Top 5 Overlooked Adventures in France
If the Eiffel Tower just doesn’t do it for you any more, and you’ve had your fill of the Dordogne (dubbed “Dordogneshire” due to its popularity with British tourists), you’re probably ready to venture off France’s well-worn tourist trail and discover some of its lesser-known delights.
Arras, in the north of France, has a Flemish feel, with its two grand, arcaded squares, flanked by 17th- and 18th-century mansions that now house charming shops and restaurants. Mark it down in your diary for the magical Christmas markets, which start in late November. There’s more to the town than meets the eye: Beneath the streets lies a network of tunnels, now open to the public, which were used by British troops in World War I.
Head to eastern France for the delightful town of Annecy in the Haute-Savoie region. Annecy manages to blend the aquatic allure of Venice with classic French chic. You can kayak around Lake Annecy to admire the stunning mountain setting, before sitting down to a comforting Haute-Savoie dinner. Paddle hard if you want to indulge in the celebrated tartiflette, though: Concocted from bacon, potatoes, and rich Reblochon cheese, this is not for dieters!
Travelling around Europe can give you castle fatigue, but the fortress at Tarascon (23 km from Avignon and 20 km from Arles) will awaken your inner child again. Looming over the Rhone River, this is just the sort of castle kids imagine firing cannons and boiling oil from, or pining for princes in magical turrets. Its towers are reassuringly formidable, its drawbridge is straight out of a fairytale, and its legendary monster – the tarasque – is suitably grotesque. (It had a lion’s head and a tortoise’s shell).
Wild white horses and flamingos are the stuff of fairytales, so seeing them roam free in real life is an experience to treasure. The sweeping plains and marshlands of the Camargue region of southern France are a unique wildlife haven. Get a feel for the sheer scale of the salt marshes by renting a car, before taking a walk in the bird park of Pont de Gau to watch the spectacle of hundreds of flamingos flocking.
For when you truly have castle fatigue, and you’re ready for something modern and exciting, go and see the Millau Viaduct, 225km from Clermont-Ferrand, on the A75 motorway to Béziers in the south of France. Opened in late 2004, this cable-stayed bridge stretches across the river Tarn and is taller than the Eiffel Tower. Driving over the bridge feels something like flying, but go to the visitors’ centre below for the best views.