10 days in France - the ultimate France itinerary

Moving from Paris is never easy but the pain of leaving is somewhat eased upon discovery of the rest of the country. Heading south through France will first reveal medieval old towns packed with castles, then Roman cities and then alpine regions, all of it linked by way of lavender fields and vineyards. Then, before you know it, you’ve reached the azure Mediterranean coast with its yacht-filled marinas and casino resorts filled with the rich and famous. So, take what you know about France and leave it at the door, because for our ultimate France itinerary 10 days we’re all about that ‘quelle surprise’.

Tailor Made Journey

Tailor-Made France: Paris & Normandy

Discover the many faces of France on a single, diverse itinerary taking you to the City of Light, with its renowned art and architecture; idyllic Giverny, immortalised by Monet’s brush; and the historic beaches of Normandy, site of the D-Day landing.

Drapeau Noir Paris

Saint-Tropez, France | Photo: La Coccinelle

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Whatever and wherever takes your fancy, you’re bound to fall in love with the gourmet fare, classy ateliers and historic architecture nationwide

Welcome to France

Bienvenue messieurs, you are about to embark on a stylish European getaway to remember, spending 10 days in France travelling down through the country from the capital to the Côte d’Azur, passing stunning French countryside, vibrant second cities and alpine regions along the way. Seen by some 89 million visitors each year, there is no one way to build a 10 day France itinerary; you could follow our Provence itinerary 5 days, explore the best castles of Loire Valley, or perhaps you’d rather spend the entire time soaking up the sun in celebrity company on the French Riviera. Whatever and wherever takes your fancy, you’re bound to fall in love with the gourmet fare, classy ateliers and historic architecture nationwide.

Best time to visit France

Spring (April-May), summer (June-August) and autumn (September-October) are all good times to visit France, with balmy and sunny days common throughout. Though the summer is the most popular and hottest time (with highs of 28°C), spring has the added benefit of fewer crowds and temperatures ranging from 12-20°C. Autumn meanwhile is favoured as a time when rustic foliage takes over the mountains, forests and countryside to every photographer’s delight. Geographically speaking, you’re more likely to find Mediterranean weather towards the southern coast, while to the north – near the English Channel – wetter weather prevails. Not to be written off however is the winter season when the nation’s cities, especially Paris with its Christmas markets and cosy bistros, are set a-twinkling with festive cheer.

Photo: Michael Rodichev

Photo: John Jason

Getting around France

Boasting the most extensive rail network in Western Europe, French is a joy to traverse with or without a private vehicle. Trains are both fast and reliable and connect the majority of main towns, while buses fill in the gaps to more rural areas (though may be somewhat less reliable). If self-drive is an option, however, you won’t regret hiring a vehicle and going your own way along a fabulous network of autoroutes spanning both countryside and city limits. Though the motorway roads have tolls, they are a great way to avoid more congested routes. Look for the ‘routes nationales’ (or routes départementales) sign, marked ‘RN’ or ‘R’ beside the road number. Other minor routes marked ‘D’ are more scenic and usually free of traffic. If driving, be savvy by avoiding the big cities or major seaside resorts, particularly during high season and annual vacations in mid-July and the whole of August.

The ultimate France itinerary

Our dream France itinerary starts in the capital but soon moves out into the countryside, allowing for a completely new view of the nation with room for wine country escapes in Provence and sophisticated beach breaks in the Riviera. If a Loire Valley chateaux doesn’t excite, then hiking, trekking and skiing in the French Alps might be more your thing. But, if you’re anything like us, a nice balance of culture, history and outdoor activity, is exactly the way to go.

Photo: Rodrigo Kugnharski

Day 1-2: Paris

Needing no introduction, the City of Lights is our first stop to take in iconic art, culture and architecture by way of walking tours up the famed Champ Elysees, passing under the Arc du Triomphe, Notre Dame Cathedral and of course the Eiffel Tower. In amongst the grand landmarks, Paris continues to wow its many visitors at every turn. From wide boulevards to manicured parks, there’s always a place to take a rest, jumping on the metro or bus and sprawling out in the Jardin des Tuileries when walking gets too tiresome. From there, lose yourself in any of the city’s 20 arrondissements, people-watching while sipping on a café au lait among the spiralling streets. Art lovers will of course want to explore the Louvre, though the area around Montmartre is also a worthy stop, as the bohemian neighbourhood of Paris’ art world, home of the Sacre Coeur Basilica and fantastic city views.

Another way to get a unique view of the city is to take a Seine River cruise by night, passing by some of the city’s best architecture and landmarks lit up from below. Then, slightly outside of the city proper, the Palace of Versailles is every history buff’s dream spot, the grand former home to Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette set within manicured gardens. Venture inside the chateau to see their priceless collection of artwork and antiques, kept in pristine condition as though the revolution never happened. As for Paris’ gay scene, you’ll find it centred in the Marais, the old neighbourhood in the 4th arrondissement where gay bars, cafés and shops play out among centuries-old buildings. Come day or night to move amongst the city’s vibrant LGBTQ+ community. Discover more ways to see the city, with our full Paris travel guide.

Photo: Paulo Marcelo Martins

Photo: Jeanbaptiste Burbaud

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The region features a number of towns and villages each with their own series of stone towers, cupolas and banquet halls, all overlooking rolling wine country

Day 3-4: Loire Valley

It’s castles upon castles starting on day three, and if royal chateau life attracts you then you’re sure to arrive satisfied after your short train ride (or autoroute drive) from Paris to Loire Valley. Once a location of strategic importance at the mid-point between northern and southern France, the Loire Valley used to be the place to build feudal castles and plush palaces thereafter upon the picturesque river valley. Today a UNESCO Heritage Site, the region features a number of towns and villages each with their own series of stone towers, cupolas and banquet halls, all overlooking rolling wine country. Chateau Chambord is the most famous castle in the valley, built by King Francis I in renaissance styles across 440 rooms, a number of which are open to the public. Château d’Ainay-le-Vieil meanwhile is notable for its vast gardens and themed rooms which have housed the same family since 1467. Then there’s the gothic-style Bourges Cathedral in the town of the same name, said to be one of the most remarkable of its type in France, modelled on the Notre Dame and dating back to the 12th century.

Driving the Loire Valley is certainly a good choice, but hiring a bike on a clear day is also a winner, allowing for several stops at various small villages along the way and all the more wine tastings! Whether red, white, rosé or sparkling, you can’t leave the various cities and towns without trying the local plonk, airing a bottle at each stop, from Orléans and Blois to Tours and Angers. Alternatively you can take a drive (or cycle) out to the source, sampling the grapes at any of the vineyards surrounding the valley.

Photo: Dorian Mongel

Day 5-6: Lyon

Hearing the wet roar at the confluence of the Rhône and Saône Rivers, we can know we’ve finally arrived in Lyon, a city populated since Roman times as early as 43 BC. More recently within the last 500 years, Lyon has become one of France’s biggest industrial and financial powerhouses as the country’s third-largest city. As a result, Lyon boasts a range of world-class museums and cultural institutions, all centred on the Vieux (Old Town) where delicatessens, artisan shops and al fresco cafés line the cobblestoned streets beside famed Lyon monuments. Squeeze down the secret traboule passageways, once used as trade routes for silk during medieval times but now serving as short cuts towards the old town’s best bits, such as the Museum of Fine Arts with its mix of ancient Egyptian relics and modern works, and the Musee de Confluence particularly favoured among science and anthropology nerds.

From Lyon’s centre, we head up to the Basilique Notre-Dame de Fourviere (otherwise known as the ‘upside-down elephant’) which is set some ways above the old town as a dominant feature on the skyline. Brave the steep stairway up to the basilica or take the funicular for a fee, pausing along the promenade for prime views over the city and its rivers. The town’s Roman Amphitheatre lies conveniently beside the basilica, allowing for a touch of ancient drama before completing the day with a spot of traditional Lyonnaise fare at a Bouchon restaurant (caution: may contain offal!)

Lyon | Photo: Saba Shakarashvili

Lyon | Photo: Jonne Makikyro

Day 7-8: Aix-en-Provence

Classier than you trying to pronounce its name, Aix-en-Provence, is a rural version of Paris set within rolling fields of lavender in the south of France. Although not quite on the coast, Aix-en-Provence is a popular stop for those en route to the Riviera, providing a leafier outlook amidst 17th-century plazas and grand avenues – such as the 440-metre long Cours Mirabeau – frequented by espresso-drinking students. Though a university city, these students are cooler than cool, allowing Aix to maintain its upmarket appeal while also being right on-trend. The outer ring roads may throng with traffic but the centre of Aix’ Old Town is reserved for pedestrians, meaning that you can wander the cobblestones carefree, browsing boutiques and scouting out artisan markets. Two of the town’s biggest attractions are the Pont du Gard – a historic Roman aqueduct – and the Palais des Papes in the once papal ruled area of Avignon. From there, it’s just a short walk over the Pont Saint Benezet to find evermore cafés, restaurants and art galleries, many of which pay homage to the local artist Paul Cézanne.

For more Roman history, it’s the Arles Amphitheatre you’ll also want to tick off while in Aix, an ancient stage still utilised to this day, especially in the summer months when concerts and outdoor performances kick off in earnest. Saint-Remy-de-Provence meanwhile provides a whole Roman settlement to get lost in, with ruins scattered over the now sleepy village, also on the map for having homed Van Gogh in his later years. To see Aix-en-Provence lavender up close, venture into the hills of Digne les Bains from June to August, stopping at the road side for soaps, honey and other fragrant souvenirs. From there, you can continue on a day trip towards Marseille’s Old Port, a destination in its own right with a whole host of shops, markets, cafés and bars, or, alternatively, wend your way through the Gorges du Verdon to eventually find the charming medieval town of Moustiers Sainte-Marie.

More days in Provence? Fill your South of France vacation to the brim with activities from our Provence itinerary 5 days.

Photo: Claudio Vincenti

Day 9-10: French Riviera

Last up on our itinerary for France is of course the French Riviera, a region that channels Cannes boat party glamour all year round. First up on the list of places to visit is Nice, a beach town with as much ruggedness as riches. Those who want to be seen will hop between the beaches and Corsica Island, but don’t forget about the Old Town where cobblestone streets meander outwards to meet artisan stores, flower-covered façades and tiny cafés for days. With just one more day to fill our French Riviera vacations, it’s Monaco that does the honour, just 30 minutes by train outside of Nice. Famed for its casinos and yachting community, Monaco drips with money, particularly around the marina and Le Palais des Princes de Monaco. There are however a few good things that come for free in Monaco, number one being the sunset view over the yachts and number two being the pop art exhibition at the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, a building which also boasts a beautiful rooftop view. If that wasn’t enough, driving around the Formula 1 Grand Prix Circuit in a Ferrari (or a Peugeot!) is sure to make you feel like a champ.

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Monaco | Photo: Rishi Jhajharia

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