The Francophone world is a big one, with incredible options to explore beyond France’s hexagonal land.
During the colonial period of France’s history, France disseminated its language and culture around the world, resulting in regions that to this day embody relics from the era. Here are Frenchly’s top destination picks for you to enjoy a mix of local culture with French flair:
In 1896 France declared Madagascar—the fourth largest island in the world, located just off Africa’s southeast coast—its colony, and capitalized on its abundant resources such as spices, vanilla, and timber. Despite gaining independence in 1960, the vestiges of France remain intertwined with Malagasy culture, which was already an amalgam of Indonesian and African influences before France arrived.
Start your journey in Antananarivo, the bustling capital city and geographic, economic and political center. Nicknamed Tana during the French rule (the title stuck), this hub is where you’ll find some of the best food. For a true gourmet treat, head to La Varangue, a French restaurant housed in a boutique hotel. The walls are cluttered with colonial-era nicknacks like clocks and instruments, and the food is some of the best in the country.
Madagascar is known as a biodiversity hotspot, a categorization given to regions with huge levels of biodiversity that are also threatened. You can immerse yourself in this eye-opening nature in the Parc National d’Andasibe-Mantadia to see the black and white indri, or at the Parc National de Masoala for a rainforest filled with snakes and lemurs and terrific hiking.
Just east of Madagascar lies yet another incredible island getaway: Réunion, a département d’outre-mer of France. Whereas Madagascar is one of the poorest nations in the world, neighboring Réunion is one of the wealthiest islands in the Indian ocean. This Francophone destination has African and Asian culture with European flair, all in a tropical beach paradise.
Go inland for volcanic rainforests, replete with stunning greenery and viewpoints. You must visit the cirques—three volcanoes: Salazie, Cilaos, and Mafate—that erupted to form “natural amphitheaters.” Trek, canyon, and helicopter all over them to make the most of these spectacular UNESCO sites. Stick to the coast for its incredible coral reefs, which allow for the kind of snorkeling and diving experiences that aren’t quite what you’d find on mainland France. The food is a mix of European classics with a creole flair. Treat yourself to a meal at the Blue Margouillat, a hotel and restaurant with an ocean view.
This intimate Caribbean island is the perfect place to relax, enjoy some haute cuisine, and immerse yourself in the low-key beach alternative to Paris. St. Barthelemy (or St. Barth’s) has long been intertwined with France—since the mid-1600s, in fact—and it reflects in the food, people, and culture. Your waiters will speak French; the architecture is a pleasant mix of Caribbean, European, and even Swedish design (the Swedes also had a brief stint in the area).
St. Barth’s has made a name for itself as a vacation favorite for the über rich and famous, meaning that there is no dearth of excellent dining options. Head to Bonito for a buzzy atmosphere and some great—albeit pricey—French fare. For a much more casual experience, pick Le Select, whose array of plastic chairs, simple menu (think: french fries + hamburger + beer), and dive-bar feel offer a nice alternative for those who don’t need (i.e. can’t afford) the A-list treatment.
Although certainly expensive, don’t be dissuaded by its fancy image! St. Barth’s is also laid-back, welcoming, and home to some relaxing beaches. It’s the perfect place for a “drop and flop” vacation, where your primary worry will be to reapply your SPF 70.
With cities like cacophonous Marrakesh and historic and winding Fez, as well as beach destinations like Agadir—not to mention the Sahara and the Atlas Mountains—Morocco truly has it all. Due to the 44 years that France officially governed the country, most people in cities speak moderate to fluent French, and the cities have an interesting combination of Arabic and European architecture.
Outside of the must-see spots, visitors will also enjoy the city of Essaouira, a popular retirement choice for many Frenchmen, where you’ll find traditional fish markets and vendors with a European-beachside-destination feel. Also venture to the city of Chefchaouen, known for its spa treatments and all-blue architecture.
Morocco has some of the best pastries outside of France. Go to a traditional Moroccan bakery or souk (“market”) for sweetened Arabic treats like Ghoriba, but head to any French-style café and you’ll be blown away by their gâteaux.
For an even farther-flung destination, you can’t miss Vietnam, which houses the most significant francophone population out of the Southeast Asian countries that spent time under French rule. French was the official language during the colonial period and remained extremely popular in the southern half of the country until 1975, when the communist North took over. Although Vietnam is no longer a Francophone country as a whole, it is still part of the International Organization of Francophonie, an international organization for countries who have large French-speaking populations and significant ties to French culture.
Start with Hoi An, a charming village known for fairytale-esque lanterns which dot the old city at night, and its ubiquitous tailor shops. It is also home to some of the very best Bahn Mi sandwiches in the world. Bahn Mi, a delicious layer of freshly-baked baguette bread, pork, mayo, vegetables, jalapeños and cilantro, is French-influenced Vietnamese food at its finest and simplest. Chef/writer/traveler/TV personality Anthony Bourdain made Banh Mi Phuong famous when he declared it was a “symphony in a sandwich.” He’s right—it’s phenomenal—but don’t miss Madam Khahn—The Banh Mi Queen for another hole-in-the-wall restaurant that is just as good, if not better.
For architecture, go north to the old quarter in Hanoi, which has peeling colonial facades among the humid, hectic city. Bright shutters open up to motorcycle-enveloped streets, where you can enjoy a Vietnamese coffee. Although the caffeinated beverage was originally brought over by the Europeans, the local version includes extremely sweetened, condensed milk—it’s absolutely delicious.