When considering where to go and what to do in France your choices add up to an embarrassment of riches. While France is one of the safer countries it’s important when planning a trip as a solo lady traveler or with a group of women to keep safely and security top of mind. Personally I’ve walked through Paris completely alone late at night and have not been at all worried, but as a solo female traveler it is always a bit safer to travel in a group. After deciding whether you’ll go solo or in a group, then you have the difficult decision of deciding where in this great country to land. I have compiled, in no particular order, what I believe to be 12 of the best trips for women traveling together (or solo) to France.
When one thinks of Normandy, particularly as a Brit or an American, D-day probably comes instantly to mind. However, Normandy is so much more than the Normandy Invasion and Omaha Beach. But that piece of history is just the tip of the iceberg.
Normandy produces some of the most delicious French food products; creamy Pont L’Eveque cheese comes to mind first, followed closely by cidre (alcoholic apple cider) and Calvados (an apple brandy). Then there is the lesser known pommeau, which is basically a combination of Calvados and apple juice which is incredibly delicious and refreshing.
One can’t get through a sentence about Normandy without mentioning one of the most visited places in France, Mont St. Michel, the stunning abbey on a hill set on an island in the English Channel. But have you heard of Etretat? This rocky geological formation will take your breath away as well as the outstanding gardens which can be visited nearby. A group of women traveling together are heading to Normandy in September of 2021 assuming France has opened and you’ve been vaccinated. My company, Girls’ Guide to Paris, offers risk-free booking on all trips, so if things are not where they need to be Covid-wise you’ll be safe….we’ll postpone and you can always go in 2022. But I’m keeping my fingers crossed!
2. Provence & the Riviera
These illustrious areas of France are well known the world over, however a girl’s trip must include some shopping and something a bit out of the ordinary… n’est-ce pas? Our excursion to this part of the Hexagon includes not only the tried and true but in addition we’ll escort you on our women-only tour to the seaside town of Marseille to check out its new avant-garde Mucem, now one of the top 50 most visited museums in the world which has helped revitalize the entire city.
We’ll wander down the streets of the Noailles area which has been spiffied up and is now terribly posh with darling shops and cafés. Of course we’ll have some bouillabaisse to round out the experience. Then we’ll venture over to Cassis. Beyond being a black current liqueur it is also what many believe to be the most picture-perfect seaside town on the entire riviera. Everyone knows of Cannes, Nice & St. Tropez, but Cassis is infinitely more charming than all of those.
Join us this August for a much needed escape! My latest intel says that France will be mostly vaccinated and thus open again for tourism by mid-July.
3. Bordeaux & Beyond!
I have a real soft spot for Bordeaux. After several visits to the region and subsequently falling head over heals in love with this sunny part of France, we bought a home on the Dordogne river in the Gironde region over a decade ago. We are just 15 minutes east of the legendary and idyllic medieval village of St. Emilion, the ancient town which has one of only two underground churches in France. At the end of the summer we have a writing retreat with three well known lady writers, who specialize in fiction, travel writing and non-fiction. The exciting part is that we will be staying at a Chateau for extra inspiration during the week. I believe there’s just one space left.
Curiously Corsica isn’t on the top of everyone’s list but let me tell you why it should be. The birthplace of Napoleon, it’s both wild and rugged yet home to some of the most posh resorts on the Med. It’s an island which belongs to France but has an Italian soul – this means for women traveling together you’ll find outstanding French and Italian food as well as gorgeous unctuous wines and beautiful beaches. Like many islands it has an independent character and culture all to its own.
One of the most amazing things about this stunning island lying in the Mediterranean Sea is the way it smells. When you step off the plane or your ferry you’ll smell a delightful herbal concoction, something you can’t quite pinpoint. You’ll soon discover that it’s the maquis, a mix of herbs that grow wild all over the island. This is what Mother Earth Magazine said about this odiferous place. “Imagine standing on a fragrant hillside surrounded by eucalyptus, juniper, laurel, rosemary, highly scented shrubs of the rock rose family, heather, myrtle, sage, mint, thyme and lavender. Add to that more than a dozen aromatic flowers that grow only in Corsica and you’ll get an idea of the heady, clean aroma that infuses the island’s air. More than 2,500 species of wildflowers grow in Corsica, and about 250 of these are native to the island.” That alone is reason to go.
The Aveyron in the middle of France is not known to the masses; the lucky few have kept it a secret destination for their pleasure only. Some hearty English have discovered it and the French adore it, but why? I believe it is because it’s truly unspoiled. Rolling hills, rivers and valleys carpet the region as do ancient medieval towns. Part of the pilgrimage route to Compostelle comes through these parts and the food is rich and hearty, filling enough to feed a hard-working farmer. Aligot, a mixture of whipped potatoes and cheese, is something that dreams are made of.
The area boasts many a plus beaux village as well as castle ruins, 1000-year old bridges, tales of Cathars, and prestigious Chateaux. But its not all history, on our tour of the region we’ll visit one of the top chefs in France and one of the oldest and most important still-living artists in the country. I’ve not yet met one person whom I introduced to this area who didn’t fall completely in love.
6. The Loire
Visiting the most beautiful Loire Chateaux is a chance to bring out your inner princess. As we romp from chateau to castle we always stop and smell the flowers. One of the most stunning gardens in all of Europe lies in the Loire and some of the best whites and red in all of France are made here. We take tasting to another level as we set out on a classic flat bottomed boat with the only wine-maker/captain on the Loire River. On this excursion we stay in 3 exemplary hotels, one which is part of a nearly 1000 year old abbey, the next which is a Chateau and the third which stares down the largest Chateau of all. If there ever was a region built for women to explore, the Loire surely would win the contest.
7. Paris & Versailles
Of all the women one thinks of when you think of France, Marie Antoinette remains at the top of the list. Brought over to marry the prince at the tender age of 14….I’d venture to guess that most of you know the rest of the story. But the interesting part is always in the details, n’est-ce pas?
Thanks to our in-house historian who specializes in the women of France, you’ll learn just about everything there is to know about Miss Marie. Bringing history alive by traveling where she ate, slept, drank and partied is what we aim to do on our lavish living like a queen extravaganza this fall in both Paris & Versailles.
It’s one thing to go to Paris and Versailles and see the sights, it’s a wholly different thing to go with an expert who can provide a framework in which to see these two iconic places. I believe looking at a city through a particular lens – be that history, art, food, architecture or anything else that interests you – helps define the place in a way that it can more easily be absorbed. So we present Paris & Versailles via the life and times of Marie Antoinette.
Princess Carolyn summers here, Nostradamus was born here and Van Gogh stayed here. This small, perfect Provençal village is the ideal headquarters for your first or 10th tour of Provence.
Tiny shops abound with darling and delicious items, superb restaurants are around ever corner and there are even Roman ruins nearby. This overgrown village has it all for women traveling together to France. Our first ever trip headed here and it remains one of our most popular.
9. Finding Literary & Artistic France
So many of the great artists and writers inspired by France were men, no doubt. But what about Zelda Fitzgerald; would there have been a Great Gatsby without her? Baroness Béatrice de Rothschild was responsible for one of the greatest mansions on the Riviera, the Villa Euphrussi. The Museum of the Romantic in Paris was critical to George Sand, the writer who had to assume a male nom de plume. Calling all book-club groups and fans of literature, this special trip to Paris, Provence and the Rivera will help us all discover why France itself acted as a muse for both the great artists and writers of the day.
Many women traveling together have shopping the Christmas Markets in Europe on their bucket list. If you want to walk straight into a Christmas fairytale then come shop the markets in Alsace in December. It’s not just the shopping that attracts one to this region. The wines from Alsace are legendary and by and large they aren’t sweet, contrary to popular opinion. There is also an imposing castle to visit and picture perfect villages – many rating as the most beautiful in France (les plus beaux village de France). Especially during the holidays this part of France is a literal sugar-plum fairy dream come true.
11. Chateau de Chantilly
There’s a chateau just outside of Paris where whipped cream was invented, which has exceptional gardens designed by Le Notre and where the most prestigious horse races in France are held. Do you know it? Many do not, yet it hides in plain sight. Our in-house Garden Historian has planned this garden lovers fantasy tour for 2022 during June at the very height of the best blooms of the season. It’s also during the Prix de Diane horse race when ladies sport the most outlandish and lavish summer hats. On this garden adventure you’ll visit Claude Monet’s Giverny, the best rose garden in Paris, a private petite Chateau where Marie Antoinette used to attend illicit parties, plus you’ll explore secret gardens that I promise you’ve never heard of but which will make your jaw drop in awe.
12. Brittany Beaches
Brittany is so many things. It’s mysterious (think of the ancient stones of Carnac). It’s scrumptious (think of Kouign Aman pastries, briny oysters and buckwheat crêpes). It’s bewitching (think of the crashing sea and the charming petite Breton islands). It’s fascinating (think of Breton culture and how its unique in all of France). It’s architecturally interesting (think of half-timbered buildings, Roman cloisters and imposing forts, lighthouses and pink granite chateaux). And it’s salty – consider the salt farms of Guérande. If that’s not enough, buying the quintessential Breton striped shirt will put a smile on almost every girl’s face. Brittany must be visited in summer, and so we’re heading there in summer of 2022.
NOTE: Mention this article when you inquire to [email protected] and receive a $200 USD credit towards any trip you choose to France!
Author Doni Belau is founder of GirlsGuidetoParis.com and author of Paris Cocktails. She has an apartment in Paris as a place on the river outside of Bordeaux in Southwestern France that she shares with her husband, her two grown children and their puppy, Hugo.