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14 towns in France that are perfect to visit in winter

International travel is heavily restricted but for the moment travel within France is allowed - so why not shake off the winter blues with a trip to one of these lovely towns?

14 towns in France that are perfect to visit in winter
Annecy in winter. Photo: Raphaël Fournier Sui/Flickr
1. Annecy, French Alps
 
This beautiful Alpine town in the south east of France is stunning all-year-round, with its medieval buildings, cobbled streets and quaint canals and bridges. 
 
The spectacular fairy tale landscape which includes a crystal clear lake surrounded by snow-capped mountains is the perfect setting for a winter break. 
 
The old town is the ideal spot for wandering around as you explore the picturesque pedestrian streets. 
 
And for real romantics don't forget to visit the Pont des Amours (lovers' bridge). Local legend has it that if you share just one kiss here, you'll remain together for life – the legend doesn't specify whether this still works if you're wearing a mask, but we're pretty sure it's the thought that count.
 
Photo: Kosala Bandara/Flickr
 
2. Cassis, Provence 
 
While Cassis might be on your list of must-visit French towns for summer, a winter getaway to this beautiful town on the Mediterranean coast is a great way to avoid the crowds.
 
After all, you'll have the stunning harbour views and forest walks practically all to yourselves. Not to mention the town's charming colourful port.
 
Photo: Amanda Snyder/Flickr 
 
3. Blois, Loire River  
 
This hillside city overlooking the Loire River provides the perfect backdrop for a winter getaway. 
 
Explore the atmospheric late Gothic cathedral and its surrounding cobbled streets, and (when it reopens) don't miss the Château Royal de Blois, a former royal palace with ornate chambers, paintings and sculptures from the 16th to 19th century. 
 
(Photo: Niko Kaptur/Flickr)
 
Photo: Niko Kaptur/Flickr
 
4. Beaune, Burgundy  
 
A stunning walled town in the heart of Burgundy's winemaking country.
 
Get into the spirit of the town and sample some of France's finest reds accompanied by the area's most famous hearty dishes perfect for chilly winter nights: Beef Bourginon and Coq au Vin.
 
And don't miss out on the stunning architectural jewel that is the magnificent Hôtel-Dieu.
 
Photo: Allie_Caulfield/Flickr
 
Photo: Paul Arps/Flickr
 
5. Colmar, Alsace 
 
Winding streets, bridge canals and a patchwork quilt of colourful buildings make Colmar a wonderful town to explore. 
 
Offering up a stunning variety of half-timbered medieval and Renaissance buildings, the town is the perfect spot for a pair of culture vultures. 
 
And don't forget to sample the local produce – you are in the capital of the Alsace wine region.
 
Photo: Christina/Flickr
 
6. Etretat, Normandy
 
This pretty coastal town has a lovely long beach for brisk winter walks and an attractive town centre with bustling markets of local produce.
 
You can climb to the top of the cliffs above the town to visit the church and the distinctive 'spike' sculpture (L'Oiseau blanc) that commemorates two daredevil French airmen who died while attempting the first transatlantic air corssing.
 
 
7. Honfleur, Normandy  
 
There's a reason why Honfleur was a big draw for one of the world's most famous painters, Claude Monet. 
 
The light in this coastal town is beautiful throughout the year and while it's a big draw for Paris day trippers in the summer, you'll find there's a lot more of it to go around in the colder months. 
 
Visit the picturesque old harbour and enjoy the windswept coast. 
 
Photo: tetedelart1855/Flickr
 
8. Josselin, Brittany 
 
The magnetism of this picture perfect French town is so hard to deny its charm doesn't fade away in winter. 
 
Overlooking the River Oust, Josselin's cone-turreted castle has been home to members of the Rohan family for centuries. 
 
The main hub of activity is the town square next to the Basilica Notre Dame du Roncier. For the best views around, climb to the top of the bell tower and enjoy the stunning panorama. 
 
Photo: Uwe Brodrecht/Flickr
 
9. St Malo, Brittany 
 
Another gem in Brittany. 
 
The walled city of St Malo, built in the 12th century, offers views across the sea which take the breath away even when the waters are stormy and icy cold in winter.
 
Aside from the beautiful scenery, there are historical sightseeing opportunities aplenty, including the stunning Château de St Malo and St Malo cathedral. 
 
And not that it's all about food but be sure to sample some oysters and white wine for a perfect winter's evening.  
 
Photo: Paul Stephenson.Flickr
 
10. Troyes, Grand Est
 
A city that amounts to a warren of cobbled streets, and excellent caves stocked full with Champagne is just the place for a winter break. 
 
The city centre has one of the country's most impressive collections of brightly coloured half-timbered houses and Gothic churches and it's often undeservedly overlooked by tourists.
 
As you stroll through its cobbled streets, once home to the rich and powerful Counts of Champagne, a visit to Troyes feels like a trip back in time to a more romantic past. 
 
 
 
Photo: Monnuage/Flickr
 
11. Eguisheim, Grand Est 
 
Situated close to the German border and only a short drive from Colmar, Eguisheim is a colourful town at the heart of the Alsatian wine route.
 
Voted France's favourite village in 2013, its winding concentric streets overflow with fairytale spires, lively floral decorations and slanted half-timbered buildings mean it's perfect for winter strolls – as long as you wrap up, that is – followed by good glass of Alsace wine, of course.
 
Photo: AFP
 
12. Megeve, French Alps 
 
What better place for winter time than the French Alps? 
 
Megeve is a winter wonderland with its snow-capped mountains and although ski lifts are closed there's no reason you can't go for a wintery hike.
 

And as if that isn't enough, a trip here means that you're following in the footsteps of Hollywood royalty – Megeve is where Audrey Hepburn falls for the charms of Cary Grant in the classic movie Charade. 
 
Photo: AFP
 
13. Chambery, French Alps
 
And just for good measure, here's another spot in the French Alps that's a winner. 
 
This bustling Alpine town has a lot to offer but the old town is really where it's at. After strolling around the streets of brightly coloured houses, sit out with a takeaway drink and savour the atmosphere. 
 
Photo: Chambery Tourism site
 
14. La Rochelle, Atlantic coast 
 
Known for its distinctive limestone facades, La Rochelle is without a doubt one of France's most stunning cities and in winter you won't have to battle other tourists to appreciate it. 
 
Appropriately named La Ville Blanche (the White City), the coastal city was one of the country's main ports from the 14th to 17th century and there are plenty of reminders of its maritime heritage. 
 
Full of arcaded walkways, half-timbered houses and more than its fair share of lighthouses, there is plenty to discover in this historic seafaring city. 
 
Photo: Eric Pouhier
 

Member comments

  1. “Beef Bourginon” You couldn’t even be bothered to look up how bourguignon was spelled? How professional of you.

  2. One wonders whether the author has actually visited these places in winter. There’s an obvious reason why lovely towns and resorts like Annecy, St Malo and Cassis are quiet at this this time which is that they’re dead – many restaurants are seasonal and closed, most of the leisure activities are unavailable and the weather is more likely to be wet and windy than sunny and crisp.

  3. I loved this article. Thank you so much. Headed to at least three of these and winder dead is a good time to visit.

  4. An informative and interesting article, but for future reference, surely Evie? Why are you encouraging people to travel and stay in hotels now, when we’re in the midst of a pandemic and when Jean Castex specifically said:
    ‘Hotels that can keep working a bit for indispensable business travels can remain open.’
    Most tourist hotels, cafés, bars and restaurants are closed, there are still curfews in place and the precarious situation is being reviewed daily.

  5. An informative and interesting article, but for future reference, surely Evie? Why are you encouraging people to travel and stay in hotels now, when we’re in the midst of a pandemic and when Jean Castex specifically said:
    ‘Hotels that can keep working a bit for indispensable business travels can remain open.’
    Most tourist hotels, cafés, bars and restaurants are closed, there are still curfews in place and the precarious situation is being reviewed daily.

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TOURISM

Tourism minister: Book your French ski holiday now

France’s ski resorts will be open for business this winter, tourism minister Jean-Baptiste Lemoyne has promised - but no decision has yet been taken on whether a health pass will be required to use ski lifts.

Skiers at a French Alpine resort
Photo: Philippe Desmazes / AFP

“This winter, it’s open, the resorts are open,” Lemoyne told France 2’s 4 Vérités programme.

“Compared to last year, we have the vaccine,” he said, adding that he would “invite those who have not yet done so to [book], because … there will soon be no more room.”

And he promised an answer ‘in the next few days’ to the question of whether health passes would be required for winter holidaymakers to use ski lifts. “Discussions are underway with the professionals,” he said.

The stakes are high: the closure of ski lifts last winter cost manufacturers and ski shops nearly a billion euros. 

This year ski lifts will remain open, but a health pass may be necessary to access them. The health pass is already compulsory for après ski activities such as visits to bars, cafés and restaurants.

COMPARE The Covid rules in place at ski resorts around Europe

Many town halls and communities which depend on winter sports have found it difficult or impossible to make ends meet.

“It’s time for the French mountains to revive,” Lemoyne said, pointing to the fact that the government has provided “more than €6 billion” in aid to the sector.

Winter tourism professionals, however, have said that they are struggling to recruit for the winter season.

“Restaurant and bars are very affected,” by the recruitment crisis, one expert told Franceinfo, blaming a lack of urgency from authorities towards the winter holiday industry.

“We are all asking ourselves what we should do tomorrow to find full employment in the resort,” the expert added.

Post-Brexit visa and work permit rules mean that ski businesses have found it difficult to recruit Brits for short-term, seasonal positions.

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