France is, quite simply, the world's leading touristdestination. This is the country that inspired Monet's reinventionof colour and the haunting harmonies of Claude Debussy. It hastantalised the taste buds with foie gras and frog legs, andcaptured the imagination of the world's jet-set with the resorts ofSt Tropez and Port Grimaud.
France emerged as a power following the Hundred Years' War. Thecountry flourished as a centre of culture in the renaissance periodand became a dominant European force during the reign of King LouisXIV and later Napoleon. This long and storied history has left ahuge cultural legacy for visitors to enjoy.
History has seen the rise of castles, Gothic churches, walledtowns, modern skyscrapers, and iconic structures such as the Pontdu Gard and Eiffel Tower. There are 1200 museums housing the worksof Picasso, Degas and Van Gogh. Magnificent concert halls carry thesounds of French composers. Market stalls, Parisian bistros andMichelin star restaurants offer up unique French fare, accompaniedby 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 ofthe Loire valley, the majestic peaks of the Alps and the Pyrenees,the endless Mediterranean coastline of the Cote d'Azur, the oakforests on Corsica, and the Vineyards of Burgundy, France is anendless labyrinth of treasures. Millions arrive each year torediscover the meaning of
Naturally, most visitors start their holiday in the Frenchcapital, Paris. The Eiffel Tower offers spectacular views over thecity. Shop at Galeries Lafayette or on the Champs Elysees. Take inthe exhibitions at the Louvre and Musee d'Orsay, or experience thedelights of the Moulin Rouge. Day trips take guests to the Palaceof Versailles and Disneyland.
South of Paris lies the Loire Valley, known as the 'Garden ofFrance' for its abundance of vineyards and fruit orchards. Theimposing chateaux spread across the valley are cultural monumentsto the ideals of the Renaissance period. Less well known butequally stunning is Provence. Tourists can stroll through themarkets of Aix-en-Provence, visit the Pope's Palace in Avignon, buyfresh seafood in Marseille, and visit the rural wetlands of theCamargue, home to the fabled white horses.
There are ancient gems in every direction. The coast of Normandyhosts the magical island of Mont-Saint-Michel, topped by a medievalmonastery. To the south lies the historic fortified city ofCarcassonne.
The Alps are a playground for skiing in the winter, and hikingor cycling in the summer. The Pyrenees offer a view of the wilderside of France. 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; 71miles (115km) of Mediterranean coastline and beaches, 18 golfcourses, 14 ski resorts, 3000 restaurants and an abundance of sunnyweather. Visit in May to catch a glimpse of Hollywood's finest atthe Cannes Film Festival.
Situated on the River Rhone, the historic holiday destination ofAvignon is famed for being the Vatican of the 14th century. Sixsuccessive Popes resided here from 1309. Avignon is one of very fewFrench cities to have preserved its ramparts. Within these walls,the UNESCO-listed city centre radiates out from the Place del'Horloge, so named for the fortified tower on the square which nowhouses a clock and Jacquemert.
The park of Rocher des Doms offers panoramic viewsout over the city. Dominating the skyline is the enormous GothicPalais des Papes, the seat of papal power in the 14th century. TheNotre-Dame des Doms Cathedral supports a magnificent gold statue ofthe Virgin Mary. Also visible in the Petit Palais, a formercardinal's residence turned museum. The Pont d'Avignon clingsproudly to its reputation as the world's most famousone-fifth-of-a-bridge.
Avignon nurtures a strong culture of art, drama andgastronomy. The covered market of Halles is adorned with aremarkable hanging garden. Visitors here are treated to more than40 vendors selling specialties from the region, as well as dailycooking demonstrations. Those visiting in July will see the towntransformed for the Festival d'Avignon, one of the biggest liveperformance events in the world.
Gustave Eiffel, the architect of the Eiffel Tower (Tour Eiffel)could never have guessed that it would become Paris' signaturesightseeing attraction and attract more than six million visitors ayear. It was built as a temporary structure to commemorate thecentenary of the French Revolution and was opened by the Prince ofWales, later King Edward VII of England. The Eiffel Tower wasconsidered an eyesore by many and there were petitions to have itpulled down. It was saved only because it had become an importantantenna for telegraphy. It towers 984 feet (300m) above the Champde Mars and until 1930 was the world's tallest building. Thehighest of its three levels offers a wonderful panoramic view overParis.
The Eiffel Tower itself has several restaurants, including thepopular Le Jules Verne, with panoramic views of the city, and achampagne bar at the very top. There are also several souvenirshops and a carousel at the base. This is a great way to keepchildren entertained if you plan to go to the top of the Tower, asthe queues can be several hours long. A slightly different (andcheaper) way to enjoy the Eiffel Tower is with a picnic on thelawns with the famous structure providing a picturesquebackdrop.
Notre-Dame looms large over the Place de Paris, on the Isle dela Cité, and as the most enduring symbol of Paris is an alluringtourist attraction. Built between 1163 and 1345 the cathedral isconsidered one of the world's Gothic masterpieces. The massiveinterior can seat 6,000 people and it is dominated by threespectacular 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 forthe panoramic view of the city and the close-up views of the famousgargoyles. The tower also holds the great bell that was rung byQuasimodo, the fictional hunchback in the novel by Victor Hugo.
Opposite the north door is a museum that displays thecathedral's history, while under the square in front of thecathedral is the crypt that houses Notre-Dame's archaeologicalmuseum. The church has no real gift shop, but votive candles areavailable at points in the cathedral in return for a donation.
For a special experience, visit Notre-Dame on a Sunday morningwhen many of Paris's museums are closed and services are beingheld, but be respectful of worshippers, especially when takingphotos. Another really special time to visit Notre Dame is onsummer evenings for the Night Show, an operatic performanceprojected on a 100-metre tulle screen hanging in the nave. Theperformances are held nightly in July and August.
One of the world's great art museums, this vast edifice housesan extraordinary collection of paintings, sculptures andantiquities from all over the world. The permanent collections aredivided 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 theRevolution, to display the spectacular treasures looted from theroyal palaces. The best-known attractions in the Louvre areLeonardo da Vinci's enigmatic Mona Lisa, which is protected bybullet-proof glass within its own room; and the ancient Venus deMilo. While the Venus de Milo is one of the highlights of a visitto the Louvre, the Mona Lisa can be a disappointment because peopleusually imagine it is much bigger than it is - and it is usuallysurrounded 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 isa work of art and the ceilings, floors and staircases will enthralvisitors.
Built in the 1970s and named after former French presidentGeorges Pompidou, the futuristic Pompidou Centre is now consideredpart of the Parisian landscape. The outrageous design, completewith its glass elevators, was the inspiration for the LloydsBuilding in London and attracts visitors by the million; it is thecity's most popular attraction by far. The building houses theMusée National d'Art Modern (MNAM), which displays a vastcollection of 20th-century art, from Fauvism and Cubism to Abstractand Absurd, and its numerous cinemas and theatres have regularmusical and dance performances. The square to the west of thebuilding attracts a varied assortment of street performers. Whilethere, visitors should be sure to check out the whimsicalStravinsky Fountain with its 16 water-spraying sculptures.
This great museum is fairly new by Paris standards. It issituated in a railway station by the Seine and houses a vastcollection of works from the significant 1848 to 1914 period. Thereare important works from the Art-Nouveau movement but the Orsay isbest known for its Impressionist and Post-Impressionist art. Thecollection is arranged chronologically and contains highly regardedworks by Monet, Manet and Courbet. Also on permanent display is thefamous painting by Gustave Doré entitled and Henri Chapu's marble statue of . The Musee d'Orsay is one of the mostfamous art museums in the world and one of France's premierattractions. Even the uninitiated will appreciate this world-classmuseum, and art fanatics will be in heaven. There is a restaurantand a book shop at the museum.
The Rodin Museum is situated near the Musée d'Orsay and ishoused in what was formerly the Hôtel Biron, the beautiful hotelwhere Auguste Rodin (1840-1917) once lived and worked. Inside aremany of Rodin's great marble sculptures including while outside, in the garden, are famous bronzesincluding The museum also includes many works by CamilleClaudel (Rodin's pupil and mistress) and paintings by Van Gogh,Renoir, Manet and Rodin himself. The museum has a gift shop, withreproductions of some of the most famous works.
The Picasso Museum is situated in a 17th century mansion in theheart of Paris. The collection was started in 1973, after theFrench government accepted Picasso's own collection in lieu ofdeath duties, and was added to after his widow's death in 1990. Allthe phases of work from the Paris-based artist are represented hereincluding his paintings, drawings, ceramics, sculptures and evenpoetry. Memorable works include the self-portrait and Nude in an Armchair. Most of Picasso'sgreat paintings, however, are owned by and housed in foreignmuseums or are in the hands of private collectors. It is an unusualmuseum - mainly because of the unusual artist - and a must forPicasso enthusiasts and anybody who appreciates art. The mansionwhich houses the museum is gorgeous and creates just the rightatmosphere for the diverse collection.
The Château de Versailles stands 15 miles (24km) southwest ofParis and is one of France's most noted attractions. Most of thepalace was built between 1664 and 1715 by Louis XIV (known as theSun King), who turned his father's hunting lodge into the grandestpalace ever built. The 'Old Château' still exists but is envelopedby the vast white stone façade of the New Château. This lavishstatement of monarchical power was to become a symbol of the excessthat would lead to the revolution of 1789. Perhaps the most famousroom in the palace is the Hall of Mirrors (Galerie des Glaces)where the Treaty of Versailles was signed, signifying the end ofthe Great War. Within the palace visitors can also see the formerroyal bedchambers, the grand staircase and other staterooms, andwithin the vast landscaped park and gardens are many wonderfullyornate fountains and ponds. There is a small train that ferriesvisitors from the palace to the Grand Trianon and Petit Trianon,former love nests where both the Sun King and Napoleon enjoyed thecompany of their mistresses.
In the 16th century, Henry II and Catherine de Medicicommissioned architects Philibert Delorme and Jean Bullant to builda new palace within the Fontainebleau forest, 40 miles (64km) southof Paris. Italian Mannerist artists Rosso Fiorentino andPrimaticcio came to assist in the interior decoration, helping tofound the School of Fontainebleau. Visitors will see the longGallery of François I, which the artists adorned with scenes like and the monarch holding a pomegranate, asymbol of unity, as well as the richly adorned Louis XV Staircaseand the monumental fireplace and frescoes in the ballroom. Thepalace was a refuge for French monarchs from the days of theRenaissance. They valued it because of its distance from the slumsof Paris and for the rich hunting grounds that surrounded it. Manyimportant events have occurred here, perhaps none more memorablethan when Napoleon stood on the grand steps in front of the palaceand bade farewell to his shattered army before departing for Elba.The chateau boasts four museums, beautiful and vast grounds andmany treasures. Compared to the glories of Versailles, however,Fontainebleau can be a bit of an anti-climax; it is best to see itbefore Versailles.
Vieux Bordeaux (old town) centres on the Quartier St-Pierre,which is surrounded by narrow streets, and lined with old churchesand grand mansions adorned by wrought-iron balconies and arcading.There has been a lot of restoration over the last few years, butsome streets remain a bit seedy - in a way, this ramshackle lookadds to the atmosphere.
One of the most opulent displays of Bordeaux's former glory isthe Grand Theatre. It was built between 1773 and 1780 on the siteof a Roman temple and is faced with an enormous colonnaded porticotopped by 12 Muses and Graces. Visitors can view the impressiveinterior by attending one of the operas or ballets.
Nearby is the Esplanade des Quinconces, which was laid outbetween 1818 and 1828 and covers nearly 12 hectares (30 acres),making it the largest square of its kind in Europe. A smaller butmore beautiful square is the earlier Place de la Bourse. Itscentrepiece is a fountain of the Three Graces and is bordered byquays opening onto the river and flanked by the Custom House andthe Stock Exchange. Crossing the river is the impressive Pont dePierre, which was built during Napoleon's Spanish campaigns, andhas 17 arches in honour of his victories. The views of the riverand quays from here are memorable, particularly when floodlit atnight.
Important churches include the delightful Basilique St-Michel,across from which is the Fleche St-Michel, which has the talleststone tower in France; it was built in 1472 and is 374 feet (114m)high. During July and August (afternoons only) visitors can climbthe 228 steps for wonderful views over the river. To the west isthe 13th-century Cathédrale St-André, the most impressive andostentatious church in Bordeaux (look out for the wonderfulsculptures in the doors).
The city's museums are gathered around the cathedral, the bestbeing the Musée des Beaux-Arts, which has a fine collection ofEuropean art including works by Reynolds, Titian, Rubens, Matisseand Marquet, a resident of the city. The old town is fairly compactand is best explored on foot; two-hour walking tours can bearranged through the local tourist office. Boat tours can also bearranged.
The area surrounding Bordeaux produces more than 70 milliongallons of wine each year, including some of the world's best redwine. Many vineyards are small family-run businesses without staffto cater for tourists, but the larger, more famous wineriesorganise tastings and tours at the cellars and vineyards. ChâteauMouton-Rothschild is located just north of Pauillac. It is stillrun by the Rothschilds and attracts thousands of visitors eachyear, who come as much for the impressive collection of art and thepicturesque estate as for the wine. Château Lafite-Rothschild isnearby and was purchased by the Rothschilds in 1868. The contains many vintage bottles, several dating from1797. Château Margaux is an imposing 19th-century château south ofPauillac; the estate produces three wines from its 650 acres. Tosee the vat rooms and wine cellars, make an appointment by email orphone. These are just some examples of famous wineries in theregion - visitors could easily spend several wine-drenched daysexploring this beautiful area.
One of France's best-known attractions, the Mont Saint-MichelAbbey, is situated on a rocky island just off the coast of Normandyand Brittany. It was founded in 708 by the Bishop of Avranches, whobuilt a chapel here. Construction of the current abbey began in1023 but was not finished for 400 years. Built with granite, itencompasses a range of architectural styles, from Norman to Gothic.The abbey has been a site for pilgrimages for centuries and hasalso served as a monastery, a prison and a fortress protectingagainst the English during its long history.
There is still a Benedictine monastery within the abbey, whichcan be visited on a guided tour. Among the maze of cobbled streetswithin the walls of the abbey are a number of other attractions;the little medieval village still boasts its 15th and 16th-centuryhouses and there are shops, restaurants and a few good museumsincluding a maritime museum and a multimedia museum that tells thestory of the island. There are also some amazing views out into thebay. The abbey is connected to the shore by a causeway, but thereare plans to construct a bridge to it so that the sea will againflow freely around the island. Visitors could easily spend a wholeday exploring this fascinating place.
The Cape Girolata peninsula is classified as a UNESCO WorldHeritage Site and encompasses the Scandola Nature Reserve, anecological treasure covering 1,000 hectares (2,471 acres) of scrub,cliffs and sea. The promontory is marked by incredible rockformations that were formed by Monte Cinto's volcanic eruptionsmillions of years ago. The subsequent erosion has fashionedremarkable caves and grottoes deep into the rock. The headland andits surrounding waters support significant colonies of seabirds,dolphins and seals, as well as 450 types of seaweed and someremarkable fish such as the grouper, a species more commonly foundin the Caribbean. Due to its valuable biodiversity and landscapeScandola is off-limits to walkers and can be viewed only by boat;trips can be arranged from Calvi, Porto and Ajaccio and make foramazing excursions. Visitors can spend the whole day on a boattour, stopping off in a picturesque little village for lunch.Equally, one can go for a quick two to three hour jaunt if time islimited. It is also possible to hire boats but it is expensive.
The long, shop-studded promenade of La Croisette, and its sevenmiles (11km) of beach, is Cannes' major attraction. Palatial hotelsline this strip, each with their own private beach, and this iswhere visitors are most likely to spot a familiar face, or toplesshopeful, especially during the Cannes Film Festival, though it canbe difficult to see further than the sweating backs of thepaparazzi during this popular event. La Croisette is best viewedfrom the highest point of Cannes' Old Town, Le Suquet, where theremains of the fortified tower still stand, along with the12th-century Chapel of St Anne. Le Suquet is a lovely place tostroll, with its winding streets, small boutiques and restaurants.At the end of La Croisette is the Palais des Festivals, whoseendless Allées des Stars is imprinted with handprints andsignatures of the famous. Just beyond is the atmospheric VieuxPort, with its odd medley of luxury yachts and tiny fishingvessels, and the rows of palm trees and fragrant flower market ofthe Allées de la Liberté. Further west, along the seafront, are thefree 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 tinyforested island, the smallest and most southern of the Iles deLerins. It has been the site of a monastery since the 5th centuryand today the Cistercian monks are the only inhabitants of theisland. Much of the monastery is surprisingly modern, with theexception of the ruins of the 11th-century monastery on the sea'sedge. The monks organise tours of the island and sell their produceto tourists, including homemade wine, honey and lavender oil. Themonastery also welcomes visitors for week-long retreats. On theneighbouring Ile St Marguerite is the fortress where the 'man inthe iron mask' was imprisoned. The famous old prison also has aMuseum of the Sea to explore.
Mostly, however, people head out to the islands to picnic andenjoy the natural splendour on offer. There are plenty of secluded,rocky little coves, forested areas and gardens and it is easy tofind a beautiful spot to spend the day. It is the perfectopportunity to get out of the fashionable bustle of Cannes and finda little peace and privacy. The boat trips over are also enjoyableand give wonderful views of Cannes. There is a restaurant on Ile StMarguerite.
Antibes is a few miles east of Cannes and a very popularexcursion from the city. It has one of the best markets on thecoast and an excellent Picasso museum in its ancient seafrontcastle, the 16th-century Château Grimaldi. Picasso was lent a roomin the castle to use as a studio in 1946 and several extremelyprolific months followed before he moved to Vallauris, leaving allhis Antibes output to what is now the Musée Picasso. AlthoughPicasso donated other works later, most of the collection datesfrom this one period, including the best known work, Ulysses andhis Sirens. Picasso himself is the subject of some of hispaintings. There are also works here by some of Picasso'scontemporaries, including Nicholas de Stael. Alongside the castleis a cathedral which dates from medieval times; only the choir andapse survive from the original Romanesque building, while the naveand magnificent facade are Baroque. Nearby is a market which isopen every morning over the summer and overflows with localproduce.
The Cote d'Azur beaches range from intimate rocky coves to longswathes of golden sands packed with sun worshipers. Some are highlydeveloped and will hire out loungers and the like but others arestill fairly secluded; there should be something for everyone alongthis incredible coastline. Most beaches are away from the centre,although the family beaches, Plage des Graniers and Plage desCannebiers, are within walking distance. Generally the beaches arevery safe with calm seas, warm water and plenty of lifeguards onduty. People don't just come to places like St Tropez and Cannesfor the nightlife, they also have some of the best beaches inFrance. The string of beaches along the Baie de Pampelonne, southof St Tropez, the best known of which is the Plage de Tahiti, havelong been favoured by exhibitionists wearing next to nothing.Villefranche sur Mer is a beautiful, sandy beach great forsnorkelling. The beaches of Ile de Porquerolles, in the nationalpark, are coveted by nature lovers. Other favourites include PlagePort Grimaud, Monte-Carlo Beach and Vias Plage. Almost all thebeaches are lined with restaurants and shops selling endless giftsor items to prove you've been there. A huge variety of watersportsare on offer.
Renowned artist Henri Matisse spent a good portion of his lifein Nice, living in the city from 1918 until 1954, and he ishonoured by this museum. The Musée Matisse has several permanentcollections, mostly painted in Nice and many donated by the artistand his heir. The better known paintings include (1937), (1935/1942) and (1905). There is also an ensembleof drawings including (1951) and (1952). Seeing his nude sketches today, you'llwonder why early critics denounced them as 'the female animal inall her shame and horror.' The museum opened in 1963 and is locatednear the Hotel Regina where Matisse used to reside. It is veryattractively housed and the striking, colourful building issurrounded by an olive grove. The exhibits give a lot of insightinto Matisse's process and technique which is a treat forenthusiasts. There are guided tours of the museum on offer inFrench, English, Italian and German.
The Chateau de Nice was built in the 11th century for militarypurposes. It is located in Vieux Nice and features on mostsightseeing tours of Nice, but the fortress itself is long gone andonly some ruins remain. The attraction for visitors is the Parc duChateau (or Colline du Chateau, that is, the Castle Hill) whichsurrounds the former fortress. With wonderful views over therooftops and gleaming mosaic tiles of Old Nice, along the sweep ofthe Promenade des Anglais and out to the Mediterranean, the Châteaupark is a lovely attraction in itself and a good place for visitorsto orientate themselves within the city. Visitors can take coolwalks in the shade of the trees, enjoy the large grassy park,explore the Roman ruins and visit the waterfall; it is a pretty andpeaceful place to spend an afternoon.
The fortress was razed by Louis XIV in 1706 and the only partleft standing is the 16th-century Tour Bellanda, a tower which nowhouses the Naval Museum. The cemetery where Garibaldi is buriedcovers the northwest side of the park. To reach the park, visitorscan either climb the steps at the front, from the Quai des EtatsUnis, or for those who aren't up to it an elevator isavailable.
Just outside of Nice, near the airport, this vast touristattraction includes a botanical garden and numerous animals, amongother things. 2,500 species of plant are collected in the PhoenixParc Floral and some of them are very rare; the tropical greenhouseis one of the largest in Europe. There is a greenhouse dedicatedexclusively to orchids and another which features the biodiversityof Southern Africa. The aviary contains many species of exoticbirds and there are beautiful butterflies in one of the greenhousesand an insect zoo, as well as several aquariums and a big lakecontaining birds and turtles. There is also a tacky theme park withautomated dinosaurs and mock Mayan temples which will probablydelight children. One of the highlights of the park is the MuséeDépartemental des Artes Asiatiquesthe Museum of Asian Arts - which houses a collection ofethnographic artefacts, including silk goods and pottery, as wellas traditional and contemporary art. This is a great excursion forthe whole family and should happily occupy everybody for a fewhours at least.
Housed in the former residence of the Ukrainian PrincessKotchubey is a fine collection of 19th and 20th century art,including works by Boudin, Ziem, Raffaelli, Renoir and Monet. TheMusée des Beaux-Arts Jules Chéret gallery includes great sculpturesas well as paintings, including works by J. B. Carpeaux, Rude andRodin. There is also an important collection devoted to the mastersof the Second Empire and Belle Epoque, a great attraction forvisitors to Nice. The building is truly lovely and would be worthseeing even if it didn't house a museum, and there is a lovelylittle garden to sit in as well. The collection is nicely arrangedin 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 berichly rewarded by a visit.
The Monastery of Cimiez, which includes a church, a cemetery anda convent where some Franciscan friars still live, is located in aresidential area in the hills above the hustle and bustle of thecity. The convent houses the Musee Franciscain which is decoratedwith 17th-century frescoes, and exhibits a monk's cell so visitorscan get an idea of how the austere religious life is lived. Thechapel dates from the 17th century and the lovely gardens havesweeping views across Nice. Apart from the monastery, the groundsof Cimiez include a large park set amid olive groves, theArchaeology Museum and Matisse Museum. Also within the gardens, theMusée National Message Biblique Marc-Chagall displays some 450 ofthe artist's oils, drawings, pastels, lithographs, sculptures, andceramics. 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 theNice Jazz Festival, with music being played every day untilmidnight and performed on three stages, in the olive groves and theRoman Amphitheatre. It is an hour's walk, or a short bus ride fromthe town centre.
Only a few miles outside Tours, on the River Cher, the Châteaude Chenonceau is probably the most celebrated of the many châteauxin the Loire valley. It was used as a mill in the Middle Ages andbridges the whole width of the river. It was owned by a successionof powerful noblewomen including Henri II's mistress, Diane dePoiters, the Queen Regent Catherine de Medici, and Louise deLoraine, and is often referred to at the 'Château des Femmes'.Inside visitors can see a wonderful 200 foot (61m) gallery, LouisXIV's sitting room, and Francois I's bedroom, among other things.The castle boasts rich collections of furniture and art, includingan exceptional museum collection of the Old Masters' paintingsincluding works by Murillo, Rubens and Le Tintoret. It also hasfamously lovely gardens. There is a gourmet restaurant, aself-service restaurant and a tea room (open daily from 3pm to 5pm)at the chateau. A free audio guide is available in 11languages.
Five miles (8km) outside of Tours is the tiny village ofVillandry and its wonderful château. The chateau is impressive,with richly furnished rooms and an interesting history. One of thetowers dates back to the 12th century and visitors can ascend itsuneven stairway to gain wonderful views of the grounds. Althoughthe building and interiors are worth seeing, the château is bestknown for its gardens which are famous world-wide. They are openbetween February and November. These are not your standardornamental gardens: between the vine-shaded paths and ornamentalbox hedges are carrots, cabbages and aubergines carefully arrangedin patterns; roses climb gracefully above small herb gardens. Thegardens are colourful and range from the extremely stylised (whichinclude mazes and patterns) to wilder sections. There is also agarden shop for enthusiasts. Villandry is an easy cycle from Toursand, for those that have worked up an appetite, there are someexcellent local restaurants. This is one of the most popular andhighly-rated chateaux in the Loire Valley and it consistentlydelights visitors.
A kilometre-long wall, studded with 17 circular towers,surrounds this vast medieval fortress, which was never conquered byany invading force. Visitors can tour most of Château d'Angers,built between the 9th and the 13th century, including thecourtyard, prison, ramparts, windmill tower, 15th-century chapel,and royal apartments. The castle also has some lovely terraces andgardens which contrast prettily with its huge and sombre limestonewalls. However, the chateau is now used as a tapestry museum aswell and the overriding reason for coming here is to see the328-foot (100m) Tapestry of the Apocalypse. Woven between 1375 and1378 for Duke Réné of Anjou, it is the largest medieval tapestry inthe world and takes as its text St John's vision of the Apocalypse,as described in the Book of Revelation. Visitors may bedisappointed to find that although the fortress itself isintriguing and very interesting to explore, there are nofurnishings in the castle anymore (apart from those in the tapestrymuseum) and it is only the structure itself that remains. Guidedtours provide insight into its architecture and fascinatinghistory, and audio tours are available as well.
Eleven miles (18km) east of Blois, the vast Château de Chambordis the largest château in the Loire Valley. It was commissioned byFrançois I, who wanted to outshine the Holy Roman Emperor CharlesV, and the result is a spectacular Renaissance masterpiece with 450rooms. It was designed by an Italian architect in 1519, but wasworked on by French masons. The outside is essentially Frenchmedieval - massive round towers with conical tops, and an explosionof chimneys, pinnacles and turrets. The details inside, however,are pure Italian: the Great Staircase (attributed by some to daVinci), panels of coloured marble, niches decorated with shell-likedomes, and freestanding columns. Wandering through, one can get agood feel for the contrasting architectural styles, which havecombined to create a very decadent, if at times discordant, whole.The château is surrounded by a 20-mile (32km) wall containing a5,261-hectare (13,000-acre) deer park. It is one of the mostimpressive castles in the world.
Early on 6 June, 1944, the largest armada ever known leftEngland's south coast and set off to liberate France. Shortlythereafter British, American and Canadian soldiers began landing onthe Normandy beaches. Today, World War II veterans and theirfamilies walk along the same beaches once codenamed Juno, Gold,Sword, Utah and Omaha. A good place to start a battlefield tour isat Arromanches-les-Bains, a few miles northeast of Bayeux. After itwas taken by the British 50th Division, this small fishing villagewas turned into a mammoth military harbour using a prefabricatedport that was towed across the Channel. Two and a half million menand 500,000 vehicles landed here. The wreckage of 'MulberryHarbour' remains just off the beach. A little down the coast areOmaha 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 ofthe bloody battles that took place on them. Many people come toNormandy to pay their respects to the Allied soldiers at the manyvast cemeteries along the coast. The cemeteries are stillimmaculately maintained, and moving places to visit.
One of Marseille's most scenic buildings is the PalaisLongchamp. Built during the Second Empire, it is the grandioseconclusion of an aqueduct that once brought water from the Duranceto the city. Although the aqueduct is no longer in use, water isstill pumped into the centre of the colonnade connecting the twopalatial wings. Below, a spectacular fountain features an enormousstatue of three muscular women above four bulls wallowing in a poolfrom which a cascade drops four or five storeys to ground level.Marseille had a serious water problem (and attendant choleraproblem) for centuries so this enormous tribute to water ishistorically fitting. In the palace's north wing is the Musée desBeaux-Arts, which displays a vast array of paintings from the 16thto 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 asmall Planetarium in the vast park. It is lovely to wander orpicnic in the gardens and, every year in July, the huge park is themain venue for Marseille's prestigious Five Continents JazzFestival.
Directly south of Marseille, and to the west of Cassis, is thewild coastline of the Massif des Calanques. Some of France's mostbeautiful 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 cliffsoverhang the sea and attract rock climbers and deep-sea divers fromall over the world. The mountains rise up 1,850 feet (564m) and area haven for climbers. Walking tours and boat trips to explore thearea can be organised via the tourist board, and visitors don'thave to be experienced climbers to enjoy walking in the area. Thosetaking boat rides to the Calanques from Marseille, should take oneof the longer trips because the scenery only gets more dramatic andmore beautiful, and most people want to spend as much time aspossible exploring. Travellers can also hire private boats, whichis ideal because then one can stop and swim at will. The highlightof the Calanques is Sormiou, with its beach, seafood eateries andsmall harbour. Sormiou is separated from another small butenchanting settlement at Morgiou by Cap Morgiou, which offers apanoramic belvedere with splendid views of both the Calanques andthe eastern side of the massif. At Morgiou there are tiny creekswhich are great for swimming.
The most popular beach in Marseille, near the city centre, isthe Plage des Catalans. This marks the beginning of Marseille'scorniche which ends at the Plage du Prado, the city's main sandbeach, where the water is remarkably clean. There is a nice walkalong the corniche which takes visitors past the Anse des Auffes, apicturesque inlet with small fishing boats beached on the rocks,and then behind the Plage de Prado to the Parc Borély, which has aboating lake, rose gardens, palm trees and a botanical garden. Thebotanical garden is open daily from 8am to 9pm and entrance isfree; a stroll here is a fun addition to promenading along theMarseille beachfront and a good chance to enjoy some shade. Alongthe Malmousque peninsula there are a number of tiny bays andbeaches that are perfect for swimming when the mistral wind is notexciting the waves too much. The small beaches between La PointeRouge harbour and La Madrague harbour also tend to be clean andusually slightly less crowded than some of the more touristybeaches. There should be a beach to delight everyone in Marseilleas there is quite a lot of variety and visitors can enjoywatersports, 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 forAlexandre Dumas' famous book François I built the fortress hereto defend Marseille and its port in the 16th century, and the sitelater housed a state prison which was notorious for incarceratingenemies of the royalty. The cells are horribly well-preserved;carvings by Huguenot prisoners can still be seen inside some ofthem. On a lighter note, the views back towards Marseille and themountains beyond are wonderful to behold and the trip over in aboat is enjoyable. The ferry to the island will not run if theweather is bad and opening and closing times can change inaccordance with the ferry schedule.
Cassis is a beautiful resort town just west of Marseille. Hemmedin by high white cliffs, its modern development has been carefullylimited and it retains much of the charm lost by its morehigh-profile neighbours. Built on the side of a hill, the oldvillage is centred around a shady square where the inhabitants cometo cool off and play 'pétanque' on summer nights. Portside posingand drinking aside, there's not much to do except sunbathe and lookup 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 thelimestone cliffs. Those feeling energetic can take the well-markedfootpath from the Route des Calanques behind the western beach;it's about a 90-minute walk to the furthest and best calanque, EnVau, where one can climb down rocks to the shore. Intrepid pinetrees, and sunbathers, manage to find ledges on the chaotic whitecliffs. The water is deep blue and swimming between the verticalcliffs is an experience not to be missed. A holiday in Cassis ispeaceful and sun-drenched and the natural surroundings are trulyspectacular.
Towering over Avignon, the imposing Palais des Papes (Palace ofthe Popes) is the symbol of the city's medieval power. The palaceconsists of the ascetic Old Palace, commissioned by Benedict XII,and the extravagant Gothic New Palace of Clement VI. It was builtprimarily as a fortress with massive outer walls, battlements andsluices for pouring hot oil onto attackers. Inside the palace, solittle remains of the original interior that visitors could bemislead into believing that all the popes and their entourage wereas virtuous as the last official occupant, Benedict XIII. Inreality, the interior was once elaborately decorated, displayingthe decadence of the feuding cardinals and their mistresses. Thefire of 1413 destroyed most of the decoration and furnishings, butevidence of the once magnificent interior does remain and includessome frescoes, one of which was painted by Italian artist MatteoGiovannetti. Visitors can take a fascinating tour of the palace andsee the Pope's Bedchamber, the Chapelle St-Martial and the StagRoom. Nearby, dwarfed by the palace, is the 12th-century CathédraleNotre-Dame des Doms.
Just below the Palais des Papes, the Petit Palais contains awonderful collection of 13th to 15th-century paintings andsculptures. Although there are interesting examples of art from theregion, much of the collection consists of the work of Italianmasters from that era and, progressing through the 19 rooms, onecan observe how they wrestled with and finally conquered therepresentation of perspective; in medieval art the size of figuresdepended on their importance rather than position so this was arevolution in art. The highlights of the collection areBotticelli's sublime and The by Sano Di Pietro. There are also aplenitude of beautiful Christian icons in the collection. It is asmall museum and information in English is minimal so thoseinterested in the art need to buy a brochure or guidebook to getcontext. Although it has a lot to offer enthusiasts this museum isnot 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 inthe famous children's song of the same name. The bridge wasoriginally built in the 12th century to shorten the journey for thebusy traders ferrying their goods between the Mediterranean andLyon. The torrents of the Rhône regularly damaged and brought downsections of the bridge and builders finally gave up repairing it in1660, four centuries after it was built. Today only four of theoriginal 22 arches remain. On the first of the bridge's bulwarks isthe tiny Chapelle St-Nicholas, and this delicate Romanesque chapel,dedicated to St Nicholas, patron saint of bargemen, is well worth avisit. There is a wonderful audio guide available to give visitorsthe history of the bridge and its cultural significance (and allowthem to sing along to a few different versions of the song). Tryand avoid the busiest times because the bridge can get a bitcrowded and as the attraction's appeal is mainly atmospheric toomany people can ruin it. Those who aren't keen to see the lovelylittle chapel should consider walking up to the park on the hillwhich overlooks the bridge to simply admire the views. Sitting onthe river banks is similarly a very pleasant way to pass thetime.
Just north of Avignon, Orange was the former seat of the Countsof Orange, a title created in the 8th century and passed to theDutch crown in the 16th century. The family's most famous memberwas Prince William, who ascended the English throne in 1689. Todaythe town is best known for its spectacular Roman theatre andtriumphal arch, both of which remain remarkably intact. The RomanTheatre is 2,000 years old and will leave visitors breathless withwonder; it truly is an amazing site to visit. They hold concertshere in summer. The rest of Orange isn't strikingly picturesque;however, there are pleasant tree-lined streets and squares withsome nice cafes and restaurants and, delightfully, there is a smallriver, the Meyne, which runs lazily through part of the town,winding around buildings and gardens, which gives Orange asurprisingly pastoral feel. It is also worth visiting the CollineSt Eutrope park area which runs across the big hill in Orange andis traversed by lovely paths perfect for a walk or jog. There is afantastic view from parts of the hill, looking down on the RomanTheatre 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. Thechâteau was the pope's summer retreat from the Palais and althoughall that remains are the foundations and two outer walls it isstill an imposing sight and a wonderful viewpoint. The villagebelow is a maze of well-restored medieval buildings and narrowstreets that weave around the hillside. The village was onceencircled by two concentric walls: the outer wall enclosed thechateau and the entire village, as far as the main road at thebottom of the village; the inner wall enclosed the chateau and onlythe highest part of the village. Today life in the village ofteninvolves working in the surrounding vineyards or selling the famouswine to the many tourists who visit. The Chateauneuf-du-Pape AOC isone of the most renowned wines of the Loire Valley; the area isparticularly famous for its red wine. Naturally, there are greatwine tasting experiences to be had in the village and Les CavesSaint Charles (located in the Pope's Cellar, which dates back tothe 13th century) is a favourite wine tasting venue with tourists.The Chateau la Nerthe is a picturesque vineyard which has lovelygrounds and also hosts great wine tastings. Visitors will bespoiled for choice with vineyards and tastings, however, and thereare many to choose from.
North of Bastia is the holiday destination of Cap Corse, a25-mile (40km) peninsula edged with quaint fishing villages. Thepeninsula is divided by a narrow spine of mountains, which riseover 3,000 feet (914m) above sea level. On the east side of the CapCorse mountain spine are a series of small villages cuddled intopicturesque coves, while on the west coast the settlements clingprecariously to rugged cliffs battered by wild waves.
The peninsula's best stretch of sandy beach to enjoy on holidayis Plage de Tamarone, near Macinaggio. A favourite attraction withholiday visitors in Cap Corse is the charming village of Centuri;favourite activities include hiking and hikers flock to the area toenjoy the many walking trails, like the well-known Sentier desDouaniers. Make sure the camera is loaded for visits to thepanoramic viewpoints of Capo Grosso, Moulin Mattei and the Tour deSeneque, above Pino. The vineyards of Patrimonio are renowned,particularly for their muscat, and most wineries welcome holidayvisitors for wine tasting. The Cap Corse wine route, or 'route desvins', is signposted from St-Florent.
The inland area along the northwest coast of Corsica has beenrenowned since Roman times as an orchard of olive, fig and orangetrees and the breadbasket of the island, crisscrossed by a networkof narrow, winding roads. Tiny villages such as Sant'Antonino andSpeloncato perch high above the countryside, built around rockyoutcrops, while others along the Artisan's Route, like Pigna,proudly display their traditional crafts, such as pottery andstringed instruments. Set beneath a wall of imposing jaggedmountains that remain snow-capped until July, the rocky coastlineof the Balagne area shelters a string of stunning white sandbeaches and an old fishing settlement, now turned into one of theisland's most popular holiday resort towns, at Calvi.
In the shadow of its citadel, built by the Genoese, Calvi bathesin the legend of Christopher Columbus whose birthplace it is saidto be. It was during an attack on Calvi that another famousmariner, Lord Nelson, lost his eye. Not far away from this historicand compact gem can be found another port town, Ile Rousse, foundedby Pascal Paoli in direct contrast to Calvi, which he felt was tooGenoese. Many of the settlements along the Balagne coast have beendeveloped into busy holiday villages; however, the stunning sceneryand idyllic beaches more than compensate for the crowds. Trainsconnect Calvi and Ile Rousse with Ajaccio and Bastia. Buses arealso available.
A striking and ornate 19th-century building which houses Lille'srenowned museum of fine arts, Palais des Beaux-Arts is amasterpiece in itself. The building contains a treasure trove forart lovers, a cultural attraction second only to the Louvre inParis. The gallery features works by Goya, Donatello, Raphael andRubens, to name just a few of the masters represented. There arealso a number of works by French artists, including three majoritems: by David; by Courbet; and by Puvis de Chavannes. Although the museumcontains mainly paintings, there are also some collections ofceramics, relief maps and a large section of Italian and Frenchdrawings. The museum aims to be inter-disciplinary and thereforeincludes literature, theatre, music, dance and cinema in itsexhibitions and organises events to celebrate all these art forms.Many visitors complain that although the museum is astounding andwell worth a visit it is a little hard to find; a good tourist mapis very useful in Lille.
The most celebrated prehistoric site in Corsica, Filitosa isworth a visit for its megalithic menhir statues, which have beencarved to represent human faces or armed figures. The purpose ofthese granite structures is still unclear, and mysteries aboundconcerning the many ancient structures on the site. Filitosa V,with its sword and dagger, the face of Filitosa IX, and the fivemenhir statues around the foot of a 1,200-year old olive tree, arethe most admired structures of the prehistoric site. A small museumoffers further menhirs, as well as some ancient tools and potteryfound in the caves, dating back to 3,300 BC. It takes about 45minutes to walk through the whole site. There is a cafeteria and agift shop at the site and it is a pretty area to explore. There isan 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 asunny day, but try to avoid the peak hours because the serenity andmystery of this ancient site is far better appreciated without thecrowds.
The holiday destination of Biarritz became famous inthe 19th century when Empress Eugenie (the wife of Napoleon III)fell in love with this part of the Basque country and built apalace on the beach (now the world-class Hotel du Palais) and acentre 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 tentsfor hire. After a morning relaxing in the sun, visitors can take inthe 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 thefamous blue dome of the Russian Orthodox Church, built in the 19thcentury for visiting aristocrats. Families will enjoy the sharksand seals living at the Museum of the Sea aquarium. Nightliferevolves around the two large casinos, Barriere and Bellevue.
Biarritz has good sporting facilities, including someexcellent golf courses and some of the best surfing in France. Eachsummer, surfers from all over the world come to Biarritz to ridethe waves at the annual Surf Festival. Those after more gentleexercise while on holiday opt to stroll along Biarritz's principalpromenade, Quai de la Grande Plage.
Nice's most famous market area, the Cours Saleya, bustles withactivity every day and is a riot of colour and fresh smells. CoursSaleya is the famous promenade in the southwest of Vieux Nice. Awonderful attraction for visitors, and beloved by locals, themarket is packed with flowers, fresh produce, souvenir shops andsidewalk cafés. On Mondays the flowers and fresh produce disappearand instead the area hosts a large flea market and an antiquesmarket; even those not looking to buy anything can enjoy the foodand soak up the vibrant atmosphere. The promenade and square whichhouse the stalls are impressive too and the backdrop of venerablebuildings contrasts pleasantly with the riotous colour andfrivolity of the market.
It is best to arrive as early as possible to enjoy the marketbefore the hordes descend. Also, those planning to do some shoppingshould be sure to have plenty of change and small bills because themerchants do not like to break large bills and may refuse if theydon't have sufficient change.
Epernay, along with Reims, is one of the great centres ofchampagne production; dug into the chalk beneath the town are morethan 200 miles (322km) of cellars and tunnels containing champagnefrom the surrounding area, including such great brands as Moët etChandon, Pol Roger, Mercier, and de Castellane. Sadly, as Epernaydid not fare well in several wars over the centuries, few oldbuildings remain in the town despite its rich history. In thecentral and oldest quarter of the town, the streets are narrow andirregular and one can feel the age of the place, but apart from onechurch which retains some features from the 16th century thebuildings are modern. Generally the surrounding suburbs are modernand spacious but the many opulent villas belonging to rich winemerchants lend an air of sophistication to the town. However, themain reason people flock to Epernay is to visit the great champagnehouses and the lack of ancient architecture doesn't deter many.Both Moët et Chandon - the world's largest producer of bubbly - andMercier give guided tours of their cellars, in English, throughoutthe 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 coastalroad between Porto and Piana are known as Les Calanques, and are ahighlight on a visit to Corsica. The narrow, twisting road revealsa landscape of spectacular vistas and panoramas that outdo eachother at every turn, where wind and sea have eroded the pinkgranite rock into pillars, huge boulders and weird shapes. Thescenery is most spectacular at sunset, when the setting sunhighlights the natural red and pink colours of the rock, and thedrive is best appreciated in the direction from Piana to Porto. Thelandscape is unlike any other and is truly a pleasure to drivethrough. Visitors can also explore the rock formations on boats orkayaks - the turquoise water contrasts spectacularly with the redrock. There are some great swimming spots hiding among the rockformations. Probably the best way to explore the landscape,however, is on foot, and there are numerous dramatic walking trailswinding along the cliffs and through the forests of the area.Needless to say, one can get some fabulous photographs and findspecial spots; look out for the heart-shaped hole, you'll know itif you see it.
A visitor's first impression of Reims (pronounced ) is of a sprawling industrial town peppered withconcrete apartment blocks, the result of World War I bombs andlater disastrous town planning. However, Reims is an ancient Romancity and the birthplace of the French nation - it contains one ofthe most impressive Gothic cathedrals in France, the CathédraleNotre-Dame de Reims, where dynasties of French monarchs werecrowned starting with Clovis, first king of the Franks. Theneighbouring Basilique St-Rémi is even older and, half Gothic, halfRomanesque in style, includes the old royal abbey which is now amuseum documenting the history of the town.
Most visitors come to Reims not so much for history but for thehedonistic pleasure of visiting the cellars of its great champagneproducers. This is the home of the world's best bubbly. The best ofthe best is to be sampled at the Maison de Pommery, which has morethan 10 miles (16km) of tunnels extending 100ft (30m) down into thechalk below its Gothic superstructure. Move on to Mumm, whichcontains 25 million bottles of slowly fermenting champagne in itsvaults, and then Taittinger and Veuve Clicquot. All offer a guidedtour of the cellars and champagne making process, followed by atasting.
Château-Thierry is an industrial town 55 miles (89km) east ofParis on the River Marne. The surrounding countryside was the siteof many great battles during both World Wars and a number ofmonuments and cemeteries mark the bravery of thousands of Alliedsoldiers who fought to liberate France and who now lie interredunder her soil. One of the most popular and rewarding memorialsites for tourists is the WW1 Marine Memorial at Belleau Wood,which is located by the WW1 Aisne-Marne American Cemetery and theBelleau Wood battlefield. The Chateau-Thierry Monument is a goodplace to start when investigating the military history of the areabecause it lists the units that fought in the region as well asproviding a battle map and orientation table.
The town is also known as the home of the famous poet and fablewriter Jean de la Fontaine (1621-95); the Musée Jean-de-la-Fontaineis one of the most popular literary museums in the world andcontains a collection of his personal effects, memorabilia and anumber of editions of his works. There is also a Walt Disney Studioin Chateau-Thierry where you can explore the behind-the-scenesproduction world of movies and television. Unfortunately, thechateau that gave the place its name has long been destroyed andvery little remains of the old part of the town.
Amiens is the ancient capital of Picardy and lies on the RiverSomme, 75 miles (121km) north of Paris and 65 miles (105km) southof Calais. Walking around the maze of narrow streets, divided bycanals, visitors may feel that this is a city past its prime;nevertheless, there are definitely a couple of sites worthexploring.
The city's centrepiece is the Gothic cathedral, built between1220 and 1270, which is one of France's finest cathedrals. Theinterior contains wonderful examples of medieval masonry andwoodwork; 126 slender pillars hold up the vast structure and thestalls are decorated with thousands of carved figures. Like mostgreat churches it has been added to and restored over thecenturies. The nearby Musée de Picardie displays the history andart of the region from prehistoric times through to the presentday, along with exhibits from the Roman, Greek and Egyptianempires. The art collection includes European paintings andsculptures from the 16th century, including works by El Greco,Fragonard, Guardi, and Tiepolo. As Amiens also played a vital rolein the First World War there is plenty of military history toexplore in the area, including some significant and famousbattlefields, cemeteries, German bunkers, a battlefield park and amuseum.
Those who are tired of fighting off the summer crowds inChampagne Country will find a refreshing alternative in the quaintold town of Troyes, a little off the tourist track and thereforeexuding plenty of genuine French appeal. Troyes has been settledsince the Roman era and has a rich history and many interestingmuseums and old churches to visit. In the beautifully restored citycentre, sporting quaint narrow streets, Renaissance mansions andpretty old houses, stands one of France's most magnificent Gothiccathedrals. Troyes has been lucky to avoid destruction during war,which is partly why it has so many historic buildings stillstanding; apart from the magnificent Saint-Pierre-et-Saint-PaulCathedral, visitors should look out for other worthwhile oldchurches including Saint-Nizier Church, which has remarkablesculptures, the 13th-century Saint-Urbain Basilica, andSaint-Nicolas Church, a Gothic building dating back to the early16th century. Strolling around the old part of town is one of theprimary delights of Troyes, and there are numerous good restaurantsand cafes. The city also boasts a private collection of art housedin the old Bishops palace, the Musée d'Art Moderne, that displaysworks by Bonnard, Degas and Gauguin.
Situated 55 miles (89km) north of Toulouse, in a loop of the LotRiver, the ancient city of Cahors was inhabited long before theRomans arrived, and in medieval times was a thriving universitytown. Across the river is the town's signature piece, the PontValentré. This magnificent fortified bridge was built between 1308and 1500 and features a trio of towers, battlements and sevenpointed arches. The Cathédrale St-Etienne dominates the old townand features a Romanesque north portal, which was carved around1135.
Today the town is best known for its excellent cuisine and thefine deep red wine that is made in the surrounding vineyards.Sunday is market day and a good opportunity to buy some of thelocal produce. A good excursion from Cahors is the stunningcliff-edge village of St-Cirq-Lapopie, 19 miles (31km) to the east.Perched high above the south bank of the Lot, the village, with itscobbled lanes, half-timbered houses and gardens, is best visited inthe evenings when the tour buses have left and the excellentrestaurants 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 insouthwest France. Its origins date from 1144 when the Count ofToulouse decided to create a here as a bulwark against English and French royalpower. The genius of the original medieval town plan is stillobvious in the lovely town centre and, although the suburbs nowsprawl way beyond the old core, the city is still dominated by thefortified Eglise St-Jacques fort and the 14th-century brick bridge,Pont Vieux. Montauban has a very attractive old town square andmany of its buildings are constructed out of the red brick, typicalfor the region, which makes these old houses appear delightfullypink. The artist Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres (1780 to 1867) wasborn in Montauban and many of his works now hang in Musée Ingres,situated in the 17th-century Bishops Palace. The works collectedhere include the famous originally intended for Napoleon's bedroomin Rome. Apart from this art museum there are two religiousmonuments worth visiting in Montauban: the 13th-century Church ofSaint Jacques; and the Cathedral of Notre-Dame, built in 1739 inthe Baroque style.
Conques occupies a spectacular position on the flanks of thesteep, densely wooded gorge of the little River Dourdou, atributary of the Lot, and is one of the great villages of southwestFrance. The site was chosen as a retreat by a hermit called Dadonin the 7th century, and was named from the Latin , meaning shell. Dadon founded a community ofBenedictine monks here, one of whom pilfered the relics of themartyred girl, Ste Foy, from the monastery at Agen. Known for herability to cure blindness and liberate captives, Ste Foy's presencebrought pilgrims flocking to Conques and the magnificent Romanesqueabbey-church became a prime stop on the pilgrimage route toCompostela in Spain. Pilgrims still come today, along with touristswho come to admire Conques' beautiful setting. Conques is renownedto be one of the most beautiful villages in France and parts of theoriginal town walls and gates survive, sealing in the narrow,cobbled village streets and the picturesque medieval houses spreadout across the hillside. Conques Abbey was built between the 10thand 12th centuries, and the church and cloisters are trulyimpressive. The tympanum (carving above the main doorway) of theLast Judgement in the abbey is considered a masterpiece of12th-century art.
Tiered precariously halfway up a cliffside above a small river,Rocamadour has one of the most unique and breathtaking settings ofany town in Europe. The town is famed for being the site where thebody of Saint Amadour (who is believed to be Zacchaeus of theBible) was discovered, an event that led to a succession ofmiracles in the town. Since the 8th century it has been animportant pilgrimage site; everyone from prince to pauper hasventured here in the hope of curing their ailments at the shrine.Unfortunately, the famous reliquary of the shrine has beenplundered several times so that today it bears little relation tothe original; however, many still testify to the spiritualsignificance and healing power of the place.
Today the town is overrun by tourists and its atmosphere hassuffered accordingly, but, despite this, it is a must-see for thestunning views of the Dordogne and its marvellous situation. Thetown has magnificent ancient architecture, with many of thebuildings cut directly into the rock of the cliffs, and isgloriously picturesque. Balloon rides are a popular way to see thearea. The seven sanctuaries that make up the pilgrimage site aretruly wondrous to behold. Don't miss the famous Black Madonna,thought to have been carved in the 11th century, which can be foundin the Chapelle Notre Dame, a small Gothic chapel built in1479.
In 1868 prehistoric skeletons were discovered in the Vézèrevalley, and the area was found to be one of the richest in theworld in terms of ancient sites and deposits. The small market townof Les Eyzies suddenly became the base for exploring thistreasure-trove of antiquities, including the many prehistoricpainted caves. The most famous and beautiful of these sites is atLascaux, discovered by accident in 1940 by boys looking for theirdog. The paintings were made about 30,000 years ago and depict wildboar, deer and majestic bulls. Unfortunately visitors cannot viewthe actual paintings anymore because the caves have been closed tothe general public to prevent deterioration, but a replica givesvisitors a clear picture of the remarkable works. Travellers canstill enter the incredible Cave of Font-de-Gaume and see theoriginal rock art in this UNESCO World Heritage Site. The town hassome excellent museums in which prehistoric art and artefacts areon display. Be sure to visit the Chateau de Commarque, a trulyremarkable site boasting the ruins of a 12th-century chateau andcaves containing prehistoric artefacts and paintings.
The beautiful university town of Grenoble, known in France asthe 'Capital of the Alps', is situated on the Drac and IsèreRivers, and is surrounded by proud mountains, dramatic gorges andhidden valleys. The city's history goes back 2,000 years andvisitors can still see the last remnants of the Roman wall whichfortified the city in 286 AD. Grenoble is also known in modernhistory 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 basefor companies involved in the chemical, nuclear research andelectronics industries. More obviously to visitors, it is home to40,000 students, many international. There are some excellent walksamong the mountains surrounding the city and there are ski slopeswithin easy driving distance; head to the Parc Naturel Regional duVercors for stunning landscapes and outdoor activities. For manytourists Grenoble is simply a stopover before heading further intothe Alps, but the city has plenty of attractions of its own. Beforevisiting, take a scenic ride on the distinctive egg-shapedsuspended cable cars known as 'Les Bulles'. Grenoble also has somegreat little museums including the Archaeological Museum, the Museede 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 beliberated in 1944 during World War II. Fortunately Bayeux wasspared from too much war damage, and remains full of old-worldcharacter with wooden houses, some elegant stone buildings andcobblestone roads. Many visitors flock here to explore the sitesassociated with the war's 'Longest Day', including an interestingD-Day museum and the famous landing beaches (less than 10miles/16km away).
A museum celebrating an older, but equally historic battle isalso located in the vicinity: the Musée de la Tapisserie de Bayeuxcontains the famous tapestry that tells the story of the Battle ofHastings. The 231-foot (69m) strip of embroidered linen depictsscenes of Harold's coronation as the Saxon king of England, himbeing 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 fineNorman Romanesque cathedral, rich in sculpture.
Whether by accident or design, the quaint fishing village ofHonfleur, just across the estuary from busy, bustling La Havre, hasmanaged to make time stand still and presents its many visitorswith scenes and experiences largely unchanged for 100 years ormore. Honfleur fortunately escaped serious damage during the WorldWar II Normandy landings, and since then development has beenminimal. It still functions as a fishing port and followstraditions dating back to medieval times, although it hasunfortunately lost its beach due to the silting up of theriver.
The town was once very popular with Impressionist painters likeMonet and Boudin because of the changeable light and picturesquecoastal scenes; it is still popular with photographers for the samereason. There are a few interesting museums, including thosededicated to composer Eric Satie and Impressionist painter EugeneBoudin, and some lovely gardens. There are also two wonderfulchurches to visit: the Notre Dame de Grace and Saint Catherine'sChurch. On Saturdays there is a lively local market selling freshproduce; the local cheese is renowned to be particularly tasty.Honfleur is certainly worth a visit from La Havre and is anattraction in its own right.
This 300-year old structure's glass dome has become a landmarkattraction in Lyon, situated between the City Hall and the RhoneRiver. The first five levels of the Lyon Opera House areunderground while the six higher levels are encased in vaultedglass. The hall seats 1,200 people and boasts sixvertically-stacked balconies overlooking the orchestra level. ThisItalian-style hall is lined with black wood and gold detail, and ishome to the Lyon Opera Ballet company and the world-renown OperaHouse Orchestra. The acoustics are so good that it currently makesmore recordings than any other French opera house, and has releasedaward-winning opera CDs including 12 world premieres, ballets andsymphony performances. The views from the dance studio, with itshuge windows, are spectacular and it is worth popping in just tosee them, even if you are not a fan of the performing arts. Thereare guided tours of the opera house available. Of course, the bestway to experience the structure is by catching a show. Althoughsome people still dress up, it is not a requirement so visitorsneed not panic if they don't have formal outfits.
To the right of the river Saône lies the Hôtel Gadagne, one ofthe most prestigious Renaissance mansions in Lyon. It was builtbetween 1511 and 1527 for the two sons of a spice merchant but fellinto the hands of the prominent Gadagne family in 1545. Being richFlorentine bankers, they threw many extravagant parties, infamouslylinking their name to the mansion. In 1902 the city of Lyon boughtthe mansion and in 1921 the Historical Museum was installed on thepremises. It wasn't until 1950 that the International Puppet Museumbecame an additional attraction.
The Gadagne Museum houses paintings, sculptures and furniture,as well as archaeological relics dating back from the Middle Agesto the 19th century, illustrating Lyon's vast history. TheInternational Puppet Museum displays hand puppets, stick puppets,marionette puppets and sliding bar puppets originating fromcountries such as Japan, Cambodia, England, Italy, Belgium,Czechoslovakia and Russia. The museums are both rewarding forvisitors and kids in particular will love the puppets. The mansionitself is wonderful to explore and one can just imagine the wildparties it is famous for...
The Musée des Beaux-Arts was established in 1801 and is one ofthe 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, Veroneseand Delacroix. The museum is best known for its outstandingcollection of French and Dutch paintings. Although paintings arethe core of the collection there are also valuable drawings andsculptures on show. Apart from the impressive permanent collectionthe museum also regularly organises special, temporary exhibitionsand runs a rich cultural program of concerts and lectures.
Something different that appeals particularly to themechanically minded is Lille's museum devoted to windmills.Situated on the highway to Roubaix, the Musée des Moulins boaststwo preserved pivoting windmills, which visitors can watch inoperation grinding corn, as well as a museum detailing the historyof windmill technology. Visitors can tour the full facility, orjust one or two of the sites for reduced admission if pressed fortime. It is quite a fascinating place. One of the museum's aims isto preserve not only the windmills but also the industrial Frenchheritage that they represent: the hard work, toil, endeavour andachievements of the people who made and operated them. They want toensure that future generations can see and understand windmills,once such vital technology, and once such a common sight all overFrance. So far, they have restored about 45 windmills (andwatermills) and are continuing with their labour of love.
A modern architectural attraction, Lille's cathedral (dedicatedto the Virgin Mary) is an imposing structure, begun as a basilicain 1854 in 13th-century Gothic style. Building continued slowly,interrupted by wars and financial constraints, but finally in 1999the lofty building was declared complete after the perfection ofthe unique main façade, designed by local architect Pierre-LouisCarlier in collaboration with Peter Rice, who engineered the SydneyOpera House. The central marble section supported by steel wires isan impressive sight, particularly viewed from inside or at night,when it is revealed as resembling a pink translucent veil. From theoutside it appears opaque but the marble is thin enough to let in abeautiful, gentle pink glow. The church takes its name from thefamous 12th-century statue of the Virgin Mary which was revered forcenturies in Lille. This statue has a dramatic history and isassociated with several miraculous events; it is a special part ofLille's heritage and cultural memory.
In the heart of Lille's old town stands one of the few remainingFlanders buildings, founded as a hospital in 1237 by the Countessof Flanders, Jeanne de Constantinople. It remained in service as ahospital until 1939, and today has been turned into an art museum.Works are displayed in the old hospital ward and dormitories, withtheir barrel-vaulted ceilings, and other halls where the communityof Augustine nuns once lived and worked, providing a haven for thesick. Visitors can see the old kitchens, laundry, pharmacy,refectory and Prioresses' apartment, as well as the old chapel. Thecollections on display include paintings, tapestries, sculpturesand porcelain from the region. The museum furnishings are mostlyfrom the 17th century. Although some of the art in the collectionis wonderful, the true fascination of the place is in imagining howlife in the hospice used to be. Outside there is a delightfulmedicinal garden. There is a free guidebook and a great audio guidewhich is very informative and enriches the experience by providinghistory and context. The toilet is a little hard to find: it islocated off the kitchen.
The world's largest triumphal arch, the Arc de Triomphe del'Etoile is set at the centre of a star-shaped configuration of 12radiating avenues in the heart of the Champs Elysées. It stands 165feet (51m) tall and the names of major victories won during theRevolutionary and Napoleonic periods are engraved around the top ofthe Arch. The names of less important victories, as well as thoseof 558 generals, can be found on the inside walls. Since 1920, thetomb of France's Unknown Soldier has been sheltered underneath thearch. Its eternal flame commemorates the dead of the two worldwars, and is rekindled every evening at 6pm. On July 14, the FrenchNational Day, also known as Bastille Day, a military parade startsat the arch and proceeds down the Champs Elysées. Visitors canclimb to the top of the Arc de Triomphe (or take the elevator) andthe views over Paris are spectacular. It is a humbling monumentwhich can't fail to inspire respect and awe and a trip to Paris isnot complete without a visit.
Les Invalides was built by Louis XIV in 1670 as a militaryhospital to take care of wounded soldiers and now comprises thelargest single collection of monuments and museums in Paris, allrelating to the military history of France. It is the burial siteof some of France's war heroes, and a number of France's famousdead, including the ashes of the greatest French militarycommander, Napoleon Bonaparte, which rest under the dome of LesInvalides and attract many visitors to Paris. Its large grounds andchurch with a golden dome make Les Invalides a classical Frencharchitectural masterpiece. There are also impressive collections ofweaponry from all periods of French history. Numerous suits ofarmour, including those made in children's sizes for boy kings, arepart of this collection. Military history buffs will be in heavenat Les Invalides and even the less clued-up will be moved by theplace.
The Jardin des Plantes is France's main botanical garden.Covering 28 hectares (280,000sq m), the garden was originallyplanted by Louis XIII's doctor in 1626 as a medicinal herb garden.In 1640 it became Paris's first public garden. In 1739, after along period of decline, the gardens were greatly expanded and amaze 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 whichconstructs demonstration gardens and trains botanists. The massivegrounds house the Natural History Museum which is one of the mainattractions for visitors. There is also a small zoo, founded in1795 to house part of the royal menagerie from Versailles, and nowcontaining small animals in simulated natural habitats. The gardensboast tropical hothouses that are home to a variety of unusualplants, native mostly to Mexico and Australia, and there is also anAlpine Garden, a beautiful Rose Garden, and an Art Deco-styleWinter Garden. There is lots to see in the garden and visitors canwander for hours.
Saint Jean de Luz is a lively and cosmopolitan townto visit. The lovely medieval town centre has been influenced bySpain and the Moors over the centuries and offers a charming mix ofinteresting architecture spread along the narrow streets, blendingold and new buildings. Considered one of the most attractive citiesin Basque country, the beaches, shops, spas and other attractionsdraw hordes of local and international tourists to this spot justabove the Spanish border.
Saint Jean de Luz is an active fishing port, andseafood is a local specialty with fresh sardines, tuna, andanchovies available in abundance. Some of the best seafoodrestaurants in the region are around the town's main square.
The beach is well-equipped for sunbathing andwatersports, and there is good surfing at Lafitenia Beach. Thereare many small museums, aquariums, caves, and interestingarchitectural sights in Saint Jean de Luz, including the Chateaud'Arturbie, with its castle and manicured gardens. La Maison LouisXIV has rich collections of antiques and collectibles, as well aswax figures of important 17th-century people. The lighthouse atPointe Ste.-Barbe offers fantastic views of the area.
The pedestrian avenue Rue Gambetta provides the bestshopping in St Jean de Luz, and visitors will find everything fromclothes and linens to leather goods and books. The newer, morecommercial end of Saint Jean de Luz is littered with chic shops andboutiques. Popular souvenirs include delectable chocolates andcandies like nougat and tourons.
The lively holiday resort town of St Malo has acolourful history as a fortified island citadel that was once runby corsairs who declared it a republic. Today this port on theEnglish Channel swarms with tourists on holiday, its streets chokedwith tour buses in the summer months and its natural harbour actingas a busy ferry terminal for those crossing between Britain, Franceand the Channel Islands.
Because of St Malo's medieval charm, many visitorsopt to spend a night or two here before their ferry crossing, andare rewarded with a pleasant sojourn behind old city walls in aquaint collection of hotels, restaurants, bars and shops. Just ahop and a skip away are some vast, clean, brown sandy beaches,ideal for family holiday fun. Stroll the ramparts of St Malo'sgreat city walls as the sun sets and it is easy to realise why thisancient city is now the most popular holiday destination inBrittany.
St Malo has many good restaurants, making it a greatplace to try Breton cuisine, including specialties like Kouign Amancake and Breton Pancakes. Seafood, specifically mussels andoysters, is another local specialty.
St Malo has a number of popular beaches. Mole iswhere sun-worshippers congregate, while Sillon is popular forwindsurfing, and Bon Secours for sailing. There are a fewhistorical attractions in St Malo as well, including the Ile duGrand-Bé (site of the tomb of Chateaubriand), the Historical Museumof 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 the1930s, long before the beautiful people dared disrobe elsewhere. StTropez' reputation as a kinky carnival town attracting the morebohemian members of the 'in' crowd continues to this day.
There is little left of the medieval Provencalatmosphere of the original town. From May to September, St Tropezis the wild holiday destination people imagine, but in the offseason the town virtually shuts down, reverting to a quieter,calmer existence. Behind the rows of yachts fronting the terracedcafés of the waterfront are some narrow, picturesque streets fullof shops. The hub of the town is the Place aux Herbes, a busyenclave of fish, fruit, vegetable and flower stalls.
The beach in St Tropez is famous, and has a number ofbars, cafes, and watersports options, especially the popular Plagede Tahiti. The beaches west of St Tropez are popular with nudists.Visitors can stroll the Sentier Littoral, a coastal walking routewith fabulous views, or visit the Musée de I'Annonciade, which hasan exceptional collection of post-Impressionist paintings.
The area around Quai Jean Jaures on the waterfront iswhere the best of the nightlife can be found. Within town there arecharismatic and laid-back bars in and around Place des Lices. Forcelebrity spotting and pricey champagne cocktails, visitors shouldget dressed up and head to Nikki Beach.
The blueprints for the holiday destination ofDisneyland may have been developed in the United States, but theworld's favourite theme park concept has transported exceedinglysuccessfully to Europe. Situated 20 miles (32km) east of Paris,Disneyland Paris (also known as EuroDisney) is a vast complex ofhotels, restaurants and shops together with the exciting themepark. Those in the know have it that Europe's Disneyland isactually better than its US counterparts, boasting more moderntechnology and existing in the ambit of less control and differentsafety regulations. EuroDisney has also unavoidably picked up aEuropean flavour which adds charm and intimacy to the entireexperience.
EuroDisney actually consists of two theme parks. TheDisneyland Park, based on California's iconic Magic Kingdom, boasts53 awesome attractions, drawing thousands of holidaymakers everyyear. The Walt Disney Studios were built more recently and followsthe trend of the Disney MGM Studios in Florida, USA, usingmovie-like settings for thrill rides and experiences. Adults andchildren alike become enchanted and enthralled as they explorefantasy neighbourhoods bristling with Disney characters, and stopto take in the spectacle of the day and night parades.
Most visitors come to EuroDisney on a package dealthat includes onsite hotel accommodation and passes to enjoy theshows and attractions. At least two days are required to make themost of the Disney magic, and there will still be plenty left for asecond visit.
Located in the Jardin des Plantes, the Musée National d'HistoireNaturelle (Natural History Museum) greets visitors with twogigantic whale skeletons at the entrance. With wonderfulexhibitions and fascinating displays on botany, archaeology andpalaeontology, the museum will captivate kids' imaginations andeducate them as well. The dinosaur exhibit is hugely popular withthe younger visitors, but this museum is a must for children of allages. The museum is large and actually combines three museums intoone (sometimes they are listed independently), including afour-story taxonomy wing called the Hall of Evolution, a gallerydedicated to palaeontology - the study of fossils, including thebeloved dinosaur exhibit - and a separate building devoted entirelyto mineralogy. You can choose to visit only one of these threemuseums. There is plenty to enthral little ones (and grown up ones)and the fact that the museum feels a little old-fashioned actuallyadds to its charm.
This children's amusement park attracts thousands of touristsevery year. It features a menagerie and the Exploradome Museum,with fantastic optical illusions and amazing structures. The park'sattractions include zip-lines, swings, deforming mirrors, paddlingpools, radio-controlled boats, a theatre, a small farm, pony andcamel rides, an aviary, a butterfly garden and amusement rides.Apart from being loads of fun this wonderland of games andactivities is frequently educational. The park offers workshops forchildren over three that aim not only to amuse but to teach skillsand cultivate talents; workshops revolve around things likecooking, gardening, magic and theatre. There are also jointworkshops for parents and young children and a few classes foradults only. There are a number of restaurants and cafes on thepremises for refuelling. This is a great place for kids to blow offsteam at the same time as learning some useful skills, and theactivities are wonderful for parent/child bonding too.
Based on the famous comics by Uderzo and Goscinny about cheekyGauls who annoy the Roman Empire, the Parc Asterix is a theme parklocated just outside of Paris. Kids will love meeting theirfavourite characters, including, of course, Asterix himself, andhis giant friend Obelix. The park is well known for its largevariety of roller-coasters and has begun incorporating rides andthemes from historic cultures such as the Romans and the ancientGreeks. There are now six different worlds at the park: Gaul,Egypt, Ancient Greece, the Roman Empire, Vikings, and Travelthrough Time. Apart from the epic rollercoasters, popular ridesinclude the Menhir Express, a log flume ride, the Goudurix, theGrand Splatch and the Oxygénarium. There are lots of shows at thepark and entrance to these performances is included in admissiontickets. One of the more popular shows is the dolphin and sea lionshow. The Parc Asterix will delight children but it is alsowonderful for adults and there are plenty of thrilling rides foradrenalin seekers.
Located in Flancourt, France Miniature features more than 130models of famous French attractions, such as the Eiffel Tower,Lourdes, St Tropez, Le Mont-Saint-Michel and Versailles, forvisitors to enjoy. Everything has been created with a 1:30 scaleand some for the models are even animated. The detail of the modelsis remarkable and a joy for those interested in architecture aswell as kids. The miniature world includes mechanised trains, carsand boats and there are tiny people visiting the attractions.Children will love spending a day out at this miniature countrywhich feels like a massive doll's house. There are also some fungames and a small amusement park with several rides on offer. Thereis a restaurant and a souvenir shop on site but a lovely way toenjoy the park, and save money, is to bring along your ownpicnic.
Constructed in stages between the 14th and 16th centuries, theBasilique St-Michel is a typical Gothic-style church and the mainplace of Catholic worship in Bordeaux. The main distinguishingfeature, the Basilique's tower and spire - which rises to a heightof 374 feet (114m) - is considered the highest in the south ofFrance. At the base of the tower lies an ossuary where anexhibition of the mummies excavated during the 19th century can beviewed. Most of the original stained glass was destroyed in WorldWar II, and has since been replaced by new windows by modernistartist Max Ingrand. Another famous feature of the church is thepulpit, which features Saint Michael, the warrior saint, slayingthe dragon. There is a pleasant square in front of the Basiliquewhere weary travellers can take a break and do some people watchingor socialising. There are some wonderful views to be found climbingthe tower and this is well worth doing but it is only open tovisitors between June and September. The Basilique St-Michel is astop on the famous Santiago de Compostello pilgrimage and thereforereceives numerous pilgrims every year.
Designed by renowned architect Victor Louis, the Grand Théâtrede Bordeaux was built between 1773 and 1780 and is one of thegrandest 18th-century theatres remaining in the world. It served asthe National Assembly for the French Parliament briefly in 1781 andwas the scene of the premiere of the ballet in 1789. This theatre is theoldest in Europe to have never burnt down or needed rebuildingsince its erection, and is now home to the Opéra National deBordeaux, as well as the Ballet National de Bordeaux. The interiorsare as impressive as the architecture and taking in a performancehere can't be missed by opera or ballet fanatics. See the websitefor the event calendar. Although many people still choose to dressup formally for performances visitors can wear whatever they pleaseand not feel uncomfortable. Be aware when booking seats that somehave reduced visibility; whoever makes the booking should pointthis out. Guided tours of the theatre are available. There is arestaurant and cafe in the building.
The village of Biot is more than 2,500 years old, and retainsmuch of its medieval charm in the 15th-century architecture andnarrow, winding streets. The town's old walls and gate can still beseen, as well as a number of other small, historic features strewnthroughout the hilltop community. The town has been a hub forcraftsmen for centuries, and is known for its pottery and blownglass, making it a popular shopping destination for tourists in theFrench Riviera. There are several glass-blowing factories thatoffer tours, allowing visitors to watch the age-old process inaction. Biot is also the site of an ancient volcano, and geologybuffs will enjoy hiking the scenic rock formations. There areseveral other pleasant walks through the surrounding hills andwoods 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 makesan excellent daytrip when visitors want a break from the pleasuresof the beach. The village is busy year-round but gets particularlycrowded during the summer (June to August); even so, it is slightlyoff the main tourist path and remains one of the less commercialvillages.
Perched on a mountain 1,400 feet (427m) above sea level, themedieval town of Èze is a popular stop on the route between theFrench Riviera and Monaco. The winding cobblestone streets leadvisitors to the ruins of a 12th-century castle, and also to manyshops; shopping is one of the most popular reasons for visitingÈze. The streets are dotted with tiny boutiques and shops selling avariety of French souvenirs.
There are stunning views of the Mediterranean from this charminghilltop village but because it is so steep and medieval, with itslittle houses crammed together on winding, cobbled streets, theviews from inside are often limited. To fully appreciate thelocation of the place one must climb into the botanical gardens, LeJardin d'Eze, which perch on top of the hill. There are magnificent360 degree views from the top and some interesting ruins too. It isquite a climb though, so dress accordingly. Another popularattraction in the village is the Fragonard - L'Usine Laboratoire, afactory where they make beautiful perfumes and fragrances, wherevisitors can be guided through the process as well as buy somelovely scents at reduced prices.
Eze feels like a place stuck in a quaint and artistic past andit is a delight to explore; it is less fashionable andcelebrity-packed than many places in Cote d'Azure and this is partof its appeal.
The largest water park in Europe, located in the heart of thecity of Paris, Aquaboulevard is a great treat for kids (andadults!). One of the big advantages of this attraction is the factthat most of it is indoors, making it fun on sunny or rainy days inParis; if you are travelling with kids it's a good activity to keepup your sleeve for a rainy day. The park itself includes variouswaterslides, a spa area with hot baths and Jacuzzis, indoor andoutdoor wave pools, a beach area for relaxing, and a wave machinewhich allows you to try surfing or wakeboarding on a standing wave,among other things. The attractions are not limited to watereither: the complex also offers cinemas, a mini-golf course, tenniscourts, a fitness centre, play areas, and other indoor attractions.Children under three are not allowed into Aquaboulevard and proofof age should be taken for young kids.
Built in the 12th century, Fontevraud Abbey is thought to be thesite of the graves of King Henry II of England, his wife Eleanor ofAquitaine, and their son King Richard I; however, it is not knownexactly where their bodies are interred. The effigies are still ondisplay in the abbey, and are a popular sight for tourists. Theabbey has housed a monastery, nunnery, prison, and church over thecenturies, and various sections have been rebuilt in Gothic,Classical and Romanesque styles. Apart from the effigies, which arethe main attraction, the abbey building is massive and impressiveand the old kitchens are worth a visit.
Saumur is located at the confluence of the Loire and Thouetrivers in the Loire Valley. The region is known for producingworld-renowned wines, and also produces mushrooms in an interestingunderground process viewable to the public. Saumur is home to theChâteau de Saumur, which was built in the 10th century and passedthrough the hands of Henry II of England, Philip II of France, KingHenri IV (of France and Navarre), and Napoleon Bonaparte. Anotherinteresting attraction is the Museé des Blindes, with more than 850tanks on display. The Louis de Grenelle wine cellars areparticularly popular with tourists for learning about thewine-making process and the wine of the region and, of course, fortastings. 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. TheCadre Noir, a riding academy which has been operating for nearly150 years, is a haven for horse lovers, and they put on remarkableshows 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 acity break.
The magnificent Château d'Ussé overlooks the Indre River, andwas built by Charles VII in the mid-15th century. The fairytalecastle passed through the hands of many nobles, and was said tohave inspired Charles Perrault to write the story of SleepingBeauty. It subsequently inspired Walt Disney in the design of hisiconic castle in the Disney logo and at several theme parks. Thecastle is still a private residence and only parts of the house areopen to the public but it is well worth a visit as visitors canexplore a fair amount of the house, including the king's chamber,kitchens, entrance hall and dungeons, and can also wander thegardens, stables, chapel and cellars. The interiors are richlydecorated, still containing the privately collected furniture,tapestries and art of the noble families that have lived in thechateau over the centuries. Mannequins have been used to exhibitthe rich array of costumes in the castle's collection. They arealso used to recreate scenes from the Sleeping Beauty story. TheGuard Room contains an interesting collection of oriental weaponry;the Renaissance chapel, built in 1521, is beautiful; and thegrounds are gorgeously landscaped. There is a ghost story attachedto the dungeon tower: apparently the guards used to hear the rustleof a lady's gown as she searched for her lover.
The ancient theatre in Lyon is the oldest in France, dating backto the year 17 BC. Built by the Emperor Augustus, it was originallyused for theatre, pageants, musical shows, and poetry competitions.There are actually two theatres on the site: the massive GrandTheatre, which once seated up to 10,000 people; and the smallerOdeon below it on the hillside, which once seated 3,500 people andwas used for more intimate performances like poetry readings. Whilemuch of the rich decorations are gone, decorated floors of inlaidmarble and porphyry are still visible and the state of preservationof the place in general is astounding. Now it is primarily atourist site, but the Nuits de Fourvière festival is held hereevery year. Nearby one can also see the ruins of a temple dedicatedto the goddess Cybele, as well as some burial sites and an ancientRoman aqueduct. To really explore the site one has to do a fair bitof walking and climbing so be sure to wear comfy shoes and bring awater bottle. The Ancient Theatre of Fourviere is beautifullysituated and promises many great photo opportunities.
For a change of pace on a beach holiday, pack some hiking bootsalong with your swimsuit and head for the dramatic Corsicanhinterland. Corte lies marooned in the centre of Corsica,surrounded by dramatic granite mountains. This independent andproud town has long epitomised Corsican nationalism - for a shorttime in the 18th century it was the capital of Pascal Paoli'sshort-lived Corsican state. Now a university town, it remainsdominated by the Haute Ville (upper town) and its forbiddingcitadel, site of the Musée de la Corse, the island's premiermuseum. While on holiday in Corte, it is wonderful to spend amorning wandering around the narrow cobbled streets or soaking upthe atmosphere in one of the many bars and cafés that line the mainstreet. Corte is an excellent base for exploring the island'swonderful mountain scenery and there are great hikes and walkingtrails in the area. A few miles to the southwest, near Bergeries deGrotelle, walkers will find a number of glacial lakes, and aroundValée de la Restonica there are a series of stunning natural gorgesand basins with refreshing swimming spots. Buses and trains connectCorte with Ajaccio, Bastia and other holiday towns on theisland.
Aix-les-Bains is a popular and fashionable family holiday resortand spa town located on the eastern side of Lac du Bourget, thelargest natural freshwater lake in France. Although the lake is icycold, visitors can sail, fish, play golf and tennis, or picnic onthe parkland at the water's edge. Taking a cruise on the lake for afew hours is a must.
The main town of Aix is two miles (3km) inland from the lake andhas been built around its thermal springs. Many small hotels linethe streets, and streams of holiday visitors take to the baths eachday; in the evening, for a change of pace, they play the slotmachines at the Aix-les-Bains casino or attend tea dances. TheMusee Faure is a great art gallery boasting the second largestcollection of Rodin's work in France, as well as art by Bonnard,Degas, Pissaro and Cezanne. The old Benedictine Abbey, Abbayed'Hautecombe, is also definitely worth a visit: this gothicbuilding is stunningly situated on the lake and can be reachedeither by boat or by driving along the lovely, winding road. Theabbey houses some very significant tombs including that of the lastking of Italy.
On the banks of the Loire, 20 miles (32km) east of Tours, is theRenaissance town of Amboise, a popular holiday destination. Bothhistoric and beautiful, Amboise attracts tourists by the busload,but this doesn't detract from its charm. It has been the favouriteresidence of Leonardo de Vinci, Charles VIII and more recently MickJagger, who owns a nearby château.
Charles VIII's château dominates the town and is an impressivefusion of Renaissance and Gothic styles that is built on a rockyspur separating the valleys of the Loire and the Amasse. Theoriginal 15th-century entrance opens onto a terrace with apanoramic view of the river. The castle fell into decline after therevolution and less than half of the original structure stillstands. However, many grandly furnished rooms remain, including theKings' apartments, which are open to holiday visitors.
Leonardo da Vinci was invited to Amboise by François I toencourage the French Renaissance. He made his home at theClos-Lucé, which is now a museum to his work with 40 models basedon his drawings on display - including flying machines and a woodentank. To the east of Amboise are some children's museums, includingthe Mini-Châteaux, a two-hectare (five-acre) park with models ofthe great Loire château. An excellent aquarium is also situatednearby.
The holiday destination of Angers straddles the Maine River,towards the west of the Loire Valley, and is a popular base fromwhich to explore the local sites and the surrounding châteauxcountry. Angers is a busy regional centre and university city withan air of sophistication. Like Tours, Angers was badly damagedduring World War II. Much of it, however, has been lovinglyrestored and it remains a pleasant, amiable town with a livelyatmosphere. Top Angers holiday attractions include the intriguingmuseum, Musée Jean Lurçat, which is known for its famous tapestry and the Cathedral with its beautiful12th-century nave and famous stained-glass windows, also datingfrom the 12th century.
Angers' most prominent attraction, however, is the Châteaud'Angers. Built by Louis IX in the 13th century, this limestonefortress is imposing, with lovely terraces and gardens to contrastwith its sombre walls. It is thrilling to explore. The most famousattraction inside the chateau is the Tapestry of the Apocalypse,woven in 1375, which is the largest medieval tapestry in the worldand has been very well exhibited in the chateau. Allow at least twoto three hours to explore.
Situated 80 miles (129km) east of Lyon, the holiday destinationof Annecy has a magical setting on the shore of Lake Annecy, at thefoot of the French Alps. It has been called the 'Venice of theAlps' because of the web of canals that cut through the Annecy oldtown. Annecy is probably the best base for a holiday in theHaute-Savoie region because of its location, conveniently situatednear many interesting towns and attractions.
Just six miles (10km) to its west is Gorges du Fier, a dramaticriver gorge; a gangway takes visitors through a narrow gully thathas been cut by a torrent of water over the eons. Emerging fromthis 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 thetown is famous. The area is great for hiking and one of the mostpopular (though not easy) hikes is on La Tournette mountain, whichgives visitors astounding views of the lake and the Alps and boastssome picturesque waterfalls. The trail is well marked and thesteepest rock scrambles have rails installed. La Tournette loomsover the small town of Montmin, a pretty 30-minute drive fromAnnecy.
Situated in the northeast of Corsica, Bastia is the island'smajor commercial centre. Despite this the old town has retained itscharms as a holiday destination, with opulent Baroque churches andcrumbling pastel houses lining the maze of tightly packed streetsand alleyways. The Vieux Port is the most photogenic part of town,where old houses tower above the harbour and the reflections fromcolourful fishing vessels ripple on the water. The citadel perchedhigh on the headland of Bastia dominates the other side. The Bastiaharbour comes alive in the evening when tourists and locals fillthe waterside bars and restaurants. The pebble beaches below Bastiatown tend to be very crowded in summer and sun seekers are advisedto head further south where a sandy shore extends for miles downthe east coast of the island. There are some lovely walking trailsin the area and it is also delightful to explore by train. Thereare also lots of ferries and boats available to head out into thebay.
The popular holiday destination of Bayonne is the capital ofBasque country, and a beautifully preserved cathedral city. Itsnarrow streets - lined with half-timbered houses - are atmosphericand perfect for exploring on foot. Bayonne is divided by the Niveand Adour rivers and is set between the mountains and the sea a fewmiles up the coast. Together with adjoining Anglet and Biarritz itforms the continuous urban area known as BAB.
The city's most striking landmark is the magnificent gothicCathédrale Ste-Marie, dating from the 13th century. Bayonne alsohas two museums well worth visiting: Le Musée Basque, whichshowcases the traditions, architecture, and decorative arts of theBasque region; and Le Musée Bonnat, which displays thousands ofdrawings and paintings from the 16th to 19th centuries, includingworks by Rubens, Greco and Ingres.
The Bayonne Festival takes place every year for five days fromthe first Wednesday in August and is an explosion of activity withcow races, bull fights in the Roman arena, candle-lit processionsand marching bands. Bayonne is well-known for its chocolates,marzipan and prime-smoked ham, all of which is available at thewonderful Covered Market. And according to tradition, if nothistorically verified fact, the bayonet was invented here in the1600s.
Much of the historic ambience of medieval Blois remainspreserved in its white-washed houses and narrow cobbled alleys, butmodernity has impacted quite severely on the noble former seat ofthe dukes of Orléans. Tourists still flock to Blois on holiday tovisit the magnificent chateau, now encircled by a traffic-ladenhighway, but none the less spectacular for this infringement. Thisbeautiful castle witnessed the murder of the Duc De Guise by HenriIII, and is renowned for its awesome 13th-century hall. Theinteriors of the chateaux are as impressive as the exterior andvisitors will be excited by the stunning decorations andfurnishings, including royal chambers which feel perfectlyauthentic. Those excited by chateaux can make excursions from Bloisto some other gems in the nearby countryside, including thewell-known Chateau de Chambord. The Maison de la Magie next door tothe chateau is a truly magical experience for kids and the perfectattraction for a rainy day. Another great attraction worth visitingin Blois is the Basilique Notre-dame de la Trinite, an imposingcathedral with beautiful grounds. Visitors can climb the bell towerfor some lovely views of the area.
The ancient town of Bonifacio, at the very southern tip ofCorsica, dates from about 833 AD, but there is nothingold-fashioned about the tourist trappings and commercialisation ofthis buzzing haven, which attracts huge holiday crowds,particularly in summer, now combining its ancient heritage with aglamorous resort atmosphere. The visitors come on holiday here forthe magnificent setting: Bonifacio sits on a narrow limestonepeninsula, the bright white cliffs plunging into the Bouches deBonifacio strait, between Corsica and Sardinia.
The most scenic way to approach Bonifacio is by boat through thechannel, almost a mile long, that protects the town's beautifulnatural harbour. No wonder that the buzzing marina attracts yachtsfrom all over the world, as well as ferries and passenger boatspacked with tourists arriving on holiday from Sardinia andelsewhere. Alternatively, visitors can fly into Bonifacio fromMarseille or bus from the other Corsican towns.
The Italian-flavoured town boasts quaint medieval architecture,offset with the requisite cafés, restaurants and boutiques cateringto the tourist trade. Bonifacio's old town and citadel, built inthe 12th century by the Genoese conquerors, is an interestingholiday attraction reached by a long, steep flight of steps. Thecitadel has been put to use in modern times as headquarters for theFrench Foreign Legion, which was based here between 1963 and1983.
There are diversions aplenty to enjoy on holiday in Bonifacioand surrounds, ranging from watersports of all sorts at the nearbyPlage de Piantarella to some splendid golf courses, and boat tripsto the offshore Archipel des Lavezzi island group.
Carnac, on the south coast of Brittany in the Bay of Biscay, isone of Brittany's most trendy holiday resorts. The family-friendlyholiday resort of Carnac Plage is bright and breezy, sporting asand-duned peninsula, a lovely stretch of beach, plenty ofentertainment, and various fun in the sun facilities. Visitors willhave plenty to amuse them from watersports to more traditionaltourist sightseeing.
Ironically, this popular holiday area is located alongside oneof Europe's most important, ancient, and mysterious archaeologicalsites: just north of the seaside town, hundreds of massive standingstones, even older than Stonehenge or the pyramids of Egypt, arealigned in rows in a field. The original purpose of these mysticalmonuments is unknown and visitors will no doubt come up with theirown theories while wandering around the ancient site. The nearbyMusée de Préhistoire complements these fascinating relics withdisplays of artefacts dating as far back as 450,000 BC. Suchattractions ensure that Carnac has more to offer than just prettybeaches and travellers will enjoy the diversity of things to seeand 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 Edwardiantimes, valued for the bracing sea air and lovely, long promenade.Even today, the seafront is lined with Victorian buildings, whichensure the town retains its elegant and sedate old worldcharacter.
The main Dinard beach is La Grande Plage, a strip of sandbetween the two peninsulas that define the edges of the old town.It is popular with families on holiday and gets crowded on hotdays. Smaller and more isolated is Plage de St-Enogat, a 20-minutewalk east through the village of the same name, or Plage duPrieuré, just a 10-minute walk from Dinard. There is a greatdifference between high and low tides, and swimming pools along theGrand Plage and the Plage du Prieuré beaches catch seawater duringhigh tides for those who opt not to make the trek along the saltflats during low tides to bathe in the sea.
Dinard cannot boast much nightlife, despite its popularity withtourists, but there are many bars and good restaurants filling thetown's streets and there is a casino for night-timeentertainment.
Evian-les-Bains, on the southern end of Lake Geneva, is famousfor its mineral water, which has been bottled since the early 18thcentury, when tests revealed that the water has astonishingcurative qualities and it began to be used for medicinal purposes.Evian is a popular holiday spot with the French as well as foreignvisitors, with the majority of travellers coming to this chicholiday resort principally to enjoy the creature comforts and spafacilities of the deluxe Evian-les-Bains hotels. The town has beena fashionable resort since the early 1800s, and much of itsarchitecture comes from that century and the 1920s, making it anattractive city to stroll through.
Aside from the springs, there are many things to do inEvian-les-Bains, including golf, sailing, hiking, river rafting androck climbing. The Lac Leman offers many activities and a visit toEvian-les-Bains is incomplete without a boating excursion of somekind to continue the liquid tradition of the place. One of the manyattractions visitors can reach by boat is Les Jardins de L'eau duPre Curieux where one can tour the gardens and water museum. TheCasiono d'Evian, the largest themed casino in Europe, is also a bigdraw for some visitors.
Just west of Nantes, La Baule is Brittany's most fashionable andexpensive holiday resort. Like most Breton seaside towns, it wasthe Victorians that first flocked here to play and promenade in thebalmy air. Today La Baule is favoured by the French rather thanforeigners, a popular holiday destination for the Parisianupper-middle-class when they need to unwind. La Baule's invitingfive mile (8km) stretch of white sandy beach provides the perfectplace to acquire a summer tan and show off designer beachwear whilefrolicking in waters warmed by the Gulf Stream. The locals boastthat it is the best beach in Europe, but then many locals make thatboast. It is a safe, gently sloping beach with lovely, fine sandand is good for children. The town itself provides other holidaynecessities: a casino, plenty of shops and boutiques, and someexcellent bars and restaurants. There are some impressive oldvillas in La Baule and it is worth wandering around beyond thepromenade; there are also some lovely gardens and parks open to thepublic. This is the place for a sophisticated, luxurious beachholiday; Brittany's version of the glamorous Cannes.
Not strictly Basque country, but part of the nearby Bigorreregion, the town of Lourdes is situated in the Hautes-Pyrénées andhas been one of the great Roman Catholic pilgrimage sites since theVirgin Mary allegedly revealed herself to a shepherd girl,Bernadette Soubirous, in 1858. More than five million pilgrimsvisit the town each year, particularly in August, from the Catholicnobility to the poverty-stricken sick and ailing.
Pilgrims are sometimes offended by the commercialisation of theshrine (there is a very good trade in candles and Lourdes water)but miracle cures have been documented by the church so it can beassumed this exploitation does not affect the healing properties ofthe spring in which the afflicted bathe in a grotto. The Virgin issaid to have appeared 18 times at the Grotto of Massabielle andmass takes place here every day.
Lourdes itself is ancient and includes several sights ofinterest for holiday visitors. The Fortified Castle wassuccessively a military fortress, a state prison and, in the 16thand 17th centuries, the residence of the counts of Bigorre. Thereare wonderful panoramic views of Lourdes town and the sanctuaryfrom high on the fortifications. Since 1921 the castle has housedthe Musée Pyrénéen, which exhibits the art, traditions and historyof the Pyrénées.
There are some interesting churches to see while on holiday inthis religious town. The Upper Basilica of the ImmaculateConception was built in 1854; the inside is as impressive as themagnificent exterior. The oval Basilica of Pius X is one of theworld's largest churches, its underground chamber can hold as manyas 20,000 people. Mass is held in six languages, including English,every Wednesday and Sunday at 3:30pm from April to October. TheMusée Ste-Bernadette is nearby, as is the house where Bernadettewas born which, along with the home of her parents, has become ashrine.
Attractively situated on islands in the estuary of France'smighty Loire River, the city of Nantes exudes an air of importanceand historical significance which makes it an interesting holidaydestination. Although not officially part of Brittany any longer,Nantes has always been regarded as the Breton commercial andmaritime centre, once a springboard for exciting colonialexpeditions, shipbuilding and trading. Today Nantes remains awealthy industrial port, with its architectural heritage reflectingits past achievements, from the medieval remnants in the narrowstreets of pedestrianised Bouffay, near the castle of the Ducs deBretagne, to the magnificent stained-glass windows of itsimpressive cathedral.
The city also has some good museums, including its own Musée desBeaux-Arts, which has a fine collection of sculptures and paintingsfrom the 12th to 19th centuries, and the Musée de Jules Verne,which contains memorabilia of the famous futuristic novelist, whowas 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 themost fun attractions is Les Machines de L'ile which is a creativecombination of the invented worlds of Jules Verne, the mechanicalinventions of Leonardo da Vinci, and the industrial history of thecity itself. It is located in the former shipyards.
There was a time when Orleans was the second most important cityin France after Paris; today it is a modest and attractive citywell worth a visit to explore its cobbled streets. Orléans' longhistory stretches to a time before the Romans, but its most famousevent was Joan of Arc's deliverance of the city from the English in1429. The occasion is still commemorated most fervently with Joanof Arc Day, celebrated each year on the 8th of May, when Orléansmakes merry with lively street parades in medieval style.
The city's chief attractions include the magnificent neo-GothicOrléans Cathedral, Cathedrale Ste-Croix, which is truly magnificentand mustn't be missed, and the House of Joan of Arc, which is areproduction of a house she stayed in in the city and features atimeline of her life and achievements. There is also the OrleansMusee des Beaux-Arts to be explored, and the ornately decoratedHotel de Ville. Visitors can rent bikes in Orleans and this is alovely way to get around in the city; a glorious cycle path whichtraverses 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 basefrom which to explore the Pyrénées and the picturesque littlevillages of the Bearn region. This year-round holiday resort wasfrequented by the British in the early 19th century (at one time 20percent of the population hailed from England) and many customswere 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 cityin the western Pyrénées. While on holiday, panoramic views can bestbe enjoyed when strolling along the Boulevard des Pyrénées. WorthyPau sightseeing excursions include the 12th-century Chateau de Pau,containing some interesting contemporary artefacts including a cribfashioned from a single tortoise shell. The Musée des Beaux-Arts isalso worth a peek, with a collection of European paintings by thelikes of El Greco, Degas, Zurbaran and Boudin. The people of thePau and Bearn are very proud of their language (a variation ofOccitan) and heritage and have indulged in friendly rivalry withthe Basques of Bayonne for centuries.
The small seaside holiday resort of Porto is watched over by the16th-century Genoese Tower standing guard over the fishing harbour,and although crowded in summer, retains a certain charm. While onholiday, Porto is an excellent base from which to explore thesurrounding countryside and spectacular coastline. This region ofCorsica is so full of natural beauty that it has been designated aUNESCO World Heritage Site so visitors are truly spoilt for choicewhen it comes to stunning landscapes. The Gorges de Spelunca, aspectacular ravine, is popular for its rocky pools, Genoese bridgesand hiking opportunities, while the Forêt d'Aïtone is one of theisland's most beautiful forests, with waterfalls and numerouswalking trails. Visitors can head out on boat trips as well, andeasily access some of the famous calanques along the coast, and thenature reserve of Scandola. The main historical sightseeingattraction is the 16th-century watchtower perched dramatically onthe cliffs and boasting phenomenal views. The town itself is notspectacular and has sprung up mainly to meet the demands of thevisitors who flock to the area for the natural beauty.
Quimper, Brittany's oldest city, beckons those who need nothingmore from a holiday than cobbled streets to wander through, a lazyriver to cruise gently down and a wide selection of cafés and barsto sample. The holiday town of Quimper, spread around the junctionof the Steir and Odet Rivers on the western edge of Brittany, isidyllic and charming. Fortunately, Quimper was spared the bombs ofWorld War II and has escaped too much modern development, so themedieval character remains intact with old buildings overhangingnarrow lanes and footbridges.
The best way to see the city is by taking a boat trip down oneof the rivers, or rambling around on foot. Visitors wanting toinvestigate the local crafts can tour the pottery studios that havebeen turning out internationally renowned Quimperware forcenturies. There is also an Earthenware Museum (Musee de laFaience) to explore. Other attractions worth seeing include theSaint Corentin Cathedral, a very impressive Gothic building, andthe Musee des Beaux Arts, located right next to the cathedral,which boasts some excellent paintings and sculptures and offers agood introduction to the cultural and artistic history of theregion.
The capital of Normandy and a popular holiday destination, Rouenis also a centre of industry and commerce; it is the fifth largestport in France and the closest one to Paris, split into a right andleft bank area by the River Seine.
Rouen is also one of France's most historic cities; William theConqueror died here in 1087 and in 1431 it was the stage for thetrial and execution of Joan of Arc. She was burned at the stake inthe Place du Vieux-Marché (the Old Marketplace); the position isstill marked by a huge bronze cross and worth visiting while onholiday.
Allied bombing largely destroyed the city of Rouen; all of itsbridges and many of its great churches were ruined. However,substantial investment has been focused on restoring parts of thecity to its former medieval glory. The great Cathédrale Notre-Dame,immortalised by Monet, remained fairly unscathed and is well wortha visit for its wonderful stonework. An especially interestingRouen holiday attraction is the Chapelle de la Vierge, where theheart of Richard the Lion-Heart is entombed as a token of hisaffection for the people of Rouen. The chapel also contains theRenaissance tombs of the cardinals d'Amboise.
Dozens of churches and some fine museums can be exploredincluding the Musée des Beaux-Art, which is one of France's bestprovincial museums and includes the works of great French artistssuch as Veronese, Velasquez, Caravaggio, Rubens, Poussin, Fragonardand Monet (including several versions of his Rouen Cathedral).
Located at the junction of the Loire and the Cher Rivers, theholiday destination of Tours is a great base for exploring thevalley. The town was badly bombed during the last war and manybuildings were replaced with ugly apartment blocks. Tours is,however, surrounded by magnificent châteaux and is a fun place tospend the evenings; the streets and bars are filled with locals andtourists and the huge student population ensures that the nighlifebuzzes 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 the12th century, inside are some glorious 13th-century stained-glasswindows and the handsome 16th-century tomb of Charles VIII and Annede Bretagne's two children. There is also a fine provincial museumin Tours, in the Palais des Archevêques, with a number of OldMasters works' including some by Degas, Delacroix, Rembrandt, andBoucher. It is a pleasant city to walk around - the old townespecially - and there are a number of pretty pathways and parks toexplore. It is also fun to cycle along the river Loire and this isa good way to orientate oneself in the city.
Perched among the French Alps, Briançon is the highest town inEurope. The town is divided into the lower town, where the Duranceand Guisane rivers meet and much of the modern amenities lie; andthe walled and fortified upper town, which was built in the 17thcentury to defend the town from Austria and so contains the mostinteresting historical sights.
Briançon is a paradise for outdoor sports enthusiasts. Part ofthe massive Serre-Chevalier ski area, which also includesSaint-Chaffrey, La Salle le Alpes, and Monêtier les Bains, itenjoys up to 300 days of sunshine per year. But the town is apopular tourist area in summer as well, drawing visitors to see itscitadelle, forts, and sundials, as well as to enjoy activities likehiking, kayaking and rock climbing. Briançon is also the site ofone of the most thrilling stages of the Tour de France. Situatedonly six miles (10km) from the Italian border, Briançon has adistinctly Italian feel compared to other towns in Provence. Thereare a number of good pizzerias and some lively bars popular withtourists, but few French restaurants.
Puy du Fou is a historical theme park in western France whichattracts more than 1.5 million visitors a year, making it one ofthe most popular paid attractions in the country. The experience isakin to being on a giant interactive movie set as differenthistorical scenes are played out with considerable exuberance by alarge 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 historicalextravaganza is held on reputedly the largest stage in the world,with more than 1,000 actors, hundreds of horses and great volleysof fireworks. The children especially will be spellbound but adultsshould also greatly enjoy it. The park is set in gorgeouswoodlands, and boasts about 25 restaurants, three hotels and plentyof other amenities to ensure a comfortable visit. Performances arein French and English-language translation headsets should bereserved in advance if required.
The popular holiday destination of Ajaccio lies in acalm bay on the west coast of the rugged island of Corsica, setagainst a backdrop of wooded hills. It is a relaxed rather thanlively town and visitors come here on holiday to enjoy its wealthof cafés, restaurants and shops. There are many cocktail barsoverlooking the bay on boulevard Lantivy, so visitors will findplenty of lovely watering holes. Ajaccio is a good doorstep intothe rest of the island, and the launching point for many Corsicanholidays.
The birthplace of Napoleon Bonaparte, the town takesfull advantage of its famous resident to lure tourists. Attractionsinclude the magnificent cathedral where he was christened, theBonaparte residence, and numerous statues and street names relatedto his family. While locals are not particularly proud of theirnotorious famous son, they are justifiably proud of the artcollection of his uncle, Cardinal Fesch. Housed in the Musée Fesch,this collection of Italian paintings is considered to rate secondonly to that of the Louvre and is well worth seeing while onholiday in Ajaccio.
Most souvenirs from Ajaccio are related somehow toNapoleon, but visitors should not overlook the region's excellentwine. Ajaccio has its fair share of little shops but it is not ashopping paradise.
This theme park in Toulouse has its head firmly in the clouds,dedicating its 8.6 acres (3.5 hectares) to celebrating flight andouter space. Children will love exploring full-scale models ofrockets and space stations, and teens will enjoy the feeling ofanti-gravity in the Gyro simulator. There's a moon-walk simulator;and the enormous planetarium, IMAX theatre, and Terradome showeducational films about space flight and the history of theuniverse. The park is located on the outskirts of the city, and isa great activity for the whole family. Visitors will need a fullday to explore the whole site and there are guided tours and audioguides available. There is a restaurant at the park, and a shopwhich sells a variety of fun, educational books, movies andtoys.
Of the many beautiful buildings in Toulouse, the St SerninBasilica is one that should not be missed. The church, built fromthe region's distinctive rose-coloured bricks, is the largestRomanesque church in Europe and contains many beautiful frescoesand sculptures. The Basilica was built around 1100, and containsmany relics, as well as the graves of Saint Sernin and SaintHonoratus. Saint Sernin was the first Bishop of Toulouse and wasmartyred in the year 250; it is largely due to his remains in thecrypt that the basilica is an essential stop on the pilgrimage ofSaint Jacques de Compostela which culminates in Arles. There arealso some 19th-century treasures on display for visitors, includingchalices and ciborium. The main attraction, however, is thebuilding itself, which is astounding in its size and design andquite unlike most churches found in France. The mix ofarchitectural styles from different centuries is what makes it feelso original. There are free guided tours of the basilica onweekends but they are conducted in French only. Although entranceto the main area of the church is free, visitors will have to paysmall 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. Thecapital and largest city in Alsace, Strasbourg has a beautiful citycentre that has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site, withmany churches, museums, and photogenic half-timber houses liningthe narrow cobbled streets. One of the most famous sites inStrasbourg is the great sandstone Gothic cathedral with itsastronomical clock. There are a few other beautiful churches aswell, with architecture ranging from Romanesque to Gothic toRenaissance.
Strasbourg is also a modern city, however, with a livelyatmosphere that belies its historic facade. Good restaurantsabound, serving a blend of French, German, and local Alsatiancuisine. Late summer (July and August) is the best time to visitStrasbourg, as the warm weather paves the way for many theatre andmusic events. Christmas is also a festive time of year, withholiday markets in place Broglie and place de la Cathédrale.
From its position on the Rhine River, Strasbourg also makes agreat base from which to explore southern Germany (just across theriver) and Switzerland (only an hour's drive south).
An attractive town in northeast France, Colmar is one of themost popular tourist draws to the Alsace region. Founded in the 9thcentury, the city boasts many beautiful architectural landmarks,including churches, museums, theatres, mansions, monuments andfountains, many dating back to the 13th century. Colmar issurprisingly big for a medieval city, but visitors should still beable to walk around on foot without much trouble. In addition toits beauty, Colmar is a lively city with music festivals and otherevents throughout the year. It is also a centre for the German andFrench-influenced Alsatian cuisine, and visitors can sample localspecialties like quiche Lorraine, Black Forest cake, Sauerkraut,and the many varieties of Alsace wine.
Attractions in the town include the Musee d'Unterlinden (Museumunder the Linden Trees) which is a small but popular art andhistory museum with an impressive collection of artefacts. The mostfamous piece is the magnificent Issenheim Altarpiece. LittleVenice, a particularly pretty neighbourhood in Colmar, is a goodplace to take a gondola ride and enjoy the medieval architecturepassing you by. The Eglise des Dominicains is a lovely church whichnow houses Martin Shongaurer's painting 'Madonna of the RoseGarden'. The Gothic Eglise St-Martin is also well worth avisit.
Celebrated modernist artist Marc Chagall (1887-1985), thoughborn in the Soviet Union, spent much of his career in France. TheMarc Chagall Museum in Nice has the largest permanent collection ofhis works, including his Biblical Message Cycle, comprising 17large-scale paintings depicting scenes from the Bible. The museumcontains a dazzling array of paintings, sculptures, stained glasswindows and mosaics and the vivid colours and dreamlike quality ofChagall's work make the space come alive. It is a trulywell-designed museum which captures some of the joyful quality ofChagall's work even though it is simple and small. Interestingly,Chagall himself positioned many of the works, as he was alive whenthe museum was built, and this goes some way to explaining how welleverything seems to fit. There is a great film on Chagall's liferunning at the museum and it is really worth watching. One can alsolisten to audio recordings of explanations for each of thepaintings and this hugely enriches the experience, particularly forthose who aren't familiar with the artist. The museum hasattractive gardens to wander in and a small cafe forrefreshments.
Nice and the French Riviera were fashionable holiday resorts forRussian nobility in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, leadingto a close relationship between the regions that culminated in therose-pink Russian Orthodox Cathedral, one of the most beautifulbuildings in Nice. Topped with the onion-shaped domes typical ofRussian cathedrals, the church was built by Tsar Nicholas II in1912 and is the largest of its kind outside of Russia. The interiorof the cathedral is also magnificent; it is in the shape of a Greekcross and boasts some wonderful frescos, woodwork and art, as wellas notable goldsmith's work. The odd image of the Russian spiresset against the background of palm trees on the Cote d'Azur is oneof the most interesting sights in Nice. Strolling past thecathedral, and getting some photos, is a must and it is well worthgoing inside as well.
The small village of Talloires has fashioned a booming touristindustry from the very best in raw ingredients: medievalarchitecture, charming locals, and picturesque surroundings ripewith opportunity for both summer and winter sports. Lake Annecy isfilled with holidaymakers swimming, sailing and waterskiing in thesummer 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 popularFrench ski resorts, including Megève, Espace Diamant, and LaClusaz.
The area of Talloires has been settled since Neolithic times andthe village has a rich history and a number of old buildings. Theabbey dates back to 1016, although the current structure was builtin 1681. Tufts University has its European Center in the11th-century structure that was once the Benedictine priory inTalloires. For those more interested in historical sightseeing thanoutdoor activities strolling the streets of the town is rewarding.And visitors should be sure to sample the delicious local cuisineas well, as the town has some top-notch restaurants.
While Toulouse is known as the 'pink city' for its facebrickbuildings, Albi, a UNESCO heritage site and historical city, isoften called the 'red city' due to the spectacular crimson hue ofthe buildings at sunset. With a skyline dominated by themagnificent Cathédrale Ste-Cécile, there is plenty to see in themedieval town centre. Just wandering around the picturesque andancient streets of the old city is the main attraction.
Albi is also known as the birthplace of famous French painterToulouse-Lautrec, and there is a great museum containing more than600 of his works, along with those of Degas, Matisse, and Roualt.There is also an interesting museum dedicated to explorerJean-François de la Pérouse. The Cloitre de la Collegiale SaintSalvy is also a lovely, serene religious site to visit in Albi. Andthe Park Rochegude is a small but beautiful park, formerly thegarden of an aristocrat, which boasts a wonderful collection oftrees.
Situated on the lovely River Tarn, this historic city is apopular excursion from Toulouse. Albi is only an hour or so awayfrom Toulouse by car, so easily reached on daytrips.
While it's a bit off the beaten path for most holidaymakers inFrance, St-Rémy de Provence is among the most attractive andinteresting 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 HôtelEstrine.
Aside from the attractive town itself, St-Rémy is surrounded bybeautiful countryside, which inspired many paintings by Vincent vanGogh. The artist lived in St-Rémy de Provence for a time, and thecity has the somewhat dubious honour of being the place where hefamously cut off his ear, after which he committed himself to theMonastère de St-Paul-de-Mausolée, an asylum that now offersvisitors 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 authorNostradamus, famous for his predictions for the future, and was thefavourite residence of Princess Caroline of Monaco for a time.Visitors will fall in love with this perfect example of sleepysmall-town France, with its busy markets and quiet atmosphere. Nearthe city, the remains of a Gallo-Roman settlement from the 2ndcentury BC can be found and are also worth a visit.
Known as the 'St Tropez of Corsica', Porto-Vecchio is becomingone of the most fashionable towns in southern Corsica. It issituated in a scenic bay, near popular sandy beaches such asPalombaggia, Rondinara, and Santa Guilia. This is the perfect placefor a lazy beach holiday in sunny Corsica and visitors are spoiledfor choice with all the pleasant spots to set up beach camp for theday. The town itself is also picturesque, particularly the oldtown, called the Borgo, which boasts winding, narrow streets andinteresting sights such as the twisted tree at the Place de laRepublique, the incomplete church of St Jean Baptiste, and the artgallery at the Bastion di A Funtana Vechju.
Porto-Vecchio has a few souvenir shops and excellent specialityfood shops selling Corsican delicacies like wild boar sausage andlocal cheeses. There are a number of cafes, bars and restaurantsproviding good vantage points for people-watching, and during thehigh season the city is usually buzzing with activity. It is a gooddoorstep to the delights of Corsica and an increasingly glamorousholiday destination which draws many visitors every year.
The Haut-Koenigsbourg Castle has a history going back some ninecenturies, built in the 12th century as an Austrian fortress. Thecastle is perched dramatically on a mountain, clearly designed tobe defended in times of war and with sweeping views of the Alsaceplain below. This impressive fortress has been visited and owned byseveral notable royals and has changed hands between nations manytimes. It has also been all but destroyed twice in its longhistory. The Alsace region was annexed to Germany in 1871, and thecastle, at the time only a majestic ruin, was gifted to KaiserWilhelm II in 1899. Seeing it as a symbol for Germany's new powerin the region, the Kaiser fully restored the fortress and today itis once again a formidable and impressive place to visit.
The present structure of the castle gives an accurate idea ofhow the mountain fortress must have looked in the Middle Ages. Itsinterior walls are decorated in a rich medieval style, and ithouses an extensive and interesting collection of weapons andfurniture, mainly from the 16th and 17th centuries. Visitors canview the royal apartments, kitchen, chapel, ceremonial hall andarmoury, as well as the walled garden, forge and mill. Exploringthis historic building, which has been scarred and marked by theregion'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 centuriesformed a natural frontier, physical, climatic and linguistic,between France and Spain. Second only to the Alps among the greatmountain ranges of Western Europe, the Pyrénées are much lessfrequented, and still offer an exciting combination of knife-edgedsummits, small glaciers, forested valleys, mountain tarns andlittle-trodden summer passes. Splendid trails lead to themagnificent cirques and lake-spangled basins of France's PyrénéesNational Park. Over on the Spanish side paths lead through thespectacular canyons of the Ordesa-Monte Perdido National Park, oneof Europe's oldest nature reserves.
In 1997, the United Nations inscribed a portion of the Frenchand Spanish Pyrénées near the French village of Gavarnie and theSpanish 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 thisregion is very rewarding and the dramatic landscapes arebreathtaking. Although some of the trails require hiking experienceand fitness, visitors can also find easy day-walks.
Deauville is the only Norman holiday resort to have anydelusions of grandeur. It is at the heart of the Norman Rivierawhich, in the late 19th century, was a particularly popular holidaydestination with elite Parisians.
Deauville is still known as the 'lady' of the French coast, andit was a very fashionable lady, in the form of Coco Chanel, wholaunched both her own career and the quality status of Deauville asa seaside holiday town when she opened a boutique selling heravante garde pill-box and cloche hats to Edwardian ladies bowedunder the weight of huge, elaborate millinery creations. Althoughthe town is overrun with tourists and the Edwardian splendour isfading, some of Chanel's elegance survives in Deauville. NearbyTrouville is a smaller and less glamorous version of Deauville, butis also less touristy.
Deauville hosts numerous events, including regattas and polotournaments, and offers many holiday diversions in the form ofcasinos, golf courses and exclusive shops. Horse racing is apopular pastime on the town's two courses, and Deauville alsoboasts a number of restaurants and a spa. There is a strip ofbeach, the Plage de Deauville which, on warm days, is packed withsunseekers.
Aix-en-Provence is the cultural and touristic capitalof Provence. This beautiful university town has been an inspirationto many great writers and painters, most famously Paul Cézanne, whowas inspired by the Provence countryside to produce hismasterpieces, some of which can be seen in his hometown at theMusée Granet, in the Quartier Mazarin.
Aix possesses a wealth of superb architecture thathas been carefully preserved and restored. Walking through theCours Mirabeau and the Rue Gaston de Saporta, visitors can admirethe famous fountains, and the private mansions with their sculpteddoors, windows, and intricate ironwork on the balconies. On thePlace des Martyrs de la Résistance is the ancient Cathedral and inthe neighbouring archbishop's palace is the Musée des Tapisseries.A great way to see the city and surrounding countryside is byrenting a bicycle.
Shopping is one of the main reasons that touristsflock to Aix-en-Provence. There is a large market every Saturday onAvenue du Cap-Pinede, and smaller ones on Tuesdays and Thursdays.The town centre is quite compact and each square seems to have itsown bazaar. There is the flower market at the Place de l'Hotel deVille, and vegetable and fruit stalls at the nearby Marche desCapucins.
There are many bars and pubs to choose from in town,and a large student population ensures that the nightlife is alwayslively. Aix-en-Provence has a thriving jazz scene centred on theHot 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 centuriesa simple, sleepy fishing village whose only visitors were the monksand wealthy pilgrims who came to visit the monastery on the nearbyIsland of St Honorat. All this changed in 1834 when Lord HenryBrougham, former British Chancellor of the Exchequer, arrived andestablished Cannes as a popular upmarket holiday resort for theBritish upper-classes.
Soon the French and later the Russian aristocracyalso flocked to Cannes to while away their summer holidays. Today,Cannes is besieged by tourists on holiday in the summer, when thelong sandy beaches, glitzy nightclubs, chic shops and famouspromenade are abuzz with beautiful people flaunting the latestdesigner wear.
There is lots to see and do in Cannes. The old townis pleasant for strolling and sightseeing, and the beachesfantastic for lying in the sun. For the more active, there are anumber 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 deProvence. It is worthwhile to take the trip out to the Îles deLérins, which boast a monastery and ruins alongside a number ofshops, bars and restaurants. There are also options for excursionsto nearby Monaco and St Tropez.
Each May the world's media descend in droves for theannual Cannes Film Festival, which draws Hollywood's finest to thePalais des Festivals.
French Phrase Book
|au revoir||goodbye||au rev wahr|
|merci||thank you||mehr see|
|sil vous plait||please||seel vu play|
|je mappelle||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 dont understand||juh nuh cohn praw pa|
|jai besoin dun 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 hotsummers and mild winters. Strong winds, known as 'le Mistral', canoccur in the Cote d'Azur, Provence and in the Rhone valleyparticularly over the winter and spring. Rainfall is distributedthroughout the year and some snow is expected in winter. NorthernFrance, including Paris, has a temperate climate similar tosouthern England, with warm summers, cold winters and rainfallthroughout the year. The western coast, from the Loire valley tothe Pyrenees, is milder, and summer days are generally very hot.The mountainous areas are cooler and get heavy snowfall inwinter.
During summer most French residents take their five-weekvacation to the coast and mountains, and empty cities tend to shutdown accordingly. The peak tourist season in France is in thesummer months of July and August, when the French themselves tendto take their vacations, but as this period is expensive andcrowded the best time to visit France is actually in the spring(March and April) and autumn (September and October) when theweather 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 likeParis has a charm of its own.
This tiny bistro is simply decorated with a plain white facadeand a rustic interior, and is always buzzing with locals. Ablackboard menu offers classic French dishes such as calf's livercooked in sherry vinegar, or scallops cooked in basil oil. There isalso a selection of venison on offer, and the puddings are equallyenticing. The bill is outrageously inexpensive for the quality ofthe food. Open Tuesday to Saturday for lunch and dinner, dinneronly on Sunday. Reservations essential.
La Tour d'Argent (The Silver Tower) not only serves upmouth-watering dishes, but also has wonderful views over the Seineand Notre-Dame. A restaurant has stood on this site since 1582 anddining here is still an unsurpassed event. A good section of themenu is devoted to duck, and diners who order the house speciality- caneton (pressed duckling) - are issued with a certificate. Thepractice 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; thesteam-baked Bresse chicken with lemongras and the roasted rib ofveal are testament to this. Half-portions allow patrons to samplevarious dishes on the menu, and the wine list reveals a treasuretrove of exceptional vintages. Although the décor is formal, theatmosphere is relaxed and ambient. Book well in advance. OpenTuesday to Friday for lunch and dinner, and for dinner on Saturday;closed Sundays.
The exotic Buddha Bar remains trendy with Parisians andforeigners in the know. A massive gilt Buddha dominates thespacious interior of the restaurant, which offers a variety ofJapanese-Californian cuisine; tuna tataki sashimi and pork ribswith hoisin sauce are just two of the menu's many delights. Openfor 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 acentury-old establishment with original oak woodwork, an engraved1930s glass facade and designer chandeliers. One of the finestseafood restaurants in Paris, the food at Goumard is influenced byMediterranean and Asian cuisines, served with subtle and delicatesauces - the emphasis is on enhancing the natural flavours of thecatch. Open for lunch and dinner Monday to Saturday, reservationsrequired.
Housed within the arcades of the Palais-Royal, Le Grand Véfourhas been entertaining diners since the reign of Louis XV and haswelcomed everyone from Napoleon to Danton. The menu is influencedby the cuisine Savoie - a blend of sophisticated and rustic dishes.Favourites include the sole meunière and the wild duck in laurelleaves. 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-dayBrasserie serving authentic French fare like stuffed pig'strotters, veal kidney flambéed in Cognac, and Provençal-style panstuffed mussels. The long benches and brass fittings echo theauthenticity of the food for a truly Parisian experience. Open 24hours a day, the restaurant is popular with tourists just come frombrowsing the Louvre.
L'Alcazar attracts fashionable Parisians looking to dine onseafood or Modern British fare. The huge ground floor restaurant isof course designed more for style than comfort and patrons can seethe chefs in action in the open-plan kitchens; the octopus saladand steak tartare are excellent. L'Az bar has regular theme nightswith celebrity artists and jazz musicians. Open for lunch anddinner daily, and brunch on Sundays. Reservations recommended.
The prestigious Jules Verne Restaurant is located on the secondfloor of the Eiffel Tower and has an atmosphere that is reminiscentof an airship moored high above Paris, with spectacular views ofthe city. The poached lobster and stuffed chicken are just two ofthe great dishes on the menu, and the wild strawberry and coconutcake dessert is fantastic. Open for lunch and dinner daily,reservations recommended.
Le Bouillon Racine features a sophisticated Belgian menu and anenormous selection of Belgian beer. The food here is hearty andfilling, even without the help of several thirst-quenching ales.The menu changes monthly and includes popular dishes like thecasserole of mussels, shrimp and baby clams, suckling pig roastedwith bitter Orval beer, and rack of lamb roasted in a pale biereblonde. 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 hasbeautiful views of the city and is full of surprises - from its stint to the dining area's interestingJapanese Manga décor. The exotic menu offers cuisine such as theKong Plate (a mixed fish platter), Chilean bass and Japanese beefcarpaccio. Open daily for lunch and dinner, with brunch on Sundays.Reservations essential.
The historic Cafe de Flore has been immortalised by more thanone French painter. A popular meeting place for post-warintellectuals like Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir andcelebrated artists Camus, Picasso, and Apollinaire, the restauranthas now been overrun with tourists from all over the world. Themenu offers salads, sandwiches, pastries and other cafe fare. Cafede Flore is open daily from 7:30am to 1:30am.
This restaurant seems tiny from the street, but there is plentyof room inside. Chez Mounier has the traditional atmosphere of aLyonnais bouchon, with regional dishes like quenelle de brochet(dumpling in crayfish sauce) and herring salad. Locals and touristsalike love Chez Mounier for its unpretentious atmosphere and cheapfood. Open Tuesday to Saturday.
The oldest brasserie in Lyon, La Georges has been servingLyonnais delicacies since 1836. Since then it has hosted notablecelebrities like Edith Piaf, Jean-Paul Sartre, Ernest Hemingway,and the Dalai Lama. The restaurant also brews its own beer. Itslocation can appear a bit seedy, but the large dining area meansyou can usually get a table without reservation unless dining atpeak hours on the weekend. The restaurant is entirely no smoking.Open weekdays 11:30am-11:15pm, and Fridays and Saturdays11:30am-12:15am.
This Michelin-starred restaurant is near to the heart of Lyon,located in a charming 17th-century inn on the tiny island of ÎleBarbe. It has a pretty ivy-covered courtyard and more intimateindoor dining area where you can sample dishes like meat stew millefeuille or red tuna tartare with quail and salmon eggs.
The Euro (EUR) is the official currency in France. Currency canbe exchanged at banks, bureaux de change and some large hotels,though you will get a better exchange rate at the ATMs. Majorcredit cards are widely accepted, particularly in major touristdestinations. Foreign currency is not accepted.
French is the official language.
Electrical current is 230 volts, 50Hz. Europeantwo-pin plugs are standard.
US citizens must have a passport that is valid for at leastthree months after their intended stay in France. No visa isrequired for a stay of up to 90 days within a 180 day period.
British passports endorsed 'British Citizen', 'British Subject'(containing a Certificate of Entitlement to the Right of Abodeissued by the United Kingdom), and 'British Overseas TerritoriesCitizen' issued by Gibraltar, only need to be valid for period ofintended stay in France. All other endorsements require at leastthree months validity beyond the period of intended stay inFrance.
A visa is not required for passports endorsed 'British Citizen','British Subject' (containing a Certificate of Entitlement to theRight of Abode issued by the United Kingdom), and 'British OverseasTerritories Citizen' issued by Gibraltar. No visa is required forstays of up to 90 days in a 180 day period for holders of Britishpassports with any other endorsement.
Holders of identity cards issued by Gibraltar authories, andendorsed 'Validated for EU travel purposes under the authority ofthe United Kingdom', do not require a visa to visit France.
Australian citizens must have a passport that is valid for threemonths after their intended stay in France. No visa is required fora stay of up to 90 days in a 180 day period.
South African citizens must have a passport that is valid forthree months after their intended stay, and a valid Schengen visa,to enter France. Note that entry and transit will be refused toholders of Temporary passports.
Irish citizens must have a passport that is valid on arrival. Novisa is required.
US citizens must have a passport that is valid for at leastthree months after their intended stay in France. No visa isrequired for a stay of up to 90 days within a 180 day period.
New Zealand citizens must have a passport that is valid forthree months after their intended stay in France. No visa isrequired for a stay of up to 90 days in a 180 day period.
The borderless region known as the Schengen Area includes thefollowing 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, andSwitzerland. All these countries issue a standard Schengen visathat has a multiple entry option, and which allows the holder totravel freely within the borders of all the aforementionedcountries.
Additionally, travellers must hold sufficient funds to covertheir stay in France, and proof of repatriation (a return or onwardticket, and the necessary travel documentation for their nextdestination). Note that Schengen visas, if required, are also validfor French Guiana and French West Indies and Reunion, provided thatthe Schengen visa is endorsed "Also valid for French territoriesbeing in observation of the respective French territories". Werecommend that passports always be valid for six months afterintended period of travel.
No particular vaccinations or medications are required fortravel to France. The prevalence of certain tick-borne infections,like lyme disease, tularemia, tick-borne encephalitis, andrickettsial diseases, mean that travellers should take precautionsagainst ticks if they are travelling in rural or forested areas inwarm weather.
French hospitals and health facilities are first class. Britishcitizens, and visitors from other EU countries, are entitled toheavily discounted medical treatment and medicines on presentationof a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC). Otherwise doctors andhospitals often expect immediate cash payment for health services.Medical insurance is advised. Pharmacies will provide some firstaid, but charge for it.
Most restaurants and hotels automatically add a 15 percentservice charge so a tip is not necessary, although another two tothree percent is customary if the service has been good. If serviceis not included then 15 percent is customary. Taxi drivers expect10 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 tourguides. Tour bus drivers and guides are also tipped.
Security has been heightened in France following a series ofterrorist attacks in recent years, particularly in the transportsector. Unattended luggage left in public places will be removed ordestroyed by security staff. While generally safe, visitors toFrance are advised to take precautions against petty theft and toensure their personal safety. Thieves and pickpockets operate onthe 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 snatchingis also common, particularly on public transport and in shoppingcentres, and visitors should also be vigilant of luggage whileloading bags into and out of hire cars at airports. Violent crimeagainst tourists is rare and holidays in France are generallytrouble-free.
Note: 28/ 11/19
Severe weather has hit southeast France, causing flash floodsand mudslides in the departments of Alpes-Maritimes and Var.Travellers should monitor the news for updates.
French culture is of paramount importance to the French people.In an increasingly Americanised world they feel duty-bound toprotect it. It is appreciated if visitors can speak a few words ofFrench. Locals do not respond well to being shouted at in English.While the food is second to none, foreigners may find the servicein many restaurants sloppy. Waiters can appear rude (particularlyin Paris) and take their time. This is just the way they are.Traditional games such as (similar to lawn bowling but played on gravel) arepopular in village squares, but the national sports are football,rugby and cycling. Smoking in public places is not allowed and willincur heavy fines.
Business etiquette is important in France. A smart, fashionablesense of dress is common as the nation prides itself on . Punctuality is not always observed though andthe 'fashionably late' tactic may be applied. A handshake is thecommon 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 toenjoy food. Business hours are generally 9am to 6pm, Monday toFriday.
The international access code for France is +33. Most publictelephones accept phone cards, which are available in newsagents.Mobile phones can be used in France, but be sure to check roamingcosts before travelling. It is often cheaper to get a local simcard from providers such as Orange or Bouygues. Free wifi isavailable in most hotels, cafes, restaurants and similarestablishments.
Travellers from non-EU countries over 17 years of age enteringFrance can bring in the following items duty-free: 200 cigarettes,or 100 cigarillos, or 50 cigars, or 250g tobacco (if you enter byair or sea). 40 cigarettes, or 20 cigarillos, or 10 cigars, or 50gof tobacco (if you enter by land). Four litres of wine and 16litres of beer and one litre of spirits over 22 percent or twolitres of alcoholic beverages less than 22 percent. Other goods upto the value of €430 for air and sea travellers, and €300 for othertravellers (reduced to €150 for children under 15 years ofage).
Maison de la France (Tourist Information Agency), Paris: +33(0)1 4296 7000 or www.franceguide.com
French Embassy, Washington DC, United States: +1 202 9446195.
French Embassy, London, United Kingdom: +44 (0)20 7073 1000.
French Embassy, Ottawa, Canada: +1 613 789 1795.
French Embassy, Pretoria, South Africa: +27 (0)12 425 1600.
French Embassy, Canberra, Australia: +61 (0)2 6216 0100.
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.
South African Embassy, Paris: +33 (0)1 5359 2323.
Australian Embassy, Paris: +33 (0)1 4059 3300.
Irish Embassy, Paris: +33 (0)1 4417 6700.
New Zealand Embassy, Paris: +33 (0)1 4501 4343.