Planning a trip to France?
Let me help you!
This page contains a lot of information that I glean when I spend some time in France
as well as some very comprehensive information provided by
Offices du Tourisme
Are you planning a trip to France?
Are you moving to France?
Do you know where you are going? Alsace? Burgundy? Provence? Or maybe Brittany or Normandy?
Do you prefer the mountains, the ocean, or the countryside?
Your answer may be, “I don’t know. I just don’t know where to start. Tell me, what are the best places to visit in France? What are the best tourist attractions in France?”
And my answer will be … It all depends!
But first things first. The main question is: ARE YOU TOTALLY PREPARED FOR THIS TRIP?
You may think that you do not need to be prepared. After all, improvisation and spontaneity make traveling fun. Whether your trip is well planned and organized, or each day will be improvised spontaneously, you MUST speak a few words of French, and you MUST understand the basic French culture.
THEN you will enjoy the country, the people, the lifestyle.
You will bring the very best out of your hosts at the “gite”
or “chambre d’hôtes”and you will avoid lots of faux pas!
What are your points of interest in France?
History? Roman history? Moorish history? Queens and kings?
The Renaissance era?
Do you want to go to chateaux? Do you want to visit museums?
Is it a family vacation?
How old are your children?
Do you like winter sports?
Do you prefer hiking or horseback riding?
Is it a wine tasting trip? a golf trip? a painting trip? a culinary trip?
Do you want to stay at a farm, a gite, a hotel, a bed & breakfast, or a magnificent French chateau?
Do you like small, authentic medieval villages?
Would you rather be in the midst of the action in the big city?
Photos by Coco
STARTING WITH... PARIS!
Paris… What can I say about Paris that has not been said? Paris is not just about the monuments, the museums, the history, the concert halls, the fashion, the shops, the restaurants, the wine bars, ... Paris has a unique energy that you cannot quite describe or characterize, and that is because Paris has everything for everyone. Whatever your interests, whatever your preferences, whether you want your day to be quiet or intense… Oh? You just want to walk and do nothing else? Well, you can choose to walk miles and miles along the Seine river, or take Rue Lepic and off to Montmartre, or stroll up and down the Champs Elysées, or dilly dally in the Luxembourg Gardens, sit on a bench, and relax. So many choices… equally good, equally exciting.
Below is a selection of books that I recommend for your next trip to Paris:
HUNGRY FOR PARIS
BRIGHT LIGHTS PARIS
AUTHENTIC BISTROS OF PARIS
"Made in PARIS" Coco's Picks:
Photos by Coco
THE ALPS AND PROVENCE
From rafting in the very scenic gorges of the Verdon to following Route Napoleon… All worth the thrill!!!
Beyond the fields of lavender, discover Valensole and the exquisite, fortified city of Sisteron, and immerse yourself in the true “South of France” lifestyle in Forcalquier sipping a fresh mint lemonade in the shade of an imposing linden tree on the patio of an authentic French café. There is so much to do for the whole family in the Alps of Haute-Provence. You cannot run out of places to go, to see, to enjoy. Life is good there! The climate is perfect!! The people are delightful!!!
For information in English, please follow this link: http://www.tourism-alps-provence.com/
Just a 60 miles south of Grenoble is the beautiful town of Gap and its many surrounding villages. An old fortified town, Gap will surprise you with its narrow, entangled streets, its cathedral, its fountains. Drive a couple of miles and you are in the green pastures of the Alps mountains, enjoying the breathtaking views, the serene lakes… so perfect that you will want to take a stroll, a hike, a drive. Each village has its own character and is worth the detour. The food is delicious. The people are charming! A must-see.
Truly one of the most beautiful villages in France! Incredible! Sensational!
Located in the natural park of the Verdon in the South of France, Moustiers Ste Marie offers more than you can imagine. Its ramparts, chapels, fountains, old stone houses everywhere, its beautiful restaurants and shops, its hike up to the chapel perched up in the cliff, its old traditions in ceramics… and all this is surrounded by the gorgeous and picturesque Alps mountains. Breathtaking indeed.
Photos by Coco
Rather central, Auvergne is a beautiful area in France with a lot of sunshine and a remarkable heritage.
Issoire in Auvergne is called “the land of art and history”. It is 20 miles only to Clermont Ferrand, the capital of Auvergne, and is famous for its great hiking in the lower volcanic mountains of la Chaine des Puys. Great people, great food – and that includes great cheese! Quite rural and peaceful.
Nestled at 5,500 ft among the pine trees and the volcanic mountains of Auvergne, Le Lioran is rightfully famous for hiking in the summer and skiing in the winter. Great shops offering regional products, great restaurants, great accommodations. Auvergne is perfect for a family vacation at any time of the year.
"Made in Auvergne" Coco's Picks:
Auvergne, famous for woodwork and cutlery
AUVERGNE – RHÔNE-ALPES
Villages, towns, châteaux, monuments, Roman-style churches, picturesque roads, fields of lavender and olive groves are so plentiful in the Drôme, it is impossible to see it all and, even less, to savor it all in one day! There are many itineraries and must-see historical sites for all, not to mention a myriad of great restaurants and farmhouse inns with superb local produce. The perfect place for a relaxing, yet exciting vacation.
From the “pastilles Vichy” (Vichy mints) to its thermal waters, Vichy was also put on the historical map during WWII when the French government was established there during the German Occupation.
Lovely city with museums, restaurants, and shops, Vichy is the capital of well-being, spas, nutrition and exercise. Leave the city and you quickly find yourself in the beautiful countryside, ready for a stroll or a serious hike around the surrounding lakes and up and down the slopes of the volcanic slopes.
Just a few miles from the Swiss border is the “Ain” district, with Bourg-en-Bresse as its capital. Very beautiful, charming part of France, still authentic, with genuine people. So much within reach without having to travel hardly any miles at all. Beautiful castles, thousand-year-old abbey, an old mill where they still manufacture hazelnut oil, exquisite and authentic villages, churches and chapels, monuments… etc. There is truly something for everyone!
As far as Bourg-en-Bresse, take the guided tour of this beautiful city rich in history; go to a concert, a festival. Immerse yourself in the culture, and that includes the royal monastery of Brou (a must see!)
As important is the “Bresse chicken”, the “king’s chicken”, a beautiful, white variety of chicken that is raised in the most old-fashioned way, with respect to the old tradition. The uniqueness of the “Bresse chicken” makes its worldwide reputation among the most critical chefs.
Lots of hiking, rock climbing, and many outdoors activities for the whole family around Bourg-en-Bresse!
If you find yourself between hiking and kayaking and you want to see some beautiful villages in the south of France, the Val de Ligne is a great place to start with. Totally off the beaten paths, away from the tourists, you can easily go from one medieval village to the other, and each and every one is unique and charming with surrounding orchards or fortifications with exceptional scenic views. You can really step back in time and enjoy the moment, the tranquility.
Photos by Coco
Photos by Coco
"LE BERRY" REGION, CENTRAL FRANCE
You may never have heard of George Sand, but I am sure you have heard of Chopin. George Sand was a nineteenth century French novelist in search of happiness. Her writings were mostly about women’s rights. One of her lovers was famous composer and pianist Chopin who spent much time at her house in the heart of France, now a museum that displays significant memorabilia of both artistic giants. This place is a beautiful celebration of the arts – mostly literature and music. The small roads winding around some quaint villages to get to the house are well worth the detour. Visit the house, enjoy the peaceful garden, admire Chopin’s piano, take a stroll.
Bourges has a very special place in my heart… most likely because it is my hometown, but there is more to it. Bourges is a beautiful town of approximately 65,000 people – Big enough to offer many attractions, but small enough to give you a sense of closeness, a sense of intimacy, in a very special way. Its majestic cathedral with beautiful adjacent gardens, its exquisite gothic style Palais (Palace) which was built by a very successful merchant in the 15th century by the name of Jacques Coeur, its medieval pedestrian downtown which takes you back to the Middle Ages, its marshland – totally surreal and serene – right in town, with beautiful private vegetable and flower gardens accessible by barks… Great museums, great shops, great restaurants, a famous yearly music festival (Le Printemps de Bourges), a superb light and sound show in the old downtown during the summer nights… It is endless! Don’t miss Bourges!
Photos by Coco
One hour east of Bourges is Sancerre. Trust me, you cannot miss Sancerre if you are in Bourges.
Famous for its wine, Sancerre is more than a wine area. First, it is quite small. When you think “Sancerre”, do not think “Bordeaux”. Sancerre is perched on a hill that you discover at a distance as you drive toward it. It looks like a post card. The best way to get the feeling of Sancerre is to walk up and down the narrow streets, to get a whiff from an underground cellar, to have a glass of white wine, and to mingle with the charming village people. A real treat!
Photos by Coco
In the heart of the pristine and renowned Burgundy vineyards is Beaune, a beautiful walled, mid-size town with an exquisite medieval downtown and its famous “Hotel Dieu”, also called “Hospices de Beaune”, famous for its unparalleled colorful tiled roof. Art galleries, great restaurants, caves, wine auctions, wine tasting, museums, etc make Beaune an artistic gem in the heart of the Burgundy winemaking area.
CHAMPAGNE - ARDENNES
[There are many cities in France and Navarre that still boast high-quality wooden buildings. Yet it is Troyes that arguably has the most extensive, uniform, and best preserved or restored heritage. Having almost disappeared entirely, this incredible collection of timber-framed houses from the Middle Ages and the Renaissance is now the pride of all Troyes. With their picturesque style and multi-colored appearance, these buildings tell the story of an ever-changing city – a story that is far from complete.
If you wander through the streets of Troyes, you cannot help but notice the extraordinary collection of timber-framed houses that punctuate the landscape. The city undoubtedly boasts one of the most stunning and extensive collections of buildings made from this construction, also known as “half-timbered”. These buildings, with their characteristic vertical, horizontal or diagonal stripes, have their skeletons on show for the whole world to see. These exposed features reveal the wooden structure that lies beneath.
Photos by Coco
Caves, villages, castles, medieval farms, the quintessential Dordogne river with its beautiful gorges, exquisite villages (…and I mean exquisite!) hanging off cliffs… Rocamadour, out of this world! Collonges-La-Rouge, listed as one of the most beautiful villages in France, the Gouffre de Padirac, the most visited cave in France with fantastic galleries (The boat ride is worth every penny!). It goes on and on in the Dordogne area. What else do you need? Lively markets, fine cuisines, great people… An awesome destination.
Photos by Coco
When the French think of Dordogne, they think of foie gras and gastronomy in general, and that is because the “departement” of Dordogne is in the region of Perigord, which itself is the capital of duck and goose foie gras.
When we in America think of Dordogne, we think of the beautiful white stone homes and the vegetable and flower gardens that we see on HGTV’s House Hunters International and the exquisite villages and small towns along the way.
Sarlat is a great way to start the journey. Although quite touristic, it is worth every minute and every penny. The architecture, the monuments, the restaurants, the patios, the shops are a true delight and a true representation of what a Dordogne town is about. Give yourself at least half a day, preferably one full day there before you head out and start following the Dordogne River to Beynac, Les Eyzies, and, of course Lascaux. Be prepared to be … bedazzled! You will love it, and once you leave, you will miss it!
THE FRENCH RIVIERA –
If you are looking for style, charm, and glamour, this is it! The peninsula of Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat is waiting for you with its breathtaking views of the Mediterranean Sea, the exquisite yachts in the marina, magnificent gardens and villas, beaches, restaurants, and hotels. Because of its exceptional location, it gets 300+ sunny days a year. From Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat, you can easily hop to Nice, Cannes, Monaco, or Italy and enjoy the Mediterranean lifestyle on the French Riviera. True to itself. A real gem.
You cannot go to the Mediterranean Coast and not go to Menton, a cultural, beautiful city with a very rich history, also famous for its lemon festival. The lemon of Menton has earned and now deserves its world reputation.
Beautiful parks, remarkable architecture, fantastic weather all year, and a calendar full of activities. Idyllic and picturesque, not to be missed for any reason! Please take a look at the video on the first page of the link.
Besides 300 sunny days a year, Nice has a lot to offer – Rich in history, rich in culture, it overlooks the Mediterranean Sea and looks up to the Alps. Beautiful beaches, markets, restaurants, patios, shops… There are no limits to this exceptional city and bucolic surroundings.
The high point for many tourists, the French Riviera is a must-do, of course, as it is famous for its glamorous, glitzy, magnificent and opulent beach resorts.
Get your pass to big savings on guided visits by car or by train, admission to museums and palaces throughout the city, and much more!
Photos by Coco
Giverny, Etretat, Deauville, Honfleur, le Mont Saint Michel, … these are all true, authentic, beautiful, must-see landmarks of Normandy, just a hop from Paris by train or by car. This website locates them and features them all for you.
Normandy is a very eclectic area in the North West of France, and you can truly drive a few miles and find a new historic or scenic landscape like you have never seen before time after time. Very interesting, and a wealth of history.
Photos by Normandie Tourisme / Flickr / B. Collier, J-L Lovillle / S. Freres / E. Ursule / L. Recouvrot
Calvados – What exactly is Calvados? First, it is a department in Normandy which truly has something to offer to each and every one. Its beaches, which WWII put on the map, its WWII museum in Caen, its towns and villages – beautiful, unforgettable Deauville and Honfleur to name just a couple – its proximity to Paris, its local artisans and producers in cheese, cookies, liquor, sculptures and pottery…
Sometimes I hear people say that they were staying in Paris and made a quick day-trip to Normandy… and wished they had given themselves more time. Plan on spending 2-3 days there. Well worth the trip.
Photos by Coco
Have a walk or ride your bicycle along the Canal du Midi, and you will enjoy miles and miles of serenity along the beautiful and historical canal bordered with its majestic plane trees. You will want to stop and sit on a bench just to admire the peaceful, beautiful scenery. Then you will resume your journey to the next lock keeper’s modest dwelling.
Castelnaudary itself is a beautiful town rich of 900+ years of history, a stronghold during the persecution against the Cathars.
Last but not least, if you are a fan of cloisters, St Papoul, just a few miles from Castelnaudary, is the place for you. The Abbaye of St Papoul is a gem that dates all the way back to 817!
Photos by Coco
You have probably seen the picture of the “Arènes de Nimes” before, and you pledged to go there someday.
Indeed, it is an amazing Roman amphitheater, the best-preserved Roman amphitheater in the world, a must see. Also, do not miss the 2,000 year old “Maison Carrée”, Diane’s Temple, and the Castellum – a wealth of Roman civilization right there, in Nimes, in the South of France.
Nimes is not only about Roman history, it is also a vibrant city which offers a great cultural life and amazing food.
Photos graciously authorized by Office du Tourisme in Nîmes - « Photos OT Nîmes »
Auch is in the Occitanie region in the south-western part of France. Whether you want to relax in a chaise lounge and admire the rolling hills, or you want to hike in the vineyards, or you are ready for a drive past some cliff-hanging houses through jaw-dropping gorges that you thought only Disney could create, you can do that in the “Gers département”. Famous for its amazing (and rich) food, there is no shortage of great restaurants there, and you can learn how to make wine, cheese, duck paté and meet with the local folks in their farms, labs and workshops along the way. All in all, the area of Auch is a great place to visit, a great destination!
Photos by Coco
NOUVELLE AQUITAINE - the BORDEAUX AREA
Just a short drive from Bordeaux is the small town of Blaye, hardly noticed on the map, but certainly not to be missed.
Blaye is a remarkable citadel surrounded by some very well-preserved fortifications and its own underground tunnels.
You can take a guided visit right from the Office du Tourisme located in the heart of the walled city. Surprising. Amazing.
The Bordeaux area is a mix of rolling hills and vineyards as far as the eye can see… Back in 2008, I wrote a musical which was highly influenced by my love for France. One of the songs was partly inspired by the beautiful Bordeaux area. Please let me share a few lyrics with you:
Leaves on the trees, red, gold, and brown
The sun has left a purple crown
Call it Cabernet
Call it Beaujolais
The grapes will be brought in today
The pickers will be sent away
The crop assumed one of the best
Connoisseurs, dealers, and the rest
Predict, gamble, or simply guess
Before the creaking of the press
… It says it all.
If you like wine tasting, chateaux and estates, sophistication and friendly people, you will like the Bordeaux area.
Photos by Coco<