3 Unique Towns in France for Your Spring Break

By Fiona McMurrey

Are you planning on traveling to France for spring break but want to beat the crowds of Paris or are looking for a unique experience then look no further! Here are a handful of French towns that are just the right amount of “off-the-beaten-track” and are overflowing with history, culture, and gastronomy to keep you satiated for weeks. Each town is accessible from a major French city so no need to worry about how to reach them, travel time from Paris is listed under each location.

1. Albi

Courtesy of the Geographical Cure

A town full of history, the capital of the Tarn department, located in the south of France, slightly northeast of Toulouse, Albi is the perfect location to visit during the Spring on account of its vibrant climate, incredible heritage, and, most importantly in the year of hyper-tourism in France owing to the Olympics, it is relatively unknown to tourists! The town itself was founded during the Bronze Age (3000-600 BCE) and was subsequently rechristened by the Romans in 51 BCE as Civitas Albigensium which gave the settlement its modern name although expansion of the city did not increase until the Medieval era, particularly the 11th century. As such, there are plenty of pristine examples of Medieval architecture that have been preserved around the city, making it a veritable hub for Medieval scholars and historians alike as well as a fascinating testament to the revolutionary urban planning of the time. During the Medieval age, the town was constructed around the Sainte-Cécile Cathedral ornamented in intricate, Flamboyant Gothic style and is now renowned as a UNESCO world heritage site! Another architectural and historical masterpiece of Albi is also one of the oldest castles in France, Le Palais de la Berbie, which is older than the Palais des Papes of Avignon but has since been converted into a museum dedicated to the work of the iconic French painter, Henri Toulouse-Lautrec who was born in the city in 1864. If you, like me, have a penchant for French history, or simply love Medieval architecture, Toulouse-Lautrec, or the balmy climate of southern France, this town should be at the top of your list!


  • Travel time varies depending on departure time and price point however, on average, by train travel from Paris to Albi takes 7 hours 26 minutes with one necessary stop in Gare de Toulouse-Matabiau. Though the trip is long, the view is magnificent and a wonderful way to experience France.
  • Paris to Toulouse by plane takes 1 hour and 15 minutes but you must then take the train from Toulouse to Albi, which, in my opinion, is temporally efficient but a bit of a hassle.

2. Besançon

Courtesy of Imperfect Idealist

Besançon is renowned for being the capital of time. Yes, you read that correctly, but no, this is not on account of any existential threats or complications posed by this imposing medieval town. Rather, Besançon is the capital of watchmaking for all of France and has since translated this talent for engineering into being a hub for micromechanics, microtechnology, biomedical engineering, and applied linguistics, carrying on an academic tradition that has lasted since the Université of France-Comté was established in 1423. The city contains a tremendous amount of historical importance as it vacillated between being under French control and that of the Holy Roman Empire as well as existing as its own independent territory. Remnants of this astonishing history are on display throughout the city, particularly the highly esteemed and influential military engineer and architect Vauban’s citadel that marks the landscape as an austere fortress and have been awarded the accolade of being a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Nestled in the Jura mountains, this city is absolutely worth a visit not only for the mountain climate but also for its exhilarating history!


  • By train, Paris to Besançon takes a little under 2 hours and a half making it accessible as a day trip from the city of light, or a weekend trip with a splendid view of the French countryside and the Jura mountains!

3. Roscoff

Courtesy of Le Figaro

Want all the charm of a quaint English seaside town but with a French twist? Catch the train from Paris to Roscoff that will whisk you through the northern French coast and awe you with beautiful nautical landscapes and sublime views of the rugged north coast. The town of Roscoff inhabits a peninsula surrounded by the English channel and is built in a traditional Breton maritime style from local granite. Much of the construction of the town was completed in the 16th century and it boasts an exceptionally rich heritage on account of a strong maritime trade tradition particularly serving as a liaison for trade between France and England. It was also the site where Mary Queen of Scots disembarked from Scotland on her route to her betrothal to the Dauphin François and as such there is a house named for her in the town that has become a popular tourist site. Moreover, in the late 19th century, due to the inordinately high levels of iodine in the water, the town became home to the first ‘thalassotherapie,’ or ocean therapy center which opened its doors in 1899 and continues to attract visitors to this day! Additionally, the town operates two ferries, one to Cork, Ireland, and another to Plymouth in the UK in case you’d like to brave the English Channel or the Celtic sea.


  • The train from Paris to Roscoff takes roughly around 4 hours and 45 minutes and is also accessible by car, but if you’d prefer to lean back, relax, and watch the coastline of Normandy and Bretagne pass by, traveling by train is the best way to do it.

If you would like to discover more beautiful and unique cities in France, check out our streaming service France Channel which features a plethora of documentaries and a series on the most beautiful cities in France! Happy travels!