‘This is the France you dream of’: readers’ favourite travel discoveries

<span>A courtyard in old Lyon.</span><span>Photograph: Art Kowalsky/Alamy</span>
A courtyard in old Lyon.Photograph: Art Kowalsky/Alamy

Secret alleys and courtyards in Lyon

Climbing towards the basilica from the river, we explored a zigzag of secret staircases and hidden courtyards in Lyon. These traboules are hard to follow, and so we had to look out for the metal plates that mark some of the entrances. There’s almost no direct way up from the river, but these routes, originally for the city’s silk workers, reveal charming back streets and private courtyards, into which visitors can stare. At the top, breathless, we loved the Basilique Nôtre-Dame de Fourvière. In the crypt we made another exciting discovery: a huge mosaic of the sea battle of Lepanto, a site we’d recently visited in Greece.
David Innes-Wilkin

Fons, the village of your dreams

On the last leg of our road trip to Jazz in Marciac we chanced upon Fons, in the Quercy black triangle. In a deep-sided wooded valley of chestnut and oak trees this medieval village was the France you dream of: a stone-and-timber village of pathways, with swifts and swallows nesting in ancient structures, and a bistro that’s the beating heart of this wonderful place. Aperitif in the market place under the Milky Way was the perfect way to sign off.
Damien Reidy

Quiet corners in Charente-Maritime

If you’re in the Charente-Maritime in the southwest ensure you spend a day south of Royan, where there’s a collection of quiet places to visit, all in close proximity. Start at the Régulus caves, a troglodyte site that has views of the Cordouan lighthouse and traditional fishing nets hanging from the cliffs. Then, walk south to the village of Talmont-Sur-Gironde and the imposing 12th-century Sainte-Radegonde church, which overlooks the estuary. The village is full of narrow, car-free streets and huge hollyhocks growing against the whitewashed walls. We had amazing seafood at Les Délices de l’Estuaire before heading to the archaeological site of .
Miles Smith

Deep into Dordogne history

A visit to the Gouffre de Padirac cave is a must if you are in the Dordogne (between the Loire Valley and the Pyrenees). It’s an incredible place that can be explored by steps, or by getting a lift 103 metres down. Once there you’re taken on a magical boat ride on a river in the cave. The water is turquoise and the rock surrounding you is forever changing colour. You almost feel like you’ve entered a different world. I’d recommend visiting out of season when it’s quieter. There’s a small gift shop and cafe nearby.

Guardian Travel readers' tips

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Glorious gardens in Nantes

Looking for a grand hotel within reach of the airport at Nantes for our last night on holiday, we found Château Colbert in Maulévrier. It’s a mansion with a wonderful restaurant but, even better, has a restored vegetable garden that supplies the hotel, and of which tours are available. Next door is the Parc Oriental de Maulévrier, a Japanese strolling garden created around the same time as Monet’s garden at Giverny, when Japonisme was a strong cultural influence. It ended our garden-themed holiday in great style.

Vineyard cycling in Alsace

A cycling trip through France in September saw us visit the Vosges mountains and Alsace in the east, and were surprised by how much of a hidden gem it was. We stayed at the reasonably priced Auberge Ramstein (doubles from €87 room- only) in Scherwiller, and found plenty of vineyards to visit on foot, including the biodynamic vines at Achillée and the traditional-method vineyard at Domaine Dussourt. Unlike Strasbourg, the village and nearby town of Sélestat were lovely and quiet, there were great cycle routes on the flats and hills, and lots of hiking options, too.
Maddy Warner

A champagne experience in De Gaulle country

I ended up in Colombey-les-Deux-Églises in northeastern France by accident. We needed dog-friendly accommodation en route south. It was a crisp winter evening and a large moon shone over a delightful main square framed by two churches, with inviting restaurants serving traditional food and champagne from the nearby hills. The words “France profonde” came to my mind. In daylight, we discovered we were in the village where President Charles de Gaulle spent every other weekend and retreated when he left politics. His residence, La Boisserie, is open to the public, and his simple tomb in the small churchyard looks over the fields and hills. There are champagne houses in the village and plenty of small producers in the surrounding areas. We followed the sign for Clairvaux and discovered the remains of one of Europe’s most important medieval abbeys. The hills are gentle and there’s no traffic, so you can bring your bicycle and explore.

Forest bathing in Fontainebleau

The first thing that hits you when you arrive at the forest of Fontainebleau is the amazing smell: the fresh pine scent feels like it’s cleansing body and soul. The forest is an ancient hunting ground, now used for walking, cycling and climbing. For a cultural hit, visit the Château de Fontainebleau, which will take your breath away. For somewhere quieter to stay, the small, pretty town of Bois-le-Roi is inside the forest and by the banks of the Seine. It’s also on a direct train line from Paris, so cars are not required, and it takes less than an hour – making it ideal for a day trip.

Art and architecture in Honfleur, Normandy

In northern France, on the southern bank of the Seine estuary, is the attractive town of Honfleur. Its highlights include the old port and Sainte-Catherine church, which is the largest wooden church in France. As you stroll through a town that has been associated with many notable artists, including Monet and Boudin, be sure to admire the houses with their slate-covered fronts and the array of beguiling shops and galleries. As the sun sets, enjoy a glass of calvados at the harbourside, while watching the fishing boats at the shore of the Seine.

Winning tip: A museum to treasure near Lille

Musée La Piscine in Roubaix, a converted swimming pool just outside Lille, is a treasure trove of paintings, sculptures and installations. The building, from the art deco period, is a large part of its charm and is a reminder to me of when public buildings were practical and beautiful. The €9 admission price is an absolute bargain. We spent three hours there and still didn’t see everything. The restaurant/tea room is excellent, too.
David Pearce