G eographically, France dominates Western Europe. Stretching from the Mediterranean to the English Channel, and from the Alps it shares with Switzerland to the Pyrénées it shares with Spain, it is a country that few others can match for its variety of travel experiences.
Within this mass of land — a third larger than California — are regions so different from one another that travelers should view them as individual destinations, much as we view the numerous regions of the USA and Canada as providing distinctly different experiences.
The vineyards and restaurants of Burgundy, Bordeaux and the Champagne region are a world apart from the ancient towns of Brittany. So, too, the rolling hills and fields of Normandy contrast sharply with the splendid chateaux of the Loire Valley and the magnificent Alps. And, of course, there’s the cultural tsunami of Paris, which is found nowhere else on the Continent.
But France isn’t merely a country of diverse regions. With its national obsession for joir de vivre, it is a land of experiences that touch every sense and emotion.
Most fortuitous for the traveler, though, is that getting about the country is fast and comfortable. Enjoy a late morning dip in the Mediterranean Côte d’Azur, take the high-speed train to Paris and you can be dining on the Champs Elysées that evening. Très magnifique!
If there is one rule to be adhered to when traveling to France it to enjoy Paris but leave plenty of time – perhaps even several additional trips – to enjoy the cornucopia of experiences you’ll find beyond the arrondissements of the capital.
Paris – cornucopia of culture
The Loire Valley – the chateaux country
Lyon – capital of gastronomy
Bordeaux and Burgundy – oenophiles on steroids
Normandy – the landing beaches
Côte d’Azur –the chic beaches
Good to Know
My Midnight-in-Paris Moment
It was November and I was in Paris, making a pilgrimage to Montmartre, where I’ve been going for many years.
I know it’s such a tourist thing, with all the artists, the occasional street-corner accordionist and the views out over the city, but I still enjoy it. To me Montmartre is still a little village, the “old Paris set” of some Hollywood soundstage set high over the city.
Following van Gogh in Auvers-sur-Oise
Several months ago I took an excursion to Auvers-sur-Oise, a country town north of Paris that pays homage to its most famous resident, post-Impressionist master Vincent van Gogh.
During the two and a half months an anguished Vincent van Gogh lived in Auvers-sur-Oise, the artist painted more than 70 works of art and gave many of them to Dr. Paul Gachet, his doctor and friend.
Getting Lost in Paris, London and Vienna
Often, people ask me why I return to Paris so frequently rather than trying a “different” place. I tell them “every time I go to Paris, it is a different place.”
Every trip I find something new. Usually, that is unplanned, too. I think it’s because I’m not timid about getting lost.
A Chance Meeting on a Country Road in France
Whenever I’m taking a trip and driving, I like to set out really early in the morning, at least an hour or two before dawn.
I like it not just because I’m on the road when there’s less traffic, but also because by the time the sun comes up I feel as though I’ve just set out even though I’m already 100-200 miles along on my way. Odd for some, perhaps, but it works for me.
Warmth on a Cold Paris Morning
Not long ago in London, I decided to test the hype about visiting Paris for a day. The ad and pr guys for Eurostar’s “Chunnel train” are fond of reminding you, after all, that la Tour Eiffel is only a bit more than three hours from the Tower of London.
Planning to arrive in Paris as early as possible, I took a taxi to St. Pancras station to catch the 6:53am.
Barge Travel in France
France has a network of canals and rivers you can cruise as you travel, and you can take a barge cruise all the way from the English Channel to the Mediterranean.
Driving the Riviera Corniches
There is no other drive that provides a taste of the Riviera, as does the Corniches, a series of three roads that can take you from Nice, to have lunch on the Italian Riviera.
Paris Supper Clubs
Part dinner clubs-part social clubs (some well-advertised, some underground) they are a good way for foodies to experience a great meal while connecting with locals and other travelers. My Melange finds four in the City of Light.
The Ardèche’s best wine experiences
The Ardèche boasts some of France’s most famous vineyards – and expensive wine. But further south, in l’Ardèche Méridionale, you’ll find more affordable vintages, rural bistros and friendly winemaker B&Bs says the Guardian. (photo: Nick Petten)