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11 ways to make the most of autumn in France

From festivals to tasting new wines, mushroom-foraging to learning a new skill - here are some of the ways to make the most of the fall in France.

11 ways to make the most of autumn in France
Autumn leaves at the Sainte-Bernadette church in Orvault, western France. Photo by LOIC VENANCE / AFP

Make a rentrée resolution – September in France marks la rentrée, when kids begin the new school years and adults return to work after the holidays.

But it’s also a bit of a cultural moment of restarting and re-setting, probably a bigger deal than New Year in France. And in the spirit of starting afresh plenty of people make resolutions to learn a new skill and get fit – which means there are lots of new classes starting at this time of year.

Help with la vendange – late summer and early autumn is when vineyards across France harvest their grapes and begin to make new wines. Most vineyards are huge, professional organisations which increasingly rely on migrant labour for the harvest period, but there are still plenty of small, family-operated vineyards that are looking for help with the grape-picking.

It’s pretty hard work though, so maybe read this before signing up. 

Enjoy the wine sales – if you would rather drink wine than get involved in making it, autumn is also a good time for you, as there are plenty of wine sales at this time of year. Most supermarkets, wine caves and wine-selling websites run an early autumn sale called the Foire aux vins – this is essentially a stock-clearing exercise so it’s a great opportunity to get a bargain on a few special bottles.

There’s also Beaujolais Nouveau Day, held in November, to celebrate the first primeurs (wines that only mature for a short time) of the season.

Go to Cordes-sur-Ciel – this beautiful medieval hilltop town in south west France is well worth a visit at any time of the year, but in autumn a particular phenomenon happens, which is how the town got its name.

The town is perched on top of a steep hill and on autumn mornings, when mist and fog covers the valley floor, it appears to be floating above the clouds – which is why it is named Cordes ‘on the sky’.

If you don’t see the fog, there’s also a chocolate museum where they are generous with free samples.

Go mushroom-foraging – if you’re in French woodland at this time of year you will see lots of families toting baskets and slightly furtive expressions. The baskets are for mushrooms and the furtive expressions are not because mushroom-picking is illegal – unless you are on private land – it’s because many families have a ‘secret’ spot where the best mushrooms grow, that they like to keep to themselves.

Be safe though, if you’re at all unsure about what type of mushrooms you have picked, French pharmacies offer a mushroom-checking service.

READ ALSO Everything you need to know for safe and enjoyable mushroom foraging in France

View the changing leaves – autumn leaves are a beautiful sight, and France has plenty of stunning locations in which to really appreciate them, from the volcanic landscape of the Auvergne to the Alps or the natural park of Morvan, in eastern France

Carve pumpkins – If you are looking to recreate an American-style Halloween by carving some pumpkins, you are in luck. Pumpkins (or citrouille in French) are grown across central France. For carving and cooking purposes, you should be able to find them at your local grocery store during the fall.

Though, if you are looking for a more authentic pumpkin-patch experience, you can search “cueillette citrouille” or “champ de citrouille” with your city to see what is nearby. For those living in Paris, “les fermes de gally” – which is about an hour outside the city on public transport – host a pumpkin picking event every year.

Go on a bike ride – hiking or cycling is the perfect way to appreciate the French landscape and now that the summer is over there is less risk of dehydration or sunburn.

France has a great variety of both on-road and off-road cycle routes, including the voie verte network which covers large parts of the country – find out more HERE.

Take a train ride – if you’re looking for a less strenuous way to appreciate the view, then why not enjoy it through the window of a train? Now that the peak season of summer is over, trains are a lot less crowded and make for a relaxing and scenic travel experience.

VIDEO 12 of the most beautiful train journeys in France

Eat hot melted cheese – as the temperatures fall out come the classic winter dishes – hearty soups, warming stews and hot desserts. But the best of these are those made with melted cheese – primarily fondue or raclette – which traditionally should only be eaten in the cooler months of the year

Festivals – France has a busy year-round calendar of festivals and autumn is no exception, with events celebrating music, film, chocolate, spicy peppers and staying up all night, to name but a few.

Fall festivals: What’s on around France in autumn 2022

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How Brexit and Covid have derailed Eurostar services between France and UK

The French boss of Eurostar has laid out how the combination of the pandemic, Brexit and ongoing uncertainty over new EU travel rules have left the company in a very precarious position.

How Brexit and Covid have derailed Eurostar services between France and UK

The Eurostar CEO Jacques Damas has laid out the company’s woes in a long letter to British MPs, stating that as things stand “Eurostar cannot currently pursue a strategy of volume and growth. We are having to focus on our core routes . . . and to charge higher prices to customers”.

He said that two things have significantly damaged the company – the pandemic (worsened by the fact that the company received no state aid from the UK government) and Brexit which has made travel between France and the UK considerably more complicated with more checks required at stations.

(You can listen to The Local France team discuss the future of Eurostar in our new podcast episode below. Just press play or download it here for later.)

Damas said that peak capacity at both London St Pancras and Paris Gare du Nord is 30 percent less than it was pre-Brexit, because of the increased infrastructure needed to check and stamp the passports of travellers.

He said: “Even with all booths manned, St Pancras can only process a maximum of 1,500 passengers per hour, against 2,200 in 2019.

“It is only the fact that Eurostar has capacity-limited trains and significantly reduced its timetable from 2019 levels, that we are not seeing daily queues in the centre of London similar to those experienced in the Channel ports.

“This situation has obvious commercial consequences and is not sustainable in the mid to long-term.”

He added that the increased passport checks and stamping needed since Brexit adds at least 15 seconds to each passenger’s processing time, and that automated passport gates are less efficient.

The other factor that has hit the company hard was the pandemic and subsequent travel restrictions, leading to revenues being cut by 95 percent for 15 months.

The London-based company struggled to access government financial aid due to its ownership structure, with both the British and French governments reluctant to assume sole responsibility for bailing out the company.

It began as a joint venture between the British and French governments, but then the British sold off its share to private investors.

Damas said: “Contrary to the £7 billion in state aid given to our airline competitors, Eurostar did not receive any state-backed loans”. 

By May 2021 the company was teetering on the brink of bankruptcy, and was eventually bailed out to the tune of €290 million in loans and shareholder-guaranteed loans and equity – although this saved the company it has now left it with huge debts to be repaid.

The CEO’s letter was responding to questions from British MPs on the Transport Select Committee who wanted to know when trains would again stop at Ashford station – which has been closed since March 2020. Damas said there was no immediate prospect of that, or of reinstating the route to Disneyland Paris, while the company grapples with these financial problems.

He added that there is also “considerable uncertainty” around the new EU travel systems known as the EES and ETIAS, which are due to come into effect in 2023 and which will require extra checking of passports at the EU’s external borders – such as the UK/France border. 

READ ALSO Fears of ‘massive travel disruption’ in 2023

Many Eurostar passengers have commented recently on increased ticket prices, and it seems that there is little immediate prospect of prices going back down to 2019 levels.