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Underrated travel experiences in France you have to try

PUBLISHED: 14:04 20 November 2017 | UPDATED: 15:39 20 November 2017

The Auvergne volcanoes in central France remain highly underrated ©Francis Cormon

The Auvergne volcanoes in central France remain highly underrated ©Francis Cormon

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Whether they’re off the beaten track or well-known by tourists, these experiences are a must-do in France! Here are 18 underrated travel experiences you should do in France

Exploring the Auvergne volcanoes

Although Auvergne made a breakthrough on the world tourism stage after Lonely Planet included it in its top 10 best destinations to discover in 2016, it still deserves a mention here as nothing can prepare you for the beauty of this volcanic region. Outdoor junkies will love the wealth of activities you can practice in stunning settings such as the flanks of extinct volcanoes or mirror-like crater lakes.

Skiing in the Jura Mountains

As a lower mountain range than the Alps, the Jura Mountains don’t always attract ski buffs. How wrong they are. There are plenty of alpine skiing pistes but this mountain range is best known for its Nordic skiing (with over 1,000km of marked out slopes). There are five resorts – labelled Nordic France – offering activities for all levels of skiing but also sledging, dog-sledding or snow shoeing. It’s the perfect destination for a family-friendly ski holiday.

Toulouse is surprisingly cycle-friendly ©Alexandre Delbos - flickrToulouse is surprisingly cycle-friendly ©Alexandre Delbos - flickr

Cycling in Toulouse

As a bustling metropolis, La Ville Rose can seem a little big and loud to enjoy cycling around the centre. You might be surprised, however, by the number of people on bikes! The town provides plenty of bike hiring stations (much like Vélib in Paris or Boris bikes in London) and there are several clearly marked cycle lanes. As the centre is quite compact, hopping on a bike is great way to visit!

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Forget crowd-ridden Colmar or Strasbourg, head to Mulhouse Christmas market ©Thomas Itty - Ville de MulhouseForget crowd-ridden Colmar or Strasbourg, head to Mulhouse Christmas market ©Thomas Itty - Ville de Mulhouse

Visiting Mulhouse Christmas market

While many travellers flock to Strasbourg or Colmar,the city of Mulhouse gets largely overlooked and wrongly so! The town is beautifully decorated with lights, trees and the traditional étoffe de noël, swathes of fabric with a different pattern each year. The Christmas market takes place from 24 November to 27 December.

Taking a stroll in Chambéry

The former capital of the powerful Savoy territories, Chambéry is a really interesting town people while they are on a hurry to reach the Alpine slopes and other better-known places such as Chamonix or Annecy. Yet Chambéry is really worth a stop for its fascinating history, great cultural sites, good food and excellent location near the Lac du Bourget, the Bauges and Chartreuse ranges and even slopes in the Tarentaise.

Go bargain-hunting in the Puces de St Ouen flea market in Paris ©Marc Bertrand - Paris Tourist OfficeGo bargain-hunting in the Puces de St Ouen flea market in Paris ©Marc Bertrand - Paris Tourist Office

Visiting flea markets in Paris

You’ll be sure to find some treasures among the thousands of items on sale at flea markets in Paris. Though not as uknown anymore, they are still a fantastic experience and a great excuse to head to less-frequented neighbourhoods. The most famous ones are les Puces de St Ouen, located at Porte de Clignancourt but there are many others dotted around Paris, including the puces de Montreuil, the Marché d’Aligre and Vanves (said to be more authentic).

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The Cité des Sciences et de l'Industrie in Paris is well worth a visit ©Marc Bertrand - Paris Tourist OfficeThe Cité des Sciences et de l'Industrie in Paris is well worth a visit ©Marc Bertrand - Paris Tourist Office

Visiting the Cité des Sciences et de l’Industrie

Located at the Parc de la Villette in Paris, this museum is the largest science museum in Europe. With a large number of interactive exhibits and cutting edge technology, this museum makes for a great cultural day out.

Hiring e-bikes

At first look, e-bikes might seem lazy, too easy and unnecessarily expensive. However, they have triggered a bit of a revolution in the tourism industry. Thanks to the electric assistance, e-bikes have opened up a huge potential to explore sites that were previously only accessible by fit and very active travellers. With e-bikes, mountain biking in the mountains is made easier (including cycling up the iconic Alpe d’Huez without breaking a sweat) and you can cyle longer distances in flatter locations, such as the hilly vineyards in Burgundy.

The Apocalypse tapestry is housed in the Château d'Angers ©Wanaku - flickrThe Apocalypse tapestry is housed in the Château d'Angers ©Wanaku - flickr

Seeing the Apocalypse tapestry in Angers

Housed in Angers’ castle, this tapestry is a unique example of Medieval art. Commissioned in the late 14th century, it was originally 140m long. The 100m that are left are on show in Angers and it is impressive and humbling to behold.

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Yvoire enjoys gorgeous views over Lake Geneva ©Vicky LeighYvoire enjoys gorgeous views over Lake Geneva ©Vicky Leigh

Taking a stroll in Yvoire

This pretty village offers a nice and authentic alternative to the busier lakeside spa towns of Thonon-les-Bains and Évian-les-Bains. It is one of France’s Plus Beaux Villages and if its charming medieval streets, flower-bedecked houses and 14th-century castle aren’t enough of a draw, the beautiful view of Lake Geneva should be. You can even get to it from Geneva thanks to a little ferry service.

Attending the daffodil festival in Gérardmer

Every two years in the spring, this quaint lakeside town in Vosges celebrates la jonquille as thousands of daffodils are used to adorn floats and decorations for a day-long parade. The night before the parade, the floats are decorated (piquage) while visitors can listen to music and watch puppet shows.

Walk along the ramparts of St-Malo ©Pom AngersWalk along the ramparts of St-Malo ©Pom Angers

Walking the ramparts in St-Malo

While St-Malo is a popular destination already, a tour on the fortified walls surrounding the old town can’t be recommended enough. The first ramparts were built in 1155 but the remaining ones you can see today were built by Vauban’s architect, Garangeau, in the 18th century. The whole walk takes about an hour and delivers wonderful views over the town and the sea.

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Take a step back in La Défense in Paris ©Pe_Wu - flickrTake a step back in La Défense in Paris ©Pe_Wu - flickr

Exploring La Défense in Paris

Perhaps not the first thing that comes to mind when thinking of things to visit when in Paris, but La Défense has its fair share of tourism appeal. The view from the Grande Arche is breathtaking and the area is really interesting in terms of architecture, offering a great contrast from the traditional Haussmanian style in Paris. As the business district, it also has some rather swanky hotels.

Visiting to the Saline Royales at Arc-et-Senans

While this UNESCO World Heritage site does not have the most exciting of names, the site itself is absolutely breathtaking. Imagined by Claude-Nicolas Ledoux, it is an exceptional example of architecture built at the time of the Enlightenment. Shaped in a half-circle, the Saltworks comprises 11 buildings and used to house the factory and homes of the workers.

Visit the car-free Ile Bréhat for a relazing day out in Brittany ©Aurélien Masson - flickrVisit the car-free Ile Bréhat for a relazing day out in Brittany ©Aurélien Masson - flickr

Cycling around Ile de Bréhat

Located just off the coast of Paimpol, in Côtes d’Armor, this lovely archipelago is completely car-free. The two main islets are joined together by a bridge which is only accessible at low tide. You can hire bikes from the main land, hop onto a ferry for the short crossing and spend the day exploring the picturesque islands at your pace.

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Spot butterflies near the Cirque de Gavarnie in the gorgeous Hautes-Pyrénées mountains ©bbsferrari - Getty Images/iStockphotoSpot butterflies near the Cirque de Gavarnie in the gorgeous Hautes-Pyrénées mountains ©bbsferrari - Getty Images/iStockphoto

Butterfly spotting in the Hautes-Pyrénées

Take a guided walk up the mountains of Hautes-Pyrénées to try and spot the numerous species of butterflies local to the area. Before you know it, you’ll be enjoying a great hike and glimpsing beautiful views over sites such as the impressive Cirque de Gavarnie or the pretty Lac des Gloriettes.

A visit to the Musée de Temps in Besançon

Housed in the historical Palais Granvelle, this fantastic museum is unjustly unknown. In the 19th century, Besançon was the capital of watchmaking thanks to the many Swizz clockmakers who flocked to the Franche-Comté town. The museum celebrates this heritage with an exceptional collection of clocks and other time-measuring items. A fascinating and highly underrated place.

Bird watching in the Baie de Somme is a great family-friendly activity ©mrced1 - Getty Images/iStockphotoBird watching in the Baie de Somme is a great family-friendly activity ©mrced1 - Getty Images/iStockphoto

Bird-watching in Somme Bay

Even if you are not an ornithologist yourself, the magnificent Somme Bay is enough to captivate anyone. It is also a nature reserve so a prime spot for spotting birds. In the spring, the Bird and Nature Festival gives visitors the chance to go on guided birdwatching tours and is sure to please the whole family.

Article by France Magazine France Magazine

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