If you’re traveling through France, you’re probably sticking to the country’s top hits: Paris, Marseille, Cannes, Nice, and maybe, if you’re feeling adventurous, you’ll travel to Toulouse. These well-worn city paths cater to travelers young and old as prime tourist towns. Here, you’ll never fear that the only hostel in town is complet or that your waiter won’t speak enough English to get you a much needed café and croissant.
But, the lesser known cities that mark France’s countryside are also well worth a visit. Cities like Caen and Avignon don’t call to mind the sexier side of France, but their quiet, understated beauty makes them well worth the visit.
In these hostels, you’ll find a quieter group of travelers. Most make long treks through the country and feel intent on exploring or ‘getting to know’ a city. Gone are the rambunctious, wild college kids coming to club in Paris, or to ‘get wasted’ in Marseille. Here, people sit for hours drinking beer and getting to know one another, talking about life across continents.
And it isn’t as though these cities have less to offer the young, hip backpacker. Here, tourism offices work incredibly hard to draw people into their cities. You’ll find some museums that are truly hidden gems filled with incredible works of art, streets that are so clean you could eat off of them, and well maintained historic landmarks that make the trip well worth it.
Maybe you won’t spend your night raging deep into the morning, and perhaps there may be only one hostel in the city, but the streets are well worn, and the small towns are easily traversed on foot. These understated, quiet towns in the regions of Normandy and Provence are a backpacker’s escape, the perfect place to sit back and relax, and in many cases, meet some of the most down-to-earth globetrotters there are. Essentially, don’t sleep on France’s smaller cities, because they won’t disappoint.
This summer, Jessica roamed through many winding French streets in search of three things: white wine, red wine, and rose. With just a single phone power bank and absolutely no understanding of the French language, she found just what she was looking for along with many, many croissants. Her adventures ranged from trying to get a French SIM card from a man who spoke no English, to air drying in a towel-less hostel, to even lugging her 40L Osprey pack up a 3 mile mountain hike to get to her AirBnB in a French vineyard. After her trip, she’s found a profound new love of lavender, macaroons, and waking up before noon. The only thing France was truly missing this summer was Jessica’s cat, Gerty, who she missed very dearly throughout her journeys. She saw The Great Sphinx of Tanis at the Louvre, but it just wasn’t the same. Jessica is currently planning her next backpacking adventure to Greenland and Ireland, where she hopes to find out just how many ways you can cook a potato.