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TRAVEL

Morvan: Why you should visit one of France’s most beautiful and least known areas

It's one of the least-known natural parks in France, but French writer Anne Brivet explains why to her it is the perfect place for a visit.

Morvan: Why you should visit one of France's most beautiful and least known areas
Photo: AFP

I discovered Morvan 20 years ago, when my grandparents moved to a tiny hamlet in the mountainous area in eastern France, in the Bourgogne-Franche-Comté region.

From then on, I spent most of my holidays there. I was four at the time, and all I could say about Morvan was that it was green, humid, quiet and full of pine trees. Oh, and it's probably the dampest and rainiest area of France.

But many years later I still love it and have gained a new appreciation for the surrounding area and activities. Here's why you should pay Morvan a visit.

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Morvan is France's largest producer of Christmas trees. Photo: AFP

The peace

One of the most striking facts about the area is how peaceful it is. With a population density of around 15 inhabitants per square kilometre, it is a radical change if you are from a big city.

In harmony with the low number of inhabitants, telecommunications are not the most developed. It can be very hard to get a signal from many French telephone operators, so from my experience be careful with SFR or Bouygues.

Of course, people have wifi in their houses. But the real adventure begins when you go for a walk with a possibly unreliable phone.

It will be the perfect occasion to start a 'digital detox' during your holidays. And if you get lost without any GPS, you can still ask your way in a small village.

You will then discover the local accent and dialect morvandiau, especially if you encounter people over 70. It is confusing but I assure you, it is French.

The scenery

There may not be many people, but Morvan has many other things to offer.

It is characterised by its forests, hills and lakes.

You will see a lot of green, breathtaking views, well protected by the Parc Naturel Régional designation. Indeed, the area is considered a part of France's heritage.

I would recommend going there in autumn for the beautiful orange and red colours in the trees as the seasons change, but spring is also good if you want to see all this vegetation blooming (and gain Instagram followers).

Fun fact, Morvan is well-known for being the biggest producer of Christmas trees in France – every year, the Elysée Palace’s Christmas tree is brought from Morvan.

The historic capital of Chateau-Chinon is well worth a visit. Photo: AFP

The hiking

All this nature is perfect if you are a fan of hiking. Walking is probably one of the best ways of enjoying Morvan’s beauty. It also increases your chances of seeing foxes, deer or other types of wildlife.

My cousin has been a hiker for more than 10 years, and he recently told me how he still discovers new paths and areas he has never seen before.

One of the best pieces of advice he gave me was 'Around here, avoid leaving the paths or you will lose one of your shoes in a swamp'. Because of the high rainfall, damp can also come from the ground at certain times of the year.

If you like horse riding or cycling there are also numerous places to explore and equestrian and bike hire centres that are friendly and welcoming.

The climate is most of the time quite tough, so pack extra sweaters and don't forget your raincoat!

The lakes

As well as its forested areas, Morvan contains three big lakes, on which you can sail or windsurf, boat hire is available.

Of course, you can also swim in them but I recommend waiting for the summer unless you are particularly hardy. A great technique to find a beautiful and deserted beach is to go hiking around one of the lakes (with your swimsuit) until you find the perfect spot.

The lakes are Chaumeçon with its large dam, Les Settons which has boats and bike rental and Pannecière.

The attractions

At some point, you might get tired of the countryside – no need to worry, the area contains some very nice cities and tourist attractions as well.

Château-Chinon is considered the historic capital of the Morvan area and is well worth a visit.

For an artistic visit, the Pompon museum, in Saulieu, will allow you to admire the work of this famous French sculptor, who was born in the city. The museum also has a room with a reconstruction of the traditional  'morvandelle' house, and a presentation of various local traditions such as clog making.

The Bazoches castle is also perfect for a rainy day. This is where Vauban, a famous military architect who specialised in fortifications, lived and worked.

Avallon and Autun are both Roman cities with a lot of ancient remains  – a must see.

In a nutshell: the Morvan is peaceful and gorgeous, but even better if you are wearing a windcheater.
 

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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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