Just after the tail-end of the summer holidays –once tourists have packed up their parasols and children are back in school– there is a magical time when nature seems in perfect stasis. It’s the shoulder season in France, and my favourite part of the year. The weather is still lovely, sometimes more stable than July and August, the days are still long but the evenings start drawing in. It’s like summer, just more interesting.
If you can afford to take a few days off and escape to the sea, you’ll find that prices have dropped, traffic has gone, but the sun and the sea are still there to greet you – without the crowds. A long walk, a book, a thermos of coffee. Soul restoration guaranteed.
It’s a very active time for the land. Harvest and vendange approaches with their local traditions and fêtes. Landscapes start slowly turning to tarnished gold and evenings call for a sweater. It’s a perfect balance. The day is long enough to linger, the evening long enough for contemplation. For lovers of the outdoors , the weather is just forgiving enough for your active pursuits, not too hot, not too cold.
If I had to pick 3 favourite places to visit during this magical season:
In Paris the cultural season launches with full force for la rentrée, so you have a banquet of choices of exhibitions, concerts and special events, but it’s still warm to sit outside for lunch on a terrasse and the gardens looks lovely. Did I mention prices are more affordable?
In the Côte d’Azur the weather is still balmy enough to enjoy the beach and the wonderful gastronomy al fresco, plus you can explore the provençal markets without having to elbow your way through the aisles. Traffic and parking go back to normal.
In Brittany the early autumn light is incomparable. Sitting on the dunes watching the sun slowly sinking on the horizon is something I cannot aptly describe in words so you’ll just have to come and see it for yourself. When it gets dark just head for the local crêperie, for a galette and cidre, and let your worries just drop away (OK, the cider helps).
For property hunters looking for their little corner of France, the arrière saison is a perfect time to plan a scouting trip. Estate agents will have more time to devote to you, transportation and accommodation will be cheaper, and sellers might just be a little more wiling to contemplate a flexible offer, once the crowds have thinned out and they face the possibility of a winter-long wait to sell their property.
The best part of visiting France during the arrière saison is that it gives travellers the chance to get a taste for the true flavour of the place, one degree closer to local life. You can also be more spontaneous and plan your trip at the last minute because demand is lower so you can skip the long lines and high prices and come as you are!
Photo: CC Jeanne Menjoulet & Cie/Flickr