5 essential facts about the regions of France

  • There are 13 regions in France, 12 in metropolitan France and 1 overseas, Corsica, an island in the Mediterranean.
  • Each French region is made up of departments, currently 101.
  • Before a 2016 re-alignment there were 22 regions.
  • Each department has allocated numbers that form part of the post code, they’re on your French car number plate as well.
  • Currently, the most populous region of France is ile de France, which includes Paris, and has around 13,000,000 residents. The least populous region of France is Corsica, with around 340,000 residents.

Hi, I’m Maria and I’m here to introduce you to la belle France and share this guide to the regions in France, including some top tourist attractions in the different regions. A seductive fusion of culture, cuisine, history and breathtaking landscapes, France is the most visited tourist destination on the planet! Let’s take a tour of each of the 13 regions of France, sometimes called continental France, greatly reduced from the former 22 regions, that make up this stunning country. We go into detail about all the French administrative regions, most of which we’ve visited over the last ten years.

We haven’t included French overseas regions (Guadeloupe, Guiana, Martinique, La Réunion, Mayotte, Saint-Barthélemy, Saint-Martin, Saint-Pierre- et-Miquelon, the Wallis and Futuna Islands and French Polynesia).

See our map of the regions of France below to help you visually understand where the different areas of France are situated.

Regions of France
Map of the regions of France

Nouvelle Aquitaine

Nouvelle Aquitaine
Ile de Rhe

Location

France’s largest region, Nouvelle Aquitaine, one of the new regions in the 2016 changes, lies in southwest France. Its borders stretch from the Atlantic Ocean in the west to the Massif Central in the east. This expansive region comprises diverse landscapes of mountain peaks, vast forests, and 720 km of Atlantic coastline.

Access

TGV high speed trains run from Paris to the region’s major cities including Bordeaux, Angouleme, La Rochelle and Poitiers. The Eurostar links London with Poitiers (5 hours 15 mins) and Bordeaux (6 hours 15 mins).

Major roads in Nouvelle Aquitaine include The A10, which links Paris to Poitiers and Bordeaux, before continuing south into Spain. The A20 runs from Paris to Limoges, while the A89 links Bordeaux with Clermont-Ferrand and Lyon.

The region’s main international airports are Bordeaux-Mérignac, Biarritz-Anglet-Bayonne, Pau-Pyrénées Aéroport, Limoges-Bellegarde and Bergerac.

Capital and places of interest

Nouvelle Aquitaine’s capital is Bordeaux. Straddling the River Garonne, the city is a striking fusion of 18th century and contemporary architecture. Over half of Bordeaux bears UNESCO world heritage status. The city and surrounding vineyards are synonymous with world class wines.

Departments

Twelve departments make up Nouvelle Aquitaine: Charente, Charente-Maritime, Corrèze, Creuse, Dordogne, Gironde, Landes, Lot-et-Garonne, Pyrénées-Atlantiques, Deux-Sèvres, Vienne and Haute-Vienne.

What to do

Join a tasting workshop at La Cite du Vin. Bordeaux’s cutting edge museum is dedicated to wine production.

In elegant Biarritz, visit the atmospheric Rocher de la Vierge. A narrow footbridge leads you from the shoreline over the sea to a rocky outcrop. Here, you’ll discover a statue of the Virgin Mary as she gazes out over the Bay of Biscay.

Explore the stunning bay of Arcachon and dine on local oysters in Cap Ferrat. Make a detour to visit the Dune du Pilat, the highest sand dune in Europe!

Enjoy a guided tour of Saint Emilion’s wineries with a local expert. You’ll sample notable Bordeaux labels.

Seasonal

August brings the Fête du Chenal d’Ors to the beautifully untamed Ile d’Oleron. Join the celebrations including seafood tastings, boat trips and the obligatory fireworks!

What to eat

The region is a gastronomic heaven. Indulge in Perigord goose and truffles, lamb from Poitou-Charentes, and oysters from Orleron. Dine on Mouclade from La Rochelle, a dish of mussels, cream, white wine and saffron. Try Poulet Basquaise, a colourful chicken stew with peppers and Bayonne ham.

Where to eat it

Book a table at Le Petit Atelier des Faures. This much loved Bordeaux restaurant dishes up exceptional food in a relaxed setting. Offerings include tender Blonde Aquitaine beef, smoked eel, and confit of veal ravioli.

Where to stay

Get a taste of island life on picturesque Ile d’Oleron, one of my favourite places to unwind. 

Markets

Visit Royan’s excellent food market, where you can taste everything from oysters to olives, pastries and macaroons. Open daily except Monday.

Click here to read our travellers guide to Nouvelle Aquitaine

Bourgogne-Franche Comté

Bourgogne Franche-Comte

Location

The French Region Bourgogne-Franche Comté is in eastern France, and made from the former regions Burgundy and Franche-comté bordered by Switzerland. Its tranquil, rural landscape features lakes and rolling countryside dotted with ancient towns, abbeys and vineyards.

Access

Two airports serve Bourgogne-Franche Comté: Dijon-Burgundy and Dole-Jura. From the UK you’ll change at Paris, Euro airport Basel-Mulhouse-Freiburg, Lyon or Geneva for a connecting flight into the region.

TGV high speed trains run from Paris to Dijon and Besancon.

The A5 and A6 autoroutes link Paris and Bourgogne-Franche Comté. Once here, driving or cycling are the best way to explore this region’s undiscovered corners.

Departments

The region’s eight departments are Côte-d’Or, Doubs, Haute-Saône, Jura, Nièvre, Saône-et-Loire, Territoire de Belfort, and Yonne.

Capital and major places of interest

The regional capital is Dijon. A compact city of mediaeval and renaissance architecture, it’s a joy to explore. The city’s a handy gateway to Burgundy’s renowned vineyards.

What to do

Connect with nature in the Parc Naturel Régional du Morvan, west of Burgundy. A vast tract of verdant hills and lakes, it’s the perfect place to recharge. Enjoy hiking, horse riding, biking, fishing and canoeing.

Explore Burgundy’s Grand Cru wine route on a guided tour. Enjoy tastings at local wineries, and stroll the historic streets of Beaune.

Visit the beautiful hilltop village of Vezalay. Its impressive abbey marks the start of an ancient 900 km pilgrimage route.

Seasonal

Visit Besancon in September for its annual classical music festival. Over two weeks, the old city hosts a gala of international performances.

Springtime brings the annual Fete des Escargots to Chevigny St Sauveur. Join the celebrations in tribute of the diminutive snail, a Burgundy delicacy.

What to eat

Sample the aforementioned Escargot de Bourgogne (snails in parsley and garlic butter), served with plenty of bread to mop up the juices.

Meat eaters should try Morteau and Montbéliard sausage, and Brési, a dried smoked beef. Classic Boeuf Bourguignon features local Charolais beef and burgundy red wine.

Regional cheeses include Comté, Emmental, and pungent Epoisses, made by monks since the 11th century.

Where to eat it

Feast on traditional French classics at Le Piano Qui Fume in Dijon, a cosy brasserie with great wines and a good value menu.

Where to stay

Stay in Dijon’s picturesque medieval quarter. You’ve got restaurants, bars and the city’s historic sites on your doorstep!

Markets

Mingle with the locals at Beaune’s bustling Saturday-morning farmers’ market. Browse locally produced meats and cheeses, pastries, fruit and veg. There’s also flowers, clothes and souvenirs. The action takes place on picturesque Place de la Halle.

Grand Est

Grand est
Grand Est

Grand Est

Location

Grand Est occupies France’s northeast corner. Nudging the borders of Belgium, Luxembourg, Germany and Switzerland, it’s a culturally diverse region. The Vosges Mountains lie to the east and contain Europe’s highest concentration of feudal castles, testament to a turbulent history. Today Grand Est is famed for its champagne and wine production.

Access

The region’s main international airport is Basel-Mulhouse-Freiburg (aka EuroAirport). Located in Saint-Louis, close to the German and Swiss borders, services fly direct to London plus European destinations including Amsterdam, Brussels and Paris.

Eighteen motorways crisscross Grand Est, including the A26 from Calais to Troyes, and the A4 between Paris and Strasbourg.

High speed TGV trains link Paris and the south of France with Strasbourg. Tram networks serve major hubs including Strasbourg and Reims.

Capital and places of interest

Strasbourg is the region’s capital and largest city, an attractive knot of canals, cobbled streets and mediaeval architecture. Visitors also flock to Reims for its imposing cathedral, art galleries and museums.

Departments

Ten departments comprise Grand Est: Ardennes, Aube, Bas-Rhin, Marne, Haute-Marne, Haut-Rhin, Meurthe-et-Moselle, Meuse, Moselle, and Vosges.

What to do

Explore Epernay, the heart of the Champagne region. Visit the Avenue de Champagne and boutique wineries, where you’ll sample the bubbles!

Discover Grand Ile, the picturesque island in the heart of Strasbourg.  Wander its maze of narrow alleyways, filled with colourful timber framed houses. Climb the belfry of gothic Notre Dame Cathedral, and enjoy views across the city.

Visit the charming villages of the Alsace wine route on a guided coach tour. Enjoy tastings at local vineyards.

Seasonal

Home to wild boar, the peaks and forests of Vosges offer excellent hiking and biking trails from spring into autumn. During winter, snowfall transforms the area into a skier’s paradise.

If you’re visiting in December, don’t miss the glittering Christmas markets of Strasbourg, Colmar and surrounding villages.

What to eat

Dine on Coq au Riesling, an Alsace staple. Try tarte flambée, a crispy flatbread topped with cheese, bacon and onions. Quiche Lorraine, madeleines, and Rum babas are all regional favourites. Local wines include Muscat, Riesling, and Cremant d’Alsace.

Where to eat it

Set in a picturesque square, close to Strasbourg Cathedral, La Table du Gayot dishes up delicious French comfort food. Robust mains include beef fillet in foie gras, filet mignon, and lamb cooked with tarragon.

Where to stay

Close to two resorts, Gerardmer in Vosges is a great base if you’re planning to hit the slopes. And the gorgeous views across Lake Gerardmer take some beating.

Markets

For artisan foodie delights, head to Strasbourg’s Rue de La Douane on a Saturday morning. At Marche de Producteurs you’ll find locally produced cheese, honey, jams and choucroute (Alsace’s version of Sauerkraut).

Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes

Auvergne Rhone Alpes
The Auvergne

Location

Auvergne-Rhône Alpes is a sprawling, geographically diverse region in central south-eastern France, on the borders of Italy and Switzerland.

Access

Lyon Saint Exupéry is the region’s main international airport. Direct flights operate from the UK and European cities. Clermont-Ferrand airport runs a limited international service.

Geneva airport, across the Swiss border, is 30 minutes by road to Annecy and 1 ½ hour drive to Lyon. During the winter ski season, Chambery and Grenoble airports operate international flights.

High speed TGV trains connect Lyon with London, Brussels, Milan and Barcelona. Regional trains also operate.

The region benefits from an extensive road network, including the E15 motorway which continues into Spain.

Departments

The region’s 12 departments are Allier, Puy-de-Dôme, Cantal, Haute-Loire, Loire, Rhône, Ain, Haute-Savoie, Savoie, Isère, Drôme, and Ardèche. 

Capital and places of interest

Lyon is the regional capital, a historic city and UNESCO world heritage site. Renowned for its gastronomy, Lyon boasts excellent museums and galleries, including a contemporary art museum and museum of cinema.

Annecy in the Haute-Savoie is a beautiful lakeside town, known as the Venice of the Alps. Haute-Savoie’s dramatic alpine terrain includes Mont Blanc, Europe’s highest peak.

And don’t forget the Auvergne, often called ‘the unknown jewel of France’, a region of volcanic peaks, fertile valleys and hot mineral springs, that offers stunning scenery and ancient heritage.

What to do

From Chamonix, in the old region of Rhône-alpes, take a cable car to the summit of Aiguille du Midi. Step onto the Pas dans le vide, a glass viewing deck, for exhilarating views across the Alps. You’ll need warm clothes, sunglasses and sun cream!

Discover pastel painted houses, canals and markets on a guided walking tour around picturesque Annecy.

Join a food tasting tour with a local expert around Lyon’s historic old town. Learn about the region’s cuisine and taste local specialties.

Visit the Parc Naturel Régional des Volcans d’Auvergne, a breath-taking landscape of 80 dormant volcanoes. Take the rack railway to the 1465 metre summit of Puy de Dome, the park’s most famous peak. You’ll be rewarded with panoramic views across the region.

Seasonal

Each winter the Savoie transforms into the world’s largest skiing area. The Three Valleys area offers 600 km of piste to suit your level, whether you’re a novice or a pro. Key resorts include Courchevel, Meribel and Val Thorens.

What to eat

Try the Ain specialty, Cuisses de grenouilles: frog legs fried in butter, garlic and parsley. Diot is a traditional Savoie sausage, often accompanied by Dijon mustard.  Alpine dishes fondue

and tartiflette are perfect after a day on the slopes. Popular cheeses include Saint Nectaire and Bleu d’Auvergne.

Where to eat it

Enjoy local specialties at Le Bouchon des Cordeliers, in Lyon. Try their Quenelle Lyonnaise (pike filled dumplings) in lobster sauce.

Where to stay

Stay in an apartment in the heart of old Lyon, a stone’s throw from the historic Place des Terreaux.

Markets

At Annecy’s old town market on Rue St Claire you’ll find delicious Savoyarde produce along with textiles and household goods. It’s held on Tuesday, Friday and Sunday mornings.

Browse tempting gourmet produce from over 40 vendors in Les Halles de Lyon. Open daily.

Read our travellers guide to Auvergne-Rhône Alpes here

Pays de la Loire

Pays de la Loire
Pay de la Loire

Location

Pays de la Loire is a region of western France. Located south of Brittany and Normandy, but still classed as in the north of france, its west coast fringes the Atlantic Ocean. The region is renowned for its seaside resorts, historic towns and citadels and is home to a portion of the Loire Valley, together with Centre-Val de Loire.

Access

The region has a comprehensive transport network.  Nantes is the main international airport and frequent flights arrive from the UK and Europe. A smaller airport at Angers offers limited international connections.

High speed TGV trains run from Paris to Nantes (2 hours), Angers (90 mins) and Le Mans (1 hour). Regional services link to smaller towns across Pays de Loire.

If you’re travelling by car, the ferry ports of St Malo and Calais are a 2.5 or 4.5 hour drive respectively. Major motorways traverse Pays de la Loire, including the A10 (Paris to Bordeaux), A11 (Paris to Nantes) and A83 (Nantes to Niort).

Capital and places of interest

The regional capital is Nantes, a vibrant university city and cultural centre on the banks of the River Loire. Its Château des Ducs de Bretagne dates back to the 13th century.

Summer brings droves of visitors to the sandy beaches of the Loire-Atlantique and Vendee. Popular spots include chic La Baule and Sables d’Olonne.

Departments

Pays de la Loire’s five departments are Loire-Atlantique, Maine-et-Loire, Mayenne, Sarthe and Vendée.

What to do

Encounter weird and wonderful contraptions at Nantes Machines de l’Ile. This novel workshop within an enormous glasshouse showcases huge, immersive installations. Book a ride on the 12 metre high mechanical elephant, or hitch a lift aboard a giant crab on the Carousel des Mondes Marines.

Visit the island of Noirmoutier off the Vendee coast. Cross the Passage du Gois, a 2.5 mile causeway, at low tide, and explore the island’s sand dunes, marshlands and villages.

Embrace café culture in Angers’ pedestrianised old town. Visit the city’s impressive 13th century chateau, seat of the Plantagenets, who ruled England for 300 years.

Seasonal

Join the Grande Tablée of Saumur Champigny. For two days each July the streets of Saumur transform into the world’s largest open air restaurant! Revellers dine at a 2km long table, and consume 3,000 bottles of Saumur-Champigny during the festivities.

What to eat

Meat lovers should try rillettes de porc on crispy bread, a Le Mans specialty. Sea bream, sea bass, and striped mullet frequently appear on menus, along with mussels from Aguillon and Bec oysters. Port Salut and Vieux Pane are popular cheeses.

Where to eat it

Enjoy elegant dining in a sumptuous setting at La Cigale, a century old Nantes institution. Open from breakfast through to dinner, this beautiful brasserie serves regional cuisine including saddle of lamb, fresh oysters and seafood platters.

Where to stay

St Mark sur Mer is a pretty seaside village, ideal for exploring the Loire-Atlantique coastline.

Markets

Browse quality ingredients of the Vendee at the Marché de Sables d’Olonne. From Tuesday to Saturday mornings, you’ll find local wines, cheeses, meats, fish and shellfish.

Centre-Val de Loire

Centre-Val de Loire
Centre Val de Loire

Location

The Centre-Val de Loire region lies in central northern France, south west of Paris. The region is renowned for its beautiful chateaux, productive vineyards, and the fertile Loire river valley that meanders through its heart.

Access

The nearest international airports are Paris Orly and Tours-Val de Loire. From Tours airport the city centre is a 20 minute drive.

Regular high speed TGV trains serve the region. It’s a one hour journey from Paris Montparnasse to Tours St Pierre des Corps.

Numerous motorways span Centre-Val de Loire. Major routes include the A10 between Paris, Tours and Bordeaux, the A71 (Paris to Orleans to Clermont-Ferrand) and the A11 which links Paris, Chartres and Rennes.

Capital, departments and places of interest

Six départements make up Centre-Val de Loire: Cher, Indre, Indre et Loire, Eure et Loire, Loiret and Loire et Cher.

The regional capital, Orleans, is an historic hub on the banks of the River Loire. Visit its 13th century gothic cathedral where colourful stained glass windows tell the life story of Joan of Arc. Orleans’ famous daughter liberated the city from English invasion in 1429.

What to do

Visit the region’s iconic chateaux, including Chambord, Chenonceau, Blois and Azay-le-Rideau. Don’t miss the glorious Renaissance gardens at Villandry.

Take a walk in La Sologne. This vast tract of forest south of Orleans is a hotspot for hikers and nature lovers.

Explore mediaeval Tours on a private walking tour around its historical centre.

Keen ornithologists, bring your binoculars to La Brenne Regional Nature Park. Acres of lakes and marshlands play host to thousands of migratory birds.

Seasonal

Head to Orleans at the end of April for the annual Joan of Arc Festival. The ten day festival includes colourful street parades, a mediaeval market, concerts, and a spectacular light show in Sainte-Croix Cathedral.

What to eat and drink

Regional specialties include AOP Sainte-Maure-de-Touraine, a creamy and nutty, aged goat’s cheese. Try rillettes de Tours (aka pig jam!), a rich terrine made from slowly roasted pork. It’s delicious served on crisp French bread.

Indulge your sweet tooth with Nougat de Tours, a specialty cake of candied fruit and almonds.

Enjoy the local wines! Popular labels include Sancerre, Touraine and Vouvray.

Where to eat and drink

Splurge in style with a table at L’Opidom in Fondettes. Enjoy contemporary gourmet dining at this Michelin starred restaurant.

Feast on traditional French favourites at La Maison des Halles in Tours. This informal bistro dishes up generous portions. The steaks come highly recommended.

Where to stay

Montrichard is a lovely town on the River Cher, and a great base for exploring the regions chateaux. On a sunny day, head to the town’s riverbank beach!

Markets

Stroll around Tours’ colourful flower market, held each Wednesday and Saturday on the Boulevard Berenger.

Browse over 200 stalls at Amboise’s Sunday Food Market. Set in a picturesque riverside location, it’s a short stroll to the famous chateau. 

Click here to read our travellers guide to Centre Val de Loire

Corsica

Corsica
Corsica

Location

Corsica is the fourth largest island in the Mediterranean. It lies 170km southeast of mainland France and 80km from Italy. Rugged mountains dominate the landscape; at a lofty 2710 metres, Mount Cinto is Corsica’s highest peak. Outdoor lovers flock to Corsica, lured by superb beaches, unspoilt nature reserves and the spectacular GR20 hiking trail that crosses the island.

Access

Corsica has four international airports. Figari and Ajaccio lie in the island’s south, and Calvi and Bastia in the north. Direct flights operate daily from France and European cities.

Car ferries link Nice, Toulon and Marseille with the island. Ferries run from Corsica to Sardinia and mainland Italy.

Capital and places of interest

Corsica’s capital city is Ajaccio, birthplace of Napoleon Bonaparte. Its Palais-Fesch art museum houses a remarkable collection of Italian art (France’s largest collection after the Louvre). Browse works by Titian, Botticelli and Veronese.

Two departments make up Corsica: Haute-Corse and Corse-du-Sud.

Corsica boasts 1,000 km of coastline and almost 200 beaches. Take your pick from Calvi’s pine fringed bay in the north, to the fine white sands of Palombaggia in the south.

Don’t miss a visit to spectacular Bonifacio. Explore the narrow streets of this ancient walled citadel which teeters dramatically on a limestone cliff.

Discover the beautiful natural landscapes of Scandola Nature Reserve on a boat trip. Explore the stunning pink granite rock formations of Calanche de Piana.

Seasonal

Ajaccio’s annual jazz festival in late June showcases French and international musical talent.

In September, head to Peri near Ajaccio for a celebration of its annual fig harvest. Later in the month, the village of Murzu hosts its Festival of Honey. Enjoy tastings and demonstrations by local beekeepers.

What to eat

Wild boar casserole (Civet de sanglier) is a robust Corsican specialty. This nourishing dish teams boar with vegetables, chestnuts, fennel, and red wine.

Oysters, langoustines, red mullet and freshwater trout feature widely on restaurant menus.

Where to eat it

Book a table at U Casanu in Calvi. Traditional fare includes octopus salad, roast lamb and delicious fiadone, a brandy laced cheesecake.

Where to stay

Rent a property in the 16th century coastal town of Porto Vecchio, close to the stunning beaches of Palombaggia and Santa Giulia.

Markets

Ajaccio’s daily market at Place Cesar-Campinchi is the go-to for fresh, local specialties. Buy fig preserves, honey, cheeses, meats, fruit and flowers.

Occitanie

Occitanie
Occitanie

Location

Occitanie is France’s second largest region and lies in the country’s south, on the Spanish border. Its diverse terrain spans the Pyrenees and Massif Central mountain ranges, the Camargue and Dordogne, plus over 200km of Mediterranean coastline.

Access

Nine international airports serve the region, including Toulouse-Blagnac and Montpellier-Méditerranée.

A dozen motorways crisscross Occitanie, including the A20, and A61. The A9 continues across the Pyrenees into Spain.

Direct high TGV speed trains link major European cities such as Paris, Madrid, Amsterdam and Brussels with Toulouse and Montpellier. An extensive regional train network serves the region.

Capital and places of interest

Occitanie’s capital is the 2,000 year old university city of Toulouse. This compact, historical gem sits on the banks of the Garonne River and the Canal du Midi. Locals refer to Toulouse as La Ville Rose, a nod to the distinctive pink stone used in much of its architecture.

Departments

13 départements make up Occitanie. These are Ariège, Aude, Aveyron, Gard, Gers, Haute-Garonne, Hautes-Pyrénées, Hérault , Lot, Lozère, Pyrénées-Orientales, Tarn, and Tarn-et-Garonne.

To do

Join a guided walking tour around the mediaeval walled city of Carcassonne. Enjoy splendid city views from the castle ramparts. The ancient stronghold dates back to the 6th century BC.

Explore the wild Camargue wetlands, safari-style, in an open top 4×4. On a half day tour you’ll encounter white horses, pink flamingos, rice fields and marshlands in this unfettered landscape. 

Discover Nimes and gawp at its amazing arena, the world’s best preserved Roman amphitheatre. Other must-sees include Maison Caree, an intact Roman temple, and 2,000 year old Pont du Gard. Built by the Romans to transport water to the Nimes, the aqueduct holds UNESCO world heritage status.

Immerse in natural landscapes in the beautiful Dordogne Valley. Enjoy kayaking and swimming in its renowned river. Discover ancient castles at Rocamadour and Beynac, and historic cave paintings at Lascaux.

Seasonal

If you’re visiting in early April, head to Herault’s port city of Sete. Known as the ‘Venice of Languedoc’ the city hosts its annual Escale de Sete, a seven day nautical extravaganza. Join the festivities and sample regional cuisine. Enjoy naval battle displays, boat tours, and tall ship parades.

What to eat

Cassoulet is a Languedoc specialty. This hearty slow-cooked casserole teams sausage, pork and duck with white beans and vegetables. The dish harks back to the middle ages, and was a staple for French soldiers during the 100 Years War.

Occitanie vineyards produce a third of France’s wines!  Popular labels include Fitou and Corbieres from Languedoc, and sparkling Limoux, from south of Carcassonne.

Where to stay

Stay in Collioure, a gorgeous, sun-drenched port town on the Mediterranean. Collioure’s colourful houses and balmy climate inspired the artist Henri Matisse, who spent many summers here..

Markets

The historic town of Auch on the river Gers hosts a bustling market each Thursday morning. Stallholders set up by Halle Verdier in the lower town. Sample local produce such as preserves, cheeses, wines and tempting pastries.

Truffle fans head to Lalbenque in the Lot. The town’s seasonal truffle market runs every Tuesday from December to March.

Brittany

Brittany
Brittany

Location

South of Normandy, Brittany is France’s most western region. This vast, rugged peninsula protrudes into the Atlantic, between the English Channel and the Bay of Biscay. Alongside 1,000 km of gorgeous coastline, inland you’ll find ancient forest, rolling hills, tiny hamlets and vibrant historic towns.

Access

Brittany’s transport links are excellent. Four airports serve the region: Nantes, Dinard, Quimper and Brest. All offer direct flights from the UK.

TGV high speed trains run direct from Paris and southern France into Rennes, Brest and Quimper.

Direct ferry services from the UK link Plymouth, Poole and Portsmouth to the ports of St Malo and Roscoff.

If you’re driving, Brittany is the only region in France with toll-free roads.  Explore its extensive network of dual carriageways, all free of charge!

Capital and places of interest

Mediaeval Rennes is Brittany’s capital city. Alongside its impressive 17th century cathedral, Rennes boasts several exceptional museums. The Musee de Beaux Arts showcases fine art from the 15th century to the present day, whilst the Musee de Bretagne explores Breton culture and history.

Departments

Brittany comprises four departments (administrative areas): Cotes-d’Armor in the north, Ille-et-Vilaine in the northeast, Finistere in the west and Morbihan in the south.

Where to visit/what to do

Commune with nature on Morbihan’s leafy and tranquil Nantes-Brest Canal. This 326 km stretch of waterway meanders through Brittany’s verdant heart. Walk or cycle, or take to the water on a kayak or boat cruise.  

Discover the beautiful Cote de Granite Rose in the northern Cotes d’Armor. Spectacular pink and red granite boulders dominate the shoreline, fringed by rose tinged sand. For wonderful views walk the 3 mile coastal trail between Perros-Guirec and the gorgeous settlement of Ploumanac’h (voted France’s most beautiful village in 2015).

At Carnac in Morbihan you’ll encounter the densest concentration of megalithic standing stones on the planet! The mysterious Carnac alignments comprise over 2,800 standing stones, towering up to 4m in height. Believed to date back to 4500 BC, this unique site is astonishingly well preserved.

Another must-see is the 1,000 year old mediaeval Chateau de Josselin overlooking the Oust River in central Morbihan. A super example of renaissance architecture, the fortress and its gardens are a joy to explore.

St Malo is a stunning walled city in Ile-et-Vilaine. Overlooking the English Channel, for centuries pirates roamed the city streets. Join a walking tour around the spectacular granite ramparts and take in views across the harbour and into the old town. Visit the city’s aquarium, and observe over 600 exotic fish species.

Seasonal

If you’re visiting during May, don’t miss the Fête de la Bretagne. This annual celebration embraces all things Breton. Enjoy a host of concerts, street performances, exhibitions and of course, food markets!

What to eat

Its extensive coastline strongly influences Brittany’s cuisine. Book a table at Au Pied de Cheval in the coastal town of Cancale, famed for its oysters. Indulge in a freshly caught seafood platter of seasonal spider crab, prawns, langoustines and crab. Try traditional pastries rich in salted Breton butter, such as Kouign-amann, a rich caramelised cake, and palets (butter cookies). Slake your thirst with a glass of sparkling Breton cider (Brittany’s orchards cultivate a whopping 600 varieties of apple).

Where to stay

Rent a property in the charming Breton seaside town of Concarneau. The fortified town overlooks a beautiful bay in southern Finistere. I enjoying amazing seafood here!

Breton markets

France’s second biggest market, Renne’s Marche des Lices runs every Saturday. Browse fresh produce and artisan crafts.

Sample crepes, cheeses and pastries at Saint Renan, one of the many small town in thew area, market in Finistere, also on Saturdays.

Every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday, Dinard’s outdoor market offers an array of produce including fashion, handmade gifts, meat, fruit and vegetables.

Read our in-depth travellers guide to Brittany here

Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur

Provence Alpes Côte D'azure
Provence

Location

Provence-Alpes-Côtes d’Azur (aka PACA) lies in France’s south east corner, on the border with Italy. Framed by the Alps and the Mediterranean Sea, this stunning and prosperous region offers chic coastal resorts, picturesque towns and dramatic natural landscapes.

Access

The region boasts a comprehensive motorway network. The A7 AutoRoute links Marseille to Lyon and northern France. The A8 spans PACA from east to west, crossing the Italian border.

Four international airports serve the region: Nice Côte D’Azur, Avignon, Toulon-Hyères, and Marseille Provence.

High speed TGV trains run from Paris, London, Brussels and Amsterdam to Avignon, Aix en Provence and Marseille. You’ll also find widespread regional train services.

Marseille is a major port, and daily ferry services run to Corsica. Services also operate from Marseille to Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco.

Capital and places of interest

PACAs regional capital is the vibrant city of Marseille. Must-sees include Verdon Gorge, and Provence’s iconic hilltop villages. Discover Roman and mediaeval architecture in the UNESCO world heritage cities of Arles and Avignon.

Six departments make up PACA: Alpes-de-Haute-Provence, Alpes Maritimes, Bouches du Rhône, Var, Hautes-Alpes, and Vaucluse

What to do

Relax on a guided wine tour in the bucolic Luberon countryside.

Hit the French Riviera in style, on a catamaran cruise around the Bay of Cannes.

Discover the plunging limestone canyons and turquoise waters of Verdon Gorge. Outdoor lovers can hike, kayak, swim and rock climb.

Seasonal

From late June to early August, visit Provence’s lavender fields in full bloom – a glorious treat for the senses.

What to eat

Mediterranean vegetables and seafood underpin PACA gastronomy. You’ll find ratatouille, bouillabaisse, and salade nicoise on many menus. Meat eaters, try boeuf daube, a tender, slow cooked beef stew. For the culinary adventurous, pieds paquets is a Marseille specialty of lambs feet, tripe and vegetables. Top it off with a glass or several of Ventoux rouge or rose Cotes de Provence.

Where to eat it

Dine on original and seasonal Provencal/Mediterranean dishes at elegant Cote Cour in Aix en Provence. Or feast on tripes a la Nicoise and regional specialties at Chez Acchiardo. This Nice institution has been around since 1927.

Where to stay

Hyeres in Var is a lively seaside town. Buzzing with shops, restaurants and markets, it’s a great base for exploring the region.

Markets

Arles’ Saturday market is one of the largest and most beautiful in the region. Over 450 traders set up around Boulevard des Lices. Browse clothing, crafts and locally produce including cheeses, olive oil, and the famous Arles sausage.

Work up an appetite at Aix en Provence’s daily food and flower market. Located on Place Richelme and Place de La Mairie, you’ll find colourful stalls bursting with seasonal fruit, veg, cheeses and pastries.

Read our in-depth travellers guide to Provence-Alpes-Côtes d’Azur here

Ile de France

Paris
Paris

Location

Ile de France is the compact, densely populated region which surrounds Paris, in central north France.

Access

Ile de France enjoys excellent transport links.

Two international airports serve the region: Orly and Charles de Gaulle, France’s principal airport.

Ile de France’s comprehensive rail network connects to the rest of the country and Europe. Paris has six major stations including Gare du Nord, Europe’s busiest station.

An extensive motorway system feeds the region. Major roads include the A1, which connects Paris and Lille, and the A6 which heads south to Lyon.

Capital and places of interest

Paris is the celebrated capital of both Ile de France and the country. Millions of visitors flock to explore the city’s historic architecture, beautiful boulevards and gardens. Other must-see visitor destinations in the region include Louis XIV’s opulent Palace at Versailles, and Napoleon’s former residence, the Château de Fontainebleau.

Departments

Ile de France comprises eight départements: Paris, Essonne, Hauts-de-Seine, Seine-Saint-Denis, Seine-et-Marne, Val-de-Marne, Val-d’Oise and Yvelines.

What to do

See Paris from the water on a boat cruise down the Seine. You’ll pass familiar landmarks including the Louvre and the Eiffel Tower. Head to Versailles for a guided tour of its magnificent Palace and glorious gardens.

Seasonal

Foodies, don’t miss the International Cheese & Wine Fair at Coulommiers (in the Seine-et-Marne) which takes place each year around Easter.

What to eat

Regional cheeses include Brie de Meaux, and Coulommiers, a nutty, soft cow’s milk cheese made from cow’s milk. If you’ve a sweet tooth, the famous macaron and mille-feuille pastries originate in Ile de France.

Where to eat

Dine on classic French meat and game dishes at elegant but relaxed Le Vertugadin in Chantilly.

Where to stay

Stylish Marais in the 4th arrondissement is possibly my favourite district in Paris. This historic, vibrant quarter is a joy to explore, shop and dine in!

Markets

Namechecked by Hemingway, Marche Mouffetard is a Paris institution. Shoehorned into the Latin Quarter’s cobbled streets, this vibrant street market runs from Tuesday to Saturday. Browse stalls of fruit and veg, cheeses, breads, seafood and tempting patisseries. Perfect for a picnic.

Click here to read our in depth travellers guide to Ile de France

Hauts-de-France

Haut de France
Lille – Haut de France

France’s most northerly region, Hauts de France borders Belgium and edges the English Channel. The region includes historical cities alongside the beautiful beaches of the Cote d’Opale. Hauts de France is a great base for visitors to the WW1 battlefields at nearby Flanders.

Access

Just 26 miles across the Channel, Hauts de France makes a great weekend destination from the UK.

If you’re driving, the Eurotunnel from Folkestone to Calais takes a mere 35 minutes. Regular car ferries run from Dover to Dunkirk and Dover to Calais (a swift 90 minute crossing). From Calais, join the A16 motorway towards Amiens or the A26 to Arras.

If you’re travelling by train, Eurostar whizzes from London St Pancras to Calais-Frethun in 55 minutes. London to Lille is 1 hour 22 minutes whilst Paris Gare du Nord takes 2 hours 16 minutes.

From Paris, high speed TGV trains run to many of the region’s towns including Amiens, Lille, Arras and Boulogne sur Mer.

For air travellers, Paris’ Charles de Gaulle airport is a 20 minute drive away.

Capital and places of interest

Five departments make up Hauts de France: Pas de Calais, Nord, Aisne, Oise, and Somme.

Lille is the region’s capital. A vibrant university city, the old town offers an enticing tangle of cobbled streets and 17th century French and Flemish architecture. Discover artisan shops, excellent restaurants and museums. Art fans, don’t miss the Palais des Beaux Arts. An impressive collection includes works by Goya, Delacroix, Van Dyck and Rubens.

What to do

Visit Nausicaa in Boulogne sur Mer, Europe’s largest aquarium. Discover 1600 species of sea life including sharks, rays, sea lions, and penguins.

For a bird’s eye view of Lille, head to the iconic Town Hall Belfry. Climb (or take the lift) to the top of this stunning art deco building and UNESCO heritage site. The panoramic views across the city are wonderful, and on a clear day you can see as far as Flanders.

Activities

Cycle the Velomaritime Velo route and enjoy stunning coastal vistas from Dunkirk into Brittany.

Experience sand yachting at the Baie de Somme. At low tide you’ll find 15 miles of uninterrupted sands between Le Crotoy and Fort Mahon. Adrenaline junkies can hit speeds of 50km/30 miles per hour!

Seasonal

On Summer nights from July to September, enjoy a spectacular Son et Lumiere light show at Amiens Cathedral, the largest gothic basilica in France.

In April/May, Berck sur Mer on the stunning Cote d’Opale hosts its annual kite festival. Join the celebrations and watch international teams compete in colourful aerial acrobatics.

What to eat

Hauts de France is Europe’s Capital of Gastronomy for 2023. Try Coquillade de la Baie de Somme, a hearty chowder of scallops, potato and onion. Ficelle Picarde is a popular savoury pancake dish featuring cheese, ham and mushrooms.

Le Clair de Lune in Lille serves elegant, award winning cuisine (try the guinea fowl in bacon crème) backed by an extensive wine list. Or feast on oysters and lobster bouillabaisse at the iconic Perard in Le Touquet.

Where to stay

Rent a property in St Valery, a charming medieval city overlooking the Somme Bay.

Markets

Boulogne’s daily fish market is a lively affair. Here you’ll find an array of fish and seafood fresh off the boats.

Wazemmes Market in Lille sells everything from clothing, to bric a brac, food and flowers. Open Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday.

Normandy

Normandy
Honfleur – Normandy

Normandy is a region in northwest France, a skip across the English Channel (La Manche) from England. Brittany borders its south west and Hauts de France its north east.

Access

Paris Charles de Gaulle, Paris Orly and Nantes are the nearest major international airports to Normandy. The region’s Cherbourg and Le Havre airports serve domestic routes, whilst international flights operate from Caen-Carpiquet and Deauville.

Direct high speed TGV trains connect Paris to Normandy’s visitor hubs including Rouen, Cherbourg and Mont St Michel.

Cross-channel ferries link Portsmouth, Poole and Newhaven in the UK with Le Havre, Caen, Cherbourg and Dieppe.

Less than three hours’ drive from Paris, Normandy’s comprehensive road network spans meandering rural lanes to high speed toll-motorways including the A13, France’s oldest motorway.

Capital and places of interest

Five departments make up Normandy: Seine-Maritime, Manche, Calvados, Eure and Orne.

Rouen, Normandy’s ancient capital city lies in Seine-Maritime, on the banks of the River Seine. Rouen’s gritty past includes English occupation in the Hundred Years War, and extensive bombing during WWII. Explore the beautifully restored mediaeval quarter, and its vast 12th century gothic cathedral. Around the city you’ll find many statues of the French heroine and saint, Joan of Arc. Tried for heresy in 1431, the 19 year old girl was burned at the stake in Rouen’s Place du Vieux Marche. Today a catholic church and an immersive museum stand in this historic square, dedicated to her name.

What to do

Visit Normandy’s stunning UNESCO world heritage site of Mont St Michel, a centuries old pilgrimage destination in a surreally beautiful location. Explore the ancient abbey and steep cobbled alleyways on this tiny island, and enjoy breath-taking views of the surrounding bay.

Impressionist art fans, don’t miss a visit to Claude Monet’s home in Giverny. Discover the beautiful gardens which inspired some of the artist’s finest work.

Normandy’s coastline is synonymous with 1944’s D-Day Landings. A vast military operation on an unprecedented scale saw the allies land over 150,000 troops on Normandy’s beaches. Visit the memorials, battle sites and museums that pay tribute to those involved.

Each autumn Normandy celebrates its cider apple harvest with a series of festivals across the region. If you’re visiting between September and November, join the revelry including street parades, concerts, food stalls and umpteen opportunities to sample the local cider!

What to eat

Try Marmite Dieppoise, a delicious fish stew hailing from Dieppe, or feast on traditional Andouille sausage and canard à la Rouennaise. Camembert is the most famous of Normandy cheeses. Enjoy top class gastronomy at Honfleur’s La Fleur de Sel (book in advance) or head to Rouen’s Bar a Huitres for uber-fresh seafood in a relaxed setting.

Where to stay

I stayed in historic Bayeux, close to the 11th century cathedral. This lovely, friendly town is a short drive to the Normandy D-Day beaches.

Food/Markets

Browse ocean-fresh produce straight off the boat at Trouville-sur-Mer’s daily fish market.

Head to Dieppe’s Saturday morning market (voted best in France in 2020). Take your pick of top class fruit and veg, cheese, seafood and artisan gifts.

Thanks for joining me on this whistle-stop tour of France’s regions. I’m hoping you’re inspired to take a trip to this glorious and welcoming country. Salut and bon voyage!

Nick Garnett
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I've been travelling since the 70's and have visited over 30 countries, but, and it's a big but, my heart has always been in the French countryside. So much so that 15 years ago, my wife Charlotte and I bought a little hamlet house in central France and haven't been anywhere since, except for the odd trip to the Polish steppes (don't ask why, it's complicated). FiftyFrance is an expression of our deep and abiding love for France and her people.

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