Beat the Crowds – 6 Perfect Pre-Summer Breaks in France

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Fine wine and dining, a rich culture and history and so much more!

If your thoughts are already turning to this year’s summer holidays, planning ahead is a great way of staving off the winter blues! As our nearest continental neighbour, France has so much to offer – and it’s not surprising that more than 17 million Brits head there each year, according to Foreign Office statistics. It’s incredibly easy to get to by plane, train or boat from the UK and travel there is very cost-effective. Indeed, France’s transport links are the envy of the world.

We love it for the sheer variety of its beautiful countryside and natural landscapes, incorporating three different coastlines and a number of mountain ranges – not to mention the extinct volcanoes of the Auvergne. Then there’s the fine wine, dining and a rich culture and history – seen in its very well-preserved heritage sites. France is a country that looks after its past very well, from chateaux and castles to ancient villages, Roman sites and more. France also has its rivers, lakes, plains and estuaries – making it essentially one way of seeing all of Europe in a single country!

Pre-summer is the perfect time to soak up the rich culture and spectacular scenery of France: there are fewer crowds, the climate is beautifully inviting and most people are still at work, allowing you all the time and space you need to relax and explore.  There are plenty of festivals and other events to enjoy, with many attractions offering longer opening hours in June. Local markets are full of early summer produce, pavement bars and cafes are doing a roaring trade, and there are gorgeous flowers in full bloom wherever you go.

That just leaves one question – where should you go in France at this most glorious time of year?

Here are a few suggestions…

Loire Valley

Chambord Chateau: one of the Loire

Chambord: one of the Loire’s grandest chateaux

The Loire Valley is essentially a fairy-tale land of Renaissance and medieval chateaux dotted along the path of the sweeping, majestic Loire River, as well as the lesser known Maine, Vienne and Indre waterways. Expect villages and towns that time forgot, and visit places like Chambord and Chenonceau – there’s a bit of magic around every corner! The former is perhaps the Loire’s grandest chateau, with its mass of chimneys, set in thick, extensive woodland.

There are great roads and other travel links in this part of the world, with bus and trains to each of the three main provinces of this region – Orléans (in the east), Anjou (towards the west) and Touraine in the centre.

Aix-en-Provence

The Old Town of Aix-en-Provence

The Old Town of Aix-en-Provence

Aix could be described as France at its most civilised! But despite its elite opera festival and elegant golden stone mansions and grand squares, it’s less haughty and more youthful than you might expect, with a student population of around 40,000, not to mention a buzzing café society.

What’s more, a direct Eurostar now serves the city, making it more accessible than ever. Make time to visit the beautiful urban gardens while you are in town as well – and the Burning Bush triptych by Nicolas Froment from the fifteenth century. This is one of southern France’s finest works of art, and can be seen in the St Sauveur cathedral in Aix.

The Vosges

The heavenly mountains of The Vosges

If hiking is your thing, make for the heavenly mountains of The Vosges in June. Expect pretty villages, lush forests and glacial lakes. Wine buffs will also love the vineyards. You also don’t have to be a super-fit walker to enjoy the superb natural environment of France’s third most wooded département, or its world-renowned thermal springs, lakes, fir forests, rivers and unspoiled flora.

The Normandy Coast

 

Mulberry Harbour at Arromanches

Mulberry Harbour at Arromanches

In the rush to reach other parts of the country, Normandy is all too often overlooked, but it has stunning coastal scenery while, further inland, there’s a beautiful, patchwork rural land. Upper Normandy in particular, just a short hop away, makes a perfect short break destination from the UK. Of course, there are also many historic attractions, including the beaches that saw the D-Day landings and the Bayeux tapestry. Equally, for those who love their cheese and cider, or indeed any other kind of quality food and drink, Normandy is heaven!

With a climate quite similar to that of the south of England, June is a very comfortable month to visit.

The Volcans d’Auvergne

The mountains

A diverse range of landscapes and cultural heritage

Like Scotland? Then you’ll adore this part of France. The Volcans d’Auvergne, the heart of France, is the biggest Parc Naturel Régional in the country, and Europe’s largest regional park as well as being one of the oldest. Full of rare plants and butterflies in the warmer months, it offers the chance to visit volcanoes, experience some incredible regional cuisine, and soak up a very diverse range of landscapes and cultural heritage.

Metz

Metz at night

This is the capital city of France’s Lorraine region, in the north east of the country here the Seille and Moselle rivers meet. It’s a real delight, with its stunning architecture and buildings the colour of honey, and lots of beautiful parks to visit – nearly 600 acres of parkland in all – making it one of France’s greenest cities.

All year round, you’ll find an extensive range of shows, concerts, exhibitions and sporting events to enjoy. Top sights not to be missed include the Centre Pompidou-Metz, a superb communal space, and the Saint-Etienne cathedral, one of Europe’s tallest Gothic buildings, boasting 6500 square metres of stained glass windows.

With so many very different places to visit in this superb country, France in June has so much to offer. So what’s stopping you from experiencing the many delights of France in magical early summer? Take a look at our current holiday accommodation in June.

5 Fun New Year’s Resolutions – and how to keep them

New year 2015

Why are New Year’s resolutions so difficult to keep? Every year we start off with such good intentions, but somehow it doesn’t quite seem to work. The simple answer is that most people simply carry on their lives as normal. They either expect their resolutions to keep themselves, or they forget they made them in the first place.

In fact, the key to keeping your New Year’s resolutions is to get out and do something. Explore your world, enjoy the countryside, remind yourself of why you made those resolutions in the first place, and put yourself in the ideal environment to achieve your goals.

Here, we take five common New Year’s resolutions – travel more, get fit, learn a language, relax more and spend more time with the family – and find out where to go and what to do to make these aspirations a reality.

1. Travel more

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First off, forget expensive, faraway destinations and those stressful hours trapped in the departures lounge. There are plenty of unexplored gems right here in the UK, just waiting to be discovered.

In fact, for breathtaking mountain scenery, an intriguing local language and and even a dormant volcano, you need only go as far as north Wales and the beautiful Snowdonia National Park. If you want to avoid the crowds of Snowdon itself, explore the rich natural and cultural treats of the rest of the park, including the ancient castles and more recent Welsh folk history to be found around Dolgeallau.

2. Get fit

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The bad news is that spending money on a gym membership you’ll hardly ever use will not get you fit. Amazingly, millions of pounds are still wasted in this way every year in the UK. The good news, however, is that a sure-fire way of making exercise work is to make sure you enjoy it. Instead of a sweaty, crowded gym, get yourself fit out amongst some of the outstanding natural beauty that Britain has to offer.

The Forest of Dean, just north of the River Severn and close to the Welsh border, is the perfect location for a fitness break. There’s a simply incredible number of activities available in this spectacular location, including cycling, caving, climbing and canoeing. There’s even diving at one of the UK’s newest inland dive sites. Plus, of course, there’s the simple pleasure of walking and hiking around one of England’s surviving ancient woodlands. You’ll be so captivated by the amazing scenery, you won’t even realise how fit you’re getting!

3. Learn a language

Le Mont Saint Michel
They say the best way to learn a new language is not in the classroom, but to immerse yourself in the culture. With a self catering break in the gorgeous countryside of France or Italy, you can escape the stifling cocoon of hotels, cities and resorts, and mingle with the locals. You’ll be amazed at how quickly you can pick up the basics in a supermarket or cafe. Plus, by visiting a stunningly beautiful location, you’ll give yourself even more motivation to persevere with the language.

An ideal place to start your learning is the stunning Armorica Regional Natural Park in Brittany. From the mountains to the sea, you’ll discover some incredible wildlife and breathtaking views. Here, you can forget the old French stereotypes: the local Bretons are very friendly, and fortunately they’re rather used to helping Brits struggling with the language!

4. Relax more

Bamburgh Castle and seat

To truly achieve relaxation, you need to give your body the most peaceful stimuli: creature comforts, natural beauty, and calm, quiet surroundings. Likewise, there are a few things you need to avoid at all costs, such as long-haul flights, stressful airports and lost luggage.

How about a holiday let with a hot tub, surrounded by the rugged beauty of Northumberland? In this most northerly part of England, you can really get away from the crowds, with miles of stunning coastline and woodland to enjoy.

5. Spend more time with the family

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Spending more time with the family does not mean staying at home in front of the telly! Jobs, housework and the distractions of normal life mean that getting away is the best option for renewing those family bonds. Getting everyone from the kids to the grandparents in one place is a great idea, and there’s no easier way to do so than by renting a large holiday cottage.

There’s no better choice than the Peak District, Britain’s first national park. If you’ve got family members spread far and wide, its location right in the heart of Britain, nestled just between Manchester and Sheffield, will ensure it’s easy to get to for everyone. With so much to see and do throughout its 500 square miles, there’ll be something to keep the whole family entertained, before you all come together for some real family bonding.

We hope this has given you some inspiration for how you can keep your New Year’s resolutions this year, whilst at the same time exploring some of the wonderful countryside right on your doorstep.

Views of France

They may not be festive, but we’re seeing a lot of interest in French properties for 2015 at the moment and we thought these views of France were too good not to share. If you fancy reserving yours then take a look at our France page for a huge selection of fantastic gites, villas and more.