Insider's guide to France

Experience France from the inside

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Insider tips and hidden gems in France

With sublime food and wine, world-famous landmarks and landscapes that span from Mediterranean coastline to alpine ranges, it's no wonder that France is the most visited country in the world.

If you've ever considered taking a trip to France, it's likely that a tour of Paris would be high on your agenda. But beyond the unmissable museums, Grands Boulevards and the Eiffel Tower, there are many more interesting things to do in France.

We share some of the country's secret places and experiences in this insider's guide.

"Beautiful Paris to the fabulous countryside"

Kathleen , May 2014

Eiffel Tower private apartment – A hidden gem in plain sight

When Gustave Eiffel’s famous tower was erected in 1889, it wasn't just its design and the fortune it generated that created general envy; it was the private apartment he'd had installed at its summit.

Unlike the tower's rather industrial-like structure, Gustave Eiffel's apartment was furnished in a homely fashion with wooden cabinets, velvet settees and flocked wallpaper. He used the apartment not for extravagant parties, but to entertain important guests – one of whom was Thomas Edison.

While no-one has access to Gustave's private apartment, you can enjoy VIP access to the second level of the Eiffel Tower on our Wonderful France tour

Chateau de Versailles – The Musketeers

Did you know that The Musketeers were not just fictional characters?

The Chateau de Versailles (or Palace of Versailles) in Paris, was home to the Kings of France – and they needed protection. The Musketeers were employed in 1622 by Louis XIII as the king’s bodyguards. They fought on both foot and horseback, and were among the most prestigious military companies of the Ancien Régime.

Today, the Chateau de Versailles is one of the most beautiful examples of 18th century French art, and you can experience the Palace of Versailles tour on our Contrasts of Europe trip.

Loire Valley – A well-kept secret

With the fruits of major wine capitals Bordeaux, Burgundy and Champagne all vying for your palate, it’s no surprise that the Loire Valley is considered one of France's best-kept wine-growing secrets.

And despite producing the greatest variety of wines of any region in the country, the Loire Valley is still overlooked by many modern-day wine-consumers (and critics), because of its inability to produce dense, robust reds.

We think there's more to the Loire Valley than its wines, though; this hidden gem's lavish chateaux, grandiose castles and lush far-stretching landscapes are enough reason to visit. Why not explore the Loire Valley and judge its wines for yourself on our Treasures of France tour.

Le Mont Saint Michel – A monastery turned prison

The UNESCO World Heritage site of Mont St-Michel is one of the most breath-taking yet mysterious spots in Normandy.

The stunning 'abbaye du Mont Saint Michel', which sits on this cone-shaped islet, was commissioned by Bishop Aubert of Avranches as a devotional chapel, following his vision of St. Michel. It was built in 708 and was used for various religious purposes until the French Revolution, when it was converted into a prison to house opponents of the republican regime.

Today Mont St-Michel is home to a monastic community, ensuring the continuation of a spiritual presence. It was also featured in the 1982 version of the film The Scarlet Pimpernel, with cast Anthony Andrews and Jane Seymour.

Witness the unusual elegance of Mont Saint Michel on our Highlights of France tour

Enjoy the insider experience on our France tours

  • Wake up to tranquil river views at the imposing Mercure Albi Bastides. This 18th-century former flour mill is located on the banks of the River Tarn, and is within walking distance of the medieval town of Albi. You can enjoy a night's stay at this Authentic Accommodation on Secrets of France – a Hidden Journeys tour.

  • Hosted by the Meillan Pages family, you'll enjoy a four-course home-cooked lunch on their wine estate in Luberon, Provence – home to one of the best wine tours in France. They will show you how they produce their wine and, of course, you'll get to sample a glass or two for yourself. Experience the family's hospitality on Paris and Provence – an At Leisure tour.

  • Visiting Chenonceau, a fairytale château built across the River Cher, is a magical experience. Its setting, magnificent architecture and landscaped gardens make this one of the most dramatic spots in the Loire Valley. You can learn about its past while admiring the extensive art collection on Highlights of France – a CostSaver tour.

Travel Director Hidden Treasures: 

Photographers, historians, foodies, art-appreciators: our France Travel Directors are as diverse as its architecture and wines. But the one thing they all share in common is a love for their country. Here are some of their favourite Hidden Treasures, which you can experience on our France tours.

Try socca in Nice

"Socca is a local speciality from a town near Nice, which is made from chickpea flour; it's like a galette. No-one knows about it but I like to take my guests to a little place where it's made, and the man who serves it is very friendly."

Marie Dubois, Trafalgar Travel Director

D-day Beach bunker, Normandy

 "I love taking my guests to a bunker on D-day Beach that's hidden up a track. We walk inside and see the original gun, and usually meet other folks and share stories; it's amazingly moving."

Sarah Ryan Frost, Trafalgar Travel Director

Chenonceau Castle, Loire Valley

"The 16th century farm and vegetable garden in the grounds of Chenonceau Castle are real hidden gems."

Vanessa Bulland, Trafalgar Travel Director

"The Local Specialists were impressive, I didn't want to leave"

Sue, Aug 2015

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Discover your own Hidden Treasures on our tours of France.

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