Fair weather and fine times for Francophiles
When you start begin to plan a visit to France, what comes to mind first? Paris, of course. The City of Light is practically synonymous with France and is a must-see destination for globetrotters. However, Paris is only one of many French destinations – the country draws more than 80 million visitors annually – making France the top tourist destination in the world. Deciding on the best time to visit France depends on where you intend to go.
Paris, Loire Valley and Burgundy
Like the cherry blossoms along the Seine, Paris blooms in the spring. As the temperatures begin to rise into the mid-50s in late March and into the low 70s in June, Parisians flock to outdoor cafes and open-air markets. By July and August, temperatures hit a pleasant high 70s. This near-perfect weather brings vacationers in droves, which is why many Parisians choose to take their own vacations away from the city at this time.
Paris may be the beating heart of central France, but it’s hardly the only visit-worthy destination in the region. The Loire Valley offers a string of picturesque villages and historic chateaus, also best visited in the spring when the weather is pleasant and the tourist crowds low. Both Loire and its neighbor, Burgundy, attract wine connoisseurs to their many vineyards, beginning in late August through early October during the grape harvesting and fall wine festivals.
Brittany and Normandy
Situated along the English Channel, Brittany and Normandy make up France’s northwest region. With jagged cliffs, quaint fishing villages, the historic beaches of Normandy and a storied past, France’s northern coast is well worth the visit. To these regions, it’s not a question of when to go, it’s more a question of when can you go.
With its proximity to the sea, Brittany tends toward a shorter tourist season, which runs from late June through early September. In fact, many Brittany hotels are closed the rest of the year. June, July and August are the busiest months in Normandy, and for good reason. If you can deal with the crowds, these months are packed with activity, including concerts, renowned equestrian events and the anniversary of D-Day. For a quieter time, come to Normandy in spring or early fall.
Alsace-Lorraine and Champagne
Alsace-Lorraine is where you’ll find the country’s border with Germany in northeast France. This is perhaps why the region has a hint of a Germanic essence, while at its heart, Alsace-Lorraine is fervently French. There’s no wrong time to visit this four-season region. As France’s most arid area, visitors can expect mild springs, warm and dry summers, and pleasant weather to watch the autumn harvests. Winters tend to be a tad harsh in the area, however, the promise of snow means picturesque Christmas markets and plenty of skiing.
For lovers of the bubbly, Champagne country is a must. Come to the birthplace of France’s most effervescent beverage in the autumn to enjoy the region's sunny, warm weather and see the hand-harvested grapes come in. Harvest-time varies from year to year, depending on the ripeness of the grapes, so check with any wineries you intend to visit before booking your trip. Come to Champagne in the summer to escape the crowds in other high-tourism destinations and cool off on a wine-cellar tour at one of the region’s many wineries.
Toulouse and the Midi-Pyrénées
Since Toulouse is just a two-hour drive from Spain’s border, it’s not surprising that this hub of southwest France has a touch of Spanish flavor. Toulouse and the surrounding Midi-Pyrénées have warmer summers than most of the country, with July and August – the busiest season – reaching the 80s. Luckily, that warmth rolls in during April and lingers into early October, making the region’s summertime weather last almost six months.
As a mountainous region, the Midi-Pyrénées is also a popular destination in the winter months for skiers. While the surrounding mountain towns are cold and snowy, Toulouse stays cool and comfortable, reaching the mid-40s to high-50s from November through March.
The French Riviera
Cassis, Marseilles, Cannes, Nice and St. Tropez – France’s most Mediterranean region is home to some of the country’s warmest and busiest beach destinations. The coastline of southern France warms into the high 60s beginning in May and keeps heating up into the 80s during July and August, which is why these beach resorts become so crowded in the summer with both tourists and locals. Although the temperatures stay in the 70s when autumn comes, the crowds start to disperse mid-September, making fall and spring the best times to visit the region.
For those who want to enjoy the warmth of southern France without the throngs of people you’ll find along the coastline, plan to spend your summer vacation in Provence. Dotted with fields of thyme and lavender, Provence is picturesque in the spring and early summer, but be prepared for hot days as July and August temperatures average in the mid- to high-80s. If you’re planning to visit France in winter, cross a stop in Provence off the list as many tourist services are closed from November to February/March.