En vacances: my favorite French vacation spots
It’s July and my thoughts turn to vacation. If you’re fortunate, you have French family and friends to visit in the country or by the seaside – which is how I came to relax in three close-to-paradise spots.
First on my list is a hamlet in the Cévennes Mountains, not far from Le Vigan, in south central France. I had been traveling on my own for a week, driving in a rented car through the Dordogne, France’s cradle of civilization, home of caves and Neolithic paintings. I was making my way through some of les plus beaux villages de France, including Beynac-et-Cazenac, Domme and Monpazier (the ‘Association of the Most Beautiful Villages of France’ has recognised over 150 communities worthy of the name.)
Road tripping through France
Everything on that road trip was fine except the crowds, and the loneliness. As a woman alone, I met scarcely anyone, spending my days virtually without speaking to a soul, and eating by myself. I headed back to Paris and called my sister for help: “Phone Dominique. She will know what you should do.”
Within 24 hours I was chez Dominique and her husband Jean, spirited away to a stone house where I was awakened by the sound of goats’ bells as the animals were led up the hills to pasture. For lunch, what else but goat cheese from a nearby farm.
Paradise by the French sea
Another special place was Gassin, a hilltop town along the Côte d’Azur, the French Riviera.
While my friends would sleep in, I would walk into the village for breakfast and drink my morning coffee on a restaurant terrace with views of the Bay of St. Tropez. I spent days hiking through olive groves or sunning myself at the beach at Ramatuelle. At night, it was dinner alfresco in the gathering dark. It was magic, a conjuror’s trick.
And how can I not mention Pont-Aven, on Brittany’s southern flank? Paul Gauguin painted here in the 1880’s, as a member of the Pont-Aven School, before moving to Arles and French Polynesia. It was here, too, that I had what amounted to an epiphany, an almost spiritual experience.
My friend Françoise’s family took me out to sea to an island in the Glénan archipelago. We motored by boat through rain and fog, but when we reached les Glénan the clouds disappeared. We passed the afternoon in pure sunlight, exploring wading pools where we turned over rocks looking for crabs. As we headed home, the clouds returned, but looking back, there was my island, still bathed in light.
What are your favorite French vacation spots?Image credits:
1. Dordogne river from Domme, by David Notivol via Flickr
2. Gassin old town, by Bonvol via Wikimedia
3. Archipel de Glénan: L’île Cigogne (et derrière elle l’île de Bananec) vues de l’île du Loc’h, by Matthieu Faure via Wikipedia
Thanks for your article Ronnie! Le Vigan is definitely on my list of places to go, and I will check out the association of those ‘plus beaux villages’.
I love the mountains in France, whether skiing in the winter or hiking in summer.
I have spent many a summer holiday in Brittany and Pont-Aven is definitely up there too, as well as canoeing down river La Laita to Le Pouldu.
Thanks for a great article! I have fond memories of a holiday in the very remote Cevenne mountains, completely off the beaten track! My late granny had given me a book called ‘Travels with a donkey in the Cevennes’ by Robert Louis Stevenson, a must-read for anyone thinking of going there. I live and work in the Dordogne Valley, as well as being home to the well-known picturesque tourist villages of Le Roc Castel, Beynac etc, futher East into the Limousin is much more rugged and un-explored but just as spectacular with the towns of Beaulieu and Argentat situated right on the majestic Dordogne river. Perfect for hiking, cycling and painting!