Paris is on most girls’ bucket list. It is epitome of romance and culture as depicted in films, art, and literature. Who doesn’t associate romance with Paris? But, France has much more to offer than just Paris.
In fact, there is so much to see that I can guarantee one trip won’t be enough. Truthfully, you could devote one trip to Paris alone and still need a few more to cover the rest of the country.
France is an old country with a long, illustrious history and it has been at the center of many conflicts over the years, adding to its history with the culture of invaders who stay temporarily.
Some regions, such as Alsace, have passed back and forth numerous times throughout history. This creates a unique melting pot of culture that you should take the time to explore.
Here are seven things you must make a point of seeing on what will surely be many trips to France.
Yes, Paris is an obvious choice. It’s also expensive and tends to be somewhat dirty however it is still Paris and you will regret it if you never see it.
Art lovers will of course want to see the Louvre, home of the Mona Lisa among other great pieces. You should also visit the Orsay Museum which showcases many great painters including Cezanne, Monet, Manet, Guaguin, Renoir, and van Gogh.
Centre Pompidou features modern art. Notre Dame Cathedral should also be on the list of stops, regardless of your religion. The architecture alone is stunning. If you have the energy, climb the tower for a magnificent view of Paris.
The Palais de Versailles is a UNESCO World Heritage site. It was the seat of power in France for many years and is still associated with rulers.
The estate is absolutely huge and includes the main palace, extensive gardens, Marie Antoinette’s estate, and the Grand Trianon, which is a smaller palace used by Louis XIV. The palace frequently hosts exhibitions and the gardens are worth spending an fternoon wandering through.
You can spend an afternoon cruising the Seine River to see famous landmarks and sites if time is an issue.
Other popular choices include climbing the tower at Montparnasse, the Eiffel Tower, Champs Elysee, Arc de Triomphe, and Palais Garnier, which is the home of the Opera de Paris. Like I said, you can spend an entire trip on Paris alone.
#2: Pont du Gard
The Pont du Gard is a Roman aqueduct, located about 25 km west of Avignon. It’s over 2000 years old and crosses the Gardon River.
Although the area is popular with cyclists and hikers for its natural beauty, the main attraction is the aqueduct which is in remarkably good shape for a structure as old as it is.
If you look closely you can still see inscriptions from the original masons on the rocks indicating where they should be positioned. Modern masons continue to visit the site as an example of quality masonry.
The entire structure was created without the use of mortar and iron clamps hold the stones together. There are also museums on site that go into the history of the aqueduct and the Romans in the area.
Carnac predates Stonehenge by about a century. It boasts over 3000 megaliths that are approximately 4000 years old. They’re significance remains a mystery although it is commonly believed that they were used in religious and cultural activities.
There are a number of museums and sites that focus on the prehistoric items unearthed in the area and what is known about Brittany at that time. There is also a great beach and oyster farms that sell shellfish directly to the public in the area.
For those who like art, architecture, and sculpture, the cathedrals of France are a heavenly spot. Like in Italy and Spain, Catholics here built extravagant cathedrals that are monuments to a vision bound by faith.
Regardless of your religious preferences, they are worth seeing.
One of the best is Mont St. Michel in Normandy. It’s an island commune devoted to St. Michel (St. Michael). A village grew up around its base and the whole area is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Its unique geographical challenges include Europe’s highest tides, quicksand, and steep rocks. It was mainly a Benedictine abbey but has also been used as a prison.
France has more castles, or chateaux, than you could possibly believe. You’ll want to visit a few.
The idea of living in a castle is a common daydream and many of France’s castles are open to tourists and some even offer overnight stays. For maximum castle exposure, wander through the Loire Valley.
All offer beautiful architecture and splendour. Some have added benefits depending on your interests. If you love gardening, you won’t want to miss the gardens at Ainy-le-Vieil Chateau.
The outdoor gardens are divided into “rooms” with themes. The International Garden Festival occurs at the Chaumont-sur-Loire Chateau in the valley as well.
For those who fancy history in all its bloody glory, make a point of seeing the Apocalypse Tapestry at the Angers chateau and Blois Chateau, which has seen its fair share of gore.
Those who enjoy the lighter aspects of history will likely enjoy the and Blois Chateau, which has seen its fair share of gore.
Those who enjoy the lighter aspects of history will likely enjoy the magnificent Renaissance chateau of Chenonceau, site of Catherine de Medicis wild parties and often referred to as the Ladies Chateau.
Who goes to France and doesn’t drink the wine? Different areas specialize in different types of grapes and French wines are named for the region they are produced in.
Thus a red Burgundy is typically a Pinot Noir and a white Burgundy is usually a Chardonnay. Most vineyard offer tours and tastings.
Although the big vineyards are the most popular, there are some real gems to be found in the smaller, less well known ones.
You’ll want to buy a few bottles to enjoy in the privacy of your hotel room during your trip and you will also end up bringing a few home guaranteed.
French cuisine is justifiably famous.
I still fondly remember my first trip to France as a teenager and being overwhelmed by a cup of chocolat (and it really is pretty much straight chocolate with very little milk) and croissant being brought to my room each morning.
It was delicious and decadent. You’ll want to try the fancy restaurants and sit in cafes, where you can people watch as you enjoy a small bite to eat.
Some of my favourite French meals though came from roaming street markets and delis and picking up local foods and produce to create a picnic meal later on.
Combined with a nice bottle of French wine, it made for some of the nicest picnic fare I’ve ever had and was significantly cheaper than many of the restaurants. The best food in France is supposedly in Lyon but the markets of Provence remain some of my favourites.
Regardless of where you go in France, you will be able to find good food and wine and likely a number of chateaux and cathedrals.
Take the time to explore some of the lesser known ones as they often have unique identities that are just as beautiful as the well-known ones that all the tourist visit.
Cover photo: gentlemanculture.com