Offbeat France

Offbeat France

Sites and places you never imagined existed

About-France.com - France beyond the guidebooks

 While France abounds with major tourist sights, the most popular of which such as the Eiffel tower, the Mont Saint Michel and Mont Blanc are known worldwide, it also has thousands more places to see and sites to explore. While many are historic monuments similar to others in their category, there are also quite a few unusual sites, quirky monuments like no other,  weird and wonderful landscapes that are sure to stick in the memory, and even some roads that drivers are unlikely to ever forget.
   While some of these are well-established attractions that even feature in the main guide books, others are largely unknown beyond their local area. About-France.com has picked out a selection of the most unusual, the most quirky and the most interesting mand-made and natural attractions in France

Jump to Man-made attractions Natural sites
A trip to France is likely to be a memorable experience whatever it involves. For the first time traveller, everything is new, and there's so much to see and do in this
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the world's most visited tourist destination. And even for the most experienced of visitors, France will always have something new to offer, something different, something that sticks in the memory.
  It could be a monument, it could be the weather, it could be a dramatic landscape, it could be an event. France has them all, in plenty.
  For those in search of something really different, really unusual, something that friends back home are unlikely to have visited or even heard of, France also has some pretty quirky and unique sights to see. Some are very old, some are very new, most are well established.
   Among the newest and as-yet virtually unknown attractions in the south of France is one that is not for the faint-hearted. The Mazamet suspended walkway (photo top of page) opened in September 2018 and is a great free attraction for those with a bit of energy and a good head for heights. It's a 140-metre long suspended footbridge high above a rocky chasm just outside the small town in the Montagne Noire hills 50 km north of Carcassonne.
  Not surprisingly, the oldest offbeat attractions in France are the many remarkable natural landscape features that can be found most notably in the limestone hills and mountains of Southern France. From coloured "fairy chimney" rock formations to rivers that surge fully blown from hillsides, to an underground cavern over 400 metres long with a road running right through it, or weird and wonderful rock formations and deep gorges, France has a wealth of distinctive landscape features waiting to be explored.
   Between the very old and the very new are the rest – idiosyncratic museums, exotic buildings, strange sculptures and underground worlds which are certain to leave a lasting impression even on the most experienced of travellers.
   There are dozens of unique and unusual sites in France, most of them unknown to anyone without local knowledge or a very detailed guidebook. About-France.com gives you a selection of some of the best of these.
Ille sur Tet
The fairy rocks park at Ille sur Tet
   

A selection of the best offbeat attractions in France


Attraction
Location
Brief description
Man-made attractions
The Paris catacombs
Website
Paris 1, avenue du Colonel Henri Rol-Tanguy
14th district
Metro Denfert-Rochereau
A strange underground ossuary, filled with the bones and skeletons of some 6 million Parisians, collected from city graveyards between 1786 and the mid 19th century. 2 km walk underground. 130 steps down, 83 up. 
The Paris Sewer museum
Paris
Musée des égouts) Quai d'Orsay - 6th district
Metro Alma-Marceau
There is a whole underground city beneath the Paris streets, and the ancient sewerage system is a historic monument, with its own museum and tour visit.
The Underground city of Naours
Naours, in the Somme, in the Picardy area of northern France
For centuries men lived or sought refuge in underground spaces hollowed out of the chalk hillside. Today there are some 2 km of  caves and tunnels, including memories of the First Wold War when troops lived here. Self-guided audio tours.
Sculpted rocks of Rotheneuf
Rotheneuf, near Saint Malo in Brittany This strange open air sculpture gallery is the work of a deaf and dumb priest, the Abbé Fouré, who spent thirteen years in the latter part of his life, from 1894 to 1907, giving form to the granite rocks on this part of the north Brittany coast.
The Valley of the Saints.
Website
Carnoët, on the border between the Côtes d'Armor (22) and Finistère (29) departments of Brittany This twenty-first century project aims to create a Breton equivalent to Easter Island, with statues of the 1000 saints of Brittany. By 2018, the 35 hectare park had received its 100th granite megalithic statue. Statues are all at least 2.50 metres tall, and weigh up to 12 tonnes each
The Robert Tatin museum.
Website
Cossé-le-Vivien, near Laval, in the north of the Pays de la Loire region
A strange art experience created in his retirement between 1962 and 1983 by the artist Robert Tatin, in and around his farmhouse. A complex of monumental sculptures, wacky buildings and decorative forms built of stone and concrete, inspired by mystical and religious traditions of Europe and the Orient. An experience that anyone can enjoy. Paid entry.
The house of Facteur Cheval
Website
Hauterives, in the north of the Drome (26) department of the Rhone-Alpes area From 1879 to 1913, local postman (facteur) Ferdinand Cheval spent his spare time collecting stones and using them to build up a unique and very quirky "Ideal Palace" in the garden round his house. A masterpiece of naive art or "outsider art" (art produced by people with no formal training), Cheval's exceptional creation is now officially classed as a historic monument and draws in artists and sculptors from around the world. Open all year except in mid-winter. Paid entry.
The Chapel of St Michael
Le Puy en Velay in the Auvergne Built in the tenth century, this UNESCO-listed chapel, one of the oldest in France, is perched precariously on top of a pinnacle of volcanic rock. Access to the top by foot only, up 268 steps
The shell mosaics of Ile Penotte
In the old town of Les Sables d'Olonne, in Vendée, on the Atlantic coast of France The "Ile Penotte"  is not an island, but a historic residential area of narrow streets in the old centre of the seaside resort of Les Sables d'Olonne. It has become famous for the many attractive seashell mosaics - in actual fact mosaics of seashells and coloured pebbles and glass - decorating the walls of many houses. The mosaics are the work of local artist Danielle Arnaud Aubin, who began this monumental work in 1997. Free access
The Mazamet walkway
Mazamet, in the Tarn (81) department of Midi-Pyrenees Some 50 km north of Carcassonne, this giddying aerial walkway opened in September 2018. 140 metres long, it spans a chasm between two rocky outcrops beside the river 70 metres (230 ft) below, allowing access to the historic village of Hautpoul. Access from Mazamet involves a good climb. the bridge is not for those withougt a head for heights. Free attraction.
Natural attractions
The source of the Loue Ouhans in the Doubs (25) department of Franche comté The river Loue emerges with a flow of 7 m3/sec from the base of cliffs at the head of a long gorge. This resurgence is the most impressive (though not the biggest) of a number of resurgences in France. Free access by foot from a car park 
The Pont d'Arc On the Ardèche river in the Rhone valley - Rhone-Alpes area "Amazing" is a word often used in relation to this unique natural bridge under which flows a fully-fledged river. Fifty-nine metres across at the base, the opening rises to 34 metres above river level at its peak. for Fhe full experience visitors can kayak or swim under the arch, which is just one highlight of the Ardeche gorge. The other big attraction is the Grotte-Chauvet-Pont-d'Arc interpretive centre, with a full-scale replica of the nearby caves containing Europe's finest collection of prehistoric art. Free access to the natural bridge.
Chaos of Montpellier le Vieux
Website
Near Millau, in the Aveyron (12) department of Midi-Pyrenees Perched on the cusp between the Causse Noir uplands and the Dourbie gorge below, the Chaos of Montpellier le Vieux is a landscape of massive boulders and strangely eroded rocks. The gorge below is home to eagles and vultures which can be seen soaring overhead. Explore the natural site on foot or by mini tourist train. Paid entry.
Le Mas d'Azil 40 km north west of Foix in the Ariège (12) department of Midi-Pyrenees Here is a unique opportunity to drive through a natural underground cavern. The D117 road follows the river Arize into the hillside and emerges 420 metres and a couple of bends later on the other side. In the middle of the cavern is a prehistoric grotto. Access to the road tunnel is free; the prehistoric site is paid entry.
The Organ rocks of Ille sur Tet
West of Perpignan in the Pyrenees Orientales department of Languedoc-Roussillon One of the most remarkable rock formations in France, the Organs  of Ille sur Tet are known in geological terms as fairy chimneys. The best-known example of these is the Bryce Canyon natioal park in the USA; the rocks at Ille sur Tet are a smaller and much less well-known version of the same. There is a small entrance fee.
The Galamus Gorge Between St. Martin de Fenouillet in the Pyrenees Orientales (66) department and Cubières in the Aude (11) Languedoc-Roussillon France has several impressive gorges to drive through, but none as narrow as Galamus, on the road between St. Martin de Fenouillet and Cubières. the road is carved out of the site of the gorge that is up to 500 metres deep and barely a couple of metres acroos at the foot. Free access



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Gorges de Galamus
Dramatic road through the Galamus gorge in southern France

Seashell mosaic
Seashell mosaic in Les Sables d'Olonne, in western France

Source of the Loue
The source of the river Loue,  in eastern France

Maison du facteur Cheval
House of the Facteur Cheval
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Maison du Facteur Cheval by Jeanne Menjoulet, creative commons licence.
Ille sur Tet by Albert Torello, creative commons licence.

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