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A travel story from France

By Kim de Leeuw & Elise Guichard

“Bonjour, une baguette s’il vous plait.” Day after day this is my common order when I walk into the deliciously smelling bakery of the village I work in. Eating a French bread has become part of my routine here in France besides drinking wine and having dinner late in the evening. These are just some things that are typically French. After working here for five summers, I have discovered some amazing places in the country and together with Elise, our former intern from France, we have come up with a list of our favourites.

Nature

Étretat

White cliffs and three natural arches, that is what Étretat, in Haute-Normandie, has to offer. You can easily walk up the rocks to get a stunning view over the arches which were originally shaped by a river that was running parallel to the coast line. When you’re there, don’t forget to visit the old center of the town. This looks very pretty too!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cliffs and village of Étretat

The Landes

Les Landes is a French department of the Nouvelle Aquitaine region, located in the South-West part of France, on the Atlantic coast. It is known for its beautiful forests with pine trees and beaches. It is the perfect destination if you are seeking sun and nature! Furthermore, this place offers a range of different activities such as biking, surfing or relaxing at the beach.

 

Corsica

Corsica or “l’île de beauté” (the island of beauty) as French people like to name it, is one of the most famous French islands where most of the French people from mainland France have been at least once in their life. This island is filled with diverse natural places. You can hike in the mountains and have a breathtaking view, enjoy the sun at the beach and see amazing sunsets, have a tour boat and discover cliffs from the sea! If you are a nature lover, it is definitely the place to go for you! Moreover, there are also a lot of animals on the island, it is common to have an encounter with, for example, wild pigs on the road when traveling on the island.

Corsica’s natural beauty

Cities

Lille

Located in the North of France, close to the Belgian border, Lille is the 10th biggest city of the country. This city and its part of France is known for its beers, fries and its typical cheese, Maroilles. When visiting Lille, I would advise you to have a walk in the beautiful city center with its monuments; such as the belfry, the theater and the vieille bourse (the old stock exchange, which is one of the most famous landmarks) and to try some typical food and drinks!

Paris

The French capital Paris, also known worldwide as the city of love, is full of history and places to visit! It is the best place for discovering the French culture and patrimony.  You can have a walk around famous monuments such as the Eiffel tower, the Arc de Triomphe and  the basilique Sacré Coeur. Moreover, there are many museum possibilities as well as tasty food to try out!

Toulouse

Toulouse, La Ville Rose, is a very charming city in the Occitanie region. Every street is colourful and the centre is pretty lively, even during COVID-19 when I visited the city. The city of Toulouse is about 2.000 years old and is home to many treasures. Things you should not miss out on are the Compans Caffarelli , Basilique Saint Sernin , Hôtel d’Assézat and the Capitole on central square. However, what I would highly recommend you to do is to walk around La Daurade, the promenade by the river Garonne, and hop on the ferris wheel to enjoy some nice views over the city.

City of Toulouse

Montpellier

Montpellier is a city in the Occitanie region, in the south of France, that I could come back to over and over again. The city is vibrant and the atmosphere is amazing. There is always something fun to do here. When visiting Montpellier, I would advise you to start at Place de la Comédie, the vibrant heart of the city. From there, you can discover the rest of the old town with its medieval streets and beautiful courtyards. You can combine a vacation to Montpellier with a visit to the Salagou lake , the Camarque , Carcassonne or the city of Narbonne . Our favorites Sète and Nîmes are also not too far away!

Arc de Montpellier

Grenoble

Grenoble, capital of the French Alps, is a cozy student city and ideal base for a skiing holiday. However, also when there is no snow the city is definitely worth a visit. The main tourist attraction is the so-called bubbles , the cable car that brings you to the Bastille fort. From here you have an amazing view over the city, the Vercors massif, Chartreuse and, with good weather, the Mont Blanc. At the top, you can also find the Mountain Troops Museum, participate in the Acrobastille ropes course, enjoy fine dining or visit parts of the fort. Make sure to make your way down again on time to walk around the historical center and have a drink at one of the many terraces.

View from the Bastille

Villages and small towns

Beuvron-en-Auge

Once I had read that Beuvron-en-Auge is supposedly one of the prettiest villages in France, I knew I had to pay a visit to this tiny village and it definitely did not disappoint. Wherever in the village you are, you can see charming, half-timbered houses from the 17th and 18th century. Wander around the village and make sure not to miss the central square. I am sure you will like this place as much as I did! You can add Beuvron-en-Auge as a stop when you are following France’s cider route or when you are visiting the Calvados region in Normandy.

Coloured houses of Beuvron-en-Auge

Honfleur

Let’s talk about another destination in Calvados, Normandy: Honfleur. The village is known for its port and I don’t think I have seen a prettier port than this one. If you don’t believe me, just have a look at the photo below. The colourful buildings along the port are truly enchanting and have always formed a great inspiration for artists like Monet. However, Honfleur is more than just the port and I would recommend to discover this town by foot. There are plenty of nice shops, pretty streets, traditional markets and cozy squares. 

Harbour of Honfleur

Pont-en-Royans

France is home to countless charming villages and Pont-en-Royans is one of them. If you are visiting the Vercors region, Pont-en-Royans is a great place to visit. Eyecatchers of this village are the houses and their balconies that are hanging over the river Bourne, but you should definitely walk down to the river as well. With its cold water, the river is the ultimate place to cool down during one of these warm summer days in France. You can find a great mix of locals and tourists having a picnic along the riverside. Other highlights of the village are the Musée de l’Eau and the old feudal tower. Only a couple of minutes away from the villages, you can find the Cascades Blanches , a stunning waterfall hidden in the woods, and the Grotte de Choranche, housing bright white stalactites.  

Historical places

Nîmes

Nîmes was an important outpost of the Roman empire and that is still visible today. Amongst others, you can find Roman temples, an amphitheatre, a watch tower and a city park filled with Roman remains. I loved walking around all these ancient remnants. However, keep in mind that these highlights are quite far away from each other, so you definitely need to take out a full day to visit this beautiful city. Especially because there is much more to do than just visiting the Roman remains. 

Roman Remains in Nîmes

Pont du Gard

Another Roman remainder is the Pont du Gard. This aqueduct was once 50 kilometres long, but nowadays only a small part is left. You only realise how big and majestic the aqueduct is when you are walking next to it. Or on it. This waterbridge is a truly impressive piece of architecture and a must see in my opinion. 

 

 

Aqueduct Pont du Gard

Palais des Papes – Avignon

Avignon is mostly known for being the former residence of the popes. The whole historic centre is considered a UNESCO World Heritage Site, but I think the Palais des Papes is the most impressive. This is where you can see how the former popes used to live. When you get closer to the palace, it almost looks like a fortress. The palace was built in such a way that it was impossible to conquer it. Other interesting sites are the Pont d’Avignon and the Place de l’Horloge. 

Palais des Papes in Avignon

 

Mont Saint-Michel

Is there something more idyllic than Mont Saint-Michel? The island even inspired the creators of Disney’s movie Tangled. For years, the island had been an important pilgrimage destination, but now it is filled with tourists. Try to avoid the peak season, because during these days you won’t be able to take one step without bumping into somebody. 

The Mont Saint-Michel

WWII remains – Normandy

The first time I worked in France, I was situated in Carentan, a small town in Normandy close to Utah beach. From there I have explored most of the World War II landmarks by bike. Indeed, it is possible to bike in Normandy. There are some nice cycling paths. I do not have a specific recommendation of which site not to miss. Each site tells its own story and they all display an important part of our history. However, I would recommend visiting at least one museum, one cemetery and one of the D-Day beaches. 

Sainte-Mère-Église and the German cemetery la Cambe 

Traces of Joan of Arc – Rouen

Rouen, the capital of Normandy, is definitely one of my favourite cities in the region. The city, being a student city, is very vibrant and is home to many cozy squares. The architecture is brilliant and there are some interesting landmarks. However, what I liked most was to find the traces of Jeanne d’Arc. As a kid, I absolutely loved the story of Jeanne and visiting the museum in her honour was really interesting. Did you know that this is the place where Jeanne ended up at the funeral pyre?

 

Streets of Rouen

Beach hotspots

Biarritz

When you say Biarritz, you say surfing town. If you are into surfing you can eat your heart out in this seaside town. However, Biarritz has so much more to offer! There are a couple of historical places like the fishing port and the lighthouse (yes, you can climb this one) that you can visit or what about one of the many festivals or local markets? Never a dull moment here. 

Biarritz

Sète

Sète is home to one of the biggest ports in France, but also has some great beaches, many small shops and a lively city centre with many terraces. What else could you ask for from a beach destination? The majestic houses along the canal and the coloured boats in the canal offer a great view when you are walking through this city. If you want to see the city and the sea from above, you can walk up the hill Mont Saint-Clair for some great views. 

Canals of Sète

Food destinations

Roquefort-sur-Soulzon

Blue cheese. You hate it or you love it. I thought I wasn’t into blue cheese and I never ate it back home. But once I visited the Roquefort caves in Roquefort-sur-Soulzon and tried some of excellent quality I immediately changed my mind. It’s delicious! When you are in the Aveyron, go visit the Roquefort caves and get a nice tour and tasting in one of the caves. Le Papillon is one of the well-known brands in France. Did you know that this type of blue cheese is only allowed to be called Roquefort when it comes from this tiny village? However, don’t miss out on the village itself: the streets are very pretty and colourful. There is also an opportunity to walk to a gorgeous viewpoint, if you follow the right path. 

Roquefort cheese and village

Lyon

Lyon might actually be my favourite city in France. The atmosphere is very cozy and there is something to see around every corner. Try to find the Traboules, hidden passageways, look for the frescoes and murals in the tromp l’oeil style, visit the Roman amphitheaters and other historic sites, or stroll through Vieux Lyon, the old centre. 

I absolutely love viewpoints and Lyon has plenty of those as the city is built on a hill. The most famous viewing point can be found at Fourvière, the hill on which you can also find the Basilique Notre Dame de Fourvière. However, if you visit the ruins of the Roman baths, you also have a great view over the city and there will hardly be any other tourists. I visited this place during a free walking tour and I would highly recommend you to do the same to discover the (hidden) gems of the city. 

Lyon is known for being the gastronomy capital of France, indeed, this city is the hometown of Paul Bocuse, the famous chef and of many tasty dishes such as the quenelles (creamed fish or meat), the praline pie, the bugnes (some pastry). If you have the opportunity to visit this city, I would advise you to eat at a Bouchon Lyonnais, these are typical restaurants of Lyon, with traditional dishes.

Views of Lyon

Wine destinations

It is not possible to talk about France without mentioning wine! In fact, one of the many symbols of this country is wine. France has several regions dedicated to different types of wine like for example Bordeaux for red wine or Bourgogne for white wine.

Champagne vineyards

Let’s not forget about champagne either. This type of sparkling wine is only allowed to be called champagne when it is produced according to the traditional methods in the Champagne region. Once you are in the region, you can visit one of the many champagne houses for a tour and a tasting. You can find all the famous houses, like Moët & Chandon and Veuve Clicquot, in Épernay or Reims. I visited Pommery Vranken in Reims, because a large part of the caves is accessible to visitors. I would recommend you to stay in Reims as the city has a nice, vibrant ambiance and there are plenty of nice places to have dinner at the place Drouet d’Erlon. From Reims you can drive the Route Touristique du Champagne to Épernay (about 70 km) which is one of the sections of this long route. Also, when you’re in Champagne, don’t miss out on Troyes with it’s lovely houses and Lac du Der.

Troyes and Lac du Der

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