France, a country of contrast with craggy coastline in the North, a surf scene in the West, alpine peaks in the East, Mediterranean serenity in the South and the vineyards in the centre.
France is a country of great uniqueness. Did you know, French Gastronomy was awarded UNESCO was awarded world heritage status in 2010? The food, among thousands of other things, is that good! Just one of the reasons you should visit.
Visit France as a family, a couple or as a solo adventurer. With weather comparable to the UK in the north and hotter in the south, spring time or early autumn is best time to see the real colours of France emerge.
If you are looking for a city break in the real France, the real culture and have real experiences, these top five underrated French cities are for you.
This unique city in the North East of France near to the Belgian Border is unfortunately overlooked. This laid back university town brings a flurry of art and bohemian lifestyle. A place you get hands on with art.
It is easy in Lille to hop between galleries. The most illustrious is Le Palais Des Beaux Arts, with its ever changing exhibits that form the formal epicentre of the city’s expanding and exciting art scene. You’ll find pieces here and around the city masterfully created by university students and artists. You can easily wander into artist’s café haunts that are alive with new ideas and leave feeling as if you are a part of it.
Straddling the Rhône River in Provence, you will find the postcard-esque and chilled medieval city of Avignon. Like many cities dotted around France, the history is the attraction, but with Avignon you will find that though an old city, it has a modern outlook.
Perfect for those who like to walk their holidays and soak up where they are. You could visit for the architecture alone! The old town is practically all pedestrianised and a bus takes you around the perimeter of the city, making it easy to hop off in any part. The view from the hilltop park of the fairytale backdrop will make you feel like you are stepping back in time.
Ambling through the city you will experience old meeting new. Quirky shops, independent restaurants, chilled cafes and shady squares will become your favourite places where you can ease into the city and stare at amazement at the hundreds of years of architecture. Or, you could take a load off at Place de l’Horloge with its square of cafes to enjoy un café whilst you watch the world go by.
If you have looked into this city before you’ll probably be asking, why would I want go to visit? Admittedly, it is not France’s prettiest city, probably the reason it is overlooked, but there are others on the list that will cater for pretty.
Saint-Nazaire, Bretagne is home to some of histories most important industry. For aviation fans, Airbus has one of their huge factories here, the shipyard has been building ocean liners here since the 19th Century, including the Queen Mary II, and one of the biggest parts of history here is the U-Boat base that was ordered to be built by the occupying Nazi forces during the Second World War. The sheer size of the concrete pens is staggering itself. Inside you can even release your inner sailor and explore an old French submarine. A word from experience when onboard, watch your head!
For those interested in history and industry, this truly industrial city is a top choice.
Situated in the Centre-Val de Loire region, the Loire River runs through the city and is where Joan of Arc defeated the English in 1429. Each year there is a reenactment of the English defeat, so if you are a history buff, a day filled with people dressed as medieval soldiers and peasants running around and sword fighting each other is good fun!
If that isn’t your thing, the best part of Orléans is its affinity with nature. Near to the university you will find the beautiful Parc Floral de la Source. A huge part natural, part pruned garden which will make you forget you are anywhere near a city. You could also try your hand at some cycling through the Loire region or just a small walk from the centre you will find Île Charlemagne where you can swim in the lake, hire a kayak or just relax on the beach.
A beautiful place for those who want to revel in medieval architecture and enjoy nature at the same time.
France is a country of limitless boundaries for adventure. I have only listed the top five underrated cities of France but this is just the start . From the countryside communes to the cities, there is a certain je ne sai quoi that will ignite a love for France for those who have not visited or pleasantly surprise die-hard Francophiles with new experiences.
Gatwick airport opens new £250m train station
A new look Gatwick Airport station has opened promising to offer passengers travelling between Brighton and London faster and more reliable journeys.
A bigger £250m rail station with a new second concourse and airport entrance is now available, doubling the space for the millions of passengers that use the station each year.
The first passengers to use the new concourse and airport entrance arrived on the 05.48 Thameslink Bedford to Brighton service on platform 7.
Eight new escalators and five new lifts will provide a step change for accessibility at the airport’s South Terminal. The new lifts and escalators, along with four new stairways and widened platforms, will help passengers move between the train station and the airport more quickly and easily.
Easier journeys between train and plane will benefit passengers across the wider network, helping keep trains running on time by removing the congestion on platforms that delay trains.
“This project is not just for those making their way to the airport, the work benefits passengers right across the route by giving them quicker journeys and a more reliable timetable”, says Lucy McAuliffe, Network Rail Sussex route director.
Transport Secretary, Mark Harper, said: “With millions of people travelling into Gatwick Airport by train each year, this station is a major public transport hub and has been upgraded thanks to Government funding, improving the train-to-plane journey and delivering more reliable services for passengers.
“Today’s opening demonstrates this Government’s commitment to funding improvements to our rail network, transforming a vital station into an impressive gateway to the UK and helping more British and international passengers to travel by train.”
The new concourse will now act as the new entrance for people accessing the airport terminal, while the existing concourse will be for people exiting. The existing station concourse, station footbridges and the South Terminal linkspan have been refurbished and reconfigured to provide a seamless one-way system to the airport from the train station.
Travelers are spending more on ‘affordable luxury’, study says
A new research from World Travel Market London 2023, has revealed that “affordable luxury” is becoming more popular – despite the squeeze on many holidaymakers’ budgets.
The exclusive WTM Global Travel Report – compiled in association with researchers at Oxford Economics – has revealed that consumers generally remain determined to go on holiday and plenty are still prioritising upmarket options.
The report, unveiled on 6 November during the travel and tourism event taking place in London, says “affordable luxury” is becoming more popular “amid promising sentiment overall”.
It explains that this growth area in travel aligns with a broader trend for consumers to seek out new and unique experiences on holiday.
“After the pandemic and restrictions on travel, many have wanted to upgrade their experience…as consumers proactively catch up on missed tourism experiences,” says the report.
The report notes: “Consumers unaffected by economic downturns are likely to continue opting for luxury destinations.
The report cites United States consumer data from MMGY which suggests that the cost of living is having more of an effect on households with annual incomes under $50,000.
However, those earning more indicated a “high likelihood” of future travel.
Nonetheless, the report warns that some of the post-pandemic drivers of travel demand may have “gone into reverse in recent months”, posing a risk to continued expansion.
It points to persistently high costs and the recovery of sterling and the euro, which is making the purchasing power of the US dollar weaker in Europe.
The price of jet fuel is significantly higher than at the start of the year, putting pressure on air fares.
Consumers’ personal disposable income is also under pressure as their own transport and other living costs rise.
Despite these headwinds, the report notes: “Higher costs have not yet been a significant deterrent to growth and travellers appear willing to pay higher prices.”
“We are witnessing a remarkable resilience as people are still prioritising travel and many are seeking ‘affordable luxury’, such as higher rated accommodation or premium economy and business cabins instead of economy”, says Juliette Losardo, Exhibition Director at WTM London.
Meanwhile, the travel industry continues to face supply side problems, amid geopolitical events such as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine – and staff shortages still affect many markets because large numbers of workers switched to other sectors during the pandemic.
London is the most searched-for destination for flights in 2023
Travel subscription platform eDreams, one of Europe’s largest e-commerce businesses, launched its ‘Year in Travel’ report today. The study, which analyses searches and booking data from its customers in all key European markets and the USA, reveals the evolution of travel, including top destinations, booking habits and growth destinations.
London came third as the most popular booked destination globally, behind Paris in 1st place and Barcelona in 2nd. However, the British capital pipped Paris to the post as the most popular destination for flight searches from all markets globally during 2023 – followed by Paris, New York City, Bangkok and Barcelona.
London was the 2nd most popular booked destination for Germans, the 3rd most popular booked destination for Portuguese and 6th on the list for departures from Spain. For in-coming arrival by air to the UK during 2023, the largest percentage were from Spain (19%), followed by Germany (12%) and Italy (11%). French arrivals made up 10%.
British travellers instead had their sights on Dublin as the most popular booked destination and all top destinations were short-haul, reflecting the overall picture of the distance Brits travelled during 2023: 76% continental, 15% intercontinental and 9% domestic.
“Our research shows that travel continues to be a very important part of people’s lives. When we look at the global travel map for 2023, traditional hotspots like Paris, Barcelona and London remain firm favourites. But, we have also seen long-haul destinations like Bangkok, Las Vegas, and New York grow in popularity this year. That’s really exciting as it shows how travellers are embracing the plethora of choice, information and inspiration available to them thanks to new technologies like AI and increasingly influential social media platforms like Tik Tok”, says Dana Dunne, CEO of eDreams ODIGEO.
As 2024 is packed with major international sporting events – including the Olympics, the Paralympics, Grand Prix, the Euros and the T20 cricket, eDreams’ data shows where interest is already heating up. Global searches for travel to Paris during the Olympics in 2024 vs the same dates in 2023 are up by +41%. 2024 will be the 20th anniversary of Bahrain’s Grand Prix and global travel searches for the weekend of 2 March are up +183% compared to last year.
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