When the streets start emptying of tourists, the leaves start changing colour, and a crispness returns to the air, you know autumn in France has arrived. It is not the most traditional season to visit the country but you might be missing out on some exceptional experiences during this time.
Everything from Paris to the Alps, the Riviera, and Provence take on a demure golden glow, adding subtle romantic nuances to even the simplest of things. The way the wind rustles through the vineyards, raindrops tapping against a café window, the way the amber afternoon sun hits the rim of your wineglass; appreciating the little things makes autumn in France a truly magical time
What Does the Calendar Say about autumn in France
Autumn in France typically starts on the autumn equinox which changes every year. Others simply say the season starts on 1 September. Schools start in the first weeks of September and also marks the arrival of autumn.
The months of September and October are the most pleasant. Days are still long but not as hot and humid as summer days. The air is crisp and clean in the morning with the countryside often covered in a blanket of mist.
In the mountain areas snow starts to fall at high altitudes and you will see plenty of snowy peaks. Fall typically lasts until the end of November as the snow starts to fall across the country soon after that.
Explore Beyond Paris
France’s landscape is diverse and from one corner to the other, autumn brings vastly different experiences and scenery.
Autumn in Paris is one of its most underrated secrets. The French use the special word “flaner” to describe the action of strolling around for pleasure. This is exactly what you will be doing. Stroll around from museum to coffee shop, back to a gallery and down unmarked lanes. Spaces like the Tuileries Garden will keep you occupied for hours as you stroll between the ponds and down the manicured lanes.
Provence and its picture-perfect hilltop towns is another unmissable region in the autumn. Take advantage of the cooler climate to cycle through the vineyards or between sleepy villages. Take some time to pass by olive groves or even lay out a picnic in the shade of one of the trees along the way. The piercing blue skies of Provence are offset by bright yellow hues as the vineyards change along with the season.
Similarly, Burgundy and Bordeaux transform into a so-called “Indian-summer” and vineyards and forests boast the most magnificent colours. Stay at an authentic chateau to see the late harvests first-hand. The deep aromas of a bold Pinot Noir or buttery Chardonnay perfectly complement the autumn essence.
The South of France, specifically the French Riviera, empties as tourists bid summer farewell. This is the best time to strike these coastal regions. Some days might still be pleasant enough to take a brisk dip in the Mediterranean, but most people choose to spend their day lazily meandering at the water’s edge. Explore ancient castles and forts at your own pace or go hiking to see the grand limestone cliffs outside Marseille.
Mountain lovers don’t think twice about going to the French Alps in autumn. What was once a blanket of green transforms as fall foliage makes its arrival. The Giffre valley usually has a thin veil of mist dangling between heaven and earth until the warm autumn rays break through. Hiking and cycling are prime activities in these areas in the autumn but there is nothing wrong with spending lazy days in an alpine cottage, soaking in the views with a good book a glass of Merlot.
Celebrate in French Style
Autumn is harvest time in France and there are plenty of unmissable events that go along with this. The French are also known for celebrating food and wine on every possible occasion and autumn is no different.
Normandy has several festivals throughout the season to celebrate its unique cuisine. In Granville, you can indulge in the finest seafood in the country at the Toute la Mer Sur un Plateau festival and in Conches-en-Ouche the Apple, Cider and Cheese Festival will send you into overdrive. November is the month of the Herring on the Alabaster coast and marinated, smoked, and grilled herring will be in abundance. Paired with crisp white wines or regional beer, this modest fish is celebrated in a big way.
Small towns are a hive of activity as farmers ready their crops for the coming winter months. The last grape harvest takes place, apples are picked and cider pressing begins. Mushroom foraging nearly becomes a sport and truffle hunting goes into overdrive. Fête Du Piment in Espelette marks the end of the pepper harvest season and is a true feast for the eyes. Peppers are hung outside houses to dry, creating a marvellous backdrop for the festivities. The smell of roasting chestnuts (4,000 pounds to be exact) fills the air of the small village of Mourjou as crowds gather to celebrate this beloved nut. Azay-le-Rideau is another charming little town that celebrates a single crop, Apples. At the Foire aux Pommes, you can bite into an outstanding variety of apples and take part in cider making.
Wine festivals are a year-round favourite but autumn days are begging for these kinds of festivities. The Chablis Festival in the Bourgogne region is the perfect time to familiarise yourself with this revered French wine and see a traditional ceremony of baptizing a new vintage.
One can’t even begin to list all the fantastical festivals in Paris in Autumn. Nuit Blanche, on the first Saturday of October, is a sensory overload as massive art installations take over a corner of the city at night. Chocolate lovers can’t miss Salon du Chocolate, an indulgent affair where hundreds of chocolatiers gather to celebrate one of humankind’s greatest culinary accomplishments, chocolate.
Whether you want to get active, enjoy a remote and relaxing stay, or explore some of France’s main attractions at your own pace, autumn is one of the best times to visit the country. From the mountains downs to the sea, every region holds magnificent treasures that reveal themselves as autumn arrives.