France holidays

Travel

10 of the best winter sports resorts in Europe for skiing and more

Not everyone is thrilled by the idea of a week’s skiing and little else; here are ski bases with the full St Moritz array of winter fun but without the Swiss original’s steep prices

The winter sports holiday was famously born in Switzerland in September 1864, when a canny hotelier in St Moritz wagered a party of British visitors that if they returned in winter and the sun failed to shine more than in summer, he’d foot their bill. Statistically, he was on safe ground. They returned, and the rest is history.

Today, St Moritz offers everything from golf, cricket and horse racing on the frozen lake, to the Cresta Run and bobsleigh. But it’s expensive. Here are 10 less well-known destinations that offer more than just skiing.

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Travel

Smoke on the water: a boating holiday adventure in France

On a family break along the Canal du Rhône au Rhin, Emma Cook and Co are out of their comfort zone, especially when their new boat breaks down. Still, there’s always Strasbourg to savour

It’s a beast of a boat, more Puerto Banús than Canal du Rhône, satin white curves and chrome handrails gleaming in the sun.

And it’s ours for the week. This is Horizon, the shiniest and newest addition to the range by Le Boat, the canal boat specialist which offers self-drive craft along the waterways of mainland Europe, UK and Ireland.

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Travel

Holiday guide to Somme, France: what to see plus the best restaurants, bars and hotels

The area of northern France known for battlefields and memorials also has pretty landscapes, unspoilt beaches and some of the country’s best cuisine – all just a short hop from the UK

This bucolic region of north-east France is forever associated with memorials of the first world war, but it has a lot more to offer visitors, from unspoilt countryside to quaint coastal resorts that even few French people know about. The Somme is named for its river, with an immense estuary where it empties into the Channel. The Baie de Somme, as it is known, was where William the Conqueror gathered his army before setting off to fight the English at Hastings, and today these unique wetlands offer a host of ecological and wildlife holiday activities.

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Travel

The best walks in northern France: readers’ travel tips

Canals, wetlands and amazing coastline in Normandy and Picardy offer great hiking – plus excellent fish cafes and crêperies for refuelling in afterwards

The GR21 running 186km from Le Havre to Le Tréport takes in Normandy’s classic coastline, green countryside, architecture and second world war sites. I recommend taking the boat to Le Havre and doing the first few days up to the beautiful port town of Fécamp. You will see the best of the stunning white cliffs, vistas painted by Monet at Étretat and a wealth of history. As an official GR path, the walk is clearly waymarked in red and white, but there are handy maps at the tourist office in Le Havre. It’s easy to find accommodation and supplies at the towns en route and buses and trains back to Le Havre are regular and take around an hour.
seine-maritime-tourisme.com
Savas Arici

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Travel

10 of the best beach bars in France

Trays of oysters, iced rosé, swordfish brochettes, even Trump-inspired cocktails … these bars de plage boast superb fare and sunshine vibes

A hidden cove, a respite from the flashy excesses of the Riviera near Monaco, Eden Plage is reached by a tricky headland path (closed when the sea is rough) or a long, stepped descent from the village. The restaurant-bar serves great seafood, burgers and chips with views of the steep cliffs of Saint-Laurent bay and the gently-lapping Mediterranean. You can rent a paddle board or kayak on the gravelly beach and head into the nearby grottos. There’s also a floating pontoon to swim to and red sunbeds under the parasols. You might be disturbed by a model from the boutique behind the bar showing off swimsuits, pareos or a macramé bag or just the waiter topping up your rosé (€8 a glass), but otherwise, it’s the most undiscovered beach resort on the Côte d’Azur.
Allée Mala, edenplagelamala.com

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Travel

Flea to France: shopping at Europe’s largest vintage market

The Provençal village of L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue has the largest concentration of vintage stores outside Paris and also hosts a giant open-air flea market. The next is in August – so get ready for a bric-a-brac bargain

For a small place, L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue isn’t short of antiques shops. Filled with tiny, walkable quarters specialising in different types of vintage, this ancient Provençal village has the largest concentration of vintage stores outside Paris. These mini districts are reached by criss-crossing bridges that span the shallow, clear river Sorgue, creating a spot that, for a homewares lover, is irresistible.

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Travel

Toulouse city guide: what to see plus the best bars, restaurants and hotels

In France’s sunny ‘pink city’, ancient palaces show world-class art and crowds sip pastis and eat cassoulet and top-notch tapas at lively food markets

Ask French people where they would prefer to live and one answer that keeps coming up is Toulouse. Some 10,000 people settle here each year, drawn to the romantic ville rose, by the sunny southern climate and the lively bistros and bodegas serving delicious regional cuisine alongside tasty Spanish tapas. A Latin spirit pervades the city just 100km from the Spanish border, and the laid-back toulousains could not be more welcoming. Many of the distinctive red-brick palaces and mansions in the historic centre house world-class museums, and with a 100,000-strong student population, weekends turn into one long fiesta. Join them sipping a pastis apéro on the grassy banks of the fast-flowing Garonne river, or dancing salsa into the early hours.

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Travel

10 of the best new summer activitiy holidays in the Alps

From ziplines in Switzerland to walking holidays in Italy and France, plus mountain bike breaks and an outdoor festival, the Alps are worth a ‘peak’ this summer

Car-free family ski resort and outdoor activity base Arc 1950 has opened another bike route for the summer, one that goes through the centre of the village – so if staying in the resort, you can pedal right back to your apartment. Buying a mountain bike pass provides access to 180km of marked trails for all levels; that’s 23 trails with nine downhill runs and two cross-country circuits among the count. A short drive from Chamonix, the village enjoys spectacular views of Mont Blanc.
Half-day mountain bike pass €15 adult, €12 children, arc1950.com

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Travel

Learning to sail on the Côte d’Azur

A week exploring France’s Mediterranean coast offers a touring holiday without a bus, a sailing trip without millionaire prices, and Riviera beaches without crowds. Plus: more sailing trips for softies

Several superyachts are bobbing in the warm sunshine in Cannes’ Vieux Port. Europe’s largest boat show has just been to town and among the hulking shadows of the multi-millionaires’ craft sits our more modest 15-metre sailing boat, Aruba.

I’d always envisaged yachting in the south of France as the preserve of the rich and famous, but I’m on an eight-day trip sailing between Nice and Marseille to sample, “a champagne lifestyle on a sparkling wine budget” (the trip, with Intrepid Travel, is on offer for less than £750pp in June).

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Travel

Top 10 wine bars in Bordeaux – chosen by experts

It’s arguably the world’s top wine city. So where do local insiders head for a good glass of red or white with food to match?

A year after the opening of the Cité du Vin, visitors to Bordeaux are spoilt for choice when it comes to appreciating one of France’s premier wine regions. They can ride through the vineyards on a bicycle, tour them in a London taxi, or take a tasting cruise on the Garonne. The tourist board has created a handy downloadable tour of Bordeaux’s latest wine bars, but where do those in the know go for a verre de vin? I asked 10 connoisseurs to let me in on their favourite places.

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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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