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France is, quite simply, the world's leading tourist destination. This is the country that inspired Monet's reinvention of colour and the haunting harmonies of Claude Debussy. It has tantalised the taste buds with foie gras and frog legs, and captured the imagination of the world's jet-set with the resorts of St Tropez and Port Grimaud.
France emerged as a power following the Hundred Years' War. The country flourished as a centre of culture in the renaissance period and became a dominant European force during the reign of King Louis XIV and later Napoleon. This long and storied history has left a huge cultural legacy for visitors to enjoy.
History has seen the rise of castles, Gothic churches, walled towns, modern skyscrapers, and iconic structures such as the Pont du Gard and Eiffel Tower. There are 1200 museums housing the works of Picasso, Degas and Van Gogh. Magnificent concert halls carry the sounds of French composers. Market stalls, Parisian bistros and Michelin star restaurants offer up unique French fare, accompanied by Champage and Bordeaux wine. Flagship fashion edifices carrying 'haute couture' line the cobbles of the Champs Elysees.
From the cliffs and sand dunes of the north to the castles of the Loire valley, the majestic peaks of the Alps and the Pyrenees, the endless Mediterranean coastline of the Cote d'Azur, the oak forests on Corsica, and the Vineyards of Burgundy, France is an endless labyrinth of treasures. Millions arrive each year to rediscover the meaning of
Naturally, most visitors start their holiday in the French capital, Paris, where the Eiffel Tower offers spectacular views over the city. Shopping at Galeries Lafayette or on the Champs Elysees is a unique experience, as is taking in the exhibitions at the Louvre and Musee d'Orsay, or relishing the delights of the Moulin Rouge. Day trips take guests to the Palace of Versailles and Disneyland.
South of Paris lies the Loire Valley, known as the 'Garden of France' for its abundance of vineyards and fruit orchards. The imposing chÈƒteaux spread across the valley are cultural monuments to the ideals of the Renaissance period. Less well known but equally stunning is Provence. Tourists can stroll through the markets of Aix-en-Provence, visit the Pope's Palace in Avignon, buy fresh seafood in Marseille, and visit the rural wetlands of the Camargue, home to the fabled white horses.
There are ancient gems in every direction. The coast of Normandy hosts the magical island of Mont-Saint-Michel, topped by a medieval monastery. To the south lies the historic fortified city of Carcassonne.
The Alps are a playground for skiing in the winter, and hiking or cycling in the summer. The Pyrenees offer a view of the wilder side of France. Travellers can take a cable car ride to the summit of Pic du Midi, or experience the famous pilgrimage to Lourdes.
The ultimate jet-set lifestyle awaits on the Cote d'Azur, where visitors are treated to 71 miles (115km) of Mediterranean coastline and beaches, more than 60 golf courses, 47 ski resorts, thousands of restaurants and an abundance of sunny weather. Travellers who visit in May can catch a glimpse of Hollywood's finest at the Cannes Film Festival.
Situated on the River Rhone, the historic holiday destination of Avignon is famed for being the Vatican of the 14th century. Six successive Popes resided here from 1309. Avignon is one of very few French cities to have preserved its ramparts. Within these walls, the UNESCO-listed city centre radiates out from the Place de l'Horloge, so named for the fortified tower on the square which now houses a clock and Jacquemert.
The park of Rocher des Doms offers panoramic views out over the city. Dominating the skyline is the enormous Gothic Palais des Papes, the seat of papal power in the 14th century. The Notre-Dame des Doms Cathedral supports a magnificent gold statue of the Virgin Mary. Also visible in the Petit Palais, a former cardinal's residence turned museum. The Pont d'Avignon clings proudly to its reputation as the world's most famous one-fifth-of-a-bridge.
Avignon nurtures a strong culture of art, drama and gastronomy. The covered market of Halles is adorned with a remarkable hanging garden. Visitors here are treated to more than 40 vendors selling specialties from the region, as well as daily cooking demonstrations. Those visiting in July will see the town transformed for the Festival d'Avignon, one of the biggest live performance events in the world.
Gustave Eiffel, the architect of the Eiffel Tower (Tour Eiffel) could never have guessed that it would become Paris' signature sightseeing attraction and attract more than six million visitors a year. It was built as a temporary structure to commemorate the centenary of the French Revolution and was opened by the Prince of Wales, later King Edward VII of England. The Eiffel Tower was considered an eyesore by many and there were petitions to have it pulled down. It was saved only because it had become an important antenna for telegraphy. It towers 984 feet (300m) above the Champ de Mars and until 1930 was the world's tallest building. The highest of its three levels offers a wonderful panoramic view over Paris.
The Eiffel Tower itself has several restaurants, including the popular Le Jules Verne, with panoramic views of the city, and a champagne bar at the very top. There are also several souvenir shops and a carousel at the base. This is a great way to keep children entertained if you plan to go to the top of the Tower, as the queues can be several hours long. A slightly different (and cheaper) way to enjoy the Eiffel Tower is with a picnic on the lawns with the famous structure providing a picturesque backdrop.
Notre-Dame looms large over the Place de Paris, on the Isle de la Cité, and as the most enduring symbol of Paris is an alluring tourist attraction. Built between 1163 and 1345 the cathedral is considered one of the world's Gothic masterpieces. The massive interior can seat 6,000 people and it is dominated by three spectacular and enormous rose windows and a vast 7,800-pipe organ. The 387-step climb to the top of the towers is worth the effort for the panoramic view of the city and the close-up views of the famous gargoyles. The tower also holds the great bell that was rung by Quasimodo, the fictional hunchback in the novel by Victor Hugo.
Opposite the north door is a museum that displays the cathedral's history, while under the square in front of the cathedral is the crypt that houses Notre-Dame's archaeological museum. The church has no real gift shop, but votive candles are available at points in the cathedral in return for a donation.
For a special experience, visit Notre-Dame on a Sunday morning when many of Paris's museums are closed and services are being held, but be respectful of worshippers, especially when taking photos. Another really special time to visit Notre Dame is on summer evenings for the Night Show, an operatic performance projected on a 100-metre tulle screen hanging in the nave. The performances are held nightly in July and August.
One of the world's great art museums, this vast edifice houses an extraordinary collection of paintings, sculptures and antiquities from all over the world. The permanent collections are divided into Egyptian, Greek, Roman and Asian antiquities, painting, drawings, sculptures and objects d'art.
The Louvre was opened to the public in 1793, soon after the Revolution, to display the spectacular treasures looted from the royal palaces. The best-known attractions in the Louvre are Leonardo da Vinci's enigmatic Mona Lisa, which is protected by bullet-proof glass within its own room; and the ancient Venus de Milo. While the Venus de Milo is one of the highlights of a visit to the Louvre, the Mona Lisa can be a disappointment because people usually imagine it is much bigger than it is - and it is usually surrounded by a crowd. With more than 35,000 works on display, don't even attempt to see it all in one day. The building itself is a work of art and the ceilings, floors and staircases will enthral visitors.
Built in the 1970s and named after former French president Georges Pompidou, the futuristic Pompidou Centre is now considered part of the Parisian landscape. The outrageous design, complete with its glass elevators, was the inspiration for the Lloyds Building in London and attracts visitors by the million; it is the city's most popular attraction by far. The building houses the Musée National d'Art Modern (MNAM), which displays a vast collection of 20th-century art, from Fauvism and Cubism to Abstract and Absurd, and its numerous cinemas and theatres have regular musical and dance performances. The square to the west of the building attracts a varied assortment of street performers. While there, visitors should be sure to check out the whimsical Stravinsky Fountain with its 16 water-spraying sculptures.
This great museum is fairly new by Paris standards. It is situated in a railway station by the Seine and houses a vast collection of works from the significant 1848 to 1914 period. There are important works from the Art-Nouveau movement but the Orsay is best known for its Impressionist and Post-Impressionist art. The collection is arranged chronologically and contains highly regarded works by Monet, Manet and Courbet. Also on permanent display is the famous painting by Gustave Doré entitled and Henri Chapu's marble statue of . The Musee d'Orsay is one of the most famous art museums in the world and one of France's premier attractions. Even the uninitiated will appreciate this world-class museum, and art fanatics will be in heaven. There is a restaurant and a book shop at the museum.
The Rodin Museum is situated near the Musée d'Orsay and is housed in what was formerly the Hôtel Biron, the beautiful hotel where Auguste Rodin (1840-1917) once lived and worked. Inside are many of Rodin's great marble sculptures including while outside, in the garden, are famous bronzes including The museum also includes many works by Camille Claudel (Rodin's pupil and mistress) and paintings by Van Gogh, Renoir, Manet and Rodin himself. The museum has a gift shop, with reproductions of some of the most famous works.
The Picasso Museum is situated in a 17th century mansion in the heart of Paris. The collection was started in 1973, after the French government accepted Picasso's own collection in lieu of death duties, and was added to after his widow's death in 1990. All the phases of work from the Paris-based artist are represented here including his paintings, drawings, ceramics, sculptures and even poetry. Memorable works include the self-portrait and Nude in an Armchair. Most of Picasso's great paintings, however, are owned by and housed in foreign museums or are in the hands of private collectors. It is an unusual museum - mainly because of the unusual artist - and a must for Picasso enthusiasts and anybody who appreciates art. The mansion which houses the museum is gorgeous and creates just the right atmosphere for the diverse collection.
The Château de Versailles stands 15 miles (24km) southwest of Paris and is one of France's most noted attractions. Most of the palace was built between 1664 and 1715 by Louis XIV (known as the Sun King), who turned his father's hunting lodge into the grandest palace ever built. The 'Old Château' still exists but is enveloped by the vast white stone façade of the New Château. This lavish statement of monarchical power was to become a symbol of the excess that would lead to the revolution of 1789. Perhaps the most famous room in the palace is the Hall of Mirrors (Galerie des Glaces) where the Treaty of Versailles was signed, signifying the end of the Great War. Within the palace visitors can also see the former royal bedchambers, the grand staircase and other staterooms, and within the vast landscaped park and gardens are many wonderfully ornate fountains and ponds. There is a small train that ferries visitors from the palace to the Grand Trianon and Petit Trianon, former love nests where both the Sun King and Napoleon enjoyed the company of their mistresses.
In the 16th century, Henry II and Catherine de Medici commissioned architects Philibert Delorme and Jean Bullant to build a new palace within the Fontainebleau forest, 40 miles (64km) south of Paris. Italian Mannerist artists Rosso Fiorentino and Primaticcio came to assist in the interior decoration, helping to found the School of Fontainebleau. Visitors will see the long Gallery of François I, which the artists adorned with scenes like and the monarch holding a pomegranate, a symbol of unity, as well as the richly adorned Louis XV Staircase and the monumental fireplace and frescoes in the ballroom. The palace was a refuge for French monarchs from the days of the Renaissance. They valued it because of its distance from the slums of Paris and for the rich hunting grounds that surrounded it. Many important events have occurred here, perhaps none more memorable than when Napoleon stood on the grand steps in front of the palace and bade farewell to his shattered army before departing for Elba. The chateau boasts four museums, beautiful and vast grounds and many treasures. Compared to the glories of Versailles, however, Fontainebleau can be a bit of an anti-climax; it is best to see it before Versailles.
Vieux Bordeaux (old town) centres on the Quartier St-Pierre, which is surrounded by narrow streets, and lined with old churches and grand mansions adorned by wrought-iron balconies and arcading. There has been a lot of restoration over the last few years, but some streets remain a bit seedy - in a way, this ramshackle look adds to the atmosphere.
One of the most opulent displays of Bordeaux's former glory is the Grand Theatre. It was built between 1773 and 1780 on the site of a Roman temple and is faced with an enormous colonnaded portico topped by 12 Muses and Graces. Visitors can view the impressive interior by attending one of the operas or ballets.
Nearby is the Esplanade des Quinconces, which was laid out between 1818 and 1828 and covers nearly 12 hectares (30 acres), making it the largest square of its kind in Europe. A smaller but more beautiful square is the earlier Place de la Bourse. Its centrepiece is a fountain of the Three Graces and is bordered by quays opening onto the river and flanked by the Custom House and the Stock Exchange. Crossing the river is the impressive Pont de Pierre, which was built during Napoleon's Spanish campaigns, and has 17 arches in honour of his victories. The views of the river and quays from here are memorable, particularly when floodlit at night.
Important churches include the delightful Basilique St-Michel, across from which is the Fleche St-Michel, which has the tallest stone tower in France; it was built in 1472 and is 374 feet (114m) high. During July and August (afternoons only) visitors can climb the 228 steps for wonderful views over the river. To the west is the 13th-century Cathédrale St-André, the most impressive and ostentatious church in Bordeaux (look out for the wonderful sculptures in the doors).
The city's museums are gathered around the cathedral, the best being the Musée des Beaux-Arts, which has a fine collection of European art including works by Reynolds, Titian, Rubens, Matisse and Marquet, a resident of the city. The old town is fairly compact and is best explored on foot; two-hour walking tours can be arranged through the local tourist office. Boat tours can also be arranged.
The area surrounding Bordeaux produces more than 70 million gallons of wine each year, including some of the world's best red wine. Many vineyards are small family-run businesses without staff to cater for tourists, but the larger, more famous wineries organise tastings and tours at the cellars and vineyards. Château Mouton-Rothschild is located just north of Pauillac. It is still run by the Rothschilds and attracts thousands of visitors each year, who come as much for the impressive collection of art and the picturesque estate as for the wine. Château Lafite-Rothschild is nearby and was purchased by the Rothschilds in 1868. The contains many vintage bottles, several dating from 1797. Château Margaux is an imposing 19th-century château south of Pauillac; the estate produces three wines from its 650 acres. To see the vat rooms and wine cellars, make an appointment by email or phone. These are just some examples of famous wineries in the region - visitors could easily spend several wine-drenched days exploring this beautiful area.
One of France's best-known attractions, the Mont Saint-Michel Abbey, is situated on a rocky island just off the coast of Normandy and Brittany. It was founded in 708 by the Bishop of Avranches, who built a chapel here. Construction of the current abbey began in 1023 but was not finished for 400 years. Built with granite, it encompasses a range of architectural styles, from Norman to Gothic. The abbey has been a site for pilgrimages for centuries and has also served as a monastery, a prison and a fortress protecting against the English during its long history.
There is still a Benedictine monastery within the abbey, which can be visited on a guided tour. Among the maze of cobbled streets within the walls of the abbey are a number of other attractions; the little medieval village still boasts its 15th and 16th-century houses and there are shops, restaurants and a few good museums including a maritime museum and a multimedia museum that tells the story of the island. There are also some amazing views out into the bay. The abbey is connected to the shore by a causeway, but there are plans to construct a bridge to it so that the sea will again flow freely around the island. Visitors could easily spend a whole day exploring this fascinating place.
The Cape Girolata peninsula is classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and encompasses the Scandola Nature Reserve, an ecological treasure covering 1,000 hectares (2,471 acres) of scrub, cliffs and sea. The promontory is marked by incredible rock formations that were formed by Monte Cinto's volcanic eruptions millions of years ago. The subsequent erosion has fashioned remarkable caves and grottoes deep into the rock. The headland and its surrounding waters support significant colonies of seabirds, dolphins and seals, as well as 450 types of seaweed and some remarkable fish such as the grouper, a species more commonly found in the Caribbean. Due to its valuable biodiversity and landscape Scandola is off-limits to walkers and can be viewed only by boat; trips can be arranged from Calvi, Porto and Ajaccio and make for amazing excursions. Visitors can spend the whole day on a boat tour, stopping off in a picturesque little village for lunch. Equally, one can go for a quick two to three hour jaunt if time is limited. It is also possible to hire boats but it is expensive.
The long, shop-studded promenade of La Croisette, and its seven miles (11km) of beach, is Cannes' major attraction. Palatial hotels line this strip, each with their own private beach, and this is where visitors are most likely to spot a familiar face, or topless hopeful, especially during the Cannes Film Festival, though it can be difficult to see further than the sweating backs of the paparazzi during this popular event. La Croisette is best viewed from the highest point of Cannes' Old Town, Le Suquet, where the remains of the fortified tower still stand, along with the 12th-century Chapel of St Anne. Le Suquet is a lovely place to stroll, with its winding streets, small boutiques and restaurants. At the end of La Croisette is the Palais des Festivals, whose endless Allées des Stars is imprinted with handprints and signatures of the famous. Just beyond is the atmospheric Vieux Port, with its odd medley of luxury yachts and tiny fishing vessels, and the rows of palm trees and fragrant flower market of the Allées de la Liberté. Further west, along the seafront, are the free beaches (where the locals go), along the Plages du Midi.
The two islands of Lerins, Ile St Marguerite and Ile St Honorat, lie a 20-minute boat ride from Cannes. Ile St Honorat is a tiny forested island, the smallest and most southern of the Iles de Lerins. It has been the site of a monastery since the 5th century and today the Cistercian monks are the only inhabitants of the island. Much of the monastery is surprisingly modern, with the exception of the ruins of the 11th-century monastery on the sea's edge. The monks organise tours of the island and sell their produce to tourists, including homemade wine, honey and lavender oil. The monastery also welcomes visitors for week-long retreats. On the neighbouring Ile St Marguerite is the fortress where the 'man in the iron mask' was imprisoned. The famous old prison also has a Museum of the Sea to explore.
Mostly, however, people head out to the islands to picnic and enjoy the natural splendour on offer. There are plenty of secluded, rocky little coves, forested areas and gardens and it is easy to find a beautiful spot to spend the day. It is the perfect opportunity to get out of the fashionable bustle of Cannes and find a little peace and privacy. The boat trips over are also enjoyable and give wonderful views of Cannes. There is a restaurant on Ile St Marguerite.
Antibes is a few miles east of Cannes and a very popular excursion from the city. It has one of the best markets on the coast and an excellent Picasso museum in its ancient seafront castle, the 16th-century Château Grimaldi. Picasso was lent a room in the castle to use as a studio in 1946 and several extremely prolific months followed before he moved to Vallauris, leaving all his Antibes output to what is now the Musée Picasso. Although Picasso donated other works later, most of the collection dates from this one period, including the best known work, Ulysses and his Sirens. Picasso himself is the subject of some of his paintings. There are also works here by some of Picasso's contemporaries, including Nicholas de Stael. Alongside the castle is a cathedral which dates from medieval times; only the choir and apse survive from the original Romanesque building, while the nave and magnificent facade are Baroque. Nearby is a market which is open every morning over the summer and overflows with local produce.
The Cote d'Azur beaches range from intimate rocky coves to long swathes of golden sands packed with sun worshipers. Some are highly developed and will hire out loungers and the like but others are still fairly secluded; there should be something for everyone along this incredible coastline. Most beaches are away from the centre, although the family beaches, Plage des Graniers and Plage des Cannebiers, are within walking distance. Generally the beaches are very safe with calm seas, warm water and plenty of lifeguards on duty. People don't just come to places like St Tropez and Cannes for the nightlife, they also have some of the best beaches in France. The string of beaches along the Baie de Pampelonne, south of St Tropez, the best known of which is the Plage de Tahiti, have long been favoured by exhibitionists wearing next to nothing. Villefranche sur Mer is a beautiful, sandy beach great for snorkelling. The beaches of Ile de Porquerolles, in the national park, are coveted by nature lovers. Other favourites include Plage Port Grimaud, Monte-Carlo Beach and Vias Plage. Almost all the beaches are lined with restaurants and shops selling endless gifts or items to prove you've been there. A huge variety of watersports are on offer.
Renowned artist Henri Matisse spent a good portion of his life in Nice, living in the city from 1918 until 1954, and he is honoured by this museum. The Musée Matisse has several permanent collections, mostly painted in Nice and many donated by the artist and his heir. The better known paintings include (1937), (1935/1942) and (1905). There is also an ensemble of drawings including (1951) and (1952). Seeing his nude sketches today, you'll wonder why early critics denounced them as 'the female animal in all her shame and horror.' The museum opened in 1963 and is located near the Hotel Regina where Matisse used to reside. It is very attractively housed and the striking, colourful building is surrounded by an olive grove. The exhibits give a lot of insight into Matisse's process and technique which is a treat for enthusiasts. There are guided tours of the museum on offer in French, English, Italian and German.
The Chateau de Nice was built in the 11th century for military purposes. It is located in Vieux Nice and features on most sightseeing tours of Nice, but the fortress itself is long gone and only some ruins remain. The attraction for visitors is the Parc du Chateau (or Colline du Chateau, that is, the Castle Hill) which surrounds the former fortress. With wonderful views over the rooftops and gleaming mosaic tiles of Old Nice, along the sweep of the Promenade des Anglais and out to the Mediterranean, the Château park is a lovely attraction in itself and a good place for visitors to orientate themselves within the city. Visitors can take cool walks in the shade of the trees, enjoy the large grassy park, explore the Roman ruins and visit the waterfall; it is a pretty and peaceful place to spend an afternoon.
The fortress was razed by Louis XIV in 1706 and the only part left standing is the 16th-century Tour Bellanda, a tower which now houses the Naval Museum. The cemetery where Garibaldi is buried covers the northwest side of the park. To reach the park, visitors can either climb the steps at the front, from the Quai des Etats Unis, or for those who aren't up to it an elevator is available.
Just outside of Nice, near the airport, this vast tourist attraction includes a botanical garden and numerous animals, among other things. 2,500 species of plant are collected in the Phoenix Parc Floral and some of them are very rare; the tropical greenhouse is one of the largest in Europe. There is a greenhouse dedicated exclusively to orchids and another which features the biodiversity of Southern Africa. The aviary contains many species of exotic birds and there are beautiful butterflies in one of the greenhouses and an insect zoo, as well as several aquariums and a big lake containing birds and turtles. There is also a tacky theme park with automated dinosaurs and mock Mayan temples which will probably delight children. One of the highlights of the park is the Musée Départemental des Artes Asiatiques the Museum of Asian Arts - which houses a collection of ethnographic artefacts, including silk goods and pottery, as well as traditional and contemporary art. This is a great excursion for the whole family and should happily occupy everybody for a few hours at least.
Housed in the former residence of the Ukrainian Princess Kotchubey is a fine collection of 19th and 20th century art, including works by Boudin, Ziem, Raffaelli, Renoir and Monet. The Musée des Beaux-Arts Jules Chéret gallery includes great sculptures as well as paintings, including works by J. B. Carpeaux, Rude and Rodin. There is also an important collection devoted to the masters of the Second Empire and Belle Epoque, a great attraction for visitors to Nice. The building is truly lovely and would be worth seeing even if it didn't house a museum, and there is a lovely little garden to sit in as well. The collection is nicely arranged in spacious rooms and there is a pleasant, airy feel to the place. It may not take very long to see everything, but art lovers will be richly rewarded by a visit.
The Monastery of Cimiez, which includes a church, a cemetery and a convent where some Franciscan friars still live, is located in a residential area in the hills above the hustle and bustle of the city. The convent houses the Musee Franciscain which is decorated with 17th-century frescoes, and exhibits a monk's cell so visitors can get an idea of how the austere religious life is lived. The chapel dates from the 17th century and the lovely gardens have sweeping views across Nice. Apart from the monastery, the grounds of Cimiez include a large park set amid olive groves, the Archaeology Museum and Matisse Museum. Also within the gardens, the Musée National Message Biblique Marc-Chagall displays some 450 of the artist's oils, drawings, pastels, lithographs, sculptures, and ceramics. There is plenty to see and do in this picturesque area, which promises visitors a break from the bustle of the city.
During a couple of weeks in August, Cimiez is the site of the Nice Jazz Festival, with music being played every day until midnight and performed on three stages, in the olive groves and the Roman Amphitheatre. It is an hour's walk, or a short bus ride from the town centre.
Only a few miles outside Tours, on the River Cher, the Château de Chenonceau is probably the most celebrated of the many châteaux in the Loire valley. It was used as a mill in the Middle Ages and bridges the whole width of the river. It was owned by a succession of powerful noblewomen including Henri II's mistress, Diane de Poiters, the Queen Regent Catherine de Medici, and Louise de Loraine, and is often referred to at the 'Château des Femmes'. Inside visitors can see a wonderful 200 foot (61m) gallery, Louis XIV's sitting room, and Francois I's bedroom, among other things. The castle boasts rich collections of furniture and art, including an exceptional museum collection of the Old Masters' paintings including works by Murillo, Rubens and Le Tintoret. It also has famously lovely gardens. There is a gourmet restaurant, a self-service restaurant and a tea room (open daily from 3pm to 5pm) at the chateau. A free audio guide is available in 11 languages.
Five miles (8km) outside of Tours is the tiny village of Villandry and its wonderful château. The chateau is impressive, with richly furnished rooms and an interesting history. One of the towers dates back to the 12th century and visitors can ascend its uneven stairway to gain wonderful views of the grounds. Although the building and interiors are worth seeing, the château is best known for its gardens which are famous world-wide. They are open between February and November. These are not your standard ornamental gardens: between the vine-shaded paths and ornamental box hedges are carrots, cabbages and aubergines carefully arranged in patterns; roses climb gracefully above small herb gardens. The gardens are colourful and range from the extremely stylised (which include mazes and patterns) to wilder sections. There is also a garden shop for enthusiasts. Villandry is an easy cycle from Tours and, for those that have worked up an appetite, there are some excellent local restaurants. This is one of the most popular and highly-rated chateaux in the Loire Valley and it consistently delights visitors.
A kilometre-long wall, studded with 17 circular towers, surrounds this vast medieval fortress, which was never conquered by any invading force. Visitors can tour most of Château d'Angers, built between the 9th and the 13th century, including the courtyard, prison, ramparts, windmill tower, 15th-century chapel, and royal apartments. The castle also has some lovely terraces and gardens which contrast prettily with its huge and sombre limestone walls. However, the chateau is now used as a tapestry museum as well and the overriding reason for coming here is to see the 328-foot (100m) Tapestry of the Apocalypse. Woven between 1375 and 1378 for Duke Réné of Anjou, it is the largest medieval tapestry in the world and takes as its text St John's vision of the Apocalypse, as described in the Book of Revelation. Visitors may be disappointed to find that although the fortress itself is intriguing and very interesting to explore, there are no furnishings in the castle anymore (apart from those in the tapestry museum) and it is only the structure itself that remains. Guided tours provide insight into its architecture and fascinating history, and audio tours are available as well.
Eleven miles (18km) east of Blois, the vast Château de Chambord is the largest château in the Loire Valley. It was commissioned by François I, who wanted to outshine the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, and the result is a spectacular Renaissance masterpiece with 450 rooms. It was designed by an Italian architect in 1519, but was worked on by French masons. The outside is essentially French medieval - massive round towers with conical tops, and an explosion of chimneys, pinnacles and turrets. The details inside, however, are pure Italian: the Great Staircase (attributed by some to da Vinci), panels of coloured marble, niches decorated with shell-like domes, and freestanding columns. Wandering through, one can get a good feel for the contrasting architectural styles, which have combined to create a very decadent, if at times discordant, whole. The château is surrounded by a 20-mile (32km) wall containing a 5,261-hectare (13,000-acre) deer park. It is one of the most impressive castles in the world.
Early on 6 June, 1944, the largest armada ever known left England's south coast and set off to liberate France. Shortly thereafter British, American and Canadian soldiers began landing on the Normandy beaches. Today, World War II veterans and their families walk along the same beaches once codenamed Juno, Gold, Sword, Utah and Omaha. A good place to start a battlefield tour is at Arromanches-les-Bains, a few miles northeast of Bayeux. After it was taken by the British 50th Division, this small fishing village was turned into a mammoth military harbour using a prefabricated port that was towed across the Channel. Two and a half million men and 500,000 vehicles landed here. The wreckage of 'Mulberry Harbour' remains just off the beach. A little down the coast are Omaha and Utah, the beaches where the US Division famously landed. The cliffs are still pitted with German bunkers and shell holes, but otherwise these fairly innocuous beaches show little sign of the bloody battles that took place on them. Many people come to Normandy to pay their respects to the Allied soldiers at the many vast cemeteries along the coast. The cemeteries are still immaculately maintained, and moving places to visit.
One of Marseille's most scenic buildings is the Palais Longchamp. Built during the Second Empire, it is the grandiose conclusion of an aqueduct that once brought water from the Durance to the city. Although the aqueduct is no longer in use, water is still pumped into the centre of the colonnade connecting the two palatial wings. Below, a spectacular fountain features an enormous statue of three muscular women above four bulls wallowing in a pool from which a cascade drops four or five storeys to ground level. Marseille had a serious water problem (and attendant cholera problem) for centuries so this enormous tribute to water is historically fitting. In the palace's north wing is the Musée des Beaux-Arts, which displays a vast array of paintings from the 16th to the 19th centuries. They include works by Corot, Millet, Ingres, David, and Rubens as well as some 80 sculptures and objets d'art; particularly interesting is a gallery of Pierre Puget sculptures. The palace also houses the Natural History Museum, and there is a small Planetarium in the vast park. It is lovely to wander or picnic in the gardens and, every year in July, the huge park is the main venue for Marseille's prestigious Five Continents Jazz Festival.
Directly south of Marseille, and to the west of Cassis, is the wild coastline of the Massif des Calanques. Some of France's most beautiful and dramatic scenery can be found along this 12 mile (19km) stretch of coastline; the sea has cut gorges, up to a mile (2km) deep, into the limestone. Dazzling white limestone cliffs overhang the sea and attract rock climbers and deep-sea divers from all over the world. The mountains rise up 1,850 feet (564m) and are a haven for climbers. Walking tours and boat trips to explore the area can be organised via the tourist board, and visitors don't have to be experienced climbers to enjoy walking in the area. Those taking boat rides to the Calanques from Marseille, should take one of the longer trips because the scenery only gets more dramatic and more beautiful, and most people want to spend as much time as possible exploring. Travellers can also hire private boats, which is ideal because then one can stop and swim at will. The highlight of the Calanques is Sormiou, with its beach, seafood eateries and small harbour. Sormiou is separated from another small but enchanting settlement at Morgiou by Cap Morgiou, which offers a panoramic belvedere with splendid views of both the Calanques and the eastern side of the massif. At Morgiou there are tiny creeks which are great for swimming.
The most popular beach in Marseille, near the city centre, is the Plage des Catalans. This marks the beginning of Marseille's corniche which ends at the Plage du Prado, the city's main sand beach, where the water is remarkably clean. There is a nice walk along the corniche which takes visitors past the Anse des Auffes, a picturesque inlet with small fishing boats beached on the rocks, and then behind the Plage de Prado to the Parc Borély, which has a boating lake, rose gardens, palm trees and a botanical garden. The botanical garden is open daily from 8am to 9pm and entrance is free; a stroll here is a fun addition to promenading along the Marseille beachfront and a good chance to enjoy some shade. Along the Malmousque peninsula there are a number of tiny bays and beaches that are perfect for swimming when the mistral wind is not exciting the waves too much. The small beaches between La Pointe Rouge harbour and La Madrague harbour also tend to be clean and usually slightly less crowded than some of the more touristy beaches. There should be a beach to delight everyone in Marseille as there is quite a lot of variety and visitors can enjoy watersports, sun lounging, and fashionable strolling.
On the sparsely vegetated island of If is the infamous prison, Château d'If, which is best known as the penal setting for Alexandre Dumas' famous book François I built the fortress here to defend Marseille and its port in the 16th century, and the site later housed a state prison which was notorious for incarcerating enemies of the royalty. The cells are horribly well-preserved; carvings by Huguenot prisoners can still be seen inside some of them. On a lighter note, the views back towards Marseille and the mountains beyond are wonderful to behold and the trip over in a boat is enjoyable. The ferry to the island will not run if the weather is bad and opening and closing times can change in accordance with the ferry schedule.
Cassis is a beautiful resort town just west of Marseille. Hemmed in by high white cliffs, its modern development has been carefully limited and it retains much of the charm lost by its more high-profile neighbours. Built on the side of a hill, the old village is centred around a shady square where the inhabitants come to cool off and play 'pétanque' on summer nights. Portside posing and drinking aside, there's not much to do except sunbathe and look up at the ruins of the town's medieval castle, built in 1381.
A popular excursion is to take a boat trip to the calanques - long, narrow, deep, fjord-like inlets that have cut into the limestone cliffs. Those feeling energetic can take the well-marked footpath from the Route des Calanques behind the western beach; it's about a 90-minute walk to the furthest and best calanque, En Vau, where one can climb down rocks to the shore. Intrepid pine trees, and sunbathers, manage to find ledges on the chaotic white cliffs. The water is deep blue and swimming between the vertical cliffs is an experience not to be missed. A holiday in Cassis is peaceful and sun-drenched and the natural surroundings are truly spectacular.
Towering over Avignon, the imposing Palais des Papes (Palace of the Popes) is the symbol of the city's medieval power. The palace consists of the ascetic Old Palace, commissioned by Benedict XII, and the extravagant Gothic New Palace of Clement VI. It was built primarily as a fortress with massive outer walls, battlements and sluices for pouring hot oil onto attackers. Inside the palace, so little remains of the original interior that visitors could be mislead into believing that all the popes and their entourage were as virtuous as the last official occupant, Benedict XIII. In reality, the interior was once elaborately decorated, displaying the decadence of the feuding cardinals and their mistresses. The fire of 1413 destroyed most of the decoration and furnishings, but evidence of the once magnificent interior does remain and includes some frescoes, one of which was painted by Italian artist Matteo Giovannetti. Visitors can take a fascinating tour of the palace and see the Pope's Bedchamber, the Chapelle St-Martial and the Stag Room. Nearby, dwarfed by the palace, is the 12th-century Cathédrale Notre-Dame des Doms.
Just below the Palais des Papes, the Petit Palais contains a wonderful collection of 13th to 15th-century paintings and sculptures. Although there are interesting examples of art from the region, much of the collection consists of the work of Italian masters from that era and, progressing through the 19 rooms, one can observe how they wrestled with and finally conquered the representation of perspective; in medieval art the size of figures depended on their importance rather than position so this was a revolution in art. The highlights of the collection are Botticelli's sublime and The by Sano Di Pietro. There are also a plenitude of beautiful Christian icons in the collection. It is a small museum and information in English is minimal so those interested in the art need to buy a brochure or guidebook to get context. Although it has a lot to offer enthusiasts this museum is not a must-see for those who are indifferent to art history.
Behind the Petit Palais is the much photographed Pont d'Avignon, also known as the Pont Saint-Bénezet, and fondly immortalised in the famous children's song of the same name. The bridge was originally built in the 12th century to shorten the journey for the busy traders ferrying their goods between the Mediterranean and Lyon. The torrents of the Rhône regularly damaged and brought down sections of the bridge and builders finally gave up repairing it in 1660, four centuries after it was built. Today only four of the original 22 arches remain. On the first of the bridge's bulwarks is the tiny Chapelle St-Nicholas, and this delicate Romanesque chapel, dedicated to St Nicholas, patron saint of bargemen, is well worth a visit. There is a wonderful audio guide available to give visitors the history of the bridge and its cultural significance (and allow them to sing along to a few different versions of the song). Try and avoid the busiest times because the bridge can get a bit crowded and as the attraction's appeal is mainly atmospheric too many people can ruin it. Those who aren't keen to see the lovely little chapel should consider walking up to the park on the hill which overlooks the bridge to simply admire the views. Sitting on the river banks is similarly a very pleasant way to pass the time.
Just north of Avignon, Orange was the former seat of the Counts of Orange, a title created in the 8th century and passed to the Dutch crown in the 16th century. The family's most famous member was Prince William, who ascended the English throne in 1689. Today the town is best known for its spectacular Roman theatre and triumphal arch, both of which remain remarkably intact. The Roman Theatre is 2,000 years old and will leave visitors breathless with wonder; it truly is an amazing site to visit. They hold concerts here in summer. The rest of Orange isn't strikingly picturesque; however, there are pleasant tree-lined streets and squares with some nice cafes and restaurants and, delightfully, there is a small river, the Meyne, which runs lazily through part of the town, winding around buildings and gardens, which gives Orange a surprisingly pastoral feel. It is also worth visiting the Colline St Eutrope park area which runs across the big hill in Orange and is traversed by lovely paths perfect for a walk or jog. There is a fantastic view from parts of the hill, looking down on the Roman Theatre at the base.
Châteauneuf-du-Pape is a medieval village on the side of a hill, dominated by the ruins of an ancient château towering above. The château was the pope's summer retreat from the Palais and although all that remains are the foundations and two outer walls it is still an imposing sight and a wonderful viewpoint. The village below is a maze of well-restored medieval buildings and narrow streets that weave around the hillside. The village was once encircled by two concentric walls: the outer wall enclosed the chateau and the entire village, as far as the main road at the bottom of the village; the inner wall enclosed the chateau and only the highest part of the village. Today life in the village often involves working in the surrounding vineyards or selling the famous wine to the many tourists who visit. The Chateauneuf-du-Pape AOC is one of the most renowned wines of the Loire Valley; the area is particularly famous for its red wine. Naturally, there are great wine tasting experiences to be had in the village and Les Caves Saint Charles (located in the Pope's Cellar, which dates back to the 13th century) is a favourite wine tasting venue with tourists. The Chateau la Nerthe is a picturesque vineyard which has lovely grounds and also hosts great wine tastings. Visitors will be spoiled for choice with vineyards and tastings, however, and there are many to choose from.
North of Bastia is the holiday destination of Cap Corse, a 25-mile (40km) peninsula edged with quaint fishing villages. The peninsula is divided by a narrow spine of mountains, which rise over 3,000 feet (914m) above sea level. On the east side of the Cap Corse mountain spine are a series of small villages cuddled into picturesque coves, while on the west coast the settlements cling precariously to rugged cliffs battered by wild waves.
The peninsula's best stretch of sandy beach to enjoy on holiday is Plage de Tamarone, near Macinaggio. A favourite attraction with holiday visitors in Cap Corse is the charming village of Centuri; favourite activities include hiking and hikers flock to the area to enjoy the many walking trails, like the well-known Sentier des Douaniers. Make sure the camera is loaded for visits to the panoramic viewpoints of Capo Grosso, Moulin Mattei and the Tour de Seneque, above Pino. The vineyards of Patrimonio are renowned, particularly for their muscat, and most wineries welcome holiday visitors for wine tasting. The Cap Corse wine route, or 'route des vins', is signposted from St-Florent.
The inland area along the northwest coast of Corsica has been renowned since Roman times as an orchard of olive, fig and orange trees and the breadbasket of the island, crisscrossed by a network of narrow, winding roads. Tiny villages such as Sant'Antonino and Speloncato perch high above the countryside, built around rocky outcrops, while others along the Artisan's Route, like Pigna, proudly display their traditional crafts, such as pottery and stringed instruments. Set beneath a wall of imposing jagged mountains that remain snow-capped until July, the rocky coastline of the Balagne area shelters a string of stunning white sand beaches and an old fishing settlement, now turned into one of the island's most popular holiday resort towns, at Calvi.
In the shadow of its citadel, built by the Genoese, Calvi bathes in the legend of Christopher Columbus whose birthplace it is said to be. It was during an attack on Calvi that another famous mariner, Lord Nelson, lost his eye. Not far away from this historic and compact gem can be found another port town, Ile Rousse, founded by Pascal Paoli in direct contrast to Calvi, which he felt was too Genoese. Many of the settlements along the Balagne coast have been developed into busy holiday villages; however, the stunning scenery and idyllic beaches more than compensate for the crowds. Trains connect Calvi and Ile Rousse with Ajaccio and Bastia. Buses are also available.
A striking and ornate 19th-century building which houses Lille's renowned museum of fine arts, Palais des Beaux-Arts is a masterpiece in itself. The building contains a treasure trove for art lovers, a cultural attraction second only to the Louvre in Paris. The gallery features works by Goya, Donatello, Raphael and Rubens, to name just a few of the masters represented. There are also a number of works by French artists, including three major items: by David; by Courbet; and by Puvis de Chavannes. Although the museum contains mainly paintings, there are also some collections of ceramics, relief maps and a large section of Italian and French drawings. The museum aims to be inter-disciplinary and therefore includes literature, theatre, music, dance and cinema in its exhibitions and organises events to celebrate all these art forms. Many visitors complain that although the museum is astounding and well worth a visit it is a little hard to find; a good tourist map is very useful in Lille.
The most celebrated prehistoric site in Corsica, Filitosa is worth a visit for its megalithic menhir statues, which have been carved to represent human faces or armed figures. The purpose of these granite structures is still unclear, and mysteries abound concerning the many ancient structures on the site. Filitosa V, with its sword and dagger, the face of Filitosa IX, and the five menhir statues around the foot of a 1,200-year old olive tree, are the most admired structures of the prehistoric site. A small museum offers further menhirs, as well as some ancient tools and pottery found in the caves, dating back to 3,300 BC. It takes about 45 minutes to walk through the whole site. There is a cafeteria and a gift shop at the site and it is a pretty area to explore. There is an audio guide in a number of languages to give visitors context. As the site is unprotected from the elements it is best to go on a sunny day, but try to avoid the peak hours because the serenity and mystery of this ancient site is far better appreciated without the crowds.
The holiday destination of Biarritz became famous in the 19th century when Empress Eugenie (the wife of Napoleon III) fell in love with this part of the Basque country and built a palace on the beach (now the world-class Hotel du Palais) and a centre with natural springs at Eugenie les Bains.
Biarritz is now a luxurious seaside tourist resort. The main beach Grande Plage offers striped 1920s-style beach tents for hire. After a morning relaxing in the sun, visitors can take in the fine collection of Asian art at the Asiatica Museum (acknowledged as the finest collection of its kind outside Paris) or wander through the Halles market hall. Also worth a look is the famous blue dome of the Russian Orthodox Church, built in the 19th century for visiting aristocrats. Families will enjoy the sharks and seals living at the Museum of the Sea aquarium. Nightlife revolves around the two large casinos, Barriere and Bellevue.
Biarritz has good sporting facilities, including some excellent golf courses and some of the best surfing in France. Each summer, surfers from all over the world come to Biarritz to ride the waves at the annual Surf Festival. Those after more gentle exercise while on holiday opt to stroll along Biarritz's principal promenade, Quai de la Grande Plage.
Nice's most famous market area, the Cours Saleya, bustles with activity every day and is a riot of colour and fresh smells. Cours Saleya is the famous promenade in the southwest of Vieux Nice. A wonderful attraction for visitors, and beloved by locals, the market is packed with flowers, fresh produce, souvenir shops and sidewalk cafés. On Mondays the flowers and fresh produce disappear and instead the area hosts a large flea market and an antiques market; even those not looking to buy anything can enjoy the food and soak up the vibrant atmosphere. The promenade and square which house the stalls are impressive too and the backdrop of venerable buildings contrasts pleasantly with the riotous colour and frivolity of the market.
It is best to arrive as early as possible to enjoy the market before the hordes descend. Also, those planning to do some shopping should be sure to have plenty of change and small bills because the merchants do not like to break large bills and may refuse if they don't have sufficient change.
Epernay, along with Reims, is one of the great centres of champagne production; dug into the chalk beneath the town are more than 200 miles (322km) of cellars and tunnels containing champagne from the surrounding area, including such great brands as Moët et Chandon, Pol Roger, Mercier, and de Castellane. Sadly, as Epernay did not fare well in several wars over the centuries, few old buildings remain in the town despite its rich history. In the central and oldest quarter of the town, the streets are narrow and irregular and one can feel the age of the place, but apart from one church which retains some features from the 16th century the buildings are modern. Generally the surrounding suburbs are modern and spacious but the many opulent villas belonging to rich wine merchants lend an air of sophistication to the town. However, the main reason people flock to Epernay is to visit the great champagne houses and the lack of ancient architecture doesn't deter many. Both Moët et Chandon - the world's largest producer of bubbly - and Mercier give guided tours of their cellars, in English, throughout the day. They are situated near each other on Avenue de Champagne. Castellane also has daily tours from March to December.
The mass of intriguing red rock formations along the coastal road between Porto and Piana are known as Les Calanques, and are a highlight on a visit to Corsica. The narrow, twisting road reveals a landscape of spectacular vistas and panoramas that outdo each other at every turn, where wind and sea have eroded the pink granite rock into pillars, huge boulders and weird shapes. The scenery is most spectacular at sunset, when the setting sun highlights the natural red and pink colours of the rock, and the drive is best appreciated in the direction from Piana to Porto. The landscape is unlike any other and is truly a pleasure to drive through. Visitors can also explore the rock formations on boats or kayaks - the turquoise water contrasts spectacularly with the red rock. There are some great swimming spots hiding among the rock formations. Probably the best way to explore the landscape, however, is on foot, and there are numerous dramatic walking trails winding along the cliffs and through the forests of the area. Needless to say, one can get some fabulous photographs and find special spots; look out for the heart-shaped hole, you'll know it if you see it.
A visitor's first impression of Reims (pronounced ) is of a sprawling industrial town peppered with concrete apartment blocks, the result of World War I bombs and later disastrous town planning. However, Reims is an ancient Roman city and the birthplace of the French nation - it contains one of the most impressive Gothic cathedrals in France, the Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Reims, where dynasties of French monarchs were crowned starting with Clovis, first king of the Franks. The neighbouring Basilique St-Rémi is even older and, half Gothic, half Romanesque in style, includes the old royal abbey which is now a museum documenting the history of the town.
Most visitors come to Reims not so much for history but for the hedonistic pleasure of visiting the cellars of its great champagne producers. This is the home of the world's best bubbly. The best of the best is to be sampled at the Maison de Pommery, which has more than 10 miles (16km) of tunnels extending 100ft (30m) down into the chalk below its Gothic superstructure. Move on to Mumm, which contains 25 million bottles of slowly fermenting champagne in its vaults, and then Taittinger and Veuve Clicquot. All offer a guided tour of the cellars and champagne making process, followed by a tasting.
Château-Thierry is an industrial town 55 miles (89km) east of Paris on the River Marne. The surrounding countryside was the site of many great battles during both World Wars and a number of monuments and cemeteries mark the bravery of thousands of Allied soldiers who fought to liberate France and who now lie interred under her soil. One of the most popular and rewarding memorial sites for tourists is the WW1 Marine Memorial at Belleau Wood, which is located by the WW1 Aisne-Marne American Cemetery and the Belleau Wood battlefield. The Chateau-Thierry Monument is a good place to start when investigating the military history of the area because it lists the units that fought in the region as well as providing a battle map and orientation table.
The town is also known as the home of the famous poet and fable writer Jean de la Fontaine (1621-95); the Musée Jean-de-la-Fontaine is one of the most popular literary museums in the world and contains a collection of his personal effects, memorabilia and a number of editions of his works. There is also a Walt Disney Studio in Chateau-Thierry where you can explore the behind-the-scenes production world of movies and television. Unfortunately, the chateau that gave the place its name has long been destroyed and very little remains of the old part of the town.
Amiens is the ancient capital of Picardy and lies on the River Somme, 75 miles (121km) north of Paris and 65 miles (105km) south of Calais. Walking around the maze of narrow streets, divided by canals, visitors may feel that this is a city past its prime; nevertheless, there are definitely a couple of sites worth exploring.
The city's centrepiece is the Gothic cathedral, built between 1220 and 1270, which is one of France's finest cathedrals. The interior contains wonderful examples of medieval masonry and woodwork; 126 slender pillars hold up the vast structure and the stalls are decorated with thousands of carved figures. Like most great churches it has been added to and restored over the centuries. The nearby Musée de Picardie displays the history and art of the region from prehistoric times through to the present day, along with exhibits from the Roman, Greek and Egyptian empires. The art collection includes European paintings and sculptures from the 16th century, including works by El Greco, Fragonard, Guardi, and Tiepolo. As Amiens also played a vital role in the First World War there is plenty of military history to explore in the area, including some significant and famous battlefields, cemeteries, German bunkers, a battlefield park and a museum.
Those who are tired of fighting off the summer crowds in Champagne Country will find a refreshing alternative in the quaint old town of Troyes, a little off the tourist track and therefore exuding plenty of genuine French appeal. Troyes has been settled since the Roman era and has a rich history and many interesting museums and old churches to visit. In the beautifully restored city centre, sporting quaint narrow streets, Renaissance mansions and pretty old houses, stands one of France's most magnificent Gothic cathedrals. Troyes has been lucky to avoid destruction during war, which is partly why it has so many historic buildings still standing; apart from the magnificent Saint-Pierre-et-Saint-Paul Cathedral, visitors should look out for other worthwhile old churches including Saint-Nizier Church, which has remarkable sculptures, the 13th-century Saint-Urbain Basilica, and Saint-Nicolas Church, a Gothic building dating back to the early 16th century. Strolling around the old part of town is one of the primary delights of Troyes, and there are numerous good restaurants and cafes. The city also boasts a private collection of art housed in the old Bishops palace, the Musée d'Art Moderne, that displays works by Bonnard, Degas and Gauguin.
Situated 55 miles (89km) north of Toulouse, in a loop of the Lot River, the ancient city of Cahors was inhabited long before the Romans arrived, and in medieval times was a thriving university town. Across the river is the town's signature piece, the Pont Valentré. This magnificent fortified bridge was built between 1308 and 1500 and features a trio of towers, battlements and seven pointed arches. The Cathédrale St-Etienne dominates the old town and features a Romanesque north portal, which was carved around 1135.
Today the town is best known for its excellent cuisine and the fine deep red wine that is made in the surrounding vineyards. Sunday is market day and a good opportunity to buy some of the local produce. A good excursion from Cahors is the stunning cliff-edge village of St-Cirq-Lapopie, 19 miles (31km) to the east. Perched high above the south bank of the Lot, the village, with its cobbled lanes, half-timbered houses and gardens, is best visited in the evenings when the tour buses have left and the excellent restaurants have more tables available to linger over.
Montauban lies on the banks of the River Tarn, 50 miles (80km) north of Toulouse, and is one of the most ancient cities in southwest France. Its origins date from 1144 when the Count of Toulouse decided to create a here as a bulwark against English and French royal power. The genius of the original medieval town plan is still obvious in the lovely town centre and, although the suburbs now sprawl way beyond the old core, the city is still dominated by the fortified Eglise St-Jacques fort and the 14th-century brick bridge, Pont Vieux. Montauban has a very attractive old town square and many of its buildings are constructed out of the red brick, typical for the region, which makes these old houses appear delightfully pink. The artist Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres (1780 to 1867) was born in Montauban and many of his works now hang in Musée Ingres, situated in the 17th-century Bishops Palace. The works collected here include the famous originally intended for Napoleon's bedroom in Rome. Apart from this art museum there are two religious monuments worth visiting in Montauban: the 13th-century Church of Saint Jacques; and the Cathedral of Notre-Dame, built in 1739 in the Baroque style.
Conques occupies a spectacular position on the flanks of the steep, densely wooded gorge of the little River Dourdou, a tributary of the Lot, and is one of the great villages of southwest France. The site was chosen as a retreat by a hermit called Dadon in the 7th century, and was named from the Latin , meaning shell. Dadon founded a community of Benedictine monks here, one of whom pilfered the relics of the martyred girl, Ste Foy, from the monastery at Agen. Known for her ability to cure blindness and liberate captives, Ste Foy's presence brought pilgrims flocking to Conques and the magnificent Romanesque abbey-church became a prime stop on the pilgrimage route to Compostela in Spain. Pilgrims still come today, along with tourists who come to admire Conques' beautiful setting. Conques is renowned to be one of the most beautiful villages in France and parts of the original town walls and gates survive, sealing in the narrow, cobbled village streets and the picturesque medieval houses spread out across the hillside. Conques Abbey was built between the 10th and 12th centuries, and the church and cloisters are truly impressive. The tympanum (carving above the main doorway) of the Last Judgement in the abbey is considered a masterpiece of 12th-century art.
Tiered precariously halfway up a cliffside above a small river, Rocamadour has one of the most unique and breathtaking settings of any town in Europe. The town is famed for being the site where the body of Saint Amadour (who is believed to be Zacchaeus of the Bible) was discovered, an event that led to a succession of miracles in the town. Since the 8th century it has been an important pilgrimage site; everyone from prince to pauper has ventured here in the hope of curing their ailments at the shrine. Unfortunately, the famous reliquary of the shrine has been plundered several times so that today it bears little relation to the original; however, many still testify to the spiritual significance and healing power of the place.
Today the town is overrun by tourists and its atmosphere has suffered accordingly, but, despite this, it is a must-see for the stunning views of the Dordogne and its marvellous situation. The town has magnificent ancient architecture, with many of the buildings cut directly into the rock of the cliffs, and is gloriously picturesque. Balloon rides are a popular way to see the area. The seven sanctuaries that make up the pilgrimage site are truly wondrous to behold. Don't miss the famous Black Madonna, thought to have been carved in the 11th century, which can be found in the Chapelle Notre Dame, a small Gothic chapel built in 1479.
In 1868 prehistoric skeletons were discovered in the Vézère valley, and the area was found to be one of the richest in the world in terms of ancient sites and deposits. The small market town of Les Eyzies suddenly became the base for exploring this treasure-trove of antiquities, including the many prehistoric painted caves. The most famous and beautiful of these sites is at Lascaux, discovered by accident in 1940 by boys looking for their dog. The paintings were made about 30,000 years ago and depict wild boar, deer and majestic bulls. Unfortunately visitors cannot view the actual paintings anymore because the caves have been closed to the general public to prevent deterioration, but a replica gives visitors a clear picture of the remarkable works. Travellers can still enter the incredible Cave of Font-de-Gaume and see the original rock art in this UNESCO World Heritage Site. The town has some excellent museums in which prehistoric art and artefacts are on display. Be sure to visit the Chateau de Commarque, a truly remarkable site boasting the ruins of a 12th-century chateau and caves containing prehistoric artefacts and paintings.
The beautiful university town of Grenoble, known in France as the 'Capital of the Alps', is situated on the Drac and Isère Rivers, and is surrounded by proud mountains, dramatic gorges and hidden valleys. The city's history goes back 2,000 years and visitors can still see the last remnants of the Roman wall which fortified the city in 286 AD. Grenoble is also known in modern history for its resistance efforts during World War II.
Today it is a prosperous, lively and cosmopolitan city, well-known for its industrial and scientific advances and a base for companies involved in the chemical, nuclear research and electronics industries. More obviously to visitors, it is home to 40,000 students, many international. There are some excellent walks among the mountains surrounding the city and there are ski slopes within easy driving distance; head to the Parc Naturel Regional du Vercors for stunning landscapes and outdoor activities. For many tourists Grenoble is simply a stopover before heading further into the Alps, but the city has plenty of attractions of its own. Before visiting, take a scenic ride on the distinctive egg-shaped suspended cable cars known as 'Les Bulles'. Grenoble also has some great little museums including the Archaeological Museum, the Musee de Grenoble and the Musee Dauphinois.
This ancient Viking settlement is situated a few miles inland, between La Havre and Cherbourg, and was the first French town to be liberated in 1944 during World War II. Fortunately Bayeux was spared from too much war damage, and remains full of old-world character with wooden houses, some elegant stone buildings and cobblestone roads. Many visitors flock here to explore the sites associated with the war's 'Longest Day', including an interesting D-Day museum and the famous landing beaches (less than 10 miles/16km away).
A museum celebrating an older, but equally historic battle is also located in the vicinity: the Musée de la Tapisserie de Bayeux contains the famous tapestry that tells the story of the Battle of Hastings. The 231-foot (69m) strip of embroidered linen depicts scenes of Harold's coronation as the Saxon king of England, him being told of the apparition of a comet (a portent of misfortune), William dressing for war, and Harold's death.
Also worth seeing in Bayeux is the Notre-Dame de Bayeux, a fine Norman Romanesque cathedral, rich in sculpture.
Whether by accident or design, the quaint fishing village of Honfleur, just across the estuary from busy, bustling La Havre, has managed to make time stand still and presents its many visitors with scenes and experiences largely unchanged for 100 years or more. Honfleur fortunately escaped serious damage during the World War II Normandy landings, and since then development has been minimal. It still functions as a fishing port and follows traditions dating back to medieval times, although it has unfortunately lost its beach due to the silting up of the river.
The town was once very popular with Impressionist painters like Monet and Boudin because of the changeable light and picturesque coastal scenes; it is still popular with photographers for the same reason. There are a few interesting museums, including those dedicated to composer Eric Satie and Impressionist painter Eugene Boudin, and some lovely gardens. There are also two wonderful churches to visit: the Notre Dame de Grace and Saint Catherine's Church. On Saturdays there is a lively local market selling fresh produce; the local cheese is renowned to be particularly tasty. Honfleur is certainly worth a visit from La Havre and is an attraction in its own right.
This 300-year old structure's glass dome has become a landmark attraction in Lyon, situated between the City Hall and the Rhone River. The first five levels of the Lyon Opera House are underground while the six higher levels are encased in vaulted glass. The hall seats 1,200 people and boasts six vertically-stacked balconies overlooking the orchestra level. This Italian-style hall is lined with black wood and gold detail, and is home to the Lyon Opera Ballet company and the world-renown Opera House Orchestra. The acoustics are so good that it currently makes more recordings than any other French opera house, and has released award-winning opera CDs including 12 world premieres, ballets and symphony performances. The views from the dance studio, with its huge windows, are spectacular and it is worth popping in just to see them, even if you are not a fan of the performing arts. There are guided tours of the opera house available. Of course, the best way to experience the structure is by catching a show. Although some people still dress up, it is not a requirement so visitors need not panic if they don't have formal outfits.
To the right of the river Saône lies the Hôtel Gadagne, one of the most prestigious Renaissance mansions in Lyon. It was built between 1511 and 1527 for the two sons of a spice merchant but fell into the hands of the prominent Gadagne family in 1545. Being rich Florentine bankers, they threw many extravagant parties, infamously linking their name to the mansion. In 1902 the city of Lyon bought the mansion and in 1921 the Historical Museum was installed on the premises. It wasn't until 1950 that the International Puppet Museum became an additional attraction.
The Gadagne Museum houses paintings, sculptures and furniture, as well as archaeological relics dating back from the Middle Ages to the 19th century, illustrating Lyon's vast history. The International Puppet Museum displays hand puppets, stick puppets, marionette puppets and sliding bar puppets originating from countries such as Japan, Cambodia, England, Italy, Belgium, Czechoslovakia and Russia. The museums are both rewarding for visitors and kids in particular will love the puppets. The mansion itself is wonderful to explore and one can just imagine the wild parties it is famous for...
The Musée des Beaux-Arts was established in 1801 and is one of the largest French galleries outside of the capital city of Paris. Featuring the works of artists from the 15th to the 20th centuries, visitors can view the works of Perugino, Titian, Rubens, Veronese and Delacroix. The museum is best known for its outstanding collection of French and Dutch paintings. Although paintings are the core of the collection there are also valuable drawings and sculptures on show. Apart from the impressive permanent collection the museum also regularly organises special, temporary exhibitions and runs a rich cultural program of concerts and lectures.
Something different that appeals particularly to the mechanically minded is Lille's museum devoted to windmills. Situated on the highway to Roubaix, the Musée des Moulins boasts two preserved pivoting windmills, which visitors can watch in operation grinding corn, as well as a museum detailing the history of windmill technology. Visitors can tour the full facility, or just one or two of the sites for reduced admission if pressed for time. It is quite a fascinating place. One of the museum's aims is to preserve not only the windmills but also the industrial French heritage that they represent: the hard work, toil, endeavour and achievements of the people who made and operated them. They want to ensure that future generations can see and understand windmills, once such vital technology, and once such a common sight all over France. So far, they have restored about 45 windmills (and watermills) and are continuing with their labour of love.
A modern architectural attraction, Lille's cathedral (dedicated to the Virgin Mary) is an imposing structure, begun as a basilica in 1854 in 13th-century Gothic style. Building continued slowly, interrupted by wars and financial constraints, but finally in 1999 the lofty building was declared complete after the perfection of the unique main façade, designed by local architect Pierre-Louis Carlier in collaboration with Peter Rice, who engineered the Sydney Opera House. The central marble section supported by steel wires is an impressive sight, particularly viewed from inside or at night, when it is revealed as resembling a pink translucent veil. From the outside it appears opaque but the marble is thin enough to let in a beautiful, gentle pink glow. The church takes its name from the famous 12th-century statue of the Virgin Mary which was revered for centuries in Lille. This statue has a dramatic history and is associated with several miraculous events; it is a special part of Lille's heritage and cultural memory.
In the heart of Lille's old town stands one of the few remaining Flanders buildings, founded as a hospital in 1237 by the Countess of Flanders, Jeanne de Constantinople. It remained in service as a hospital until 1939, and today has been turned into an art museum. Works are displayed in the old hospital ward and dormitories, with their barrel-vaulted ceilings, and other halls where the community of Augustine nuns once lived and worked, providing a haven for the sick. Visitors can see the old kitchens, laundry, pharmacy, refectory and Prioresses' apartment, as well as the old chapel. The collections on display include paintings, tapestries, sculptures and porcelain from the region. The museum furnishings are mostly from the 17th century. Although some of the art in the collection is wonderful, the true fascination of the place is in imagining how life in the hospice used to be. Outside there is a delightful medicinal garden. There is a free guidebook and a great audio guide which is very informative and enriches the experience by providing history and context. The toilet is a little hard to find: it is located off the kitchen.
The world's largest triumphal arch, the Arc de Triomphe de l'Etoile is set at the centre of a star-shaped configuration of 12 radiating avenues in the heart of the Champs Elysées. It stands 165 feet (51m) tall and the names of major victories won during the Revolutionary and Napoleonic periods are engraved around the top of the Arch. The names of less important victories, as well as those of 558 generals, can be found on the inside walls. Since 1920, the tomb of France's Unknown Soldier has been sheltered underneath the arch. Its eternal flame commemorates the dead of the two world wars, and is rekindled every evening at 6pm. On July 14, the French National Day, also known as Bastille Day, a military parade starts at the arch and proceeds down the Champs Elysées. Visitors can climb to the top of the Arc de Triomphe (or take the elevator) and the views over Paris are spectacular. It is a humbling monument which can't fail to inspire respect and awe and a trip to Paris is not complete without a visit.
Les Invalides was built by Louis XIV in 1670 as a military hospital to take care of wounded soldiers and now comprises the largest single collection of monuments and museums in Paris, all relating to the military history of France. It is the burial site of some of France's war heroes, and a number of France's famous dead, including the ashes of the greatest French military commander, Napoleon Bonaparte, which rest under the dome of Les Invalides and attract many visitors to Paris. Its large grounds and church with a golden dome make Les Invalides a classical French architectural masterpiece. There are also impressive collections of weaponry from all periods of French history. Numerous suits of armour, including those made in children's sizes for boy kings, are part of this collection. Military history buffs will be in heaven at Les Invalides and even the less clued-up will be moved by the place.
The Jardin des Plantes is France's main botanical garden. Covering 28 hectares (280,000sq m), the garden was originally planted by Louis XIII's doctor in 1626 as a medicinal herb garden. In 1640 it became Paris's first public garden. In 1739, after a long period of decline, the gardens were greatly expanded and a maze called the Labyrinth was added. It still exists today. Currently, in addition to being a lovely green lung in the city, the Jardin des Plantes maintains a botanical school which constructs demonstration gardens and trains botanists. The massive grounds house the Natural History Museum which is one of the main attractions for visitors. There is also a small zoo, founded in 1795 to house part of the royal menagerie from Versailles, and now containing small animals in simulated natural habitats. The gardens boast tropical hothouses that are home to a variety of unusual plants, native mostly to Mexico and Australia, and there is also an Alpine Garden, a beautiful Rose Garden, and an Art Deco-style Winter Garden. There is lots to see in the garden and visitors can wander for hours.
Saint Jean de Luz is a lively and cosmopolitan town to visit. The lovely medieval town centre has been influenced by Spain and the Moors over the centuries and offers a charming mix of interesting architecture spread along the narrow streets, blending old and new buildings. Considered one of the most attractive cities in Basque country, the beaches, shops, spas and other attractions draw hordes of local and international tourists to this spot just above the Spanish border.
Saint Jean de Luz is an active fishing port, and seafood is a local specialty with fresh sardines, tuna, and anchovies available in abundance. Some of the best seafood restaurants in the region are around the town's main square.
The beach is well-equipped for sunbathing and watersports, and there is good surfing at Lafitenia Beach. There are many small museums, aquariums, caves, and interesting architectural sights in Saint Jean de Luz, including the Chateau d'Arturbie, with its castle and manicured gardens. La Maison Louis XIV has rich collections of antiques and collectibles, as well as wax figures of important 17th-century people. The lighthouse at Pointe Ste.-Barbe offers fantastic views of the area.
The pedestrian avenue Rue Gambetta provides the best shopping in St Jean de Luz, and visitors will find everything from clothes and linens to leather goods and books. The newer, more commercial end of Saint Jean de Luz is littered with chic shops and boutiques. Popular souvenirs include delectable chocolates and candies like nougat and tourons.
The lively holiday resort town of St Malo has a colourful history as a fortified island citadel that was once run by corsairs who declared it a republic. Today this port on the English Channel swarms with tourists on holiday, its streets choked with tour buses in the summer months and its natural harbour acting as a busy ferry terminal for those crossing between Britain, France and the Channel Islands.
Because of St Malo's medieval charm, many visitors opt to spend a night or two here before their ferry crossing, and are rewarded with a pleasant sojourn behind old city walls in a quaint collection of hotels, restaurants, bars and shops. Just a hop and a skip away are some vast, clean, brown sandy beaches, ideal for family holiday fun. Stroll the ramparts of St Malo's great city walls as the sun sets and it is easy to realise why this ancient city is now the most popular holiday destination in Brittany.
St Malo has many good restaurants, making it a great place to try Breton cuisine, including specialties like Kouign Aman cake and Breton Pancakes. Seafood, specifically mussels and oysters, is another local specialty.
St Malo has a number of popular beaches. Mole is where sun-worshippers congregate, while Sillon is popular for windsurfing, and Bon Secours for sailing. There are a few historical attractions in St Malo as well, including the Ile du Grand-Bé (site of the tomb of Chateaubriand), the Historical Museum of St Malo, and St Vincent's Cathedral.
St Tropez has long held the reputation of being the 'black sheep' of the renowned French Riviera holiday resort towns. Sexy starlets were flaunting themselves topless here back in the 1930s, long before the beautiful people dared disrobe elsewhere. St Tropez' reputation as a kinky carnival town attracting the more bohemian members of the 'in' crowd continues to this day.
There is little left of the medieval Provencal atmosphere of the original town. From May to September, St Tropez is the wild holiday destination people imagine, but in the off season the town virtually shuts down, reverting to a quieter, calmer existence. Behind the rows of yachts fronting the terraced cafés of the waterfront are some narrow, picturesque streets full of shops. The hub of the town is the Place aux Herbes, a busy enclave of fish, fruit, vegetable and flower stalls.
The beach in St Tropez is famous, and has a number of bars, cafes, and watersports options, especially the popular Plage de Tahiti. The beaches west of St Tropez are popular with nudists. Visitors can stroll the Sentier Littoral, a coastal walking route with fabulous views, or visit the Musée de I'Annonciade, which has an exceptional collection of post-Impressionist paintings.
The area around Quai Jean Jaures on the waterfront is where the best of the nightlife can be found. Within town there are charismatic and laid-back bars in and around Place des Lices. For celebrity spotting and pricey champagne cocktails, visitors should get dressed up and head to Nikki Beach.
The blueprints for the holiday destination of Disneyland may have been developed in the United States, but the world's favourite theme park concept has transported exceedingly successfully to Europe. Situated 20 miles (32km) east of Paris, Disneyland Paris (also known as EuroDisney) is a vast complex of hotels, restaurants and shops together with the exciting theme park. Those in the know have it that Europe's Disneyland is actually better than its US counterparts, boasting more modern technology and existing in the ambit of less control and different safety regulations. EuroDisney has also unavoidably picked up a European flavour which adds charm and intimacy to the entire experience.
EuroDisney actually consists of two theme parks. The Disneyland Park, based on California's iconic Magic Kingdom, boasts 53 awesome attractions, drawing thousands of holidaymakers every year. The Walt Disney Studios were built more recently and follows the trend of the Disney MGM Studios in Florida, USA, using movie-like settings for thrill rides and experiences. Adults and children alike become enchanted and enthralled as they explore fantasy neighbourhoods bristling with Disney characters, and stop to take in the spectacle of the day and night parades.
Most visitors come to EuroDisney on a package deal that includes onsite hotel accommodation and passes to enjoy the shows and attractions. At least two days are required to make the most of the Disney magic, and there will still be plenty left for a second visit.
Located in the Jardin des Plantes, the Musée National d'Histoire Naturelle (Natural History Museum) greets visitors with two gigantic whale skeletons at the entrance. With wonderful exhibitions and fascinating displays on botany, archaeology and palaeontology, the museum will captivate kids' imaginations and educate them as well. The dinosaur exhibit is hugely popular with the younger visitors, but this museum is a must for children of all ages. The museum is large and actually combines three museums into one (sometimes they are listed independently), including a four-story taxonomy wing called the Hall of Evolution, a gallery dedicated to palaeontology - the study of fossils, including the beloved dinosaur exhibit - and a separate building devoted entirely to mineralogy. You can choose to visit only one of these three museums. There is plenty to enthral little ones (and grown up ones) and the fact that the museum feels a little old-fashioned actually adds to its charm.
This children's amusement park attracts thousands of tourists every year. It features a menagerie and the Exploradome Museum, with fantastic optical illusions and amazing structures. The park's attractions include zip-lines, swings, deforming mirrors, paddling pools, radio-controlled boats, a theatre, a small farm, pony and camel rides, an aviary, a butterfly garden and amusement rides. Apart from being loads of fun this wonderland of games and activities is frequently educational. The park offers workshops for children over three that aim not only to amuse but to teach skills and cultivate talents; workshops revolve around things like cooking, gardening, magic and theatre. There are also joint workshops for parents and young children and a few classes for adults only. There are a number of restaurants and cafes on the premises for refuelling. This is a great place for kids to blow off steam at the same time as learning some useful skills, and the activities are wonderful for parent/child bonding too.
Based on the famous comics by Uderzo and Goscinny about cheeky Gauls who annoy the Roman Empire, the Parc Asterix is a theme park located just outside of Paris. Kids will love meeting their favourite characters, including, of course, Asterix himself, and his giant friend Obelix. The park is well known for its large variety of roller-coasters and has begun incorporating rides and themes from historic cultures such as the Romans and the ancient Greeks. There are now six different worlds at the park: Gaul, Egypt, Ancient Greece, the Roman Empire, Vikings, and Travel through Time. Apart from the epic rollercoasters, popular rides include the Menhir Express, a log flume ride, the Goudurix, the Grand Splatch and the Oxygénarium. There are lots of shows at the park and entrance to these performances is included in admission tickets. One of the more popular shows is the dolphin and sea lion show. The Parc Asterix will delight children but it is also wonderful for adults and there are plenty of thrilling rides for adrenalin seekers.
Located in Flancourt, France Miniature features more than 130 models of famous French attractions, such as the Eiffel Tower, Lourdes, St Tropez, Le Mont-Saint-Michel and Versailles, for visitors to enjoy. Everything has been created with a 1:30 scale and some for the models are even animated. The detail of the models is remarkable and a joy for those interested in architecture as well as kids. The miniature world includes mechanised trains, cars and boats and there are tiny people visiting the attractions. Children will love spending a day out at this miniature country which feels like a massive doll's house. There are also some fun games and a small amusement park with several rides on offer. There is a restaurant and a souvenir shop on site but a lovely way to enjoy the park, and save money, is to bring along your own picnic.
Constructed in stages between the 14th and 16th centuries, the Basilique St-Michel is a typical Gothic-style church and the main place of Catholic worship in Bordeaux. The main distinguishing feature, the Basilique's tower and spire - which rises to a height of 374 feet (114m) - is considered the highest in the south of France. At the base of the tower lies an ossuary where an exhibition of the mummies excavated during the 19th century can be viewed. Most of the original stained glass was destroyed in World War II, and has since been replaced by new windows by modernist artist Max Ingrand. Another famous feature of the church is the pulpit, which features Saint Michael, the warrior saint, slaying the dragon. There is a pleasant square in front of the Basilique where weary travellers can take a break and do some people watching or socialising. There are some wonderful views to be found climbing the tower and this is well worth doing but it is only open to visitors between June and September. The Basilique St-Michel is a stop on the famous Santiago de Compostello pilgrimage and therefore receives numerous pilgrims every year.
Designed by renowned architect Victor Louis, the Grand Théâtre de Bordeaux was built between 1773 and 1780 and is one of the grandest 18th-century theatres remaining in the world. It served as the National Assembly for the French Parliament briefly in 1781 and was the scene of the premiere of the ballet in 1789. This theatre is the oldest in Europe to have never burnt down or needed rebuilding since its erection, and is now home to the Opéra National de Bordeaux, as well as the Ballet National de Bordeaux. The interiors are as impressive as the architecture and taking in a performance here can't be missed by opera or ballet fanatics. See the website for the event calendar. Although many people still choose to dress up formally for performances visitors can wear whatever they please and not feel uncomfortable. Be aware when booking seats that some have reduced visibility; whoever makes the booking should point this out. Guided tours of the theatre are available. There is a restaurant and cafe in the building.
The village of Biot is more than 2,500 years old, and retains much of its medieval charm in the 15th-century architecture and narrow, winding streets. The town's old walls and gate can still be seen, as well as a number of other small, historic features strewn throughout the hilltop community. The town has been a hub for craftsmen for centuries, and is known for its pottery and blown glass, making it a popular shopping destination for tourists in the French Riviera. There are several glass-blowing factories that offer tours, allowing visitors to watch the age-old process in action. Biot is also the site of an ancient volcano, and geology buffs will enjoy hiking the scenic rock formations. There are several other pleasant walks through the surrounding hills and woods and the feel in the countryside is pastoral and peaceful, with plenty of shade and bubbling streams.
Located less than three miles (4km) from the coast, Biot makes an excellent daytrip when visitors want a break from the pleasures of the beach. The village is busy year-round but gets particularly crowded during the summer (June to August); even so, it is slightly off the main tourist path and remains one of the less commercial villages.
Perched on a mountain 1,400 feet (427m) above sea level, the medieval town of Èze is a popular stop on the route between the French Riviera and Monaco. The winding cobblestone streets lead visitors to the ruins of a 12th-century castle, and also to many shops; shopping is one of the most popular reasons for visiting Èze. The streets are dotted with tiny boutiques and shops selling a variety of French souvenirs.
There are stunning views of the Mediterranean from this charming hilltop village but because it is so steep and medieval, with its little houses crammed together on winding, cobbled streets, the views from inside are often limited. To fully appreciate the location of the place one must climb into the botanical gardens, Le Jardin d'Eze, which perch on top of the hill. There are magnificent 360 degree views from the top and some interesting ruins too. It is quite a climb though, so dress accordingly. Another popular attraction in the village is the Fragonard - L'Usine Laboratoire, a factory where they make beautiful perfumes and fragrances, where visitors can be guided through the process as well as buy some lovely scents at reduced prices.
Eze feels like a place stuck in a quaint and artistic past and it is a delight to explore; it is less fashionable and celebrity-packed than many places in Cote d'Azure and this is part of its appeal.
The largest water park in Europe, located in the heart of the city of Paris, Aquaboulevard is a great treat for kids (and adults!). One of the big advantages of this attraction is the fact that most of it is indoors, making it fun on sunny or rainy days in Paris; if you are travelling with kids it's a good activity to keep up your sleeve for a rainy day. The park itself includes various waterslides, a spa area with hot baths and Jacuzzis, indoor and outdoor wave pools, a beach area for relaxing, and a wave machine which allows you to try surfing or wakeboarding on a standing wave, among other things. The attractions are not limited to water either: the complex also offers cinemas, a mini-golf course, tennis courts, a fitness centre, play areas, and other indoor attractions. Children under three are not allowed into Aquaboulevard and proof of age should be taken for young kids.
Built in the 12th century, Fontevraud Abbey is thought to be the site of the graves of King Henry II of England, his wife Eleanor of Aquitaine, and their son King Richard I; however, it is not known exactly where their bodies are interred. The effigies are still on display in the abbey, and are a popular sight for tourists. The abbey has housed a monastery, nunnery, prison, and church over the centuries, and various sections have been rebuilt in Gothic, Classical and Romanesque styles. Apart from the effigies, which are the main attraction, the abbey building is massive and impressive and the old kitchens are worth a visit.
Saumur is located at the confluence of the Loire and Thouet rivers in the Loire Valley. The region is known for producing world-renowned wines, and also produces mushrooms in an interesting underground process viewable to the public. Saumur is home to the Château de Saumur, which was built in the 10th century and passed through the hands of Henry II of England, Philip II of France, King Henri IV (of France and Navarre), and Napoleon Bonaparte. Another interesting attraction is the Museé des Blindes, with more than 850 tanks on display. The Louis de Grenelle wine cellars are particularly popular with tourists for learning about the wine-making process and the wine of the region and, of course, for tastings. An unusual attraction in Saumur is the Pierre et Lumiere, which displays the miniature carvings of famous Loire chateaux, towns and churches, carved out of tufa stone in natural caves. The Cadre Noir, a riding academy which has been operating for nearly 150 years, is a haven for horse lovers, and they put on remarkable shows and give guided tours of their stables.
Saumur is located within easy distance of Paris, Nantes, Angers, Tours, and several other cities, making it an ideal day trip on a city break.
The magnificent Château d'Ussé overlooks the Indre River, and was built by Charles VII in the mid-15th century. The fairytale castle passed through the hands of many nobles, and was said to have inspired Charles Perrault to write the story of Sleeping Beauty. It subsequently inspired Walt Disney in the design of his iconic castle in the Disney logo and at several theme parks. The castle is still a private residence and only parts of the house are open to the public but it is well worth a visit as visitors can explore a fair amount of the house, including the king's chamber, kitchens, entrance hall and dungeons, and can also wander the gardens, stables, chapel and cellars. The interiors are richly decorated, still containing the privately collected furniture, tapestries and art of the noble families that have lived in the chateau over the centuries. Mannequins have been used to exhibit the rich array of costumes in the castle's collection. They are also used to recreate scenes from the Sleeping Beauty story. The Guard Room contains an interesting collection of oriental weaponry; the Renaissance chapel, built in 1521, is beautiful; and the grounds are gorgeously landscaped. There is a ghost story attached to the dungeon tower: apparently the guards used to hear the rustle of a lady's gown as she searched for her lover.
The ancient theatre in Lyon is the oldest in France, dating back to the year 17 BC. Built by the Emperor Augustus, it was originally used for theatre, pageants, musical shows, and poetry competitions. There are actually two theatres on the site: the massive Grand Theatre, which once seated up to 10,000 people; and the smaller Odeon below it on the hillside, which once seated 3,500 people and was used for more intimate performances like poetry readings. While much of the rich decorations are gone, decorated floors of inlaid marble and porphyry are still visible and the state of preservation of the place in general is astounding. Now it is primarily a tourist site, but the Nuits de Fourvière festival is held here every year. Nearby one can also see the ruins of a temple dedicated to the goddess Cybele, as well as some burial sites and an ancient Roman aqueduct. To really explore the site one has to do a fair bit of walking and climbing so be sure to wear comfy shoes and bring a water bottle. The Ancient Theatre of Fourviere is beautifully situated and promises many great photo opportunities.
For a change of pace on a beach holiday, pack some hiking boots along with your swimsuit and head for the dramatic Corsican hinterland. Corte lies marooned in the centre of Corsica, surrounded by dramatic granite mountains. This independent and proud town has long epitomised Corsican nationalism - for a short time in the 18th century it was the capital of Pascal Paoli's short-lived Corsican state. Now a university town, it remains dominated by the Haute Ville (upper town) and its forbidding citadel, site of the Musée de la Corse, the island's premier museum. While on holiday in Corte, it is wonderful to spend a morning wandering around the narrow cobbled streets or soaking up the atmosphere in one of the many bars and cafés that line the main street. Corte is an excellent base for exploring the island's wonderful mountain scenery and there are great hikes and walking trails in the area. A few miles to the southwest, near Bergeries de Grotelle, walkers will find a number of glacial lakes, and around Valée de la Restonica there are a series of stunning natural gorges and basins with refreshing swimming spots. Buses and trains connect Corte with Ajaccio, Bastia and other holiday towns on the island.
Aix-les-Bains is a popular and fashionable family holiday resort and spa town located on the eastern side of Lac du Bourget, the largest natural freshwater lake in France. Although the lake is icy cold, visitors can sail, fish, play golf and tennis, or picnic on the parkland at the water's edge. Taking a cruise on the lake for a few hours is a must.
The main town of Aix is two miles (3km) inland from the lake and has been built around its thermal springs. Many small hotels line the streets, and streams of holiday visitors take to the baths each day; in the evening, for a change of pace, they play the slot machines at the Aix-les-Bains casino or attend tea dances. The Musee Faure is a great art gallery boasting the second largest collection of Rodin's work in France, as well as art by Bonnard, Degas, Pissaro and Cezanne. The old Benedictine Abbey, Abbaye d'Hautecombe, is also definitely worth a visit: this gothic building is stunningly situated on the lake and can be reached either by boat or by driving along the lovely, winding road. The abbey houses some very significant tombs including that of the last king of Italy.
On the banks of the Loire, 20 miles (32km) east of Tours, is the Renaissance town of Amboise, a popular holiday destination. Both historic and beautiful, Amboise attracts tourists by the busload, but this doesn't detract from its charm. It has been the favourite residence of Leonardo de Vinci, Charles VIII and more recently Mick Jagger, who owns a nearby château.
Charles VIII's château dominates the town and is an impressive fusion of Renaissance and Gothic styles that is built on a rocky spur separating the valleys of the Loire and the Amasse. The original 15th-century entrance opens onto a terrace with a panoramic view of the river. The castle fell into decline after the revolution and less than half of the original structure still stands. However, many grandly furnished rooms remain, including the Kings' apartments, which are open to holiday visitors.
Leonardo da Vinci was invited to Amboise by François I to encourage the French Renaissance. He made his home at the Clos-Lucé, which is now a museum to his work with 40 models based on his drawings on display - including flying machines and a wooden tank. To the east of Amboise are some children's museums, including the Mini-Châteaux, a two-hectare (five-acre) park with models of the great Loire château. An excellent aquarium is also situated nearby.
The holiday destination of Angers straddles the Maine River, towards the west of the Loire Valley, and is a popular base from which to explore the local sites and the surrounding châteaux country. Angers is a busy regional centre and university city with an air of sophistication. Like Tours, Angers was badly damaged during World War II. Much of it, however, has been lovingly restored and it remains a pleasant, amiable town with a lively atmosphere. Top Angers holiday attractions include the intriguing museum, Musée Jean Lurçat, which is known for its famous tapestry and the Cathedral with its beautiful 12th-century nave and famous stained-glass windows, also dating from the 12th century.
Angers' most prominent attraction, however, is the Château d'Angers. Built by Louis IX in the 13th century, this limestone fortress is imposing, with lovely terraces and gardens to contrast with its sombre walls. It is thrilling to explore. The most famous attraction inside the chateau is the Tapestry of the Apocalypse, woven in 1375, which is the largest medieval tapestry in the world and has been very well exhibited in the chateau. Allow at least two to three hours to explore.
Situated 80 miles (129km) east of Lyon, the holiday destination of Annecy has a magical setting on the shore of Lake Annecy, at the foot of the French Alps. It has been called the 'Venice of the Alps' because of the web of canals that cut through the Annecy old town. Annecy is probably the best base for a holiday in the Haute-Savoie region because of its location, conveniently situated near many interesting towns and attractions.
Just six miles (10km) to its west is Gorges du Fier, a dramatic river gorge; a gangway takes visitors through a narrow gully that has been cut by a torrent of water over the eons. Emerging from this labyrinth, visitors are greeted by a huge expanse of boulders. The site is closed to the public between mid-October and mid-March. Visitors can also take a cruise on the ice-blue lake for which the town is famous. The area is great for hiking and one of the most popular (though not easy) hikes is on La Tournette mountain, which gives visitors astounding views of the lake and the Alps and boasts some picturesque waterfalls. The trail is well marked and the steepest rock scrambles have rails installed. La Tournette looms over the small town of Montmin, a pretty 30-minute drive from Annecy.
Situated in the northeast of Corsica, Bastia is the island's major commercial centre. Despite this the old town has retained its charms as a holiday destination, with opulent Baroque churches and crumbling pastel houses lining the maze of tightly packed streets and alleyways. The Vieux Port is the most photogenic part of town, where old houses tower above the harbour and the reflections from colourful fishing vessels ripple on the water. The citadel perched high on the headland of Bastia dominates the other side. The Bastia harbour comes alive in the evening when tourists and locals fill the waterside bars and restaurants. The pebble beaches below Bastia town tend to be very crowded in summer and sun seekers are advised to head further south where a sandy shore extends for miles down the east coast of the island. There are some lovely walking trails in the area and it is also delightful to explore by train. There are also lots of ferries and boats available to head out into the bay.
The popular holiday destination of Bayonne is the capital of Basque country, and a beautifully preserved cathedral city. Its narrow streets - lined with half-timbered houses - are atmospheric and perfect for exploring on foot. Bayonne is divided by the Nive and Adour rivers and is set between the mountains and the sea a few miles up the coast. Together with adjoining Anglet and Biarritz it forms the continuous urban area known as BAB.
The city's most striking landmark is the magnificent gothic Cathédrale Ste-Marie, dating from the 13th century. Bayonne also has two museums well worth visiting: Le Musée Basque, which showcases the traditions, architecture, and decorative arts of the Basque region; and Le Musée Bonnat, which displays thousands of drawings and paintings from the 16th to 19th centuries, including works by Rubens, Greco and Ingres.
The Bayonne Festival takes place every year for five days from the first Wednesday in August and is an explosion of activity with cow races, bull fights in the Roman arena, candle-lit processions and marching bands. Bayonne is well-known for its chocolates, marzipan and prime-smoked ham, all of which is available at the wonderful Covered Market. And according to tradition, if not historically verified fact, the bayonet was invented here in the 1600s.
Much of the historic ambience of medieval Blois remains preserved in its white-washed houses and narrow cobbled alleys, but modernity has impacted quite severely on the noble former seat of the dukes of Orléans. Tourists still flock to Blois on holiday to visit the magnificent chateau, now encircled by a traffic-laden highway, but none the less spectacular for this infringement. This beautiful castle witnessed the murder of the Duc De Guise by Henri III, and is renowned for its awesome 13th-century hall. The interiors of the chateaux are as impressive as the exterior and visitors will be excited by the stunning decorations and furnishings, including royal chambers which feel perfectly authentic. Those excited by chateaux can make excursions from Blois to some other gems in the nearby countryside, including the well-known Chateau de Chambord. The Maison de la Magie next door to the chateau is a truly magical experience for kids and the perfect attraction for a rainy day. Another great attraction worth visiting in Blois is the Basilique Notre-dame de la Trinite, an imposing cathedral with beautiful grounds. Visitors can climb the bell tower for some lovely views of the area.
The ancient town of Bonifacio, at the very southern tip of Corsica, dates from about 833 AD, but there is nothing old-fashioned about the tourist trappings and commercialisation of this buzzing haven, which attracts huge holiday crowds, particularly in summer, now combining its ancient heritage with a glamorous resort atmosphere. The visitors come on holiday here for the magnificent setting: Bonifacio sits on a narrow limestone peninsula, the bright white cliffs plunging into the Bouches de Bonifacio strait, between Corsica and Sardinia.
The most scenic way to approach Bonifacio is by boat through the channel, almost a mile long, that protects the town's beautiful natural harbour. No wonder that the buzzing marina attracts yachts from all over the world, as well as ferries and passenger boats packed with tourists arriving on holiday from Sardinia and elsewhere. Alternatively, visitors can fly into Bonifacio from Marseille or bus from the other Corsican towns.
The Italian-flavoured town boasts quaint medieval architecture, offset with the requisite cafés, restaurants and boutiques catering to the tourist trade. Bonifacio's old town and citadel, built in the 12th century by the Genoese conquerors, is an interesting holiday attraction reached by a long, steep flight of steps. The citadel has been put to use in modern times as headquarters for the French Foreign Legion, which was based here between 1963 and 1983.
There are diversions aplenty to enjoy on holiday in Bonifacio and surrounds, ranging from watersports of all sorts at the nearby Plage de Piantarella to some splendid golf courses, and boat trips to the offshore Archipel des Lavezzi island group.
Carnac, on the south coast of Brittany in the Bay of Biscay, is one of Brittany's most trendy holiday resorts. The family-friendly holiday resort of Carnac Plage is bright and breezy, sporting a sand-duned peninsula, a lovely stretch of beach, plenty of entertainment, and various fun in the sun facilities. Visitors will have plenty to amuse them from watersports to more traditional tourist sightseeing.
Ironically, this popular holiday area is located alongside one of Europe's most important, ancient, and mysterious archaeological sites: just north of the seaside town, hundreds of massive standing stones, even older than Stonehenge or the pyramids of Egypt, are aligned in rows in a field. The original purpose of these mystical monuments is unknown and visitors will no doubt come up with their own theories while wandering around the ancient site. The nearby Musée de Préhistoire complements these fascinating relics with displays of artefacts dating as far back as 450,000 BC. Such attractions ensure that Carnac has more to offer than just pretty beaches and travellers will enjoy the diversity of things to see and do in the area.
Opposite St Malo, sitting atop a rocky headland above the Rance, Dinard was a popular holiday spot with the British in Edwardian times, valued for the bracing sea air and lovely, long promenade. Even today, the seafront is lined with Victorian buildings, which ensure the town retains its elegant and sedate old world character.
The main Dinard beach is La Grande Plage, a strip of sand between the two peninsulas that define the edges of the old town. It is popular with families on holiday and gets crowded on hot days. Smaller and more isolated is Plage de St-Enogat, a 20-minute walk east through the village of the same name, or Plage du Prieuré, just a 10-minute walk from Dinard. There is a great difference between high and low tides, and swimming pools along the Grand Plage and the Plage du Prieuré beaches catch seawater during high tides for those who opt not to make the trek along the salt flats during low tides to bathe in the sea.
Dinard cannot boast much nightlife, despite its popularity with tourists, but there are many bars and good restaurants filling the town's streets and there is a casino for night-time entertainment.
Evian-les-Bains, on the southern end of Lake Geneva, is famous for its mineral water, which has been bottled since the early 18th century, when tests revealed that the water has astonishing curative qualities and it began to be used for medicinal purposes. Evian is a popular holiday spot with the French as well as foreign visitors, with the majority of travellers coming to this chic holiday resort principally to enjoy the creature comforts and spa facilities of the deluxe Evian-les-Bains hotels. The town has been a fashionable resort since the early 1800s, and much of its architecture comes from that century and the 1920s, making it an attractive city to stroll through.
Aside from the springs, there are many things to do in Evian-les-Bains, including golf, sailing, hiking, river rafting and rock climbing. The Lac Leman offers many activities and a visit to Evian-les-Bains is incomplete without a boating excursion of some kind to continue the liquid tradition of the place. One of the many attractions visitors can reach by boat is Les Jardins de L'eau du Pre Curieux where one can tour the gardens and water museum. The Casiono d'Evian, the largest themed casino in Europe, is also a big draw for some visitors.
Just west of Nantes, La Baule is Brittany's most fashionable and expensive holiday resort. Like most Breton seaside towns, it was the Victorians that first flocked here to play and promenade in the balmy air. Today La Baule is favoured by the French rather than foreigners, a popular holiday destination for the Parisian upper-middle-class when they need to unwind. La Baule's inviting five mile (8km) stretch of white sandy beach provides the perfect place to acquire a summer tan and show off designer beachwear while frolicking in waters warmed by the Gulf Stream. The locals boast that it is the best beach in Europe, but then many locals make that boast. It is a safe, gently sloping beach with lovely, fine sand and is good for children. The town itself provides other holiday necessities: a casino, plenty of shops and boutiques, and some excellent bars and restaurants. There are some impressive old villas in La Baule and it is worth wandering around beyond the promenade; there are also some lovely gardens and parks open to the public. This is the place for a sophisticated, luxurious beach holiday; Brittany's version of the glamorous Cannes.
Not strictly Basque country, but part of the nearby Bigorre region, the town of Lourdes is situated in the Hautes-Pyrénées and has been one of the great Roman Catholic pilgrimage sites since the Virgin Mary allegedly revealed herself to a shepherd girl, Bernadette Soubirous, in 1858. More than five million pilgrims visit the town each year, particularly in August, from the Catholic nobility to the poverty-stricken sick and ailing.
Pilgrims are sometimes offended by the commercialisation of the shrine (there is a very good trade in candles and Lourdes water) but miracle cures have been documented by the church so it can be assumed this exploitation does not affect the healing properties of the spring in which the afflicted bathe in a grotto. The Virgin is said to have appeared 18 times at the Grotto of Massabielle and mass takes place here every day.
Lourdes itself is ancient and includes several sights of interest for holiday visitors. The Fortified Castle was successively a military fortress, a state prison and, in the 16th and 17th centuries, the residence of the counts of Bigorre. There are wonderful panoramic views of Lourdes town and the sanctuary from high on the fortifications. Since 1921 the castle has housed the Musée Pyrénéen, which exhibits the art, traditions and history of the Pyrénées.
There are some interesting churches to see while on holiday in this religious town. The Upper Basilica of the Immaculate Conception was built in 1854; the inside is as impressive as the magnificent exterior. The oval Basilica of Pius X is one of the world's largest churches, its underground chamber can hold as many as 20,000 people. Mass is held in six languages, including English, every Wednesday and Sunday at 3:30pm from April to October. The Musée Ste-Bernadette is nearby, as is the house where Bernadette was born which, along with the home of her parents, has become a shrine.
Attractively situated on islands in the estuary of France's mighty Loire River, the city of Nantes exudes an air of importance and historical significance which makes it an interesting holiday destination. Although not officially part of Brittany any longer, Nantes has always been regarded as the Breton commercial and maritime centre, once a springboard for exciting colonial expeditions, shipbuilding and trading. Today Nantes remains a wealthy industrial port, with its architectural heritage reflecting its past achievements, from the medieval remnants in the narrow streets of pedestrianised Bouffay, near the castle of the Ducs de Bretagne, to the magnificent stained-glass windows of its impressive cathedral.
The city also has some good museums, including its own Musée des Beaux-Arts, which has a fine collection of sculptures and paintings from the 12th to 19th centuries, and the Musée de Jules Verne, which contains memorabilia of the famous futuristic novelist, who was born in Nantes. There is a lot to see and do in this historic, busy city and there should be something for everyone. One of the most fun attractions is Les Machines de L'ile which is a creative combination of the invented worlds of Jules Verne, the mechanical inventions of Leonardo da Vinci, and the industrial history of the city itself. It is located in the former shipyards.
There was a time when Orleans was the second most important city in France after Paris; today it is a modest and attractive city well worth a visit to explore its cobbled streets. Orléans' long history stretches to a time before the Romans, but its most famous event was Joan of Arc's deliverance of the city from the English in 1429. The occasion is still commemorated most fervently with Joan of Arc Day, celebrated each year on the 8th of May, when Orléans makes merry with lively street parades in medieval style.
The city's chief attractions include the magnificent neo-Gothic Orléans Cathedral, Cathedrale Ste-Croix, which is truly magnificent and mustn't be missed, and the House of Joan of Arc, which is a reproduction of a house she stayed in in the city and features a timeline of her life and achievements. There is also the Orleans Musee des Beaux-Arts to be explored, and the ornately decorated Hotel de Ville. Visitors can rent bikes in Orleans and this is a lovely way to get around in the city; a glorious cycle path which traverses the Loire Valley region passes through Orleans.
The popular holiday destination of Pau is situated 50 miles (80km) inland, high above the Gave de Pau River, and is a good base from which to explore the Pyrénées and the picturesque little villages of the Bearn region. This year-round holiday resort was frequented by the British in the early 19th century (at one time 20 percent of the population hailed from England) and many customs were imported from across the Channel to become entrenched, including fox hunting and afternoon tea.
Pau is home to 85,000 people and is the most cosmopolitan city in the western Pyrénées. While on holiday, panoramic views can best be enjoyed when strolling along the Boulevard des Pyrénées. Worthy Pau sightseeing excursions include the 12th-century Chateau de Pau, containing some interesting contemporary artefacts including a crib fashioned from a single tortoise shell. The Musée des Beaux-Arts is also worth a peek, with a collection of European paintings by the likes of El Greco, Degas, Zurbaran and Boudin. The people of the Pau and Bearn are very proud of their language (a variation of Occitan) and heritage and have indulged in friendly rivalry with the Basques of Bayonne for centuries.
The small seaside holiday resort of Porto is watched over by the 16th-century Genoese Tower standing guard over the fishing harbour, and although crowded in summer, retains a certain charm. While on holiday, Porto is an excellent base from which to explore the surrounding countryside and spectacular coastline. This region of Corsica is so full of natural beauty that it has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site so visitors are truly spoilt for choice when it comes to stunning landscapes. The Gorges de Spelunca, a spectacular ravine, is popular for its rocky pools, Genoese bridges and hiking opportunities, while the Forêt d'Aïtone is one of the island's most beautiful forests, with waterfalls and numerous walking trails. Visitors can head out on boat trips as well, and easily access some of the famous calanques along the coast, and the nature reserve of Scandola. The main historical sightseeing attraction is the 16th-century watchtower perched dramatically on the cliffs and boasting phenomenal views. The town itself is not spectacular and has sprung up mainly to meet the demands of the visitors who flock to the area for the natural beauty.
Quimper, Brittany's oldest city, beckons those who need nothing more from a holiday than cobbled streets to wander through, a lazy river to cruise gently down and a wide selection of cafés and bars to sample. The holiday town of Quimper, spread around the junction of the Steir and Odet Rivers on the western edge of Brittany, is idyllic and charming. Fortunately, Quimper was spared the bombs of World War II and has escaped too much modern development, so the medieval character remains intact with old buildings overhanging narrow lanes and footbridges.
The best way to see the city is by taking a boat trip down one of the rivers, or rambling around on foot. Visitors wanting to investigate the local crafts can tour the pottery studios that have been turning out internationally renowned Quimperware for centuries. There is also an Earthenware Museum (Musee de la Faience) to explore. Other attractions worth seeing include the Saint Corentin Cathedral, a very impressive Gothic building, and the Musee des Beaux Arts, located right next to the cathedral, which boasts some excellent paintings and sculptures and offers a good introduction to the cultural and artistic history of the region.
The capital of Normandy and a popular holiday destination, Rouen is also a centre of industry and commerce; it is the fifth largest port in France and the closest one to Paris, split into a right and left bank area by the River Seine.
Rouen is also one of France's most historic cities; William the Conqueror died here in 1087 and in 1431 it was the stage for the trial and execution of Joan of Arc. She was burned at the stake in the Place du Vieux-Marché (the Old Marketplace); the position is still marked by a huge bronze cross and worth visiting while on holiday.
Allied bombing largely destroyed the city of Rouen; all of its bridges and many of its great churches were ruined. However, substantial investment has been focused on restoring parts of the city to its former medieval glory. The great Cathédrale Notre-Dame, immortalised by Monet, remained fairly unscathed and is well worth a visit for its wonderful stonework. An especially interesting Rouen holiday attraction is the Chapelle de la Vierge, where the heart of Richard the Lion-Heart is entombed as a token of his affection for the people of Rouen. The chapel also contains the Renaissance tombs of the cardinals d'Amboise.
Dozens of churches and some fine museums can be explored including the Musée des Beaux-Art, which is one of France's best provincial museums and includes the works of great French artists such as Veronese, Velasquez, Caravaggio, Rubens, Poussin, Fragonard and Monet (including several versions of his Rouen Cathedral).
Located at the junction of the Loire and the Cher Rivers, the holiday destination of Tours is a great base for exploring the valley. The town was badly bombed during the last war and many buildings were replaced with ugly apartment blocks. Tours is, however, surrounded by magnificent châteaux and is a fun place to spend the evenings; the streets and bars are filled with locals and tourists and the huge student population ensures that the nighlife buzzes almost every night of the year.
Within the city the cathedral is worth a visit while on holiday. Its flamboyant Gothic façade is flanked by towers dating from the 12th century, inside are some glorious 13th-century stained-glass windows and the handsome 16th-century tomb of Charles VIII and Anne de Bretagne's two children. There is also a fine provincial museum in Tours, in the Palais des Archevêques, with a number of Old Masters works' including some by Degas, Delacroix, Rembrandt, and Boucher. It is a pleasant city to walk around - the old town especially - and there are a number of pretty pathways and parks to explore. It is also fun to cycle along the river Loire and this is a good way to orientate oneself in the city.
Perched among the French Alps, Briançon is the highest town in Europe. The town is divided into the lower town, where the Durance and Guisane rivers meet and much of the modern amenities lie; and the walled and fortified upper town, which was built in the 17th century to defend the town from Austria and so contains the most interesting historical sights.
Briançon is a paradise for outdoor sports enthusiasts. Part of the massive Serre-Chevalier ski area, which also includes Saint-Chaffrey, La Salle le Alpes, and Monêtier les Bains, it enjoys up to 300 days of sunshine per year. But the town is a popular tourist area in summer as well, drawing visitors to see its citadelle, forts, and sundials, as well as to enjoy activities like hiking, kayaking and rock climbing. Briançon is also the site of one of the most thrilling stages of the Tour de France. Situated only six miles (10km) from the Italian border, Briançon has a distinctly Italian feel compared to other towns in Provence. There are a number of good pizzerias and some lively bars popular with tourists, but few French restaurants.
Puy du Fou is a historical theme park in western France which attracts more than 1.5 million visitors a year, making it one of the most popular paid attractions in the country. The experience is akin to being on a giant interactive movie set as different historical scenes are played out with considerable exuberance by a large cast of actors against very realistic and impressive sets. There are five thrilling attractions, or perhaps more accurately, performances, including The Vikings and Richelieu's Musketeers, each lasting around 40 minutes.
In the evening during peak season, the Cinescene historical extravaganza is held on reputedly the largest stage in the world, with more than 1,000 actors, hundreds of horses and great volleys of fireworks. The children especially will be spellbound but adults should also greatly enjoy it. The park is set in gorgeous woodlands, and boasts about 25 restaurants, three hotels and plenty of other amenities to ensure a comfortable visit. Performances are in French and English-language translation headsets should be reserved in advance if required.
The popular holiday destination of Ajaccio lies in a calm bay on the west coast of the rugged island of Corsica, set against a backdrop of wooded hills. It is a relaxed rather than lively town and visitors come here on holiday to enjoy its wealth of cafés, restaurants and shops. There are many cocktail bars overlooking the bay on boulevard Lantivy, so visitors will find plenty of lovely watering holes. Ajaccio is a good doorstep into the rest of the island, and the launching point for many Corsican holidays.
The birthplace of Napoleon Bonaparte, the town takes full advantage of its famous resident to lure tourists. Attractions include the magnificent cathedral where he was christened, the Bonaparte residence, and numerous statues and street names related to his family. While locals are not particularly proud of their notorious famous son, they are justifiably proud of the art collection of his uncle, Cardinal Fesch. Housed in the Musée Fesch, this collection of Italian paintings is considered to rate second only to that of the Louvre and is well worth seeing while on holiday in Ajaccio.
Most souvenirs from Ajaccio are related somehow to Napoleon, but visitors should not overlook the region's excellent wine. Ajaccio has its fair share of little shops but it is not a shopping paradise.
This theme park in Toulouse has its head firmly in the clouds, dedicating its 8.6 acres (3.5 hectares) to celebrating flight and outer space. Children will love exploring full-scale models of rockets and space stations, and teens will enjoy the feeling of anti-gravity in the Gyro simulator. There's a moon-walk simulator; and the enormous planetarium, IMAX theatre, and Terradome show educational films about space flight and the history of the universe. The park is located on the outskirts of the city, and is a great activity for the whole family. Visitors will need a full day to explore the whole site and there are guided tours and audio guides available. There is a restaurant at the park, and a shop which sells a variety of fun, educational books, movies and toys.
Of the many beautiful buildings in Toulouse, the St Sernin Basilica is one that should not be missed. The church, built from the region's distinctive rose-coloured bricks, is the largest Romanesque church in Europe and contains many beautiful frescoes and sculptures. The Basilica was built around 1100, and contains many relics, as well as the graves of Saint Sernin and Saint Honoratus. Saint Sernin was the first Bishop of Toulouse and was martyred in the year 250; it is largely due to his remains in the crypt that the basilica is an essential stop on the pilgrimage of Saint Jacques de Compostela which culminates in Arles. There are also some 19th-century treasures on display for visitors, including chalices and ciborium. The main attraction, however, is the building itself, which is astounding in its size and design and quite unlike most churches found in France. The mix of architectural styles from different centuries is what makes it feel so original. There are free guided tours of the basilica on weekends but they are conducted in French only. Although entrance to the main area of the church is free, visitors will have to pay small amounts to enter certain areas.
Less than one hours' drive from Mulhouse and three from Paris, Strasbourg is a popular tourist destination in Alsace-Lorraine. The capital and largest city in Alsace, Strasbourg has a beautiful city centre that has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site, with many churches, museums, and photogenic half-timber houses lining the narrow cobbled streets. One of the most famous sites in Strasbourg is the great sandstone Gothic cathedral with its astronomical clock. There are a few other beautiful churches as well, with architecture ranging from Romanesque to Gothic to Renaissance.
Strasbourg is also a modern city, however, with a lively atmosphere that belies its historic facade. Good restaurants abound, serving a blend of French, German, and local Alsatian cuisine. Late summer (July and August) is the best time to visit Strasbourg, as the warm weather paves the way for many theatre and music events. Christmas is also a festive time of year, with holiday markets in place Broglie and place de la Cathédrale.
From its position on the Rhine River, Strasbourg also makes a great base from which to explore southern Germany (just across the river) and Switzerland (only an hour's drive south).
An attractive town in northeast France, Colmar is one of the most popular tourist draws to the Alsace region. Founded in the 9th century, the city boasts many beautiful architectural landmarks, including churches, museums, theatres, mansions, monuments and fountains, many dating back to the 13th century. Colmar is surprisingly big for a medieval city, but visitors should still be able to walk around on foot without much trouble. In addition to its beauty, Colmar is a lively city with music festivals and other events throughout the year. It is also a centre for the German and French-influenced Alsatian cuisine, and visitors can sample local specialties like quiche Lorraine, Black Forest cake, Sauerkraut, and the many varieties of Alsace wine.
Attractions in the town include the Musee d'Unterlinden (Museum under the Linden Trees) which is a small but popular art and history museum with an impressive collection of artefacts. The most famous piece is the magnificent Issenheim Altarpiece. Little Venice, a particularly pretty neighbourhood in Colmar, is a good place to take a gondola ride and enjoy the medieval architecture passing you by. The Eglise des Dominicains is a lovely church which now houses Martin Shongaurer's painting 'Madonna of the Rose Garden'. The Gothic Eglise St-Martin is also well worth a visit.
Celebrated modernist artist Marc Chagall (1887-1985), though born in the Soviet Union, spent much of his career in France. The Marc Chagall Museum in Nice has the largest permanent collection of his works, including his Biblical Message Cycle, comprising 17 large-scale paintings depicting scenes from the Bible. The museum contains a dazzling array of paintings, sculptures, stained glass windows and mosaics and the vivid colours and dreamlike quality of Chagall's work make the space come alive. It is a truly well-designed museum which captures some of the joyful quality of Chagall's work even though it is simple and small. Interestingly, Chagall himself positioned many of the works, as he was alive when the museum was built, and this goes some way to explaining how well everything seems to fit. There is a great film on Chagall's life running at the museum and it is really worth watching. One can also listen to audio recordings of explanations for each of the paintings and this hugely enriches the experience, particularly for those who aren't familiar with the artist. The museum has attractive gardens to wander in and a small cafe for refreshments.
Nice and the French Riviera were fashionable holiday resorts for Russian nobility in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, leading to a close relationship between the regions that culminated in the rose-pink Russian Orthodox Cathedral, one of the most beautiful buildings in Nice. Topped with the onion-shaped domes typical of Russian cathedrals, the church was built by Tsar Nicholas II in 1912 and is the largest of its kind outside of Russia. The interior of the cathedral is also magnificent; it is in the shape of a Greek cross and boasts some wonderful frescos, woodwork and art, as well as notable goldsmith's work. The odd image of the Russian spires set against the background of palm trees on the Cote d'Azur is one of the most interesting sights in Nice. Strolling past the cathedral, and getting some photos, is a must and it is well worth going inside as well.
The small village of Talloires has fashioned a booming tourist industry from the very best in raw ingredients: medieval architecture, charming locals, and picturesque surroundings ripe with opportunity for both summer and winter sports. Lake Annecy is filled with holidaymakers swimming, sailing and waterskiing in the summer and land-based activities like golf, hiking, paragliding, horseback riding and tennis are also popular. In the winter, Talloires takes advantage of its location near several popular French ski resorts, including Megève, Espace Diamant, and La Clusaz.
The area of Talloires has been settled since Neolithic times and the village has a rich history and a number of old buildings. The abbey dates back to 1016, although the current structure was built in 1681. Tufts University has its European Center in the 11th-century structure that was once the Benedictine priory in Talloires. For those more interested in historical sightseeing than outdoor activities strolling the streets of the town is rewarding. And visitors should be sure to sample the delicious local cuisine as well, as the town has some top-notch restaurants.
While Toulouse is known as the 'pink city' for its facebrick buildings, Albi, a UNESCO heritage site and historical city, is often called the 'red city' due to the spectacular crimson hue of the buildings at sunset. With a skyline dominated by the magnificent Cathédrale Ste-Cécile, there is plenty to see in the medieval town centre. Just wandering around the picturesque and ancient streets of the old city is the main attraction.
Albi is also known as the birthplace of famous French painter Toulouse-Lautrec, and there is a great museum containing more than 600 of his works, along with those of Degas, Matisse, and Roualt. There is also an interesting museum dedicated to explorer Jean-François de la Pérouse. The Cloitre de la Collegiale Saint Salvy is also a lovely, serene religious site to visit in Albi. And the Park Rochegude is a small but beautiful park, formerly the garden of an aristocrat, which boasts a wonderful collection of trees.
Situated on the lovely River Tarn, this historic city is a popular excursion from Toulouse. Albi is only an hour or so away from Toulouse by car, so easily reached on daytrips.
While it's a bit off the beaten path for most holidaymakers in France, St-Rémy de Provence is among the most attractive and interesting towns in Provence, and is well worth the 12 mile (19km) journey from Avignon. The city centre has many beautiful buildings, including the Chapelle Notre-Dame de Pitié and the Hôtel Estrine.
Aside from the attractive town itself, St-Rémy is surrounded by beautiful countryside, which inspired many paintings by Vincent van Gogh. The artist lived in St-Rémy de Provence for a time, and the city has the somewhat dubious honour of being the place where he famously cut off his ear, after which he committed himself to the Monastère de St-Paul-de-Mausolée, an asylum that now offers visitors walking tours.
Vincent van Gogh is not the only famous resident of St-Rémy, however, as the city was also the birthplace of 16-century author Nostradamus, famous for his predictions for the future, and was the favourite residence of Princess Caroline of Monaco for a time. Visitors will fall in love with this perfect example of sleepy small-town France, with its busy markets and quiet atmosphere. Near the city, the remains of a Gallo-Roman settlement from the 2nd century BC can be found and are also worth a visit.
Known as the 'St Tropez of Corsica', Porto-Vecchio is becoming one of the most fashionable towns in southern Corsica. It is situated in a scenic bay, near popular sandy beaches such as Palombaggia, Rondinara, and Santa Guilia. This is the perfect place for a lazy beach holiday in sunny Corsica and visitors are spoiled for choice with all the pleasant spots to set up beach camp for the day. The town itself is also picturesque, particularly the old town, called the Borgo, which boasts winding, narrow streets and interesting sights such as the twisted tree at the Place de la Republique, the incomplete church of St Jean Baptiste, and the art gallery at the Bastion di A Funtana Vechju.
Porto-Vecchio has a few souvenir shops and excellent speciality food shops selling Corsican delicacies like wild boar sausage and local cheeses. There are a number of cafes, bars and restaurants providing good vantage points for people-watching, and during the high season the city is usually buzzing with activity. It is a good doorstep to the delights of Corsica and an increasingly glamorous holiday destination which draws many visitors every year.
The Haut-Koenigsbourg Castle has a history going back some nine centuries, built in the 12th century as an Austrian fortress. The castle is perched dramatically on a mountain, clearly designed to be defended in times of war and with sweeping views of the Alsace plain below. This impressive fortress has been visited and owned by several notable royals and has changed hands between nations many times. It has also been all but destroyed twice in its long history. The Alsace region was annexed to Germany in 1871, and the castle, at the time only a majestic ruin, was gifted to Kaiser Wilhelm II in 1899. Seeing it as a symbol for Germany's new power in the region, the Kaiser fully restored the fortress and today it is once again a formidable and impressive place to visit.
The present structure of the castle gives an accurate idea of how the mountain fortress must have looked in the Middle Ages. Its interior walls are decorated in a rich medieval style, and it houses an extensive and interesting collection of weapons and furniture, mainly from the 16th and 17th centuries. Visitors can view the royal apartments, kitchen, chapel, ceremonial hall and armoury, as well as the walled garden, forge and mill. Exploring this historic building, which has been scarred and marked by the region's history, is exciting for the whole family.
The wild mountains of the Pyrénées stretch for 250 miles (402km) from the Atlantic to the Mediterranean and have for many centuries formed a natural frontier, physical, climatic and linguistic, between France and Spain. Second only to the Alps among the great mountain ranges of Western Europe, the Pyrénées are much less frequented, and still offer an exciting combination of knife-edged summits, small glaciers, forested valleys, mountain tarns and little-trodden summer passes. Splendid trails lead to the magnificent cirques and lake-spangled basins of France's Pyrénées National Park. Over on the Spanish side paths lead through the spectacular canyons of the Ordesa-Monte Perdido National Park, one of Europe's oldest nature reserves.
In 1997, the United Nations inscribed a portion of the French and Spanish Pyrénées near the French village of Gavarnie and the Spanish village of Torla on its list of World Heritage Sites. Here, nature over the eons has carved three stupendous glacial cirques, including the renowned Cirque de Gavarnie, and a 3,000-foot (914m) deep canyon called Ordesa - Spain's 'Grand Canyon.' Hiking in this region is very rewarding and the dramatic landscapes are breathtaking. Although some of the trails require hiking experience and fitness, visitors can also find easy day-walks.
Deauville is the only Norman holiday resort to have any delusions of grandeur. It is at the heart of the Norman Riviera which, in the late 19th century, was a particularly popular holiday destination with elite Parisians.
Deauville is still known as the 'lady' of the French coast, and it was a very fashionable lady, in the form of Coco Chanel, who launched both her own career and the quality status of Deauville as a seaside holiday town when she opened a boutique selling her avante garde pill-box and cloche hats to Edwardian ladies bowed under the weight of huge, elaborate millinery creations. Although the town is overrun with tourists and the Edwardian splendour is fading, some of Chanel's elegance survives in Deauville. Nearby Trouville is a smaller and less glamorous version of Deauville, but is also less touristy.
Deauville hosts numerous events, including regattas and polo tournaments, and offers many holiday diversions in the form of casinos, golf courses and exclusive shops. Horse racing is a popular pastime on the town's two courses, and Deauville also boasts a number of restaurants and a spa. There is a strip of beach, the Plage de Deauville which, on warm days, is packed with sunseekers.
Aix-en-Provence is the cultural and touristic capital of Provence. This beautiful university town has been an inspiration to many great writers and painters, most famously Paul Cézanne, who was inspired by the Provence countryside to produce his masterpieces, some of which can be seen in his hometown at the Musée Granet, in the Quartier Mazarin.
Aix possesses a wealth of superb architecture that has been carefully preserved and restored. Walking through the Cours Mirabeau and the Rue Gaston de Saporta, visitors can admire the famous fountains, and the private mansions with their sculpted doors, windows, and intricate ironwork on the balconies. On the Place des Martyrs de la Résistance is the ancient Cathedral and in the neighbouring archbishop's palace is the Musée des Tapisseries. A great way to see the city and surrounding countryside is by renting a bicycle.
Shopping is one of the main reasons that tourists flock to Aix-en-Provence. There is a large market every Saturday on Avenue du Cap-Pinede, and smaller ones on Tuesdays and Thursdays. The town centre is quite compact and each square seems to have its own bazaar. There is the flower market at the Place de l'Hotel de Ville, and vegetable and fruit stalls at the nearby Marche des Capucins.
There are many bars and pubs to choose from in town, and a large student population ensures that the nightlife is always lively. Aix-en-Provence has a thriving jazz scene centred on the Hot Brass Jazz Club and the Scat Club.
Today it is hard to imagine that the quintessential, glamorous French Riviera holiday resort of Cannes was for centuries a simple, sleepy fishing village whose only visitors were the monks and wealthy pilgrims who came to visit the monastery on the nearby Island of St Honorat. All this changed in 1834 when Lord Henry Brougham, former British Chancellor of the Exchequer, arrived and established Cannes as a popular upmarket holiday resort for the British upper-classes.
Soon the French and later the Russian aristocracy also flocked to Cannes to while away their summer holidays. Today, Cannes is besieged by tourists on holiday in the summer, when the long sandy beaches, glitzy nightclubs, chic shops and famous promenade are abuzz with beautiful people flaunting the latest designer wear.
There is lots to see and do in Cannes. The old town is pleasant for strolling and sightseeing, and the beaches fantastic for lying in the sun. For the more active, there are a number of water sports available, including sailing and swimming. Popular attractions in Cannes include the Notre-Dame d'Esperance, the Molinard perfume factory, and the Musée d'Art et d'Histoire de Provence. It is worthwhile to take the trip out to the Îles de Lérins, which boast a monastery and ruins alongside a number of shops, bars and restaurants. There are also options for excursions to nearby Monaco and St Tropez.
Each May the world's media descend in droves for the annual Cannes Film Festival, which draws Hollywood's finest to the Palais des Festivals.
French Phrase Book
|au revoir||goodbye||au rev wahr|
|merci||thank you||mehr see|
|s'il vous plait||please||seel vu play|
|je m'appelle||my name is||juhm up el|
|ou est||where is||oo eh|
|parlez-vous anglais?||do you speak English?||par lay vu on glay|
|je ne comprends pas||I don't understand||juh nuh cohn praw pa|
|j'ai besoin d'un docteur||I need a doctor||je buh zwa da dok tur|
|un, deux, trois, quatre, cinq||one, two, three, four, five||oon, dew, twa, quart-re, seenk|
France is big, spanning a range of different climatic regions. The south of France has a warm Mediterranean climate with hot summers and mild winters. Strong winds, known as 'le Mistral', can occur in the Cote d'Azur, Provence and in the Rhone Valley, particularly over the winter and spring. Rainfall is distributed throughout the year and some snow is expected in winter. Northern France, including Paris, has a temperate climate similar to southern England, with warm summers, cold winters and rainfall throughout the year. The western coast, from the Loire Valley to the Pyrenees, is milder, and summer days are generally very hot. The mountainous areas are cooler and get heavy snowfall in winter.
During summer most French residents take their five-week vacation to the coast and mountains, and empty cities tend to shut down accordingly. The peak tourist season in France is in the summer months of July and August, when the French themselves tend to take their vacations, but as this period is expensive and crowded the best time to visit France is actually in the spring (March and April) and autumn (September and October) when the weather is mild. Of course, the ski resorts boom in the winter and, for those who don't mind the cold, a winter holiday in cities such as Paris has a charm of its own.
This tiny bistro is simply decorated with a plain white facade and a rustic interior, and is always buzzing with locals. A blackboard menu offers classic French dishes such as calf's liver cooked in sherry vinegar, or scallops cooked in basil oil. There is also a selection of venison on offer, and the puddings are equally enticing. The bill is outrageously inexpensive for the quality of the food. Open Tuesday to Saturday for lunch and dinner, dinner only on Sunday. Reservations essential.
La Tour d'Argent (The Silver Tower) not only serves up mouth-watering dishes, but also has wonderful views over the Seine and Notre-Dame. A restaurant has stood on this site since 1582 and dining here is still an unsurpassed event. A good section of the menu is devoted to duck, and diners who order the house speciality - caneton (pressed duckling) - are issued with a certificate. The practice started in 1890 and they are now at well over a million. Book well in advance, a jacket and tie is required in the evening. Closed Monday, and lunch on Tuesdays.
Guy Savoy's creations are audacious and inventive; the steam-baked Bresse chicken with lemongras and the roasted rib of veal are testament to this. Half-portions allow patrons to sample various dishes on the menu, and the wine list reveals a treasure trove of exceptional vintages. Although the décor is formal, the atmosphere is relaxed and ambient. Book well in advance. Open Tuesday to Friday for lunch and dinner, and for dinner on Saturday; closed Sundays.
The exotic Buddha Bar remains trendy with Parisians and foreigners in the know. A massive gilt Buddha dominates the spacious interior of the restaurant, which offers a variety of Japanese-Californian cuisine; tuna tataki sashimi and pork ribs with hoisin sauce are just two of the menu's many delights. Open for lunch and dinner Monday to Friday, and dinner only on weekends. Book well in advance.
Founded in 1872, the restaurant Goumard has all the charm of a century-old establishment with original oak woodwork, an engraved 1930s glass facade and designer chandeliers. One of the finest seafood restaurants in Paris, the food at Goumard is influenced by Mediterranean and Asian cuisines, served with subtle and delicate sauces - the emphasis is on enhancing the natural flavours of the catch. Open for lunch and dinner Monday to Saturday, reservations required.
Housed within the arcades of the Palais-Royal, Le Grand Véfour has been entertaining diners since the reign of Louis XV and has welcomed everyone from Napoleon to Danton. The menu is influenced by the cuisine Savoie - a blend of sophisticated and rustic dishes. Favourites include the sole meunière and the wild duck in laurel leaves. Desserts include the signature artichoke crème brûlée. Booking is essential, closed Friday night and weekends.
Opened in 1947, this Paris restaurant is a traditional all-day Brasserie serving authentic French fare like stuffed pig's trotters, veal kidney flambéed in Cognac, and Provençal-style pan stuffed mussels. The long benches and brass fittings echo the authenticity of the food for a truly Parisian experience. Open 24 hours a day, the restaurant is popular with tourists just come from browsing the Louvre.
L'Alcazar attracts fashionable Parisians looking to dine on seafood or Modern British fare. The huge ground floor restaurant is of course designed more for style than comfort and patrons can see the chefs in action in the open-plan kitchens; the octopus salad and steak tartare are excellent. L'Az bar has regular theme nights with celebrity artists and jazz musicians. Open for lunch and dinner daily, and brunch on Sundays. Reservations recommended.
The prestigious Jules Verne Restaurant is located on the second floor of the Eiffel Tower and has an atmosphere that is reminiscent of an airship moored high above Paris, with spectacular views of the city. The poached lobster and stuffed chicken are just two of the great dishes on the menu, and the wild strawberry and coconut cake dessert is fantastic. Open for lunch and dinner daily, reservations recommended.
Le Bouillon Racine features a sophisticated Belgian menu and an enormous selection of Belgian beer. The food here is hearty and filling, even without the help of several thirst-quenching ales. The menu changes monthly and includes popular dishes like the casserole of mussels, shrimp and baby clams, suckling pig roasted with bitter Orval beer, and rack of lamb roasted in a pale biere blonde. The décor is festive and the service efficient. Reservations essential, open daily for lunch and dinner.
Set in an Art Deco building on the banks of the Seine, Kong has beautiful views of the city and is full of surprises - from its stint to the dining area's interesting Japanese Manga décor. The exotic menu offers cuisine such as the Kong Plate (a mixed fish platter), Chilean bass and Japanese beef carpaccio. Open daily for lunch and dinner, with brunch on Sundays. Reservations essential.
The historic Cafe de Flore has been immortalised by more than one French painter. A popular meeting place for post-war intellectuals like Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir and celebrated artists Camus, Picasso, and Apollinaire, the restaurant has now been overrun with tourists from all over the world. The menu offers salads, sandwiches, pastries and other cafe fare. Cafe de Flore is open daily from 7:30am to 1:30am.
The Euro (EUR) is the official currency in France. Currency can be exchanged at banks, bureaux de change and some large hotels, though visitors will get a better exchange rate at the ATMs. Major credit cards are widely accepted, particularly in major tourist destinations. Foreign currency is not accepted.
French is the official language.
Electrical current is 230 volts, 50Hz. European two-pin plugs are standard.
US nationals: US citizens must have a passport that is valid for at least three months after their intended stay in France. No visa is required for a stay of up to 90 days within a 180 day period.
UK nationals: British passports endorsed 'British Citizen', 'British Subject' (containing a Certificate of Entitlement to the Right of Abode issued by the United Kingdom), and 'British Overseas Territories Citizen' issued by Gibraltar, only need to be valid for period of intended stay in France. All other endorsements require at least three months validity beyond the period of intended stay in France.
UK nationals: A visa is not required for passports endorsed 'British Citizen', 'British Subject' (containing a Certificate of Entitlement to the Right of Abode issued by the United Kingdom), and 'British Overseas Territories Citizen' issued by Gibraltar. No visa is required for stays of up to 90 days in a 180 day period for holders of British passports with any other endorsement.
UK nationals: Holders of identity cards issued by Gibraltar authories, and endorsed 'Validated for EU travel purposes under the authority of the United Kingdom', do not require a visa to visit France.
AU nationals: Australian citizens must have a passport that is valid for three months after their intended stay in France. No visa is required for a stay of up to 90 days in a 180 day period.
ZA nationals: South African citizens must have a passport that is valid for three months after their intended stay, and a valid Schengen visa, to enter France. Note that entry and transit will be refused to holders of Temporary passports.
IR nationals: Irish citizens must have a passport that is valid on arrival. No visa is required.
NZ nationals: New Zealand citizens must have a passport that is valid for three months after their intended stay in France. No visa is required for a stay of up to 90 days in a 180 day period.
The borderless region known as the Schengen Area includes the following countries: Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, The Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, and Switzerland. All these countries issue a standard Schengen visa that has a multiple entry option, and which allows the holder to travel freely within the borders of all the aforementioned countries.
Additionally, travellers must hold sufficient funds to cover their stay in France, and proof of repatriation (a return or onward ticket, and the necessary travel documentation for their next destination). Note that Schengen visas, if required, are also valid for French Guiana and French West Indies and Reunion, provided that the Schengen visa is endorsed "Also valid for French territories being in observation of the respective French territories". We recommend that passports always be valid for six months after intended period of travel.
No particular vaccinations or medications are required for travel to France. The prevalence of certain tick-borne infections, such as lyme disease, tularemia, tick-borne encephalitis, and rickettsial diseases, mean that travellers should take precautions against ticks if they are travelling in rural or forested areas in warm weather. French hospitals and health facilities are first class. Visitors from other EU countries are entitled to discounted medical treatment and medicines on presentation of a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC). After Brexit, the Global Health Insurance Card (GHIC) replaced the European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) for UK citizens. The GHIC allows UK citizens access to state healthcare during visits to the EU. The GHIC is not valid in Norway, Iceland, Liechtenstein or Switzerland, nor is it an alternative to travel insurance. Otherwise, doctors and hospitals often expect immediate cash payment for health services, so medical insurance is advised.
Most restaurants and hotels automatically add a 15 percent service charge so a tip is not necessary, although another two to three percent is customary if the service has been good. If service is not included then 15 percent is customary. Taxi drivers expect 10 to 15 percent of the fare, and hairdressers about 10 percent. Hotel staff generally receive about €1.50 a day and tips of about €1 are given to washroom and cloakroom attendants and museum tour guides. Tour bus drivers and guides are also tipped.
While violent crime against tourists is rare and holidays in France are generally trouble-free, visitors should be mindful that security has been heightened following a series of terrorist attacks in recent years, particularly in the transport sector. Unattended luggage left in public places will be removed or destroyed by security staff. While generally safe, visitors to France are advised to take precautions against petty theft and to ensure their personal safety. Thieves and pickpockets operate on the metro and around airports. Theft from cars is prevalent, particularly in the south, around Marseilles, and in Corsica. Tourists are advised to conceal bags and purses even when driving, and to never leave valuables unattended in the car. Bag snatching is also common, particularly on public transport and in shopping centres, and visitors should also be vigilant of luggage while loading bags into and out of hire cars at airports.
French culture is of paramount importance to the French people. In an increasingly Americanised world they feel duty-bound to protect it, and it is appreciated if visitors can speak a few words of French. Locals do not respond well to being shouted at in English. While the food is second to none, foreigners may find the service in many restaurants sloppy. Waiters can appear rude (particularly in Paris) and take their time. This is just the way they are. Traditional games such as pétanque (similar to lawn bowling but played on gravel) are popular in village squares, but the national sports are football, rugby and cycling. Smoking in public places is not allowed and will incur heavy fines.
Business etiquette is important in France. A smart, fashionable sense of dress is common as the nation prides itself on . Punctuality is not always observed though and the 'fashionably late' tactic may be applied. A handshake is the common form of greeting for men and women upon first introductions. Titles are important and the person is to be referred to as 'monsieur' (Mr.), 'madame' (Mrs.), or 'mademoiselle' (Ms.). Meetings usually occur over lunches, and the French are known to enjoy food. Business hours are generally 9am to 6pm, Monday to Friday.
The international access code for France is +33. It is often cheaper to get a local sim card than to pay international roaming costs. Free wifi is available in most hotels, cafes, restaurants and similar establishments.
Travellers from non-EU countries over 17 years of age entering France can bring in the following items duty-free: 200 cigarettes, or 100 cigarillos, or 50 cigars, or 250g tobacco. Four litres of wine and 16 litres of beer and one litre of spirits over 22 percent or two litres of alcoholic beverages less than 22 percent. Other goods up to the value of €430 for air and sea travellers, and €300 for other travellers (reduced to €175 for children under 15 years of age).
Maison de la France (Tourist Information Agency), Paris: www.france.fr/fr
French Embassy, Washington DC, United States: +1 202 944 6195.
French Embassy, London, United Kingdom: +44 (0)20 7073 1000.
French Embassy, Ottawa, Canada: +1 613 789 1795.
French Embassy, Canberra, Australia: +61 (0)2 6216 0100.
French Embassy, Pretoria, South Africa: +27 (0)12 425 1600.
French Embassy, Dublin, Ireland: +353 (0)1 277 5000.
French Embassy, Wellington, New Zealand: +64 (0)4 384 2555.
US Embassy, Paris: +33 (0)1 4312 2222.
British Embassy, Paris: +33 (0)1 4451 3100.
Canadian Embassy, Paris: +33 (0)1 4443 2900.
Australian Embassy, Paris: +33 (0)1 4059 3300.
South African Embassy, Paris: +33 (0)1 5359 2323.
Irish Embassy, Paris: +33 (0)1 4417 6700.
New Zealand Embassy, Paris: +33 (0)1 4501 4343.
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