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The 12 parts of France where the tourists don't go (and why you should visit them)

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The 12 parts of France where the tourists don't go (and why you should visit them)
No tourists in sight in this part of France. Photo: Eric Huybrechts/FLickr
11:08 CEST+02:00
If you want peace and quiet on your next summer holiday in France, here are the places where most tourists don’t go and reasons why you should.
For many people taking their summer holidays in France, the whole experience doesn’t work out to be quite as relaxing and peaceful as they would’ve hoped. 

Much of this might be down to the fact that huge parts of l’Héxagone are flooded with tourists during the balmy summer months.

Packed beaches, trouble finding well-priced accommodation and a lack of overall privacy are just some of the problems that peace-loving holidaymakers might shudder at the thought of.

But not everywhere in France - the world’s number one tourist destination – do hoards of tourists take over every village and town.

France’s National Statistics Body INSEE has broken down 2017’s summer tourism figures and their findings suggest there are still many parts of the country that don’t get many visitors.

These are the 12 least touristy departments in the country according to INSEE's data which looked at the number of nights booked during the summer period.

And the one thing they have in common is that they are not on the coast, indeed some of the departments are from the beaches, where so many holidaymakers in France tend to head to.

The map below shows the 12 least touristy departments coloured green, whilst those in red are the seven departments that welcome the most tourists in France. All apart from Paris are on the coast.

Click here to zoom into map or download a high-quality version.

Creuse, central France

This sparsely populated rural part of France had the lowest number of tourists of any department in l’Héxagone in the summer of 2017, but that doesn’t mean there’s nothing to see or do.

Ever wanted to hang out with wolves? Why not try the "Wolves of Chabrieres" experience, where you can see wolves in their (almost) natural habitat. It's the top rated thing to do in Creuse on TripAdvisor, and the reviewers love it.

Photo: Daniel Jolivet/Flickr

Territoire-de-Belfort, eastern France

The quietest part of the Burgundy-Franche-Comté region has a small population and very few visitors.

It’s about a three-and-a-half hour drive north of Lyon and two hours from Strasbourg.

If you do go, be sure not to miss the Lac de Malsaucy (below), where nature lovers can enjoy watersports, footpaths and mountain biking, or relax on the lake's beach. 

Photo: Thomas Bresson/Flickr

Haute-Saône, eastern France

Territoire de Belfort’s neighbour to the west is another perfect escape to the French countryside.

While you’re there visit beautiful medieval Pesmes (see below), voted France’s favourite village in 2016.

(Photo: Les Plus Beaux Village de France)

Meuse, eastern France

This department that gets its name from the river that runs through it. 

Meuse has no big cities but plenty of history, offering a perfect balance of countryside and culture.

Take in a re-enactment of the Battle of Verdun, which was the longest battle of World War One and took place in the woods and hills around Verdun. Or just visit the impressive memorial and museum.

Photo: AFP

Mayenne, north western France

Just three hours from Paris by car, this peaceful department has two of France’s regional natural parks a short drive away: Normandie-Maine and the Perche.

So if you want to leave the capital but don’t fancy heading to the busy beaches of the south, this is a great alternative for nature lovers.

Tripadvisor ranks the Musee Robert Tatin at La Maison des Champs and the historic town of Lassay les Chateaux (see pic below) as two of the top attractions in the area.


Photo: Olibach/Flickr

Ardennes, north eastern France

Overlooked by tourists all year round, this wooded region bordering Belgium is a peaceful backwater less than three hours' drive from Paris.

It’s a great choice for lovers of the great outdoors, drawing in kayakers, climbers, hikers, horse-riders and mountain bikers to its national park.

The fortified village of Rocroi - which is built in a star-shape and comes with a bloody history of wars through the centuries - is a must for history buffs.

Orne, northern France

Tourists in Normandy flock to the region’s beaches in summer, leaving the inland department of Orne to be just as sleepy as it is all year round.

The natural regional parks of the Perche and Normandie-Maine are located in the southern half of the Orne department and are well worth a visit.

But holidaymakers in this department are in for a gastronomic treat, as Orne is home to the village of Camembert, where the famously creamy French cheese is from.

If you’re passing through, make sure to pay a visit to Camembert’s Cheese museum, which is literally built in the shape of a Camembert cheese. And taste a few dozen samples.

Photo: AFP

Tarn-et-Garonne, south western France

It might not be on most travellers’ routes but this small department offers unspoilt nature, a rich cultural heritage and interesting history.

The capital Montauban (pic below) is definitely worth a visit.

Photo: BastienM/WikiCommons

 Also worth checking out are the villages of Auvillar, Lauzerte and Bruniquel (famed for its saffron production), considered to be some of France’s most beautiful.

Bruniquel. Photo: Jules78120/Wikicommons


Indre, central France

Slap bang in the middle of France lies Indre, another hidden gem that most tourists overlook.

Châteauroux, the capital of the department, is a historical town and two of the department’s villages -Saint-Benoît-du-Sault and Gargilesse-Dampierre (below) – were also voted two of France’s most picturesque.

Also worth visiting is the museum and former home in Nohant of writer George Sand (whose real name was Amantine-Lucile-Aurore Dupin - yes, George Sand was a woman).

Her charming home and breathtaking gardens might make you want to pick up a pen and write a book of your own.

Photos: Daniel Jolivet/Flickr

Haute-Marne, north eastern France

Medieval abbeys, stately homes, modern art museums: Haute-Marne is overflowing with culture for a department with very few visitors and less than 185,000 residents.

Haute-Marne is a three hour drive from both Paris and Lyon.

Château of Cirey-sur-Blaise. Photo: Wikicommons

If you do visit, you can also go to former French president Charles de Gaulle's old private residence in Colombey-les-Deux-Églises, then head to his humble grave in a nearby cemetery.

Charente, western France

Nouvelle-Aquitaine’s Atlantic coast draws in the tourists in summer and Charente remains charmingly quiet by comparison.

This is a nice, short trip for anyone based in neighbouring Dordogne or Bordeaux who fancies a “cultural tipple” over the border, as both cognac and pineau are from this part of western France. Start off with the Remy Martin tour in Cognac. Maybe best to take a taxi back to the hotel.

(Cognac. AFP)

Hennessy's tasting room in Cognac. Photo: AFP

Deux-Sèvres, western France

Avid fishermen will find plenty of peace and quiet along the banks of the two rivers that give this largely wooded department its name.

There are also several castles worth visiting in the picture-perfect capital Niort and in the ancient fortified town of Parthenay (see below).

But one of the most popular activities in DEux-Sevres are the Mines Argent des Rois France - the Silver mines at Melle, which were at one time the home of the French mint and the oldest silver mines in Europe.


Parthenay. Photo: Wikicommons


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Leon - 30 Jul 2018 22:15
My wife and I live in La Creuse and love it. Apart from the wolf sanctuary there are beautiful old's villages, such as La Celle Dunois, Crozant and Le Bourg D`Hem, where we live.
There are also historic towns, such as Amboise, famous for it`s tapestries.
So please do visit, but not in too many numbers, eh!
After all we don't want to ruin what you`'ve come to see.
Leon - 30 Jul 2018 22:22
Sorry, I mean Aubusson.
exile - 19 Jul 2019 15:23
Last year as EVERY year I spent some weeks on my motorcycle touring but I always try to visit my HOST family from 40 years ago when my school did an exchange - in the winter I visit them in Rodez and in the Summer in the mountains above Carcassonne However - the best by far is the Gorges du TARN, and Plateau d'Aubrac. Incredible France....
Nikki - 19 Jul 2019 19:13
I live south of Carcassonne in the Aude valley, and it is beautiful here. We have a small campsite, a shop, 2/3 buvettes (bars), an hotel, several gites and a Casino with restaurant! It's quiet but very friendly here, and I am visited by many English and French friends I have made over the years.
Peggy - 20 Jul 2019 09:07
The Gers never gets a mention. Home of Armagnac, famed for its duck and Foie Gras and bastide villages. No tourist snarls. Known as the Tuscany of France this old Gascon region worthy of a mention!
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