The French Cities to Visit (if You’ve Done Paris)

The French Cities to Visit (if You’ve Done Paris)

Want to graze your way around the beautiful bistros of Lyon? Or discover the sun-drenched shores of Montpellier? Don’t miss our shortlist of six beautiful French cities to visit this summer that aren’t Paris. Bon voyage!

its tree-fringed allées and bistro-lined boulevards to its
legendary galleries and ornate architecture, Paris is always a great idea. As much as we love being
charmed by its romantic air, however, there’s also plenty to be
said for discovering the magic of other French cities – the ones
that don’t always get the airtime they deserve. Sounds like your
sort of summer adventure? Tag along with us as we stroll through
the artsy neighbourhoods of Nice, bar-hop across Bordeaux and sun
ourselves on Marseille’s Mediterranean shores.

Six fabulous French cities to visit this summer

Nice old town



This sun-scorched pocket of the Côte d’Azur has long attracted
Europe’s cultural jet-setters. Loved by artists such as Matisse,
Renoir and Chagall, Nice has a touch of old-world opulence running
through the veins of its rugged neighbourhoods. Soak up the
sparkling waters, then wander beneath the skyscraper-tall shuttered
buildings of Vieux Nice, settling on a dimly lit restaurant in
which to feast on seafood – Chez Freddy is our favourite. Be sure to stop
by Cours Saleya market, where producers from the foothills of the
Alps peddle fresh produce and stalls serve street snacks including
socca (a chickpea-flour pancake) and pissaladière (caramelised
onion tart).

Where to stay: Hôtel



What Lyon lacks in glamour, it more than makes up for in
exceptional food and drink. Dubbed the gastronomic capital of
France, the city specialises in nouvelle cuisine, drawing on the
spoils of the surrounding Burgundy and Rhône-Alpes countryside to
create innovative, flavour-packed menus. In those rare instances
when you’re not stuffing your face, ramble across bridges, laze on
the banks of the River Rhône and admire Renaissance architecture.
We also suggest renting a bike to ride through the old town,
catching a sunset from the top of Fourvière Hill and browsing the
many independent boutiques in the quaint Les Pentes de la Croix
Rousse neighbourhood.

Where to stay: La Villa

The historic buildings of Rennes, Brittany



Rennes, the storybook-like capital of Brittany, charms with its
cobbled alleys and sprawling gardens, while its many cafés,
boutiques and landmarks ensure visitors won’t get bored. Almost
entirely rebuilt following a fire in 1720, the city is home to a
dizzying blend of historic half-timbered houses and acclaimed avant
garde architecture, showcasing the creative spirit that flows
through its street art-stamped streets. Pick up a buckwheat galette
– a pancake-like local speciality that comes in countless sweet and
savoury combinations – stroll along the banks of the River Vilaine,
which sweeps through the city centre, then finish your day among
the Picassos, Gauguins and Gaudís at the Musée des Beaux-Arts.
We’re booking tickets for the Pan sommeil exhibition – open until
18 September – which explores the meaning of “party” through a
diverse array of mediums.

Where to stay: Balthazar Hôtel &



No longer a city to pass through en route to Paris, Lille has
become a French destination in its own right. Spend days
bar-hopping through cobbled streets, sipping fresh-from-the-vine
wine and nibbling on merveilleux – sweets made up of two meringues
covered with whipped cream and rolled in chocolate shavings. Lille
was World Design Capital in 2020, so be sure to dedicate time to
explore the city’s beautiful Flemish architecture. Thrifters should
visit in autumn for Europe’s largest flea market, La
, which dates back to the 12th century. Not your vibe?
Swing by the Palais des Beaux-Arts de Lille to enjoy works by Van
Dyck, Rubens, Goya and Picasso instead.

Where to stay: Mama Shelter



Often overlooked due to the popularity of neighbouring Nice and
Toulouse, Montpellier’s sandy beaches and fawn-hued streets are all
the better for not being rammed with tourists. This is an
inherently walkable city: amble through bougainvillea-draped
boulevards and elegant squares, making stops at family-run bakeries
and cute cafés, before heading to the city’s sun-drenched beaches
to work on your tan. Also set aside some time to browse the
antiques markets for trinkets to take home, pausing to admire the
Haussmann architecture as you go.

Where to stay: Disini

Marseille waterfront, France



Head directly from Montpellier to Marseille in just two hours by
train and see for yourself that the south of France isn’t all yachts and jewel-drenched
celebrities. Swing by the Old Port for a culinary feast of
traditional Provençal cuisine, or, alternatively, eat your way
around the Med: the city’s large proportion of immigrants means
that Greek, Italian, Corsican and Armenian cuisine are in broad
supply. Further off the beaten track, the hidden bays and limestone
cliffs of the Calanques await. A hike there will cost you nothing
and this gorgeous stretch of coast between Marseille and Cassis is
well worth the detour.

Where to stay: Hôtel Le

This article was updated 7 July 2022.

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