Guide to free travel in France (tips and ideas)

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France is a country to travel many times. That’s the first thing I like to clear up. There is no way to get to know it in one trip: for ideas, we have the classics (Paris, Mont Saint Michel, the Côte d’Azur, Provence), but also deep France, its countryside and hidden villages, its paths, landscapes and its heritage multiplied throughout the territory. The number of options is multiplied almost exponentially. When I am asked what I recommend from France (among what I know) my answer is “a lot”, and it almost becomes impossible for me to give a precise recommendation without starting to make a list of recommendations. Therefore, before thinking about our trip to France, we must have a good display of options and regions to see, and choose according to our personal tastes rather than waiting for them to tell us what to see.

This post is an attempt to order the plans and ideas, to provide everything you need to inspire you to travel (with lots of proposals, regions and destinations).

Such can be the ancient parts in villages in France.

To do this, I want to go little by little starting with the most classic, and following by alternative ideas, frequently asked questions, recommendations based on my experience. That’s what we’re all about in this post.

Initial advice: I travelled to France several times on different occasions. I can say that I have seen some of its classics (Paris, Côte d’Azur or even several of its important cities), but also less usual routes for foreign visitors, exploring the valley of the Lot, part of the Auvergne, the Dordogne, Pyrenees, Alsace … A varied panorama that of course lacks much (in fact this post I will complete it with new trips). France is a country that in its largest cities even the smallest villages have an incredible heritage to showcase. Traveling the country will probably surprise you a lot more leaving Paris. In no way do I say that Paris is not surprising, but almost everyone knows what to expect in the City of Light, and not so much what to expect from exploring rural roads, villages and lesser-known landscapes in France. If you follow me by my Instagram, you will know that exploring corners little known to me is addictive for the amount of satisfactions and stimuli kilometer by kilometer through the Gallic country. So my first advice for France is to think of a trip in which we do not try to see a lot in a short time, or cover a huge territory. The best thing would be to be selective, to delimit regions, preferably to choose nearby regions, and to think that even if we traveled a month in France, it would not be enough time to cover everything (unless we wanted to make a crazy trip).

1. The essentials of France (a list of the essentials for a first trip). If this is your first trip to France, read these recommendations or review this list of safety pins, otherwise (if you already know all these destinations), go to point 2.

Paris. Although it is obvious to mention it, Paris is for many the point of entry to France, and the first point of contact. Paris is the elegant capital city we’ve seen so many times in movies, but you have to know that Paris is a huge urban stain, and what most visitors know is just the historical and tourist heart. In the blog I already made a great guide for those who visit Paris for the first time. If you go a second time to Paris you may be interested in this list of 25 unusual things to do in Paris.

The cities. Although it is not my predilection cities (you will already know if you follow me in networks that mine are remote sites, villages and nature), there is a large round of essential cities of France beyond Paris. Lyon, Toulouse, Marseille, Nantes, Nice, Strasbourg. All of them have an interesting heritage and a range of activities to dedicate two to three days to them.

Mont Saint Michel. This incredible islet at the mercy of the tides with its medieval constructions receives more than 3 million visitors every year. In this post you can see a selection of photos and info to understand why it is worth visiting.

Loire Castles. The Loire Valley is another of France’s most visited destinations. In the blog there is a route through castles of the Loire that you can organize to do even leaving from Paris. This region has a bestial heritage scattered along the valley not only around the Loire river, but also in tributary river valleys. It is one of the most emblematic cultural landscapes of France (and is only one hour from Paris).

Provence. One of the best-known countryside areas in France is the region of Provence. Also on the blog is a route to explore Provence through its most beautiful villages. It is the land of perfume, of lavender fields, of the good Mediterranean climate (if we avoid winter). There are beautiful landscapes, museums, small villages with pure charm, regional gastronomy. A region and journey that could well start from Marseilles.

Côte d’Azur (French Riviera). Another of the classics of France, the French Riviera with its elementals (Cannes, Nice) but also with other villages on the coast like Antibes, or even beaches and secluded coves. In the blog I did a route to explore charming villages of the Costa Azul, but also a complete guide to organize your trip to the Costa Azul.

French Brittany. The region of Brittany to the northwest of France encompasses a historic territory, a huge peninsula largely surrounded by the Atlantic. There you will find a good collection of charming villages, regional cities such as Nantes, Vannes, Lorient, or Saint-Brieuc. In the blog there is a proposal of route to do for French Brittany.

2. The other France (villages, castles, countryside and surprises).

The administrative regions of France can also be explored as tourist destinations. Just as we can talk about a trip to Brittany, Normandy, Loire Valley, Burgundy, etc., we can also concentrate within each region on smaller areas with an enormous cultural identity that often coincide with the territorial organization in departments. So we can also talk about visiting the area of the Dordogne, the Lot, or Alsace. Or even to “complicate” the range of options, there are administrative regions that no longer exist today but retain their identity and nomenclature for tourism promotion. An example could be the Perigord area.

I speak to you of France through the villages, of the rural charm, and of the destinations that, being less massive or known, go beyond the traditional. An opportunity to explore through its secondary roads, or away from the big cities. There are real jewels more and less known, even some corners barely known borders outside. From these “sub-regions” I’m going to mention some of my recommendations, places and posts on the blog that can serve as inspiration.

Route through the Dordogne. Although this valley shaped by the Dordogne river is not unknown, it can be said that many tourists who visit France from abroad overlook it. This is a beautiful area to travel by car, to explore villages that seem “hanging” on the cliffs that face the river. As if that weren’t enough, there are some of the most beautiful villages in France, or even the city with the highest density of heritage buildings (Sarlat la Caneda). I share with you my route through the Dordogne in detail.

Route through the Lot. In France, the valleys that accompany the course of rivers in remote areas hide villages that were preserved in a way that astonishes with its appearance of several centuries ago. Just as in the Dordogne, we can understand what awaits us in the valley of the Lot. If you follow this route along the river Lot between Cahors and Calvignac you will find some of the most beautiful villages in France.

Route through the Pyrenees between Andorra and the Mediterranean. As I always like to join villages and charming places little known, my recommendation is that you see this route option that starts in Andorra and ends in the Mediterranean accompanying a stretch by the French Pyrenees.

Route through Alsace. The Alsace region is one of the regions with the most fans among my followers (as I am told). For its villages, for its Christmas atmosphere, its colourfulness in summer. It is one of the most picturesque and charming regions. In the blog is the guide to travel through Alsace, as well as the route through villages of Alsace.

Explore the most beautiful villages of France. The beauty, charm and attractiveness of many French villages is such that there is an association that brings together the most beautiful villages of France (Les plus beaux Villages de France). Many of these towns, added to others that I marked on a map integrate a route idea that I could elaborate for the blog. You can see the post with the whole itinerary through many of the most beautiful villages of France.

Curious corners of France. There is much to talk about curious and little-known places in France. For example, I like to explore villages, and that’s why I started researching beautiful and charming villages near Paris. Or I also made a selection of 7 little-known medieval French villages. I did the same to learn of curious castles scattered throughout French territory. In other posts with listings that can serve as inspiration there is a selection of curious places in France (villages or landscapes with some uniqueness).

3. How to move around France.

Travel France for free. On the blog and on my travels I almost always choose this style of travel: organized on my own, on my own, usually in a rental car exploring routes and roads. You should know that if you ask me for a recommendation, this is for me the best way to travel and explore freely, improvising along the way and discovering what we sometimes didn’t even plan for. What I usually do (or what I did on my various trips) is get to a major city near the region to explore, spend a few days there to get to know that city, and then rent a car to follow the route.

Rent a car. My advice for renting a car in France is to do so in major cities, and especially at airports. That’s where the best offer, availability and price is. Another recommendation is to rent the car some time in advance to get a better price (at least two weeks). Where to rent a car. I do it through the web in all my travels (here you can rent a car directly from the blog in a search engine managed by Rentalcars, and if this is your first time renting a car, here you can see my advice). If you are wondering or thinking about the idea of renting the car at one point or city and delivering it to another, this may cause the cost to rise too high (as we will be charged the cost of hauling the car back to its point of origin). A more recommendable alternative is to think of diagramming circular routes with the same starting and finishing point. To cite an example, on my trip through the Dordogne and the Lot I rented my car in Toulouse (the nearest big city) returning the car at the same point. My other recommendation to travel France for free is to go to the route with GPS (can be the same google maps of the phone) and configure it to avoid the highways. This simple configuration will make us travel slower, but enjoying the secondary roads or national routes that cross the most beautiful landscapes.

Ideas of routes through France. Although many of the routes were named and linked in previous paragraphs, in the blog there is a specific post to travel by car through France with all the ideas of routes and tips. There is a good amount of itinerary, mostly proposals that I made thinking about exploring that lesser known France and that as I am told by those who make them in my networks, always come back fascinated.

Travelling by train through France. The other alternative to travel for free in France is the train, a romantic idea, and that fortunately in the country it is possible to realize counting on excellent connection and service. The rail network is almost a spider’s web that connects much of the country (i.e. not all towns, but almost all major cities and regions are crossed by train lines). However, it is also worth noting that the train is not the cheapest way to travel (it is the bus, and secondly the plane if we book in advance). But the train is a beautiful, comfortable, practical way (the stations are almost always a step away from the center of each city), and very attractive to travel in France. Where to buy tickets: to book your train tickets you can do so from the website of the SNFC, the French state railway company. The tickets no longer need to be printed because if you register as a user and download the app, you can have their tickets on the phone, and with the QR code that will appear in the app, make the check for all your trips both in the stations and on the train. How to organise train journeys: Ideally, you should make short journeys from one destination to another. If the destinations are very far away it is likely that (unless it is between very important cities), you will have to make combinations and have waiting times at some station. As I said, the train network is a big web, but there are not always direct trains from one point to another.

Organize excursions in France. If you are not interested in trains or renting a car, then the option would be to organize your trip on your own, or even worse by hiring some organized excursions. That is, instead of buying an all-inclusive travel package from our country of origin, we hire ourselves excursions to do on the day (or even several days) departing from specific points in France. How difficult is this? It is very easy, I can recommend you for example to look at all the excursions in France to do from this web (Civitatis). These tours are generally in Spanish, and you can view comments from other people who have already done the tours and the scores. They are also sorted by city as a starting point. You will find that there are a number of tours that are done with a duration of several hours or on the same day, as well as more complete tours and several days (For example, there is among others a tour to visit the castles of the Loire from Paris in two days). The advantage of doing these tours is that we forget about all the logistics, and therefore, the worries of traveling in a country we do not know if that gives us concern. For example, we could arrive in Paris, get to know Paris for three days on our own, and then continue on one or more of these excursions.

4. Accommodation in France. Accommodation in France is one of the items that can swell our travel budget as it is not in itself a cheap country in this area if we compare its average price with other European countries. When I am asked how much to calculate for accommodation in France, I am reminded of the need to explain that there is no such thing as an estimated average expenditure. In France as in any country the budget can vary from luxury to the most affordable (which would be the hotels and hostels). But there are also the variables of the season, if we travel weekends, holidays, etc.. Or also the type of destination in relation to the season, because it is clear that if we want to stay in Nice in full August, prices will skyrocket. It is therefore very difficult to estimate an average expenditure. My recommendation is to book in advance if we travel to destinations that are in their high season. As well as allowing us to improvise if we travel on less massive dates, or travel to destinations that do not know of massiveness, such as unusual rural areas. Booking in hotels: in my travels I leave little room for improvisation because my style is always based somewhere (simply because I find it exhausting to spend every day looking for a place to stay, as well as changing places all the time). So what I do is choose a “strategic” site within my itinerary, and there I “planto bandera” a few days to explore the environment or follow routes. To find my hotel I use hotel search engines (like any mortal). It’s not like there’s much of a trick to looking for. Simply look for the services according to our requirements. However, in links like the one above (to Booking) it is sometimes possible to find some discounted prices or special offers (always with some anticipation). Stay with AIRBNB. For those who don’t know it yet, this website puts in contact those who rent complete houses or rooms with those who look for lodging. First, if this is your first time and you are not registered with Airbnb you can do it through this link to get 25 euros discount on your first booking over 65 euros, a referral system in which who recommends and who uses the discount is benefited (precisely with mutual discounts). But the truth is that I recommend it because I use it a lot in my AIRBNB trips to look for my “base” house.

5. Communicate in France. Many times I am asked how I communicate in France. I must first say that I do not know French, and that is no reason for me to have made several trips around France. My usual traveling language in other countries would be English, but in France and inland areas English is not very useful. However, I cannot find any obstacle. For routes and orientation many times to indicate in a map (of those of paper) or simply to use our telephone and services as google maps is sufficient. Same for shopping, think there’s no major complication.

6. Eating in France. French gastronomy is considered one of the most complete and varied on the planet. And it shouldn’t be hard for them to believe and believe me that this is the way it is. But beyond icons of the French table such as baguettes, pâté, cheeses or wines, talking about French gastronomy in general is rather unrepresentative: the regional variants are enormous. That is why my recommendation is that depending on the region you are visiting, ask in advance and specifically about that destination: you can talk about the cuisine of the Loire Valley, Basque cuisine, Roussillon cuisine, among others. French gastronomy is included in the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity, and I think that is quite illustrative. Good eating in France must be part of our journey. Although the daily meal of a Frenchman at home is not the same, when a Frenchman receives a guest, the usual steps of a meal are usually the Apéritif (aperitif of alcoholic beverage), Entrée (a light first course), a main course (usually meat or fish), and finally a table (Fromage) selection of cheeses that precedes the dessert (Desset, and I include its translations into French because it could well serve us for a first day in restaurants. It should also be borne in mind that cooking times are quite strict, and in restaurants like at home the usual is between twelve and one and a half in the afternoon. For dinner between 8:00 and 10:30. And believe that unless we are in very touristy places, not respecting those schedules will leave us with an empty stomach.

Weather and travel seasons. France. It is known, it is the country that receives more tourists every year. Its cultural heritage, its variety of regions, its climate, its gastronomy, its culture and its global icons are an irresistible magnet. This, coupled with its strategic location in the heart of Europe, makes France a prime destination on the Old Continent. France is visited all year round with more and less shelter. If we are talking about an ideal climate to explore (which is not the same as enjoying its beaches) it is likely that the best months to get to know the Mediterranean and central part of the country are the end of spring (May and June) and the beginning of autumn (September and first half of October). On the other hand, to visit the northernmost part I would recommend the summer, since the temperatures tend to be more temperate. Paris can be very hot in summer if we coincide with the summer heatwave weeks. On the other hand, it can be pleasant the rest of summer and the intermediate seasons. And in winter, it’s not unusual for our trip to coincide with days close to zero degree or directly with snow. All summer vacation destinations will be quite crowded and overcrowded, and prices will skyrocket.

Finally, I leave you with a summary list of recommendations and advice for France.

PLAN – PRICE

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Recommendations and discounts for France

Book your flight to France here

Hotels at very good prices in France here (take advantage of the discounted prices)

Rent a car in France here up to 15% less

Find organized tours and excursions in France here (in Spanish)

Take out your travel insurance for France here

Organize your own trip through FranceShare on Pinterest