France Travel Guide
Nice Carnival, France
Driving to France from the UK, hints and links on ferries, tolls, speeding controls, insurance.
Guide to France's main holiday attractions:
Ile du France: (a region around Paris)
The North and Jura:
*Strasbourg a pretty European city, dominated by the awesome **Cathédrale de Notre-Dame in pink sandstone.
**Amiens Cathedral, France's largest chunk of Gothic architecture; especially marvellous during the sound and light show on summer evenings.
*Champagne tasting at Epernay.
The Loire Valley, France
The Loire Valley:
***The World Heritage region is huge, tranquil and pastoral yet loaded with extraordinary chateaux, castles, forests, sunflower fields and of course the lazy old Loire River. Great for driving or cycling. For more information and pictures see Loire Valley Pictures
*Dijon, one of the France's most inviting provincial cities, known for it's mustard and an ideal base for staggering around the Côte d'Or vineyards. It has several notable museums, too. Do not miss **the Hôtel-Dieu (15th century hospital with a multicoloured, patterned roof in the nearby town of Beaune.
**Basilique Sainte Madeleine (a Romanesque church in Burgandy style) in Vézelay and **Fontenay Abbey (Cistercian monastery) near Montbard, despite the herds of tour buses, the magnificent abbeys are worthwhile.
Mont Saint Michel, north-west France
**Mont Saint Michel (World Heritage Site), a magnificent Gothic Abbey on a tiny fortified island, ready to be swept away by marshy waves.
*St-Malo, an attractive medieval port, this is an ideal base to
visit the region's archaeological sights and Celtic culture. (See Festivals)
**Carnac, is one of the world's most important prehistoric sites with more than 5,000 rows of megaliths (huge, standing stones).
***Arcachon, a lovely little summer beach holiday resort surrounded by a massive pine forest and hosting Europe's largest dune. Arcachon pictures and more information
Arcachon beaches, France
***Bordeaux, A sophisticated city with an elegant old town centre of neo-classical architecture, surrounded by globally famous vineyards.
**Biarritz, a popular resort with fine beaches in classy settings, known as one of Europe's best surfing sites. A day-trip (8 km) from Bayonne is possible. Just 20 minutes drive from Biarritz is the stunning little beach resort of St Jean de Luz with a great beach and wonderful Basque architecture.
The Alps mountains, partly bordering Switzerland and Italy:
***Chamonix, a world-famous mountain resort, lies in a valley at the foot of Mont Blanc. It is fashionable and lively, so crowded with hikers and skiers throughout the year.
***Aiguille du Midi offers breathtaking cable-car (one of the world's highest) transport from the town, with spectacular views of the Alpine peaks. Unmissable.
** Mar de Glace, take a train to a glacier cave - another fascinating trip.
**Annecy, one of the most charming towns in the Alps, with a photogenic setting beside Lac d'Annecy (lake), it is always invaded in high seasons.
*** French Ski resorts:
The Dordogne and the Massif Central
**Monpazier, the best preserved 'bastide' (fortified town).
**Carcassonne, a very picturesque medieval city with a well-preserved cité (old fortified town). Remarkable, but you'll need to fortify yourself against all the other France tourists.
Les Eyzies, a bland village but with an excellent Stone Age Museum (Musée National de Préhistoire), this is a prime base for visiting the prehistoric cave arts in the Vèzére valleys, while *Montignac is a pleasant base for the Lascaux caves. The must-see caves are:
***Grotte de Front-de-Guume with a vividly painted 'Frieze of five bison'
**Grotte des Combarelles, ***Grotte de Lascaux and Lascaux II, are known for their fine paintings, including the largest known prehistoric drawing of a bull, 5.5 m in size. Limited tickets are available daily to those sites so it's essential to book ahead in high season.
**The Gorges de l'Ardèche, a gorge starting with the Pont d'Arc, a picturesque and natural stone arch, then winding into the Rhône Valley. Kayaking and canoeing is fantastic way to travel through this scenic landscape.
South of France
Provence/the Rhône Valley:
***Avignon, a delightful place of art and culture situated inside full-on medieval city walls and full of character - and tourists. The main attractions are the ridiculously massive Popes' Palace (tho' more of a fortress than a palace), the sing-song Pont d'Avignon (aka St Bénézet), Cezanne's life and some great museums. It's totally mad to be there during the summer festival, but it's still a must if you speak French.
The totally monstrous 13thC Palais du Papes is at the heart of Avignon
Some other Provence attractions:
**Aix-en-Provence, another pretty and romantic city, known for its avenues of plane trees, classical music festival.
***Arles, the site of Van Gogh's later years and many paintings, is a small, quiet and heavily art-oriented town (especially photography) with a Roman amphitheatre (actually one and a half) and other Roman artefacts as well as endless little curiosities, ancient and modern. The town is stuffed with exhibitions and galleries and is a great strolling place.
Yet another huge Roman amphitheatre, this one in tiny Arles.
**Orange, with France's best preserved Roman theatre.
***Medieval, fortified hilltop villages such as Gordes, Fontaine-de-Vaucluse, Les Baux and Saignon.
***The vast, Roman aqueduct at Pont-du-Gard is built on a Pharaonic scale and offers great walks and bike tracks around, long or short.
***The Gorges du Verdon, France's grandest canyon.
The Riviera and Côte d'Azur are lovely evocative names but the modern reality is traffic, crowds and diminuitive beaches - many of them pay-per-parasol and/or stony, but lots of action, people watching, good and (surprisingly) low cost eating, drinking, shopping. The weather is way better than in north Europe and the Mediterranean is still refreshing!
Monaco is the tiny (less than a square mile), a bit tedious, independent, silly-rich principality embedded in the Riviera between Nice and Menton and worth a drive-thru shooting (pictures of course!).
More-or-less above Monaco hangs the slightly artificial but nevertheless lovely old village of Eze.
Another slighly more natural old fortified village near Nice that's well worth a visit is St Paul de Vence.
Grasse has great history and perfumes but we feel is overcrowded and not worth the hassle.
An hour west of Cannes hangs the wealthy peninsula of St Tropez; just don't head that way at peak times as the main entry route is very narrow and horribly congested.
The Pyrenees mountains bordering Spain in the south:
**Pic du Canigou, a sacred mountain with a Romanesque monastery, St Martin.
**Sarlat-La-Canéda, a beautiful town which attracts visitors for its lovely Renaissance architecture.
Try the region's cuisine, specializing in Truffes du Périgord (black truffles) and Foie gras.
*** The Parc National des Pyrenees covers 460sq km (180 sq miles) of area along the France/Spain border, with Sommet du Vignemale (3,300m), the highest mountain in the Pyrenees. The park is fantastic for climbing and hiking with 350km of trails.
Endless beaches north of Biarritz
A variety are on offer, ranging from big, sandy Atlantic stretches with cool, surfy water to small, warm, crowded strands on the southeast coast where you may have to pay to lay or fight for space. Or head to Corsica for more space, less development and some superb sandy crescents. See France Beach Pictures | Corsica Beaches
Corsican walking trails, Calanches de Piana
A small and rugged island four hours by ferry southeast of Nice in southern France, Corsica is about 160 kms/100miles long and 80kms/50miles at its widest.
The birthplace of Napoleon and still French territory in spite of local demands for independence, Corsica is a popular holiday target not only for local tourisme but also European tourists in search of a mild climate, warm seas, piles of fine sandy beaches and dramatic hiking trails through an unspoilt and picturesque landscape of mountainous red and grey granite outcrops separated by huge swathes of pines and eucalyptus trees.
Chef wannabe? Cooking classes in English run by celebrated chefs
or simpler regional cookery schools are available.