Autumn can be one of the best times to visit France. Schools go back for a new year, businesses resume operations, and Paris is again full of Parisians. The countryside is left to the locals who get on with daily life.
Autumn officially begins after the equinox on 21 September but, for most people, La Rentrée (the return) at the start of September means holidays are over and it’s back to normality.
If you have flexible travel dates, September and October can be a very pleasant time, with warm days, the colours of changing foliage, and conditions ideal for walking or cycling.
You can traverse the fields and valleys of the Western Front, follow the footsteps of Australian soldiers, and see trenches, pillboxes and war relics.
In addition, you can explore forests, picturesque villages and towns, and architectural masterpieces such as the cathedrals at Amiens and Reims.
Great precautions were taken to protect these two national assets during the First World War.
At Amiens Cathedral, portable items were removed for safekeeping (including the stained glass windows) and parts were reinforced with concrete. In 1918, it received nine direct hits but none caused serious damage.
The gigantic Reims Cathedral, known as the location for French coronations, was commissioned as a hospital at the outbreak of war and Allied troops were evacuated from the area to save it from being an enemy target.
When the cathedral was nonetheless damaged by German bombs, the French people protested at the destruction of an icon and, soon after the war, in 1919, they began a full restoration.
There are other advantages to an autumn visit to France. The weather still affords a trip to the beach or a seaside resort in nearby Palais.
Airfares and accommodation can also be cheaper and more readily available, driving is easier, and visitor sites and villages have fewer sightseers.
Shopping in Paris reaches its peak, with stores stocking up for Christmas, and you can stroll the streets like a local, mixing with Parisians going about their business.
And, for foodies, it’s an especially good time. October is one of the main months for harvesting produce including corn, apples, pears, berries, nuts and grapes, so there are many festivals (vendages).
The downside is, not all attractions will be open, restaurants may be closed, and nights can be cool or cold.
Weather in the north can be unpredictable, with rain or heatwaves. This calls for some planning because having the right clothing can make or break a holiday.
A little more forethought is required if you’re visiting France in autumn but travelling in ‘shoulder’ time, between peak and off-peak, can provide a more authentic experience.