Travel seasons

 (Photo clockwise from top left: "Spring" courtesy of French Moments; "Summer" courtesy of Armand69; "Winter" courtesy of Dreamstime; "Autumn" courtesy of TheWorldExplored)

When it is high, low, and shoulder season in France?

France enjoys roughly the same seasonal calendar as North America, with weather similar to the Mid Atlantic region (though warmer down by the Mediterranean in Provence and Languedoc—and, obviously cooler in the Alps).

Summer is high season (nicest—or at least most consistently warm—weather, and, since school is out, families can take vacation); winter is low season (with the exception of the popular Christmas break creating a high season bubble); fall and spring are the shoulder seasons (temperate, though moody, weather and moderate crowds).

There are exceptions: Obvious seasonal destinations as seaside towns (crazy crowded in summer; dead in winter) and Alpine or Pyrenees ski resorts (booming in winter, less so in summer, though hikers and other visitors keep enough local businesses open).

Know thy travel seasons

Jan 7–Mar 31

Low

Apr 1–Jun 14

Shoulder

June 15–Aug 31

High

Sep 1–Oct 31

Shoulder

Nov 1-Dec 14

Low

Dec 15–Jan 6

High

For the purposes of pricing airlines tickets (and, especially in beach or resort destinations, hotel rooms), the travel industry basically recognizes three travel seasons: high season (for France: June 15–Sept 2 and Dec 15–Jan 6), low season (Nov-Mar, excluding Christmas), and shoulder season (fall and spring).

Not to belabor the obvious, but high season brings the highest prices, largest crowds, least room to bargain (and hottest temperatures; global warming has led even France to get too hot some summers, especially as many little B&Bs had never had to install A/C, so things can get quite stuffy).

The French typically take a marathon vacation starting on Bastille Day (July 14) that for some lasts all the way through the end of August (others just take two weeks). Big cities can seem eerily empty on those last two weeks of July—and beach towns along are suddenly intensely crowded.

On the plus side, high season is also often when you'll find the most festivals—plus, all the sights, restaurants, hotels, and other businesses of interest to tourists will be open and generally keeping their longest hours.

Low season has the lowest prices, smallest crowds, and most room to bargain. The downsides to low season are a chance for crummy weather—often wet in spring and fall and cold in winter, but not too bad, similar to the American Mid-Atlantic—and, especially in smaller towns and resort areas, the likelihood that many tourist sights and services will be shut down (a good proportion—though not all—hotels and restaurants might close).

Shoulder season, as you might imagine, falls somewhere in between—not too crowded or too empty, generally pleasant weather, most things open—making it insanely popular among savvy travelers who are able to arrange their calendars to take advantage of it.

Airfares links