19 reasons to visit France this year that aren’t the Olympics

The Olympics and Paralympics Paris

It is unlikely to have escaped you that this summer France is playing host to the largest sporting event on the planet. Many of the events are taking place in Paris, but there is a good smattering across the country, from Versailles to Marseille and Lille, with the surfing happening as far away as Teahupo’o in Tahiti, a French overseas territory. Tickets are available through Paris 2024, and while some are sold out, events such as football, rugby sevens and rowing still have good availability. There is also a Paralympic Discovery Pass (from €24/£20.50) offering access to several sports on one day. Accommodation packages are available through official partner On Location. paris2024.org, onlocationexp.com

Matisse Museum extension, Hauts-de-France

In Matisse’s hometown, Le Cateau-Cambrésis, the former Hôtel de Ville houses a vast collection of the artist’s work, and was started by Matisse himself in 1952 – but the building was not big enough to showcase the full collection. However, an extensive renovation and extension means that for the first time, the entire collection will be on display from 28 September. museematisse.fr

World Book Capital, Grand Est

Unesco has been naming a World Book Capital – where books are a cornerstone to more inclusive, peaceful, sustainable societies – since 2001, and Strasbourg is this year’s literary champion. Conveniently enough, this eastern French city looks as though it has sprung straight from the pages of a Brothers Grimm fairy tale. The full programme will unfurl from World Book Day on 23 April. Authors will be travelling to the city to give talks and there will be an enormous “reading aloud’ event on the Place du Château.” Visitors can also expect literary-themed concerts, debates, events for children and more. lirenotremonde.strasbourg.eu/en

Lérins islands restoration

Off the coast of Cannes, the four Mediterranean Lérins islands include little Île Saint-Honorat, where the 11th-century abbey is nearing the end of its restoration. Its magnificent fortified tower is being brought back to its former glory, standing over the monastery where 21 monks live and cultivate vines (the estate produces wines, which can be tasted on tours). Elsewhere on the island are 10th-century chapels and 11th-century ruins, pretty coves and olive tree-lined paths as well as the Restaurant La Tonnelle, where you can lunch among palm trees on Mediterranean dishes such as courgette flowers with pesto and young shoots. cannes-ilesdelerins.com

New long-distance cycling trail, Brittany

From Mont St Michel south to Nantes, the new 275km cycling trail La Régalante runs across the Marches de Bretagne, the former Breton border. A largely inland trail, it skirts some of the most impressive castles and fortifications in the region, which once served to keep the French at bay. Châteaubriant and the turreted medieval châteaux of Vitré in Ille-et-Vilaine are two highlights. La Régalante officially opens in spring, with the full route available here: destination-fougeres.bzh/en/2024/01/02/2024-lannee-de-la-regalante/

Nice’s new destination resort, Alpes-Maritimes

Empty for almost 40 years, a 17th-century convent in Nice has been repurposed as a luxury hotel, due to open in the summer. Hôtel du Couvent will have Roman-inspired thermal baths and exquisitely designed rooms, but it is the food that is getting tongues wagging. The hotel has its own farm, so much of what is served in the restaurant will be as short-circuit farm-to-fork as it’s possible to get. There is even a resident herbalist reviving the convent’s old apothecary. Doubles from €304 (£260), marriott.com

D-Day beach landing anniversary, Normandy

Eighty years on from the D-Day landings, which were instrumental in liberating occupied France, the fallen are to be remembered and freedom celebrated where it all happened. The international ceremony to mark the landings takes place on 6 June in Saint-Laurent-sur-Mer near Omaha Beach. The D-Day Festival (1-16 June) is celebrated annually, but it is at the core of the 80th anniversary celebrations, featuring historical re-enactments, parades and parachuting among a packed schedule of events. 80e-normandie.fr

Aerial American Cemetery Normandy France Omaha Beach
The American Cemetery in Normandy
(Photo: Mike Reid Photography/Getty/Moment RF)

Modern medicine, Paris & Montpellier

Follow in the footsteps of the French scientists who shaped the world of modern medicine on a new, expert-led tour. On the 90th anniversary of Marie Curie’s death, this Paris-to-Montpellier trip explores the Nobel Prize winner’s work, as well as Louis Pasteur (inventor of the vaccine), and René Laennec, who invented the stethoscope. newscientist.com/tours/birth-medicine-paris-montpellier-france

An old fort reborn, Lyon

Fort Saint Laurent has crowned Lyon’s Croix-Rousse hill since the 16th century. Its uses have been varied: as a military base, a convent, a prison, a homeless shelter and an artist’s residence, among others. Its next lease of life is as a 1,500m2 hotel, due to open later this year (the exact date is yet to be announced). The golden stone building will have just 36 rooms, many of which will enjoy river views. lefort-saintlaurent.info

Cheap, chic digs on GR34, Brittany

Green hostel brand Naéco is opening its third property this month in Erdeven, just above the Quiberon Peninsula, just north-east of Nantes. With 22 rooms, two dormitories (one male, one female) and a self-catered apartment, it is a stone’s throw from the GR34 long-distance hiking trail. Bicycle, motorcycle and surfboard hire are all available, and they have chickens and sheep on site. naeco.bzh

Musée Yves St Laurent, Paris

From February to August, the Musée Yves St Laurent’s new exhibition Transparences: le pouvoir des matières explores the power of see-through fabrics and clothes designed to show off the body, rather than covering it up. Yves St Laurent began using chiffon, lace and tulle in the 60s, and this exhibition gradually reveals womens’ bodies through a series of spotlit works. museeyslparis.com

€49 summer rail pass ,Nationwide

A little like an Interrail pass, €49 (£42) public transport tickets will be made available this summer. These passes will give unlimited travel on regional (TER) trains and intercity services for the duration of a month. It is a project that copycats Germany’s enormously successful Deutschlandticket, which was launched in May 2023. It’s a great reason to forgo the plane and explore l’Héxagone by rail. sncf-connect.com

Family beach resort, Pyrénées-Orientales

Part of the European stable of Center Parcs (distinct from the UK’, Pierre et Vacances resorts are found in all the sunniest spots. From next month, that includes Saint Cyprien between Perpignan and the Spanish border. The apartments and villas at the Premium Residence Golf du Lion are 900m from the beach, with cycling, hiking, watersports and horse riding all on offer. One week from £666 for four guests self-catering, pierreetvacances.com

Portrait of a happy mother and son riding on the train and looking through the window while pointing away - transport concepts
The rail pass will open up the country (Photo: andresr/Getty/E+)

Long-stay Paris

If you are looking to live out your Emily in Paris fantasy in the French capital, or if you are booking a long stay to watch Olympics events, aparthotel brand Locke is opening its next site in Paris’s Latin Quarter. With 145 studio apartments, the building also comes with a gym, co-working space, winter garden, restaurant and bar. Doubles at Le Jardin de Verre by Locke from €250, lockeliving.com

Le Jardin de Verre Locke (Photo: Supplied)
Le Jardin de Verre Locke (Photo: Supplied)

Floating bikepacker’s hotel, Isère

The latest bike-friendly barge hotel on the 815km ViaRhôna cycling greenway, which follows the River Rhône between Geneva and the Mediterranean, has opened in Vienne, just south of Lyon. La Peniche Bed and Bicycle already has luxurious properties in Tournon-sur-Rhone and Aigues Mortes, with on-deck hot tubs, a massage room and a bike garage shipping container on shore for locking up your wheels securely. Doubles from €149 (£127), lapeniche.biz, en.viarhona.com

Futuroscope water park, Nouvelle-Aquitaine

Cinematic and multimedia Futuroscope, north of Poitiers in central France, is opening its first water park this summer. The futuristic complex has 7,500m2 of indoor activities, eight water slides and cinematographic projects on the water to give the feeling that you’re swimming through a film set. It will be open year-round. Off the water, Futuroscope’s offers movie-themed roller coasters, dynamic cinemas and amusement arcades. futuroscope.com/en

New gondola, Chamonix-Mont Blanc

The Mer de Glace is the largest glacier in France, 40 km2 of ice stretching between the mountains of Haute-Savoie. This month, a new 16-cabin gondola will begin service, able to transport up to 160 passengers at a time up to the glacier and its ice cave, as well as skiers arriving from Vallée Blanche. montblancnaturalresort.com/en

Long-distance hiking trail inspired by legends

Legend has it that Saint Amadour arrived on French shores at the Médoc beaches in the Gironde with his wife Véronique in a place now known as Soulac-sur-Mer. When his wife died, he set off to walk to Rocamadour, 500km away, where he became a hermit in the sanctuary. Inspired by this story, a new hiking trail, the Chemin d’Amadour, retracing his journey, is being launched this year. chemin-amadour.fr

Notre Dame will reopen in December after extensive repairs and restoration (Photo: Kevin Boutwell/Getty Images)
Notre Dame will reopen in December after extensive repairs and restoration (Photo: Kevin Boutwell/Getty Images)

Reopening of Notre-Dame, Paris

One of Paris’s most famous landmarks, Notre-Dame, is finally reopening on 8 December. The cathedral has been closed since April 2019 following a devastating fire, but after extensive repair work estimated to have cost more than €800m, the full cathedral will be open to the public once more.

Lyonnais wine retreat, Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes

Caroline Conner (Wine Dine Caroline) has been running wine tastings in a converted silk weaver’s studio in Lyon for years, but not content with afternoon workshops, she is launching her first multi-day retreat in May. It includes three nights accommodation in central Lyon, all meals (ranging from a home-cooked market dinner to a two-Michelin star feast), multiple winery visits, tastings and a tour of Lyon’s old town. Due to overwhelming interest, Conner meets all prospective attendees via video call to ensure “good vibes”. winedinecaroline.com