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TOURISM

The 6 best destinations to visit in France this autumn

The fall is a great time to explore France with smaller crowds and lower temperatures making things more comfortable while glorious landscapes gain an extra touch of autumn colour.

The 6 best destinations to visit in France this autumn
The chateau of Gevrey-Chambertin and its nearby vineyard in Burgundy. Photo: ERIC FEFERBERG / AFP.

Les grandes vacances in France are officially over and the majority of the country is back at work or school, but if you’re lucky enough not to be constrained by school holidays, this is a great time to explore France. 

These are some of the areas in France which are best experienced in the fall.

Côte-d’Or

When most people think of autumn, they imagine red, orange and yellow leaves, so where better to spend the season than the only département named after this phenomenon (sort of)? The Côte here does not mean “coast” but “hill”, since the area is situated in Burgundy in eastern France, far from the sea. 

Many people believe the d’Or in the name means “golden”, and refers to the spectacular colour the vineyards turn in the autumn. This is just a legend, since local paper Le Bien Public reports that the second part of the name is actually short for Orient (east). But the fact the first explanation is considered plausible gives a good idea of what to expect, and after a long day spent walking or cycling through the countryside, you can curl up in the hotel with a bottle of local Pinot Noir.

Vineyards in Chambolle-Musigny, Côte d’Or, on October 12th, 2017. Photo: ERIC FEFERBERG / AFP.

Morvan regional park

Remaining in Burgundy, just to the west of the Côte-d’Or (although the two do overlap) is the Morvan regional park. This sparsely populated part of France shines in the autumn. Talk a stroll through the forest, breathing in the fresh air, with the only sound the crunching of orange leaves beneath your feet.

It’s the perfect location for taking a long walk, hunting for mushrooms, and relaxing in front of the fire once the sun goes down.

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

Carcassonne

Autumn is the ideal time to visit this fortified city in the Aude département in the south west of France. Not only will there be fewer tourists, so you can avoid the crowds in this popular destination, but temperatures in the south are usually pleasant right up until November.

Just as in Côte-d’Or, you can also take a stroll through the local vineyards and see the changing leaves.

It’s a bit of a drive from Carcassonne, but the village of Castans holds an annual chestnut festival at the end of October, where you’ll also find other regional products, in case you want that real autumn feeling.

Similarly, this is a good time to visit larger southern cities, such as Marseille and Nice, which can be stiflingly hot and swarming with tourists in the summer.

A Unesco world heritage site, Carcassonne is frequently crowded during the summer. Photo: ERIC CABANIS / AFP.

Cordes-sur-Ciel

A couple of hours to the north, in the Tarn département, is another elevated city. It was originally called Cordes, but the poet Jeanne Ramel-Cals took to referring to it as Cordes-sur-Ciel (Cordes-on-sky), and the name was officially changed in 1993. That’s because of a phenomenon which local weekly Le Tarn Libre so eloquently describes as follows:

“Early in the morning, especially in the autumn, an intense mist covers the Cérou valley in a translucent veil. Only the summit of the medieval city emerges from this sea of clouds. Splashed by the rising sun, the town’s silhouette breaks away and appears to set forth proudly towards the sky, beyond the clouds. They say Cordes is above the sky…”

Ideal for the early risers, then, but even if you don’t catch the clouds, you can enjoy strolling through the narrow streets and admiring the medieval architecture.

The Loire Valley

The Loire Valley in central and western France is a Unesco World Heritage site, and for good reason. As well as an 800 km wine route, which can be discovered on two wheels or four, the area is home to some beautiful, historic villages. But this stretch of the Loire river is perhaps most famous for its dozens of châteaux.

Walk around the grounds of the châteaux in the morning mist, and if it gets too chilly, pop inside to discover what France was like back when the châteaux were inhabited. Many of the parks turn a beautiful orange and yellow in the autumn. The area is also easily accessible from Paris, making it perfect for a weekend trip if you live in the capital.

Every year, during the school holidays at the end of October, the Château of Chaumont-sur-Loire opens up its garden for an event called ‘The Splendours of Autumn’, featuring a range of activities including tastings of seasonal products from the garden, and walks where you can admire seasonal flowers and stagings of pumpkins and other autumn vegetables.

Chateau de Chambord in the Loire valley in February, 2019. Photo: JEAN-FRANCOIS MONIER / AFP.

Pyrenees mountains

The Pyrenees mountains on the border between France and Spain are a popular ski destination, but if you’re not a winter sports fan they are also great to visit in the autumn.

At this time of year the forests turn a mix of yellow, orange and green, and you could be forgiven for thinking you were in Canada. Lakes, mountains, and the prospect of spotting wild animals such as the Pyrenean Chamois – a trip to the Pyrenees will always leave you refreshed by nature and ready to face the long winter.

And if, on the contrary, you’re a winter lover for whom the cold months can’t come too soon, venture into the mountains and you’re sure to see some snowy peaks.

Autumn foliage in the Natural National Reservoir of the Massane Forest, in the Albères massif in the southern French department of Pyrénées-Orientales. Photo: RAYMOND ROIG / AFP.

Member comments

  1. I personally love the Bay of Biscay and Biarritz, especially in fall and even winter. The ocean has a very different charm then.

  2. I second Bay of Biscay and Biarritz. I would also enter a plea for the Alsatian wine country in September during the grape harvest.

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For members

PARIS

Tourists and locals: Paris Metro tickets, passes and apps explained

Whether you're a full-time resident of Paris or a one-off visitor, there is a ticket option for you among the various passes, apps, cards, carnets and tickets for the city's public transport system - although finding the right one can be a challenge.

Tourists and locals: Paris Metro tickets, passes and apps explained

You might have seen headlines about Paris phasing out paper Metro tickets, but in fact the public transport system has for some time had extra options of cards, travel passes and apps.

Whether you’re a regular Metro passenger, an occasional user of city public transport or a tourist here for a short visit, there is an option for you.

Overview

The Paris public transport system is an integrated one, so tickets and passes cover either the Metro, bus, tram or suburban RER trains. The city’s Velib’ bike hire scheme and the e-scooters are not covered by travel passes, but some of the city apps provide options for hiring them too.

You need to pay attention to the zones, because once you are outside the city boundaries – including trips to Paris’ two airports or the Stade de France – your journey won’t be covered by the standard city single ticket or day pass and if the ticket inspectors catch you they will fine you for travelling without a ticket and arguing, crying or pretending that you don’t speak French will not save you (believe us, we’ve tried).

Likewise if you’re using a Navigo pass or app you need validate it for each journey – at Metro stations this is done at the entrance to the station but if you’re on the bus or tram you need to swipe your card on the reader once on board to validate it, travelling without a validated ticket will see you fined if there is an inspection. 

Cardboard tickets

Although there are reports of these being phased out, at present this only affects the carnet – the book of 10 tickets which works out cheaper than buying 10 single tickets.

Single cardboard tickets can still be bought from machines, ticket kiosks and some shops, and they cost €1.90 for a journey within Paris.

Tickets that get you into the greater Paris region cost more, while a ticket between central Paris and Charles de Gaulle airport sets you back a whopping €10.30.  

Be careful how you store your cardboard tickets, they have a tendency to ‘demagnetise’ if you keep them next to coins or cards and always make sure you hang onto your validated card for the duration of your trip – if you cannot produce it during a ticket inspection you’re likely to get fined. 

Carnet 

The carnet (pronounced car-nay) is a way of buying 10 single tickets at the same time for €14.90 – working out at the cheaper price of €1.49 per ticket.

The cardboard versions of these are gradually being phased out, but you can still buy a ‘virtual carnet‘ via various apps (see below).

Navigo pass

The pass that most people know about is the monthly Navigo pass – you pay a flat rate of €75.20 and for that you get unlimited travel within Paris and the greater Paris region. It’s also possible to buy slightly cheaper passes (€65-€68) that limit you to certain zones or weekly passes.

Before you buy one, it’s worth working out how often you actually use public transport to see if it’s worth the cost – if you don’t use public transport every day it may be cheaper to buy a different type of card or pass, or just buy single tickets are carnets as you need them.

Also, keep in mind that if the Navigo pass requires a picture, you can take one inside the photo booths inside metro stations and past it onto the pass. This helps to identify that the card is yours, so remember to add this if the card you are buying calls for it.

If you are an employee who uses public transport to get to work, your employer should pay at least half of the cost of the monthly Navigo pass.

Other Navigo passes

Recently the city has introduced several ‘pay as you go’ type passes which are aimed at more occasional transport users. They were introduced to encourage cycling and other green transport by giving you the option to pay less and use public transport less often (only when it’s raining for example) but they’re ideal for people who want to have a pass but don’t use public transport enough to make it worth paying €70 a month for the Navigo pass.

Navigo Easy is a plastic card that you pay €2 for, and can then top up with single tickets, carnets or day passes. You can also use it to buy the reduced price single tickets that the city puts on sale during peak pollution periods.

Navigo Liberté is another plastic card that is basically a virtual ‘carnet‘ – you load it up with books of 10 tickets at the reduced price of €1.49 per ticket and use them as and when you need them.

These two cards do not qualify you for a subsidy from your employer.

Discount cards – there are also discount cards available for students, children and pensioners although will need to live in the greater Paris region to benefit from these.

Apps

There are also several apps that enable you to use your smartphone to buy virtual passes or tickets.

Instead of having to remember to have your Navigo card with you, the phone itself acts as the ticket and you simply buy a ticket or pass and then swipe your phone over the Navigo card-reader at the entrance of the Metro stations, or validate it on the bus or tram. Via a clever little system called NFC this will work even if your phone is turned off or has run out of battery. 

Ile de France Mobilities and Bonjour RATP are the most commonly-used apps. They’re created by the RATP network and sell tickets at the official prices.

Both allow you to buy tickets, carnets or passes while Bonjour RATP also has options for e-scooters and to hail a taxi (although this app doesn’t work on all types of iPhone).

Fare-dodging

You will notice that fare-dodging is pretty endemic and plenty of people (the young and physically fit, that is) just casually vault over the barriers or squash through the barrier with you.

This is an art best left to the locals – there are fairly regular ticket inspections on the network and you will be fined by the notoriously merciless transport police if caught without a valid ticket. Plus, obviously, if everyone dodged the fare there would be no money to keep the transport network going.

Bikes/scooters

Not part of the RATP public transport network, but Paris also has options to hire bikes or e-scooters for short periods.

The bike hire network is called Velib, while the officially licensed scooter companies are Tier, Dott and Lime – each has its own app.

The city has quite strict rules for cyclists and scooter users including speed limits, a ban on riding on the pavements and a ban on having more than one person on a scooter. Are they well enforced? We’ll let you make your own judgement on that, but each of these offences can net you a fine if police see you.  

Walk 

And finally, there’s always the simple option of walking. Paris is a remarkably compact capital and you can walk the entire way across the city in two hours, while most of the major tourist sites are clustered close together.

If you’re using a mapping app like CityMapper or Google maps it’s always worth checking the walking times as well as the public transport times – it’s not at all uncommon for a journey of five stops on the Metro to be only about a 15 minute walk.

Walking also has the obvious advantage of letting you drink in the many fascinating and beautiful sites of Paris.  

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