After the coronavirus pandemic turned socialising, travelling and life in general in their heads, holidays in sheltered, off-the-beaten-track spots are seeing a surge in popularity.
Holiday agencies in France's secluded areas have seen a surge in demand from tourists – both international visitors and French residents – eager to explore less popular destinations.
Here are some of the least densely populated départements in France, which are also are rich with natural treats that make them well worth a visit.
With some 173,700 inhabitants, Lot is the 10th least densely populated département in France. It is situated in the south, about two hours north of Toulouse by car, and features lush greenery, rivers, valleys, underground caves and vineyards.
It's a feast of nature and food. Lot's restaurants make dishes based on its black truffle, white velvet rocamadour cheese and saffron. It's also a place for wine tasting, with the Cahors vineyards showing how the area's famous “Black Wine” is made.
Marche bucolique& ensoleillée dans notre nouveau chez nous. Tout y est, le causse, la vallée du Lot, la vue sur le petit village de Cajarc et les chemins boisés. Shot de nature??? pic.twitter.com/y4ZR4C8mFt
— tourdumondeux (@TwitAdeux) November 17, 2017
Situated not on the French mainland but on the French island Corsica, Haute-Corse is known for its white beaches and sparkling blue ocean. There's about 170,000 inhabitants spread over the area, which covers the northern half of Corsica island and spans across several picturesque smaller towns, the regional natural park and the Monte Cinto mountain (2,706 m). It's a place to swim, ski, hike and climb.
Le village de Speloncato
— black stallion (@alaintora) June 29, 2020
This département is just north of Nice and Marseille, far out on the southwestern tip of the Cote-d'Azur region. About 161,600 inhabitants are spread out on the area, which is made out of hills, valleys and remote villages, although it does see more visitors in summer.
The weather can be pretty harsh with cold winters and thunderstorms in the summer, but there are also many sunshine hours in all seasons and temperatures get hot in summer.
Guide of the Alpes-de-Haute-Provence – The Alpes-de-Haute-Provence offers pure air, an exceptional number of sunshine hours, and a remarkable natural and built heritage | https://t.co/UPiyVGThGf @FranceVoyage pic.twitter.com/D4hylHNwKW
— St-Michel Observer (@St_Michel_Obs) June 26, 2020
Abbaye Notre-Dame de Ganagobie Benedictine monastery in Alpes-de-Haute-Provence, France.
Founded around 960-965 by Bishop John II of Sisteron. The church, built in the first half of the 12-th c., is known for its remarkable pavement of medieval polychrome mosaics (1120-1130).
— Celestial Sentinel (@CelestialSenti1) June 29, 2020
Located in the southwestern French region Occitanie, Ariège is a rural département on the coastline with two big rivers running from north to south, home to some 150,000 inhabitants. The steep Pyrenees mountains make it a good destination for hikers, skiers and climbers, but it's also a place to kayak in the river or visit some of the old historic towns – or even to spot real-life wolves at the park Maison des loups (House of wolves).
— Jeune et affamée (@jeuneaffamee) June 26, 2020
Lovely few days exploring the mountains and lakes of the Ariège. Gorgeous weather with the odd thunderstorm thrown in, and a fab lakeside bar at our campsite…heaven ? pic.twitter.com/isvbvHfbnS
— Corin Burnside (@write_corinmd) June 26, 2020
This is the southern part of Corsica, which looks just as nice as the north. There's lots of different spots to visit here, Porto-Vecchio is known as the “city of salt” thanks to its fine-sanded beaches and salt marshes, and Sartène is known to be traditionally Corsican. This is a place to slack on the beach, eat local cuisine and don't forget to check out the capital, Ajaccio, where Napoleon was born.
— Gaïa Voyages (@gaia_voyages) August 23, 2016
Named after its cheddar-like cheese, Cantal has a rugged landscape, with unspoiled towns and villages, a perfect stop if you want to explore the real off-the-track parts of France.
The département lies a little south of the middle of France, in the Auvergne area, known for its rich cheeses, wine and ham.
Cantal is home to less than 150,000 inhabitants and is hilly and mountainous with good routes for hiking, cycling and horse riding. It's dotted with lakes and has a rich architectural heritage with lots of castles, churches and chapels.
— Vanessa Couchman HistFiction with a French Flavour (@Vanessainfrance) April 19, 2020
4. Territoire de Belfort
This is a tiny département, the fifth smallest in size in France, located in the far east on the German border. Because of its proximity to the Vosges, Jura and the Alsace and Rhone Valley, there are plenty of outdoors activity to explore. But Belfort, while tiny, has and important history – it was annexed by Germany – which is conserved in its monuments, ramparts and citadels.
— Tété (@thdu21) June 24, 2020
Far south-west, Hautes-Alpes can be found on the southeastern French border to Italy, located in (and named after) the Alps. It is sparsely populated and does have a lot of tourism already, mostly in the winter. Still, there are plenty of reasons to pay a visit to Hautes-Alpes – which boasts breathtaking landscapes, with tall mountain peaks, glaciers and rivers.
— M83 (@M8331602539) June 29, 2020
— Cartes Postales (@postales_cartes) June 29, 2020
À TOUS MES NOUVEAUX AMIS
et ceux qui voudraient nous rendre visite durant les vacances.
Les hautes Alpes c'est ça !!
Ce matin je suis allé me ressourcer dans mon jardin secret et voilà ce que j'ai contemplé pendant quelques heures !!
Oublier les haineux et penser au bonheur !! pic.twitter.com/ylNNHq6W37
— Guitou 8888 WAHOU on est entre nous??⚽️⚽️❤❤?? (@guitou_8888) June 24, 2020
Cows in Creuse. Photo: AFP
Creuse, a département in central France, has a lot more trees than inhabitants. Around 120,000 people live here but the largest town, Guéret, counts less than 14,000 inhabitants. In additions to its forests, Creuse is rich with castles, abbeys and Celtic monuments, and a chapel where a local legend claims Joan of Arc prayed around 1430. The landscape is full of prairies, lakes and forests with lots of different hikes for visitors.
— Loire Valley cottage (@LoireValleyhols) June 8, 2020
With a population of barely 76,500 people, Lozère, south of France, is France's least populous département.
If you Google it, you'll see pictures of mountains, seemingly never-ending fields – and cows. Cattle farming is the main economic activity in the region, in addition to tourism. This is a place to go if you want to get far away from everything that is roads and buildings (these account for less than 1 percent of the total land, the vast majority of which is forest or open land). It looks deliciously peaceful.
The climate is hot and its big rivers makes Lozère one of the top trout fishing spots in France.
Nous ça nous motive pour protéger ce beau territoire et sa population ? pic.twitter.com/1MrT3Pt4pq
— Gendarmerie de la Lozère (@Gendarmerie_048) June 29, 2020