The best time to go to France
France seduces travelers with its familiar culture, world-class art and architecture, iconic landmarks, beautiful beaches and lovely landscapes. But in the summer, it can be very hot with high accommodation costs, and if you're hitting the ski slopes in winter, you probably want to time your visit with the best conditions and the fewest crowds. Use this month-by-month guide to events, festivals and the weather, to help you decide the best time for your visit to la belle France.
High season: July and August, Christmas, New Year and Easter
Best time for hot weather
The summer high season is a busy travel period in France. Expect big lines at major sights and lengthy waits in traffic on the roads. The French tend to take time off in August, which can mean many local services shut down and major cities empty. Restaurants and shops tend to remain open, though. Be sure to book accommodations and restaurants in advance. Christmas, New Year and Easter are equally busy times. There is summer glacier skiing in two resorts: Les Deux-Alpes and Val d’Isère (Espace Killy) from roughly mid-June to August.
Shoulder: April to June and September
Best time for sightseeing
Accommodation rates drop in southern France and other hot spots. Spring brings warm weather, flowers and local produce. Since there are fewer crowds, this can be a great time for sightseeing. The vendange (grape harvest) is a good reason to visit in autumn.
Low season: October to March
Best time for budget travelers
Low season brings up to a 50% drop in prices than compared to high season. Sights, attractions and restaurants open fewer days and shorter hours. Hotels and restaurants in rural regions (like the Dordogne) close.
Best time for snowboarders and skiers
The ski season in the French Alps goes with the snow: the higher you go, the more snow-sure the resort and the longer the season. You can generally expect it to be late December through to mid-April. Crowds and room rates skyrocket during school holidays (Christmas, February half-term, Easter), so avoid these times if you can.
With New Year festivities done and dusted, head to the Alps. Most resorts in the Alps, Pyrenees, Jura and Auvergne open mid- to late December, but January is the start of the ski season in earnest. Whether a purpose-built station or Alpine village, there's a resort to match every mood and moment. Crowds on the slopes thin out once school's back, but January remains busy. On the Mediterranean, mild winters are wonderfully serene in a part of France that's mad busy the rest of the year. No culinary product is more aromatic or decadent than black truffles. Hunt them in the Dordogne and Provence – the season runs late December to March, but January is the prime month.
Key events: St Vincent Wine Festival, start of Carnival de Limoux.
Crisp, cold weather in the mountains – lots of china-blue skies now – translates as ski season in top gear. Alpine resorts get mobbed by families during the February school holidays and accommodation is at its priciest. Elsewhere in the country, various lively festivals are taking place.
Key events: Carnaval de Nice, Mardi Gras, Fête du Citron.
The ski season stays busy thanks to ongoing school holidays (until mid-March) and warmer temperatures. Down south, spring ushers in the highly controversial bullfighting season and Pâques (Easter).
Key events: Féria d'Arles.
Dedicated ski fiends can carve glaciers in the highest French ski resorts until mid-April or later at highest altitudes. Then it's off with the ski boots and on with the hiking gear as peach and almond trees flower pink against a backdrop of snow-capped peaks. Shepherds walk their flocks of sheep up to green summer pastures.
Key events: Fête de la Transhumance.
There is no lovelier month to travel in France, as the first melons ripen in Provence and outdoor markets burst with new-found color. Spring is always in. No one works on May 1, a national holiday that incites summer buzz, with muguets (lilies of the valley) sold at roadside stalls and given to friends for good luck. Orléans residents celebrate the liberation of their city by Joan of Arc, as they have done since 1430, and Europe's biggest cinema extravaganza happens in Cannes.
Key events: May Day, Fête des Gardians, Fêtes de Jeanne d’Arc, Pèlerinage des Gitans, Festival de Cannes, Monaco Grand Prix.
If lavender's your French love, now is the time to catch it flowering in Provence. But you won't be the only one. School's out for the summer, showering the country with teems of tourists, traffic and too many complet (full) signs strung in hotel windows. Fireworks displays, balls, processions, parades are held countrywide to mark Bastille Day.
Key events: Tour de France, Bastille Day, Festival d'Avignon, Jazz à Juan, Festival de Cornouaille, Festival Jazz en Ville.
It's that crazy summer month when the French join everyone else on holiday. Paris, Lyon and other big cities empty; traffic jams at motorway toll booths test the patience of a saint; and temperatures soar (highs are around 82°F/28°C in the south). If that's not your vacation of choice, you'll want to avoid France in August. Alternatively, don your party hat and join the crowd!
Key events: Festival Interceltique de Lorient, Route du Champagne en Fête, Hestiv' Òc.
As sun-plump grapes hang heavy on darkened vines and that August madness drops off as abruptly as it began, a welcome tranquillity falls across autumnal France. This is the start of France's vendange (grape harvest). It's also rutting season – get up early and you might spot stags, boar and red deer at play. Observatory towers are hidden in thick forest around Château de Chambord.
Key events: grape harvest, Braderie de Lille.
The days become shorter, the last grapes are harvested and the first sweet chestnuts fall from trees. With the changing of the clocks on the last Sunday of the month, there's no denying that winter is on its way.
Key events: grape harvest, Nuit Blanche.
It's nippy now. Toussaint (All Saints' Day) on November 1 ushers in the switch to shorter winter opening hours for many sights. Many restaurants close two nights a week, making dining out on Monday a challenge in some towns.
Key events: Beaujolais Nouveau, Vente aux Enchères des Vins des Hospices de Beaune.
Days are short and it's cold everywhere bar the south of France. But there are Christmas school holidays and festive celebrations to bolster sun-deprived souls, not to mention some season-opening winter skiing in the highest-altitude Alpine resorts from mid-December.
Key events: Alsatian Christmas Markets, Fête des Lumières.
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