France From Our Xpertz

France is a gastronomic wonderland, an artistic mecca, and a historical pop-up book. Vineyards blanket the wine regions, cathedrals crown the cities, and sandy beaches fringe the coastline. With all these riches, you may start plotting your next visit before you even return home.

The celebrated city of lights, Paris is one of the must-see cities of Europe for good reason. The tourist attractions alone provide days upon days of entertainment. It’s true, you may wait in line to ascend the Eiffel Tower, but you’ll be surrounded by beguiling views of Champs de Mars and the stately ambiance of the Palais de Chaillot. Once you get to the top, the city of Paris is yours for drinking in.

The museums in Paris are numerous and famed throughout the world, including the Louvre and the Musee d’Orsay. After a trip to the Louvre to see the Mona Lisa, unwind with a cafe in the enchanting Jardin de Tuileries. The Orsay sits not too far from the banks of the Seine, along which you can pick up a book at the scattered bouquiniste stalls along the river, journey via the Bateau Mouche to Notre Dame Cathedral, and grab a pain au chocolat (or two) in the lively Latin Quarter, humming with colorful markets and student life. From there, should the spirit move you, why not swing by the Sorbonne and take in the Pantheon? Or the Luxembourg Gardens, or the Paris Zoo, or the spooky catacombs, or a high-end shopping spree in the Marais—the possibilities are plentiful.

The 20 arrondisements of Paris each embody a unique sensibility. From the rolling hills of Montmartre topped by the magnificent Sacre Coeur, to the posh Ile Saint Louis lingering in between the right and left bank, the glamour of the Champs Elysees to the quieter, residential spots, hidden beauty is everywhere to discover.

Travel a few hours south of the capital on the high-speed rail to Lyon, the beating heart of French gastronomy. Lyon is the gateway to the Alpine region, and you’ll find it’s both a buzzing metropolis and a charming village stopped in time. After picking up a few souvenirs in the bustling Place Bellecour, ascend the heights of the city with a quick funicular ride for another one of France’s indelible views.

Sample Lyon’s namesake bouchons, corner bistros featuring French-style comfort food. After a day touring breathtaking churches, hip neighborhood like La Croix-Rousse, and wandering the picturesque streets of Vieux Lyon, have a Kir Royale and relax.

While Lyon is great for tasting classic French cuisine and seeing city sights, just a few hours away are snow-capped villages that will take your breath away. If you’re looking for a quaint ski town, France is an ideal destination: escape to a city surrounded by resort options like Grenoble or wake up practically in the powder in Chamonix. Other Alpine retreats to write home about include Annecy, a postcard town with picture-book vistas. While these escapes shimmer in the snow, the spirit of outdoor adventure thrives all year round with plenty of hiking, biking, paddle boating for adventurers of any level.

And then there’s the South of France. These words conjure a timeless myth of easy luxury and captivating beauty. But this region isn’t purely for the glitz and glam of the jetset scene. Provence possesses a wild, natural beauty, and a landscape sprinkled with soaring cypress trees and imbued with a light so special, it drew painters like Van Gogh and Gaugin to reap inspiration. The cuisine of the South is typically less cheese-heavy and more Mediterranean (fear not, there is still plenty of cheese and bread to be found in the regions’ sumptuous open air markets). Olive oil and ratatouille are two Provençal trademarks, as are calissons, small almond candies that are the official sweet of the region’s largest city, Aix-en-Provence.

Travel farther south and behold the incomparable blue of the Mediterranean Sea. When some people think of France, these are the sights that leap to mind: languidly strolling along the Promenade des Anglais in Nice, past the Hotel Negresco; gazing upon the impossibly ritzy cars lining the streets leading to the casino in Monte Carlo and the exclusive beach clubs of St. Tropez. Yes, vacationing in the South of France can come with a hefty price tag, but it can also be done on a budget. Savor the socca in the sprawling Place Massena in Nice, pick up some of France’s most delicious gelato at Fenocchio, and sample fresh seafood from Vieux Port in Marseille. Also be sure to take advantage of the less-expensive regional train line offering views that will remain with you for a lifetime.

While the France’s eastern coast might be iconic, the homey, charming southwestern coast has plenty to offer. Southwestern France, closer to Spain and Basque Country, provides plenty of locales that aren’t quite as busy as the tourist hubs. Warm up with a bowl of cassoulet in Toulouse, the “Pink City” (La Ville Rose). Not far from the canals of the Garonne are Biarritz and Bordeaux, sun-soaked cities that bring a sophisticated panache to the region.

In the north, many treasures abound. History buffs flock to the beaches of Normandy, and Brittany is known for its distinctive regional cuisine—it’s where crepes got their start. Castles and chateaux are treasures that inspired fairy tales over the years. In the Loire Valley, the Chateau d’Usse is supposedly Sleeping Beauty’s castle, while the Alsatian town of Colmar is the rumored real-life setting of Beauty and the Beast.

The regions of France are a diverse patchwork. Stay in chic Paris, visit the bucolic countryside, ski in the Alps, kayak in the Calanques, the list goes on and on.

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