If you’re calling yourself a Francophile, then you don’t need us to tell you how wonderful France is! Just what is it that makes the place so special? There might be several different answers to that, depending on who’s doing the answering. But the things we’re probably all agreed on have to include the food, local wines, picturesque villages, ancient castles, and majestic cathedrals that abound, and the wonderful places of outstanding beauty throughout the country. It’s very hard to choose just six things not to be missed in France, but here goes!
Paris is obviously the number one place to go in France. There are so many wonderful things to do and see in the country’s capital, that it definitely warrants a paragraph to itself. Paris is renowned for its architectural beauty, for fashion and culture, for art, and of course for food and drink. Wonderful wide boulevards crisscross this beautiful city, which is divided by the sublime River Seine. Not to be missed in Paris are the iconic Eiffel Tower, which stretches 324 meters into the sky; a cruise down the River Seine; the magnificent Louvre Museum, home to the famous Leonardo da Vinci Mona Lisa painting; the splendid Versailles Palace; the architecturally impressive Notre Dame Cathedral; and of course the renowned Champs-Elysees and Arc de Triomphe. Allow plenty of time to be seduced by the many sidewalk cafes, the wonderful restaurants, and the fabulous glamor!
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Marvel at Le Mont-Saint-Michel, an island colony located in Normandy off the country’s north-west coast. Just 247 acres in size, it has a population of fewer than 50 people. Constructed in feudal times, this tiny island is dominated by a medieval monastery. In the olden days, the island was only accessible during low tide, which gave it a huge defensive advantage. It managed to remain unconquered during the Hundred Years War, even withstanding a full attack by the English in 1433. It is now one of France’s most recognizable and visited landmarks and is included as one of UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites. In 2009, a hydraulic dam was built to help remove silt that had accumulated around the island. Following this, a new public-access bridge was constructed, the design of which allows the water to flow freely around the island and helps improve the performance of the dam. This wonderful place is definitely a must for all you Francophiles!
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A place that will delight all the senses is the fabulous Loire Valley. Located fairly centrally between north and south France, in the middle section of the Loire River, the area of the Valley comprises around 800 square kilometers. The whole region is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and with good reason. Given its central setting, it was once of huge strategic importance. Kings and noblemen gathered to install many a feudal castle, which they followed up with flamboyant pleasure palaces. Remains of these sumptuous chateaux, together with the surrounding little villages, historic towns, and many vineyards, are what makes the area unique with its rich history of architecture and creativity – not to mention the wonderful local wines! But it’s not just vineyards; the region also boasts many fruit orchards, plus artichoke and asparagus fields.
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Yet another UNESCO site in France is the awesome medieval citadel, Cité de Carcassonne, located in the south of the country. The first time you catch sight of this magnificent citadel, it will take your breath away. In fact, it never fails to impress, no matter how many times you see it. At night it’s even more inspiring with its beautiful illuminations. Dating back as far as 3500 BC, it nowadays consists of two outer walls, 53 towers, and a 12th-century castle. With a fascinating history waiting to be discovered, there are archeological exhibits and tours of the inner ramparts available. A thriving, bustling life exists within the walls of the city these days. Hotels, restaurants, cafes, and many an unusual shop in this unique setting make the Cité de Carcassonne a place that should be visited at least once in a lifetime.
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When in France, do as the French do, right? So the Route Touristique de Champagne is a must. Not because the French themselves do this tour that much, of course, but because they like to drink champagne! And who doesn’t? The Champagne region, located in the north-east of the country, covers five wine-producing districts, with the two main centers to be found in the towns of Épernay and Reims. While the fizz may be the main attraction for visiting this area, you will also find yourself seduced by the simple beauty and historical heritage of the region. It radiates an oasis of calm, with picturesque villages and refined champagne houses whose owners are only delighted to share their produce with you.
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Last but by no means least, let’s take a look at yet another UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Pont du Gard, in southern France, is an ancient Roman aqueduct. It’s not just the highest Roman aqueduct that exists; it’s also one of the best preserved. Part of the Nîmes 50 kilometer system, it was built in the first century AD to carry water from one area to another. Most of the aqueduct is underground, but some uneven topography along the way called for a bridge to be constructed across the Gardon River gorge. It’s a truly awesome sight: a magnificent compilation of stones weighing upwards of six tons. Undergoing many renovations between the 18th and the 21st century, the aqueduct and its surrounding area today is both traffic- and building-free, and offers a fabulous visitor center that opened in the year 2000. It’s one of France’s most visited attractions. Put it on the itinerary! You won’t be disappointed.
This is just a taste of the many things to see and do in France. If you’re a serious Francophile, then don’t miss out on five breathtaking castles in the Languedoc-Roussillon region and e-biking around rural France!