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Six best France holidays and when to visit each destination

From Antibes in the south to Deauville in the north, here’s our pick of French destinations to explore

Zoe Griffin
Friday 12 May 2023 15:41 BST
<p>The Lighthouse in Trouville-sur-Mer harbour is a picturesque sight in Normandy </p>

The Lighthouse in Trouville-sur-Mer harbour is a picturesque sight in Normandy

Full of cultural attractions, renowned food and wine, 5,500km of coastline and seven main mountain ranges, France has a great deal to offer all types of travellers.

Whether you prefer hitting the slopes or sipping cocktails on a sun-soaked beach, most of the top destinations in France are easily accessible from the UK. Even better, our Gallic neighbour can be reached by ferry or train thanks to numerous transport connections, helping travellers make the more sustainable choice.

In 2022, France welcomed 82.6 million international tourists, overtaking Spain as the most visited country in Europe. Brits made up 14 million of them, heading to city destinations like Paris and Marseille as well as the beaches of Normandy or the French Riveriea, running from St Tropez to Menton. As travel times to France are so short, it’s possible to soak up some sights and stock up on beautiful views and good food during a long weekend. But there’s also plenty to do if you have time to stick around for a couple of weeks or more.

We’ve rounded up some of the country’s best holiday destinations, including snowy vistas and sandy coastal spots, to help you plan your next French holiday.

Read more on France travel:


Antibes is home to a Picasso museum

About half-way between Cannes and Nice, Antibes is an excellent base from which to explore the French Riviera. It’s home to a peninsula that juts out into the sea, maximising the amount of warm, sandy beach available to sit on. It feels more relaxed and laidback than the neighbouring towns of Cannes and Saint Jean Cap Ferrat, so you can lounge without caring too much who’s watching or what you’re wearing. However, it is worth packing cocktail attire so you can venture to the famous Hotel du Cap Eden Roc for a Bellini, made with vintage champagne and freshly pressed fruit juice. The decor is opulent and elegant, helping you to visualise the glamorous guests that have sashayed through the corridors or sipped drinks at the bar over the past 130 years. World famous names inlcude Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, The Duke of Windsor and Wallis Simpson, Orson Welles, Ernest Hemingway, Pablo Picasso and more.

For art lovers a visit to the Picasso museum in Antibes is a must. It dates back to 1946 when Picasso was offered the exceptional opportunity to set up his workshop in the heart of Château Grimaldi, the famous castle of Antibes Juan les Pins. Between mid-September and mid-November 1946, he created numerous works within the castle walls, including Les Clés d’Antibes (The Keys of Antibes). When he decided to return to Paris, Picasso left 23 paintings and 44 drawings behind, all of which can be viewed in the museum.

Best time to go for good weather

Between May and September, you’ll experience the best of the Mediterranean sun and perfect weather for seaside fun. Temperatures peak in July with an average of 29C, which is hot but not unbearable. In mid to late September, temperatures hover around 25C and most of travellers have gone back to school and work so you can enjoy quieter beaches.

Best time to go for cheap prices

The cheapest time to visit is mid to late September when the school term begins and temperatures fall slightly. Flights from London to Nice can be picked up for as little as £42 each way on easyJet. You can catch the train from Nice to Antibes from €4 .90.

Best time to go to avoid the crowds

If you want to avoid other tourists, visit in late September to the end of October.


Surfers catch the waves at La Cote des Basques beach in Biarritz

Biarritz, an elegant seaside town on southwestern France’s Basque coast, has been a popular resort since European royalty began visiting in the 1800s. It’s also a major surfing destination, with long sandy beaches and surf schools offering lessons for beginners. If you’ve never been on a board before you can spend days refining your technique until you eventually catch a wave. The water is calmer from May through to September, so more experienced surfers tend to visit from October to April when the waves are bigger amd more consistent.

The Basque coast is a mecca for foodies, with lots of regional delicacies that you won’t find elsewhere in France. Taste some Bayonne ham, ardi grasna (sheep cheese), spice up your meals with some Espelette pepper and slurp a fisherman’s soup called ttoro like a local. Your tastebuds will be in paradise.

From Biarritz, a 20-minute drive will get you to Bayonne, which is considered the chocolate capital of France as well as the birthplace of Bayonne ham. If you have a sweet tooth, visit the town’s tourist office to book a tour of the town’s chocolateries, some of which have been producing chocolate since the 17th century. For savoury fans, there are many charcuteries selling Bayonne ham, which is similar to Serrano or Parma hams, cured for 12 to 18 months for a rich, smoky flavour.

Best time to go for good weather

May, June and September are the best months weather-wise, when temperatures remain high (averages between 22C and 25C) but there’s enough of a breeze for good surfing conditons. July and August see temperatures of 27C and more, which makes for a more laidback, beach holiday rather than an active one.

Best time to go for cheap prices

September and October are when you’ll find excellent deals on accommodation and travel to Biarritz. In the summer you can fly from Stansted direct to Biarritz via Ryanair, but the train is the best way to travel off-season. Catch the Eurostar from £49 each way, followed by a single four-hour trip from Paris Montparnasse to Bayonne (from €19.95 if you book in advance on the SNCF website).

Best time to go to avoid the crowds

If you want to surf without being bothered by beginners, the months of October, March and April are a safe bet.


The Grande Motte in Tignes

One of the highest ski resorts in the Alps, with guaranteed skiing virtually year round, Tignes is a fantastic option for active travellers who get thrills from buzzing down mountains. While the apres-ski may not be as lively as the neighbouring Val d’Isere, there are some fun restaurants and late night bars in Val Claret. By day, this resort has very few queues and the snow is ever-reliable due to the high altitude.

From June to August summer skiing is possible on the 3,450m Grande Motte Glacier, which offers 20km of pistes and a snowpark for jumps. Ski and snowboard camps for juniors and adults run in the school summer holidays so you can sharpen your skills and show off the improvements to your friends on your next winter ski trip. There are huge, long sweeping runs up on the Grand Motte glacier which should be the goal for the end of a beginner’s first week skiing in Tignes. For intermediate skiers there is a good percentage of difficult blues and reds, which are challenging without being unsafe.

Other activities to try in Tignes include the lagoon swimming centre in Le Lac, ice skating and husky rides. You can also try snowkiting or ice climbing if you’re feeling particularly adventurous.

Best time to go for good weather

Thanks to its high altitude, Tignes has reliable snow from November to May. However, you can ski on the Grande Motte glacier from June to August.

Best time to go for cheap prices

Snow-risky early November and the cold depths of January are a good time to visit Tignes on the cheap. If you’re looking for summer skiing, aim for the end of season in August for better deals. You can book a train ticket to Moutiers on the Eurostar website; prices start from £49 each way for the Eurostar and €72 for the TGV part of the journey.

Best time to go to avoid the crowds

If you want to ski in relative peace and quiet, opt for July or early November.


The Eiffel tower on a sunny day in Paris

France’s capital is one of the most romantic cities in the world, as well as a fun destination to visit with a family. With world-famous art galleries, iconic sights like the Eiffel Tower and a number of beautifully kept outdoor parks, Paris offers tourists of all ages the chance to burn off a lot of energy while enriching their minds with culture and history.

A good place to start exploring is the famous Champs-Élysées shopping street, which is almost 2km in length. It connects the must-see Luxor Obelisk at Place de la Concorde to the majestic Arc Du Triomphe, and you can experience the best of French fashion, beauty and homeware boutiques along the route. There are also plenty of bistros and brasseries to stop at for a bite and a drink. Le Fouquet’s brasserie is the most famous, hosting famous guests and politicians since the late 19th century. Emmanuel Macron hosted a party here after his 2017 election victory.

Other must-see tourist sights in Paris are The Louvre, home to the famous Mona Lisa, and, of course, The Eiffel Tower. You can book tickets to climb to the summit of the Eiffel Tower on its official website to avoid the queues. If you have children young enough to need a stroller, simply fold it up in the elevator and all ages are welcome. However, be prepared for longer queues at The Louvre, as there’s usually a line to see the most famous paintings.

Best time to go for good weather

Springtime is pleasant in Paris. Between March and May, you’ll find the city in bloom. Avoid July and August when it can get hot and crowded. Later on in the year, September is also often fine and dry so you can walk around without needing too many layers.

Best time to go for cheap prices

The cheapest time to visit is in the autumn months of October and November when temperatures begin to fall.

Best time to go to avoid the crowds

There are fewer queues when the weather starts to get cold, so you’ll have the city as your playground in October and November. However, if you’re travelling with kids, the school Easter holidays and the May half-term holiday see fewer crowds in Paris than the summer holidays and the weather tends to be lovely then, too.


Deauville is a fashionable resort in Normandy

A short ferry ride from the UK lies the chic Normandy beach resort of Deauville. Known for its chalky white cliffs and colourful flowers, Deauville is often dubbed the Parisian Riviera. Reachable by road two hours north of the French capital, it’s the perfect escape for stressed-out city dwellers looking for rest and relaxation.

Walk the Promenade des Planches and look at the names of the cabins. Each of the buildings on the 643m long strech of boardwalk is named after a famous movie star, paying homage to Deauville’s annual film festival that takes place during the first week of September. In August, you can watch polo matches in the fields at the centre of the world-renowned Deauville La Touques Racecourse.

And let’s not forget the shopping. Gabrielle ‘Coco’ Chanel chose Deauville as the location of her first ever fashion boutique in 1913. She introduced deluxe casual clothing suitable for leisure and sport, featuring Breton-striped tops, tailored trousers and chic pyjamas that were suitable for the beach. Her influence remains today, with some cute beach boutiques selling classic laidback French glamour. There are also luxury boutiques like Louis Vuitton and Hermes around the town’s casino.

Best time to go for good weather

Deauville starts heating up in May with average temperatures of 18C and low rainfall predicted. Temperatures peak at around 23C in August, with the sea becoming a pleasant 17C.

Best time to go for cheap prices

The cheapest time to visit is before May or after September. Late April or early October are both pleasantly warm and you can usually pick up a great deal on accommodation if you travel in these months. Travel by ferry from Portsmouth to Caen from £42 each way; Deauville is an hour’s drive once you dock in Caen.

Best time to go to avoid the crowds

June sees warm weather and more space for your towel and sun lounger on the beach than July or August. Or wait until the schools go back in September and stay for a week. While in Deauville, take a road trip to Rouen for the Joan of Arc museum and castle ruins.


Lake Annecy offers clear water surrounded by mountain views

Lake Annecy is known as Europe’s cleanest lake thanks to strict environmental regulations. You can swim in it, sail, stand-up paddle board or scuba dive and the water reaches 24C in summer. Surrounded by majestic snow-capped mountains, the lake has grassy banks to lounge on while enjoying the spectacular scenery.

The town of Annecy has lots to explore, with quaint shops and historic buildings. Its picturesque canals and bridges and medieval architecture have earned the city the nickname of the “Venice of the Alps”. The cobbled streets and web of canals make for great backdrops for photos and videos. Visit the Thiou canal, which links the town to the lake, to capture a snap of the colourful buildings and vibrant plants and flowers lining the shores.

To learn more about the region’s culture, visit Annecy castle. It houses the museum of Alpine folk art, where you can see contemporary art and learn about the history of the area. There’s also a musum in Palais de l’Isle, a 12th-century building in the middle of the Thiou canal.

Best time to go for good weather

Summer is when the weather is warmest, the days are longer and the water temperature is higher. July sees average temperatures of 20C.

Best time to go for cheap prices

Annecy has lots of campsites in which you can spend the night in a tent for a very reasonable price compared to staying in a hotel or guesthouse. This will keep the cost down if you want to visit in summer. September sees the lowest prices in Annecy as the weather starts to cool down.

Best time to go to avoid the crowds

Tourists start arriving in July, so visiting Annecy in June or September will mean you beat the crowds of swimmers, divers and sailors. It’s also less crowded on the city streets, which are quite narrow in places.

Read more of our reviews of the best French hotels

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