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Food & Wine: France through Bordeaux & the Loire Valley11 days from $2,749 (USD)
Get a taste of the country’s renowned regions in the west.
Gorgeous, historic France hardly needs an introduction. The foremost world travel destination for the last 20 years shows no signs of experiencing a letup in its well-deserved, tremendous popularity. From the glittering cultural mecca that is Paris to the sun-dappled Cote d’Azur and the sweeping green valley of the Loire, the geographic and cultural diversity of this European powerhouse ensures that every traveler will find something to capture their heart.
It’s almost easier to list the things for which France is not known than to attempt cataloguing its formidable assortment of attractions. The country is a gastronomic powerhouse known for some of the most exquisite cuisine in the world. Its cities are prosperous, cultured, and riddled with art, history, and entertainment; its countrysides are textbook examples of pastoral perfection. The French beaches are prized as sun-drenched playgrounds for the rich and famous, and the mountains offer world-class winter sporting. Its history spans thousands of years, its culture is cutting-edge, and its fashions lead the world. Historically, it has birthed countless luminaries of philosophy, literature, arts, and intellectualism.
The scope of your French adventure will be limited only by your imagination! Whether you prefer sedate afternoons whiling away the hours at a cozy little bistro watching the world go by or strutting your stuff on the shore at a packed beach resort, you are sure to find it here. You can hike the hills, shop for couture, seek the face of God, or lose yourself at an all-night dance party. Singles and lovers, old and young, families and business travelers will all find a bit of France waiting to connect with them like the perfect fit of a puzzle piece.
Top Sights in France
A world unto itself awaits in enormous, exquisite Paris. The City of Lights is packed wall-to-wall with famous attractions and sights, but its hidden treasures could fill a guidebook all by themselves. The obvious heart of the city is the illuminated, soaring Eiffel Tower. Take the lift or brave the stairs for a birds-eye view of the city spread out below, snap pictures, and pick up souvenirs from the vendors hawking their wares at the base. Then it’s off to the glittering crystal pyramid through which you enter the Louvre, home of the Mona Lisa among countless other priceless works. You’ll pass beneath the iconic Arc de Triomphe on your way to the Champs-Élysées, the chestnut-lined “most beautiful avenue in the world” Pause for a moment of reflection at the Notre Dame cathedral or to gawk at the stained-glass masterpieces of Ste-Chapelle. Catch dinner at a classic bistro with chalk menus, checkered tablecloths, and tight seating, and cap it off with a peek at the can can girls of the Moulin Rouge! There’s Disneyland Paris and the glittering palace of Versailles as well. Paris is a shock to the system, a jolt of raw human energy, full of beauty so profound it’s physically affecting.
The Three Corniches of Nice wrap from Nice to Monaco, and then on to Italy. These famed coastal roads attract daredevils and sightseers alike to marvel at their hairpin turns and precarious views of Europe’s best-known coastline. Nice is the fun, fashionable “Queen of the Riviera,” a destination ubiquitous to those who seek the good life. You’ll draw deep breaths of the invigorating Mediterranean air as you explore the land of Hitchcock and Grace Kelly, and let your sense of beauty run wild as you stroll the waterfront promenade. Lace up your walking shoes to explore Place Rossetti (no cars allowed!), where a grand fountain and a beautiful cathedral lend a classic provincial feel to the town. Try the ice cream—it is delicious! You can also climb the cliffs, as locals do, for a majestic view of the stony beach below.
Situated on the border of the English Channel, history remembers Normandy as the site of the Allied D-Day invasion during World War II in 1944. Today, the beaches of Normandy welcome countless visitors fascinated by their historical significance. A cemetery and memorial dedicated to those who lost their lives during the invasion make for a sobering visit, but one appropriate to the gravity of the situation. Otherwise, the beaches are tranquil and the seaside villages picturesque. The foremost visual landmark in Normandy is Mont St. Michel, a UNESCO World Heritage Site located on a rocky island off the lower coast that Gallic mythology held to be a sea tomb for the souls of the dead. This medieval town (accessible only by a long man made causeway) is dominated by a huge, beautiful Benedictine Abbey that was used as a prison during the Revolution.
The treasures of the earth are celebrated in bountiful Provence. Sweet summer garlic, juicy ripe melons, and world-famous black truffles abound in season here. The markets swell with fresh produce, and perhaps no market anywhere is quite as well known as that of Aix-en-Provence. Stock up on toothsome veggies, fresh and dried herbs, scores of olive varieties, and flavored oils. Fruits of the sea come plentifully as well. Down by the port one can find fish caught within the same day. It should go without saying that fantastic dining is a huge part of any traveler’s “to do” list when in Provence. Sleepy traditional villages, stunning lavender fields, and marvels like Carmague National Park put the topper on Provence’s well-deserved reputation for natural wonders of all kinds.
The Loire Valley
High rates of tourism are typical in the Loire Valley, which is most famous for its picturesque chateaux, or castles. The central portion of the valley has been named a World Heritage Site for being “an exceptional cultural landscape of great beauty.” Indeed, the fairytale castles in this valley are nothing if not lovely. Soaring turrets, quaint chapels, glistening ballrooms… the chateaux bring out the hopeless romantic in all but the most jaded of travelers. In addition, the fertile valley through which the Loire river runs is known as one of the foremost winemaking regions in France. Tours and tastings are abundant, and in the summer months a number of wine festivals celebrate the local vintages. Quaint Orleans is not only home to some of the most famous chateaux (the Chateau d'Azay-le-Rideau and Chateau Royal de Chambord, specifically), but is dedicated to Joan of Arc, the local saint and heroine of legend.
The French Riviera
Called the Cote d’Azur in French, this coastline is a showstopper by any name. Nice is the most prominent destination on the French Riviera, but far from the only one with global name recognition. These beaches are famed for the reason. The rich and beautiful frolic in the crystalline waters, hopping from island to island on enormous luxury yachts. Beachgoing is a near-year round delight, as a magic combination of sea breezes and sun keeps both summer and winter mild. There is Cannes, home of the renowned eponymous film festival as well as smart boutiques and swank eateries. The attractive and affluent stroll the promenade of Le Croisette, the curve of which wraps around the bay. Saint-Tropez is a playground for socialites and rap stars, but families and those not quite as flamboyant enjoy the sun, sand, and surf equally. And, of course, there’s the fairytale principality of Monaco. Tiny, glamorous, and insanely gorgeous, this small kingdom is known for succulent flora, Formula One racing, and an opulent casino.
|Primary Airports: Paris - Charles de Gaulle Airport (CDG), Paris Orly Airport (ORY), Nice Airport (NCE)|
|Currency: Euro (EUR)|
|Population: 65,700,000 (2012 pop)|
|Electricity: 230V/50Hz (French plug)|
|Time Zone: UTC + 1|
France Travel Reviews
All Too Brief Visit to France
I arrived in France after five months backpacking across Europe. I capped my trip with a visit to the Taizé monastery, an ecumenical and profoundly musical place thick in the Burgundy countryside. It was Palm Sunday and thousands of young people from across Europe descended on the place to sing, worship, and wander through those beautiful green hills.
Afterwards, I went to Paris for the first time. I was nervous because I didn't speak French and I didn't have a place to stay. I asked a young man, a friend of one of my Taizé friends, where I could find a good place to stay within the city that was cheap. He told me the guest room in his parents' house was free, and I spent the next three days with his family touring the Louvre, Eiffel Tower, and wandering the streets and numerous cafés that make Paris so memorable. As someone who had studied archaeology and history in college, I was particularly amazed by all that the Louvre had to offer beyond its troves of art, and wished I could have camped out there and wandered its hallways for a week. However, that would have kept me away from pastries, coffee, and homemade coq au vin, not to mention the beautiful basilica of Sacré-Coeur on butte Montmartre, which offers a great view and caught me off guard as my favorite part of the city. Though I spent just ten days in France, I'm still spellbound by it.
Beautiful, Cultural Paris
I traveled with my family to Paris, France, for a five day trip in honor of my sister's high school graduation. We stayed in Montparnasse in the 14th arrondissement, which we liked since it was away from the busier areas but still close enough to all of the sites. We primarily used the Metro system to get around; it was inexpensive, reliable, and easy to navigate, even for people like myself who aren't fluent in French.
My family loves visiting cultural sites, so we focused on the history and art in Paris. The Opera Garnier--where Gaston Leroux's novel The Phantom of the Opera is set--was stunning from an architectural perspective. We were sad to miss seeing a show!
We took a walk through the art history of France by visiting the Louvre, the Musee d'Orsay, and the National Museum of Modern Art at the Centre Pompidou. The Louvre's gigantic collection can be overwhelming, so don't try to cram too much into your first visit. If you want to see the Mona Lisa, go early, as there's often a line to see da Vinci's famed painting. The Musee d'Orsay focuses on Impressionist art, so if you're a fan of Monet, Picasso, or Degas, this museum should not be skipped. The Centre Pompidou was a work of art both inside and out!
Overall, our visit was quite enjoyable. We weren't able to see everything in such a short visit, and I hope we're able to return again soon.
Budget-friendly Weekend in Paris
On a free weekend from teaching abroad in Spain, I traveled to Paris for a quick and inexpensive getaway. I spent one day marveling in the Musee d’Orsay and the Louvre Museum. If art is your thing, plan for an entire day as each museum has so much to see that it can be quite overwhelming to try and see it all. When it comes to the Mona Lisa, anticipate a small wait time since many visitors line up daily just to get a glimpse of her. Afterwards, visit the Cathédrale Notre-Dame, which is just across the street from the Louvre, to admire the gargoyle stonework and elaborate stained glass windows. I enjoyed walking the cobblestone streets filled with street entertainers and vendors. It was easy enough to get around on foot, but I recommend wearing a good pair of comfortable walking shoes. If you love all things gastronomy, Paris is a good choice as it is known for its breads, cheeses and wines. The Jardin du Luxembourg offers a great place for a picnic. The sunset tour on the Bateau Mouche was the highlight of the weekend as it offered a wonderful view of many of Paris’ main attractions such as the Eiffel Tower, the Grand Palais, and others. Next time I will opt for the dinner tour though. Although I traveled on a small budget, it did not limit my experience in the City of Lights as there is so much art, architecture and history, and food for all to appreciate without breaking your bank.
First Time in France
Our first visit to France was over the Rhine from the east. During my Army military service, I was assigned to the 130th Station Hospital in Heidelberg, where as an accompanied married soldier I lived in an off-post apartment on the German economy, a wonderfully lucky assignment when so many others were off to Vietnam. Strasbourg was the first of many day trips and weekend excursions from Heidelberg.
Strasbourg is a frontier city of both French and German heritage. Part of the Germanic Holy Roman Empire throughout the Middle Ages, it became French in 1681 as a prize of Louis XIV's military campaign to acquire all territory west of the Rhine.
The first sight to see in Strasbourg is always the massive, magnificent gothic cathedral Our Lady of Strasbourg, on which construction began in the 12th Century and ended in the 15th. The original design was for two towers on the west façade, but only the north tower, completed in 1439, was built. From 1647 to 1874 the tower was the world's tallest building. The enormous stained-glass rose window, 45 feet in diameter, floods the interior on sunny days with bright, colorful luminescence. Throughout the vast nave and aisles, there are no pews nor seating fixtures for the faithful, only hundreds of plain, portable wooden frame chairs.
The cathedral and surrounding picturesque architecture of half-timbered buildings on quaint, narrow streets and arcades interspersed by spacious squares and plazas are mostly on the Grande Isle (Big Island) of the River Ill, a tributary of the Rhine, the historic city center. We walked for a while, then rented bicycles so we could see more in less time. There are no long, steep hills in and around the city center, so we toured in total comfort.
Food in Strasbourg is as fabulous as any in France. We ate at the Brasserie au Dauphin," "in the shadow of the cathedral," as the menu says, and could not have been happier with our shared order of foie gras and salad followed by braised veal with mushroom sauce and Alsatian sauerkraut with six meat garnishes accompanied by bitter, cold, foamy Kronenbourg beer and Alsatian Gewurztraminer wine.
Enjoy Brittany and Normandy
The lure of a Eurail Pass is that you are unlimited in travel throughout European popular regions, and I chose Brittany and Mont Saint-Michel to visit after enjoying Paris some years earlier. On the way to my ultimate destination of Mont Saint-Michel on the Atlantic Coast, I strolled around Rennes, the capital of Brittany. Rennes in April was cool but not cold; its clouds and rain made visiting the Museum of Fine Arts of Rennes all the more appealing as an indoor pursuit. I admired the sculptures of Pierre-Charles Lenoir and at the gift shop purchased a ring crowned with a finely-wrought gold rose. After a meal of Coucou de Rennes chicken and Petit Gris melons with cider at Marche des Lices, France's second largest market, I boarded the train for Mont Saint-Michel in Normandy. The train goes only as close as Pontorson, with a bus the 11.8 kilometers rest of the way, but I decided to hike in on the long flat road out to the World Heritage Site island. In the distance, the Mont was tiny but as I walked it grew and grew until I could see why it was the inspiration for Minas Tirith in 'The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King' film. The abbey topping the mount supplied the perfect spiritual climax to the climb, because after the lower levels' shops and restaurants, which originally were the stores for the monastery, I stood in the monastery's tower. Overlooking the Atlantic, which was draped in gray clouds, then turning to the broad flat land of France to the east, was an unforgettable experience. I would recommend anyone visiting the Mont to inquire about getting to the actual island, since hiking is not for everyone, but I would do this again with pleasure.
A Family Trip Through France
Last year, my family traveled to France on vacation. We visited Paris, Chantilly, Lourdes and Cannes. Paris was beautiful and a gem that all should see in their lifetime. Every street displays a piece of history, and the food is simply fantastic. Some of my greatest memories of this city include a visit to the Louvre, plan to spend an entire day, and our trip to the Cathedral of Notre-Dame because of the unique picture of Paris’ history and art that each provided. We stayed in a friend’s apartment and enjoyed our breakfasts and lunches from vendors offering croissants, coffee, sandwiches, and my favorite, crepes. We really got a taste for how the locals live while also saving money for more elaborate dinners. In Chantilly, our accommodations were in a small castle that has been converted to a bed and breakfast. There are many of these in that area, and they provide a glimpse into the past that is charming, unique and romantic. Lourdes was a bit of a disappointment because of the touristy nature of this spiritual city. You only need to spend a few hours visiting the springs here, and make sure to bring your own bottle to collect a sample of the water or plan to pay a pretty penny for one there. Our trip ended in Cannes where we stayed at the JW Marriott. This was our splurge but worth every penny. Enjoy the beaches, and make sure to try the oysters while you are there.
My Quest for Culture and Relaxation in the South of France
Last year, I decided to finally travel to the south of France. The timing was perfect as I was between jobs, and I wanted to spend time in a place that allowed me to relax and refocus my professional goals. The south of France was the perfect destination for this venture thanks to the provincial towns, scenic vistas and unique cultural touchstones.
The first town that I recommend to all travelers keen on exploring the south of France is Roussillon. Well off the beaten path, this town plays home to a mere 1,300 inhabitants. Nonetheless, I adored this town for its unique, provincial homes and its renowned ochre deposits. These deposits range from bright yellows to rich reds and hiking through the ‘sentier des ochres’ allows you to take them all in. I will never forget sipping my espresso at sunset and watching the ochre-colored homes change colors before my eyes.
Next I would recommend visiting Avignon, located in Provence. A papal city during the 14th century, much of the architecture in this city has a distinct Catholic influence. The city square is thriving, and I had the pleasure of watching a touring orchestra perform there during my stay. The square also has some of the most inviting cafes and restaurants, with croissants and other pastries that are simply sinful. During my travels, these two cities are the ones that inspired and relaxed me the most. They deserve a visit at least once in your lifetime.
Exploring France by Road
A simply spectacular way to explore France is by road. With the freedom to make all the stops you want, you have an entire country bursting with culture, architecture, food, countryside, vineyards and quaint alleyways to revel in. My family and I spent twelve days there, three in majestic Paris and the rest traveling along highways, byways and narrow streets in and around the French Riviera.
In Paris, besides the usual tourist attractions like the Louvre and Eiffel Tower are definitely Place the Vosges - the oldest square in the city, where highly acclaimed Frenchmen such as Victor Hugo once lived, Montmatre - close to the famous cabaret, Moulin Rouge; boulevard of the bold, the brash, the elegant and the sacred, all beating to the rhythm of Paris. The metro is a great way to tour this dazzling city. Versailles, with its sprawling and magnificent palace of Marie Antoinette and Louis the XVI is just an hour by train.
Driving from Paris to the southeast was an exhilarating experience of towns like Mougins, home of renowned artists, such as Picasso, numerous art galleries lined along cobblestone streets with artists-in-residence there to meet with you, gourmet cuisine to tantalize the most discerning taste-buds, and medieval St. Paul de Vence - home of Marc Chagall and his masterpieces of mosaic and art.
A lifetime isn't enough to see all of France, but steep into it while you can.
Trip of a lifetime in a hot air balloon
Great company , great tours , lunches and wines ,Giving hot air balloon trip up and down to children and villagers on last nite , Buddy Bombard , a great raconteur and host. The wonderful hot air balloon pilots and crew , dinners in the Castle Keep with roaring fires after the evening ballon ride . Wonderful memories!
Paris in Seven Random Thoughts
Seven random things to remember about traveling to Paris from Seattle:
1.) Connect through Amsterdam—it’s infinitely better than flying six hours to Philadelphia, going through America’s worst airport, and waiting another hour and a half on the tarmac before continuing on to CDG. The flight to Amsterdam is comfortable, the airport is friendly and efficient, and you get to travel over the North Pole.
D.) Travel in the early spring—you’ll be walking around a ton, so you’ll want nice weather, but not too hot. Paris is made for walking—bridges over the Seine, street crepes, Louvre, Musee d’Orsay, Rodin, outdoor markets, cafes, Père Lachaise Cemetery, Notre Dame, Eiffel Tower at night, and the most beautiful people in the world are all best explored with that leisurely European pace that makes a wristwatch feel like a shackle.
VI.) Food—this is obvious, but some people will have some shyness when actually venturing out into the culinary mecca. Guide books will help. Recommendations from friends will reveal some gems. Ducking into some hole-in-the-wall restaurant is a great plan. Bottom line: try everything…it’s Paris.
7.) Versailles—a lot of folks won’t make the extra effort to take a half-day trip to Versailles, but I can assure you it is worth it. The palace is probably the level of opulence you’d expect, but the scale of the grounds is phenomenal. Even though I entered the gates with several hundred other tourists, I was able to find solitude in a garden the size of a football field.
B.) The Seine—there’s something magical about this river through the city. Paris truly has a feeling and life of its own and the Seine might very well be the source of animation for the “Movable Feast.” Watching the sun set from your favorite bridge will be worth the entire trip.
3.) Rails—for those who hate to backtrack while walking, the Metro signs peppered throughout the city are friendly reminders that you’re never more than a few moments from start.
V.) People—this is a major city, so there’s going to be diversity in attitudes as well as cultures, so you’ll want to be just as patient with others as you’d hope for in return. Most people will tell you that attempting to speak French will get you a long way in the city. While that is very true, I’ve also found that a vast majority of vendors in the city will speak “un peu” English (roughly translated as “about as much as you) and folks in the outlying cities are less likely to understand, but probably more eager to help.