France, a land of iconic landscapes, charming culture and ever-celebrated cuisine – there really is no wrong time to go. From blooming flower fields and city streets lined with blossoms in the spring, to the peaceful yet dramatic autumn hues and rich truffle season in the winter, whenever you’re planning a French sojourn, there’s a perfect place to be.
This is the best time of year to visit Paris and the surrounding regions in the north when cherry blossoms decorate the city’s boulevards. One of the best places to see spring flowers in full bloom is Monet’s Garden in Giverny. Catch the train from Paris and hire bikes from the station for a short, pleasant cycle through fields and villages to the picturesque house and gardens. This is also the best time to see the gardens flourishing at Versailles and Chantilly, also a day trip from Paris. A little further afield, head west to Normandy where the apple trees are in full bloom and visit Mont Saint Michel while you’re there.
There are two places to be in France in the summer: Provence or the Atlantic coast. Paris shuts down in August when the whole city heads south to the shores of the Mediterranean, leaving behind swarms of tourists and not much else. This is the perfect time to head south – not quite to the coast but to Provence, where the lavender fields are in bloom from June to August. Take a self-drivetour around the Luberon, Mont-Ventoux, Sault or Valreas regions to explore the lavender from field to distillery and learn how the flowers are used to make honey, in cooking, soaps, cosmetics and more. Or if surfing is on your agenda, hit the breaks of the Basque Country. It will be busy, but the swell is definitely worth it.
Autumn is arguably the most beautiful time to visit France, when the skies are clear blue, the air is crisp and the foliage turns vibrant hues of yellow, orange and red. Strasbourg in Alsace, with its Germanic climate, large gardens and canals winding through the city, is especially picturesque. The tiny village of Rocamadour in Quercy, north of Toulouse, is also worth visiting. The village clings precariously to the side of a cliff above the Alzou canyon, spectacular in the changing season. Last but certainly not least, Paris, with its tree-lined boulevards and perfectly manicured gardens, is quiet, romantic and charming in the autumn. Parc des Buttes Chaumont and Jardin du Luxembourg are two of the best parks to admire the changing season.
If food is high on your travel agenda, Lyon should be your winter destination. The food capital of France is renowned for hearty, flavourful fare, thanks in part to what the surrounding regions produce. Each town or valley has one specialty – lentils from Puy, chickens from Bresse or pepper from Esplette. There is one ingredient, however, that foodies will not want to miss – truffles. Go hunting on a farm in nearby Provence, or simply find a seat at one of Lyon’s many excellent bouchons (restaurants serving traditional Lyonnaise cuisine).