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off the beaten path in France: Start Here!

Everyone wants to see the main sights and famous landmarks of France... but what about the sights the locals love? The ones that aren't necessarily on the tourist trail? The destinations and traditions that are off the beaten path in France?

Yes, of course we'll have the main sights, but we go beyond.

Castles of the Loire? Certainly! But did you know the steamy love stories behind them?

Museums, naturally – we are in France after all... but in addition to the Louvre and the Musée d'Orsay, there are hundreds of quirky or secret museums to discover.

Culture and food... wouldn't you like to know what French men and women really enjoy?

If you want to plan a perfect and fun French vacation and make it memorable, here are some facets of France you'll absolutely want to discover.

how to navigate this site

To make things simple(r), Offbeat France is divided into several sections:

  • the planning section: for all your practical needs, from driving to weather to accommodation to itineraries - the nuts and bolts of your trip
  • the culture and history section: to feed your deepest curiosity about our past, who we are as a country and what made us this way (and why we try so hard to hang on to it all!)
  • the foodie section: to help you discover our delicious foods and inspiring drinks (well, what is France without its food? And wine?) 
  • the section about places: this divides France up into regions and départements and lists offbeat places to see and things to do.
  • the shopping section: this is where you'll find souvenirs and products to assuage your nostalgia for France or to extend your experience!

My goal is to set you off on a journey of discovery: to places that people don't visit as often, foods that may be unfamiliar, or stories behind the stories you may not have heard before.

I hope to make you gaze in wonder, but also to laugh out loud because (contrary to popular belief) we DO have a (slight) sense of humour.

You may or may not appreciate mine, but you'll be subjected to it nonetheless.

And now, A LITTLE MORE detail about going off the beaten path in france

Planning your trip to France

Before I tell you stories about people and places, I have to get you here, and so this site has plenty of travel tips about France and planning information on France travel, enough to make sure you can navigate around without too much difficulty.

Here are some of the tools you might need while planning your trip to France:

The culture vultures will love this section

Now some of you may be smitten with French culture (come on, fess up, there's no shame in it!). Or you may be fascinated by the many Louis and Henris and Charles we have scattered throughout time.

I too have survived the tedious recitation of dates and battles from my school days but history does not have to be like that at all. In fact, I'll prove it to you by bringing history alive through the places we visit:

Hidden gems of France

We've mentioned the landmarks... but when it comes to going off the beaten path France is full of surprises! Here are some delightful places to visit:

France for the inveterate foodie

Are you a foodie? We French not only have particular table manners, but we have a hugely diverse culinary tradition. In fact, there are those who come to France just for the food!

We like to make things

We have a long tradition of handicrafts and manufacturing, of artistry in many fields. Not only do we build huge aircraft and overwhelming bridges, but we make delicious chocolate, craft fine jewellery and create high fashion. So yes, we like to make things, and showcase the French artisans who make all this happen. Like these:

And then there's US, ze French

Oh yes, I'm sure you've heard a lot about us or if you've been here before, you've probably had the chance to meet us in person.

We are a delightful people, n'est-ce-pas? No? Not always? Sometimes maybe?

Never mind, I understand, meeting your first French can be daunting but only for one reason: because we are unfamiliar and you do not know us.

Behind that abrupt façade lies a warm people with a big heart – so I'll show you how to get beyond those first impressions and start getting to know us – and shed your stereotypes along the way.

Off the beaten path: France as you've never seen her before

What I love about my country is the abundance of lesser-known corners, filled with unexpected beauty and fascinating stories.

Did you know that...

These are just a few of the many stories I share with you here on Offbeat France.

I'd like to help you discover la France profonde, that deep France we all love once we stumble upon it.

lavender fields Senanque Abbey in ProvenceThe lavender fields around the Senanque Abbey in the Lubéron region may well be in the top 10 places to visit in France - but did you know that the abbey contains a fabulous library with a collection of books on Provence, French history, religious architecture and historical novels? It's a wonderful place to hide away and discover...

I was born in Paris but spent most of my youth abroad. I returned in my thirties and have since had a home base on the edge of southeastern France, a stone's throw from the Swiss border. Mine is a rural area, typical of that deepest rural France, often forgotten even though it is this country's backbone (and has more cowbells than honking horns).

This is a France of rolling hills and cooperative tractors and of neighbours who know each others' business because, far from the government infrastructure, we often have to call on one another for help. (My nearest tiny country hospital is more than half an hour away, but for something serious I'd need to travel for an hour or more.)

That doesn't mean I don't appreciate the city – on the contrary, I am absolutely a city girl! I love getting to my nearest town, Annecy (which many of us believe might be France's prettiest). Or to Paris, the city of my birth, whose mysteries continue to captivate me because each time I visit I feel like a tourist. Or to Lyon, which is just over an hour by train and where I go to get my urban fix when the cows get to be too much. Or any of these, among France's most beautiful...

France is a country of many secrets and of many regions (a reminder that you can find an overview here), each different, each intensely appealing, and all of which we'll discover together.

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