The most visited country in the world, and for good reason.
What doesn't France have?
Mountains, forests, the sea, art, architecture, history, food, wine...no matter what you want, it is here.
It is my favorite place to visit, also. I have spent months in this country, and yet there is so much more to see. After all, it is larger than California, and has 40 cities with a population of over 100,000...and each with its own personality. Not to mention the hundreds of beautiful little villages and national parks throughout out the country.
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No trip to France would be complete without a return to Paris. I cannot get enough of this city. There is always more to explore. And re visiting places like The Louvre or the Musee D'Orsay or Versailles never get old.
Summer or winter...there is still the same wonderful art, history, and architecture. The people are still as lovely. The parks are still wonderful to walk through.
It also happens to be the gourmet capital of Europe
The birthplace of Cezanne, and when you see how beautiful it is, you will understand the inspiration.
Top things to see in Aix-en-Provence
Fontaine de la Rotonde
Gathering place near the city center, this fountain in the plaza was built in 1860 and features 3 statues representing art, justice, and agriculture. Great place to enjoy lunch at one of the surrounding cafes.
Hôtel de Caumont
Just on the south side of the city center, this 18th century mansion is housing art exhibits. Personally, I prefer this over the Cezanne Museum.
Paroisse Cathédrale Saint Sauveur Aix-en-Provence
Built between the 12th and 19th centuries, it incorporates different styles like Gothic and Romanesque. it even still uses parts of the baptistry form a 6th century church
For more modern art, like Picasso and other 20th century artists, visit the Musee Granet in a refurbished chapel.
Getting to and around Aix-en-provence
If you are not driving a car during your trip, Aix-en-Provence is a perfect day trip from Marseilles. It is just a 1 hour train ride from St Charles station in Marseilles to Gare d'Aix en Provence. Then, AIP is very walkable once you get there. From the train station, it is just a 5-10 minute walk into the center and just 15 minutes across to the Cathedral. No need for transportation here.
City on the north known for its magnificent Amien Cathedral and also the floating markets on the canals. The grandeur of the Cathedral is impossible to capture on camera. Just look at the people next to the red doors.
Top things to see in Amiens
Cathédrale Notre-Dame d'Amiens
The largest cathedral you will find in France. Built in the 13th century, It was built to contain the head of St. John the Baptist, brought back from the Crusades. The dimensions are stunning. For example, the roof is supported by 126 columns. The doors and the sculptures around them are quite worthy of the grandest church in the country.
Musée De Picardie
19th century building featuring both archeological exhibits and art exhibits
Just a few minutes walk east from the cathedral past St Pierre park begin the extensive canals of Amien. Often called "green Venice" these canals are dotted with hundreds of gardens. A joy just to walk around.
The papal home in the 14th century, and officially not part of France until the 18th century.
Favorite places in Avignon
Like most medieval towns in France, my favorite thing to do is simply walk around and enjoy the streets. It is very walkable, as the old center is about 1 mile across. But, when you are ready to go inside, here are some the best.
Palais des Papes
Avignon, long under the control of the Catholic Church, housed the Pope's Palace.
Musée Du Petit Palais
14th century Bishop's Palace, now an art museum housing Renaissance works including Botticelli.
14th century city walls with views of the Rhone River.
Just across the river, is more 14th century history with a fortress on the hill. Enjoy it for the history, and for the views.
Wine country, of course. But, the city center along the Garonne Rover is beautiful.
Favorite places in Bordeaux
Miroir d'eau and Place de la Bourse
The "water mirror" is interesting. located between the river and the palace; it creates a cool effect along the Place de la Bourse.
11th century Romanesque church with a 15th century bell tower, the Pey Berland Tower.
Monument aux Girondins and Place des Quinconces
Large plaza on the north side of the city center, with a statue of Michel de Montaigne, and surrounded by parks.
from 1495, the monument was the main gate to the city.
I think I found my favorite city in Southwestern France...Carcassonne. Maybe I was just awed by the old citadel, but the whole city seemed lovely. Great shopping avenues, views of the Pyrenees to the south, and the Haut-Languedoc to the north. Throw in a pretty river running through town and some centuries old architecture, and it is a wonderful place to visit.
Favorite places in Carcassonne
Cité de Carcassonne
To me, the reason for going to Carcassonne. An incredibly impressive rebuilt old town that was created in the 4th century. 27 acres (11 ha) encircled by walls and 52 towers. Just inside this old city, there are days with of things to see, chateau, inquisition museum, haunted house...
when, and if, you tire of touring the Cite; head down the hill back into town and visit the Gothic Cathedral built in the 13 century. and stop at a boulangerie for a croissant, or better yet a pattiserie for some sweets.
The city sits at the base of extinct volcanos, so a lot of the material used is dark volcanic stone. I think it really gives an imposing feel to the churches in town, especially the beautiful 13th century cathedral.
Favorite places in Clermont-Ferrand
what I enjoy most about Clermont-Ferrand is the use of darker volcanic rock. Something you will not see in most of France. it gives an almost foreboding look to the building, especially the cathedral.
Built in the 13th century, it is elevated in the center of town, with plazas next to it (Place de la Victorie and Place de la Bourse). The volcanic rock makes it unique and the fact that the cathedral also has stained glass and murals dating back to the 13th to 15th centuries makes it special.
Place de Jaude
Large, open pedestrian plaza with fountains and statues. a great plaza to take a rest or get a meal..
a small, but beautiful park not far from the center of town. it includes wonderful flower gardens, and a pond.
Grenoble / Vecors
This is such a beautiful area of the country! Alpine lakes, forests, cows wandering around the meadows, and my favorite...what they call a "refuge". Somebody stays in a hut or yurt all summer, and sells refreshments....miles up the trail, away from any towns and roads. I had a cold beer. You know, "When in Rome."
I was also able to explore Grenoble and environs since I was staying nearby in Livet-et-Gavet.
For exploring Grenoble, unlike most cities where you will be in and around the center, here you will explore along the river.
Fort de La Bastille
not as grand as fortresses you will find in other cities, but it gives you a great view of the town from above. And, you can take a cable car up if you don't want to make the 45 minute uphill walk.
Jardin des Dauphins
next to the river, is this park with a fort, a 17th century gate, and a Mediterranean style.
Musée de Grenoble
Next to thew river Isere, the museum is small, but contains both classical and modern art.
In the northeast, near the Belgian border. Now, a university town; the architecture here seems more Flemish than French.
Favorite places in Lille
Place de la République
a great starting point in center of town. Grab a coffee and a croissant at the many cafes, then head directly to the art museum
Palais des Beaux Arts
a large and worthy art museum, covering both modern and classical art. The museum holds over 70,000 pieces and covers over 230,000 sq feet. Here, you will see the likes of Raphael, Rembrandt, Toulouse-Latrec, Rodin, among many others.
Citadelle de Lille
I put this in here, because it seems like it should be the center of tourism in Lille, a 17th century fortress surrounded by parks. But, it is not, as it is still actively used by the military. So, you can walk around it, but there is nothing really to see here. However, the riverside parks are still very nice
Porte de Paris / Beffroi de Lille
17th century Gate built as a monument to Louis XVI capturing the city, and a bell tower that you can climb for views.
Port city in the South. Plenty of space to park your yacht.
There is a lot of great history in this city, the 2nd largest in France. However, to be perfectly honest, the city has faced many challenges with crime. Not that you would feel unsafe here. By American standards, it is not bad. But, one thing I have noticed is that it is the most graffiti affected city in western Europe that I have seen yet. It takes away from what should be beautiful.
Favorite Places in Marseilles
Calanques National Park
It is not terribly convenient to get to from the city by public transportation, but it can be done (it takes 60-90 minutes each way by busses), and is worth the effort. There is some beautiful hiking here, and you can drop down to the sea for wonderful views.
Marseilles is a port city and was well defended, so even this church looks like a fortress. it was built over the 5th century structure. The current abbey was built in the 12th and 13th centuries, but retains the history from the 5th. It was abandoned during the revolution, and rebuilt in the 19th century. A great place to see the religious history of Marseilles.
Museum of Civilizations
Opposite the port from Saint Victor is this former fort turned museum. A great place to explore history and walk along the old walls of the city.
Cathédrale La Major
Large 19th century Cathedral built with striped stone in the Byzantine style. an easy walk from the port.
Basilique Notre-Dame de la Garde
sitting at the highest point of the city makes this basilica extra special.
Built between 1864 and 1892, like La major, it is not old, but it is impressive!
A quick stop in Nancy on a train layover. Wish I had more time! So many beautiful plazas, it makes me wonder what else is here. I might have to return to find out.
Place de la Carrière
Basilica of Saint Epvre of Nancy
Place de la Carrière
Place de la Carrière
Basilica of Saint Epvre of Nancy
It was a beautiful city, and I love the addition of a little whimsy.
You can visit the 15th century castle and then stop by the Les Machine de I'Ile and see people operate a giant spider or elephant.
Then, walk by the 600 year old cathedral, or head to the art museum, and follow it with a walk through the park with sculptures and an enormous park bench.
Coincidentally, there also happened to be a carnival in town when I went.
The city is inspiring, interesting and fun. Great place to visit!
Favorite Places in Nantes
Les Machines de l'Île
Normally, I mention art and history and architecture, but this place is fun. Large machines built like animals or insects, operated by people, including guests. When I went, the tour was just in French, and I didn't inquire of there was ever an English tour. But, there were other English speakers in our group and they made us feel welcome and included.
Château des ducs de Bretagne
The heart of Nantes, and very impressive. a Multi story history of the town, plus temporary art exhibitions, a large courtyard and walls with a moat. really cool!
A little northeast of the town center, and behind the train station, this is a very nice botanical garden. I grabbed a baguette, and enjoyed lunch here looking over the flower gardens.
Narbonne / Perpignan / Beziers / Valras
The coastal cities in the Southwest of France, and nearing Spain. As you get down to Perpignan, you are more likely to hear Catalan spoken as French, plus some Spanish. This is a great place to be if you like sitting on a beach while looking at snow capped peaks.
I really thought this would be the area I would like most to settle down for the long term, but I think I still like Lyon better.
Favorite places in the Southwest
Salses Fortress - Perpignan
Located 10 miles north of Perpignan, on the way to Narbonne; this brick fortress built by the Spanish in the 16th century to guard the French and Catalan border. It became French territory after 1659.
Palais des Rois de Majorque - Perignan
A gothic Palace built in the 13th century for King James II of Majorca.
Saint-Just et Saint-Pasteur Cathedral - Narbonne
a cathedral built between 1272 and 1340, but not completed. Located right next to the 13th century Palais-Musée des Archevêques
Plateau des Poètes - Bezier
Beautifully landscaped park along a hill over the train station, linking the lower town and the upper.
One of the fun things about France is that they have mountains everywhere. The Alps to the Southeast, The Jura and Vosges in the east, and the Pyrenees in the southwest. I have been lucky enough to be able to get in some hiking in all of those.
I haven't chosen a favorite, so I guess I will have to go back and do some more hiking. But, so far I lean towards preferring the Pyrenees. Kind of a goldilocks thing...not too high, not too short.
The capital of Brittany in the northwest. Known for its timbered houses and grand cathedral.
Favorite things to see in Rennes
Parc du Thabor
quite a large and popular park with varied spaces like a botanical garden and open lawns. It is easily accessible as it is just a couple thousand feet east of the city center.
Musée des Beaux-Arts de Rennes
located on the river, just east of the center, it is quite a nice museum with impressive works. It is not too busy, so if you want to enjoy masterpieces in relative peace, this is a good place for it.
Parliament de Bretagne
Just a beautiful building and plaza. It was originally a 17th century palace now used as the Court of Appeals.
Saint-Pierre de Rennes Cathedral
The small courtyard means this cathedral will tower over you as you approach. It is relatively young, as it was built after the revolution.
an industrial and mining town an hour south of Lyon.
The favorite thing to do is tour the Couriot Mine Museum. Unfortunately, when I visited, I didn't realize that booking ahead was required, so I didn't get to visit. Also, most tours are in French only, so check for other languages if you need them.
So, I was limited to walking around the city center, and was able to see the Saint-Étienne cathedral and the Grand'Église de Saint-Étienne.
There is also a Modern and Contemporary Art Museum 2.5 miles north of town that is quite nice.
Strasbourg and Alsace
There are some great Alsacian villages around Strasbourg to visit, like Eguisheim and Ribeauville, plus the Chateau on the hill, Chateau de haut Koenigsbourg; and the city itself has some amazing architecture. I was able to visit Strasbourg Cathedral. Unfortunately, it is so huge, I couldn't get a full picture of it.
To tour Strasbourg, start in the center, which is actually an island, the Grand Ile of Strasbourg.
Favorite Places in Strasbourg
Notre Dame de Strasbourg Cathedral
Undoubtedly, the highlight of Strasbourg. Built between the 12th and 15th centuries; it has a rose window and clock form the 16th century. it is an impressively tall cathedral, reaching 466 feet at the spires.
Covered Bridges of Strasbourg
4 towers and 3 bridges built in the 13th century. Plus, don't forget the small Pont du Faison nearby. Just walking around this area of town is incredibly quaint.
I enjoy this plaza in the center of the island, not just for the openness and the statue of General Kleber, but to enjoy the architecture of the town, which is very different form traditional French architecture. You feel more like you are in Germany, which makes sense, since you are only 3 miles away.
Toulouse is known as the "Pink City" because of its architecture using much more brick than other French cities, which are normally populated with dominantly grey and beige buildings. And, Toulouse has a deep Roman history from the 1st to 4th centuries which was fascinating to learn about.
It is much less based on tourism, as Toulouse is the center for aerospace in France with companies like Airbus, Rolls Royce, CNES, and Dassault. That is good in some ways as I get to see more authentic France. But, when the tourist in me comes out, there is less to do. But, don't miss the 600 year old Pont Neuf. The Domincan Couvent des Jacobins that houses Thomas Aquanis Tomb and Saint Stephen's Cathedral.
I was fortunate to be visiting during Bastille Day and was able to enjoy the free concerts and the fireworks.
Tours and Loire Valley
I spent some time in Tours, at the head of the Loire Valley, and was able to get in some biking and Chateau visits.
The ability to bike from chateau to chateau, and along the Loire River, and through vineyards all make this my favorite place to bike in Europe so far.
To me, spending time in the city of Tours was nice, but being in Loire Valley is all about visiting the chateaus. and, there are too many to list here!