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The best off-the-beaten track destinations in France

Discover the less travelled places to explore in France on your next adventure.

France is a much-loved tourist destination for many, but here we will explore some of the regions and towns that aren’t always the first places you think of when booking a break.

From places steeped in history and filled with gorgeous architecture to open countryside and charming forests. What will you discover off-the-beaten track?

Forêt de Fontainebleu

An old hunting ground of the kings of France, this forest is a where many come to try their hand at rock climbing and bouldering. It has a huge amount of unique boulders (called problems by boulderers) to suit all abilities, so the whole family can enjoy the space.

Many artists have found inspiration here, thanks to the wide variety of landscapes and beautiful flowers that grow along wooded walkways and trails through the trees, too. Pack a sketch book and spend a relaxing afternoon creating your own masterpiece.

Where is it

Foret de Fontainebleau is around a 4 hour-drive from Calais. It’s also only an hour's drive south of Paris, so you could plan a trip to the capital as part of the drive there, or on your way home.

Distance from Calais

3 hours 50 minutes (352 km) via the A26 and A1.

Places to stay

For something close to the town, L’Aigle Noir or Hotel de Londres both offer great accommodation. Or slightly further afield, Chateau d'Augerville is set against a backdrop of beautiful French countryside. Two popular campsites are La Musardiere at Milly-la-Forêt and Le Pres at Grez sur Loing.

Things to see

Many come here to take in the opulent Château de Fontainebleau Gardens & Park, dating back to the 17th Century. Meander where royalty once stepped and enjoy the peaceful setting.

The picturesque French town of Bayeux France near the coast of Normandy with its medieval houses overlooking the River Aure on an overcast day

Bayeux, Normandy

You have probably heard of the famous tapestry that resides here, depicting the events of the Norman conquest of England, but there is so much more to Bayeux. Wander through the cobbled streets and enjoy shops and cafes as well as reflective museums and galleries that can be enjoyed all year round.

Where is it

Bayeux sits on the banks of the Aure river, Normandy, in Northwestern France. It’s an hour’s drive northwest to Rouen, or even closer lies Caen, two more historically rich places to enjoy.

Distance from Calais

3 hours 41 minutes (373.2 km) via the A16 and A29.

Places to stay

For a luxury stay between Bayeux and the nearby coast, try La Cheneviere, with elegant rooms and a fabulous restaurant. La Ferme de la Gronde is ideal for families who want to experience a traditional French farm setting.

Things to see

Sitting at the heart of Bayeux is the town’s Notre-Dame Cathederal. Built in a gothic style it’s an impressive piece of French architecture, featuring a 9th century crypt with pillars and columns adorned with paintings that date back to the 15th century.

Many visit Bayeux to see the 68-metre-long Bayeux Tapestry, a detailed piece of embroidery that displays the events that lead to the battle of Hastings in 1066. For a breath of fresh air don’t miss the Botanical Gardens of Bayeux, which is free to roam.

Enormous green valley with a lake set amongst lots of tall trees under a blue sky

Franche Comté

Characterised by mountains and valleys, Franche Comté is still a relatively under-appreciated place to take a break in France. It promotes itself as a ‘green tourism’ spot, thanks to its valleys that remain green even in the hottest summers. This is an area well-known for its agricultural products, too, especially the famous ‘Comté’ cheese, and smoked sausages. It is also France's watchmaking area.

Where is it

Franche Comté sits on the French border with Switzerland, northwest of Lake Geneva. It lies between Burgundy, Alsace, and Champagne. South of the region’s capital Besançon, is a quiet town of Lons-le-Saunier, which provides a gateway to the Jura Mountains to the east.

Distance from Calais

5 hours 52 minutes (661.5 km) via the A26.

Places to stay

Go camping in the Loue valley which ranges from Ornans to Source de la Loue and hike to see its deep gorge, with impressive crags. If you are planning a winter trip, Metabief Mont d'Or is a lovely ski resort, near lake Lac de St Point.

Things to see

The capital of Franche-Comté, Besançon, is surrounded by the river Doubs and is one of the hidden jewels of France. You could easily lose a day or two marvelling at its architecture and enjoying its well-stocked art galleries. For a quiet break amongst nature, you cannot beat the Haut Doubs and Haut Jura areas, running along the Swiss border, perfect for camping and hiking.

A couple walking down steep wooden steps in a green valley

Auvergne

This beautiful region of France is made up of four departments: Allier, Puy-de-Dôme, Cantal, and Haute-Loire. Vichy in South Allier is a popular spa town and its capital city, Clermont-Ferrand, lies at the foot of an ancient volcano.

However, away from these busier towns and cities, Auvergne is a largely rural area with plenty of quiet spaces. The Cantal department is filled with rolling hills and you’ll often spot meandering cattle during a hike, while in Haute Loire you’ll find medieval castles and numerous mountain bike trails.

Where is it

Auvergne is in South Central France, bordered to the north by the region of Centre-Val de Loire.

Distance from Calais             

7 hours 21 minutes (723.4 km) via the A71.

Places to stay

The ski resorts of Besse and Super Lioran are quieter spots for winter breaks, or you can choose from a multitude of campsites. Camping Lake Siauve in the heart of the Auvergne offers peace and relaxation or stay at Les Escargots Bleus at the edge of the gorges of the Haut-Allier. 

Things to see

For a rewarding walk, the enormous Puy-de-Dôme is just southwest Clermont-Ferrand. This impressive 1,465 metre high dome of lava has a few ways you can reach the summit to enjoy the view.

You can follow in the footsteps of the Gallo-Romans and take the 2,000-year-old path that leads to the ruins of the 2nd century Temple of Mercury at the top, or join the GR4, which approaches the summit from the northern side. If you’d rather not walk, Panoramique des Dômes is the railway that brings you to the top in comfort and style.

A pretty French village set back into a cliff edge with a lush green valley surrounding it

Rocamadour

Rocamadour is in the Dordogne, which is a popular spot for families travelling to France thanks to its many outdoor activities to choose from. Although the ‘vertical village’ of Rocamadour attracts many visitors thanks to its, quite frankly, astounding location (it clings to the cliff side above the river Alzou), the surrounding area is peaceful and filled with secret spots to explore and unwind.

Where is it

Rocamadour is in the Lot department in the far north of the Occitanie region, close to Périgord and the Dordogne valley. It sits within the Parc Naturel Régional des Causses du Quercy.

Distance from Calais

8 hours 14 minutes (815.7 km) via the A20.

Places to stay

You can stay right in the magnificent town at Le Terminus de Pèlerins, but many choose to camp in the nearby valleys and surround themselves with hiking and cycling trails to make the most of the area. Try staying at Camping Le Pigeonnier near Gouffre de Padirac, one of the most beautiful cave formations in France.

Things to see

This area has plenty of natural sights and is certainly popular with those looking to experience the French countryside at its best. The Ecoparc du Rocher des Aigles wildlife park attracts lovers of birds, while the La Maison des Abeilles is all about the buzz of the bees. If you are travelling with children, the Foret des Singes (forest of monkeys in French) has more than 100 monkeys living in relative freedom that may pay you a visit as your wander the paths.

Start your French adventure with Eurotunnel Le Shuttle

Inspired to take a chance on the path less travelled? We promise it’s worth it. With the journey from Folkestone to Calais taking just 35 minutes with Eurotunnel Le Shuttle, it won’t be long before you’re deep in the French countryside and wishing you’d visited sooner.

Heading further south? See our travel guide to exploring the south of France in the Cévennes.

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