Hidden gems in France

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Paris, Bordeaux, the Riviera - France has plenty of hotspots, but for every popular town there's a hidden gem waiting to be found.

Go off the beaten track

Here in Britain, we've had a love affair with holidays in France for a long time, but many of us still stick to the same old places rather than exploring what else France has to offer. Has it ever occurred to you that when you drive straight to the overcrowded resorts of the French Riviera, you're charging past more than a thousand kilometres of France without ever stopping to explore?

Everyone wants to get away from the tourist traps and find somewhere unspoilt that they can brag about (or keep to themselves) when they get home; so we've done the work for you and picked a few French destinations that are interesting, picturesque - and largely unknown to holidaymakers. Visit one, visit all of them if you want - just don't go talking about them too much, or everyone will be there next year!

Palais Idéal, Hautrives

Palais Idéal, Hautrives

In 1879, a postman named Ferdinand Cheval tripped over an oddly-shaped stone whilst on his daily rounds. It reminded him of a palace he'd dreamed of as a child, and with no more reason than that he embarked upon an epic endeavour - to build the edifice he'd dreamed of, a colossal palace to nature. The Palais Idéal took Cheval thirty-three years, twenty of which were spent constructing the outer walls from tiny pebbles. Combining different artistic styles in a way that makes the palace look almost as if it's growing out of the earth, this is an unforgettable sight.

Le Puy-en-Velay

Le Puy-en-Velay

A beautiful city that, whilst prized by the French for its architecture and gastronomy, seldom attracts English tourists, Le Puy-en-Velay is near the Loire in south central France. Attractions include the striking cathedral with its black and white stripes, the colossal statue of the Virgin Mary (forged from 213 captured Russian cannons) and the constant trickle of pilgrims who travel to the city to begin their long walk through the Pyrenees to Santiago de Compostela. Le Puy is also the home of France's oldest tradition of lace-making - ideal for an unusual souvenir or gift - and the uncommonly flavourful green lentils grown in the area.

Neuf-Brisach, Alsace

Neuf-Brisach, Alsace

France's most obscure UNESCO World Heritage site, this fortified town on the German border was commissioned in 1697 by Louis XIV - the Sun King himself. Built to the final design of the legendary French military engineer Vauban, its complex fortifications and enlightened civic design betray its origins as a product of the early Enlightenment. The town is within striking distance of Strasbourg, making it a perfect day out if you're enjoying the charms of Alsace.

Ventabren, Provence

Ventabren, Provence

The tourist towns of Provence are standing room only throughout the summer, but you only need to travel for a few minutes to escape the crowds. Fourteen kilometres from Aix-en-Provence is the tiny hilltop village of Ventabren, which commands spectacular views across the gentle countryside. Take time to explore the ruined cháteau, then take lunch in the town's only restaurant, then leave and tell nobody where you've been.

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Musée des Égouts de Paris, Paris

Musée des Égouts de Paris, Paris

Near the Pont de l'Alma, half-hidden by trees and an awning, an unassuming ticket booth holds a fascinating secret. This is the entrance to the Sewer Museum of Paris, a unique way to explore the city from beneath. Victor Hugo visited the sewers of Paris when writing Les Misérables, and as long ago as the 1890s there was an underground train tour of the sewers for the wealthy and curious. Happily, the tour now costs just a few Euros, and is well illustrated in both French and English - it's ideal for inquisitive kids, but no less interesting for adults.

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Talmont-sur-Gironde

Talmont-sur-Gironde

Tucked into the Gironde estuary just a few kilometres from the Atlantic Ocean, this tiny village is officially one of the “plus beaux villages de France”. It's not hard to see why. Balanced on a rocky outcrop above the water, the village - which was fortified by Edward I of England in 1284, a full two hundred years after its central church was originally built - appears to take up the entire spit of land, with not even enough room to walk around the outer walls. The village itself is pedestrianised and overrun with hollyhocks, which pour out from between the buildings to fill the narrow streets with sprays of pink blossom.

Getting there

Because we're so used to the convenience of planes, trains and ferries, the best way to get off the beaten track is to travel under your own steam. Starting your journey with Eurotunnel Le Shuttle lets you plan every aspect of your trip, from the time you set off (Eurotunnel runs all day and night) and to what you pack there's no maximum baggage allowance.

Our Folkestone terminal is just 35 minutes away from Calais, which is ideally placed to let you get straight onto a motorway or choose the scenic route and explore the historic Pas-de-Calais region. Whatever you're planning to do and wherever you're dying to go, a quick, cheap trip with Eurotunnel is the best way to start your holiday.

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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