Many people living in urban areas want to leave the city for a weekend or more to enjoy the pleasures of country life. Stroll through the narrow streets of a small village, contemplate the local architecture, stop at a good restaurant to discover the local gastronomy and in no time, find yourself in the middle of nature for a walk, a bike ride or a horse ride. The countryside is full of paths through fields and forests, and also leads to the banks of a lake or a river. All you have to do is enjoy the peace and quiet to contemplate the flora, follow the fauna with your eyes and listen to it, and come back to the countryside in peace. For those who prefer the train to the car to get away from it all, there are some superb countryside spots accessible by rail. Here are 10 of them to give you some ideas for a getaway
1- Conches-en-Ouche, in Eure
Conches-en-Ouche overlooks the Rouloir valley. This small Norman village is home to beautiful half-timbered houses from the 15th century, a keep in the center of the village and a church in the flamboyant Gothic style with splendid Renaissance stained glass windows. To taste the local products, the best is to go to the market which takes place on Thursday morning. The capital of the Pays d'Ouche is surrounded by green forests, and many walks are possible in the area. Moreover, during a long walk, you should not hesitate to open your eyes wide to see some superb Norman manors. For families, the Pré Bourbeux forest has playgrounds and a picnic area. Conches-en-Ouche can be reached by train from Paris in about 1h30.
2- Saumur, Maine-et-Loire
Saumur is one of the cities served by the line that links Tours to Nantes. It is a city where it is good to stroll in streets and alleys lined with facades of tufa stone, emblematic of the region. Without forgetting the contemplation of its castle which proudly dominates the Loire and houses the municipal museum. One of the main activities in Saumur is to rent a bike to go through the vineyards and taste the bubbly wines made mainly from the Chenin grape. Or you may prefer to venture into the troglodytic cellars to learn more about mushroom growing
3- Riquewihr, Haut-Rhin
Riquewihr is one of these superb Alsatian villages that we like to visit to contemplate the colourful and flowery half-timbered houses. The rue du Général de Gaulle is a must for this. You can also see the Doler, the old gateway to the town, before visiting the Thieves' Tower Museum and its period dungeons. Riquewihr is located in the heart of the vineyards, which offers the opportunity for beautiful walks in the countryside. Not forgetting the remains of castles that can be seen in the beautiful countryside around the town. Let us mention the ruins of the castle of Bilstein and those of the castle of Reichenstein. After going to Colmar by train, you can reach Riquewihr in about 20 minutes by bus, using the 106 A and B lines
4- Guéret, Creuse
The peaceful town of Guéret is about 3h30 by train from Bourges. It is a city where it is good to put down your suitcases to stroll in its shopping streets, but also to see its monuments such as the Town Hall and the Hotel des Moneyroux, Gothic style. Located on the edge of the Chambrières forest, which is itself in the heart of the Monts de Guéret, beautiful walks among the trees are accessible, on foot or by mountain bike. The massif also has a wolf park. Note that the Monts de Guéret being a medium mountain territory, many viewpoints offer exceptional panoramas on a hilly, green and preserved nature
5- Ustaritz, Pyrénées-Atlantiques
Want to immerse yourself in the heart of the Basque Country and its beautiful nature? Then Ustaritz is the place to be, only 15 minutes by train from Bayonne. Bordered by the River Nive, the town is home to streets with pretty timber-framed houses emblematic of the area, the neo-Gothic church of Saint Vincent and the Lota castle, with its incredible architecture and which houses the Basque Cultural Institute. In the town, those who wish to do so can also try their hand at Basque pelota, before savouring the cuisine with local ingredients, such as Espelette chilli pepper. As far as nature is concerned, the best thing to do is to drive along the River Nive and away fromUstaritz in the direction of Bayonne to enjoy the hilly landscapes of the Basque Country, while keeping an eye on the neighbouring Pyrenees
6- Chinon, Indre-et-Loire
Head for the Centre-Val de Loire region and Touraine, the garden of France. The area is perfect for a weekend or a holiday in the countryside, with the incredible medieval city of Chinon. You can wander through its beautiful cobbled streets and stone and half-timbered houses, before climbing up to see its impressive fortress. From this essential place of the city, the panoramas on the Vienne valley are sublime. Strolls along the river are also rejuvenating, whether on foot or by bike. Not forgetting the traditional boats that ply the river. Around Chinon, the forest and vineyards invite you to enjoy moments of communion with nature, but also to taste the great local wines. From Tours, the train serves the city in 50 minutes.
7- Salon-de-Provence, Bouches-du-Rhône
Situated between the Alpilles, the Pays d'Aix, the Camargue and the Luberon, Salon-de-Provence has a remarkable heritage, including medieval gates, the Empéri castle, the Saint-Michel church and the Saint-Laurent collegiate church. The historic centre is also home to narrow streets with colourful facades to be contemplated without moderation, for a total immersion in a Provencal atmosphere. The sky being often blue, it is the perfect occasion to take a bike and go to the Alpilles Regional Natural Park, one of the smallest in France. It is however rich in biodiversity, with wetlands, dry areas and a wide variety of bird species. The train journey from Marseille takes about 50 minutes.
8- Sarlat-la-Canéda, Dordogne
Once arrived at the station of Sarlat-la-Canéda, you go to the center of the city and you are immediately seduced by the beauty of its many buildings. It is indeed the town in France with the largest number of listed historical monuments! You can then stroll through the markets to stock up on duck breast, foie gras, truffles and other fruits. A tip? Go to the western part of the city, simply to get lost in a maze of beautiful and quiet streets. As far as nature is concerned, a pleasant experience is to take the greenway by bike, to discover the beautiful landscapes of the Dordogne valley and stop at the river's edge
9- Beaune, Côte-d'Or
It takes 1h40 on average to reach Beaune from Lyon and discover some of the many treasures that Burgundy has to offer. Among them, there are the charming alleys with the old houses of the city, as well as the inescapable Hospices de Beaune, with their glazed tile roofs. Then it's time for nature with a first stop at the Bouzaize park, very pleasant with its lake where you can go boating. Later on, you can explore part of the Route des Grands Crus, to enjoy the hilly landscapes of the region's great vineyards. Other circuits lead the walkers between hills and cliffs of the Hautes Côtes de Beaune
10- Moulins-sur-Allier, Allier
Capital of the Bourbon Duchy, Moulins-sur-Allier has an absolutely charming historic centre, with its half-timbered houses, its elegant inner courtyards and its key monuments such as the Notre-Dame cathedral, the Mal Coiffée, the castle of the Dukes of Bourbon, and the Maison Mantin, which is one of the many museums to visit. Around the city, nature invites hikers to discover the Bocage bourbonnais, where small agricultural plots are separated by hedges and where the Charolais are raised. You can also reach the Val d'Allier nature reserve, which is simply the second largest bird reserve in France. Moulins-sur-Allier is only 2.5 hours by train from Paris.