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Table of Contents
- Grand-Est-Region (including Alsace)
- Loire Valley
- Occitanie & Provence
- Taste wine in classic Burgundian villages such as Meursault or Puligny-Montrachet while you mingle with friendly residents. Our highlight was spontaneously meeting a gentleman on the street who invited us into his ancestral home to share a 1982 bottle of Cabernet.
- Admire the magnificent tiled rooftops of the Hospices de Beaune (Hôtel-Dieu de Beaune) and delve into this site’s inspiring history. Later, walk along the cobbled lanes of charming Beaune, which is often referred to as the wine capital of Burgundy.
- Stroll the elegant streets of regal Dijon, once the residence of the dukes of Burgundy. As you do, be on the lookout for Dijon’s famous pain d’epices (similar to gingerbread) and gourmet mustard. They don’t just offer the yellow stuff here, of course. I bought a a raspberry version, another with basil notes, and even a delightful coconut-curry version. Also, pop into Dijon’s magnificent covered market, which features beautiful ironwork.
- Explore Napoléon Bonaparte’s roots in Ajaccio, his birthplace. Here, you’ll find his family’s home, the church in which he was baptized, and many idealized statues devoted to this famous French military commander and leader.
- Hop on a local bus in Ajaccio and journey about 15 minutes along the coast to the Pointe de la Parata. Here, you’ll be met with extraordinary views of the Isles Sanguinaires, which are overlooked by a 500-year-old Genoese watchtower.
- Kick back and relax as you criss-cross Corsica’s mountainous inland via train. We traveled from the city of Bastia (in the northeast) to Ajaccio (on the west coast).
- Meander the quiet backstreets of Bastia’s Terra Nova quarter, which is located in the town’s historic — and still lived-in — quarter. Afterwards, enjoy a meal along the water’s edge along the old harbor in Terra Vecchia.
- Regardless if it’s spring, summer or fall, visit Giverny, Claude Monet’s garden and home, which inspired some of his most famous work (think lily pond and Japanese footbridge paintings). I’ve been to Giverny in the spring and summertime, and I someday hope to see the garden dressed in autumnal hues.
Grand-Est-Region (formerly Alsace)
- Spend the day exploring Colmar, known for its flower-bedecked, half-timbered homes, picturesque canals, wine culture, and link to Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi, who created the Statue of Liberty. A tiny replica of Lady Liberty stands guard in a roundabout on the north side of Colmar.
- Climb to the top of the Strasbourg Cathedral, which was the world’s tallest building for more than two centuries. Watch the celebrated astronomical clock inside the church toll at noon.
- Stroll through Petite France and admire the picturesque quarter’s half-timbered homes whose flower boxes overflow with red geraniums.
- Glide past Strasbourg’s most well-known attractions in a covered glass boat.
- Saint Hippolyte
- Pop into quaint, family-owned wineries and try popular Alsatian grape varietals like Riesling, Sylvaner, and Gewürztraminer.
- From Saint Hippolyte, journey about 7 km to the Château du Haut-Kœnigsbourg, a mighty medieval castle. The drive has some hairpin turns, but the scenic views from the fortress make the effort worthwhile!
- Soar to new heights in a hot air balloon. The Loire Valley views are – unsurprisingly – incredible. Our pilot even turned up the fear factor by tickling the treetops with our basket.
- Avoid ‘château fatigue’ by visiting diverse castles. Our top picks: The Château d’Azay-le-Rideau (where we attended a quirky sound and light show), Clos Lucé (once Leonardo da Vinci’s residence), and the Château de Villandry (because of its incredible formal gardens plus its utilitarian herb garden). Though the Château de Chambord was a bit too flamboyant, its expansive grounds and ornate flair were impressive. My favorite feature was the double helix staircase, supposedly designed by da Vinci.
- Enjoy a concert — and the magnificent interior — at Bordeaux’s 18th-century opera house.
- Île de Ré
- La Rochelle
- Lascaux Caves
- Ascend the bell-tower of Saint-Émilion’s Monolithic Church for glimpses of café-goers in miniature, and superb vineyard views.
- Take to the tertres (the town’s steep cobblestone streets) and soak up the charming architecture overlooking them.
- Be on the lookout for your own photogenic Georges the French Bulldog.
- Whether at a winery or poolside, sip Bordeaux’ fine wine. One night at dinner, the local winemaker sitting next to us even insisted that we try his own wine. He then poured glasses for all to enjoy.
Occitanie & Provence
- Marvel at the incredible Pont du Gard, and the picturesque natural surroundings. We enjoyed a picnic on the grounds, and viewed the ancient Roman aqueduct bridge from varied angles before exploring the museum.
- Ogle at lesser-visited ancient Roman sites in Orange – the theater and triumphant arch are magnificent!
- Explore 2,000-year-old Roman sites in Nîmes. The Arena and Maison Carrée temple are the star sites, but the Tour Magne and Castellum Aquae (end of the Nîmes aqueduct) are interesting too, particularly if you like Roman history.
- Pop into the fresh market in the beautiful town of Uzès; you’ll find everything from dried herbs and essential oil, to tantalizing tapenades.
- Stroll the cobbled streets of the hilltop town of Minerve, which was once a Cathar stronghold.
- Explore the Cité de Carcassonne. By day, this medieval citadel overflows with visitors, but by night – the mood is calm and the fortress is dramatically bathed in floodlights.
- Savor wine. We enjoyed the trying the world’s so-called “first bubbly” in Limoux (Blanquette de Limoux Methode Ancestrale and the less-sweet Blanquette de Limoux Brut). Closer to Nîmes, we sampled rosés and reds in Lirac and Tavel.
- Dance beside Avignon’s famous bridge (while singing the famous song of the same name, of course!), then explore quieter districts. We stumbled upon a charming Sunday flea market on the Plane tree-lined Rue des Teinturiers.
- Tiptoe through the magnificent lavender fields of the Luberon, Valensole, and Sault.
- Saunter through the Père Lachaise Cemetery, where famous personalities such as Édith Piaf, Frédéric Chopin, and Jim Morrison are buried.
- Admire the magnificent stained-glass of the Sainte-Chapelle, which dates back to the 13th century.
- Pay homage to the “Sun King” by making a pilgrimage to opulent Versailles.
- Greet the gargoyles and grotesques as you climb to Notre Dame’s platform.
- Beaune (Burgundy) – We spent three nights at a delightful apartment called Au Coin des Hospices (affiliate link). This stylish and comfortable apartment is located about two minutes away (on foot) from the world-famous Hôtel-Dieu (Hospices de Beaune). You’re also in a prime location for accessing Beaune’s restaurants, cafés, and shops. Our apartment was situated on the top floor of an older building, meaning that it was very quiet. Note that there are several flights of stairs and no elevator. The apartment was exceptionally clean, and the self check-in by lockbox was convenient. The kitchen had a microwave, refrigerator, and stovetop, and the walk-in shower had a glass door to contain the water. (Fully contained shower cabins are sometimes a rarity in French bathrooms, which often have half- glass panels instead.)
- Corsica (city of Bastia) – Set inside the mostly pedestrianized citadel, the Bastia Citadelle: Superbe Appartement (affiliate link) was our home for about one week. This recently refurbished apartment is located in an old building with chapel-like ceilings. The property features a bedroom, living room, kitchen, and sizable bathroom with bathtub and shower. I appreciated the decorative touches such as the kitchen’s blue-and-white tiles (made by an artisan), as well as the atmospheric lighting, and brand-new appliances (dishwasher, oven and stove, microwave and large refrigerator — especially by European standards). Best of all, we were just footsteps away from a stunning view of Bastia’s Old Port and the city’s skyline. We could take either the stairs or the elevator to get from the elevated citadel to the Old Town below. It was also easy to access Bastia’s new seaside walkway — perfect for promenades or jogging! We visited during the wintertime and found it to be extremely quiet in the citadel.
- Corsica (city of Ajaccio) – The Studio Loft Avec Terrasse Centre Historique (affiliate link) is situated in a prime location in Ajaccio’s Old Town. You can walk to the Napoleon Museum (Maison Bonaparte) in about two minutes and the Citadel in about three. The apartment’s picturesque district is also dotted with restaurants and boutiques, and Ajaccio’s covered market is a mere five minutes away. When it came time to leave Corsica, we were able to walk to the ferry terminal in just over 10 minutes. What’s more, this loft apartment has a fabulous rooftop terrace! In one direction you can see mountain peaks, as well as the tower of Ajaccio’s town hall. The apartment is on the top floor of a centuries-old building, with no elevator. We liked this detail since we couldn’t hear the footsteps of neighbors above us. We stayed here for a week in January, but it was still warm enough to enjoy breakfast on our terrace every day. Regardless of which season you visit, hosts Marc and Vanina also offer blankets — and a sun umbrella — to make your terrace time more enjoyable. Finally, I loved the landscape paintings adorning the walls, as well as Vanina and Marc’s tiny library. I spent several happy hours perusing their Corsican cookbooks, comic books, and travel magazines. There were also biographies about Napoleon and Pasquale Paoli.
- Marseille – We were determined to stay in a quiet “cocoon” when we visited the hectic port city of Marseille. Our apartment in the Residhome Marseille (affiliate link) did not disappoint since rooms were adequately soundproofed. In addition, our studio apartment overlooked a quiet courtyard. When we didn’t eat out or pack a picnic, we found that our room’s kitchen had all the basics for making a simple meal. The bed was comfortable, and the hotel was just down the street from the famous Cathédrale La Major. We were able to walk to Marseille’s Vieux Port (Old Port) in about 20 minutes, and the Panier district was also easily reached on foot.
- Pau – We spent 6 pleasant nights at Pau’s Appart – Pau Centre (affiliate link). This studio apartment has a great, central location. For example, it only takes a few minutes to walk to the Boulevard des Pyrénées, as well as Pau’s centre-ville. There’s also a bus stop nearby, which makes it easy to get to Pau’s train station. If you have lots of luggage — like we did — you’ll be delighted that this property has an elevator. This was a pleasant surprise, given that the apartments are housed in a building that’s about 100 years old. The rooms were recently renovated, so the appliances (washing machine, dishwasher, oven and stove, microwave, etc.) were brand new. And since we stayed during the winter months, we loved having a heated towel-bar. The kitchen cabinets were also well-stocked with dishes and cooking equipment. Our room even featured a vintage fireplace; it was purely aesthetic, but added some nice character to the apartment. If you’re a light sleeper, see if you can request a room on the back of the building, away from the street.
- Saint-Émilion (Bordeaux) – Along with Shawn’s parents, we spent two wonderful nights at the Hotel Au Logis des Remparts (affiliate link). We loved the boutique hotel’s pretty courtyard, where breakfast was served. (I especially enjoyed the fresh yogurt. Served in little glasses, it felt as though it came straight from an artisanal creamery.) We spent many many happy hours taking a dip in the hotel’s swimming pool, then enjoying Rosé wine from Provence, poolside. La vie en rose indeed!
- Strasbourg – The Best Western Plus Hotel Villa d’Est (affiliate link) offered us a comfortable stay for one night when we were traveling between Germany and Dijon. While the room was petite, everything was clean and we were within easy walking distance of Strasbourg’s center and the train station. We arrived to Strasbourg late in the evening (unfortunately, Strasbourg’s famed Christmas market had just shuttered up for the night). However, we were happy when the hotel’s employees welcomed us with a complimentary glass of spiced wine and gingerbread cookies. We enjoyed them alongside the fireplace, as we made a vow to return to Strasbourg’s Christmas market in the future.
- Train – SNCF is France’s state-owned railway.
Additional France Resources
- France’s currency is the Euro (EUR). Calculate the current exchange rate.
- Since 1958, France has been been a member of the European Union. It is also part of the Schengen Area.
- France Tourism (official website)