05 Mar The best underrated destinations in France
3 of my favorite non-touristy spots and why I love them
When most people think of France, they immediately see images of the Eiffel Tower along with baguettes, Bordeaux wine, and berets (wow, that’s a lot of Bs!)
And while I would never suggest you skip any of France’s iconic sights, I’ve discovered several underrated destinations and cultural gems in France during my travels that I highly recommend you check out. This way you’ll experience both ends of the spectrum — from touristy to truly authentic!
Here are my top 3 ,in no particular order.
A medieval town often missed by visitors who are on their way to either Paris or nearby Chantilly, Senlis is a relatively untouristy place well-deserving of a visit — even if just for a few hours.
Originally settled by the Romans (and for eight centuries, the French monarchy) parts of the old Roman city wall are still standing and the old Roman arena can be visited as part of a pre-booked tour. While the charm comes from simply walking the historical streets, you’ll also find three museums, an impressive cathedral, a historic abbey, and a twice-weekly local street market.
Start with a visit to the local tourist office for information on the best walking routes and sights to visit.
One of the most compelling sights in France, Oradour-Sur-Glane, also known as “Village des Martyrs”, was destroyed by Nazis on June 10th, 1944, along with its 642 inhabitants. All that remains is an empty shell – storefronts, homes, the town church – of what it once was. On the orders of French President Charles de Gaulle, the site was never re-built and was instead preserved to become a permanent memorial and a sobering reminder of the town’s tragic history.
Located just 2.5 hours’ drive from either the Loire River Valley (to the North) or the Dordogne River Valley (to the South), Oradour-Sur-Glane is a must-visit for any WW2 or European history buff.
Grotte de Rouffignac
Drive 30 minutes north from France’s Dordogne River Valley and you’ll find a region rich with prehistoric Cro-Magnon cave art. While most visitors know famous caves such as Lascaux II, the more intimate caves – Grotte de Rouffignac for example – are well worth a visit.
The Grotte de Rouffignac experience is a unique one — you’ll board a small train and be driven into the cave by a tour guide. The train travels about a half-mile into the limestone cave, where you’ll see sophisticated 13,000 (yes, thousand!) year old art. Images of woolly mammoths, horses, rhinoceroses, and mountain goats adorn the walls as well as some interesting scratches made by bears who used the cave for their winter hibernation.
One of my favorite memories was when the tour guide pointed to some “modern” (it’s all relative!) graffiti and below it, the date “1776” – the year America declared independence from Britain – carved into the cave wall.
Dreaming of a trip to France?
Don’t just head straight to the obvious spots when you could be missing out on hidden gems like these. If you’re starting to plan your next European adventure, I’d love to help.
For custom itinerary designed to fit your travel style and preferences (and include hidden gems such as these), check out my “Door-to-Door Itinerary” service (sample itinerary here). Or, if you prefer to plan the itinerary on your own but want expert travel advice and tips, I offer a Travel Consulting service as well.
Not sure where to start? Contact me for a free, no-obligation 20-minute consultation, and we’ll figure it out together!