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Family Villa of 4 (2 adults and 2 teens) in small French Town for 3 weeks in Summer 2021

Perhaps I am being overly optimistic that by Summer 2021 the world will be a healthier place. Nonetheless, my wife and I would like to plan a 3-week family vacation with our teenage daughters and reside in the countryside of France. Our goal is a simple vacation and simply immerse our family in a small town.

Suggestions for locations?
Travel agencies?
Others have experience in this area?

Thank you in advance.

James

Posted by
21313 posts

Weather preference? Mid-summer can be seriously hot in much of France. Perhaps if you have a villa with a pool you won't mind. There are lots of markets in Provence; they might be appealing to teenage girls. That area also has a lot of art-related sightseeing, as does the Riviera. The Dordogne has castles, rivers for kayaking, caves with prehistoric art.

If you'd prefer to avoid that as much as possible, you might consider Normandy or Brittany; the odd heat wave is possible, but it won't last long. You'll have a lot of moderate--or even cool--days with clouds. Brittany has some local festivals (pardons) in the summer.

I'd recommend picking up a comprehensive guidebook to France and using it to identify areas of possible interest. There are lovely towns everywhere. I've recently spent a total of about 4-1/2 months in France, and I wasn't able to include Paris for lack of time. Thinking about your weather preferences should allow you to begin eliminating some areas.

Posted by
2928 posts

I agree with the first poster that you have to narrow it down a bit. I like Provence even in the summer but then again I like very warm weather. I think the tourism infrastructure is very well developed in Provence. I spent three weeks in a town there in the summer of 2013 and it was lovely -- house with a pool within walking distance of a town with restaurants, a huge market, etc. During a couple of summers in Paris, when it was blazing hot, I went to Normandy and Brittany and both were freezing (around 70 degrees F) by my standards so those would be out for me. What does your family like or plan to do during the three weeks? That would give a better sense of where to suggest. Are you picturing yourself hanging out by a pool? Eating most meals at home or out? Within walking distance or driving to get to cafes, etc? Close your eyes and picture what you think you would want to do on a perfect day and let us know what that is. For me, at least saying "simply immerse our family in a small town" does not really say what you are trying to find. One thing I would say to be wary of when picking where to stay is to really consider if you want some place completely off the tourism path -- I've done that and it was not exactly the experience I wanted for a vacation because I absolutely needed to drive about 30 minutes for everything except a pharmacy and a tabac.

Posted by
665 posts

My husband and I are doing the same thing next September. We have an apartment booked in Aix en Provence. I chose it because many here and on Fodors said it is lively, beautiful, has many markets, museums, cafes, a pedestrian-only old town, was Cezanne’s home town, has a major and a local train station, and is 45 minutes from Cassis (the beach). My kids are in their early 20s but will come for one of our four weeks. I don’t think Aix is super small though.

Another idea is Antibes or Menton. Both are smaller and right on the ocean which may be fun for the teens. The train runs up and down the Coast there, lots to do and see in Nice. My 22-year old lived in Nice last summer, loved it and these other two towns.

Food for thought!

Posted by
5714 posts

Personally, I would avoid the French Riviera in the summer - overrun with tourists and too hot. Provence and the Dordogne would also have too many tourists if you want to immerse yourselves and hear more French than English!

I would opt for somewhere such as Coulon in the Venise Verte - a pretty area of chocolate box stone cottages set amongst small canals with excellent walking and cycling on the quiet roads and tracks. Take a boat trip on the canal and explore the local markets. La Rochelle is less than an hour away on the coast with its fantastic aquarium and great food scene and museums. There are good supermarkets in nearby Niort.

If you want to be coastal, anywhere on Ile d’Oleron would be an excellent choice to experience typical French life. Great cycling and try pineau, the local fortified wine (tastes like port) and if you like oysters, you won’t be disappointed.

The French go on holiday en masse from around the 5th July until late August, so if you can avoid these times, you will find more availability and better value. You won’t get any discount for 3 weeks in peak season.

You don’t need a travel agent - Booking.com would be a good starting point for accommodation. Some gites expect you to provide bedding or towels, so check what’s included.

Ensure that anything you book has a robust cancellation policy. We are putting our chances of taking our car and caravan over to France in late May - June at 50/50 best.

Posted by
134 posts

Check out Pinterest---South of France. I was just read a great article yesterday about all the wonderful towns. There are tons of article's to help you get a better perspective of what's available based on what you want to see and do. We spent several weeks years ago hitting some of the small towns---loved LES BAUX DE PROVENCE and Eze. But we were all over the South of France.

Sounds like a lovely trip with your family.

Posted by
2059 posts

July is a very popular vacation period and in August, almost everyone in France will be near the water. If you are thinking about vacation near the sea for next summer, many accommodations are booked a year or more in advance. People in France are on vacation for the entire month and most properties during the summer rent by the month. You will discover this when you start to reserve, which is something you should be doing quickly.

Decide the month, then decide the location - near the water or inland.

When you have a defined idea, go to the webpage for the Office de Tourisme for that area. You will find a list of available vacation rentals. I see absolutely no need for a travel agency. Assuming you are from North America, you will fly to CDG or via some intermediary point such as LHR or FRA or AMS to connect to a final airport. Next, arrange either for a car (preferable) or train tickets (sales open 3 to 6 months before travel) to your final destination.

Other than a coastal region, I might suggest western Provence - broadly the area between Nimes (actually in Languedoc) to the east to include the areas of Arles, Avignon, the Luberon, les Alpilles, and to Aix-en-Provence. You could easily spend 3 weeks traveling this region in your car and have plenty to see and places to visit.

Posted by
7996 posts

Look at the Just France website to see some areas that may be of interest to you..

Posted by
21313 posts

If you end up wanting a car for the entire time (which you probably will if you end up in a small town/village), be sure to check into leasing as well as renting. I believe leasing will save you money.

Please also tell us what sort of population you're thinking of when you refer to a "small town". This sort of topic has come up before, and people had very, very different ideas about what constituted a "small town". The more information you give us, the more useful our suggestions will be.

Posted by
5265 posts

When you have narrowed down your plans, as others have suggested, Gites de France would be worth looking at (along with booking.com) to find a specific place to rent.

Posted by
298 posts

There are a number of inaccurate generalizations in the comments above, so be careful of the advice.

I live in a small town in rural France -- have for several years, so perhaps I have a somewhat different perspective than the average tourist.

I think it would be useful if you could explain more about what your family's interests might be. What are your major likes and dislikes? When your trip is over and you are back home, if you were to reflect back on your trip, what kinds of things do you think you would like to have done? What kind of experiences would have made it successful, as you imagine it?

Sharing that kind of information might help folks provide more accurately targeted advice.

Posted by
3714 posts

If you haven't already, take a look at the Explore Europe: France section of this Rick Steves website at -- https://www.ricksteves.com/europe/france.

It provides extensive info on the country, arranged by town. Researching it could help to make decisions on what your family would like to see and do.

Under the heading, "Plan," for each town you will find sections related to when to go and what to do.

They include:

When to Go to France -- https://www.ricksteves.com/europe/france/best-time-to-go-to-france.

And

Upcoming Holidays and Festivals in France -- https://www.ricksteves.com/europe/france/festivals. Of course, what's listed there now is for 2020, but the dates will be similar for 2021. Whether or not related events will happen next year remains a mystery.

Timeanddate.com -- https://www.timeanddate.com/
is a good place to check for actual weather data over years for the places that may make it on your short list.

My husband and I spent the month of June 2012 in France. It was rainy and cold in the north. We started with a week in an apartment in Paris and ended with 8 nights in one in Aix-en-Provence. We didn't warm up and dry out until we got to Aix-en-Provence.

Posted by
3 posts

Thank you for all your posts and wonderful insight. A couple of answers...

1.) No need to be near the water. We live on the water now and living in a small town appeals to us to help us disconnect from all of our busy lives.

2.) I am the family chef so cooking on vacation with local ingredients and daily trips to the market appeal to us.

3.) Southern France and warm weather are most appealing.

4.) A pool would be great for teenage girls.

5.) We were looking June to avoid the holiday rush.

As far as our "vision" and what we want to take away from this trip... We want the girls to ride their bikes in town, go shopping at the local market for dinner, read books, lower blood pressure, get to know the folks in town, experience local festivals and customs, visit vineyards and wineries in the area. When we get back we want our girls to have a better understanding of a different place and culture and understand that life doesn't need to run at 99 mph (perhaps kilometers instead :)

Thank you so much!!!

Posted by
2928 posts

To me, it sounds like you would really enjoy western Provence or eastern Languedoc. When you wrote teenage girls in your initial post, I envisioned hanging out by a pool and being able to wander into a pretty town to hang out and explore. I stayed in L'Isle sur la Sorgue in 2014 for three weeks and we had a pool and were within walking distance of the center and its huge market. I liked it but recently I have heard from people who I trust that the town is not as charming as I recall it. You may want to look at Saint Remy de Provence, Uzès, or Pézenas, each of which have a population of roughly 10,000 people. You may want something smaller like Gordes, population roughly 2,000. Another area of France that I like in the summer is the Loire Valley. There are a lot of lovely small towns there. If that region is appealing, you may want to look for something near the town of Loches. It's a great town with a very, very good market.

Posted by
8411 posts

I second JHK’s St Rémy de Provence recommendation. I grew up in France and visit often, and it’s my favorite small town in all of France. Very charming, friendly, relaxing, great weekly market, fun shops, good cafés and restaurants. Perfect town to ride a bike, read, go for walks, relax by a pool, etc. And very easy to get to nearby famous towns/cities if that appeals to you.

Posted by
5630 posts

If you want to stay in the same place for three weeks, I suggest Provence in SE France. Other areas are Alsace, in NE France, Normandy in NW France and the Loire Valley in the middle.

If you gotta be close to the beach, you will pay through the nose. Consider Arles/Avignon area. Be sure and travel up the Rhone river, there are great historic places all the way to Lyon. Of course, the coastal area includes Monaceo, Cannes and Nice. Don't miss the quaint village of St. Paul de Vence.

Posted by
21313 posts

Another aspect to consider is whether it's important to you to choose a place that's relatively non-touristy. From your original post, it sounds to me as if you picture yourselves being surrounded by French people living French lives, not as part of a large number of foreign visitors. Most of the places most often mentioned in travel literature will have a substantial load of foreign tourists in June. However, in any given area the situation can vary considerably from town to town. In addition, some places that are utterly swamped during day-tripping hours (St-Paul-de-Vence being a prime example of this phenomenon) are relatively quiet when the day-trippers depart. How would you feel about that sort of environment? (I can only stand it for a very few daytime hours, but for many folks it's not an issue.)

Posted by
8411 posts

We didn’t encounter any American tourists in St Rémy de Provence in Sept of 2019. I expected there to be lots, but we saw none. In fact, we saw few, if any, tourists of any nationality. Can’t speak for June though.

Posted by
3 posts

I cannot thank all of you enough for your expertise and insight. My wife and I look forward to each and every post as we plan out this amazing experience for our family.

A couple of notes.. my wife and I have traveled to and around Europe, although not with the kids. The kids have traveled internationally. We live outside of Washington DC, so climate-wise we are looking about the same in France. So hot weather is not an issue. We are looking for a place with minimal to no tourists with a 10 minute or less bike ride into town for groceries and other essentials.

Posted by
2928 posts

The month that I spent in a town with no tourists was the worst vacation I have had in France. Why? Because there was nothing to do in the town. I guess we could have gone rowing on the Saône every day but that is not our thing. in the current world, IMO tourists find just about every place worth going to in France and when you get to a place with no tourists, there is probably a reason for that. No restaurants within a 10-minute bike ride. No market within a 10-minute bike ride. Nothing to do in town, etc. For some, like me, that can get real old, real fast. In my other response, I mentioned the size of the towns. The town size can be a decent indicator of the amenities in the town but I have to note that the boring commune that I stayed in had about the same population as Chablis but when I spent time in Chablis, it was worlds more enjoyable. I think the reason is that Chablis has a market, restaurants and a pretty center. IMO, staying near or in a market town will be a real plus for your vacation.
I have a friend who grew up in Paris and New York City and when her parents retired, they decided to settle in a small town and chose AIx-en-Provence, which is somewhat amusing given that Aix has a population of around 200,000 and is one of the larger towns/cities in Provence. They are still there and they rave about how much they are enjoying small town life. So maybe do not discount a larger town, if you can find the right accommodations and the right relaxed area in or near the town.

Posted by
8411 posts

JHK, i was thinking the exact same thing. A town with zero tourists (ie, nothing of interest) wouldn’t be my choice for a vacation. I like a charming, quiet, relaxing place to stay with lots of fun options nearby, within walking distance ideally.

Posted by
21313 posts

There are certainly places in France that see few American tourists, but they have often been well and truly discovered by the the British.

I don't rent cars in Europe, so I only visit places accessible by train or bus. There are surely smaller/quieter places than I've seen, but I think you'll need to get away from the coast, and Languedoc-Roussillon (closer to Spain) may work better for you than Provence-Cote d'Azur (closer to Italy). The former area seemed less touristy in general. However, people (including artists) have been traveling to southern France for ages, so you won't be breaking new ground.

Inland from Nice, I found the large town of Vence devoid of visible tourists when I visited it during a June mid-afternoon. It's larger than what you're looking for, but there might be something in that area. Be sure to research the terrain, though. It's very hilly, so I don't know that bikes would be a great mode of transportation. In 2017 a local recommended the town of Tourrettes-sur-Loup to me, saying that it sees few tourists. Unfortunately, I didn't have time to check it out. It's still larger than what you're describing, however. And it seems to be set on a hill.

A bit farther west, I visited the inland towns of Biot (which has a small glass museum) and Vallauris (where Picasso worked on ceramics), and that area was much less overrun by tourists than the coastal towns. But there were still tourist shops (and a Leger Museum in Biot), so you'd have to look at places a bit more off the beaten path. One advantage of this area is that you'd be able to drive a reasonable distance from your rental and pick up public transportation to Nice (bus or bus/train combo) if you wanted some big-city activity and didn't care to drive and deal with parking issues.

Still farther west, I didn't hear English in the town of Hyeres, but it's very near the coast and sort of a jumping-off point for the Isle of Porquerolles, so there are a lot of people passing though. I'd guess most of them are French. But you might find something inland from Hyeres.

But do some reading on Languedoc-Roussillon, where I think you'll have more options that fit your preferences, and I suspect at a lower price point. See if you can find a copy of the DK Eyewitness Guide; it will have a little write-up on a lot of the smaller towns, and I've found it good about listing market days, though those should always be verified online. Perhaps a village in the Pyrenees, but not at altitude so you can reasonably count on warm weather? The Yellow Train from the (hyper-touristy) town of Villefranche-de-Conflent to Latour de Carol is a very scenic ride, but it draws tourists, so you'd want to pick a base not near one of the train stations.

I've spent a good bit of time on the other (western) side of France and enjoyed the picturesque towns, but the weather tends to be a bit more unsettled there.

Posted by
8510 posts

This suggestion is coming from left field, but have you thought about renting a houseboat on the Canal du Midi. You'll see small towns, meet others from all over Europe traveling the canal, and the towpaths are usually bike friendly. I wouldn't suggest the more northern canals in June, though.

Posted by
665 posts

JHK and Susan, this is why we finally chose Aix-en-Provence for our month in France next fall. After months of agonizing (and I still agonize), a town or small city with lively cafes, markets, squares, museums, gardens, Cezanne's studio sounds more experiential to me. A "small Paris" sounds perfect!

My neighbor spent six weeks in St. Remy (with a car) and loved it. Loved the quiet, the small town, the area hikes -- had a house with a pool within walking distance from the old town.

James A, I haven't been yet, but check out this PDF: https://www.aixenprovencetourism.com/wp-content/ressources/docs/V-plan-guide-uk.pdf

Posted by
117 posts

Check out Gites de France.
They are a French Organization that has rented houses, villas, farm cottages etc for a long time in small towns all over France.
We stayed in a 3 bedroom, 3 bath farm house outside Beaumes de Venise in 2004. We had a pool, very well equipped bathroom and gourmet kitchen. We could walk to town. It was situated near small vineyards and olive groves. In town their was an olive mill and a couple bakeries, small grocery stores and a few restaurants. Short drive to Avignon, Pont du Gard, Orange and Isle sur La Sorge. Truly a relaxing vacation

Posted by
8411 posts

CaliMom, yes, it all depends on what you’re looking for. Aix-en-Provence sounds wonderful, and i’m sure you’ll have a great time there.

Posted by
8510 posts

Aix is a favorite, even with Provence locals. It's also a college town. Fun place to go and with quality shops. Daily market, not once or twice a week, Calimom. Not a small village for James A. but if he found a house with a pool, I bet his daughters would really enjoy Aix. University will still be in session in June. 20 minutes to Marseille, 30 to Cassis. You can slow down even in a town. It doesn't have to be a village or countryside.