As intoxicating as Paris may be, the countryside of France and her Mediterranean coast will lure you into a love affair with this country.
About 100 miles southwest of Paris, sitting along the banks of the long, winding Loire river, the valley is mainly visited for its magnificent châteaux and castles. These grand structures are set amidst beautiful countryside that is dotted with quaint towns and villages such as Saumur, Chinon, Blois and Tours (university site). There are trains available that pass through each town, so you can tour the entire region via rail pass.
For the more athletically inclined, bicycling through this region is extremely popular and highly recommended as you can tour the many vineyards and wineries along the way. Bikes can be rented from some rail stations and in each town (ask at train station). To See/Do: Blois: Château de Blois, Château de Chambord; Tours: Château de Chenonceau, Château d’azay-le-Rideau. Saumur: wine tasting.
This region, southwest of Paris and north of Provence, is comprised of pretty, tranquil medieval towns that sit in the shadow of the stunning French Alps. Dijon is the most northern town, situated in the Burgundy region. It is a lively Renaissance city that is home to a large university and offers some of Burgundy’s premier wineries in the nearby countryside. Lyon, known as the culinary capital of France, is a large flourishing modern city that still retains its medieval character in the old city section. Chamonix and Mont-Blanc sit at the foot of the French Alps enveloping you in stunning, picturesque scenery.
Comprised of picturesque towns such as Avignon, Arles, Marseille and Aix-en-Provence, this ancient region cultivated by the Romans is a world unto itself. Yes, it is often heavily touristed, but the juxtaposition of romance, country life, modern style and innovation has not detracted from Provence’s historic character and seductive charm.
Visit wineries and lounge in tiny bistros in Aix-en-Provence. Bike ride through wildflowers and visit ancient attractions in medieval Arles. And indulge in sophisticated cafés in burgeoning Marseilles. Provence has always delighted her visitors! To See/Do: Arles: St-Triomphe Cloister; Aix-en-Provence: Cathedrale St-Sauveur, markets and cafés; Avignon: Palais de Papes; Marseilles: The Old Port, Le Panier.
Renowned for its sophistication, wealth and power, the Cote d’Azur is a tourist haven offering not just a golden St. Tropez tan, but a rich nightlife and natural beauty.
The more laid-back (relatively speaking) large town of Nice has lots of cafés, bars, markets and, of course, pebble beaches (take your flip-flops). Cannes and St. Tropez are better as day trips from Nice, as they are really over touristed millionaires’ playgrounds - still fun to check out though, especially if there’s a festival in town. To See/Do: Nice: Musee Matisse, Musee Chagall; St. Tropez: Musee de l’Annonciade.
Brittany is France’s more cultural and down-to-earth northwestern counterpart to the French Riviera in the south. And since it’s just across the English Channel, it’s a perfect stop on the way to or from Paris or London. The dramatic coastline with jagged cliffs and white sand beaches are just a precursor to the charming, lush Celtic towns of St. Malo, Quimper, Vannes, Dinan and the larger Rennes. Celtic pride and history is exhibited in the names, language and culture throughout the region. It is a distinctly different area from the rest of France. Go during one of the local festivals and you’ll be treated to traditional costumes and festive activities. To See/Do: St. Malo: Château, Fort National; Dinan: Tour du Coëtquen; Rennes: Musée Des Beaux-Arts, Jardin Du Thabor.