For many Australians, their first (and sometimes only) taste of France is the capital, Paris. Those taking an escorted coach tour inevitably visit the romantic city for a night or two. But the rest of France shouldn’t be forgotten, says Carolyn Schonafinger of Holidays to Europe…
On my first visit to rural France, I was enchanted by villages with cobbled streets and lively markets selling the freshest of local produce. But perhaps the thing that touched me most was the way the French have managed to blend the old with the new so that you can enjoy the best of both worlds – medieval buildings don’t look out of place amongst the modern day supermarkets.
Being such a large country, France offers a diverse array of landscapes, so there’s something to suit everyone. From the Atlantic coast in the west – famous for its oysters and surfing – to the Alps in the east, France is jam-packed with history, culture, arts, delicious food and wine.
If you’re short on time, it is possible to get a taste of rural France on a day trip from Paris. The TGV (fast train) makes it possible to cover reasonable distances in a relatively short space of time, but to really immerse yourself in the French way of life, why not spend a few nights in a rural town or village? With an abundance of accommodation styles available, from chambres d’hotes (B&Bs) to hotels and gites (self-catering accommodation), you’re sure to find the perfect place to rest your head after a day of discovery.
Perhaps it’s not surprising to find that an ever-increasing number of Australians have fallen in love with rural France and have either moved there or purchased a property that they rent out to holiday makers. Staying in an Australian-owned holiday home in France offers the best of both worlds – a typically French experience and an Aussie host with whom you can converse in English! In some cases, the Australian owner will accept payment in Aussie dollars, saving you the hassle of international money transfers and fluctuating exchange rates.
Whilst the English can pop over to France for the weekend, travelling from Australia means most of us may only have the opportunity to travel to Europe once or twice in our lifetime. Because of this, you’ll probably want to visit other countries as well, so whilst you could easily spend a month in France and not see it all, a week or two may be all that your itinerary allows. So how do you choose which region to visit?
The most logical starting point is to determine where you’ll be before you visit France and where you’re heading next. If you’re heading east from France into Germany or Switzerland, Burgundy, Alsace and the Alps are gorgeous rural destinations. If you’re heading south, the Dordogne, Languedoc and Provence are all good choices. Maybe the UK is your port of call before France – if so, you might like to spend some time along the coast of Brittany, or in Normandy or the Somme to pay your respects to Australia’s fallen heroes, before making your way to Paris.
You’ll also need to determine the accessibility of the town or village you plan on visiting. If you plan on hiring a car, access isn’t an issue, but if you’re relying on travelling by train, keep in mind that most small villages don’t have public transport. Whilst the TGV and regional trains offer regular services to major towns in France, getting to the villages does require careful planning.
Your interests should also come into consideration when deciding which region to visit. Do you enjoy the beach, skiing, visiting wineries, art and architecture, or perhaps a little of each? Are you travelling with children? As well as its cultural and gastronomic delights, France is home to a number of theme parks and child-friendly activities. Alternating a ‘kids’ day with a day spent at a museum is the best way to make sure the whole family enjoy their holiday.
If you still can’t decide which region to visit, just take a punt on any of France’s 96 departments. No matter where you visit, rural France is sure to open her arms and welcome you. But be warned – France is addictive and one visit may not be enough!