Under-the-radar French cities you should visit this year
For history, swap Poitiers for Limoges
There’s a pleasantly relaxed air to Limoges, where signs in Occitan are a hint of its sweetness with southern French flavors. The French capital of porcelain, designated City of Art and History, brings together many cultural highlights in a compact center. Start at the Romanesque Cathedral of Saint-Etienne where Richard the Lionheart became Duke of Aquitaine in 1169, then pass by the nearby Museum of Fine Arts. The pretty half-timbered houses of rue de la Boucherie lead directly to the tempting stalls of the Halles Centrales.
To book: The Best Western Plus Hotel Richelieu (bestwestern-richelieu-limoges.com) offers double rooms from €85 (£71) a night.
For a taste of Brittany, swap Rennes for Nantes
Nantes has kept its Breton soul although it has not been part of Brittany since the mid-1920sand century. So feast on top quality seafood and crepes while exploring this artsy town on the western part of the Loire. The 16km Green Line walking route is a great way to discover this inventive city: you’ll pass heaps of public art, the vast castle of the Dukes of Brittany, green spaces by the river and the very entertaining Machines de l’Ile, with its huge mechanical animals and giant steampunk-style carousel. You won’t be surprised to learn that Jules Verne was born here and his former home is a captivating museum.
To book: Zozo Hotel (zozohotel.fr) offers double rooms from €109 (£91) a night.
For medieval charm, swap Toulouse for Montauban
Like Toulouse, its neighbor to the south, Montauban is a pink city of medieval arcaded squares and southern warmth, but on a smaller, more intimate scale. Place Nationale, founded in 1144, is its pink heart, a square of townhouses with pink arcades around a square paved with café terraces. Walk to the Tarn to see the 17andepiscopal palace of the last century which highlights the artist sons of Montauban, Jean-Auguste-Dominque Ingres and the sculptor Emile-Antoine Bourdelle.
To book: The Abbaye des Capucins Hotel Spa & Resort (abbayedescapucins.fr) offers double rooms from €99 (£83) a night.