Hidden France

Hidden France

An inspirational guide to France's hidden gems, ideal for exploring by car

Drive off the beaten track during your trip to France this year, and explore some of its most well-kept secrets.

Cévennes Mountains, Southern France

The Cévennes mountains can be intimidating to visit at first, but for those looking to see a rugged side of France, they are well worth the journey. As you drive through winding roads, sheer rockfaces surround you, and houses are cautiously chiseled into the mountainside. The weather here is usually warm and humid, so it's a great place to visit all year round.

Cévennes National Park – Image by Claire on Flickr
Cévennes National Park – Image by Claire on Flickr

Wide open green expanses are dotted with historical landmarks, and mountain climbers regularly come here to scale the area. In the nearby town of Florac, you can find guides that will take you out onto the mountainside, if you're brave enough! The roads around here are great for cycling, if you prefer, and having a car is a great advantage. When driving, it's a good idea to stock up on food when you can, as there are naturally a few miles between supermarkets.

Château de Florac – Image by troye owens on Flickr

The Cévennes National Park is a great area to travel through, but it can be even better when you have your own guide, or are part of a trek group, to show you the area's wildlife. Guides can be particularly beneficial if you're headed further afield to France's Grands Causses – a beautiful group of limestone plateaus, that attract kayakers and hikers alike.

Saint Benoît du Sault, Berry region, Central France

To experience a quintessential French village, drive to this small commune in the centre of France. Located in the region of Berry, in the past this has been voted one of the most beautiful villages in France, and for good reason. You'll face medieval brickwork at every turn, steeply sloped green gardens, and immaculate flowerbeds. The town's location on a butte overlooking the river enhances its idyllic feel, and there are a number of serene bed and breakfasts and hotels to choose from, as well as some really great campsites.

Buildings in Saint Benoît du Sault – Image by Daniel Jolivet on Flickr
Buildings in Saint Benoît du Sault – Image by Daniel Jolivet on Flickr

Local activities include fishing, hiking, horse riding and swimming in the nearby lakes, and the area can be easily explored by car or bike. When dining out here you'll be welcomed by traditional French restaurants, serving up delicious local cuisine. The town's must-see sites include the Belfry, the 14th century Roman priory, and the Château de Brosse. Today, all that remains of the castle is its keep and the curtain wall. An important historical site that was destroyed during the Hundred Year War, it's a great place to stop and have a picnic.

La Drôme department, Southeast France

A few hours' drive east of the Cévennes Mountains, La Drôme is a place filled with incredible sights to discover, whether you're driving through its lavender fields or kayaking on the river Drôme, you will spend hours admiring the region's soft beauty, great food and pretty villages. Sitting within the Rhone-Alps region, Drôme is home to both rolling hillsides and rocky mountains, and just on its border sits Mont Ventoux, one of the most popular routes for the Tour de France.

The area is sometimes seen as an alternative to the more popular Provence, with a similar setting but fewer crowds. When you're visiting Drôme, be sure to pop to the commune of Grignan in the south, which is home to Château de Grignan, a stunning 12th century Renaissance castle that is one of the best of its kind in southern France.

Grignan – Image by jvanattenhoven on Flickr

The surrounding fields contain rows upon rows of lavender, which can also be seen lining many of the roads and walkways throughout the rest of Drôme. The capital of the Drôme department is the beautiful city of Valence. Well-known for its cultivation of olive trees, the city overlooks the Rhone River and is just one hour's drive from Lyon.

Amiens, Picardy, Northern France

The city of Amiens is a wonderful combination of history and modern culture, as it has a number of world heritage sites as well as a dozen or so works of contemporary art that are dotted throughout the city for you to discover. Nearby to the city are memorials for the Battle of the Somme, which can be easily visited by car, and the city centre itself is mainly pedestrianised, which makes it a really pleasant place to venture through on foot.

Amiens waterfront – Image by Aires Almeida on Flickr
Amiens waterfront – Image by Aires Almeida on Flickr

Whilst the Notre Dame de Paris cathedral is probably France's most famous, Amiens is home to France's largest Gothic cathedral, which houses the skull of John the Baptist and stands at almost 140ft at its highest point. Three huge archways tower over you as you approach the west entrance, and if you're visiting during the summer, these archways are lit up by night to reveal their original 13th century colours. Some other great places to visit in Amiens include the Tour Perret, a skyscraper first built in 1954, the house of famous writer Jules Verne, and the Musée de Picardie, one of France's best museums.

Sologne, Loire Valley, Northwest France

France's Loire Valley is fairly well-travelled due to its laid back culture, historic architecture and serene natural surroundings. Hidden away here however, is the region of Sologne. This wonderfully wild part of France contains both the Château de Chambord and the Château de Cheverny, but often seems a whole world away, with marshes, moors, forests and lakes covering most of the region's landscape. Sologne's wildlife is equally as fascinating, with red deer, beavers, foxes, wild boar and a range of birds roaming the lands.

Château de Cheverny – Image by Benh LIEU SONG on Flickr
Château de Cheverny – Image by Benh LIEU SONG on Flickr

The best way to explore the region is on foot, and the ground is veined with wooden walkways, allowing you to admire the wildlife and pass through marshes, without too much risk of falling in! Driving from village to village is a fantastic way to see one of France's largest nature reserves, and whilst it's arguably best visited in the summer months, autumn brings with it berries and mushrooms that are ripe for the harvest, giving you the chance to go foraging in the woods.

 

Getting there and around

The Eurotunnel Le Shuttle takes you to Calais in just 35 minutes, giving you plenty of time to explore the hidden gems of France. Whether you're exploring the castles of old kings and queens, or camping out in France's wilderness, you can relax knowing that your trip home will be worry free.

Book travel

from £30
Prices start from £30 per car, each way* *£30 Day Trip & Overnight - Ticket must be purchased as part of a 2 day return. Return must be completed by midnight (local time) on the second calendar day. Book your travel now