Five dream vacations in France you never thought of

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The British are about to get the green light for trips to France. But where can you really make the trip worthwhile?

The coast of Languedoc

The beaches of Languedoc have been tailor-made for families. From Sète to Gruissan, they are endless, flat, sandy and safe – you are almost in sight of Algeria before you are out of your depth – and they offer record levels of happiness per acre. And that’s what matters.

Why is it special?

This long coast was only developed for tourism in the 1960s, to compete with the Spanish costas. It therefore does not have the turbulent past of 19th century nobs and 20th century celebrities who bathe the French Riviera towards Italy. The Languedoc coast is the holiday destination of Everyman, punctuated by a zillion of campsites, new seaside resorts characterized by a permanent appearance of impermanence, old fishing ports adapted to the seaside and, on the sidelines, a certain dilapidated charm according to the appearances of the republic outside. This is where my kids roamed in the summer and where their kids will soon too. We are not alone. The cries of the children are carried by the sea breeze and the joy is widespread.

Sète is a good base, a whirlwind of a place surrounding a rare coastal hill, facing the sea, a vast lagoon full of oyster beds behind, canals joining the two and, on land, quays and a confusion of streets covered with people from all over. the mediterranean. They make careers, scream and run late for life or wander outside bars, smoke. There is no middle way. Or the volume control. This is a commercial and fishing port – barrel trawlers in the city center – so it is active all year round. Visitors slip into fishing, cargo and festivities: welcome but not essential. Around the ledge and just outside the city, on the lick of land separating the sea from the lagoon, eight miles of sand provides space for all of Europe’s towels.

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The best hotels in Languedoc

Tour of Mont Blanc

One mountain, two feet, three countries – and breathtaking views of the iconic summit of Europe. Travel in a perfect circle through high passes, glittering gentian meadows and Alpine villages in chocolate boxes.

Why is it special?

Size is not everything – although the weight of the highest peak in Western Europe, at 4,808 m above sea level, is an important factor in boosting the celebrity status of its namesake trek. However, the highlights of the 105-mile circuit (different routes take off at intervals) are much brighter and brighter than the peak of the title. During ten hiking stages, you will walk through constellations of wild flowers in hilly meadows, ibex spy with scimitar horns at the top of rocky rocks and, day after day, you will be dazed by the views of the serrated massif. around which you ride. Add the flavor of the accompanying jokes with other tourists in shelters and hotels, seasoned with cold beers and hot fondues, and you have a spicy recipe for the perfect long distance alpine hike.

Find summer solitude in the Alps

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iStock

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Ouessant Island: the wild island of Brittany

Here is a piece of Brittany hacked and launched at sea, there to be shaken by the elements, to try to disastrate ships on the busiest shipping lanes of the world and to radiate a robust resistance at the furthest end of the France. It’s called Ouessant in French, Ouessant in English.

Why is it special?

The last part of France before the United States is a place carved in stone, six square miles of jagged island where the stiff winds make the trees rare, although the heather borders the shore in bands of mauve and yellow. All the rocks left by the creation of Europe ended up here. Meanwhile, the interior is mainly moors. This was not always the case. Until the Second World War, most of it was cultivated – crops, cattle, black sheep of Ouessant – by women whose men were at sea, often for years. They took algae (fuel, animal feed) and driftwood from the shore to keep their lives down, like the island. Singles caught men when they could. The island saying said, “Take what you can find, because there will never be enough husbands to go around. ”

But a difficult past often makes a great gift because it leaves a lot of things untouched. Welcome to Ouessant who, in the shape of a crab claw, has four large headlands, the wildest of which is Pointe de Perne in the northwest of the island. The walk here ranges from brisk to gorgeous – with wind blowing your brain on certain days of winter. Here too is the Créac’h lighthouse. The most powerful in Europe, its light carries 32 nautical miles. True fans can also enjoy the Lighthouse Museum in the lower regions of Créac’h. They will already know, as I did not know, that an imaginary line drawn between Créac’h and the Lizard peninsula in Cornwall separates the Atlantic from the English Channel.

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Best hotels in Brittany

Secret sites of the Vendée

Hunt down dark and intriguing tales in the soft and wooded landscapes of Vendée, crossed by counter-revolutionary sites.

Vendée is renowned for its sandy coastline

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iStock

Why is it special?

Vendée department, on the Atlantic coast, doesn’t look particularly heroic. A long Atlantic coastline gives way to woods and undulating agricultural land undisturbed by large mountains, rivers or gorges. Yet it is a land of unrecognized heroism – where local peasants, furious with republican excesses, rebelled against the French revolution. They first won – perhaps threatened Paris – then lost and then were massacred by the thousands in an episode of ethnic cleansing that contemporary France does not mention much. Watching the exceptional story around this deep green land is absolutely fascinating. You would start by obtaining the details of the exceptional historical museum at Lucs-sur-Boulogne (sitesculturels.vendee.fr; 8 € / 7 £), where there is also a contemporary memorial – all installation arts and dissonant music – evoking Republican slaughter. It was opened in 1993 by Alexander Solzhenitsyn, who knew a great deal about the tremendous harm caused by the greater good.

Not far from there, in Grasla, near the Brouzils, they recreated a forest colony where the Vendeans took refuge from the “infernal columns” of the revenging republican forces (refugedegrasla.fr). And, on the other side of St Sulpice-le-Verdon, the Chabotterie manor remains a bit like when the last hero of the Vendée, General Charrette (drinker and womanizer all night long, royalist fighter all day long of the Republicans), was arrested here in 1796, effectively putting an end to what had become a civil war sitesculturels.vendee.fr; € 7 / £ 6). Historical duty done, it’s time for the long and gentle Vendée beaches. Our choice would be the beautiful Veillon beach in Talmond-St-Hilaire. Or you can cross Ile-de-Noirmoutier, throw the car, rent bikes at Cycles Charier in Noirmoutier en Ile and pedal to the magnificent Ladies Beach.

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Auvergne

The Auvergne volcanoes have become a UNESCO World Heritage Site – a beautiful mountainous region where life is always lived in the slow lane in rustic villages and spa towns, and the mountains are easily climbed on foot or by funicular.

France, but make it an epic

Credit:
Lucien Mollard / Lucien Mollard

Why is it special?

Auvergne is the place where the French remember the constants of their life. As the nation gets excited about the billionaire celebrities’ elections, protests, scandals and trauma on Twitter, this part of France’s Massif Central offers space, distant horizons, manageable mountains and slow certainties rural 1950s when, if you were going faster than cattle, you were going too fast. There are, in short, some finer playgrounds.

We are focusing on Puy-de-Dôme because its chain of dormant volcanoes has recently (in 2018) been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The pivot of the 60 km chain is the Puy de Dôme at 4800 feet itself. It overlooks the surroundings with what looks like a syringe sticking out of its top. It’s really an antenna. You can go up the mule track to the top or take the electric rack train. It’s great for those like me whose mountaineering needs are met by getting on a train.

At the top, the top is rounded, with what remains of a Roman temple here and, over there, hang gliders soaring to circle like buzzards. (Do you want it? Contact airdomesparapente.com; 0033 786 849876). And the views of more than 60 nearby volcanoes – mostly conical and apparently soft-walled, as the volcanoes should be – are amazing.

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