Last Updated on 21st September 2020 by Sophie Nadeau
France in the summer is a magical time to visit thanks to long lazy evenings spent drinking and dining with friends, basking in some of the sunniest weather to explore Château ruins, and, of course, the chance to visit pretty seaside villages at their very best. Here’s your guide to the very best places to visit in l’Hexagone during the summer time!
Having spent most of my life in England with French speaking parents, I was lucky enough to spend many a summer visiting family friends in France, exploring little known towns and wandering through historical Châteaux turned museums. It’s honestly one of my favourite times to explore the European country and i couldn’t recommend a summer trip more!
With this being said, the one thing I would add is that while I quite enjoy Paris in August, the city has a tendency to become overbearingly hot, with an annual ‘canicule’ (heatwave) typically occurring for at least a couple of weeks in mid August. Air conditioning is not a big thing in Europe, even in many hotels, and so plenty of Parisians leave the city, opting to venture North to Normandy, south to the Côte d’Azur, or West to Brittany.
Pastel-hued houses line the coast in Cassis, a delightful port which finds its origins in Roman times. Presided over by a Carolingian château turned luxury hotel, Cassis has a picture perfect port to snap photos of, several beaches not far from the harbour, and lots of chances to discover some local Provençal food (including lavender flavoured ice cream!)
Truth be told, one of the main attractions of Cassis is its close proximity with the Calanques de Cassis, a massif of limestone crevices and coastline which have been designated a National Park for the past few decades.
Ideal for hiking and swimming, the place is so beautiful that it’s hard to believe that the turquoise blue waters are that clear and hiking trails are that breathtaking. Please note that the Calanques de Cassis can be found along the coastline between Cassis and Marseille and are occasionally closed due to forest fires.
Just a little way down the coastline from the ever-so-chic town of Cassis, you’ll come across the charming village of La Ciotat. Quaint and sleepy, La Ciotat misses out on much of the press it deserves in lieu of its more famous neighbours.
However, that means it’s the kind of hidden gem that remains a well-kept secret and provides a less touristic South of France experience. Though there is little by way of attractions when it comes to La Ciotat, I’m sure you’ll love the cobbled lanes of the old town and the sea-inspired menus served at eateries across town.
Often nicknamed “the city of a thousand fountains” on account of the many, many water features to be found dotted around its cobbled streets, Aix-en-Provence lies in the shadow of Mont Saint Victoire and is a true delight.
Once the inspiration and called home by the iconic Impressionist Cezanne, today you can follow a trail for the artist in the city centre (you can pick up a guided map at the tourist office in the heart of town).
Other highlights of the city include dining along the Cours Mirabeau and visiting the grand cathedral. If you’re looking to explore the wider Provence region, then it’s worth noting that Aix-en-Provence makes for a great base from which to take day trips to other Southern French destinations.
Nice is nice, or so they say! Bad jokes aside, Nice is the glittering, glitzy, and ever-so-chic heart of the French Riviera. Home to an iridescent nightlife, more than a handful of museums, and of course, with plenty of beaches (complete with their striped parasols), Nice is one destination in France you have to visit at least once in your lifetime.
On the very most Southern tip of France, in a place where the sea sparkles all year long and the sun sets late in the day, Nice is best visited in the late spring, summer, or early autumn, when you can stay out late in the day to explore all that this beautiful city has to offer.
Easy to visit over the course of a day if you’re running short on time, though of course a longer stint is always preferable, Saint-Paul-de-Vence is often said to be one of the most beautiful destinations in the entirety of France.
A place that’s frozen in a time-warp of the past, some of the best things to do in the quaint village include the cemetery, which is the final resting place of the painter Marc Chagall, a 17th-century central fountain designed in the Provençal style, several eateries, and a handful of churches.
Avignon was once called ‘Avenio’ by the Romans and is perhaps best known for its rich history. As well as being the seat of seven successive popes over the course of a century during the Middle Ages, Avignon is also famous for the remains of Pont Saint Benezet, the remains of a medieval bridge which were swept away, and about which a famous French nursery rhyme has been composed.
Other highlights of the Provençal city include its ease of access (an international airport and a train serving national and international stops are just a short journey from the city centre), the Palais des Papes (where the popes once lived), and the medieval walls which are in good repair and remain largely intact.
Best of all, Avignon is home to a myriad of hidden gems, including a secret vineyard, Roman remains, and a handful of stunning Roman catholic churches. Just be warned: Avignon is not known as the ‘windy city’ for no reason. Even in the summer, the ‘mistral,’ a bone-chilling wind, will whip through the city and a jacket in the evenings is almost always required.
Often referred to as the ‘pearl of France’ thanks to its stunning pastel hues and the influence of Italianate architecture, Menton is the last major town before the French border with Italy. A colourful and vibrant fishing port with oodles of charm and the kind of streets that look like they’ve been plucked straight out of a storybook, the city makes for the perfect weekend break destinatuin during France in the summer.
Some of the top highlights of Monteau ionclude a museum about Jean Cocteau, a glittering fishing port offering views onto the pastel old town, wandering through the cobbled pedestrian only streets of the city centre, and the view from the Cemetery of the Old Château, which is hands down the best view to be found in Menton.
The walled city of Saint-Malo has inspired many a writer and artist over the years, and even features in the Pulitzer-prize winning book; ‘All the Light We Cannot See’ by Anthony Doerr (a must read for those who are interested in historical fiction and France in general).
A windswept, walled city, straight out of a storybook St-Malo was founded as early as the 1st Century CE by the Gauls. It soon came to be known as Reginca or Aletum by the Romans. With its easily protected and fortified position, the area was the site of a prominent Roman fort by the 4th-Century.
I’ve said it before and no doubt I’ll say it again: hands down one of my favourite places to visit in France is that of Narbonne. Somewhat of a hidden French gem in comparison with many of the other destinations listed here, the small sleepy city was the birthplace of the iconic singer Charles Trenet.
Even if you’ve never heard of Trenet before, then no doubt you’ll have heard his most famous song, ‘la Mer’. Today, should you opt to visit Narbonne (and the city truly is a delight during the summertime), you can visit the birthplace of Trenet himself. Other highlights of Narbonne include seeing Roman ruins and visiting the many ecclesiastical buildings dotted across town.
If there’s one thing that you make sure you do in Northern France, then make it a visit to Mont Saint-Michel! Of all the UNESCO world heritage sites in France (and there are a lot!), Mont-Saint-Michel is probably the best known and easily the most impressive.
The conical tidal island has a rich and varied history; making it the perfect French travel destination for culture and history lovers. What’s more, is that due to the unpredictable weather of Normandy and Brittany, caused by their proximity to La Manche (the English Channel), the best time to visit Mont Saint Michel is the summer!
If you’re wondering where Parisians go to holiday in Normandy, then you’ve come to the right place. The chalky cliffs of Étretat have drawn holidaymakers for well over a century (with historic diving boards on display along the main promenade for proof).
However, what has made Étretat particularly popular and what truly placed the Normandy destination on the map for many visitors, is the sheer number of Impressionist painters who chose to paint the town and its surrounds, including Claude Monet. Visit today and you can enjoy plenty of beautiful coastal walks and a charming town which is typical of the region.
One of the most famous places in Normandy is the historical port of Honfleur, which lies just across a grand estuary from the port city of Le Havre. Delightful, quaint, and filled with eateries serving locally caught seafood.
Characterised by its historic harbour, unique church, and many timber-framed houses, one of the most popular destinations in Normandy, if not the entirety of France, the best of the French coastal town can easily be seen over the course of a day, or a long weekend if you have the time.