For the last years, I have spent every summer traveling across France to discover the diversity of its landscapes and its natural heritage. Usually, summer is synonymous with crowds of vacationers and tourists. For this project, summer is also synonymous with lush nature, in which infrared photography works the best to reveal alternative colors.
In addition to offering a selection of attractive French places to (re)discover, the goal of this photographic journey is to focus on the different forms of expression of nature, from squares in urban areas to virgin beaches along the coast and natural parks. Although tourism has strongly decreased since 2020 due to COVID, preservation of nature in touristic areas is still an important issue to deal with.
In this article, I will focus on nine emblematic regions of France, and for each one, I will illustrate one iconic place and one hidden gem through infrared photography. Let’s start this journey!
Paris: Where the Journey Begins
Paris is THE tourist place where the majority of tourists start visiting the country. The city suffers from an important urban development to the detriment of parks and forests. But its famous monuments are not the only points of interest, and nature lovers can find some interesting places to stay between two visits to museums.
The iconic place: Eiffel Tower. Well, it is obvious. The Eiffel Tower is the most iconic place of Paris, and more generally of France. Eiffel Tower is circled by a park named Champs de Mars, creating a unique natural environment where runners meet lovers.
The hidden gem: Park of Bercy. This Park is located in the 12th district, near the National Library. It offers different amenities like a rose garden, an architectural waterfall, and a lake. A real source of calm and serenity for a break or a picnic.
Normandy: White Cliffs and Pebble Beaches
In the northwest of France, Normandy offers a beautiful seacoast where white cliffs surround pebble beaches. Normandy is also famous for its historic heritage through the landing beaches of WWII.
The iconic place: Cliffs of Etretat. Etretat is a former fishing village turned into a seaside resort, and it has inspired many artists (painters, writers …) over the years. Its cliffs are wonders of nature and are visited by thousands of tourists each year. Etretat also has hanging gardens where contemporary works of art are exhibited.
The hidden gem: Veules-les-Roses. Another seaside resort of Normandy, Veules-les-Roses takes is among the most beautiful villages of France. This village is well-known to own the shortest river in France: the Veules river. This river only crosses Veules-les-Roses before ending into the English Channel.
Brittany: Raw and Unspoiled Nature
In the continuity of Normandy to the west, Brittany is one of the most appreciated regions of France to spend the summer. Its beaches are beautiful and its nature unspoiled. A must-see for hikers and swimmers.
The iconic place: Belle-Ile-en-Mer. The largest island in Brittany, Belle-Ile is a real paradise for beach lovers. After 40min in a sea shuttle, you will discover an isolated land you can visit by bike or electric car. The most adventurous will enjoy discovering old war bunkers embedded in the coast.
The hidden gem: Saint-Cado island. In opposition with Belle-Ile-en-Mer, Saint-Cado is one of the smallest islands in Brittany. Only a few houses and a church can be visited, only by walking. This island is also the source of many local legends.
Loire Valley: Fairy Castles and Magnificent Gardens
If you have already visited Paris and its monuments, Loire Valley is a must-see region where you will discover the most beautiful castles of France. You will also enjoy the taste of local wines and the calm of many gardens.
The iconic place: Chambord Castle. Listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, this sumptuous castle is the largest of Loire castles and the only royal estate still intact since its creation.
The hidden gem: Bishop’s Garden of Blois. This garden is closed to Blois town hall and offers a unique point of view over the Loire Valley. You will also appreciate its French-style garden and its rose garden.
Perigord: Prehistoric Caves and Contemporary Gardens
Perigord is a historical region located in the southwest of France. It is well-known for its magnificent rural villages and its rich cultural, archaeological, and historical heritage. Gastronomy is not to be outdone and mainly includes duck in all its forms as well as truffles.
The iconic place: Hanging gardens of Marqueyssac. The gardens of Marqueyssac are the most visited gardens of the region, highlighting the boxwood carved in the most fanciful forms. Its elevated position offers a unique panorama over the entire Dordogne region.
The hidden gem: Brantôme. In the middle of the luxuriant Dronne river and its bucolic landscape, nestles the village of Brantôme, built around its Abbey, a monument of French architectural and religious heritage. Surrounded by its river, in the shade of a cliff, the village looks like a stone island in the heart of a green (or golden) landscape.
Auvergne: Extinct Volcanoes and Breathtaking Panoramas
Located in the middle of France, Auvergne is mostly rural and mountainous. It is a popular destination for hiking and skiing, with vast forests and extinct volcanoes. Its many natural hot springs have given rise to spa towns.
The iconic place: Puy de Dôme. The highest volcano of the Chaîne des Puys is an emblematic site in the Auvergne region, listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It offers a unique 360° panorama around the whole region, from the volcanoes to the cities.
The hidden gem: Meander of Queuille. The belvedere of Queuille, a small village of Auvergne, offers an unobstructed view of a sublime meander, an immense loop formed by the Sioule river.
Provence: Medieval Cities and National Parks
Provence is a region in the south-east of France on the border with Italy and bordered by the Mediterranean Sea. This region is mainly known for its beaches, lavender fields, vineyards, and pine forests.
The iconic place: Baux-de-Provence. The village of Baux-de-Provence is perched on a rocky outcrop and overlooks the Alpilles natural park. It has an incredibly rich architectural heritage, including a citadel offering a unique panorama of the region.
The hidden gem: Blue lagoon. The blue lagoon of Provence shares the color of its turquoise water with the eponymous place of Iceland. But the comparison stops there: a former quarry carved out of the rock, the lagoon is only visible from its edges and its access is prohibited for safety reasons.
Savoy: Tallest Mountains and Longest Hikes
Savoy is a mountainous region popular with skiers, with no less than sixty ski resorts. During the summer, and in the absence of snow, this region becomes the playground for hikers.
The iconic place: Mont-Blanc Mountain. Mont-Blanc is the highest point of the Alpine chain. It is thus the highest peak in Europe. It is located on the Franco-Italian border. If its ascent seems too difficult, you can choose to go around it during a ten-day hike.
The hidden gem: Arpenaz waterfall. This waterfall surprises by its height and by the presence of three jumps before reaching the ground. Its access is simple and offers a very pleasant environment for a family picnic.
Champagne: Calm and Vine
Last stop on this journey, Champagne is a wine-growing region in eastern France known mainly for the wine of the same name, synonymous with luxury all over the world.
The iconic place: The Champagne vines. These vines are visible everywhere in the region and are spread along the side of the valleys. The harvest at the beginning of September is the occasion for local festivals.
The hidden gem: Bar-sur-Aube. This wine-growing village is crossed by the Aube and offers in its historic center the remains of an old mill converted into modern accommodations.
And Now? So Much More to See!
We arrive at the end of this journey, but keep in mind that France has many other beautiful natural places to visit. From the countryside to the coast, from North to South, each region has its own particularities and offers exceptional landscapes and heritage.
About the author: Pierre-Louis Ferrer is a professional infrared photographer who aims to reveal the world beyond the visible. The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author. To learn more about infrared photography, you can take his infrared workshop in Paris. You can find more of Ferrer’s work on his website, Facebook, and Instagram.