by Jen Miller
( April 15, 2017, Paris, Sri Lanka Guardian) France is the number one tourist destination worldwide, and it is not difficult to see why. Quite apart from the diversity of its national monuments – many but by no means all of which are to be found in the capital city of Paris – it offers culture, tradition, fascinating history, romance and charm as well as fantastic cooking and first-rate wines.
It is interesting to note, when you are visiting France, that the French are extraordinarily nonchalant about the beauties and treasures in their wonderful country, almost as if they took them for granted. They live, eat and sleep with them in a completely different way to the rest of the world. For that reason, it is often difficult to find information about the lesser-known gems of antiquity or beauty hidden away in the remoter regions of France. This list of the best things to do in France will shed light, not only on the attractions and monuments with which everyone is acquainted, but on other equally beautiful or significant attractions which are all but unknown.
1. Champs-Elysees and Arc de Triomphe (Paris)
No visit to Paris would be complete without a walk along this most loved of Parisian avenues to the towering Arc de Triomphe at it`s West end. Felt by many to be a more significant landmark of Paris even than the famous Eiffel Tower, the Arc de Triomphe – commissioned by Napoleon in 1806 but not completed until 30 years later – commemorates those who died in the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars. The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier from WWI lies beneath its vault.
The Champs Elysées lies in the 8me arrondissement, north of the Seine. For the best quality entertainment, shopping and eating in Paris, it is hard to beat (don`t forget to replenish your wallet first!). From the railway station Gare du Nord, it is about 12 minutes by subway. The closest subway stop is “Charles-de-Gaulle-Étoile”.
2. Eiffel Tower (Paris)
At 324 metres tall, the Eiffel Tower (named after engineer Gustave Eiffel, whose company constructed it in the years between 1887 and 1889) is the highest structure in Paris and one of the most immediately recognizable in the world. Much criticized at the time of its inception, today it is the most visited monument worldwide, drawing nearly 7 million visitors in 2015.
The tower consists of three levels, with 300 steps between the ground floor and the first level and a further 300 separating the first level from the second (there ARE steps from the second to the third, but most people prefer to take the elevator!). There are restaurants on the first two levels and an observation deck (at 276 metres – the highest in the EU) on the third. The nearest railway station is the Gare Montparnasse, line 6 (just over 20 minutes): the stop is “Champ de Mars”.
3. Palais des Papes (Avignon)
A UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1995, Avignon’s huge “Palace of the Popes” (15,000 square metres in area) is one of the largest and most significant examples of mediaeval Gothic architecture in Europe. Both a palace and a fortress, it housed six successive popes in the 14th century, while its huge library attracted students and clerics – and its chapel musicians and singers – from all over the world. Sadly, it fell into disuse towards the end of the 14th century on the decision of the papacy to return to Rome.
Most parts of this awe-inspiring building and its gardens – a legacy of the huge wealth of the papacy – are open to visitors. The great chapel and the 700 year old frescoes by Matteo Giovanetti are of particular interest. Avignon, located in the heart of Provence, is accessible by rail in 2 hours 38 minutes from Paris. A shuttle bus (10 minutes) transports visitors from the station to the city center.
4. La Rochelle Old City Harbor
La Rochelle was founded in the 10th century and had become an important port by the 12th, but was inhabited by both the Romans and the Gauls in ancient times, making it one of France’s most ancient cities. Situated on the Bay of Biscay in the Charente-Maritime region of southwest France, La Rochelle derives its name from the rocky promontory on which it was originally built (“La Rochelle” means quite literally “little rock”).
A hospitable and lively city as well as one of great historical interest, La Rochelle is a fabulous venue for visitors of all ages and interests. It has its own airport, which is only 15 minutes from the city center by bus (bus stop: Place de Verdun).
5. Mont Saint Michel (Pontorson)
Just 1 kilometre off the northwest coast of Normandy lies the diminutive island of Mont Saint Michel. It is only 100 hectares in area and inhabited by barely 40 people. Interestingly, it was originally connected to the mainland by a tidal causeway: a stretch of road only passable at low tide. This strategic position made it impossible to conquer: during the Hundred Years War, small garrisons fought off repeated assaults by the British, a great source of inspiration to Joan of Arc.
The famous abbey dwarfing the island is first mentioned as early as the 8th century, though it underwent major architectural changes, notably in the 11th and 12th centuries. Louis XI, recognizing the advantages of the island’s impenetrability, even turned it into a prison! The nearest large city is Rennes, which has its own airport. From Rennes to Pontorson by rail takes just under an hour, Mont St. Michel is a 9 kilometre bus ride from Pontorson station.
Prior to 1858, the little village of Lourdes at the foot of the Pyranées in southwest France had escaped conspicuousness. This was to change with the miraculous visions which began to manifest themselves to the innocent peasant girl, Bernadette Soubirous (canonized in 1933). By 1860, hundreds of pilgrims, tourists and invalids hoping for a cure had begun to flock to the village. Today Lourdes is second only to Paris on France’s list of most-visited places, drawing an estimated 5 million visitors each season.
Hautes-Pyrenées is the closest large city (17.8 kilometres). Lourdes has its own airport (15 minutes by road from the city center).
7. The Louvre (Paris)
Probably the most famous art museum in the world (and the second most-visited), La Louvre was established in the former 12th century Louvre Palace in 1793 as a museum to display the nation’s treasures. Today a surface area of 72,735 square metres houses nearly 35,000 objets d’art, paintings and drawings, ranging from prehistoric times to the modern day, undoubtedly the most famous of which being Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa.
La Louvre, which draws 15,000 visitors a day, is located in the 1er arrondissement on the right bank of the Seine. It is around 5 kilometres from the Gare du Nord: the closest metro stations are “Louvre Rivoli” and “Palais Royal Musée du Louvre”, both on Line 1.
8. Verdon Gorge (Moustiers Ste. Marie)
25 km long and 700 m deep, the stunning Verdon Gorge is widely considered to be the most beautiful in Europe. It was cut by the Verdon river, whose distinctive emerald green colour – caused by microscopic algae – gave both the river and the Gorge their names (“vert” in French means “green”). Often referred to as “The Grand Canyon of Europe”, the Verdon Gorge offers many activities such as rock-climbing, kayak-canoeing, mountain-biking and camping, and the nearby 5th century town of Moustiers Ste. Marie is the perfect place to relax after such strenuous activities.
Moustiers Ste. Marie is pretty remote, so make sure you have the right travel gear to go by car. The nearest larger town is Castellane (44.5 km), the nearest big city Nice (150 km) which has its own airport. (Take a map and a French dictionary, because this one is likely to be an adventure!).
9. Palace of Versailles
Perhaps more than any other building in France, the resplendent Palace of Versailles embodies the huge chasm between the extravagance of the aristocracy and the extreme poverty of the working classes which was to lead to the outbreak of the French Revolution in 1789. Originally conceived as a hunting lodge in 1623, it went through two major phases of expansion in the 17th and 18th centuries, becoming even more opulent then than it is today.
Particularly famed for its hall of mirrors and its chapel, the Palace of Versailles is well worth a visit; long queues are to be expected, however. Versailles is located 44.5 km southwest of Paris in the Île-de-France region. The Palace is within walking distance of the railway station “Versailles Rive Gauche” (12 minutes).
10. Gard Bridge (Nîmes)
The “Pont du Gard” is huge, 3-tiered ancient Roman aqueduct spanning the Gardon river, which was built in the first century AD to channel water from the Fontaine d’Eure near Uzès to Nemausus (Nîmes). Even after it had ceased to be used as an aqueduct, it continued to be maintained as a toll bridge, surviving three severe floods in the course of the last century which destroyed many other bridges.
Today the bridge is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the top five tourist attractions in France. It can easily be accessed from Nîmes (22 km) or Avignon (25 km).
11. Moulin Rouge
Birthplace of the (for the times) scandalous “can-can”, the Moulin Rouge was founded by Joseph Oller and Charles Zidler in 1889. It was the first cabaret music-hall of its kind and rapidly became successful, sparking off similar cabarets all over Europe and inspiring even such geniuses as Renoir and Toulouse-Lautrec. Distinguished by the red windmill on its roof which gives it its name (“moulin rouge” means “red windmill” in English), the building was destroyed by fire in 1915, but was rebuilt 10 years later. Today it is as popular as ever, attracting 600,000 guests a year.
The Moulin Rouge is just under 2 kilometres from the railway station Gare du Nord. The closest subway station is “Blanche”.
12. Ronde des Vins d’Alsace
The Alsatian wine route, or “Ronde des Vins d’Alsace” as it is known in France, is a winding trail of some 170 kilometres through the legendary, 1000 year old wine-growing region of Alsace in eastern France. Roughly speaking, the trail leads from Thann in the south to Marlenheim in the north, embracing wine museums, grape-harvesting techniques and (of course!) wine-tasting as it goes.
The region and its villages are highly picturesque and a number of cycle routes are available for those who would like to explore them in their own time. Coach and bus tours can also be booked by the less adventurous. The closest airport/railway station to Marlenheim is Strasbourg, just over 20 kilometres away; the bus (line 230) takes half an hour.
13. The Loire Valley
At 1.012 kilometres in length, the river Loire is the longest in France. The roughly 800 square kilometres of surrounding land termed “the Loire Valley” (or “Valle de la Loire in French”) are often referred to as “the cradle” or “the garden” of France. The entire valley was placed under the protection of UNESCO in 2000.
With its castles and abbeys, its glorious gardens and quaint villages and the lush hills and dramatic gorges flanking the beautiful blue waters of this lovely river, the Loire valley is the perfect holiday destination for all tastes and all interests. Largely located in the region of central France known as “Centre Val de Loire”, the Loire Valley can best be explored from the starting points of larger cities such as Orleans (ca. 1.5 hours), Chartres (2 hours) or Bourges (under 3 hours), times given from Paris by rail.
14. Chamonix/Mont Blanc
At 4.810 metres above sea-level, so high that its summit is always snow-covered (hence the name “Mont Blanc” or “white mountain”), Mont Blanc has always drawn rock climbers and mountaineers like a magnet. Experienced climbers with a guide can manage the climb to the summit in 10-12 hours; however, there are easier trails and routes to suit all levels of ability (and fitness!).
Nestling in the mountain’s majestic shadow, 1.042 metres above sea level, is the town of Chamonix, which is located in the commune of Chamonix-Mont-Blanc. Chamonix is the oldest ski resort and center for alpine sports in France but also a favored resort for paragliding, golf, tennis and wellness. The closest airport is Geneva (1 ¼ hours), followed by bus or train (around 2 hours).
15. Musée Nationale Adrien Dubouché (Limoges)
Located in the west-central region of France, the Haute-Vienne department, Limoges is famed for its enamels, its oak barrels and particularly its exquisite porcelain.
The National Museum was founded in 1845 by Adrien Dubouché, who not only gave it his name, but 4.000 of his own ceramics as well. With around 12.000 pieces today, it houses the largest collection of Limoges porcelain in the world, as well as an impressive collection of Chinese, Royal Doulton and Meissen ceramics and glassware dating from mediaeval times to the present day. A must for porcelain lovers, Limoges has its own airport which is 15 minutes by car from the museum.
16. Seine Cruise (Paris)
A cruise down the Seine is an unforgettable experience, and a visit to Paris would not be complete without it. Apart from being quite unashamedly romantic, since many of the cities attractions such as the Notre Dame Cathedral, the Eiffel Tower and the Louvre lie along the banks of the river, a cruise provides the opportunity to admire them from a completely different perspective.
There are many cruises of varying lengths and types on offer: one can have breakfast, lunch or dinner or even one`s wedding reception on the Seine! Whichever you choose to do, the Seine cruise will be a highlight of your visit to Paris.
17. Aquarium La Rochelle
With an area of nearly 8.500 square metres and 3 million litres of seawater housing 12.000 animals of 600 different species, the family-owned aquarium in La Rochelle is the 6th most-visited attraction in France, drawing 800.000 visitors a year.
Young and old marine lovers alike will be fascinated by this unique glimpse into the life of our oceans. La Rochelle, a beautiful and bewitching city in its own right, can be reached by rail from Montparnasse station in Paris (2 ½ to three hours). It has its own airport.
At 233 km from Nice and 110 km from Piombino, Corsica is actually closer to Italy than it is to France, yet its people, its culture and its cuisine are uniquely Corsican. For a widely diverse holiday, Corsica is difficult to beat: sandy beaches, very clear water, high mountains, shady forests, fascinating historical buildings (including the house of Napoleon Bonaparte, who was born on Corsica) and fantastic wines and cooking are only some of its attractions.
Bastia is accessible by ferry from Toulon ( 7 ½ hours), Marseille (12 ½ hours) or Nice (5 ¼ hours).
19. Luberon National Regional Park
The Luberon, situated in Central Provence in the south of France, comprises 600 square km of breathtaking natural beauty and three mountain ranges. Famed for its limestone peaks and green hills, its vineyards and its orchards and its typical hilltop-perched villages, it is an area of such unspoiled natural beauty and historical significance that the whole of it was placed under the protection of UNESCO in 1997. It is also the best place to see those famous French lavender fields!
Luberon is located 70 km southeast of Avignon. Buses run from Avignon to the village of Apt, but generally public transport is not good and car rental is strongly advised. The closest airport is Marseille (24 minutes).
20. Le Mans
Le Mans, famous since 1923 for its 24 hour endurance racing, is situated on the river Sarthe in the Pays de La Loire in northwest France. It is only an hour from Paris by road or rail and is well worth a visit, adding the famous Roman Wall of Fame surrounding the immaculate Plantagenet Old City, the 1.000 year old St. Julian`s Cathedral and the famous city lights (not to mention a very welcoming tea room, great restaurants and excellent B&B) to its racier attractions!
The closest airport is the Tours Val de Loire (101 km); the train from Tours takes an hour to reach Le Mans.
21. Somme Battlefields Circuit of Remembrance
On 1st July, 1916, British and French troops launched an offensive against the Germans on both sides of the Upper Somme river in what was to be the bloodiest battle of WWII, and one of the bloodiest in recorded history. Between the british garrison in Albert and Péronne, where the Germans were stationed, over a million men were wounded or killed.
The “Somme Remembrance Circuit” (“circuit du souvenir” in French) is a blazed trail running from Albert to Péronne, embracing museums of the “War to end all wars”, tombstones and memorials and fields of poppies on the way. Around 90 km long, it can be travelled by car, by bicycle or on foot, travelling either from Albert or Péronne. It is situated in northern France, not far from the Belgian border.
22. Paris Catacombs
Fascinating and and macabre, the Paris Catacombs represent a typically French way of solving two problems simultaneously. Firstly, owing to the somewhat haphazard mining techniques in extracting the limestone from which many of the cities buildings are built, parts of the city had actually begun to cave in (1774). At the same time, the cities graveyards, notably “Saints Innocents”, were beginning to overflow. From about 1785 onwards, the remains of centuries’ worth of dead Parisians were exhumed and transported by night to the old mines. It is estimated that the catacombs contain the remains of nearly 7 million people.
The Catacombs are located on the Avenue du Colonel Henri Rol-Tanguy, around 30 minutes from the Gare du Nord or Orly airport. Nearest metro stop is Denfert-Rochereau.
23.Lascaux II (Montignac)
On 12th September near Montignac in the Dordogne, four teenagers who had followed their dog down a narrow tunnel into a cavern made a monumental discovery: 600 paintings, mainly of animals, and over 1,500 engravings dating from the Upper Palaeolithic period, 15.000 to 17.000 years old.
The original Lascaux grotto, opened to the public in 1948, was closed again in 1963 because artificial light was causing the colors of the paintings to fade; however, in 1983 an exact replica of the cave and its paintings – in itself a unique technological achievement taking 11 years and the skills of over 120 artists – was opened nearby, which today draws tens of thousands of visitors annually. Original cave art can still be seen at the nearby Rouffignac cave. Montignac is situated in the Département Dordogne-Périgord in southwestern France. It is very remote and only accessible by taxi from Les Eyzies (around 19 km – buses DO run, but are infrequent), where there is also a great Prehistory museum. The closest large airport is Limoges (89 km)
24. Disneyland (Paris)
Disneyland Paris, formerly known as Euro Disney Resort, is not actually located in Paris itself, but in the new town of Marne-la-Vallée, 32 kilometres east of Paris. A great deal of controversy surrounded its opening in 1992 and its first three years can only be described as a flop; however, 1995 was to begin a new cycle of success – in 2014 it was the top tourist attraction in Europe, boasting 14.2 million visitors.
For Disney lovers of all ages, this is a great diversion from the bustle of Paris and very easily accessible by train from Gare du Nord to Chessy/Disneyland Paris (1 hour).
25. Saint-Ouen Flea Market (Paris)
“Les Puces de Saint-Ouen” is one of the largest flea markets in the world and a perfect treasure chest of antique jewellery, crockery, books, records, vintage clothing and practically anything else you can think of. Formed at the end of the 19th century as a street market by itinerant rag-and-bone merchants who had been driven out of Paris, it had become so popular by the Twenties that a number of businessmen decided to invest in it, creating indoor stalls and supplying it with electricity.
Today, with over 2.500 stalls, it attracts 11 million visitors a year. It takes place on Saturdays, Sundays and Mondays, 6 minutes from the Gare du Nord. The nearest metro stop is Porte de Clignancourt; follow the signposts to “Les Puces”!
26. Terra Botanica (Angers)
The Terra Botanica in Angers is a theme park with the emphasis on plants in all their aspects: the history and prehistory of plant (and other) life, plants as medicines or dyes, unusual and exotic plants and how to plan a vegetable garden, amongst others. With 4D films, tree houses, hot air balloon rides and panning for amber or fossils, it offers a wealth of instructive entertainment for kids (and adults) of all ages. It also has a magnificent collection of butterflies, tame animals which love to be petted (along with the occasional friendly dinosaur) and the usual slides and rides where kids can let off steam.
An excellent venue for a family day out, Terra Botanica is accessible by rail in just over 2 hours from Paris Gare Montparnasse-Anjers.
27. Claude Monet’s House and Gardens (Giverny)
To those of us who have rhapsodized about Monet’s famous painting of the bridge and the waterlilies, it may come as a delightful surprise to discover that they not only exist today, they can also be visited! Monet spent his later and most creative years at Giverny, cultivating his garden and his art despite increasing blindness. Giverny also hosts the more modern “Museum of the Impressionists” 200 yards from Monet’s house.
Giverny is around 80 km northwest of Paris and is best accessed by taking the train from Paris to Vernon (just over an hour from St. Lazare station) and then the shuttle bus to Giverny (15-20 minutes).
28. Saint-Guilhem-le-Désert (Montpellier)
One of the most beautiful villages in France, Saint-Guillaume-le-Désert or Saint-Guilhem-le-Désert (St. William of the Desert in English) is a perfectly preserved and almost unaltered mediaeval village hidden away in the narrow valley of the river Gellone at the heart of the Languedoc-Roussillon region of southern France.
With a population of under 300, nonetheless Saint-Guilhem-le-Désert enjoys a fair amount of tourism. 3 kilometres away, the incredible Clamouse caves are well worth a visit. The nearest city is Montpellier (44.2 km), which is exquisite in its own right. Public transport is poor: a car is recommended.
Evidence suggests that humans have inhabited Marseille (or Marseilles, as it is also known) for almost 30,000 years. A major port at its height in 4 BC, it was the first settlement of the Greeks in France and was established as a city around 600 BC by the Phocaeans, making it France`s oldest city. Today, the former “Massalia” is a lively, bustling harbor town and the second largest French city after Paris, attracting over 4 million visitors a year.
For full benefits of your stay in Marseille, visit the old port, Le Panier (where the Greeks supposedly first lived) and the Château d’If, where the fictional Count of Monte Christo was imprisoned in the novel of the same name. Marseille has its own airport: the flight from Paris takes 1 hour 20 minutes.
30. Stade Roland Garros (Paris)
For tennis lovers of all ages, the Roland Garros Stadium in the 16th arrondissement is definitely worth a visit. Established in 1928 for the Davis Cup and named after WWI aviator Roland Garros (killed in combat in 1918), the Stade Roland Garros boasts twenty courts, 3 enormous stadiums and a complex of bars and restaurants. It hosts the French Open annually between late May and early June.
The Stade Roland Garros can be reached by metro from Chatelet in about 20 minutes, going direction Bolougne. The exit is “Port d’Accueil”, from which the Stadium is a five minute walk.
31. Zoo de la Flèche (Flèche)
The Zoo de la Flêche, located in Sarthe in the Pays de la Loire region, has the reputation of being the best zoo in France. With all the animals one would expect plus quite a few rarer ones – from white lions to poison-dart frogs – , the zoo covers an area of 35 acres, in which the animals are kept very much in accordance with their natural habitats and barely separated from the public by leafy walkways.
La Flêche is around 75 km northwest of Tours and around 50 km from Angers.
32. Cathédrale St. Étienne, Jardins de l’Évêché (Limoges)
A visit to Limoges would not be complete without seeing this awe-inspiring example of Catholic primitive Gothic architecture in which believers have worshipped for over a thousand years. Surrounded by perfectly-kept botanical gardens, it towers majestically towards the sky, its spire 65 metres high. And if its exterior is breathtaking, its interior is even more so.
The Cathédrale St. Étienne, also just known as “Limoges Cathedral”, is located in Limoges in the Haute-Vienne department of Central France, around 181 km from Bordeaux. The closest airport is the Limoges-Bellegarde airport, 8 km from the city center.
35 kilometres from the Spanish border on the southwestern coast of France, facing the Bay of Biscay, the bustling, fun-loving town of Biarritz has all the attractions of the Riviera, but is less expensive and less crowded. The town’s wealth, founded on the whaling trade in the Middle Ages, took an upward swing as early as the 18th Century, when it was recommended for the beneficial health properties of its air and water, and it has been a popular holiday and bathing resort ever since.
Biarritz has long sandy beaches, casinos and bars and some wonderful views and old buildings. It is also known as the golfing capital of France, with many fine golf courses. It has its own airport, with less than two hours flight from Pau and only 30 minutes from San Sebastian in Spain.
34. Château d`If
The Château d’If, 1,6 km off the shoreline from Marseille, was originally a fortress and then a prison. It became famous as the setting for Alexandre Dumas`book “The Count of Monte Cristo”. Political prisoners, Protestants and Communards were imprisoned here, as was the famous revolutionary hero Mirabeau. The castle was closed as a prison in 1890 and opened for the public.
The Château d’ If is only accessible by ferry from Marseille (around 20 minutes).
With its warm and sunny location on the mediterranean southeast coast of France, the popularity of Nice as a holiday resort is understandable. Part of the Riviera, it is also the second largest city on the mediterranean coast and the fifth largest in France. Nice boasts wonderful beaches where you can swim and work on your mediterranean tan, but also ancient churches, parks and lovely walks. Particularly interesting to the cultured are the Marc Chagall Art Museum and the Russian Orthodox Church.
Nice is 155 km from Marseille and 154 km from Turin in Italy (where it is known as Nizza). It is only 20 km from Monaco and has its own airport.
A haven for the rich and the famous (largely due to its tax laws), at just over 2 square kilometres in size and a population of nearly 40.000, Monaco is the most densely-populated country in the world. Located on the southern coast of France on the Mediterranean, Monaco is a sovereign state which has been ruled by the Grimaldi family since 1297. It is estimated that around 30% of its population consists of millionaires.
For high class boutiques and high end car dealers and just shopping generally, Monaco is hard to beat. The harbor with its multi-million dollar yachts has to be seen to be believed, restaurants and hotels are excellent, the old town is beautiful and both France and Italy are less than 20 km away. Monaco has great casinos, too. The country lies around 20 km east of Nice (30 minutes by road or rail).
37. Palais Garnier Opera(Paris)
The Palais Garnier Opera house, also known simply as the “Palais Garnier”, is probably the most famous opera house in the world, due in part to having been the backdrop of Gaston Leroux’ novel “The Phantom of the Opera” (1910). At the time of its opening in 1875, it was the largest opera house and theatre in the world. Now mostly used for ballet and modern dance (for opera, go to the Opéra Bastille), its interior is lavish and resplendent and it is well worth a visit just for this reason.
The Palais Garnier is located in the 9th arrondissement at “Place de l’Opéra”, approximately 15 minutes from the Gare du Nord by car or bus.
38. Strasbourg Christmas Market
Strasbourg’s Christmas market has existed since 1570 and is the oldest Christmas market in Europe. Today the beautiful old city of Strasbourg – known as the capital of Christmas – still opens its warm and inviting Christmas market (known as “Christkindlsmärik) once a year in the traditional Alsatian style, drawing 2 million visitors annually.
The market takes place around the foot of Strasbourg`s magnificent Cathedral from the end of November right up to Christmas eve. Strasbourg has its own airport and a shuttle train travels from the airport to the city center in just 9 minutes.
39. Mont Aiguille (Grenoble)
2.085 metres high, Mont Aiguille in the Vercors Regional National Park was first climbed in 1429 and is said to be the birth of mountain-climbing. Guided tours include walking, hiking and climbing at various different levels of experience and difficulty. The surrounding terrain is breathtakingly beautiful and the views are superb.
Situated in the French pre-Alps 58 km south of Grenoble, Mont Aiguille is best accessed by car or taxi (direction: Saint-Michel-les-Portes), which takes just under an hour.
Best known for its annual International Film Festival, now 70 years old, the city of Cannes on the French Riviera was a small fishing port established in 2 BC which became known as “Canua” in the 10th century. Today it is the Mecca of the rich and famous, with its casinos, luxury hotels, a glittering nightlife and 12 hours of sunshine a day! The Lerins islands, well worth a visit, are a mere 15 minute ferry trip away and the long beach promenade of La Croisette is a great place for promi-spotting.
30 minutes south of Nice, Cannes has its own airport.
41. Pont Saint Benezet (Avignon)
Immortalized by the famous song “Sur le pont d’avignon”, the bridge of Saint Benezet was constructed in the years between 1177 and 1185 and repeatedly rebuilt owing to the tendency of its arches to collapse when the Rhône river flooded. Only four of its original twenty arches – which spanned some 900 metres – have survived; however, it is a fine example of mediaeval architecture, steeped in legend, and well worth a visit. It was classified a World Heritage Site in 1995.
Avignon is situated on the left bank of the Rhône in the Vaucluse department of southeastern France. It has its own airport, with a shuttle bus to the city center (around 40 minutes).
42. Aquariaz Avoriaz
One of the first skiing resorts in France, Avoriaz in the Morzine commune is today one of the major French skiing and snowboarding destinations. During the summer it also offers trekking, hiking, mountain-biking and golf – and of course the “Aquariaz Avoriaz”, a water paradise in tropical style with many exciting attractions.
Avoriaz is best reached by shuttle transfer from Geneva (102 km), which takes around 1 hour 45 minutes.
43. Carcassonne (Toulouse)
The town of Carcassonne in the Aude district of Occitanie has been occupied since neolithic times and is most famous for its mediaeval fortress, which has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1997. For those who love mediaeval architecture, the old city with its castle and its ramparts will delight you. The region is also famous for its excellent wines, with wine-tasting a must.
The nearest airport is the Carcassonne Salvaza airport (6 km). Carcassonne is 94.1 km southeast of Toulouse (1 hour 11 minutes by road).
44. The Nietzsche Path (Nice)
The Nietzsche Path is the name given to the path rising from Eze-sur-Mer (15 minutes by bus from Nice) and Eze village (450 meters above sea level), which the German philosopher Nietzsche – who lived here in the 19th century – supposedly climbed daily while writing “Thus Spake Zarathustra”. The climb takes around an hour and the views are superb (no climbing experience necessary, but one should be fit and take plenty of water).
Eze-sur-Mer can be reached by bus or train from Nice in around 15 minutes.
45. Bayonne Cathedral
The building of Bayonne`s magnificent Catholic gothic “Cathédrale Sainte-Marie de Bayonne” began in the 13th century and continued until the 17th, with its spires not finished until the 19th. The cathedral’s site – formerly occupied by a Romanesque cathedral destroyed by fire – lies on the little-known “Camino de Santiago”, an ancient network of pilgrim routes, which has been travelled for centuries.
Bayonne, situated in the Nouvelle-Aquitaine region of the French Basque country, is only 30 km from the Spanish border: the bus to San Sebastian takes around 1 ½ hours. The closest airport is Biarritz (9 km).
The gorgeous city of Montpellier in the Hérault department of southern France is the eighth largest French city and the third largest on the Mediterranean coast. With its superb architecture, its statues and its fountains and its gardens and parks, the city center is sure to delight you. Modern and ancient, Montpellier is a great starting point from which to explore Provence or the Camargue
Montpellier has its own airport, flight time from Paris 1 hour. The railway station, Montpellier Saint-Roch, is located right in the city center.
47. St. Malo
St. Malo is located in Brittany, northwest France, on the English channel. Founded by the Gauls in 1 BC, the town has traditionally been associated with pirates and smugglers and combines ancient charm with a lively nightlife; from its famous IVth century Solidor tower (once a prison) to its hydro-electric dam (Rance estuary), it has something for all tastes. It is well-loved for its long beaches and moderate, warm climate. It is also popular with wind-surfers and golfers.
St. Malo is 70 km north of Rennes. The nearest airport (Dinard-Pleurtuit) is 13 ½ kilometres away.
48. Island of Oleron
The “Île d`Oléron” in the Atlantic is France’s second largest European island after Corsica. It is connected to the mainland by France’s longest bridge (3 km) at Marennes, 22.3 km southwest of Rochefort, and with a great many attractions is a well-loved holiday destination for French nationals and tourists alike. The east side of the island is best for family vacations with children; high waves on the west side make it a great place for surfers. The island is renowned for its excellent seafood (particularly oysters) as well as its wines and cheeses
Oleron is easy to get to via the bridge, which is free. The nearest airport is La Rochelle (78 km).
49. Bioparc de Doué la Fontaine (Saumur)
Doué la Fontaine’ s Biopark in the heart of the Loire valley, near to Saumur in Anjou, immediately impresses the visitor with its lush, natural settings which allow visitors close contact with the animals. With over 1.000 different species (including some very rare ones, like the okapi or the black rhino), it plays an important role in wildlife conservation.
Doué la Fontaine lies in the Maine-Loire department, western France, less than 50 km south east of Angers, which is the closest airport. Car rental is recommended.
50. Fontevraud Abbey (Saumur)
Founded in 1101 by Robert d’Arbrissel and seat of a new monastic order, the order of Fontevrault, this magnificent complex of religious buildings combines romanesque, classical and Gothic elements in its architecture. During the French Revolution it was disestablished as an abbey and was used as a prison from 1804 to 1963. Today it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The abbey is situated in the Loire valley in the Loire-Anjou-Touraine National Park, 16.5 kilometres south east of Saumur and less than 70 km south west of Tours (also the nearest airport). Buses run from Saumur to Fontevraud infrequently; car rental is advised.
51. Passage Pommeraye (Nantes)
The Passage Pommeraye is a 19th century shopping mall built in the years between 1840 and 1843. Its design is ornate, featuring Greek columns and many sculptures in the Renaissance style; for this reason, it has featured in a number of films, including “Lola” (Jacques Demy, 1961).
Classified as a historical monument as early as 1976, the mall is nigh-on the same now as it was in 1843, and is well worth a visit. It is situated between the Rue Santeuil and the Rue de la Fosse. Nantes has its own airport (Aéroport Nantes Atlantique) which is 12 km from the city center.
52. Temple of Augustus and Livia (Vienne)
32 kilometres south of Lyon, situated on the river Rhône in the department of Isère, lies the ancient city of Vienne. Formerly the capital city of the Gallic tribe of Allobroges, Vienne was made a Roman colony in 47 BC. The temple of Augustus and Livia, dating from 1 BC, is only one of the magnificent remaining examples of Roman architecture in Vienne.
Also famed for its annual Jazz festival and its food, Vienne is accessible by train from Lyon in just 17 minutes.
53. Bayeux Museum
Home of the famous Bayeux tapestry, the city of Bayeux lies in the Calvados department of Normandy in northwestern France, 7 km from the English channel. The Bayeux tapestry, 70 m long and 50 cm tall, depicts the events surrounding the Battle of Hastings (1066), making it over 900 years old. It can be seen at the “Musée de la Tapisserie de Bayeux”, 13 bis Rue de Nesmond.
Bayeux can be accessed by train from Paris in around 2 hours.
54. Parc de Préhistoire de Bretagne (Malansac)
In the Morbihan department of Brittany, northwestern France in the Vannes arrondissement lies a little-known gem of a park: the Brittany Prehistory Park. Just 2 km from the mediaeval town of Rochefort-en-Terre, the park, overhung by towering cliffs 40 m high, comprises 25 hectares of natural woods and 5 lakes in which different lifelike models of prehistoric animals and people and animated scenes of battles are presented.
Malansac lies just under 100 km northwest of Nantes and 85 km from Rennes. Public transport is poor: a car is recommended.
55. Jardin des Tuileries (Paris)
The Tuileries Park, originally created by Catherine de Medici in 1564, became a public park after the French revolution. Located between the Louvre art museum and the Place de la Concorde in the 1st arrondissement, it is a good central place to relax and have a picnic after the bustle and activity of Paris’ other attractions! Plenty of chairs are dotted around to admire the fountains, statues and beautiful flower beds; in the summer, children can let off steam on a big wheel, trampoline or other rides. A few cafés at the center of the park offer refreshment.
Entry is over Place de la Concorde, the nearest metro stop is “Tuileries” (8 minutes from Gare du Nord).
56. Cap d’Agde
Cap d’Agde is a seaside resort on the Mediterranean coast in the Hérault department of Languedoc-Roussillon and a great if little-known destination for a family vacation. The water is clean, the beaches are sandy and the prices are reasonable. Cap d’Agde is famed for its marina and its nudist resort and beach, where nudism is not only legal but practically mandatory. However, there is plenty else to do there if nudism is not your thing!
Agde is easily accessible by direct rail from Paris or Lille; the nearest airports are Béziers-Vias (10km) or Montpellier (49.2km). Shuttle buses run regularly from the town center to Cap d’Agde.
57. Pilat Dune (Arcachon)
At 2.7 km length and a height of 110 metres above sea level, the Pilat Dune is the highest sand dune in Europe. Located in the Arcachon Bay area around 60 km south west of Bordeaux, this incredible natural phenomenon attracts over 2 million visitors yearly. The dune can be climbed on the soft sand if you are very fit, otherwise 154 wooden steps lead up to its summit, where you can slide, body-surf or roll right back down to the bottom (very popular with children).
The Pilat Dune is best reached by train from Bordeaux to Arcachon (65 km) and bus from Arcachon to Dune du Pilat (12.3 km). Excellent cycle paths exist from Arcachon to the Dune, where parking is difficult and expensive.
58. Picasso Museum (Paris)
The Musée Picasso, located in the Marais district of France in the imposing former Hôtel Salé, is an absolute must for lovers of modern art. It comprises over 5.000 works by Picasso himself, plus works by Matisse, Seurat, Cézanne, Dégas and others from Picasso’s private collection (donated after the painter’s death by his heirs in 1973 in lieu of taxes).
The Picasso Museum is located in the 3rd arrondissement , 20 minutes from the Gare du Nord (nearest metro stops “St. Paul” or “Chemin Vert”).
59. Palais Longchamps (Marseille)
The magnificent classical Palais Longchamps in the 4th arrondissement of Marseille houses the National History Museum and the Museum of Fine Arts. Started in 1839, the building took over 30 years to complete. Comprising sculptures and paintings from the 16th and 19th centuries, a botanical garden (formerly a zoo) and an observatory which houses the largest telescope in the world, the
This educational theme park in Auvergne, central France, has volcanoes as its theme and is known as the “European Park of Volcanism”. At the time of its inception in 2002, the project met with criticism partly for reasons of conservationalism and partly because of the strong involvement of Giscard d’Estaing, the former President of France. Nonetheless, it now attracts around 350.000 visitors a year.
15 km north west of Clermont-Ferrand, which has its own airport, St. Ours is accessible in 13 minutes by taxi or rental car.
61. Musée des Augustins de Toulouse
Home to Toulouse’s Augustinian convent until the French revolution, this magnificent Gothic monument was built in 1309 and now houses a fabulous collection of paintings and sculptures dating from mediaeval times to the early 20th century.
The Augustinian Museum is located just under 2 km from Toulouse Matabiau railway station and can be reached by train in 21 minutes (exit “Musée des Augustins”).
62. Le Parc du Thabor (Rennes)
The Thabor botanical gardens in Rennes, established in 1868, are justifiably the pride and joy of a city rich in old and culturally significant attractions. Exquisitely planned and immaculately kept, it offers picturesque waterways, graceful statues and shady arbors where one can sit and enjoy a picnic. Here something is in bloom all the year round, and it’s free, too!
The “Parc du Thabor is 7 minutes from the railway station by public transport: exit “Place Saint Mélaine”.
63. Îles de Lérins
The four French mediterranean “Lérins Islands” are situated near Cannes, off the French Riviera. They can be visited by boat from Cannes in around 15 minutes: only the two larger (Île Sainte-Marguerite and Île Saint-Honorat) are inhabited.
However, if you are staying in or near Cannes, a guided tour of the “Îles de Lérins” makes a lovely day trip of unique character.
64. Cité de l’Espace (Toulouse)
Opened in 1997 on the outskirts of Toulouse, this instructive theme park based on space conquest had attracted over 4 million visitors by 2012. Children may well discover a hidden ambition to become an astronaut in life-size spaceships, astronaut training center Mir (an exact replica of that in Russia) and a huge auditorium, with 360° panorama vision and astronomical simulator.
A mere 17 minute car ride from Toulouse-Blagnac airport, “Space City” is a must for the whole family.
65. Saint-Germain-des-Prés (Paris)
Home not only to the existentialist movement of Jean-Paul Sartre, but also to the famous painter Eugène Delacroix (whose house and studio now display a collection of his paintings), the Saint-Germain-des-Prés quarter of the 6th arrondissement also boasts the School of Fine Arts and some very chic cafés and restaurants, including the “Brasserie Lipp” and “Les deux Magots”.
Saint-Germain-des-Prés can be reached by metro from the Gare du Nord in 13 minutes (metro stop: “Quartier St-Germain-des-Prés”).
66. Aquapark Biscarrosse
The Aquapark Biscarosse located at the Porte Maguide, Biscarrosse, offers every type of water fun imaginable, from trampolines to chutes to icebergs. It offers attractions for children of all ages and can be booked until midnight for a particularly exciting and unique experience.
Bordeaux-Mérignac is the closest airport to Biscarrosse (50 minutes), followed by a shuttle bus. Public transport is not good and car rental is advised.
67. Béarn (Pau)
Béarn is the name given to a traditional province at the base of the Pyrenees in southwestern France, which encompasses the country’s three French Basque regions and parts of Gascony. It is a region of lush green vegetation, clear rivers, sparkling waterfalls and largely untouched 12th and 13th century architecture. The view of the majestically towering Pyrenees is unparalleled from this vantage point.
The capital of the Béarn region, Pau, can be reached by train from Biarritz in around 2 hours 20 minutes. Pau is a good starting-point to explore the region; however, public transport is erratic so car rental is a must.
68. Musée de la Résistance (Besançon)
Besançon in the department of Doubs, Bourgogne-Franche-Comté region, is one of those little treasures the French like to hide. One of France’s oldest towns with strategic importance established by 1 BC, evidence suggests that the area has been occupied since the Bronze Age. Besançon has a whole range of attractions to the discerning tourist; its thought-provoking and instructive “Museum of the French Resistance” – located appropriately enough in the town’s citadel where 100 resistance fighters were executed during the occupation – is only one.
The nearest airport is Dole-Jura (63 km). Besançon is accessible by rail in just under 2 hours from Lyon, or just over 1 hour from Basel.
69. Borély Park Botanical Gardens (Marseille)
Joseph Borély, a merchant and shipowner, constructed the Borély Park in the 17th century. Today a racecourse and a long promenade separate the three gardens of the Park from the sea, while the castle Borély – refurbished and opened to the public in 2013 – now houses the contents of three of Marseille`s former museums.
An ideal playground for children, the Borély park also hosts a restaurant and a bar, and is a highly-favored spot to relax in Marseille. It is accessible in twenty minutes by bus from the railway station (exit “l`Artisan du Voyage”).
70. Oradour sur Glane Old Town (Limoges)
25 kilometres north west of Limoges lies the small village of Oradour sur Glane, in which 642 men, women and children were murdered by the SS on the 10th of June, 1944. Though the village was rebuilt on a site nearby, the site of the massacre was ordered to be protected and preserved as a national memorial and monument by Charles de Gaulle.
Public transport is very poor in this region and car rental is advised.
71. Les Invalides (Paris)
Best known for housing the tomb of Napoleon Bonaparte, Les Invalides (or the “Hôtel des Invalides” as it is also known) was originally built in the years between 1670 and 1676 as a place of retirement and burial for French war veterans. This resplendent complex of buildings now houses the National Museum of Arms and the Museum of Contemporary History.
href=”https://www.cultival.fr/en/visites/parcours-napoleon”> “Les Invalides” is located in the 7th arrondissement on the Rue de Grenelle, 30 minutes from the Gare du Nord (exit: “Tombeau de Napoléon”).
72. Tarascon (Avignon)
On the east bank of the river Rhône in the Provence-Alpes-Côte d‘Azur region, 23 kilometres south of Avignon, lies the little-known yet beautiful village of Tarascon. Evidence suggests that settlements existed here in prehistoric times; the architecture, largely untouched, is romanesque or mediaeval. The exquisite castle of Tarascon, begun in 1401, was used as a prison until 1826, and visitors can still view the graffiti carved by inmates on the walls of their cells.
Trains run regularly from Avignon to Tarascon (around 30 minutes) but if you wish to explore the area then car rental is recommended. The nearest airport is Marseille (80 km).
73. La Villette City of Sciences and Industry (Paris)
The “Cité de la Science et de l’Industrie”, established in the buildings of a former abattoir in 1986, is the largest science museum in Europe. Situated in the 19th arrondissement in the Parc de la Villette (which gives it its name), the museum offers informative and interactive fun and entertainment on every aspect of science for all age groups. (Plan for the whole day, otherwise you won’t see everything!). The museum is closed on Mondays.
The “City of Sciences and Industry” is best accessed by metro from the Gare de l’Est, which takes about twenty minutes. Exit Porte de la Villette
74. Strasbourg Cathedral
Strasbourg`s magnificent cathedral, also known as “Our Lady of Strasbourg”, was the tallest building in the world until 1847. Begun in 1176, with major changes and additions continuing until 1439, the Cathedral is considered to be a masterpiece of Gothic architecture despite its many Romanesque elements. 142 metres high, and with its characteristic pink tinge caused by the sandstone of which it is built, the Cathedral is clearly visible all the way across the Alsatian plains.
Strasbourg in eastern France lies on the left bank of the Rhine, facing the German city of Kehl. It has its own airport.
75. St.-Paul-de-Vence (Nice)
The commune of St.-Paul-de-Vence, situated between Nice and Antibes in the Alpes-Maritimes department of southeastern France, is one of the oldest mediaeval towns on the French Riviera. Largely untouched, traces of its ancient history are to be found in every one of its winding cobbled streets, yet it is easily and quickly accessible from Nice and is accustomed to catering for tourists!
Always popular with artists because of the quality of its light, this little town houses the largest museum of contemporary art in Europe, alongside its other treasures. The neighbouring town of Vence is just as attractive and less touristy. Both are accessible by bus from Nice in under an hour.
76. Pyrenées National Park
The border between France and Spain in the Hautes-Pyrénées and Pyrénées-Atlantiques comprise some of the most dramatic and breathtakingly beautiful natural scenery you are ever likely to see. Stark mountainous crags alternate with lush pastures and forests, the air is pure and the rivers, waterfalls and lakes crystalline and the little mountain villages and shy people are quaint and unspoiled. For this reason, the whole area was designated a national heritage site in 1967.
The best starting points for your exploration of this lovely region are Laruns (west), Arreau (east) or Luz-Saint-Sauveur (centre). Toulouse is 147 km north west of Arreau (1 hour 40 minutes by car) and the nearest airport.
Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, one of the oldest geological sites in the whole of Europe, is located roughly 30 km south of Avignon in the Bouches-du-Rhône department of southern France. A delightful village with perfectly-restored old buildings, shady squares and sparkling fountains, Saint-Remy has inspired many writers and artists, the most famous being Van Gogh, who produced over 150 paintings while staying here.
Saint-Rémy-de-Provence has no shortage of hotels and apartments and is a lovely place to stay while you discover the beauties of Provence. The nearest large city and airport is Montpellier (110 km).
78. Montmartre Cemetery (Paris)
Opened on January 1st, 1825 in a former gypsum quarry, Montmartre Cemetery is located in the 18th arrondissement on the Rue Rachel, with its only entrance under Rue Caulaincourt. The cemetery is a popular tourist attraction owing to the fact that many famous people are buried here: Alexandre Dumas, Hector Berlioz, the dancer Nijinski and Heinrich Heine, to name just a few.
The “Cimetière de Montmartre” is accessible by metro from the Gare du Nord in around 20 minutes (metro stop: Blanche). It is 8 minutes on foot from the Moulin Rouge, too!
79. Fréjus (Cannes)
The ancient port of Fréjus on the southeast mediterranean coast is known to have existed as early as 67 BC and probably before. Located in the Var department of Provence-Alpes-Côte- d’Azur, it is a sprawling, lively town with some fantastic Roman architecture and 2 kilometres of sandy beach (2 km from the town center).
Fréjus is best accessed by bus from Nice St. Augustin station (1 hour 17 minutes) or from Cannes (41 minutes).
80. Asterix Park (Plailly)
35 kilometres north of Paris in Plailly (in the region of Oise) is France’s famous theme park, “Asterix”. Based on the Asterix and Obelix stories of the Gauls and the Romans, all of its rides and attractions are visually connected to these themes. It is particularly well-known and -loved for its roller-coasters, including a bob-sleigh roller coaster. With 31 attractions and rides (including 10 just for very young children), the park is a great day trip for the whole family when staying in Paris.
Plailly is best accessed from Paris Chatelet/Les Halles to Survilliers Fosses (45 minutes) and then by bus directly to the Parc Astérix.
81. Orsay Museum (Paris)
Originally a railway station, the famous “Musée d’Orsay” on the left bank of the Seine, 7th arrondissement, opened in 1986, now houses an impressive collection of fine arts from 1848 to 1914 and the largest collection of Impressionist and post-Impressionist masterpieces worldwide.
Lovers of Cézanne, Degas or Van Gogh should definitely visit this museum, which is only 15 minutes by metro from the Gare du Nord (exit: “Musée d’ Orsay”).
82. L’Île de Porquerolles (Côte d’Azur)
An idyllic holiday resort for the whole family, the Island of Porquerolles (privately owned until 1971 by François Joseph Fournier, who had bought it as a gift for his wife), is a well-kept French secret. Lying just off the coast of the Riviera between Toulon and St. Tropez and only 7 km long by 3 km wide, it was bought by the state in 1971 and fiercely protected against overdevelopment. Sparkling turquoise water edged by white sand and pine and eucalyptus trees are its hallmark. For fishing, bathing, walking and sailing, the Île de Porquerolles is perfect.
The largest of the four Hyères islands, the island of Porquerolles can be reached by ferry from the Giens peninsula (15 minutes). No vehicles are allowed on the island.
83. Georges Pompidou Center (Paris)
Located in the 4th arrondissement in Paris, the George Pompidou Centre – which opened in 1977 – is a large and modern complex in the Beaubourg region which houses the “National Museum of Modern Art, an enormous public library and the IRCAM center for music and acoustics. Very popular among tourists, the Georges Pompidou Center attracts around 5 million visitors annually.
84. Sacré Coeur Basilica (Paris)
Constructed in the years between 1875 and 1914 und funded entirely by donations, this beautiful Catholic basilica on the summit of the butte of Montmartre is famed for its pure white façade (caused by the property of the stone travertine – from which it is built – to exude calcite) and its extravagant Byzantine design. The Basilica can only be entered by 300 steps and there is no elevator, so visitors should be fit.
Sacré Coeur is 15 minutes by metro from the Gare du Nord (exit: Basilica Sacré Coeur).
85. Honfleur Harbor
The port and town of Honfleur, first mentioned in writing in 1027, was already a flourishing transit point between Rouen and England in the 12th century. Its location on the northwest coast of Normandy (Calvados department) brought it trading as well as strategic significance; for a time, Honfleur boomed. Sadly, its fortunes were destroyed during the French Revolution and the war of the First Empire, though the port is still active today. However, it is a charming city and the port is beautiful. It also boasts the tallest wooden church in France!
Honfleur is best accessed by car; however, buses run from Rouen and Le Havre. Both can be reached by train from Paris in just over two hours.
86. Aquaboulevard Park (Paris)
The biggest indoor waterpark in Europe, Paris` Aquaboulevard in the 15th arrondissement covers 7.000 square metres comprising 11 slides, fitness rooms and saunas, a summer outdoor beach, a cinema and 7 restaurants, just to name a few. The park can become very full on Wednesdays and at the weekend and children under three are not admitted (age verification by passport will be demanded). France has strict rules about swimwear in public baths, too.
The Aquaboulevard is located on the Rue Louis Armand and is best accessed by metro from Montparnasse (around 40 minutes). Exit: Issy-les-Moulineaux.
The pretty town of Arles in the Boûches du Rhône department of Provence was home to Vincent van Gogh for the year between 1888 and 1889 and inspired 300 of his paintings, many of which can be viewed at the town’s Van Gogh museum. Arles` Roman monuments – in particular a very fine amphitheatre and burial grounds – have been UNESCO World Heritage Sites since 1981. Arles also has some lovely hotels.
Arles is 80 km east of Montpellier and 90 km west of Marseille; trains run from both cities (roughly 1 ½ hours).
88. Camargue Nature Park
The “parc naturel de la Camargue” is the name given to an area on the Camargue coast comprising wetlands, forests and the lake “Étang de Vaccarés”. The area is known for its famous white Camargue ponies, pink flamingoes which freely nest there, and black bulls. It is also significant for many other endangered wetland species and was designated a protected area in 1970. For nature lovers, wildlife watchers and pony riders, the area is idyllic. The park is open at all times. The ancient pilgrimage site “Ste.-Marie-de-la-Mer” is close by, 38 km from Arles and 128 km west of Marseille. Car rental is advised.
Over 2.000 years old, the commune of Vannes in Brittany’s Morbihan department bears living witness both to the Romans who founded it and to its growth and developed fortifications in the Middles Ages. With its picturesque half-timbered houses and its mediaeval castles and churches, this walled town on the Gulf of Morbihan cannot fail to enchant the visitor. Vannes boasts an annual Jazz festival, a Christmas festival and many other folkloric traditional festivals, as well as excellent restaurants, bars and hotels.
Rennes (108 km) and Nantes (117 km) are the nearest airports. Vannes railway station “Gare de Vannes” can be accessed directly from Paris “Gare du Nord” in 4 ½ hours.
90. Tour de France
The famous “Tour de France” began in 1903 in an attempt to raise funds for the magazine “l’Auto”; 113 years later, it is the largest annual sporting event in the world. The venue changes from year to year, and accomodation is booked out, sometimes within hours of the route being made public, so if you wish to be a spectator at this thrilling event, book as early as possible. Roads are often blocked, too: paradoxically, the best way to enjoy the Tour de France is on a bicycle! The tour traditionally always ends on the Champs-Elysees in Paris, other traditional sites on the route include the Col du Galibier and the Alpe d’Huez .
91. Le Puy du Fou (Les Epesses)
One of France’s most popular theme parks, Le Puy du Fou (literally: hill of the madman) opened in 1989 and is the second most-visited theme park in France. It has no rides: The attraction lies in a number of shows (with stunning effects and stunts) with historical themes against a mediaeval backdrop. A great day out for families with children, Le Puy du Fou cannot fail to delight and amaze you.
Les Epesses is around 85 km southeast of Nantes, which is the closest airport. Public transport is not good, so car rental is advised.
92. Kaysersberg (Colmar)
Between the Franco-Prussian war (1870) and the first World War (1914), this enchanting walled town in Alsace, northeastern France was part of Germany. Its magnificent mediaeval castle (built around 1220) and its high walls testify to its warlike past; today it is a maze of charming, half-timbered houses, with a flourishing wine trade and a wealth of historical attractions.
The whole region known as Kaysersberg was merged into a new commune (Kaysersberg Vignoble) in January 2016. The town of Kaysersberg lies 9 km northwest of Colmar (30 minutes by bus). The nearest airport is Zurich (148 km).
93. Pont Alexandre III (Paris)
Generally considered to be the most lavish and ornately-decorated bridge in Paris, the “Alexander III” bridge was built between the years 1896 and 1900. It spans the river Seine between the Champs Elysees and the Eiffel tower and is 160 metres long. Named after Tsar Alexander III in recognition of the Franco-Prussian alliance of 1892, it boasts 24 different statues, as well as plaques and ornamental lampposts. If you need to cross the Seine, this is the way to go!
The Pont Alexandre III links the 8th arrondissement on the right bank and the 7th arrondissement on the left bank of the Seine, nearest stops: “Les Invalides” or “Porte de Champs Elysées”.
30 kilometres south east of Perpignan lies the little-known town of Collioure. With its charming harbor, its lighthouse, its castle and its old town with boutiques and restaurants, set against the magnificent backdrop of the Pyrenees and with the additional attraction of a tranquil blue sea and fine white sandy beach, it is the perfect place for a day by the sea with young children.
Trains run roughly every hour from Perpignan (which also has its own airport) to Collioure (around 25 minutes).
95. Futuroscope (Poitiers)
Futuroscope is an interactive, future-based theme park 10 kilometres north of Poitiers in the Vienne department, which opened in 1987 and draws an estimated average of 1 million visitors per annum. Its attractions include 3- and 4D cinema and shows based on audiovisual techniques in film, many of them unique in the world. Visitors can view the attractions independently or by guided tour. Children of all ages are admitted, but there are height restrictions on some activities.
The closest airport is Poitiers-Biard (6 km).
96. The Haribo Museum (Uzés)
In 1996, “La Musée du bonbon” was opened by the firm “Haribo” in the small town of Uzés in the Gard region, 25 kilometres north of Nîmes. Here, sweet-lovers of all ages gain unique insight into modern and traditional manufacture of liquorice, marshmallows and chewy sweets, while old-fashioned machines and vintage wrappings are demonstrated and explained.
Very popular among children (and sweet-toothed adults!) this museum is a delightful day trip during a family holiday in Occitania. Nîmes is the closest airport; car rental is advised.
97. Adventure Park Massignac
Packed with exciting adventures for children of all ages – from trampolines and bungee-jumping to rope swings and treetop adventures – the Adventure Park Massignac in the Charente department, southwest France is the ideal place for the little ones to let off steam. Safety is very important; all children are attached to a specially-designed harness, making it impossible for them to fall off zip files or rope walks, so that parents can relax and enjoy the day out too.
Massignac is approximately 50 km north east of Angoulême (closest airport: Angoulême-Cognac). Car rental is advised.
98. Grasse (Cannes)
Best known as the backdrop for Patrick Süßkind`s novel “Perfume”, the town of Grasse in the south east of France (Alpes-Maritimes department) has been the capital town of perfume worldwide for centuries. 20 km inland from Cannes and 40 km from Nice, it is ideal for a day trip inland and makes a welcome change from the bustle and activity of the Côte d’Azur. The “Parfumerie Fragonard” featured in “Perfume” is on the bus route from the railway station. Grasse is also a great place to buy scented gifts of almost every variety.
The train from Cannes to Grasse takes approximately 1 hour. Buses run regularly to the town center.
99. La Bresse
The largest area in north eastern France for skiing and winter sports, La Bresse lies at the heart of the Natural Park “Ballons des Vosges”. With a wide range of additional attractions for children of all ages – bungee jumping, ice-skating, amusement park, to name but a few – and child care options as well, it is ideal for a family winter holiday.
La Bresse is situated 120 km north east of Nancy; trains run directly and take around 2 ½ hours.
100. Musée des Vampires et Monstres de l’Imaginaire (Paris)
This somewhat eccentric private collection of objects related to vampires, monsters and legendary beings is situated 13 km outside Paris, accessible by metro from the Gare du Nord in under half an hour (exit: “Mairie des Lilas” or “Porte des Lilas”). The museum is located on the Rue Jules David; the entrance is at the back, across a little courtyard, and is symbolically painted red and black. Inside, vampire and monster lovers can ponder over books, pictures and vampire relics to their heart’s content.
A great day trip out of the city center for those who like it creepy, entrance to the “Museum of Vampires and Imaginary Monsters” is by telephone appointment only.