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Suggestions for smaller towns in France

Hi all! I will be returning to France for Easter time and it will be my partner's first time. I've been twice before but not since 2001. We will stay 5 nights in Paris and 3 nights where? Since it's April, I'd love it to be not too cold or wet so I was thinking of heading south but where exactly? I've been already to some great parts: Dijon and Burgundy area, Loire Valley, Normandy, Arles/Avignon/Montpellier. I'd like to visit a new place but can't seem to settle on exactly where! I'd like something smaller in contrast to Paris. We will be traveling by train (no rental car). I'm thinking of Aix since I LOVED Arles and the food and have spent tons of time in Italy and love all of the Roman history down there. I'm worried though that Aix is too developed and not as cute/quaint as Dijon or Arles. I want us to experience the real French in a beautiful town with great food. Originally I was thinking of visiting Lyons but think it's too big and not enough of a contrast to Paris. How about Nimes as a 3 night stay? We would be there over Easter weekend. We don't need tons to do. We would be happy just walking, eating and watching the local scene. Or Orange?

Please throw out any ideas...I liked the idea of Brittany since my blood is from there but think it will be too cold in April. Or, perhaps, we should return to Dijon since it was my first summer ever in Europe and I remember loving it. Don't know how warm though in early April...

Thank you my RS friends! I so appreciate it!

Posted by
7808 posts

Nimes is a nice town that would work it is close to the Pont du Gard and has other Roman ruins there in the town.

Posted by
847 posts

I was just in both Nimes and Dijon this past summer. Nimes was quite disappointing to me, I expected to like it as much as I do Arles and other towns in that region but other than the Roman ruins (which are fabulous) the town was just ho-hum. Arles arena is not as impressive as Nimes, but the rest of the town was way more interesting.

Dijon on the other hand really exceeded my expectations. Absolutely loved it. If you have been in almost 20 years I'd go back there.

Posted by
11294 posts

Just to show how everyone will have different experiences, my impressions were the opposite of Isabel's.

I liked Arles, but really loved Nimes. The arena in Nimes had a great and very educational audio guide, as well as being almost totally intact, and I really liked the vibe of the town too. Arles was nice too, but more touristed. Dijon I found mostly a snooze; even with a day trip to Beaune, I felt two nights there was too long. (I know many like it a lot; sorry I didn't "feel the love" for it, but I didn't).

So, as always, you won't know how you feel about these places until you visit yourself.

Posted by
954 posts

Hi Linda,

I went on a similar search last fall for a small town. We have settled in Aix for a month; we are looking for markets, squares, bakeries, vibrant cafe life, architecture, museums and churches and a pedestrian town. A tall order! I have been told it’s a city but, to me, the old town and Mazarin District look like what we are looking for... I will report back after our trip but here is one of a couple research threads that I started:

https://community.ricksteves.com/travel-forum/france/month-long-home-base

Posted by
292 posts

Alsace is charming around Easter, with lots of decorations and the occasional Easter market. Colmar could be an option; here's a site they have dedicated to some of their spring celebrations. The weather would potentially be unpredictable; I've had anything from sunny warm days to a little bit of snowfall around then.

Posted by
234 posts

I don’t think Aix feels more developed than Arles. To me the old centre in both towns felt similar in size. Walkable but not teeny tiny. Aix is absolutely lovely with gorgeous streets, squares, and fountains.

Posted by
873 posts

On this site many times I have mentioned researching the THE MOST BEAUTIFUL VILLAGES OF FRANCE. My husband and I love France and most of our trips there have been flying into Paris, renting our car and driving to the area we will be visiting. We have Paris friends that suggested if we were going to be driving that we might as well be driving through these delightful small villages that were on the way to our destination. Now we never take a drive in France without this guide! We have happened on the most wonderful coffee shops, sidewalk cafes, bakery’s, etc in these places that we would never have known existed except for our friends. You can go to their website and there is a map of France with these towns shown. We spent an afternoon walking through Gerberoy on our way to Giverney and felt like we were walking through a postcard picture. We stopped and had a pastry on a sidewalk cafe in Beuvron-en-Auge and relaxed as we watched the townspeople walk by. It’s added a wonderful dimension to our travels in France. Try looking the map of these villages up in the area you will be staying and take some afternoons to explore them. One rainy Sunday afternoon in Provence 2 years ago we drove to see Roussillon, Menerbes and Loumarin......and consider it one of our best memories there. Happy traveling!

Posted by
1360 posts

Want to second Amy's recommendation above regarding Colmar. We were there 2 months ago and really enjoyed it. There are also several delightful towns nearby on the Route du Vin. You can take the high speed train from either CDG or Gare de Est (cheaper) and be there in 2.5-3 hours via Strasbourg.

Posted by
8035 posts

These villages are everywhere -- in my experience you are better off in one that is not a 'a beautiful village' officially as they tend to be very touristy and filled with bus tours. I remember how unsatisfying Collonges la Rouge was; all tourist tat. We couldn't even find a bakery. We have visited several lovely spots near Paris -- Crecy la Chapelle, Senlis, Moret sur Loing among others which we have done as day trips.
https://janettravels.wordpress.com/category/day-trips-from-paris/
We have also sought them out as stop overs and particularly enjoyed Semur en Auxois and in fact returned for a week's stay later. We also really enjoyed Uzerches as a last stop on our way to meet friends in the Dordogne. Each of those was visually stunning and a great way to spend an afternoon and evening on the road. We had a hotel in Uzerches where we dined on a terrace overlooking the river. It is worth doing a little research when road tripping to identify these treasures and arrange ahead for a nice hotel. I got the Uzerches rec from a regular on another travel site and would probably not have stumbled on it myself; we really enjoyed strolling along the river and ran into interesting locals to chat with -- a totally great stop.

Posted by
110 posts

Nobody mentioned Avignon! I have stayed in Aix-en-Provence, one time for 9 days, we took day trips to Marseilles and Arles, but not Avignon. Aix has markets, food, flowers, beautiful walks. I am planning a trip to include 5 nights in Avignon to accommodate day driving trips.

Posted by
2916 posts

Someone mentioned Uzes, which I think is a great suggestion. It's smaller than most of the others that are mentioned, but there's plenty to do. Someone mentioned using the Plus Beaux Villages book, which would be a great idea, except that villages must have 2,000 or more inhabitants to qualify, and that seems to be smaller than what the OP is looking for. But I would still look into it: https://www.les-plus-beaux-villages-de-france.org/fr/. I've visited about half of them, and spent anywhere from a night to a week in a dozen or so, and only ran across one that I thought was disappointing.

Posted by
88 posts

Thank you so much everybody! I so appreciate it! I'm going to look more into Uzes. Colmar looks amazing but I'm afraid it'll be too cold/damp in early April. I've been to Avignon and didn't love it, much preferred Arles. I don't love to be surrounded by American tourists (no offense!) so Uzes may be perfect! It's Easter weekend so I'm not sure if everything shuts down in small villages, like in Italy...: )

Posted by
24 posts

My daughter and I just spent two nights in Amboise (Loire Valley) and it was lovely. Leonardo da Vinci lived his final years there. We toured his house, the castle of Amboise, the town, and Chambord. With less jet lag (this was our first stop after arriving in France from LAX) and more time we would have toured Chenonceau and Chaumont sur Loire as well. The Loire Valley is full of forests and villages. We drove around and were enchanted.

Posted by
2943 posts

Why not fly to Nice (check Skyscanner for cheap flights). You can take a train to Monaco on day two.