Why France is the best place to go this summer

The village of Lavardens in Gascony (c) rustamank / Getty Images

The village of Lavardens in Gascony (c) rustamank / Getty Images - Credit: Archant

France has contact-free travel options, plentiful self-catering accommodation and vast open countryside

Explore the French countryside by bike (c) debove sophie / Getty Images

Explore the French countryside by bike (c) debove sophie / Getty Images - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Note that from 4am Saturday 15 August anyone returning to the UK from France will have to undergo a 14-day quarantine period and The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) is advising against all but essential travel to France (including Corsica). Keep track of developments in our timeline here.

With the Eurotunnel offering a socially distanced way to travel and France’s vast countryside allowing for that much-needed holiday reset without the crowds, it’s no wonder that Francophiles are itching to return.

Safe travels

Les Tours de Merle, Correze (c) phbcz / Getty Images

Les Tours de Merle, Correze (c) phbcz / Getty Images - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Travelling by Eurotunnel would mean you could stay in your car for the whole journey. There are no baggage restrictions so you can pack all you need to feel comfortable and could even bring a bike to enjoy France’s many cycle routes, and those with a campervan will be in their element. It is only 35 minutes from Folkstone to Calais and from there l’Hexagone is your oyster (be sure to pack a flask of coffee and some croissants to keep you going if you plan a long drive).

If your aim is to escape the city, you won’t have to go too far to find a green haven for your French retreat. Even within Hauts-de-France you could explore the Compiègne Forest in former Picardy, a 15,000-hectare beech-oak forest that’s perfect for cycling.

Rural retreat

Gorges du Verdon in Provence (c) davidevison / Getty Images

Gorges du Verdon in Provence (c) davidevison / Getty Images - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Following the coastline across to Normandy and Brittany you’ll find wild windswept coastal paths for a refreshing hike. While further inland, these northern areas of France ooze with rural charm, and dotted all throughout the countryside are gîtes, or independent self-catering holiday lets, where a couple or a family could settle in, unwind, and temporarily forget that the rest of the world exists.

Travelling further into France reveals an abundance of rural landscapes and open roads through farmland, vineyards and even mountains where it is easy to move about without meeting any crowds. One of the joys of a road trip in France is looking out for the church spires of little hamlets on the horizon, impressive hilltop villages – perhaps one of The Plus Beaux Villages in the distance, and you are never too far away from a château, many of which are once again offering B&B accommodation. Then, every so often the hills and valleys hold a spectacular historic sight such as the Tours de Merle where seven medieval towers are nestled in the Maronne gorges of Corrèze.

Regional parks

France has long protected its most valuable natural and rural areas as regional or national parks and a number of these regional parks turn 50 this year, so are perhaps the perfect destination for a quiet break.

The Parc Naturel Régional du Morvan can be enjoyed in former Burgundy, one of the least populous regions of France with serene fishing lakes and an incredible 600km of paths suitable for horse-riding.

Another option is the Parc naturel régional des Landes de Gascogne in the west of France encompassing 1,000 lagunes, shallow ponds and lakes amid cultivated forest and the Leyre rivers which attract canoeists and kayakers to navigate the waterways.

Moving east to the more mountainous Isère, we find another 50-year-old park, the Parc naturel régional du Vercors. Home to 72 species of animals, including deer and wild boar, you can explore it on the Via Vercors, a 50km walking trail linking four mountain towns.

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Natural wonders

Or to kick it up a notch from mountains to volcanos, why not explore the Chaine des Puys in the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes in central France, a 32km long collection of 80 volcanoes and one of France’s UNESCO world heritage sites. It feels as though time has been standing still recently, and these ancient natural wonders can really offer a different perspective on history.

In the south, Les Gorges du Verdon in Provence is another site sure to inspire awe with white cliffs up to 700m and the river forging a narrow path between them.

Safety measures

Now, if what you are really craving is people watching with a drink in hand from a table outside a French café or bistro, this may also be possible. Bars and restaurants across France have re-opened with adjustments to layout and procedure.

Overall, France has had fewer coronavirus cases than the UK (as of 12 August 2020 there have been 206,696 confirmed cases and 30,371 deaths in France, according to santé publique France) and safety measures have been put in place across the country.

France began to come out of lockdown on 11 May, starting with France’s smaller museums but now even the biggest of tourist attractions such as the Louvre and the Eiffel Tower have been able to re-open, albeit operating with a reduced capacity.

From 11 July, another level of restrictions are being lifted allowing river cruises to re-start as well as some larger events with less than 5,000 people.

As of 20 July it is compulsory to wear a mask in all indoor public spaces and some busy outdoor areas in France so do pack your mask and hand sanitiser in your luggage and check with your transport provider if there are restirctions on the type of mask you should wear on your journey. More information on safety measures in France can be found on gouvernement.fr .