I spent quite a fair amount of time traipsing through France so it will be tedious for both myself and my readers if I were to go into details for each place I have been to. Nevertheless, I will endeavor to list the top 10 sight seeing places I came across.
10. The Eiffel Tower, Paris:
Paris for all its Glamour is actually one of my least favorite places in France. I found it to be dirty and dull looking in comparison to its other smaller cities and towns. But on a good day, you can stop and have a picnic on the lawn in front of the Eiffel Tower. The bright green grass set against a clear blue sky makes for a pretty good picture to remember your trip by. Oh and do remember to take some mandatory funny pictures while you are there (some ideas here)
Not my most glamorous side, but I do love a jump shot!
09. The Louvre, Paris
Originally built as a fortress in 1180, today it is a world renowned museum in the heart of Paris. The huge compound is divided into 3 wings: Richlieu, Denon and Sully. The famous Mona Lisa can be found in the Denon wing. Although there are arrows pointing you in the direction of the painting, it is confusing to follow. So my suggestion is to just follow the crowd. Though, truth be told, after seeing the other artworks on display, the teeny tiny Mona Lisa comes as a disappointment. Do allocate more than half a day for your visit in order to be able to enjoy the works of many many many many many generations of great artists.
08. Musee Alsatian & Astronomical Clock, Strasbourg
Strasbourg sits on the French side of the French-German border but in the course of history, it has always been a place of contention between the two nations. Despite the tug-of-war, Strasbourg still manages to develop a culture with a unique blend of both Germanic and French influences. It is shown in their architecture, their food…everything! A visit to the Alsatian Museum can quickly enlighten you on how the people in this region use to eat, dress and live. Alsace is a small area covering mainly the French-German border area, but each individual town or city actually have their minor differences in culture.
Strasbourg is also home an impressive Astronomical Clock III (Clocks I & II broke down around the 1600s and 1800s respectively) located in the Cathédrale Notre-Dame of Strasbourg. As legend goes, the local authorities in Strasbourg actually gave an order to blind the constructor of the clock so that he could not replicate its ingenuity elsewhere. This is the same legend I heard in Prague and many other places with beautiful clocks so I truly doubt its accuracy. Nevertheless, the clock standing today has a mechanism that dates back to 1842. A work of mathematical and engineering genius, the clock is able to tell not only the time, but also the solar time, the date and year (even foreseeing leap years), the sign of the zodiac, the phase of the moon and the position of several planets. It is also a art masterpiece. At 12.30 everyday, a mechanism will go into place and the animated characters on the clock will come to life – showing the stages of life from birth to death and also the 12 apostles.
Bordeaux is a small city along the Garonne River and is worth a visit even for non wine lovers. I loved the sunny skies, the good air and how modernity is contrasted against antiquity. The city centre is served by a futuristic-looking above ground tram though the best way to get around is still to walk. Shopaholics can find ‘heaven’ in a street called Rue St Catherine which is basically 1.2km worth of boutiques and cafes. And when you reach the end of the street, grab a snack and sit on the steps enjoying the atmosphere near the town hall of Bordeaux.
As a region that is famous for its wine classifications, wine tours are pretty pricey here.. But unless you can drive or have strong legs for cycling, the only way to get to the vineyard regions (Bordeaux, Medoc, Margaux) is via a tour. If you are heading on your own, do contact the vineyards in advance to arrange tastings as not all of them are open to visitors everyday. For fun, you may consider joining the Médoccaine, an annual vineyard cycling event where participants dress up in the most absurd costumes to hop around vineyards which are open to tasting sessions.
06. Cité de Carcassonne, Carcasonne
Carcasonne is a small town most famous for its fortified Cite that was first founded around the 3rd Century. Because of its strategic location on the top of a steep hill, the fortified town has managed to escape most conflicts unscathed. Most of the Cite has been given a new life as a Luxury Hotel and shops line the streets as it would have in the past. Castles such as the Chateau Comtal has been carefully preserved and a walk through its grounds will show you the defense details that make the Cite a force to be reckon with. While exploring the place, feel free to unleash your inner Game of Thrones fanaticism here along the dark halls where my SO and I randomly reenacted scenes from GoT “You know nothing Jon Snow” (the real filming location of King’s Landing is in Croatia though). If you have one meal in Carcasonne, do try the Cassoulet which is a regional specialty.
05. Pont d’Avignon, Avignon
I visited the Provence region hoping to visit its famed field of lavenders throughout the region. Unfortunately I was too early (the fields normally bloom around July and August). But not wanting to let us be disappointed, the staff at the local tourist office directed us to a small field just outside the fortified walls of Avignon where we can still see some lavender. It is located near the Pont d’Avignon, a medieval bridge built some time in the 12th Century. Though the piece of land is flanked by 2 roads, we did our best to find a perfect angle making it look like we were really at a huge field. While you are there, do check out products from beauty goods retailer, L’Occitane, which was founded in Provence and at times, they carry special series not found outside of France or Europe.
Colmar is a small town in the Alsace Region just half an hour by train from Strasbourg. There are not many places to stay in Colmar so you may consider using Strasbourg as a base instead and making this as a day trip. Although it may not be big and there aren’t much activities to do, the historic center of Colmar is a postcard pretty place with colorful French-German styled buildings and quaint cobbled streets. If the Central market is open, you can try many of the region’s specialty there. There are also plenty of good Patisseries around and good restaurants serving local cuisine are extremely popular with locals and tourists alike. Colmar is also the home of artist Auguste Bartholdi who created the Statue of Liberty as a gift from France to the USA.
03. Saint-Émilion (Near Bordeaux)
Unlike Bordeaux which has been modernised, Saint Emilion seems to be stuck in the medieval times. The entire town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the area can be traced back to prehistoric times. Saint-Emilion as we see it now was a result of its location being on the pilgrimage route to Santiago de Compostela. Thus many churches, monasteries and hospices sprouted there from the 11th century. The region is devoted entirely to wine-growing and many of its vineyards can be explored on foot from its nearest train station. Hidden finds in St Emilion includes my favourite Macroons from Nadia Fermigier who succeeded Mrs Blanchez. The original recipe used is one that was passed down since the 17th century. The crunchy outer shell and soft insides are to-die-for!
02. Dune du Pyla, Arcachon (Near Bordeaux)
Dune du Pyla is the tallest sand dune is Europe measuring about 110m in height, 500m wide and 2.7km long. It is a huge expense of soft fine sand and a lovely place to explore. Public buses run from the town of Arcachon to the Dune which is about 10-15kms away. I went there and found that buses are not in operation on Sundays. But we weren’t gonna let that stop us so we rented a bike from a nearby shop and rode there instead. Do note that most of the journey was fairly flat with some hilly parts but the killer was at a road just before the dune which was a very steep slope. Fun things to do there include making sand angels, taking jump shots, going down the other side of the dune towards the seas or just rolling down the hill for fun as I saw some kids do (the sand is really soft!). After a tiring day playing, head to the town of Arcachon and have some fresh oysters farmed in the region. There are lots to do as well in the seaside town of Arcachon.
01. Promenade des Anglais, Nice
Because I LOVE the sea, I saved the best for the last! Nice is a rich man’s paradise but still there are good things in life that are free. The Promenade des Anglais is a long stretch of road by a pebbled beach facing an ocean so blue it merges with the sky in the horizon. If you don’t like water, the beach front is still a great place to hang out and enjoy the salty sea breeze and people watch. If you do like the water, JUMP RIGHT IN! I saw people who possibly didn’t intend to come to the beach but still went into the water in their knickers. I spent a relaxing afternoon there catching the sun’s rays and then diving in to the cold waters to cool off 🙂