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Is there any country more sophisticated than France? From vineyards and fields of lavender to Michelin-starred cuisine, France is a destination to suit all the senses. But where do you go? For a deep dive into the luxe life, here are some top places for French luxury holidays, villa rentals and sybaritic getaways.
What is a luxury holiday in France?
A 5-star vacation can mean different things to different people, but whether you want glittering action or a quiet retreat, few disagree that France is a top destination for a dip into the good life.
The idea of renting a French villa with a pool or a centuries-old chateau is the stuff of dreams – at least it was the trip of my dreams. And when my husband and I rented an apartment in an 11th-century stone chateau in the mountains of Languedoc, my bucket list vacation came to life.
Why? Think wine tastings in small vineyards, lazy afternoons in the shade of a terrace, day trips to sleepy medieval villages or sailing excursions on the coast. Sigh. What’s not to love? But where do you go? There are so many options, it’s hard to decide where to go. Here are a few ideas.
The best locations to rent villas in France
The French Riviera
When people ask what my favourite places in the world are, the French Riviera – the Côte d’Azur – is always high on my list, and I regularly try to convince my husband we should move here.
The Mediterranean is so sparkling it looks as if it has been sprinkled in diamond dust, lemon trees beam with sun-shiny color, and there isn’t a better place to sit back with a glass of pink champagne. The artistic legacy in this coastal region of southeastern France is immeasurable – Matisse, Chagall and Monet are just a few of the artists who painted here – and it just goes to show how captivating the landscape is.
While I love the sea views – and if I had a few million dollars I’d rent an ostentatious villa in St Tropez – the towns and countryside inland of the Riviera are where to go for a slower pace and the ultimate relaxing holiday.
Picture graceful villas with pools, rose bushes blooming, and leisurely lunches with crusty baguettes, Cailletier olives and salad Niçoise. Honestly, it goes straight to the happy place in my mind.
If you want a peaceful chateau rental France has many low-key locations where rustic chic rules. About 20 km from Nice is the town of Vence, where Matisse once lived. It’s an ideal place to step back from the glitz and glam of noisier Riviera hot spots such as Cannes and Monaco, and offers the luxury of authenticity – something not always easy to come by on the flashy but mesmerizing Côte d’Azur.
Nearby Paul-de-Vence has long attracted the artistic elite, and you’ll spy artwork by Picasso, Matisse and Léger at the legendary Colombe d’Or, a restaurant of such understated elegance it’s clear why so many under-the-radar celebrities have visited (and where I had the most unforgettable black truffle salad of my life).
Moving west down the coast towards Spain is Provence, one of the most popular places in France to rent holiday homes. This is Peter Mayle territory. He’s the author of A Year in Provence, his blockbuster account of moving to a two-century-old farmhouse in Luberon with his wife and two dogs. (Personally I prefer his mysteries, the Corsican Caper and the Marseilles Caper, but to each his own.)
A Year in Provence and Mayle’s other books did so much for tourism, in fact, he was awarded a Legion d’Honneur by the French government, and Luberon is now firmly on the map for luxury vacation rentals.
What’s the draw? Part of Provence, Luberon is an atmospheric region dotted with ancient hill towns, rugged valleys and sun-soaked views. Some of the most classic destinations are Isle-sur-la-Sorgue, Rousillon and Gordes.
Part of the draw of Provence is the fresh cuisine and, of course, the wine. Rosé is renowned here, with more produced in Provence than anywhere else in the world. You’ll also feast on fresh figs, grilled sardines and cantaloupes bursting with flavour – and if you’re in Marseilles, it would be unthinkable to pass up a bouillabaisse.
Another well-known destination for holidays in Provence is Aix-en-Provence, a town immortalized by Paul Cézanne, whose paintings of Mont Saint Victoire have coloured our image of the region more than any tourist brochure ever could.
Also a notable destination with artistic roots is Arles, where Vincent van Gogh made his home.
With 350 miles of coastline, Normandy, in the northwest of France, has a maritime charm and plenty of places to get away from it all. Scenic drives take you past the white chalk cliffs of Etretat, colourful quays and wind-swept sand dunes, and into an agricultural heartland famous for produce such as apples and cheese. (Hello, Camembert!) The most celebrity-strewn destination in Normandy is Deauville.
When the Duc de Morny built a new racecourse in the chic resort town of Deauville on the Normandy coast in 1864, he added a new layer of excitement to French luxury holidays. Long seen as a summer getaway for Parisians escaping the city heat, this posh seaside town still attracts the racing set who flock to the tracks at the Hippodrome Deauville La Touques and Clairefontaine.
Deauville is equally popular with beach-bound vacationers and gamblers – the ritzy Casino Barriere de Deauville dates back to 1912. Open 365 days a year, it’s a place where dreams are made – and broken – but you wouldn’t be the first to hope to win enough to buy your own luxury chateau.
The Loire Valley, just two hours from Paris, is the original home of the palatial chateau, and over the centuries a long list of kings, queens and ambitious nobles staked their claim here, building fortress-like castles and elegant estates that many love to visit today.
While the imposing Château de Chambord and the graceful Chateau de Chenonceau are out of reach for even the keenest billionaires – though you can tour them – there are plenty of other chateaux to dig your toes into, and create some history of your own.
Courchevel in winter
Sadly, it can’t be summer all the time, but the best time to be in France is … just about anytime. When winter hits, the ‘It’ crowd moves to Courchevel, (formerly Courchevel 1850) where skiing, sleek boutiques and luxury chalets attract oligarchs, aristocrats and die-hard ski buffs.
With 600 km of piste, seven Michelin-starred restaurants and two of France’s eight 6-star hotels (rated officially as ‘palaces’ – I’m not kidding), it’s an ultra-exclusive retreat in the snow.
Finally, if we’re talking French luxury holidays, we can’t forget Paris. For haute couture, architecture and world-class art, it simply can’t be beat.
Shopping in the designer boutiques on Avenue Montaigne (Balenciaga!), kicking back with a glass of champagne at the Hôtel Plaza Athénée or strolling through the stately Jardin des Tuileries add up to a world of refined indulgence we probably don’t deserve. (At least I doubt I do)
Add in a private tour of the Louvre for a culture boost or hit up Paris Fashion Week for a style injection, and you have sophistication and elegance on a level that only France can master. Here’s an (obvious) idea: Combine a few days in Paris with a week or two in a villa – a luxury vacation doesn’t get much better than that.
Learn more: For more information on France visit the French tourism website. For upscale vacation rentals, an agency specializing in holiday cottages, luxury villas and chateaux is ChicVillas.com.