, this isn’t the White Cliffs of Dover, England. This is Etretat, France, and it’s one of the most under-appreciated attractions in the country. 

Flying under the typical tourist’s radar, Etretat is actually quite popular with French domestic tourists. Yet it doesn’t receive the same fanfare as Paris, Nice, or Chamonix on the international stage. Etretat is a worthy stop for anyone visiting northern France.

A must-see and do in Etretat:

  • walking along the massive white cliffs and taking in the amazing views. One such scenic viewpoint is to the east where a lone chapel sits atop the cliff and makes for a stunning backdrop for photos. 

Location: Étretat is located in the Normandy region of France. It’s situated on the English Channel, approximately 32 km (20 miles) northeast of the city of Le Havre and 200 km northwest of Paris.

Where to stay: a charming former Fisherman’s house 150 m to the cliffs – a warm modern decor that has been recently renovated

Lassay-les-Chateaux

castle with pond in front in france off-the-beaten path
Photo and contributed by Faith Coates of XYUandBeyond

Lassay-les-Chateaux is a picture-perfect village with stunning architecture and scenery. This secret spot in France is the perfect place to wander, admire the stone houses, and the pretty gardens, and stop at a local café for a glass of local wine. Visit on a Wednesday morning and enjoy the hustle and bustle of the French market

Every corner of this quiet village in France seems to have a story to tell, and you’ll find yourself captivated by its rich history. Explore its hidden gems through the three castles:

  • Chateau Lassay – a rare example of a 15th-century military architectural-style castle. It was besieged during the English invasions of the 15th century, and the religious wars of the 16th century. Today, the Montalembert family still lives here.
  • Bois-Thibault Chateau – is a haunting, yet beautiful ruin which is open in the summer months and hosts special events like ‘Castle Ghosts by Night’.
  • Bois Frou Chateau – a ruin that can be reached by an interpretive walking trail that interestingly follows the legend of Sir Lancelot.

Location: Lassay-les-Châteaux one of the quiet places to visit in France located in the Mayenne department of the Pays de la Loire region in northwestern France. It’s about 30 km (18 miles) southeast of the city of Mayenne and about 85 km (53 miles) northeast of the city of Angers.

Where to stay: a romantic rustic Victorian house featuring 3 double bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, walled orchard garden house near the town of Lassay-les-Chateaux

L’île d’Oléron

beach with water and sails in sky in france off the beaten path
Photo and contributed by Melanie of Postcards & Places

L’île d’Oléron is a beautiful little island on France’s Atlantic coast. Known for its beaches and oysters, it gets busy in summer with local tourists, yet is still relatively unknown to international visitors. 

There are several highlights on the island. History buffs would appreciate the fortified citadel, while art lovers would enjoy the colourful studios located just outside the citadel walls. These studios were once fisherman’s sheds, but have been given new life as art shops and studios. The island’s oysters are known to be some of the country’s best, and visitors can explore the oyster farms by car or bike. 

But, most of all, Oléron Island is worth visiting for its beaches, like

  • the calm Gatseau Beach is great for families,
  • the beach at La Boirie has postcard-perfect colourful beach huts, and
  • the long Huttes Beach is best for board sports 
  • be sure to check out the Chassiron Lighthouse on the northern tip of the island

Location: L’île d’Oléron is an island located off the west coast of France, in the Atlantic Ocean. It is the second-largest French island after Corsica and is situated in the department of Charente-Maritime, in the region of Nouvelle-Aquitaine.

Where to stay: L’Atlantique – a sea-facing, beach access 1-bedroom cozy apartment with modern furnishings

Saint-Quentin

large square with buildings in france off the beaten path
Photo and contributed by Anisa from Two Traveling Texans

Saint-Quentin is a historic town that has a fascinating past that dates back to Roman times. During the Middle Ages, it was a pilgrimage site for those who wanted to visit Saint Quentin’s tomb. However, the town’s history took a dark turn during World War I when 80% of the buildings were damaged during intense fighting in the area. 

After the war, the town was rebuilt in the Art Deco style, and it now boasts some of the finest examples of this style that can be found anywhere. 

Among the things to do in Saint-Quentin, here are a couple of must-see sites:

  • Saint-Quentin City Hall – was constructed in the early 16th century in Gothic style with its facade adorned with over 170 sculptures
  • The Basilica of Saint-Quentin – a stunning white and black stone basilica built between the 12-15th centuries known for being the burial place of the martyr Saint Quentin

Location: Saint-Quentin is located in the Aisne department in the Hauts-de-France region of northern France. It’s about 115 km (71 miles) northeast of Paris and about 50 km (31 miles) southwest of the city of Lille.

Where to stay: Les Appartements de la Nef d’Or – a self-catering apartment/hotel renovated with vibrant colours and patterns set within a historic building

France Off-the-Beaten Path – Near Paris

Épernay

vineyards in france off the beaten path
Photo and contributed by Sharon from The Roads Beyond

Epernay is an idyllic day trip from Paris, offering a chance to indulge in the finer things in life. In Epernay, the “world’s capital of Champagne”, you can taste world-class wine, visit underground cellars, explore the vineyards, and enjoy the laid-back atmosphere of the French countryside.

The best things to do in Epernay revolve around the town’s two most iconic features: the Avenue de Champagne and the Maisons de Champagne (Champagne Houses).

  • Take a stroll down the grand avenue to admire the majestic Maisons de Champagne, including the famous Moët & Chandon and Perrier-Jouët.
  • To truly immerse yourself in the Champagne experience, take a tour of one or two of these Maisons to discover the secrets of Champagne production and indulge in a tasting of the finest bubbles. As part of the tour, you’ll get to visit the underground cellars, which are known to run for kilometres. Can you believe the underground cellars in Epernay store approximately 200 million champagne bottles?

Location: Epernay is a town located in the Champagne region of northeastern France. It is situated in the Marne department in the Grand Est region, approximately 140 km (87 miles) east of Paris.

Where to stay: Au Jeu de Paume – a charming bed and breakfast hotel offering romantic, cozy rooms close to the vineyards

Giverny

garden trellis with pathway in france off the beaten path
Photo and contributed by Kristin of Global Travel Escapades

A wonderful place to visit that’s off the beaten path and accessible for those visiting Paris is Giverny. This small village offers a nice reprieve from the noise and commotion of the city. You’ll find plenty of cobblestone streets lined with elegant cottages and small stone buildings, making it quite a charming destination.

Additionally, Giverny is famous for being the home of Claude Monet for the last 40 years of his life. The entire area is also a great way to get an authentic view of French culture as it’s less catered to tourists compared to other places in the country.

Visit here and enjoy a couple of things worth seeing:

  • Claude Monet’s House: Take a self-tour through Monet’s wonderfully restored home and see where he lived and painted during the last four decades of his life.
  • Claude Monet’s Gardens: Stroll through Monet’s picturesque gardens and around the iconic lily pond that gave him inspiration for some of his most renowned works, such as his famous painting The Water Lily Pond.

Location: Épernay is located in the Marne department of the Champagne-Ardenne region in northeastern France. It’s situated about 145 km (90 miles) east of Paris and about 25 km (16 miles) south of the city of Reims.

Where to stay: La Dime de Giverny Gite – a lovely 2-bedroom holiday home in a former caretaker’s house on a large property full of gardens close to Monet House and Gardens

Provins

catedral and rooftops in france off the-beaten path
Photo and contributed by Theresa of Fueled By Wanderlust

Provins is a medieval village that has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in France. This quaint village experienced an economic boom during the 12th and 13th centuries when merchants held lucrative fairs for pilgrims travelling to see the holy relics of Saint Ayoul.

Today, Provins is the region’s last surviving village of its kind and is full of gorgeous medieval architecture to explore. The town can be reached directly from Paris as a day trip, taking the SNCF Transilien Line P train via Gare de l’Est for one hour and twenty minutes.

A couple of the best things to see in Provins include:

  • Cesar Tower: 12th-century watchtower and dungeon that displays the wealth and power of the Counts of Champagne. Climb the tower for gorgeous views over the village and surrounding countryside.
  • Saint-Ayoul Priory: this site’s history dates back to the year 996 when the remains of Saint Ayoul were discovered and subsequently stored in a small chapel. By the 11th century, a larger church and priory were needed to accommodate the mass wave of pilgrims arriving at the site.

Location: Provins is located in the Seine-et-Marne department of the Île-de-France region in north-central France. It’s about 80 km (50 miles) southeast of Paris and about 20 km (12 miles) east of the city of Melun.

Where to stay: Demeure des Vieux Bains – a wonderfully romantic bed & breakfast hotel in the heart of Provins

France Off the Beaten Path – Eastern France

Annecy

canal, flowers with buildings on either side in off the beaten path in france
Contributed by Imee Magbag of Journey to France

Annecy is known for its picturesque canals and bridges, which have earned it the nickname “Venice of the Alps.” Surrounded by mountains and the stunning Lake Annecy, which is considered one of the cleanest lakes in Europe, this a popular tourist destination with locals.

Exploring the charming old town is one of the fascinating things to do in Annecy, and here are a couple more:

  • the Palais de l’Isle, a 12th-century castle that now houses a local history museum, and the Château d’Annecy, a restored castle that now serves as an art museum. 
  • several festivals throughout the year, including the Annecy International Animated Film Festival and the Venetian Carnival
  • the surrounding mountains are perfect for outdoor activities, including hiking, biking, skiing and snowboarding

Location: Annecy can be found in the Haute-Savoie department of the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region in southeastern France. It’s situated at the northern end of Lake Annecy, which is one of the largest lakes in France and is surrounded by the French Alps. Annecy is approximately 135 km (84 miles) east of Lyon and 40 km (25 miles) south of Geneva, Switzerland.

Where to stay: La Cour Filaterie – is in the heart of Annecy in a historic building that has been renovated into a chic modern interior. This apartment is a set of 2 apartments that can be booked together or separately and accommodate up to 2 or 4 people.

Évian-les-Bains

colourful buildings lining cobbled street off the beaten path in france
Photo and contributed by Sonia from Happy Little Traveler

Evian-les-Bains is a small, charming, and very colourful French spa town where the world-famous Evian mineral water has its source. Despite that fact, and also its scenic location on the shores of Lake Geneva and close proximity to the Alps, this destination is still unknown to many.

This hidden gem is a lovely old town full of cozy restaurants, thermal baths, and many water activities on Lake Geneva. A lakeside promenade perfect for watching sunsets, and lots of hiking and cycling trails around the town make Evian-Les-Bains a great destination for everyone.

Other highlights include:

  • stroll the streets of Old Town and discover all the hidden nooks and a lively square of Place Charles de Gaulle
  • visit the most famous Evian water spring – Source Cachat

Location: Evian-les-Bains is located in eastern France in the Haute-Savoie department in the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region. It lies on the southern shores of Lake Geneva, at an altitude of 380m and is close to the French Alps.

Where to stay: La Verniaz et ses Chalets – a gorgeous boutique hotel in a former 17th-century farmhouse. On-site pool, gardens, and restaurant.

Gimbelhof

village surrounded by mountains in france off the beaten path
Photo and contributed by Morgan at Crave the Planet

With a multitude of hiking, mountain biking, and leaf carpeted paths that span thousands of kilometres, visitors of all abilities are invited to immerse themselves in nature and history simultaneously visiting the tiny hidden gem of Gimbelhof, France

The rocky outcroppings and steep hills of the Palatinate forest and Vosges du Nord forest were strategically utilized for defensive fortresses, adding to the historical significance of the region.  

Just a couple of highlights and things to do in Gimbelhof include:

  • Walk on the 4 Castles Trail, where you’ll have the opportunity to traverse between France and Germany several times and climb up onto ruined castles, or take tours inside. Not to mention it makes for an amazing location for a sunrise photoshoot.
  • Visit the Palatinate – Northern Vosges UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve with its cone-shaped mountains.

Location: Gimbelhof is located in the northeastern region of France right next to the border of Germany. It’s situated in the Alsace wine region, approximately 50 km (31 miles) north of the city of Strasbourg.

Where to stay: Hotel du Cheval Blanc – a hotel and Michelin-star restaurant

Hunawihr

vineyards with church steeple
Photo and contributed by Paul D’Souza of Paulmarina

Hunawihr is a small inconspicuous village in the historical region of Alsace. The hamlet with its 600 souls is located right on the Alsace wine route. This area of Alsace is known for its delightful multicoloured homes and typical regional architecture. One of the best times to visit is in autumn when the fall foliage is at its peak and it’s harvest time.

Hunawihr has been around for over 1200 years and before that, the Romans cultivated the land to grow wine. The legend of the village tells the tale of Sainte Hune, who was the wife of lord Hunon in the 6th or 7th century, and the founder and name-giver of Hunawihr.

One interesting site to visit in Hunawihr is:

  • Hunawihr’s fortified church – take note of the fountain in front. Folklore tells us it’s the site where Sainte Hune washed the clothes of the poor and where the water in the fountain turned into wine found

Location: Hunawihr next to the more well-known Riquewihr and Ribeauville villages in the Haut-Rhin department in the Grand Est region of northeastern France. It’s situated in the Alsace wine region, approximately 50 km (31 miles) southeast of the city of Strasbourg and about 10 km (6 miles) west of the town of Colmar.

Where to stay: Villa Maeva – a light, bright self-catering apartment featuring soft warm neutral decor in the neighbouring village of Riquewihr

Metz

river with churc in the middle in metz a off the beaten path france site

Metz, a hidden gem in France that is sure to captivate your senses! This charming city is located on the banks of the Moselle River and boasts a rich history, a vibrant cultural scene, and stunning architecture that will take your breath away.

One of the top reasons to visit Metz is to explore its impressive 800-year-old Gothic cathedral, known as the Cathédrale Saint-Étienne de Metz. Another couple of top things to do in this charming city include:

  • Centre Pompidou-Metz – a contemporary art museum that’s unlike anything you’ve ever seen before. This striking museum features a futuristic design that is meant to evoke the image of a floating cloud and houses a collection of modern and contemporary art that is truly awe-inspiring.
  • strolling through its charming streets and popping into its quaint shops and cafes. Be sure to try the local specialties like Mirabelle plums or Moselle wine.

Location: Metz is situated in the Moselle department of the Grand Est region in northeastern France. It’s about 170 km (106 miles) east of Paris, and about 60 km (37 miles) west of the German city of Saarbrücken.

Where to stay: Rock in Share – Suite “Comme à Venise” – a 2-bedroom spacious modern apartment with terrace overlooking the river

Nancy

building with art deco features in france off the beaten path
Photo and contributed by offbeatfrance

Nancy is rarely on a visitor’s bucket list, not because it’s not worth seeing, but because it’s not well known. From the picturesque Place Stanislas, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, to the magnificent Art Nouveau buildings that line its streets, Nancy exudes a sense of elegance and refinement. Yet if you’re a fan of Art Nouveau, Nancy is probably the best city in France to experience this artistic movement.

Nancy is also a hub of culture and creativity, with a vibrant arts scene that includes museums, galleries, and theatres. With its lively markets, quaint cafes, and lively nightlife, Nancy is a place where you can truly immerse yourself in French life.

Architecture enthusiasts will fall in love with the Art Nouveau in Nancy and be sure to seek a couple of these highlights:

  • Musée de l’Ecole de Nancy, which showcases what came to be known as the “Nancy School” in Art Nouveau
  • The Daum Collection of Art Nouveau glassware in the basement of the Museum of Fine Arts on the Place Stanislas

Location: Located in the Meurthe-et-Moselle department of the Grand Est region in northeastern France. It’s about 280 km (174 miles) east of Paris, and about 55 km (34 miles) south of the city of Metz.

Where to stay: Le Jardin de Nancy – a 1-bedroom apartment lies on a charming street steps from the 18th-century gilded and decorated Place Stanislas

France Off the Beaten Path – Southern France

Camargue

beach with white horse in france off-the-beaten path
Photo and contributed by Jenifer of The Evolista

To get off the beaten path in France, look no further than Camargue, the UNESCO biosphere reserve known for its herds of white horses, flocks of flamingos, and daring black bulls. It’s one of the best places to visit in May in Europe when you can see the Gypsy Pilgrimage.

Whether you prefer to tour the rugged terrain on horseback or from the comfort of a 4×4 safari vehicle, Camargue is sure to delight your adventurous spirit. And if you’re a photographer seeking the perfect shot, you won’t want to miss the opportunity to capture the wild beauty of this region. 

A couple more things to do in Camargue include:

  • the quaint capital village of Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer and the nearby historic city of Arles (a must-see for Vincent Van Gogh fans!)
  • stunning beaches – from the bustling Plage de Piémanson to the peaceful Plage de l’Espiguette, there’s something here for everyone

Location: Camargue can be found in the south of France, between the Mediterranean Sea and in the departments of Bouches-du-Rhône and Gard in the region of Occitanie and Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur. It lies in a natural region that covers an area of approximately 930 km².

Where to stay: Mas Fandelou – a charming bed and breakfast hotel with lovely lake views and scenery

Collioure

stone wall, village and sea in france off the beaten path
Photo and contributed by Hannah of Art Distance

Collioure is a town where the artist Matisse went to paint in 1905. For Matisse, the seaside fishing village offered an escape from modern Paris and was completely off the grid. He went on to paint some of his most revolutionary paintings that led to his Fauvist style, including the beautiful Open Window. Now Collioure is more warm to visitors but is still off the beaten track.

It’s charming with its colourful houses along the waterfront and here are a couple of highlights to seek out:

  • historic Chateau Royal castle from the 13th century
  • walk in the footsteps of one of the greatest modern artists. Follow the placards around the town with images of Matisse and Derain’s paintings from the summer spent here. They guide you through the village to link the Fauvist paintings with the views they were inspired by.

Location: Located in the Pyrénées-Orientales department of the Occitanie region in southern France, Collioure is situated on the Mediterranean coast, near the border with Spain, approximately 25 km (16 miles) southeast of the city of Perpignan.

Where to stay: Les Roches Brunes – a 4-star boutique hotel with oceanfront views furnished in a modern, light, airy decor

Cordes-sur-Ciel

cobbled road with houses in france off-the-beaten path
Photo and contributed by Cecilia of Lovicarious

Cordes sur Ciel is an enchanting village that seems to rise up to the heavens. Its name, which means “rocky heights in the sky”, perfectly captures the breathtaking sight that appears as if the village is floating among the clouds.

The village is perched on a rocky outcrop, 100 m above the Cérou valley offering a stunning view of the surrounding landscape. This is one village that is off the beaten path in France that you’ll want to visit!

Beyond the scenic views, here are a couple of things to do in Cordes-sur-Ciel:

  • Support local artists. Leisurely stroll the wonderful cobblestone streets lined with quaint shops where you can peruse beautiful pieces made by potters, glass blowers, sculptors, and other artists.
  • Attend a cultural festival. There are many festivals all-year-round celebrating music, art, culture and history. One of the most popular events is the Medieval Festival of the Grand Fauconnier, an annual celebration of the town featuring medieval costumes, torch-lit processions, street theatre, and musical performances.

Location: Cordes-sur-Ciel is located in Tarn department of the Occitania region of Southern France with the closest city being Toulouse (76 km).

Top-rated tour: From Toulouse enjoy a roundtrip excursion by bus from Toulouse to see many sights, including the Sainte Cecile Cathedral – a UNESCO Heritage site in France, and the hilltop village of Cordes sur Ciel.

Where to stay: The House of Traverse – a 3-bedroom renovated stone house featuring multiple terraces from which you can admire the uninterrupted views.

Gourdon

street with stone buildings in france off the beaten path
Photo and contributed by Linda of Hiking the Alps

If you want to experience a lovely village in France that’s a bit off the beaten path, Gourdon is the answer! 

Nestled on a prominent rocky outcrop at a breathtaking elevation of 760m above sea level, lies the charming village of Eagle’s Nest – a fitting name for this stunning location. Not only is this village a sight to behold, but it’s also a member of the prestigious association of Les Plus Beaux Villages de France, making it one of the most beautiful villages in France.

If you’re up for a scenic drive, take the gorgeous road through the Gorges du Loup, known as the “little brother” of the famous Verdon Canyon, and make your way to the charming village of Gourdon. This way, you can experience two amazing highlights at once. In Gourdon, be sure to:

  • Wander through the village’s historic, narrow streets, coming across stores filled with the creations of many skilled artisans, as well as numerous perfume and fragrance producers.
  • Admire the incredible panoramic view from Place Victoria where you can gaze upon the entire Côte d’Azur, spanning from Nice to Cannes – an experience you won’t soon forget.

How to get there: Gourdon is in the Alps-Maritimes department of the Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur region in southern France. It’s situated 30 km (19 miles) north of the city of Antibes and Cannes.

Where to stay: a charming stone cottage full of the original character of stone walls, and beamed ceiling with a romantic French country style with a mix of vintage and modern pieces

Les Baux-de-Provence

stone village on hilltop in france off the beaten path
Photo and contributed by Jenoa of The Travel Folk

Les Baux-de-Provence is one of the most beautiful villages in France and is a fantastic day trip from Avignon or Arles. Perched atop a rocky hill in the Alpilles mountains, this off-the-beaten-path French village is believed to have been settled by humans as far back as 6,000 BC.

The village can only be accessed on foot, so it’s best to arrive early in the day to get a parking spot close by. If you’re staying in Arles or Saint-Remy-de-Provence, you can even rent e-bikes and do a self-guided e-bike day trip.

While the village is quite small, make time to wander around the town, and admire the centuries-old buildings. Things worth seeing include: 

  • Château des Baux – a 10th-century castle located at the top of the village
  • Carrières des Lumières – a light show featuring art by Van Gogh in an old quarry

Location: Les Baux-de-Provence is a small town located in the Bouches-du-Rhône department of the Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur region in southeastern France. It is situated approximately 25 km (16 miles) south of the city of Avignon and about 65 km (40 miles) northwest of the city of Marseille.

Where to stay: Benvengudo – is a beautifully restored former traditional Provencal house that has been transformed into an elegant hotel with a chic design, a restaurant and an outdoor pool and gardens.

Menton

harbour with colourful town and light house in france off the beaten path

The charming town of Menton is a hidden gem waiting to be discovered. With its colourful buildings and breathtaking views of the Mediterranean Sea, Menton offers a taste of the Mediterranean lifestyle like no other.

One of the main reasons why Menton is worth visiting is its unique blend of Italian and French culture. Due to its location just a stone’s throw away from the Italian border, Menton has a distinctly Italian flavour that sets it apart from other towns along the Côte d’Azur.

Wander through the picturesque streets and narrow alleyways for glimpses of stunning sea views. Menton offers plenty of activities to keep you busy, here are a few:

  • the stunning Jardin Serre de la Madone, a botanical garden filled with exotic plants and flowers from around the world
  • you can’t visit Menton without a trip to the beach. With crystal-clear waters and pristine sandy beaches, Menton is the perfect place to soak up the sun and take a dip in the Mediterranean Sea.
  • The Jean Cocteau Museum is a must-visit, showcasing the work of the famous French artist and filmmaker.

Location: Menton is off the beaten path French Riviera in the Alpes-Maritimes department in the Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur region, approximately 30 km (18.6 miles) east of Nice and 40 km (24.8 miles) west of the Italian city of Ventimiglia.

Where to stay: Villa Genesis – an elegant hotel with pool, gardens and few steps from Borrigo Beach

Moustiers-Sainte-Marie

mountain with village below in france off-the-beaten path
Photo and contributed by Daniela from Ipanema Travels

With its cobblestone streets and authentic Provençal charm, Moustiers-Sainte-Marie, or just Moustiers, is a must-visit place if you are travelling in Southern France. Although Moustiers has been included on the list of the Most Beautiful Villages in France, a club of 172 villages scattered all over the country, mass tourism hasn’t yet reached this lovely place. The village is famous for the star suspended on a chain between two cliffs and for the ceramics.

Things to do in Moustiers:

  • Walk around the medieval village and enjoy the crooked bridges, the small waterfalls, and the lovely atmosphere.
  • Climb the steps to the Chapel of Notre-Dame de Beauvoir and admire the beautiful views of the typical Provençal landscape, dotted with cypress trees and vineyards.
  • Visit the Ceramics Museum and why not even do a workshop in one of the ceramic studios.
  • Take a trip to Gorges du Verdon, the deepest canyon in Europe, and Lake of Sainte-Croix, one of the biggest man-made lakes in France.

Location: Moustiers-Sainte-Marie can be found in the Alpes-de-Haute-Provence department of the Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur region in southeastern France. It’s situated in the Verdon Natural Regional Park, approximately 115 km (71 miles) northeast of the city of Marseille and about 40 km (25 miles) southeast of the town of Digne-les-Bains.

Where to stay: Pretty House – a 2-bedroom brand new modern house with sweeping, uninterrupted views of the gorges of the Verdon and Lake St. Croix.

Roussillon

red cliffs in france off the beaten path
Photo and contributed by Aixoise from All About Aix

Roussillon is a captivating destination that will take your breath away! Located an hour’s drive north of Aix-en-Provence, Roussillon is a hidden gem known for its vibrant ochre cliffs. Roussillon offers a unique blend of natural beauty and rich cultural heritage. Here are two reasons why this village should be on your bucket list:

  • Ochre Trail: Roussillon’s biggest draw is the Ochre Trail, a scenic hiking route that winds through the colourful cliffs surrounding the village. The trail offers stunning views of the vivid red and yellow ochre rock formations that give Roussillon its distinctive character.
  • Village Charm: Beyond the natural beauty of the surrounding landscape, Roussillon is also home to a charming historic village center. Visitors can wander through narrow streets lined with colourful houses and boutiques selling local crafts and souvenirs. Don’t miss the chance to visit the town’s old church Eglise Saint-Michel, which boasts stunning stained glass windows and a 17th-century facade.

Location: Roussillon is a small village in the south of France off the beaten path in the Vaucluse department of the Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur region. It’s situated in the Luberon Natural Regional Park, approximately 40 km (25 miles) east of the city of Avignon and about 70 km (43 miles) north of the city of Marseille.

Where to stay: La Maison Roussillon – a 250-year-old village house is a beautiful 2-bedroom renovated apartment

France Off-the-Beaten Path – Western France

Angoulême

cathedral with bench in france off the beaten path
Photo and contributed by Kylie Lang at Life in Rural France

Nestled in the heart of rural France, Angouleme may not be as well-known as some of its more popular neighbouring towns, but it’s a true hidden gem just waiting to be explored.

With its picturesque cobbled streets, medieval architecture, and rich cultural heritage, Angouleme has everything. Whether you’re a history buff, a foodie, or an art lover, there’s something to please everyone. 

Here are just a couple of the things to do in this underrated small town:

  • find out why Angouleme is hailed as the “The Captial of the Comic Strip” in Europe and discover the 83 murals displayed on walls of houses, shops and apartment blocks around town.
  • Walk along the ramparts of this fortified city dating back to the 4th century that protected Angouleme can trace its history back to the 4th century.

Location: Angoulême is a city located in southwestern France, in the department of Charente of the Nouvelle-Aquitaine region in southwestern France. It’s situated approximately 130 km (81 miles) northeast of Bordeaux and about 90 km (56 miles) southeast of the city of Poitiers.

Where to stay: Le Rempart du Midi offers self-catering apartments within a resort-like setting each with a private terrace with a garden or city views

Arcachon

sand beach dune in france off-the-beaten path
Photo and contributed by Natali of She’s Abroad Again

When people think of the French seaside, they immediately think of the South of France. However, the West French coast is also home to some incredible beaches and quite charming coastal towns! 

Arcachon is the biggest town along the bay of Arcachon, about an hour’s drive from Bordeaux. That makes it a perfect day trip to add to your itinerary when visiting this incredible wine region. The quaint coastal town of Arcachon is considered a Bordeaux beach, and it is best visited in the summer when the city comes alive.

What makes Arcachon special and the main attraction of the region is:

  • the stunning Dune du Pilat is the tallest at 102m of elevation natural sand dune in Europe! It is completely free to visit, and you get to run around a seemingly endless desert overlooking the forest and the sea!
  • Spend a day on the beach, stroll the streets admiring extravagant 19th-century villas and a castle-turned-casino or enjoy fresh seafood in one of many restaurants along the coast.

Location: Arcachon is a seaside town located in the Gironde department of the Nouvelle-Aquitaine region in southwestern France. Situated on the Atlantic coast, approximately 55 km (34 miles) southwest of the city of Bordeaux.

Where to stay: Les Suites du Port – with sea-facing views and steps to a beach – this 5-star resort hotel offers kitchenettes in their spacious rooms

Canton de Brantôme

bridge with castle in france off the beaten path
Photo and contributed by Sabrina of Shades of Summr

Brantome is a beautiful small town in the Dordogne valley close to Bordeaux. The Dordogne valley is famous for rolling hills, picturesque little villages and hamlets as well as an appreciation for good food. The scenic little village of Brantome is a true hidden gem in France, for many reasons.

Many people call Brantome the “Venice of the Perigord” because it is located right by the scenic river Dronne. The location on the bend of the river and the architecture make Brantome an especially beautiful village.

A couple of must-visit sites in Brantome are:

  • Brantome Abbey and the adjacent caves. The most famous and impressive cave is called “Last Judgement”
  • The beautiful gardens or Les Jardins Tranquille have been created as a little oasis within the village
  • And, get on the river and try some water sports activities, like canoeing or kayaking

Location: Brantôme is a canton located in the Dordogne department of the Nouvelle-Aquitaine region in southwestern France. It’s situated in the northwestern part of the department and includes several communes, including the town of Brantôme itself.

Where to stay: Moulin de l’Abbaye, a 5-star property part of the Relais et Chateaux designation which includes a Michelin-star restaurant

Condom

stone archway with garden in france hidden gems
Photo and contributed by Denise of Chef Denise

Condom is a charming city steeped in history and food culture. Some of the most famous French foods hail from this region. Don’t leave without trying Duck Confit or Foie Gras accompanied by affordable local wines or a glass of Armagnac.

Visit this largely undiscovered city by tourists with these highlights of things to do:

  • Explore the impressive 14th-century Cathedral Saint-Pierre and its cloisters, and the iconic statue of D’Artagnan and The Three Musketeers located just outside.
  • From Condom, take a short 10-minute drive to Abbaye de Flaran. The grounds are gorgeous, and plan to spend some time in the museum which surprisingly houses work by Monet, Picasso, and Rodin.
  • Another 15-minute drive away is three of France’s most beautiful villages – Fources, Montreal-du-Gers, and Larressingle (France’s smallest fortified city).

Location: Condom can be found in the Gers department of the Occitanie region in southwestern France. It’s situated on the banks of the Baïse River, approximately 80 km (50 miles) northwest of the city of Toulouse and about 50 km (31 miles) northeast of the city of Auch.

Where to stay: Maison d’hôtes Les Bruhasses is an elegant chateau surrounded by its own vineyard and beautiful gardens

Marais Poitevin Deux-Sèvres

boats on canal with building in france off the beaten path
Photo and contributed by Hannah Henderson from Nouvelle-Aquitaine Travel | Voyage

The Marais Poitevin is known as the ‘Green Venice’ of France. Thousands of canals crisscross the marshland of the area and exploring these by boat or kayak is considered a must-do activity. The tranquillity is enhanced by the fact that no motorized boats are allowed on the canals, so all you can hear is the lapping of the water and birds chirping.

The little villages in the Marais Poitevin are set up for tourism and you’ll find galleries, markets, and restaurants dotted around. But it’s the natural beauty of scenic walks and greenery which makes this area of France a hidden gem.

A visit to this enchanting place is truly a journey to the heart of French culture and nature. Enjoy these top things to do in Marias Poitevin:

  • Visit the villages of Arçais, La Garette and Coulon. These pretty places are perfect to take a boat ride on the canals
  • Take a boat tour in the Marais Poitevin and discover the ‘fire on the water’

Location: the Regional Natural Park of the Marais Poitevin covers the corner where the Deux-Sèvres, Vendée and Charente-Maritime departments meet.

Where to stay: Dodo et Tartine – a 2-bedroom stone house in the heart of Marais Poitevin

La Roque-Gageac

river with buildings and mountain in france off the beaten path
Photo and contributed by Alison Browne of Dreamer at Heart

Nestled on the banks of the serene Dordogne River, the picturesque village of La Roque Gageac in France is a breathtaking sight to behold. With its charming, honey-coloured houses built into the cliff face, this town is a prime example of the beauty and history that France is renowned for. No wonder La Roque Gageac is designated as one of France’s “Most Beautiful Villages.” 

Visit here and enjoy these couple of highlights:

  • Wander the narrow streets and alleyways of La Roque Gageac for sweeping views over the Dordogne River and the surrounding countryside.
  • Be sure to stop at the Romanesque Church that was built in 1330 and seek out the exotic garden which grows fig, lemon, and olive trees.
  • Take a ride on an authentic reproduction of a “gabarre,” a traditional flat-bottomed boat used for centuries to transport people and goods along the river. Marvel at the view from the river of towering cliffs, charming villages, and cháteaux. 

Location: La Roque-Gageac is a small village located in the Dordogne department of the Nouvelle-Aquitaine region known for its natural beauty and culinary traditions in southwestern France. It’s situated on the banks of the Dordogne River, approximately 8 km (5 miles) southeast of the town of Sarlat-la-Canéda.

Where to stay: Hotel Le Perigord – a chateau-esque hotel that has undergone a recent renovation makes this the place to stay. Pool, restaurant and modern, updated rooms in a beautiful location in France.

Limoges

FR France Off the Beaten Path Limoges
Photo and contributed by Hannah Henderson from Nouvelle-Aquitaine Travel | Voyage 

Limoges may not come to mind as a city of note in France, but it has a fascinating history and is worth a visit. Limoges is a city that exudes a sense of charm and elegance and is home to some of the most breathtaking architecture in the country.

At one time, it was the biggest producer of porcelain in France, and now has a museum dedicated to the craft. Alongside medieval and Gallo-Roman influences, the beautiful art-nouveau and art-deco architecture of the Limoges-Bénédictins Train Station is a must-see!

Highlights of Limoges include:

  • A tiny 15th-century Chapel of Saint Aurélien tucked away in between half-timber houses in the old part of town.
  • Discovering the pockets of Gallo-Roman history, such as the Saint-Martial Bridge. This impressive 13th-century bridge is built on the footings of an old Roman bridge and easily transports you back through the centuries.

Location: Located in the Haute-Vienne department of France of the Nouvelle-Aquitaine region in central France. It’s situated on the banks of the Vienne River, approximately 400 km (250 miles) south of Paris and about 300 km (190 miles) north of the city of Toulouse.

Top-rated tour: Reserve your Musee National Adrien Dubouche entrance ticket to see the largest collection of Limoges porcelain in the world

Where to stay: La Boétie – a newly renovated 1-bedroom apartment in Scandi-inspired design, or for families Bourgeois Haussmannian 4-bedroom house full of charm, character and style

Saint-Émilion

village in france off the beaten path
Photo and contributed by Stephanie Craig of History Fangirl

An easy day trip from Bordeaux by train, the medieval town of Saint-Emilion is well-known among wine enthusiasts, but more tourists should have this little village on their radar.

With less than 2,000 residents, Saint-Emilion has an outsized reputation as a premier wine destination, especially for those who are in the region for wine tourism. Boasting a microclimate distinct from the city of Bordeaux, it’s worth coming out to the Libournais district of the Right Bank to see what all the fuss is about. 

If you aren’t interested in sipping your way around France, Saint-Emilion is still worth the trip. It’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site due to its important medieval history and its location on the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage route. The official designation on the UNESCO list as the “Jurisdiction of Saint Emilion” goes back to the 12th century, when England controlled much of modern-day France.

A couple of highlights of things to do in Saint-Emilion include:

  • The town’s historic core is a cluster of Romanesque buildings that seem to grow out of the ground as a single vista. You can join the town’s free walking tour to learn about the history of each important structure and monument.
  • Make sure to see the Monolithic Church of Saint-Emilion and the Cordeliers Cloisters

Location: Saint-Émilion is located in the Gironde department of the Nouvelle-Aquitaine region in southwestern France. It’s situated approximately 40 km (25 miles) northeast of the city of Bordeaux.

Where to stay: Badon Boutique Hotel – inside this historic building is a fully renovated modern with minimalist decor

FAQ

What is the most underrated region of France?

Undoubtedly, the most underrated region of France is Lorraine. With its rich history, stunning architecture, and warm hospitality, it’s a hidden gem!

What are the unique places to visit in France?

France is full of unique places to visit! From the colourful coastal town of Collioure to the charming medieval village of Rocamadour.

What are the quiet places to visit in France?

If you’re looking for peace and tranquillity in France, head to the beautiful Loire Valley or the quaint village of Eguisheim in Alsace.

As a Holidaymaker

As you can see from this list there are many France off the beaten track spots to add to your itinerary. While many popular destinations are worth visiting, there’s something special about discovering hidden gems off the beaten path. From quaint villages to stunning natural landscapes, these 31 hidden treasures showcase the beauty and diversity of France.

Whether you’re an avid traveller or simply looking for a new adventure, I encourage you to step outside your comfort zone and explore these lesser-known destinations. Who knows what wonders await you?

Planning a trip to France? Be sure to head to my Travel Guide for France as the one-stop shop for all of the travel resources – accommodations, transit, insurance, and more!

Plus, it’s an index of all my European articles consisting of destination guides and itineraries.