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TRAVEL

The 10 quietest areas in France to visit this summer

France's secluded areas are in demand after the coronavirus health crisis caused a surge in the number of people wanting to swap city buzz for space and greenery. We took a look at the least densely populated places in France to see what they have to offer tourists.

The 10 quietest areas in France to visit this summer
The Sainte-Catherine church and a bridge over the Ander river in Cantal, one of France's least densely populated départements. Photo: AFP

 

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. 

 

10. Lot

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.

 

 

 

 

READ ALSO: The 12 least touristy parts of France for a peaceful visit this summer

 

9. Haute-Corse

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.

 

 

 

 

8. Alpes-de-Haute-Provence

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.

 

 

 

7. Ariège

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).

 

 

 

 

6. Corse-du-Sud

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.

Entre #nature et quiétude, succombez à notre résidence en #Corse du Sud. ???#GaïaVoyages https://t.co/qV9PneyEw1 pic.twitter.com/mfjoTEehQ8

— Gaïa Voyages (@gaia_voyages) August 23, 2016

 

 

5. Cantal 

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.

 

 

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. 

 

90. Territoire de Belfort : Lion de Bartholdi @BelfortOfficiel
Le symbole de résistance de la ville est le principal monument à voir dans ce tout petit département. pic.twitter.com/JddpnYMc86

— Tété (@thdu21) June 24, 2020

 

 

3. Hautes-Alpes

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.

 

 

 

 

Cows in Creuse. Photo: AFP

 

2. Creuse

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.

 

 

 

1. Lozère

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. 

 
 

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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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