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North-West

Barfleur is one of the most beautiful villages in Normandy and is close to the bustling port of Cherbourg. An unspoiled coastal town and port, this village has streets lined with white-shuttered granite houses.

Best for
Beaches take a walk along the pleasant coastal path (two miles), which leads past the harbours of Crabec and Flicmare, to Gatteville lighthouse

Must try
Freshly caught mussels and oysters along the harbour front

Seemingly spilling down a cliff over the River Anglin is the tongue-twistingly named village of Angles-sur-l’Anglin. A few cafes share the village square, and in a nearby cave, you’ll find Magdalenian rock carvings

Must visit The nearby Romanesque Abbey of St Savin, which boasts what are said to be the most complete set of frescoes in France

Must see Le Roc-aux-Sorciers, an Upper Palaeolithic rock shelter site dating to the mid-Magdalenian cultural stage

East

Close to the German border lies Riquewihr, which features 16th- and 17th-century houses, plus preserved courtyards, galleries, wells and fountains

Best for
Rich, fudgy local macaroons, and fruit brandy fresh from the distillery

Must visit The Thieves Tower Museum (Rue des Juifs, 00 33 3 89 86 00 92)

Slightly west of Dijon, on top of a hill that gives views over the Monts de Marvan, is the striking village of Vézelay.

Best for
Cycling and walking visit Morvan National Park (www.parcdumorvan.org)

Must visit
The Abbey of St Mary Magdalenea 12th-century monastic church, which is a masterpiece of Burgundian Romanesque art and architecture

Although it only dates back 700 years, Yvoire is full of medieval architecture, and also has artisans, cafes, flowers and beautiful views across the lake.

Best for The lovely flower gardens by the castle (www.yvoiretourism.com)

Must do Take a cruise across the lake, to relax and take in the magnificent views

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South-East

Châtillon-en-Diois has an extensive network of winding alleyways adorned with flowers in every crevice. The ancient buildings cling to a slope beneath the remains of a 13th-century château

Best for Swimming take a dip in the nearby Lac Bleu, where bathing is supervised

Must do Lose yourself wandering through the network of winding alleyways

Just south of the Alps, and heading into a more Mediter-ranean climate, is Tourtour, known as the ‘village in the sky of Provence’. At 2,000ft, it has views over a huge area, from Fréjus and the Mediterranean Sea in the east to the Sainte-Victoire mountain in the west

Must stay At Hotel La Bastide de Tourtour enjoy the panoramic views and an array of activities on offer (00 33 4 98 10 54 20; www.verdon.net/tourtour)

Best for
Photography its high altitude means that you can take some enviable
pictures of the surrounding views

Not many people have heard of St Maximin-la-Ste Baume, but legend has it that the tomb of Mary Magdalene was found here. This beautiful place has squares and cafes shaded from the southern sun by the abundant plane trees

Best for
Arts listen to the concerts and recitals held around Maximin throughout the summer

Must stay
In the former monks’ cells, now transformed into simple, elegant en-suite rooms at Hotel Le Couvent (00 33 4 94 86 55 66; www.hotelfp-saintmaximin.com)

Continuing west is Les Baux de Provence. It’s hard to tell where the ruins of the 11th-century citadel end and the plateau (which is both the foundation and structure of the citadel) begins; this unreal ville morte (dead city) is only accessible through
a turnstile from the village below

Must visit One of the dozen estates, such as Château Romanin, whose cellars are carved deep into the rock face, and which has a tasting bar (00 33 4 90 92 45 87; www.romanin.com)

Must do Take a guided tour through the old village and discover the delicious local wine and olive oil (00 33 4 90 54 34 39; www.lesbauxdeprovence.com)

Collioure is a city of painters. Just south of Perpignan, this is a small Catalan harbour divided by a fortress. It was discovered by Matisse, among other artists, at the turn of the last century. Collioure is also renowned for its remarkable anchovies, and has been declared a site of culinary excellence by the French

Must do Take a guided walk round the Côte Vermeille hinterland and taste wine and croquants, the local biscuits

Must take
Your paintbrushes to get into the spirit, or visit the Museum of Modern Art and see works by famous artists and young European artists (Villa Pams, Route de Port Vendres; 00 33 4 68 82 10 19; www.collioure.com)
 

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South-West

Just north of the Pyrénées, between Carcassone and Foix, is Mirepoix. A one-time Cathar settlement, it doesn’t need any attraction other than its main square, which is surrounded by wooden arcaded houses and cafes dating from the 14th century  

Must try The local aperitif, Hypocras, made from wine, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, cardamom and rose petals it’s an old medieval recipe. The area is also famous for its foie gras

Must do
Go riding in the Pyrénées. You’ll be taken by a local, professional guide, and can stay in bivouacs or more comfortable accommodation (00 33 5 61 66 70 91; www.ariege.com/mirepoix/info.html)

As it doesn’t appear as a Bordeaux wine appellation, despite being surrounded by them, La Réole isn’t as well known. However, you’ll find an impressive bridge spanning the Garonne river, which is the perfect spot to sit and enjoy the vintages of Entre-deux-Mers

Must do Go for a guided tour of the town, which starts at Place de la Libération and takes you to wonderful sites such as the outstanding Benedictine Priory (for information, ring the town hall: 00 33 5 56 61 10 11; 1, Esplanade Charles De Gaulle)

On the Atlantic coast, you’ll find a village that is every garden-enthusiast’s dream. The hollyhock or rose trémière is what makes Talmont, and the white-painted village of Talmont-sur-Gironde is full of them. Buy the hollyhock seeds and then go on a tour of the splendid Romanesque church

Best for The views from the cemetery of the magnificent white cliffs along the coast

The name of Confolens comes from the fact that it lies on the confluence of two rivers, the Vienne and the Goire, the former of which is supposed to carry gold dust. Surrounded by rolling pastoral countryside, it hosts an International Folklore Festival in the second week of August each year, of which dance is a major feature,  

Best for
The 13th-century Old Bridge, from which you’ll get great views of the old town. Also, take a look at the Fontaine de la Fontorse, an ancient spring at the end of the bridge

Must book The next Folklore Festival is held in the week of August 10–16 (www.festivaldeconfolens.org)

For something different, the Saint Louis Barge Hotel is a Dutch barge that’s been converted into luxurious accommodation for six. It cruises between Lacourt St Piere (near Montauban) and Agen, and there’s even reflexology, Thai massage and yoga available on board

Best for Sightseeing you’ll be taken to all sorts of exciting places, including some personally sought out by the owners, Alasdair and Barbara Wyllie, that you wouldn’t otherwise know about

Must book
The barge costs from €2,966 to €3,950 per person, per week, with bookings for 4–6 people (00 33 6 85 95 25 41; www.saintlouisbarge.com)

 

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