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A weekend in France

Ten ideas for weekends and short breaks

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Easily accessible from most parts of Western Europe, France as a country is an ideal destination for anyone wanting a short break or a long weekend away from home.
   During the warmer months of the year, from April through to September, France's many provincial airports are served by low-cost carriers friom many parts of Europe, and in particular from the UK. For a full list of who flies where from the UK, see the France airport guide.
   But throughout the year, even in the winter months, in addition to Paris, half a dozen French cities are served by direct flights from many main airports in the UK and other parts of Europe. Lyon, Nice, Toulouse, Bordeaux and (Basel)-Mulhouse have year-round flights from many European capitals, and from a few other major airports too. Lille, with its museums and art galleries, can even be reached in just 1h22 by Eurostar from London St.Pancras, or in just 56 minutes from Ashford.
    While Paris is the easiest choice, and the city with the most to offer, there are other French provincial cities that have more than enough to keep even the most demanding of weekend-trippers happy, even in winter.
     Below is the About-France.com selection :  ten of the best weekend ideas - seven cities and three areas, all easily reachable from the UK and many accessible from other parts of northern Europe too.

Seven of the best city break weekend destinations in France ...

  1. Paris

    Seine The advantage of taking a weekend break or a short break in Paris is that the city can be easily reached not just by plane, but by train too. Paris is directly connect by high speed train services to London, Frankfurt, Brussels, Amsterdam, Geneva, Zurich and other European cities. From the UK, the centre of Paris is less than three hours from the centre of London by Eurostar; and Paris airports have daily services to most of the main airports in the UK.
       Once there, Paris offers oodles of opportunities for all kinds of tourism. With its museums, its sights, its restaurants, its bars and its cafés,Paris offers far more than enough to keep any traveller happily occupied for a long weekend – and much longer than that. For weekend visitors, it's worth knowing that big national museums in France are free on the first Sunday of each month. More about Paris
  2. the beach at NiceThe beach at Nice attracts swimmers and bathers for about seven months of the year.


    The capital of the French Riviera has a very well connected airport, and beaches that are are right alongside the city centre.  It is also a city with lots of hotel accommodation, and prices drop substantially outside the main tourist months. 
       Nice benefits for a warm climate, and many visitors will find the sea ideal for swimming in from early May through to mid October. For the rest of the year, the sea willl tempt only the hardy, but the beaches remain attractive. In addition to its seashore, Nice also has four good museums, notably the Chagall and the Matisse museums, a delightful old city with narrow streets, famous markets, and of course plenty of good restaurants and bars. More about Nice.
  3. Old LyonRestaurants abound in the Renaissance quarter of old Lyon


    Lyon can be easily reached by air, and by train from London with a connection at Lille-Europe station.  Lyon is particularly recommended for foodies; the city is famed as the gourmet capital of France, and the city centre is thronged with top quality restaurants, often offering top value for money. The 2018 Michelin Guide lists no less than 18 Michelin-starred restaurants in Lyon, but as well as these there are dozens more good restaurants in the city.
       Lyon also has plenty to occupy visitors during a short stay, notably the old city, a Unesco World Heritage site with the largest concentration of Rennaissance buildings in Europe, the fine Art museum, the ultra-modern Confluences museum, and several more museums.
        More about Lyon
  4. Place du Capitole ToulousePlace cu Capitole, one of the finest urban plazas in Europe.


    The capital of southwest France has plenty of flights to and from European and UK cities.  It is an ideal destination in late Autumn and  Spring, when the southwest of France is a part of Europe that generally feels much sunnier and warmer than places in the UK or northern Europe.
       The city centre is quite compact, and as well as just the general atmosphere of southwest France, visitors can take in a fine art gallery, the Bemberg Foundation, with a world-class art collection, and a great and recently refurbished Natural History museum. The old centre of Toulouse also has the largest Romanesque church in France, the Basilica of Saint Sernin, plus a medieval cathedral and a handful of other themed museums, as well as one of the finest city plazas in Europe, the Place du Capitole, with its restaurants and cafés.
    More about Toulouse
  5. Old StrasbourgRiverside houses in the centre of old Strasbourg


     The capital of Alsace is especially recommended as a short-break destination in the weeks before Christmas. The city is home to Europe's oldest and largest Christmas market.
    Strasbourg is also a very attractive city, with its old half-timbered houses, its magnificent medieval cathedral, and its rivers and canals. Not to mention its famous wine bars and beer cellars
      The problem with Strasbourg for UK visitors is getting there. Strasbourg airport has few international flights, and sometimes not to the UK. However the better-connected airport of Baden-Baden-Karlsruhe, in Germany, is close by, and there are shuttle services from the airport to Strasbourg.... but only five a day. An alternative is to go by train, changing at Paris (Eurostar then TGV). Journey time a bit over 5 hours.  More about Strasbourg
  6. Port of La RochelleThe old port of La Rochelle.

    La Rochelle

    .  The historic port city on the Atlantic coast, in the Charentes area, is now a major centre for yachting. It can be reached by air during the summer season from a number of UK airports, and from March to September or October from London Stansted, and from Southampton.
       Located in one of the sunniest parts of France, La Rochelle is a small city with two major attractions, the Aquarium (the best in France) and the Maritime Museum, housed in a former meterological research ship. La Rochelle also boasts a very attractive harbour side and an old city, with its narrow streets and ancient houses.  The other popular attraction is boat trips out to the historic Fort Boyard, or for a day out on the offshore islands of Ré or Aix . 
        More about La Rochelle
  7. Maison carrée nimes
    Nimes' Maison Carrée - exceptionally well preserved Roman monument 


     Ryanair schedule flights to Nimes from London Luton on Mondays and Fridays for a good part of the year;  Easyjet have flights from London Gatwick to nearby Montpellier all year round.
      Nimes is a great city for a weekend break; it has some of the finest Roman remains in France, including the amazingly preserved Maison Carrée and the Roman arena, both of them right in town. Beside the old city and its  maze of narrow streets, is the delightful Quai de la Fontaine, with its ancient trees overhanging the water, leading to one of France's finest urban parks, complete with more Roman remains and a view down over the city. If the seaside beckons, there are train and bus services to le Grau du Roi for just 1 € (2018 tarif - regional public transport initiative). There are also quick train services to nearby Arles and Avignon. Check times and book tickets here.
        More about Nimes

... and three more short break destination ideas 

In the summer months, virtually any French city with an airport served by international flights (and there are about thirty to choose from) can be chosen for a short weekend break.
   For the smaller airports in Brittany or in the south of France, visitors will probably want to hire a car (low-cost car hire is available at most airports)  and book a few nights in a local hotel or b&b...  and enjoy two or three days in the countryside, or on the beach, or exploring the local area.

8.   One area that is eminently suitable as a weekend break or short break destination with a hire car  is the Camargue, which is within easy striking distance of four airports - Marseille, Avignon, Nîmes and Montpellier. With its UNESCO protected wetlands, its bird sanctuaries, its wild ponies, its rice paddies and its beaches, the Camargue is definitely a destination to make anyone feel that they've been somewhere different for a few days.  Visitors can stay in the Camargue, at Les Saintes Maries de la Mer, or just outside it in the historic city of Arles.

9.  In  the summer months, Brittany with its several airports and also its ferry services from Plymouth or Portsmouth, is easily acessible for a short break. Two towns worth heading for are Saint Malo on the north coast, with its historic walled city and its several tourist attractions is one good short break destination. Another, on the south coast, is the charming small fishing port of Concarneau, with again an old walled city, and plenty of beaches. From Concarneau there are also trips out to the Glénan islands

map of Nord Pas-de-Calais regionThe Nord and Pas de Calais area
10.   Finally, it is important not to forget the opportunities for self-drive short breaks in the North of France, making the most of the short break fares offered by the main ferry companies, or even of a train from London. Within the area, both Calais and LIlle can be reached by direct train services from London St Pancras, Calais in less than an hour, Lille in about 1h20.
    Within easy striking distance of Calais is the Côte d'Opale, with its chalk cliffs, long sandy beaches, and seaside resorts which are not entirely different from those on the English side of the Channel... though French, and far less crowded. The small port city of Boulogne is home to Nausicaä, the French national sea centre, which is a major oceanographic centre and aquarium. A bit further inland are the sites of  historic battles that have been key moments in the life of France and England. Agincourt, Crécy, the Somme and other sites from the Great War.
  ►  For more ideas, see North of France area guide.

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  Short breaks in France 

Gone are the days . when everything was shut in France on Sundays. Nowadays, most businesses and places that depend on tourism open on sundays, at least on Sunday morning. Museums and tourist attractions do good business on Sundays, and shops have their best day on Saturdays.
   Some restaurants may be closed on Sunday evening, but in tourist areas and cities, others will be open.
   In addition, except in the peak summer seasons, many hotels, specially the chains that cater a lot for business and professional travellers, offer better rates over the weekend than during the week.

Places to stay

Click to find a choice of  hotels from Booking.com in or near best weekend-break towns in France.
La Rochelle
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camargue flamingos
Horse riding in the Camargue natural park wetlands area

Coastal footpath
On the coastal footpath between Calais and Boulogne

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