Winning tip: Cassis, close to Marseilles
Cassis, round an hour’s drive from Marseille, is a tiny port city well-known for its salty rosé (to not be confused with blackcurrant liqueur crème de cassis, from Burgundy) and herb-scented whites. We had the delight of a winery tour at Clos Saint Magdeleine, the place the household greeted us like long-lost associates and took us on a journey via the vines, permitting us to pattern their stunning pale rosés made with grenache and cinsault grapes. The city has an amazing little seashore beneath a towering cliff, Cap Canaille, certainly one of France’s highest. Taking a ship or mountain climbing three or 4 kilometres you possibly can go to the numerous calanques (steep-sided limestone inlets) alongside the coast, which provide abandoned bays for swimming. In May, simply earlier than the excessive season begins, lodging ought to be that little bit simpler to search out.
Alpine meadows, Mercantour nationwide park
Lac d’Allos, within the Mercantour nationwide park. Photograph: Alamy
June is heavenly within the Mercantour, within the Alpes-Maritimes close to the Italian border. It is the height month for wild flowers, which carpet the meadows, the place clear streams run down from forested slopes. Against a backdrop of craggy summits, guests can see animals reminiscent of marmots, chamois and mouflon. Hiking and biking routes crisscross the highland meadows and converge on the Lac d’Allos at 2,226 metres, Europe’s largest high-altitude lake. You can bivouac in a single day within the park however the outdoorsy city of Barcelonnette makes an amazing base, with a very good vary of campsites (€27 for 2 individuals with automotive, tent or caravan at rioclar.fr) and motels, plus a superb market each Wednesday and Saturday.
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Fun on the water, Vendée
The extensive, sandy seashore at La Tranche sur Mer. Photograph: Alamy
We spend our May half-terms in La Tranche-sur-Mer, a seashore resort within the Vendée, a simple drive from the ferry ports. There are miles of sandy seashores, that are abandoned in late May and June. They are shielded from the sturdy Atlantic currents by the Île de Ré, so are perfect for kids and for water sports activities. We’ve employed sea kayaks from WaterFun earlier than, and it’s simple to hire surf boards. There are cycle paths via the city and all alongside the coast so we cycle in all places as a household. Fresh mussels and oysters are broadly obtainable within the native eating places and markets. Our favorite locations to eat are Michelin-listed Le Pousse Pied for a deal with (€35 menu) and steak and pizza specialist La Cabane for a very good household meal. And, because it’s a well-liked resort with the French, there’s additionally a plentiful provide of self-catering lodging. We use Vendee Vacations.
Île de Ré biking
Photograph: Getty Images
Early summer season brings briny Atlantic breezes to the Île de Ré to blow away the cobwebs as you cycle from one idyllic, low-slung village to a different alongside tidy cycle paths scented with pine. Plot your route to incorporate a few of the easy pleasures this island does so nicely: rock pooling, pottering down green-shuttered lanes, basking on the sand or investigating the salt pans. Aim to be biking previous Cabanajam oyster shack (Chemin du Chaffaud, Saint Martin) when your stomach is empty and the tide is out, so you possibly can watch the tractors squelch out to reap the oyster-beds whereas having fun with a dozen direct from the producteur on his rustic, sea-bleached benches.
Hiking within the Vallée de la Loue, Jura mountains
The supply of the Loue river in France’s Jura area.
The dramatically stunning valley of the River Loue lies within the largely tourist-free northern Jura and the stunning riverside city of Ornans is correct at its coronary heart. Birthplace of artist Gustave Courbet (1819-77), it’s a quiet city (now via visitors is diverted away from the slender essential avenue) with rustic buildings, some backing straight on to the river, and a museum dedicated to the artist. It’s an amazing base to spend a soothing few days mountain climbing to splendid waterfalls, caves and canyons (many hidden by lush forest). I spent a cheerful day within the Gorges de Nouailles exploring the sheer limestone cliffs and caves alongside the Loue and its brief tributary, the Pontet. The subsequent day we hiked the unspoilt Ravin du Puits Noir (Ravine of the Black Well) simply exterior Ornans, the place a print of certainly one of Courbet’s masterpieces has even been put in for comparability with the actual factor.
The cinema at Hotel Belvédère, Cerbere.
In the foothills of the Pyrenees the final village earlier than Spain, on the Mediterranean aspect, has a Jacques Tati environment. People are likely to miss this little gem in its sheltered creek missed by vineyards producing the well-known (in France) Banyuls pure candy wine and the wonderful Collioure desk wines. The village has a tremendous art-deco resort, the Belvédère, with its personal cinema. Opened on the eve of the Spanish civil battle, it suffered a loss of demand as travel within the area declined. In 2002 it was given protected historic standing and has now reopened with rooms (doubles from €95). There’s additionally the Dorade resort (doubles from €55 B&B) on the seafront, run by Anne and Yves, who communicate wonderful English. The city corridor runs the Central Hotel (doubles from €59) as nicely, which is open all yr. There’s a very good diving membership north of the village; offshore is certainly one of France’s few maritime reserves so there are many fish. There’s loads of strolling and mountain biking obtainable and with the prepare providers on each side of the border it’s simple to do one-way journeys in France or Spain. The nearest airports are Girona about 45 minutes south, or Perpignan about an hour to the north. The Spanish village throughout the border, Port Bou, has an amazing number of locations to eat and choose up low-cost booze.
This southern city might be France’s most underrated and doesn’t appear to have an excessive amount of tourism. However, Toulouse’s wonderful delicacies and pink brick buildings make it a gem for any Francophile. Be positive to strive the macarons (pictured) at Au Poussin Bleu and the crêpes at Pastel et Sarrasin, whereas historians will probably be fascinated by the Basilica of Saint-Sernin, one of many largest remaining Romanesque buildings in Europe and a Unesco world heritage web site.
A 75-minute drive from Nice takes you to Bargemon, a sleepy, medieval Var village with cobbled streets, stunning views over the valley, a central sq. full with eating places, bakery and butchers … oh and a typewriter museum. Explore the backstreets and benefit from the leisurely tempo of life with a crisp glass of the native rosé. Incidentally, Bargemon is the place David and Victoria Beckham used to have a chateau.
Lac de Gaube, close to Lourdes.
An assortment of vacationers and polyglot locals, a sprinkling of merry monks and nuns and the positioning the place the Virgin Mary is claimed to have appeared 18 instances: Lourdes is stunning due to its many faces – the religious, the medieval, the kitsch, the mountains, even the trendy. It’s breathtakingly stunning but run-down in components. Snow-covered peaks within the distance, the fast-flowing Gave de Pau and ragged rock peeking out from beneath the homes. A vacation spot for pilgrims and the gateway to the spectacle, nature and out of doors actions of the Pyrenees nationwide park. A profusion of motels means there are at all times inexpensive rooms. I counsel Appart’hôtel La Closeraie (doubles from about €50 B&B), close to the station and The Majestic (doubles from about €50 B&B), within the centre. In Boulevard de la Grotte there are numerous good-value eating places, notably Café Le Genève. I’m the bearer of fine news: you don’t have to be spiritual to like Lourdes.
Beaches of Biarritz
Photograph: Robert Harding
If you will get all the way down to Biarritz in June, you’ll beat the crowds and have your choose of sandy seashores for browsing, hilltop bars to observe the sunsets and nice locations to fill yourselves with pintxos and seafood. The climate is often nice in May and June and you might be 50 minutes away from San Sebastián if a foray into the culinary capital of Spain tempts you.