Fall Foliage and Autumn Leaves in France

Where to Find the Best French Autumn Leaves

••• Autumn colors in the Chasse River Valley in Mercantour National Park. © Eric Le Bouteiller/Parc National du Mercantour

Fall is an ideal time to visit France when autumn leaf-watching is a spectacular pastime. As if France wasn't charming enough, seeing this country's cities and villages blazing with autumn colors is breathtaking. This is also the grape harvest season, and there are many festivals and activities around the country when the grapes are brought in and the process of making the wine begins.

When is Fall in France?

At the end of August the French go back home from their holidays and the popular resorts become quiet again.

At the beginning of September when the schools go back all over Europe. You’ll know the new season is coming when you see adverts all over the country for everything you need to buy for la rentrée as it's known. But officially in France, summer ends at the Equinox on September 21.

Where to go for the best leaf peeping

While you can find colorful autumn leaves in many spots, there are some choice places where you’re guaranteed a good show. Of course, it will depend on the weather and whether the summer has been particularly hot or cold or rainy, but pitch your vacation around the end of September/beginning of October and you'll see some glorious sights. Many of the cities have wonderful parks and gardens where the leaves turn sooner than in the countryside.

Here are some of the places to aim for:

Paris is not as green a city as London, but its major parks and gardens become a riot of color in the fall.

Particularly good are the Bois de Boulogne, and the more out-of-the-way Parc des Buttes-Chaumont in the 19th arrondissement.

Strasbourg in Alsace has a Germanic climate. While it’s a large city, there are many trees, parks, and gardens that reflect the autumn colors. A great fall activity is taking an evening stroll through La Petite France, gazing down at the canals that wind their slow way through the city.

Cap the evening with a hearty, belly-warming Alsatian stew and a mug of frosty bière.

The Loire Valley is a great place to visit in autumn when the crowds have disappeared. Not only can you see splendid leaves changing colors for fall, but you can see them against a backdrop of elegant châteaux. There are some top gardens to see here, some attached to châteaux; others a labour of love for the owners. The crisp weather in fall here is a fine complement to the lively Loire Valley white wines.

  • Chaumont-sur-Loire has an annual international garden festival where the colors will change towards the end. It’s open from April 2oth to November 5th, 2017
  • Clos-Lucé in Amboise was the home of Leonardo da Vinci for the final three years of his life. The gardens are particularly beautiful, with trees around the water changing colors and the added bonus of the sound of Leonardo’s reflections on the body, mechanics and more.
  • And for a truly magnificent experience, drive through the Forêt Domaniale de Boulogne to reach Chambord, the big daddy of all the châteaux. François I built it as his hunting lodge so the park surrounding it is the largest walled game reserve in Europe. As you can imagine, the fall, when most visitors have gone, is truly spectacular.

    More gardens to visit in the Eastern Loire Valley

    Top Gardens of France

    Limoux, a lovely southern wine city, has vineyards turning splendid shades of gold and burnt orange. Since this is also harvest time, it's a great time to visit the home to the world's true first sparkling wine.

    And talking of vineyards, don’t miss the countryside of Champagne. Base yourself in Reims and start your vineyard tour with a visit to one of the Champagne houses before exploring more attractions in the Champagne capital.

    Montségur, nestled close to the high peaks of the Pyrenees, is an ideal spot for viewing the fall colors. The autumn leaves come to life this time of year, and there are few better vantage points on earth than the top of Mount Pog, home to Montségur Château and overlooking the quaint village.

    Things to do in autumn

    Although the frenzied crowds have dwindled now, there is still plenty to do in France in autumn.

    Some of the best bets include:

    Rent a car and meander aimlessly into the countryside where there is no shortage of forests and trees. 

    Go on a wine tour. During this harvest time of year, you get the bonus of seeing the lovely leaves on the trees, but also on the grape vines. And, of course, you can sample some great wines.

    Celebrate Beajolais Nouveau's Release, one of France's most momentous events. Each November, the world awaits the release of this young, light red wine. You can do it right there in France.

    Edited by Mary Anne Evans