Escape the crowds this August

Where in France can you go this month to find a bit of space?

It’s a well known fact that in August the French are en vacances; Paris empties out, and everyone heads for the coast. Although I’ll be the first to say the French are wonderful people, you may not want to spend your own two weeks of hard-earned rest shoulder-to-shoulder with them at the beach, in the museums, at the markets or in the villages. So where in France can you go this month to find a bit of space?Luckily, France is more than twice the size of the UK and, even with everyone on holiday, there are plenty of ways you can find some peace and quiet. Despite being a regular resident of the Cote D’Azur, our columnist Carol Drinkwater (www.caroldrinkwater.co.uk) – whose new book Return to the Olive Grove came out last year – recommends the Brie area in Seine-et-Marne (http://www.tourisme77.net/), about an hour and half from Paris for some R and R.“It is very rural and in summer resembles a Constable painting with its fields dotted with recently harvested hay rolls,” she says. “There are plenty of g�tes and small auberges to stay at. It’s an excellent area for horse-riding and there are hundreds of country lanes for bicycle tours. Villagers are out and about in family groups with their baskets picking berries at the roadsides, and there are quite a number of splendid chateaux to visit.” And that’s not all, says Carol: “The city of Provins (http://www.provins-medieval.com/site/medieval-shows.html), which was once ruled by the Counts of Champagne, is a Unesco World Heritage Site and is exceptional with stunning medieval architecture and fortifications and fantastic medieval shows. I found a wonderful bookshop there set underground full of medieval memorabilia. It was ideal for kids.”Carol isn’t the only one who recommends staying in northern France, while everyone else heads south. Gillian Thornton, one of our regular contributors, says you don’t need to go far from the ferry ports to get away from it all. “Nord-Pas de Calais (http://www.tourisme-nordpasdecalais.fr/) is a good place to get your French fix without the crowds if you are on a budget and can only afford a short break,” she says. “If you like city breaks, head for Lille, and of course Paris, which are empty during August, though a lot of restaurants in Lille do close for the month.” If you’d rather sit on the beach for your hols, then why not head to Brittany (http://www.brittanytourism.com/)? Regional expert, Patricia Stoughton, who writes about it regularly for FRANCE Magazine, says: “In south Finist�re, you can always get away from serious crowds on the massive and beautifully wild Baie d'Audierne beach. There are designated swimming areas patrolled by beefy lifeguards but if you want to sunbathe in peace, you can wander further along. Take care before swimming though because there are some dangerous local currents known as ba�nes that change every year according to the changing shapes of the pools on the beach.” And her top tip for beach-goers? “You can have more beach space to yourself if you go in the morning. In this area, the French mostly come down after four in the afternoon.” If Dordogne was high on your hit list, then you may find the area quite busy in summer. Try, then, its neighbouring department Corr�ze (http://www.vacances-en-correze.net/) in Limousin, says our other columnist Stephen Clarke (www.stephenclarkewriter.com), whose new book Paris Revealed  came out recently. “I've always found it is completely empty in summer. It looks exactly like the Dordogne (so much so that estate agents will probably start calling it Dordogne Est Est), but doesn't have the chic cach�, so everyone over looks it. I've driven through there in August and met nothing on the back roads except cows, not that the local cattle can drive, it's just that the area is still totally rural rather than having been sold off to British and Dutch second-home owners,” he says. “The pink-stoned Collonge-la-Rouge (http://www.ot-pays-de-collonges-la-rouge.fr/) is one of the most spectacularly beautiful villages in France, and the River V�z�re near Uzerche matches anything in Dordogne. For hard-line Dordogne addicts, no problem – the River Dordogne does actually flow through Corr�ze.”Also in southwest France is the gorgeous B�arn area (www.bearn-basquecountry.com), as recommended by or wine writer Dominic Rippon (www.strictlywine.co.uk), who will be writing about it in a forthcoming issue. “It is sandwiched between the popular area of Gascony to the north and the Basque Country to the south. There aren't many hotels and WiFi connections are like needles in haystacks, but the countryside is well served with rustic chambres d'hotes (French-style B&Bs). It is of course also home to the excellent wine appellations of Juran�on and Madiran. I stopped in the latter, in the village of Aydie, for lunch at Relais d'Aydie – a rustic cantine-style restaurant where you eat six delicious, enormous set courses and drink a pitcher of wine with local workers, all for €12.” So with food, wine, beaches and countryside all offering an ideal escape this month, what are you waiting for? Get over that Channel.Carolyn Boyd, Editor, FRANCE Magazine. Follow France Magazine on Twitter, or join France Mag on Facebook.