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Slow Travel Google Map: France, Countryside

Author: DavidX
Notes: November 2006. Exploring the French Countryside. The places marked are all situated in rural areas where we have enjoyed part camping, part hotel holidays. Area marks are placed rather at random [as views] to provide general information in the 'read more' section. See my Exploring the French Countryside travel notes.

Areas of Natural Beauty

Doubs - Département

There's no significance in the siting of this marker, except that it comes close above those of specific sights in the Department of Doubs. You may have deduced from the number of markers that this is one of my very favourite areas.

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Castles

Chateau Gaillard

Richard Couer de Lion's pride and joy.

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Large Towns

Rouen

Even on a rural break, there are some large towns that are not to be missed.

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Strasbourg

OK - so it's a big city and this is called Rural France - but you simply shouldn't stay in Alsace and not go there.

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Gardens

Monet's Garden - Giverny

Don't do what we did - go when the pool is being cleaned! - even though it's cheaper. In general Giverny is as good as you'd expect it to be.

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Parks

Forêt de la Joue

I put a 'park' marker because I'm sure this would be classed as a 'Forest Park' in many countries. Roughly where the marker is placed are some of the finest fir trees in all France. One is renowned as the 'Sapin Président de la Joux' and is about 45 metres high.

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Parc National des Cevennes

This mountain area is woodier than most in France and its proximity to some fine Causses territory means two for the price of one - or thereabouts.

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Parc Naturel Régional Chartreuse

Keep an eye on the 'read more' website - the English version is still under construction but I'm sure it will be THE place to look. Meanwhile, if you can't manage the French, just use a search engine.

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Parc Naturel Régional de Queyras

Simply great. Fabulous mountain scenery, villages, architecture, sundials, marmots and its own microclimate.

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Sights

Alpes d'Haute Provence

This marker is a peg for the general website of the region if you 'read more.'

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Alsace

I doubt we could really do justice to Alsace. For one thing we didn't stay that long as we wanted to get down to Doubs for the bulk of our holiday and the latter was one of our very favourite areas.
Another important reason is that I can't for the life of me work out where some of the charming castle ruins that we saw can have been. I guess we chose them from a map we no longer have! Lastly the heat some days was overpowering.
In general it was a region of great charm but a certain repetition on the reliance of villages upon geraniums, of which we saw many, and storks, which were out of season.
Colmar is a fairly small town and immensely picturesque. I can't imagine any sane person coming to this region and not going to see the magical city of Strasbourg - but it's difficult to classify that as coming within rural France.

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Cantal

Click 'read more' for a general guide to Cantal.

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Cascades d'Hérisson

A series of picturesque waterfalls through steeply sloping woodland. [7 in 5 km]

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Cirque de Baume + (SV)

The + indicates the two villages of Baume-les-Dames and Baume-les-Messieurs, the latter of which is worth seeing for its abbey.
However the Cirque de Baume is the outstanding sight. The drop from what seemed like genuinely horseshoe shaped cliffs is well on the stupendous side.
Near [too near to make sense of a separate marker] is the Cirque de Ladoye. This shouldn't be missed but is not in the same league as the Cirque de Baume.

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Cirque de Navacelles

Stupendous cirque [horseshoe] - possible to reach the bottom by road. There's not much reading if you click but it's worth it for the photos.

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Eastern Pyrenees

You can obtain information from here about places I've never been in the area as well as places I do know.

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Le Sidobre

An amazing area where you can find rocks of granite eroded to remarkable shapes. I have selected an English language site for 'read more' but you will get more photos on some of the French only sites that come up in a search engine.

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Mont d'Or

An easily accessed summit where you are likely to cross more than once between France and Switzerland. Great views.

Monts d'Espinousse

Can I really be the only one who finds these mountains worth a mention? Almost the only websites I find seem to originate with me. The one I have used is the same as that for Fraisse [qv]. The mountains include the Mont Carroux near Douch [qv] and the Gorges d'Héric, that sadly I've not seen.

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Monts de Lacaune

Perhaps these mountains are less grand than those of Épinousse and less interesting than le Sidobre but they are very picturesque, they have excellent archaeology and the cheese is great.

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Pont de Brotonne

One of the Seine's great bridges.

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Pont de Normandie

A wonderful bridge only just out of Honfleur.

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Sixt Fer-a-Cheval (SV)

Fer-a-Cheval is a horseshoe and this is one formed by mountains and said to be at its very best when the snow is melting above to give numerous cascades.
I've never seen it like that but I'm not grumbling. Unless you want to go to Chamonix frequently [in which case you'd want to be nearer - there's no short cut!] it's an ideal place to escape the crowds a bit, though it's very poplar itself these days.
Walking and horse riding of all standards.

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Source de la Loue

In this area of suberbly beautiful rivers, if Michelin's Guide Verte gives a place three stars, you are talking of real beauty. This is not a region for superlatives such as highest, longest, deepest; the beauty of the Loue's source is simply that - beauty. Pools are formed by springs on different limestone shelves on a cliff, their overflows unite and there is a spectacle - the Loue is born.
Easily reached from Ouhans via the D443.

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Source du Doubs

Near the Swiss border, I don't find the source of the major river that gives its name to a departement as splendid as those of its tributaries [Loue and Lisons] but it's pretty good and it would be a pity to miss it.

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Source du Lison

Possibly a trace less grandiose than the source of the Loue [qv] but very scenic and with an air of mystery lacking from the other source, engendered by the thickness of the woodland.

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Towns

Albi

Worth going if only for the smashing, shaded, vegetarian restaurant, something rare in France.
I can't claim to like the ornate [inside] cathedral but the Toulouse-Lautrec museum is really great.

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Annot

The Train des Pignes is a private railway running from Digne to Nice. Annot is one of the most fascinating stops. The old part of the town is stunning and there is a short and fairly easy but most impressive walk called the Grés d'Annot - grés being huge sandstone boulders.

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Bayeux

Quite apart from the must-see tapestry, this is a delightful town. I wish I knew how to advise you to see it at its least crowded.

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Briançon

Briançon shouts of two thing, the Tour de France and the construction genius of Vauban. Except at a particular time of year, Vauban shouts loudest, even though he's been dead 300 years.
If you've not been, do look at some of the photos on the 'read more' site.

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Carcasonne

The old city usually produces either raves or rants. I feel that its Disneyesque pinnacles preclude raving but there's sufficient interest to avoid any rants from me.
Obviously this is the distinctive part of the place but the 'new' bastide city is attractive and perhaps a bit underrated.

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Chamonix

Apparently it's more properly known as Chamonix - Mont-Blanc [though by whom I can't imagine.] There can be no doubt about the top quality of its position but in view of its size and bustle I prefer to stay fairly near, rather than actually in, Chamonix.

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Dinan

Almost too good to be real but very much the image of Brittany.

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Honfleur

An early Mecca for British tourists. It won't take you long to see why.

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Ornans

A small but very pleasing town on the Loue wher you get a magical view from the bridge of the old house backing onto the river.
The artist, Courbet, was born here and there is a museum to him in his birth house.

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Quimper

Very pleasant old town with a wonderful cathedral.

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Roscoff

Small enough and with few enough ferries to convey an impression of getting directly into a rural area.

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Saint-Pons-de-Thomières

A litle known gem. It's well enough known in its own locality and packed with traffic and people on market days. There's an attractive cathedral.
It's a great centre, providing for easy exploration of the Monts d'Épinousse, the Monts de Lacaune and the Sidobre.

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Transportation

Le Petit Train Jaune

This fascinating train runs on SNCF line, the highest in France from Villeneuve-les-Conflents, near Vernet-les-Bains [qv] to the big station [in a tiny village] of La Tour de Carol, near the Spain and Andorra border.
If you have any interest in unusual and picturesque rail lines, click on 'read more.'

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Villages

Albepierre[- Bredons]

I don't know about the '- Bredons' bit. We camped in the tiny village of Albepierre, near Murat - a small but delightful site with all the hot water you could want. The mayor came to meet us!
If you want somewhere really quiet in Cantal, there are several small inns here as well as the camp site - but you do need a car if you want to use it as a base for exploring the area.

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Arc-et-Senans

It's surprising how interesting salt can be. It's certainly the Royal Salt Works that create the interest here, where a Ville Ideale [model town] was intended but never completed. It's a UNESCO World Heritage site.

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Breitenbach

Beautiful and typical Alsace village with geraniums wherever there was room for them. The baker's shop changed languages between French and German according to what customer was being served.
We stayed at a campsite beside a paragliding place next to a farm with totally delicious kirch.
It was completely peaceful apart from the lamentations of a pony too small to reach the required part of a mare in season.

Ceillac

Ceillac is a small village which has largely kept separate from the nearby ski resort. There are numerous highly impressive sundials. No doubt the residents gain by replacing wooden roofs with corrugated iron sheets but it does spoil the impact a bit for visitors. Even so it's a most attractive village and an ideal centre for marvellous mountain walks.

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Douch

Thank Heaven for blog sites - the 'read more' section almost baffled me!
Douch is a tiny village but it provides an easy ascent to a remarkably scenic and peaceful peak at Mont Carroux. If you want to enjoy a true mountain top view for very limited effort, you will like this.

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Fillols

This is too small a place to find a helpful website but it makes a wonderful simple walk from Vernet-les-Bains [qv]going one way over the old route by a footpath pass.
There's a lovely Romanesque church [free - key from the pub.]

Fraisse-sur-Agout [camping]

A lovely little village, higher and aerier than nearby Saint Pons. There's a good restaurant but the main reason for its inclusion here is a superb camp site.
Their website is only in French or Dutch, sadly but perfect English is spoken - you can at least get the address from the 'read more' site, if you are interested.

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Guilvinec

A 'real' seaside place. Not particularly pretty - a bit messy in fact but very busy and atmospheric.

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Huelgoat

I've changed this from village to town and back as I've visited different websites but, whichever it really is, it's the place that grabbed us most away from the Brittany coast, along with the splendid cathedral city of Quimper.
The walk to Le Camp d'Artus via an amazing jumble of massive boulders was really great.

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Orlu

A tiny village, beautifully located at the end of a valley off the Ax-les Thermes road with one of the only campsites not immediately adjoining the Foix - Andorra road.
Terrific for walks, views and butterflies! Sorry I could only find a website in French for the Dent [tooth] d'Orlu mountain, but as that's a prominent view all along the village road, I thought it earned its place.

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Rennes-sur-Loue (SV)

Small sleepy village on the banks of the Loue. There is a private chateau and the village is rather like a step back in time.
There's a delightful site, right alongside the Loue. My daughter and I enjoyed some swims in the river. There was plenty of room in each emplacement. The toilet blocks with their hot showers were more than adequate and there were washing and drying facilities for clothes.
There was a possibility of B&B in the house at a very reasonable price. The owners also serve meals in a small dining room. Vegetables, whether cooked or in salads, are mostly home grown.
Camping a la Ferme, Rennes-sur-Loire [phone 03 81 63 78 29]

Saint Pierre d'Entremont

Actually two villages with the same name in different departments joined together. The municipal camp site is a good base for exploring the area.
To get information in English from the website shown, you will have to download a pdf file because the English section is under construction.

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Salers

I often find much heralded, historic, hilltop villages a bit disappointing when they fail to live up to the hype.
There was no disappointment here.

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Vernet-les-Bains (SV)

A place where the apparent hype of the website actually paints a far more accurate picture than the guidebooks I have read, which are guilty of sad underrating.
The views, the trees, the museum and the walks are all tops. Overall no more pleasing place is marked on this map.

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