Friday, May 27, 2016

Top 11 Things to See & Do in France

Aww the beautiful France.  Very few places can truly compare in the rich diversity compared to the relative size of the country.  From the windy shores of Normandy to the fresh mountain air of the alps, this country is a must visit!  And when I say country I mean the COUNTRY not just Paris!

1.Visit the Cafe in the Eiffel Tower
Ok, so even though I just had that little rant about Paris, let's be honest for a second.  Paris is one of the greatest destinations you can ever visit, so don't let me take away from the great City of Light.  And this is why we have to start with one of what I think is the coolest things to do in all of Paris.  It's to go up in the Eiffel Tower, but only halfway!  If you only go up to the first floor, you get the same view as going to the top, and you pay half as much.  And this level awards you with a beautiful little cafe where you can sit and drink in Paris from the tower.

Of course, this is for the cheapskate.  Alternatively, you can go up to level two where there is a fine dining restaurant.  This is probably the better option if you have the money, but I feel like it is just as romantic and definitely less formal from the lower level.

2.Take a walk through the lavender fields of Provence
I don't think there is a more magical land than Provence in the summertime.  You have the clear beaches of Asia just minutes away from lavender fields, the alps, and years of well-preserved history.  But of all those things, the lavender fields really shine in this list.

The best time to go is in mid to late July, but the fields can be somewhat unpredictable.  They usually don't cut the fields until early August, however, so you are guaranteed some sightings if you make it before then although the lavender won't be quite as in bloom.  They also start blooming in late June, so if you're around then it is a good time as well.

A good plan to see the fields is to stay in Avignon or the town of Gordes.  There are a bunch of other great places around the area, and you can find a lot of them on airbnb or or Gites de France, or just look up  Once you figure out where to stay you can take a few good routes around for the lavender fields.  The first place to start is in Valensove.  Go past Carpentras to Gordes from Avignon.  Then go past Roussillon and back up to Sault before completing the loop back to Orange.  Or you can head back east towards Simione la Rotunde and Digne before heading back.

3.Get cold hands in Mont St. Michel
Ok so maybe Mont St. Michel isn't only cold, but make sure to bring some warm clothes.  The beaches of Normandy and Brittany are an entire different world from the warm shores of the south, and add a centuries old stone abbey and you'll be in a different world.  That being said, this old monastery is one of a kind, if only because it was the castle of the end scene of Monty Python and the Holy Grail.  Make sure also to try the specific type of butter biscuit from the abbey.  The one with the caramel bits is the best.

4.Drink in the vineyards of Bourgogne and Bordeaux
You want prime wine country, these are the two places to be, and both are some of my favorite places to drive.  Bourgogne's rolling hills leads to one of the most beautiful drives in France, and both places are home to great grottos and wine cellars.  If you want to see the route for the road through Burgundy start at Dijon and drive down through Beune on "la route des grads crus en bourgogne."  This is an especially beautiful drive towards Fall when the vines start to turn yellow alongside of the rolling hills.

5.Have Christmas in Strasbourg or Colmar
These two cities that straddle the land between France and Germany are remarkably breathtaking in the summer as well, but the real time to visit is during Christmas when they are lit up with some of the largest and best Christmas markets in Europe.  Alsace really is the king of Christmas.  Make sure to try some of the warm wine or they make non-alcoholic stuff as well.  They also do this in Germany if you prefer to spend Christmas in somewhere like Cologne.  Or, since they're so close, plan a trip around all of them.

6.Walk Versailles or Fontainebleu
Versailles goes without saying, but an equally beautiful chateau and one that is quite famous but doesn't get quite as much attention or visitors for that matter is Fontainebleu.  I like that city around Fontainebleu a little better as well as everything is a bit more walkable, Versailles is a little bit bigger city and the chateau is, well it's huge.  The hall of mirrors in Versailles, however, is almost beyond compare.

7.Kayak Les Calanques
This is one of my favorite regions of France.  A lot of people will skip the Calanques and go to the pebbly beaches of Nice or take a yacht at St. Tropez.  And while these are both amazing and offer the same clear blue water as the other side of the Blue Coast.  I prefer the rugged landscape of the Calanques.

You can access them from Cassis or Marseilles or a couple smaller ports in between.  You can walk down to some of them but they usually close the paths down by noon and they make you leave if you don't have access to some water vessel.  They do boat tours, but they don't really go in any of the Calanques.  If you want the real experience of being able to just chill in one of the calanques and enjoy the day, rent a kayak for a full day and pick a calanque of choice and hang out in it.  It'll be like you have your own yacht, but for not anywhere near that price.  You can also cliff dive in some of the calanques.  Like I said, pick a good one.

8.Wake up to a fresh pastry every morning
Really, you're in France.  This should go without saying, but in case you need some prodding hit a new bakery every day if you can.  Don't get stuck on just getting pastries either.  There's something about the crunch of a fresh baked baguette.

9.While you're at it, Eat your heart out in Brittany
While I've never been to Brittany, the French talk about it like it is the home of candy itself.  This is where most of the butter biscuits started.  This is also where a type of savory crepe comes from, and the French swear by their persistent ability to make the best crepes on earth.  If you can't make it all the way out to Brittany however, you can find a few crepe Bretagne places in Paris that really are...well ok they're really good.

10.Ski the Alps
Maybe this should make a higher number in the list, but regardless France is home to some of the greatest skiing in the Alps.  The top of this list is probably Chamonix, a true skiers paradise with backcountry access to three countries.  This is also one of the most dangerous ski resorts in the world as the access opens up to glacial cavities that can swallow a climber in mere moments.  Of course, the resort itself isn't quite that dangerous, but going off-piste as they say in Europe can be, and Chamonix opens up a lot of routes.

Don't get bogged down of going to the name resorts either.  There are a lot of resorts around Chamonix that have just as great views and powder but are much cheaper.  Of course, if you're a hard core skier and want to spend a week at Chamonix.  You will not be quickly disappointed.

11.Tour the Loire Valley
The last stop on the list is touring the beautiful Loire Valley.  Not only is this a great place to find some of the premier castles in France as well as some of the great wine country tours near Paris.  There are a lot of tour companies that offer trips from Paris as well as week long cruises along the Loire river.

If you have any suggestions or would like to contribute click here to send me an email.  If you would like to sponsor my trip somewhere to showcase your business or to work with me please send me an email as well.

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