Autumn is a great time to enjoy a family holiday to France. For a final burst of sunshine, head across the channel and discover the beautiful landscapes of this great varied country in all it’s glory.
Best of all, many gites, villas and holiday homes in France reduce their prices so that a great autumn break becomes very affordable.
Autumn breaks in France
The autumn months are a great time to visit France, whether as a family holiday or as a couple or with friends. Major tourist attractions like Mont Saint Michel and the Chateaux of the Loire are less crowded, there is delicious food and wine to enjoy and the season is particularly beautiful with the countryside showing off its changing hue.
There tend to be lots of gites, cottages and villa’s available for autumn holidays – look out for pretty log burners and open fires, cosy gites in rural locations and villas close to empty beaches with dramatic sea views that can be at their best under autumn skies.
The best of a quieter France
After the last weekend of August, most of the tourist resorts in France suddenly seem empty. Schools go back – in most of Europe – in early September, and business gets back into full swing. Paris is again full of Parisians, and much of the French countryside is left to the locals with fewer tourists.
For those who are not tied down by the demands of children or fixed holiday periods, Autumn is one of the best times to visit France. Specially in the southern half of the country, the days can be pleasantly warm – even hot.
September and October are not the wettest months of the year, and the countryside can be gloriously pretty in its autumn colours. The Mediterranean and the Atlantic ocean normally remain quite warm enough for swimming in through to the end of October (even beyond for the hardy); and for those who enjoy cycling and country rambling, conditions are often perfect: not too hot, not too cold.
Villas, gites, b&bs and even campsites that remain open may well offer cheaper rates from the start of September onwards. It is advisable to look around; sometimes the savings can be impressive, specially in tourist areas. On the other hand, hotels etc. in cities and beside main roads and motorways will not usually lower their prices just because it is no longer summer.
In resorts and in rural France, there is usually plenty of accommodation available. Booking in advance may be advisable, in order to get best rates, but those who prefer to just turn up and look for a hotel room wherever they happen to be, will not usually find everything full. On the other hand, local events can sometimes lead to accommodation filling up at specific moments.
Late September and October can be pleasantly warm, notably in the south of France. Autumn rains are possible anywhere, but if high pressure sets in, long days with peerless blue skies are not unusual at this time of year.
Visit sites, attractions, villages and monuments that remain open, without the crowds and queues of the summer months. Except in cities, driving in France is easier outside the peak holiday periods.
In areas depending on tourism, many restaurants may be closed. On the other hand, those that remain open may well be the better ones, since they cater for locals, not just passing tourists.
Things to do on an autumn break
For hikers, ramblers, nature lovers and other visitors who are just looking for peace and relaxation, late September to early November is one of the best times of year to visit rural France, particularly in the southern half of the country.
October is a particularly good time to visit sites such as the Cathar castles, the Camargue with its migrating birds, or the Ardèche gorge, or take a trip into the Pyrenees on the little yellow train.
For those just wanting to enjoy the French countryside in the mellow fruitfulness of its Autumn colours, official and unofficial hiking trails tend to be deserted, except at weekends, and the same goes for monuments that are either still open for guided tours, or, like some ruined rural castles, open to all-comers. For an autum city-break, the Mediterranean resort of Nice is generally a good choice.
Villages that are reputed as “plus beaux villages de France” – places such as Saint Cirq Lapopie or Montflanquin, are no longer packed to bursting with busloads and carloads of tourists, and their car parks are almost empty, except at weekends. As long as the weather is good, this is the best time to visit them, at a time when window boxes are still decked with the last of the summer flowers, and many of the tourist shops and boutiques, except for those run by local craftsmen, are closed.
In other French villages, those that do not normally cater for hordes of tourists, local cafés, restaurants and markets will have gone back to their slow ways, serving their local customers and a few passing travellers as they have done for many years. And here and there, farmers and producers will be offering fruit and vegetables and other local fare “en direct du producteur”, or straight from the producer.
Attractions in France
You should double check opening times for key attractions to ensure they are open for visitors; you may find restaurants and amenities in tourist hotspots are closed for the off-season, but most of France has weekly markets, local restaurants and historic sites available for you to enjoy at any time of year!
Regions to visit in autumn
The Loire Valley is a perfect destination for autumn. It’s a great time to visit the many impressive chateaux which will be less crowded and, in many cases, even more beautiful framed by the colours of autumn. The must-see is the spectacular Chateau Chambord – this incredible hunting lodge built by Francois I is surrounded by forests and is at its best in the autumn so don’t forget your camera!
Autumn is also a good time to enjoy the famous vineyards of the Loire. Harvest time usually falls in September and October so you can take a vineyard tour to see the grapes being picked, and some producers even let you get involved and pick grapes yourself!
The Pyrenees landscape offers dramatic and beautiful scenery in autumn. Whether you stay in the foothills or ascend to the high peaks, the views and photography opportunities are amazing; the forests, heather and bracken set the countryside on fire with autumn colours that contrast beautifully with the snowy peaks and vivid blue autumn skies.
The weather in the Pyrenees region is usually still mild in autumn offering perfect conditions for hiking, mountain biking and climbing, so the best thing to do is get out there and explore – you never know what wildlife or vistas you might discover! If you need a focus, Gavernie Falls is well worth a visit; it’s the highest waterfall in France! Or head for the peak over Montségur for great views over this pretty historic village.
The gastronomy of the region is perfect for an autumn holiday and you could even go foraging for apples and pears, nuts and wild mushrooms if you know what to look for, or visit the local markets to buy up these seasonal treats instead!
Just a short hop across The Channel, Brittany is the perfect place for a short autumn break in France. Finistére is a particularly good choice with the dramatic coastline and magical inland forests offering the full experience of nature in autumn.
Enjoy spectacular sunsets, deserted beaches and delicious local food – it’s the season for cider with apples harvested and pressed to make ‘cidre bouche’ – look out for tours, tastings and celebrations at local producers during your stay.
Try walking the ‘Lighthouse path’ – there are 23 lighthouses lining the coast between Brest and Les Abers and each has a fascinating tale to discover. The exciting views of the seas that made these lighthouses necessary are a stunning backdrop to your route. Or visit the Huelgoat forest with its mysterious giant rock formations and stunning autumn leaves, all steeped in myths and legends.
If you want to taste the fresh seafood from Normandy’s charming fishing port of Honfleur, autumn is probably the best time to go, thanks to the port’s Fête de la Crevette festival. One of the best known food festivals in Normandy, you can taste a variety of seafood as well as celebrate the town’s maritime culture with performances of sea shanties, an arts and crafts market and cooking demonstrations of local fish recipes.
With fewer crowds, good weather and better deals to be had, many people consider autumn the best time to visit Nice. Stroll along the Promenade des Anglais in relative peace, explore the city’s many galleries and shops and even swim in the sea (until November at least).