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

Early summer is the perfect time to soak up the rich culture and spectacular scenery of France; there are fewer crowds, the climate is more than inviting and most of the local population 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 too, 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.

1. Loire Valley

Chambord Chateau: one of the Loire

The Loire Valley is a fairy-tale land of medieval chateaux rising above the Loire River (as well as the lesser known Maine, Vienne and Indre waterways). Explore villages and towns that time forgot and visit places like Chinon and Saumur – there’s a bit of magic around every corner! Make sure you visit Chambord, perhaps the Loire’s grandest chateau, with its mass of spires and gorgeous waterside location.

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.

2. Aix-en-Provence

The Old Town of Aix-en-Provence

Despite its elite opera festival, elegant golden stone mansions and grand squares, Aix is less haughty and more youthful than you might expect with a large student population and a buzzing café society.

What’s more, Eurostar now provides great access to 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 15th Century. One of southern France’s finest works of art, it can be seen in the St Sauveur cathedral.

3. 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, forests and rivers. Relaxation is a given!

4. The Normandy Coast

Mulberry Harbour at Arromanches

In the rush to reach other, further parts of the country, Normandy is all too often overlooked. But with stunning coastal scenery, beautiful patchwork fields and a welcoming climate to enjoy, there are plenty of reasons to stop. The many significant historic attractions – including the D-Day beaches, Le Mont-Saint-Michel and the Bayeux tapestry – provide a perfect complement to the scenic beauty.

Normandy is also a foodie heaven. The long coastline offers plenty of ‘fruits de mer’, while the land rears poultry, pork and lamb, cheese and apples – perfect for producing its famed cider and Calvados brandy.

5. The Volcans d’Auvergne

The mountains

Like the sights Scotland but could do with better weather? 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 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 and soak up a very diverse range of landscapes and cultural heritage.

If you fancy something a little more refined, visit Auvergne’s town and cities for fine food, great culture and architectural beauty.

6. 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 stunning architecture and nearly 600 acres of parkland –making it one of France’s greenest cities.

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.

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