France holidays

Travel

Europe’s hidden coasts: the Côte d’Argent, Landes, France

This wild Atlantic coast, south-west of Bordeaux, is backed by forests and nature reserves and includes the finest sandy beach in France. Yet even in mid-summer you can have it to yourself

Halfway between the great sand dune of Pyla and the posh surf and golf resort of Hossegor, is the finest stretch of sandy beach in France. South-west of Bordeaux, the Côte d’Argent begins at Mimizan Plage, where a river splits the beach in two.

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Architecture

Le Havre, a short break built on concrete chic

Le Havre is celebrating its 500th anniversary, but its architectural gems are modern masterpieces built from the ashes of war – and now a world heritage site

Few cities make you want to stroke their walls, but in Le Havre it’s hard to resist caressing the concrete. All but obliterated by allied bombing in the second world war, France’s second-largest port city was entirely rebuilt according to the meticulous vision of Auguste Perret, supreme master of liquid stone and tutor of Le Corbusier.

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Travel

10 of the best cafes and restaurants near Paris’s major attractions

Lunch near Paris’s big draws doesn’t have to be expensive or touristy. A short walk from the Eiffel Tower or the Louvre will reveal a classic bistro, stylish brasserie or locals’ favourite

Everyone visiting Paris is likely to end up among the crowds at its most famous sights; the problem that arises, then, is that there is rarely anywhere reasonable to stop for lunch – either price- or quality-wise. To miss out on the chance of a great meal in somewhere such as France is shame, especially as there is invariably a hidden gem just round the corner. So, here is a selection of classic-but-affordable bistros and brasseries, plus surprising health food and vegetarian options, and the chance to sample Asian and North African cooking too.

All places cited are children-friendly, and ready to prepare a small-portion special dish, say pasta or chicken

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Travel

Great Brittany: discovering the Crozon peninsula

If you’re going to Brittany – keep driving west. You’ll find huge uncrowded beaches, plenty of delicious seafood and some fairly dodgy festivals

The road to Lost-Marc’h is lined with blue hydrangeas. In this wild Atlantic setting, the tame shrub normally associated with suburban front gardens has taken on a vivid new life, tumbling over stone walls and winding its way into the hedgerows.

To our left, heather-clad cliffs plunge towards secret coves, which tempt us to pull over at every lay-by. We keep driving west, passing through tiny hamlets where the dour, granite walls of the sturdy slate-roofed cottages are leavened by front doors and shutters painted in vibrant cornflower blue.

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Travel

City breaks with kids: Nantes

This cycle-friendly city on the river Loire has family attractions galore, super street art and tasty food options for children

In this series: Paris | Barcelona | Amsterdam | Berlin | London | Rome

Not any more … Nantes is a wonderland for kids and parents. The city, on the river Loire, has seen a cultural reinvention in the past 10 years and there’s easily enough to do to fill a week – or a few days en route south, as my family and I tend to do. The best place to start is the Île de Nantes, the creative hub of the city on an island in the river. Here, the masterminds at Les Machines de L’ile Nantes have created a steampunk playground where a robotic elephant carries passengers on its back (rides €8.50 adults, €6.90 children) and sprays water on bystanders. Nearby, a carousel inspired by Nantes native Jules Verne and his novel 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea whirls visitors around on mechanical masterpieces such as smoke-breathing dragons, flying fish and fearsome anglerfish (ride prices as above). It’s possible to tour the workshop and see future creations taking shape.

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Travel

Normandy conquest: all-action family fun in the French countryside

On a group family holiday at a Normandy chateau, a sceptical dad is pleasantly surprised by how much fun the entertainment and activities are – and that doing nothing is an option, too

Call it an exercise in contrasts. At the summit of Mont Saint-Michel, the bronze statue of the archangel is glinting in the midday sun, sword raised and wings outspread. At the foot of Mont Saint-Michel, a small jam-smeared boy is wriggling through a tiny window in the fortress wall and idly breaking into the courtyard of a gendarmerie. The archangel is the protector of the mount. The boy is my son.

Four of us – me, my wife, our four-year-old daughter Bethan and seven-year-old apprentice cat burglar, Joe – have come to western Normandy to join 15 other British families on an all-ages adventure break. This group day trip is a mere bit-player in the week’s itinerary. The holiday is primarily based 45 minutes inland, at an old countryside chateau near Les Chambres on the Manche coast, near Brittany. It’s a wholesome setting in which rabbits hop, peacocks preen and mobs of croissant-fuelled children tear around, brandishing makeshift lightsabers.

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Travel

10 of the best country campsites in France

The authors of the latest Cool Camping: France book pick the best family-friendly sites from Normandy to the Pyrenees

Since its commission – by none other than William the Conqueror – Château de Monfréville, 10km from the Normandy coast, has housed everyone from Walt Disney’s whole family to invading German soldiers. Today it is limited to just 25 tent pitches, with ample room for little ones to roam and Bert the donkey to graze. There’s a natural swimming pond, an honesty shop (stocked with organic veggies from the garden) and fresh pastries delivered each morning. It’s a 30-minute drive to the medieval town of Bayeux, home of the world’s most celebrated tapestry.
Tent and 2 people from €26.50 (tents only)

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Travel

Pop on the piste: Chamonix’s fun new ski hotel

Neither cute chalet nor bland concrete block, Chamonix’s Rocky Pop hotel claims to be a chilled new take on winter holidays – and makes a fine base for our beginner snowboarder

I spent the run-up to my first ever proper winter holiday – and by that I mean going somewhere where there’s snow everywhere – checking weather forecast after weather forecast, only to find them all declaring this one of the worst years for Alpine snowfall in decades. I anxiously scanned photos of muddy slopes that looked more like Alexandra Palace after the end of a school snow day than a deep-powder winter wonderland.

Fortunately, the day before I arrive, around a metre of snow is dumped on Chamonix. So there I am, high in the French Alps, bag packed with borrowed ski gear, ear warmers and assorted thick socks, ready to learn to snowboard – and there is more snow than I have ever seen in my life. It looks, and feels, like Christmas.

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Travel

City breaks with kids: Paris

The city of love – or lights – can also be a delight for children, with special sessions at many cultural attractions and parks with playgrounds, ponds and puppets

More in this series: Berlin | Amsterdam

Most kids quickly tire of walking, so make it more interesting with a stroll along Les Berges de Seine, a scenic stretch of river starting from the Musée D’Orsay. Climbing frames, painted floor mazes, hopscotch, board games and seasonal, pop-up play apparatus are just a few of the things that will keep children entertained.

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Travel

20 of the best family campsites in Europe

With great restaurants, beautiful locations and lots of activities and entertainment, these sites offer all the fun but none of the hassle of traditional camping

  • Scroll to the end for booking guidance

All prices are for seven nights, for two adults and two kids in a mobile home or chalet for the week 29 July-5 August. Prices correct at time of going to press

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Music

Top 10 Paris jazz clubs – chosen by musicians and experts

Paris has always had a strong affinity with jazz, and there’s a wealth of venues to hear trad, modern and avant garde music. Here, performers, producers and critics pick their favourite clubs

Paris has swung to the rhythms of jazz for nigh on a century. With legends Bud Powell, Chet Baker and Miles Davis woven deep in its history, and pioneers Django Reinhardt and Stéphane Grappelli providing the backdrop to its cafe society, jazz is as much a part of the capital’s cultural heritage as art, philosophy and literature.

Yet jazz in Paris is no sepia-tinted relic: it remains a flourishing art form that packs out bars, clubs and caverns. With a profusion of styles on offer (from trad, modern and avant garde to bossa nova, jazz-funk and Afro-jazz, not forgetting France’s singular contribution to the genre – gypsy jazz), its freedom-loving soul lives on. And the more experimental among the city’s contemporary players are lifting its appeal to new heights.

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Travel

Yoga for beginners in the south of France

A trip outside the comfort zone can often feel a bit of a stretch. Our writer travels to an idyllic rural retreat near Toulouse with some concerns. As it happens, it proves to be a life-changing trip

The words “vegan yoga retreat” terrify me. I’m an internet, pulled-pork and sarcasm kind of guy. However, an increasing number of my friends have started raving about the life-changing effects of yoga, mindfulness and conscious-eating, and what I’m even more scared of is missing out. So, to find out what all the fuss is about, I’ve signed up for a week with Chaya Yoga Retreats to explore all three, figuring that even if it’s a living hell, the beds will hopefully be comfy.

Founded by wellbeing food coach Lucy Hill, Chaya has been running retreats for five years, offering yoga immersions in beautiful locations, from weekends in the UK to longer trips in Bali or India. We’re closer to home – a magnificent, remote château in the Toulouse countryside, with beautiful spacious rooms (mostly twin share, though some sleep four). It sits high above rolling fields, and the views stretch to the snow-capped Pyrenees. At night, the sky is hung with a million jewels, clouded only by the Milky Way. It may be the most peaceful place I’ve ever been.

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Travel

Ski holiday calendar: will there be snow when I go?

When splashing out on a ski trip, you need to know there’ll be plenty of white stuff. We recommend the best resorts at Christmas, half-term, Easter and more

In these troubled climatic times, skiers and snowboarders can no longer rely on adequate snow cover throughout the season. So planning is vital. In particular, anyone arranging an early or late holiday should choose somewhere at high altitude, then even if there’s insufficient natural stuff, the sub-zero temperatures – at least at night – should ensure that artificial snowmaking can take place.
Prices below are per person for one week, including half-board, flights and transfers, unless stated otherwise

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Music

Paris’s hip-hop cultural centre launches first season of events

The theme of Paris-New York is at the core of a series of hip-hop events and performances at La Place – part of the €1bn Canopée des Halles project – an innovative centre that showcases underground sounds

A government-funded hip-hop centre seems like a paradox – given the history of tensions between rappers and the establishment. Both the former president – the Republican Nicolas Sarkozy – and Socialist prime minister Manuel Valls have denounced French rap groups in the past. But now La Place, a new hip-hop cultural centre, has become the centrepiece of the controversial Canopée des Halles, a €1bn architectural space designed to breathe new life into the notoriously ugly and dangerous Les Halles station, and draw a line under Paris’s shame at the destruction of the beautiful 19th-century wrought-iron market that was bulldozed in 1971.

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Travel

10 of the best foodie retreats in rural France

These charming B&Bs, guesthouses and gîtes offer comfortable pitstops on a French adventure, but with their mouth-watering regional food and wine they may prove hard to leave

Strawberries, squash, lemon verbena and lettuce come from Françoise Maynier’s immaculately kept gardens just inland from Brittany’s Pink Granite Coast. She also keeps a couple of donkeys, three cats and six hens who overlook the sculptures and ancient rose bushes in the five gardens, separate cottage and ponds. The manor has four rooms and an apartment, all done out in Breton stripes and nautical chic. The table d’hôtes set dinner, which Françoise prepares herself, usually involves fish and seafood, such as thick slabs of cod, prawns and crab. As the local fishermen don’t go out on Sundays, a typical Monday evening meal might be melon and mint soup, then chicken in cider followed by roast peach with gingerbread. Françoise also does an exceptional far breton, a custard-based sponge cake with prunes.
Doubles €90, dinner €25, +33 2 96 22 89 68, troezel-vras.com

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Travel

10 of the best national and regional parks in France

France’s green spaces provide the chance to see magnificent wildlife, explore mountain villages or just have a great hike or bike ride

The first (1963) and largest of France’s mainland national parks, the Vanoise is in the French Alps, becoming the Gran Paradiso national park once it’s over the Italian border. Hundreds of trails crisscross the mountainsides where semi-tame marmots come up for a sniff of your picnic and where edelweiss pokes out among the bluey trumpets of gentiana acaulis on the slopes. Lynx, wolves, chamois and ibex descend once the ice has melted in the spring. Surrounded by prestigious ski-resorts, Courchevel and Val-d’Isère the park offers a grand spectacle of glaciers and mountain lakes, perfect for mountain biking and trekking in the summer and cross-country skiing in the winter.
Stay Le Roc de la Pêche, a chalet-style wood-and-stone building with a hammam and spa; €62pp, €28-a-bed in a dorm
vanoise-parcnational.fr

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Travel

Love Paris like a local: tour the city with an insider guide

Want to find the cradle of French cuisine, the former brothel of Edward VII or where Napoleon lost his virginity? A network of locals in Paris, and cities worldwide, is guiding tourists to secret spots

Georges, a retired French gendarmerie general, is waiting outside the metro station in the Parisian district of Le Sentier, eager to show off the finer – and less refined – points of an area he knows “like his pocket”, as the local expression goes.

Le Sentier is a curious mix of shabby and chic that stretches from the grand boulevards of Napoleon III’s architect Baron Haussmann to the aristocratic Palais Royal, via the colourful and notorious Saint Denis district, with its prostitutes and rag trade sweatshops.

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Travel

France fuel strike leads to tourist anxiety ahead of bank holiday weekend

Depot blockades and fuel shortages in France are set to cause chaos as the UK government and RAC issue warnings over potential petrol rationing

Steph Hoy has been following the news about the French fuel strike anxiously. On Thursday evening she is driving her 1960s Morris Minor to Portsmouth to catch the ferry to Cherbourg and begin a tour across France. Her car might have stood the test of time … but it still needs petrol. And right now, France is not coming across as the most inviting destination for a road trip.

“I’m pretty nervous,” she says. “If you look at the news, all you see is disgruntled workers burning piles of tyres and rioting.”

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