Fall is an ideal time to visit France when trees are decked out in spectacular autumn dress. 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.
Fall in France
At the end of August, the French return home from vacation, and the popular resorts become quiet again. School starts up at the beginning of September, but officially, summer ends at the autumnal equinox around Sept. 21, as it does throughout the Northern Hemisphere.
The Best Leaf Peeping
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 whether the summer has been particularly hot or cold or rainy, but pitch 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.
Paris is not as green 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 is in Alsace and 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 biere.
The Loire Valley is a great place to visit in the fall when the crowds have lessened. Not only can you see splendid leaves changing colors, but you can see them against a backdrop of elegant chateaux. There are some top gardens to see here. Some are attached to chateaux and others a labor of love for the owners. The crisp weather is a fine complement to the lively Loire Valley white wines.
- Chaumont-sur-Loire has an annual international garden festival, and it continues into the fall.
- Clos-Luce 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 and mechanics.
- And for a truly magnificent experience, drive through the Foret Domaniale de Boulogne to reach Chambord, the big daddy of all the chateaux. Francois 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 a riot of spectacular color.
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 moment 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.
Montsegur, 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 Montsegur Chateau and overlooking the quaint village.
Things to Do in Autumn
The frenzied crowds of summer have dwindled, but the weather is still comfortable, and there is still plenty to do in France. Some of the best bets:
- 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 leaves turning on the trees and also on the grape vines. And, of course, you can sample some great wines.
- Celebrate Beaujolais 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.