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France is an often romanticized but truly amazing country, and the sheer volume of activities it has for visitors is nearly unparalleled. From skiing and snowboarding on fresh white snow, visits through the wine country, shopping, eating and drinking, and learning more about the long and interesting history of this beautiful country, you will not be disappointed you decided to make the trip.
You almost have to start in Paris. You’ll most likely by flying into the French capital anyway, so why not spend some time exploring this interesting and beautiful city? History appeals to those of us from relatively new countries, and you won’t be disappointed here. Not only is Paris the backdrop to some of history’s most important events, but it’s also home to some of the most unique and famous art in the world. The Eiffel Tower, Louvre and Moulin Rouge must be on your list, but do some research and you’ll find some amazing off-the-beaten-path activities that you’ll remember forever. Although it’s a bit of a cliché, Paris truly has something for everyone.
Make your way towards the South East of Paris and you’ll find yourself in beautiful Burgundy, or Bourgogne, home of delicious red wine and Dijon mustard. Between Dijon, Beaune, and Auxerre you’ll find a range of wine related activities, great shopping, and some stunning, old French architecture. The Hospices de Beaune is probably the most stunning example of Burgundian roofing, which is really distinct as it uses a number of different colors in tiles geometrically arranged. This region is fairly expensive, though, so I’d make sure that you’re very keen on wine and architecture if you’re going to visit.
A bit further south is Lyon, a beautiful city full of culture and things to do. This is a must-see if you’re fond of eating your way through a place as it’s considered the capital of French gastronomy. They also have a leading football team if you enjoy a bit of sports, and this combined with a stunning Basilica, some beautiful winding lanes and the remains of a Roman amphitheater.
South of France
I probably don’t need to convince you to visit the south of France. The epicenter of glamor, movie stars, and quintessential continental luxury! Again, there are parts of this region that are very expensive, like Cannes and Antibes, but you’ll be able to enjoy the beaches, heat and culture of this area in some neighboring towns, like Nice or a bit further west in Aix-en-Provence.
North of France
Although quite sleepy, in the North of France you’ll be pleasantly surprised at the charm of the region as a whole. As the site of the D-Day invasions, you’ll find numerous Second World War graveyards and monuments. This area is fairly inexpensive and does have a large number of markets, old buildings and small museums tucked away, and it’s one of my favorite parts of the country. Rouen, Caen, and Dieppe are particularly nice, and if you take the train, they’re all really easy to get to. Don’t forget to make a stop at Mont Saint-Michel, which is a giant fortified monastery on an Island.
If you love skiing, you absolutely must visit the French Alps once in your life, at least! Hugely popular with Brits and other Europeans, as well as other world travelers keen to experience the slopes in another part of the world, the range (no pun intended) of locations and mountains to explore means that whether you’re just starting to ski or you’re at an advanced level there is resort that will be just what you need. Look for a ticket to the Rhône-Alpes region in South East France, near the borders of Switzerland to the North and Italy to the East. Val d’Isère offers a range of on and off piste skiing and is well suited for advanced skiers, but will be a great experience for new or intermediate skiers as well. Another classic example of a French skiing wonderland for the experienced is Chamonix, a brilliant (but expensive) example of a French ski town. For beginners, heading for Courchevel or Morzine is a good idea as both offer intermediate terrain.
When to Go:
Depending on which cities and towns you plan to visit, some times of the year are better than others. For instance, Paris is lovely all year round but visit in the spring for a particularly special time. The summer is when they have an influx of tourists and this can make popular destinations like museums and sights really crowded. Tours of wine country are beautiful in the fall when the leaves are changing, and skiing is best in winter of course. The summer is a great time to explore the legendary beaches of Cannes, Marseille and Nice, or island of Corsica.
It is so easy to get around France. The train system operates in what seems like two parts, with the TGV and the TER operating throughout the country. The TGV is the high-speed service operating all over the country, meaning you can get from one place to the next fairly quickly and easily. The TER is rail service run by the regional councils, and offers shorter services between towns. This is a cheap and brilliant way to get from one small town to another, and one of my favorite ways to discover the charm and character of the small towns and cities of France.
When I was in France, I didn’t feel unsafe. I was extremely careful, however, and didn’t venture out too far into the suburbs or away from main streets after dark. Like any other large, tourist friendly city, there are pick pockets in popular areas and on public transport, so stay vigilant and keep your things close to you. The French police are a visible presence in most locations like train stations, which does make you feel a bit more comfortable, but again, particularly if you’re traveling alone, avoid small lanes and dark areas at night or take a taxi, which you can find at a ‘station de taxi’, or hail.
This article was written by Rachel Gardner, a travel writer who spent six months living in France.