A France travel guide – elegant palaces, vineyard-striped valleys and world-famous cuisine
Get your bearingsFrance’s Mediterranean coastline is bordered by Italy and Spain. Crammed within is a cultural mix of cities and beguiling blend of natural beauty. The northern flatlands bordering Belgium run south to the river-etched Ile de France, with Paris at its heart. West are the dairy fields of Normandy and turreted chateaux of the Loire Valley. The vineyard valleys of Burgundy and Champagne flow east to the Germanic villages of Alsace-Lorraine. The Alps share Lake Geneva’s shores with Switzerland. The distinctly French landscapes of Provence, with their lonely chateaux and endless fields of lavender, are familiar from paintings by Cézanne.
Vibrant citiesHolidays in France begin in the classically elegant capital, Paris, with the Louvre Museum and Notre Dame Cathedral. There are royal insights at Louis XIV’s palace of Versailles and Reims Cathedral where French kings were crowned. The half-timbered buildings of Strasbourg’s Petite France have a fairytale beauty, and Nancy is deservedly proud of its neoclassical place Stanislas. Lyon is a cultural powerhouse and gourmand’s paradise. Snow-capped Alps and a 16th- century fort overlook Grenoble. French hotels in harbourside Nice make a great base for exploring the French Riviera.
Great outdoorsCycle along the Canal de Bourgogne towpath in Burgundy or catch the best views of the Loire Valley chateaux from a hot-air balloon. The mountain drive through the Route des Grandes Alpes is panoramic from Evian to Nice. The Camargue’s reed-filled wetlands lure thousands of bird-watchers through the season. Chamonix is best for off-piste skiing or summertime mountainbiking along steep valley trails. There’s wild hiking and white-water rafting in Provence’s Gorges du Verdon canyon and mountain trekking along the GR20 route in island Corsica. Gentle boating on the meandering Dordogne River passes craggy limestone cliffs topped with red-roofed towns.
Food-lovers’ FranceFrench cuisine is defined by regional and seasonal flavours. Cider and Calvados apple brandy quench the thirst in French hotels in Normandy, and red-wine beef bourguignon fills the belly in Burgundy. Lyon’s sausages are legendary, as is foie gras from Périgord, mustard from Dijon, and bean and meat cassoulet from Toulouse. Famous dishes like coq au vin and tarte Tatin originated in the Loire Valley, and sauerkraut and pork pronounce German influence in Alsace. The famous olive oil of Provence features in seafood bouillabaisse from Marseille. Enjoy the tastes of France with white riesling from Alsace and the Rhône’s syrah and grenache wines.
Art and architectureFrance’s long love affair with art began around 20,000 years ago with prehistoric hunting scenes daubed on the Lascaux Caves in the Dordogne. The ancient theatres in Orange and Nîmes are reminders of Roman Gaul, and the cathedrals of Chartres and Reims are prime examples of Gothic architecture. Decorative rococo paintings by Watteau and Fragonard enrich Paris’ Louvre Museum, along with the sturdy neoclassicism of Delacroix and Ingres. The inspiration for Monet’s water- lily paintings is preserved at his home in Giverny, while the Matisse Museum is a highlight in Nice. Paris’ postmodern Pompidou Centre brings the story of art up to date.
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