French Tourism minister Jean-Baptiste Lemoyne recently proclaimed that health measures and French holidaymakers had “saved the summer”, and called on people to continue to support the tourist industry by taking holidays in September and October.
We’re hoping for an Indian summer. That means weekends, and an end to autumn which we hope will be positive with the revival little by little of the events industry, which is very important to Paris for example, and groups of senior citizens who weren’t able to travel last Autumn.
Following a summer dominated by health concerns and bad weather – though not in the corner of France where I live – many people will be hoping to take a more relaxed break in the autumn, away from the peak-season crowds. These are some of the areas in France which are particularly lovely in autumn. I am, of course, hugely biased and would say anywhere in France would be lovely for an autumnal break. But these seem to be the places that pop up most frequently in lists.
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. 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 not so, 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 relax in the hotel with a glass of local Pinot Noir.
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. Take a stroll through the forest, breathing in the fresh air, with the only sound the crunching of leaves beneath your feet. It’s the perfect location for taking long walks, hunting for mushrooms and relaxing in front of a wood burning fire once the sun goes down.
Autumn is a great 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 are usually pleasant throughout September and October. Just as in Côte d’Or, you can also take stroll through the local vineyards and enjoy the changing colours of the foliage.
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 are swarming with tourists in the summer months.
A couple of hours to the north, in the Tarn département, is another elevated town. It was originally called Cordes, but the poet Jeanne Ramel-Cals took to referring to it as Cordes-sur-Ciel, 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 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.To be honest, the whole area is positively charming and delightfully rural.
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 (500 miles) 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 and you know how much I love a spot of property porn!
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 glorious shades of orange and yellow in the autumn. The area is also easily accessible from Paris, making it perfect for a weekend trip.
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.
The mountains on the border between France and Spain proved incredibly popular over the summer as many opted to holiday close to home. There were 24% more visitors there this summer, according to the tourism minister. I suspect the same could probably be said of the southern Alps as many from the French Riviera also enjoy their charms during the summer months.
All the more reason to visit this Autumn, when there will be fewer tourists, but the weather should still be pleasant. 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 New England. Lakes, mountains, and the prospect of spotting wild animals such as the Pyrenean Chamois – a trip to the here will leave you refreshed by nature and ready to face whatever winter brings.
You may be wondering where I’ll be visiting this autumn……..you’ll find out in due course!
Image of Morvan courtesy of its Tourist Office