With the Rugby World Cup set to dominate the sporting calendar during September and October, the world’s most-visited country will be watched on screens across the UK. Many will be heading to France to enjoy the spectacle in person. More than 2.6 million tickets were made available and matches are selling out. As tends to be the case during high-profile events, accommodation will be more expensive than usual in the tournament’s host cities – and many hotels will be full on certain dates.
Yet, post-tournament, prices are likely to fall. Indeed, there are plenty of good-value experiences, and rooms, to be found in these seven French cities this autumn.
Just inland of France’s windswept Atlantic coast lies one of the most celebrated wine cities in France – start your day here by sampling a glass of merlot or cabernet sauvignon at Bordeaux institution Le Bar à Vin. Bordeaux is also affectionately nicknamed “Little Paris”, a reference to its architecture. Look up to appreciate the 18th-century limestone buildings lining the Unesco-listed centre.
The Miroir d’eau reflecting pool is a more modern addition, and don’t miss the free galleries, such as Galerie D.X and Bouillon d’art. Bordeaux is relatively flat, making it easy to explore by bike (hire from €10 per day at Cool Bike).
Getting there: By train from London, the journey is around five hours, 45 minutes. Take the Eurostar from London St Pancras International to Paris Gare du Nord. Transfer to Paris Montparnasse, from where you can catch an SNCF train to Bordeaux St Jean. Alternatively, several airlines offer direct flights from UK cities to Bordeaux.
Staying there: Moxy Bordeaux, near the Cité du Vin, has doubles from £87, marriott.com
France’s fourth-largest city is 10 miles from the Belgium border and the Grand Place, Place Louise de Bettignies and Rue de la Monnaie are all flanked by sublime 17th and 18th-century Flemish baroque architecture.
When picking your holiday menu, northern classics such as waffles and moules frites should get a billing, but you might also visit the former industrial neighbourhood of Wazemmes for its regular markets where you can pick up Lillois delicacies, such as pungent maroilles cheese.
Be sure to take a stroll around the 110 hectares of green space in the Parc de la Citadelle, which is wrapped around Lille’s stone Citadelle fortress.
Getting there: There are direct Eurostar services from London St Pancras International to Lille with a journey time of around one hour, 20 minutes. There are no direct flights between the UK and Lille.
Staying there: Moxy Lille City, near the City Hall, has doubles from £92, marriott.com
Pierced by two converging rivers and overlooked by a gleaming hilltop basilica, Lyon might be France’s most spectacular city and you could fill a day wandering through its cityscape. Soak up alpine views from Fourvière Hill, browse the mighty Rhône’s riverside markets, get lost in the mysterious traboule tunnels or stroll the cobbled streets of historic Vieux Lyon.
Head to the Les Halles de Lyon Paul Bocuse food hall for an introduction to France’s gastronomic capital.
Getting there: By train, the journey is around five to six hours. You can either take a Eurostar to Paris, transfer to Gare de Lyon, then take a SNCF train to Lyon, or take the Eurostar to Lille Europe, change platform and take a SNCF train to Lyon. Lyon Part-Dieu is the main station in the city centre. Direct flights are available from UK cities to Lyon.
Staying there: Hôtel des Artistes, near the Old Town, has doubles from £86, hotel-des-artistes.fr
The glittering old port is the focal point of any visit to Marseille, but its narrow streets taper off to some interesting neighbourhoods. Grab a cheap croissant (or two) and saunter among the corner cafes of Le Panier, the colourful flea markets of Nouilles or the gaudy street art of Cours Julien.
The walk is steep up to Notre-Dame de la Garde, but the cinematic views up and down the Mediterranean coast from its 489ft high summit are worth the hike.
Getting there: The journey from London is around six to seven hours by train. Catch the Eurostar to Paris Gare du Nord, transfer to Paris Gare de Lyon, then take a SNCF train to Marseille St Charles. There are direct flights available from London and Edinburgh to Marseille.
Staying there: Maison Montgrand, near the Old Port, has doubles from £70, hotel-maison-montgrand.com
Nantes Cathedral, which looks over the city from its 192ft perch, took 457 years to build (it was finally completed in 1891). It is a picturesque spot to begin a day in the city. Next, move onto Château des Ducs de Bretagne castle.
This is still a Breton city at heart, so pick up a few cheap, cheerful and generously topped crêpes on the way. And no trip to Nantes would be complete without seeing the bizarre animatronic steampunk-esque creatures at Les Machines de l’Île.
Getting there: To travel by train from London, the journey is around 5.5–6.5 hours. Take the Eurostar to Paris or Lille and transfer to Paris Montparnasse or to another platform at Lille Europe to catch a SNCF train to Nantes.
Staying there: Surprenantes, across several city locations, has doubles from £80, surprenantes.com
The well-heeled French Riviera isn’t an obvious choice for budget getaways, but the off-season has its perks. The azure arc of the Promenade des Anglais is a good place to start, while the views from la Colline du Château sweep from the Mediterranean Sea’s breaking waves to Alpine peaks.
Check out the city’s contemporary art scene at Villa Arson Art Gallery, which is hidden away in the northern neighbourhood of Saint Barthélemy.
Getting there: Making the journey by train will take around 9.5 hours from London. There are direct flights available from London, Manchester and Bristol to Nice.
Staying there: Hôtel Windsor, near the Promenade des Anglais, has doubles from £77, hotelwindsornice.com
The Place du Capitole is the grandiose beginning of many adventures in France’s “Pink City”. The Capitole building’s ostentatious Salle des Illustres rooms are free to enter and filled with evocative 19th-century paintings by one-time local Henri Martin.
Works by Manet, Murillo and Delacroix hang from the walls of the 14th-century Musée des Augustins, which is also free to visit. When evening falls, the lively banks of the River Garonne are a fine place to stroll.
As the days turn chillier, be sure to seek out a bowl of cassoulet – a meat-heavy and affordable winter-warmer stew.
Getting there: By train from London, the journey is around eight hours. There are direct flights available from London, Bristol, Birmingham and Edinburgh to Toulouse.
Staying there: Mama Shelter Toulouse, near Place Wilson, has doubles from £72, mamashelter.com