Autumn in France marks the end of the long Summer break and the start of a transitional season towards Winter. It’s a beautiful season to explore the country, from cities to rural places and remote valleys in the Alps.
In this article, I have listed plenty of information about the autumn season in France and our favourite Autumn spots in France. I promise you many bright colours, from red to yellow to orange! 🍂🍁🍃
Autumn in France: the Calendar
In 2021, Autumn (or Fall for our American friends!) officially started on 22 September in Europe, the date of the Autumn equinox and will end on 21 December. For meteorologists and many French people, Autumn runs from approximately 1 September to the end of November. Although the last month of the year, December is often thought to be part of Winter because cold and snow occur throughout the country.
With the start of Autumn comes the “Rentrée” when children and teachers return to school at the end of their long Summer holidays. Unlike in Australia and New Zealand, this represents the start of a new school year.
- Beginning of September – la Rentrée (return to school)
- 22 September 2021 or 23 September 2022 – the start of Autumn
- 1 November – la Toussaint (All Saints’ Day)
- 11 November – la Saint-Martin (St. Martin’s Day)
- 11 November – Armistice of WWI
- End of November – l’Avent (Advent)
- 21 December 2021 or 21 December 2022 – the start of Winter
The celebrations and commemorations of Autumn
Autumn is a season rich in celebrations and commemorations.
Locally, there are many traditional festivals related to the harvest and grape harvest. I will talk about them later in this article.
Nationally, autumn has three main events:
La Toussaint (1st November)
All Saints’ Day in France marks a school and work break halfway between Summer and Christmas. For the French Catholics, “Toussaint” is a special time for honouring the dead. It is time to visit cemeteries and put flowers on the graves.
However, for others, the end of October is associated with Halloween.
Read more about All Saints Day in France on the blog…
L’Armistice du 11 novembre
The Public holiday commemorates the Fête de la Victoire when the Armistice after World War I was signed on 11 November 1918. Official ceremonies and military parades take place on 11 November, in the same manner as Americans celebrate Veterans’ Day.
Read more about the WWI Armistice commemorations in France on the blog…
La période de l’Avent
Advent in France is a time of waiting and preparing for Christmas. It lasts for four weeks, starting on the fourth Sunday before Christmas. ‘Advent’ derives from the Latin ‘adventus’ meaning “coming”. Preparing for Christmas makes November’s sad days an exciting time, particularly for children.
Read more about Advent in France on the blog…
Why you should visit France in Autumn
Discovering France in Autumn is arguably the best season to do so. The vast car parks of major tourist sites such as Mont-Saint-Michel, Rocamadour, Sarlat, Lake Annecy and Les Baux-de-Provence look almost empty, especially on weekdays. September and October are the best tourist periods to discover France when the crowds of visitors have long gone, and the places are left to locals and lucky visitors.
Therefore, it is easier to take photos of favourite places and to take the time to visit every little corner of a medieval castle or museum without queuing. Autumn is also a much cheaper season to visit France, as the peak season usually ends towards the end of August.
From colourful foliage and weather: what to expect?
The days of September can often be quite warm, and it is not unusual to enjoy an “Indian summer” with the characteristic coloured Autumn foliage: yellow, orange and red.
This term, borrowed from the spectacularly colourful display of foliage in New England, is also known in Europe as St. Martin Summer, whose celebration day occurs on 11 November. Autumnal colours are typically at their peak in France in early to mid-November.
Some of France’s most charming places become even more attractive with Autumn colours. Rediscovering the villages and castles of France is often breathtaking, particularly under a deep blue sky.
Even the French capital, Paris, is enhanced by colourful tints in Autumn, thanks to the many trees found bordering its wide avenues or planted in one of its beautiful public gardens. We recommend visiting Parc Monceau, Jardin du Luxembourg or Parc de Saint-Cloud.
The weather will be slightly warmer in the south (Provence, Languedoc and Corsica) and cooler in the north (Paris Basin and Alsace).
The mountainous regions of France (Alps, Pyrenees, Massif Central and Jura) can experience snow and frost as early as September and October.
Overall, mild temperatures can make a walk in the mountains or a cycle tour in the forest a delightful activity.
This is Harvest Time!
In France, Autumn is also a season associated with the harvest. It is in Autumn that most ripe foods are harvested: corn, maize, rapeseed, sunflowers, pumpkins, apples, pears, quince, blackberries and also chestnuts, nuts and walnuts.
In regions such as the Loire Valley, Champagne, Alsace, Aquitaine and Provence, the year’s highlight is the wine harvest (les vendanges).
Many parts of France organise harvest festivals such as the Collobrières Chestnut Festival in the Maures hills in Provence.
In the Alps, a few villages and towns continue the tradition of the return from the alpine pastures with festive events. One of the most famous festivals takes place in Annecy.
Traditionally, Autumn is also the season for ploughing the fields right after the harvest.
Our favourite Autumn spots in France
Here is a collection of photos taken during our travels across France between late September and November.
Paris in Autumn
As long as the sun is willing to grace us with its presence, fall in Paris is my favourite season to visit the French capital.
The colours of Autumn bring out the beauty of Paris
The vivid colours of autumn only accentuate the beauty of this city and add depth to the architecture. The best places to enjoy it, however, are away from the hustle and bustle of the city. That is, wherever there are trees, from the banks of the Seine to the many parks and gardens!
My favourite Autumn activities in Paris
I love to stroll along the Seine, at dawn or dusk, to admire the soft reflection of the light on the water.
Then I head to the Jardin des Tuileries, the Place des Vosges or the Jardin du Luxembourg which are home to magnificent trees.
What a pleasure to take a walk in a Parisian park while listening to the dead leaves crackling under my feet! I find myself walking happily in the big puddles. Around me, children collect conkers, and some even play with snails…
And then there are these famous boulevards lined with trees with yellow and orange leaves.
Once the walk is over, I take refuge in a café to enjoy an old-fashioned hot chocolate. La vie est belle!
Honestly, how can you not fall in love with Paris in autumn?
In the Paris region (Ile de France)
The Paris region, known as the Ile de France, has many parks and forest estates. The visitor expects a flowering of colours in the fall. And indeed, he will not be disappointed.
Having lived in the west of Paris, in Maisons-Laffitte, we loved the fall season. We walked almost every day in the castle park and took the opportunity to make beautiful excursions to Versailles, Saint-Germain-en-Laye, Saint-Cloud, Fontainebleau, Chantilly and Provins, a medieval city on the edge of Champagne.
In the French Alps of Savoie
In Savoie, autumn comes and goes earlier than in Paris… So you have to enjoy it during October before the first snows come to sprinkle the mountain tops with white.
Everywhere nature turns yellow and red, contrasting with the turquoise blue of the Alpine lakes (including Lake Annecy and Lake Bourget).
In the high mountains, the landscape adopts a characteristic rust colour for the pleasure of amateur photographers.
Lorraine is a large forest and rural region. It is, therefore, not surprising to see beautiful fall colours.
In the big cities (Nancy and Metz), the urban parks and the trees lining the streets or the rivers offer a beautiful sight.
Autumn offers a picturesque landscape in the countryside, very “Vieille-France”.
Alsace is a wine country. And the vineyards – well-known – adopt beautiful bright colours in the fall. But that’s not all. Alsace is a region of great charm with its half-timbered houses, beautiful Romanesque or Gothic churches, and ruined castles that still watch over the surroundings.
You must discover Colmar and Strasbourg, the rural regions of the Sundgau (in the south) and the Outre-Forêt (in the north). Oh, and without forgetting the scenic Alsace Wine Route. and its countless medieval villages.
Between Lorraine and the Alps, Franche-Comté is a region of transition. The province is crossed by the Jura massif, which culminates at more than 1700 m altitude. It is a country of wide-open spaces where nature is king.
The giant fir trees’ dark green contrasts with the deciduous trees’ bright colours.
There are all the ingredients to spend a beautiful autumn vacation away from the hustle and bustle of the city in peace.
Autumn in France: English-French Vocabulary
(f) for féminin, (m) for masculin, (adj) for adjective and (v) for verbs
- Advent = Avent (m)
- Autumn = automne (m)
- bank = rive (f)
- castle = château (m)
- city = ville (f)
- colour = couleur (f)
- countryside = campagne (f)
- December = décembre
- fall = automne (m)
- forest = forêt (f)
- harvest = récolte (f)
- hill = colline (f)
- Indian summer = été indien (m)
- lake = lac (m)
- latitude = latitude (f)
- leaf = feuille (f)
- mountain = montagne (f)
- November = novembre (m)
- October = octobre (m)
- ploughing = labour (m)
- river = rivière (f)
- September = septembre (m)
- sky = ciel (m)
- Summer = été (m)
- tree = arbre (m)
- village = village (m)
- vineyard = vignoble (m)
- Winter = hiver (m)
- wood = bois (m)
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👉 Read more about Autumn in France in French on our blog Mon Grand-Est! 🇫🇷
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Pierre, your photos are breathtaking as usual! And thank you for including Besançon!
I love the Jardin du Luxembourg in the fall. The combination of the autumn leaves and the flowers is stunning.
Merci beaucoup Ellen! You’re right, the Luxembourg Gardens are one of my favourite parks in Paris to discover autumn, the other one being the Buttes-Chaumont! A bientôt! 👋