Want to discover France? Here's ten great French destinations to start with!
Paris is a beautiful, walkable city that's best explored on foot, with regular stops at the patisserie. What it doesn't have is tall buildings in the centre... except for one. So start with a visit to the Eiffel Tower to get an overview of the city that's waiting to be discovered. Opened in 1889 for the World's Fair, it's the most-visited paid monument in the world.
When you enter the gates and pass through the immense stone walls of this great citadel, it's like travelling back in time to the Middle Ages. The largest walled city in Europe is beautifully preserved, and the old streets are filled with artists, craftspeople and merchants. The city's history goes back even further: it was once a Roman site, and before that was occupied since prehistory.
The northwestern corner of France is a world apart. Brittany has been an independent kingdom for much of its history, and has prehistoric monuments that go back seven thousand years. The region has its own distinct Celtic language and a culture rich in music and myths, which is related more to Irish, Welsh, and Scottish traditions than to the rest of France. Nowhere in Brittany is far from the spectacular cliffs and sandy beachs of its coastline.
As World War 2 passes out of living memory, it's more vital than ever that we learn from the great sacrifices made by previous generations. The five beaches where the Allies landed their great assault upon Nazi Germany in 1944 pay tribute to that memory with museums, memorials, and preserved fortifications. The five beaches, codenamed Utah, Omaha, Juno, Gold, and Sword, stretch across 80 kilometres of coast. The town of Caën at the eastern end is a good place to start.
This gem of a medieval town is set in a gorge above a tributary of the Dordogne. Hugging a cliff, the upper part of the town is filled with old churches and monastic buildings, while the winding narrow streets lined with houses and shops lie on the lower slopes. You'll need to climb a lot of steps to explore the town, but luckily there are plenty of spots to take refreshment.
The Camino de Santiago de Compostela: it's the medieval pilgrimage route that continues to inspire thousands every year to put on their walking shoes and discover a slower, gentler pace of life, one step at a time. The network of walking trails leads through France to Northern Spain and finishes at a cathedral on the Atlantic Coast where Saint James is said to be buried. There are a few different routes through France, depending on where you start, but all pass through great towns and scenery. There's no better way to discover France's endless kilometres of marked walking trails.
Entering Sarlat-la-Canéda is like stepping back in time to 14th century France- minus the misery. Impeccably restored, its streets are filled with cafés and restaurants, sellers of crafts, and art galleries. There's also a great indoor food market. It's very popular with tourists, so try visiting outside the peak season, or get there early in the morning. The region is well known for its foie gras and truffles, so if you enjoy good food, don't miss market day on Saturday and Wednesday.
Starting in the late 1400s, the French kings marked a new era of peace by building new castles for themselves in the valley of the Loire. Other members of the nobility quickly followed, and an era of château-building began. The Loire Valley châteaux were built for grandeur, not for war. Some of them didn't survive the French Revolution, but of the many that did, the best are major tourist attractions, with enchanting gardens and water features and richly furnished rooms.
The "Azure Coast" is the eastern Mediterranean shoreline of southern France, stretching from Toulon to the Italian border. Along the way, it takes in glamourous resort towns like Saint-Tropez, the big city of Nice, the world's biggest film festival at Cannes, and the tiny nation of Monaco and its famous casino. When you get away from the popular beaches and shops, there's a wealth of natural beauty and great scenery to discover.