Discover the off the track things to do in France you should do even if you cannot find them in the tourist guide, they are so worth doing.
It is too easy and simple to read a typical tourist guide and follow the top things to do in France. You might think you are safe you are going to have a great experience when visiting France. I do agree, there are things to do that guarantee great fun and experience with France however they also guarantee crowds, high prices and too many souvenir shops. So this time I wanted to present you a short but efficient list of the ,Top 10 underrated attractions to see in France which you cannot find in the tourist guide but they are worth doing!
Off the track Things to Do in France. The underrated attractions of France you need to see!
- Calanques of Marseille! And what you should do there? Swim, walk, admire! Why? Because Calanques are something exceptional. They are narrow, steep-walled inlets developed in limestone or dolomite. The area of Calanques is a wild and rugged terrain stretching from the ninth arrondissement of Marseille to the east towards Cassis, spanning 20 km in length and 4 km in width along the coast. It has been protected by a national park since 2012. It offers spectacular panoramas of the majestic white limestone cliffs and alluring azure blues as far as the eye can see. Definitely a thing to do and see in France.
- Charming villages of Alsace: Riquewihr or Ribeauvillé. Why them and what for? In order to stroll through the little towns which inspired the opening scene of Beauty and the Beast. I am sure you know this famous fairytale and so here in France you will have a real chance to feel like being in a fairytale of Disney. It is true, the fairytale has been inspired by the real villages of Riquewihr and Ribeauvillé located in the Alsace region of France, near the German border. The Alsace region has its’ share of cities and towns are full of charming architecture. While the entire region is picturesque, the villages of Alsace hold the most charm. I actually had a chance to visit those fairytales towns and more places in Alsace and here is my experience and recommendations.
- The Forêt de Fontainebleau. Located only sixty kilometres southeast of Paris, in the southwestern part of the department of Seine-et-Marne. And what this French attraction can offer us? Well, again a lot! It is a large forested area of 250 km2, well provided with hiking trails, and marked with rocky outcrop. In the heart of this area there is the village of Barbizon, once the mecca of landscape artists. In the rural west and the east of the region, there are other small villages and farming communities, maybe you heard of Fontainebleau and Avon? Super place for hiking, relaxing and stunning views.
- Diagonal of emptiness. The mountains of the Auvergne – the largest volcanic massif in Europe, the regions of France that lie in a large arc running from the Ardennes in the northeast, to Aquitaine in the southwest. It covers about half of the territory of France. Interesting: why empty? Because several departments in this area have a population density lower than 40 inhabitants per sq. km. They include most of the Massif Central mountains, for example the Lozere department has just 15 people per km². So it looks like it is a quiet, undiscovered part of France yet so beautiful that should be explored by you…if you like nature a bit.
- La Cave aux Sculptures, Dénezé-sous-Doué, France. This is the Cave of Sculptures which seems to be a big mystery of French history. Over 400 hundreds of characters are carved in a “troglo”, a true comic cartoon caricatures of the old time. The figures are shaped into the soft limestone surfaces of the caves’ walls, floors, and ceilings. The sculptures are believed to come from the late 1600s, but little is known about their origin. The identity of the sculptors and the aim behind the work remain a mystery. The figures themselves are often described as caricatures and some are believed to represent and even satirize various public figures of the era. Very interesting to see…
- Postman Cheval’s Palais Idéal. One of France’s strangest attractions, the Palais Idéal, in the Drôme department is an extraordinary example of architecture with an astonishing story behind it. The palace was built by postman Ferdinand Cheval, who had the idea after tripping over a stone in 1879. For the next 33 years he collected single stones to construct what he called a Temple of Nature. The palace was finally classified as a historical monument in 1969. I have actually visited the place and was nicely surprised. Here is the experience and some more info about Postman Cheval Palais Idéal.
- Neuf-Brisach, Alsace. It is an impressive citadel built by Vauban on the French-German border. It’s the country’s least-known Unesco World Heritage Site. Louis XIV commissioned the fortified town to be built in 1697 to bolster French defenses. Its red sandstone walls were constructed in the shape of an eight-pointed star and the Alsatian town is located inside. I have also been and seen this beautiful place in Alsace and wrote about it here. The views from this citadel were exceptional. Highly recommended!
- Fosse Dionne, Tonnerre. This is a deep natural water source that has been built up into a haunting grotto since Roman times. It is located in downtown Tonnerre (Yonne Department). It is driven by the infiltration of precipitation on the plateau as well as drainage from at least one river. The Fosse Dionne is remarkable because of its outflow (reportedly at least 100 litres per second on average). Its presence is at the center of the creation story of Tonnerre. An elaborate wash basin was built around the spring in the 18th century. The sinkhole was used in Roman times to supply clean water to a nearby palace, and became the focal point around which much of the ancient settlement developed. During the 18th century, a stone rim was built around the pool, with a spout at one end to allow the water to run off. A squat amphitheater was built behind the pool, and it was used as a public laundry. These constructions remain to this day.
- Alésia MuséoParc. This is a site project consisting of two museums and a 7,000 hectare park located near Alise-Sainte-Reine in Côte-d’Or in Bourgogne-Franche-Comté. The various monuments of the site were partly inscribed and partly classified as historical monuments between 1908 and 1921. Since 2016, all is integrated in the MuséoParc Alésia. The label of “Discovery Trails” which the MuseoParc holds, provides the public with the results of archaeological and historical research of the past two centuries. This remarkable historical site in Burgundy let you walk around the rebuilt fortifications in the reconstructed Roman camp of Alésia and it’s amazing to imagine this was the very spot where Julius Caesar thrashed chief of the Gauls Vercingétorix once and for all in 52 BC. The actors dressed up as Roman legions and battle demonstrations are particularly entertaining!
- Abbaye de Valmagne, Languedoc. This is a former Benedictine monastery located near Villeveyrac, Hérault, in south-central France. It is one of the most beautiful Cistercian abbeys in France and also one of the oldest vineyards in Languedoc. Abbaye de Valmagne is a designated historic monument founded as a Benedictine abbey in 1138 but twenty years later attached to the Cistercian Order, where it remained until the French Revolution when monasteries in France were confiscated by the state and either sold or destroyed. Abby de Valmagne escaped demolition and was sold intact to a Monsieur Granier-Joyeuse in 1791 who converted it into a wine cave for the maturing of wine in large barrels. This continues to serve today. So as we can see Abbaye de Valmagne fuels two great French passions: wine and architecture. Definitely worth exploring!
So did I surprise you or not? Maybe you have actually known any of those underrated attractions? If you know other things to do in France which are not included in the tourist guides but worth doing, please do share with me. I love expanding my list of things to do in France. Thank you so much!