Fall is an ideal time to visit France, in part because the trees are decked out in spectacular autumn colors. As if France wasn't charming enough, seeing this country's cities and villages blazing with bright red, yellow, and orange is breathtaking. Fall 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.
While you can find colorful autumn leaves across France, there are some choice places where you’re guaranteed a good show. Of course, it will depend on the weather and if the summer has been particularly hot or cold or rainy, but arrange your vacation around the end of September and the 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.
From cruising around the French countryside near major cities like Paris and Strasbourg to taking in festivals dedicated to the changing season, there's no shortage of great destinations in France for leaf-peeping this fall.
Paris is not as green as London, but you'll experience bright foliage across the city during fall, especially in October at the height of the Parisian leaf-peeping season. If you happen to be visiting this bustling city this month, stop by one of its major parks and gardens for the best opportunities to see fall foliage.
Jardin Des Tuileries, located conveniently between the Louvre art museum and Place de la Concorde in Paris' First Arrondissement, is a popular choice for tourists, but you may want to head out to the 19th Arrondissement in northeastern Paris to experience 61 acres of sprawling forests in Parc des Buttes-Chaumont without all the tourist crowds.
The capital of the Grand Est region (formerly Alsace) in northeastern France, Strasbourg is a relatively large city with plenty of trees dotting the city streets and canals that change colors each fall. Starting at the end of September and continuing through the first of October, the fall foliage season is the perfect time to wander through the city or stop by one of its many parks and gardens to see the changing leaves.
A favorite fall activity for visitors is to take an evening stroll through La Petite France—the city's bustling tourist hub centered around 18th-century architecture, cobblestone streets, and tranquil canals—before indulging in the neighborhood's Alsatian eateries and bars. While most of the city's sidewalks are lined with trees, the best places to see fall foliage in Strasbourg are in its two largest public parks, Parc du Palais du Rhin and Parc de l'Orangerie.
The Loire Valley
The Loire Valley is a great place to visit in the fall when the crowds have lessened, and the crisp weather is a fine complement to the lively Loire Valley white wines that are being bottled for the season. Not only can you see splendid leaves changing colors, but you can see them against a backdrop of elegant chateaux.
There are also a number of colorful gardens to enjoy here; some are attached to chateaux while others are a labor of love for the owners. Chaumont-sur-Loire has an annual international garden festival that continues into the fall while Clos-Luce in Amboise, the home of Leonardo da Vinci for the final three years of his life, have particularly beautiful gardens maintained by the local government.
For a truly magnificent experience, drive through the Foret Domaniale de Boulogne to reach Chambord, one of the largest chateaux in the world, which Francois I built as his hunting lodge. The park surrounding it is the largest walled game reserve in Europe, which provides the perfect place to see uninterrupted fall foliage away from the crowds of the cities.
Limoux, a lovely little town in southern France, is covered in Mauzac and Chardonnay vineyards that turn splendid shades of gold and burnt orange when the grapes are ready for harvest. Limoux is known around the world for its invention of sparkling wine, and the fall is the best time of year to taste this local drink fresh from the vine.
Some of the best places to enjoy sparkling wine in the Limoux region include Maison Guinot, Domaine de Baronarques, and Domaine J. Laurens. However, the town of Limoux is also home to a number of small wine shops and bars that are perfect for having a drink after exploring the 15th-century architecture of the city.
The Champagne Region
Located less than 100 miles east of Paris, the Champagne Region is easily accessible by car or train for a day trip from the city. The Champagne Region is one of the most famous producers of wine in the world, and it's covered in grapevines whose leaves also change color each fall.
Comprised of the Aube, Marne, Haute-Marne, and Ardennes departments, the Champagne Region covers a large area of northeastern France. Base yourself in Reims (where there's a small airport), and start your foliage tour with a visit to one of the Champagne houses before exploring more attractions back in Reims, the capital of the region. Next, go on a wine tour where you'll get the bonus of seeing the leaves turning on the trees and grapevines while sampling some fresh wines.
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 around early October each year, and there are few better vantage points on Earth than the top of Mount Pog for all-encompassing views of southern France's fall foliage.
Montségur is also home to Château de Montségur, an abandoned fortress that was conquered and dismantled in 1244 before being rebuilt over the next three centuries. Take a tour of this remarkable structure and pause atop its walls to take in 360-degree views of the surrounding area and small village below Mount Pog.