The best advocates for visiting France are the French themselves, convinced as they are that their way of life is best, and their country the most civilized on earth. The food and wine are justly celebrated, while French literature, art, cinema, and architecture can be both profound and provocative. France is a country that stimulates the intellect and gratifies the senses.
France belongs to both northern and southern Europe, encompassing regions ranging from Brittany, with its Celtic maritime heritage, and Germanic Alsace-Lorraine, to the Mediterranean sunbelt and the peaks of the Alps and Pyrenees. The capital, Paris, is the country’s linchpin, with its intellectual excitement, intense tempo of life, and notoriously brusque citizens.
Strangely, as life in France becomes more city-based and industrialized, so the desire grows to safeguard the old, traditional ways and to value rural life. The idea of life in the country – douceur de vivre (the Good Life), long tables set in the sun for the wine and anecdotes to flow – is as seductive as ever for residents and visitors alike. Nevertheless, the rural way of life has been changing. Whereas in 1945 one person in three worked in farming, today it is only one in 20. France’s main exports used to be luxury goods such as perfumes, Champagne, and Cognac; today, these have been overtaken by cars, telecommunications equipment, and fighter aircraft. The French remain firmly committed to their roots, however, and often keep a place in the country for vacations or their retirement.
Though famous for the rootedness of its peasant population, France has also been a European melting pot, from the arrival of the Celtic Gauls in the 1st millennium BC, through to the Mediterranean immigrations of the 20th century. Roman conquest by Julius Caesar had an enduring impact but, from the 4th and 5th centuries AD, Germanic invaders destroyed much of the Roman legacy. The Franks provided political leadership in the following centuries, but when their line died out in the late 10th century, France was politically fragmented.
The Capetian dynasty gradually pieced France together over the Middle Ages, a period of economic prosperity and cultural vitality. The Black Death and the Hundred Years’ War brought setbacks, and French power was seriously threatened by the dukes of Burgundy and the English crown. In the Renaissance period, François I (reigned 1515–47) dreamt of making France a major power, but was thwarted by the Habsburg Emperor Charles V. The Reformation then plunged the country into religious conflict. However, the 17th century saw France, under Louis XIV, rise to dominate Europe militarily and intellectually.
In the Age of Enlightenment French culture and institutions were the envy of Europe. The ideas of Voltaire and Rousseau undermined the authority of the Church and the state, nowhere more than in France itself. The Revolution of 1789 ended the absolute
monarchy and introduced major social and institutional reforms, many of which were endorsed by Napoleon, whose empire dominated Europe at the start of the 19th century. Yet the Revolution also inaugurated the instability that has remained a hall mark of French politics: since 1789, France has seen three forms of monarchy, two empires, and five republics.
Throughout the political turmoil of the 19th century, France remained a leading source of literary and artistic movements. In painting, the French Impressionists were the inspiration for the development of modern art and would-be painters began to flock to Paris instead of Rome. France also retained its position as the arbiter of taste in fashion, food, wine, and good manners.
Rivalry with Germany dominated French politics for most of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The population losses in World War I were traumatic for France, while during 1940–44 the country was occupied by Germany. Yet since 1955, the two countries have proved the backbone of the developing European Union.
For much of the 20th century, domestic politics was marked by confrontations between Left and Right. In 1958 the problems of governing the country led to the introduction of a new constitution – the Fifth Republic – with Charles de Gaulle as president. However, in 1968
protesting students and striking workers combined to paralyse the country and de Gaulle resigned the following year.
The old divide between Left and Right has given way to a more center-focused consensus fostered by François Mitterrand, Socialist President from 1981 to 1995, and forced on the Conservative Jacques Chirac, who succeeded him, by the election of Socialist Lionel Jospin as Prime Minister in 1997. In 2002, however, a landslide victory for the center-right coalition ousted Jospin. The election of Nicolas Sarkozy as President in 2007 confirmed the center-right politics. The Republican spirit lives on in strikes and mass demonstrations. Unemployment has led to growing racism against Arab immigrants.
LANGUAGE AND CULTURE
Culture is taken seriously in France: writers, intellectuals, artists, and fashion designers are held in high esteem. The French remain justly proud of their cinema, and are determined to defend it against pressures from Hollywood. Other activities – from the music industry to the French language itself – are subject to the same protectionist attitudes.
Avant-garde art and literature and modern architecture enjoy strong patronage in France. Exciting architectural projects range from new buildings in Paris – the Louvre pyramid and La Grande Arche at La Défense – to the post-modern housing projects of Nîmes and Marseille in the south.
Social change has resulted from the decline in the influence of the Catholic Church. Parental authoritarianism has waned and there is a much freer ambience in schools – two trends resulting from the May 1968 uprising.
French social life, except between close friends, has always been marked by formality – handshaking, and the use of titles and the formal vous rather than the intimate tu. However, this is changing, especially among the young, who now call you by your first name, and use tu even in an office context. Standards of dress have become more informal too, though the French are still very concerned to dress well.
France is a country where tradition and progress are found side by side. The Euro has taken over, yet some people still calculate in old Francs, replaced back in 1960. France’s agribusiness is one of the most modern in the world, but the peasant farmer is deeply revered. France has Europe’s largest hypermarkets, which have been ousting local grocers. Although American in inspiration, they are French in what they sell, with wonderful displays of cheeses and a huge range of fresh vegetables, fruit, and herbs.
France is a large country and, although it has over 60 million inhabitants, is less densely populated than most of its western European neighbors. Paris belongs to northern Europe, while the south is Mediterranean in climate and lifestyle. Distances limit the amount of the country you can visit, though train services are good and there is an extensive network of highways. Popular tourist destinations include the châteaux of the Loire, the mountains of the Alps and Pyrenees, historic wine-growing regions (see pp186 –7 ), and the resorts of the Côte d’Azur.
SIGHTS AT A GLANCE
Abbaye Royale de Fontevraud
Château de Chambord
Paris is a city of over two million people, and has been the economic, political, and artistic hub of France since Roman times. During the medieval and Renaissance periods, Paris dominated northern Europe as a religious and cultural center. The city was rejuvenated in the mid-19th century, when its slums were replaced with the elegant avenues and boulevards that make modern Paris a delight to stroll around. Today the city strives to be at the heart of a unified Europe. Chic cafés, gourmet restaurants, and fashionable shopping are the major attractions for many visitors.
SIGHTS AT A GLANCE
Arc de Triomphe
Ile de la Cité
Jardin du Luxembourg
Jardin des Tuileries
Musée de l’Orangerie
Musée du Quai Branly
Palais de Chaillot
Place de la Bastille
Place de la Concorde
Place des Vosges
Greater Paris (see inset map)
Bois de Boulogne
Château de Fontainebleau
Château de Vaux-le-Vicomte
Cimetière du Père Lachaise
Parc de la Villette
The Parisian subway consists of 16 metro lines, referred to by their number and terminus names. This is often the least expensive way to get around the capital. In central Paris, these lines overlap the routes of the RER commuter trains, which reach outlying areas. Buses are often the fastest way to travel short distances. The city’s night buses are called Noctiliens. Taxis are expensive, but handy after the metro shuts down.
Ile de la Cité
Châtelet, Cité. Conciergerie 2 Blvd du Palais. Tel 01-53 40 60 80. daily. Jan 1, May 1, Dec 25. (phone to check). www.monum.fr
This boat-shaped island on the Seine is the nucleus of Paris. The capital’s name derives from the Parisii, one of the Celtic tribes who lived here in the 3rd century BC. The settlement was later expanded by the Romans, the Franks, and the Capetian kings.
Remains of the earliest buildings can be seen in the Crypte Archéologique, below the square in front of the mighty Notre-Dame cathedral, which stands at one end of the island. At the other end is another Gothic masterpiece: the Sainte-Chapelle church, surrounded by the huge complex of buildings forming the Palais de Justice. One of these, the sinister-looking Conciergerie, was a prison from 1391 until 1914. During the French Revolution the prison filled to overflowing, and Marie-Antoinette was held in a tiny cell here until her execution in 1793. The Conciergerie has a superb Gothic Hall and a 14th-century clock tower.
Crossing the western end of the island is the oldest bridge in Paris, the oddly named Pont Neuf (new bridge), which dates back to 1578. The colorful Marché aux Fleurs et Oiseaux takes place daily in the Place Louis Lépine and is the city’s most famous flower market. On Sundays caged birds are also sold.
4 Boulevard du Palais. Tel 01-53 40 60 80. Cité. daily. Jan 1, May 1, Dec 25.
Hailed as one of the great architectural masterpieces of the Western world, in the Middle Ages this church was likened to “a gateway to heaven.” Sainte-Chapelle was built in 1248 to house sacred relics, including Christ’s Crown of Thorns, purchased from the Byzantine emperor at great expense by the devout King Louis IX.
The church consists of two chapels. The lower chapel was used by servants and minor officials, while the exquisite upper chapel, reached by means of a narrow, spiral staircase, was reserved for the royal family and courtiers. This chapel has many glorious stained-glass windows, separated by pencil-like columns soaring 15 m (50 ft) to the star-studded roof. Over 1,100 biblical scenes from the Old and New Testaments are depicted, as well as the story of how the relics were brought to Sainte-Chapelle. The 86 panels of the circular Rose Window, which are best seen at sunset, tell the story of the Apocalypse.
Badly damaged during the Revolution, and converted into a flour warehouse, the church was renovated a century later by architect Viollet-le-Duc. The spire, erected in 1853, rises 75 m (245 ft) into the air.
Pl G Pompidou. Tel 01-44 78 12 33. Rambuteau, Châtelet, Hôtel de Ville. Châtelet-Les-Halles. 21, 29, 38, 47 & many others. Musée National d’Art Moderne 11am–10pm Wed–Mon. May 1. www.centrepompidou.fr
With its skeleton of struts, ducts, and elevators scaling the outside of the building, and offering fine views of the city, this famous cultural center has room for a vast exhibition area inside.
Among the artists featured in the Musée National d’Art Moderne are Matisse, Picasso, Miró, and Pollock, representing such schools as Fauvism, Cubism, and Surrealism. Star attractions are Sorrow of the King (1952) by Matisse, and Georges Braque’s The Duo (1937). A library is housed on the first, second, and third floors, while temporary exhibitions are held on the first and sixth floors.
Outside, the Piazza is usually full of crowds watching the street performers. On one side of the square, the Atelier Brancusi is a reconstruction of the workshop of Romanian-born artist Constantin Brancusi (1876–1957), who left his entire oeuvre to the nation.
Hôtel Salé, 5 Rue de Thorigny. Tel 01-42 71 25 21. St-Sébastien Froissart, St-Paul. for renovations until 2012. www.musee-picasso.fr
The Spanish-born artist Pablo Picasso (1881–1973) spent most of his life in France. On his death, the French state inherited many of his works in lieu of death duties, opening a museum to display them in 1986. Housed in a 17th-century mansion originally built for a salt tax collector, the collection comprises over 200 paintings, 158 sculptures, 100 ceramic works, and some 3,000 sketches and engravings. The full extent of Picasso’s artistic development is presented, from the somber
Blue period Self-Portrait (1901) to Cubist collages and Neoclassical works such as Pipes of Pan. Highlights include The Two Brothers (1906), The Kiss (1969), and Two Women Running on the Beach (1922). There is also a sculpture garden. The museum closed at the end of 2009 while a two-year programme of renovations is carried out.
Place des Vosges
This perfectly symmetrical square, laid out in 1605 by Henri IV, and known as Place Royale, was once the residence of the aristocracy. Considered among the most beautiful in the world by Parisians and visitors alike, the square is surrounded by 36 houses, nine on each side. Built of brick and stone, with dormer windows over arcades, they have survived intact for almost 400 years. Today, the historic houses accommodate antiques shops and fashionable cafés.
The square has been the scene of many historical events over the centuries, including a three-day tournament in celebration of the marriage of Louis XIII to Anne of Austria in 1615. Among the square’s famous former residents are the literary hostess, Madame de Sévigné, born here in 1626, Cardinal Richelieu, pillar of the monarchy, and Victor Hugo, who lived in one of the houses for 16 years.
Place de la Bastille
Nothing remains of the infamous prison stormed by the revolutionary mob on July 14, 1789, the event that sparked the French Revolution. A row of paving stones from No. 5 to No. 49 Boulevard Henri IV traces the line of former fortifications.
The 52-m (170-ft) hollow bronze Colonne de Juillet stands in the middle of the traffic-clogged square to honor the victims of the July Revolution of 1830. On the south side of the square (at 120 Rue de Lyon) is the 2,700-seat Opéra Bastille, completed in 1989, the bicentennial of the French Revolution.
No other building embodies the history of Paris more than Notre-Dame. It stands majestically on the Ile de la Cité, cradle of the city. Built on the site of a Roman temple, the cathedral was commissioned by Bishop de Sully in 1160. The first stone was laid in 1163, marking the start of two centuries of toil by armies of medieval architects and craftsmen. It has been witness to great events of French history ever since, including the coronation of Napoleon Bonaparte (1804) and the state funeral of Charles de Gaulle (1970). During the Revolution, the building was desecrated and rechristened the Temple of Reason. Extensive renovations (including the addition of the spire and gargoyles) were carried out in the 19th century by architect Viollet-le-Duc.
Street-by-Street: Latin Quarter
Since the Middle Ages this riverside quarter has been dominated by the Sorbonne – it acquired its name from early Latin-speaking students. The area is generally associated with artists, intellectuals, and a bohemian way of life, and has a history of political unrest. In 1871 the Place St-Michel became the center of the Paris Commune, and in May 1968 it was one of the sites of the student uprisings that briefly engulfed the city.
Place du Panthéon. Tel 01-44 32 18 00 Place Monge, Cardinal-Lemoine. daily. Jan 1, May 1, Jul 14, Dec 25.
Famous as the last resting place of some of France’s greatest citizens, this magnificent church was built between 1764 and 1790 to honor Sainte Geneviève, patron saint of Paris. During the Revolution it was turned into a pantheon, to house the tombs of the illustrious.
Based on Rome’s pantheon, the temple portico has 22 Corinthian columns, while the tall dome was inspired by that of St. Paul’s in London (see p58 ). Geneviève’s life is celebrated in a series of 19th-century nave murals. Many French notables rest in the crypt, including Voltaire, Rousseau, and Victor Hugo. The ashes of Pierre and Marie Curie are also held here.
Jardin du Luxembourg
Odéon. Luxembourg. daily.
This graceful and historic area offers a peaceful haven in the heart of Paris. The gardens, which cover 25 ha (60 acres), were opened to the public in the 19th century by their then owner, the Comte de Provence. They are centered around the Luxembourg Palace, which was built for Marie de Médicis, the widow of Henri IV, and is now the home of the French Senate. Dominating the gardens is an octagonal lake surrounded by formal terraces, where sunbathers gather on fine summer days.
3 Place St-Germain-des-Prés. Tel 01-55 42 81 33. St-Germain-des-Prés. daily.
Originating in 558 as a basilica to house holy relics, this is the oldest church in Paris. St-Germain had become a powerful Benedictine abbey by the Middle Ages, but was largely destroyed by fire in 1794. Major restoration took place in the 19th century. A single tower survives from the original three, housing one of the most ancient belfries in France. Famous tombs include that of 17th-century philosopher, René Descartes.
After World War II, the area attracted writers and artists, including one of the leading figures of the Existentialist movement, Jean-Paul Sartre, and writer Simone de Beauvoir. Bars and cafés, such as Les Deux Magots and the Café de Flore, which were their daily haunts, are now popular with tourists.
Musée du Louvre
The Musée du Louvre, containing one of the world’s most important art collections, has a history dating back to medieval times. First built as a fortress in 1190 by King Philippe-Auguste, it lost its dungeon and keep in the reign of François I, who commissioned a Renaissance-style building. Thereafter, four centuries of kings and emperors improved and enlarged the palace. It was first opened as a museum in 1793 under the First Republic. Major renovations were completed in 1998.
Exploring the Louvre’s Collection
Owing to the vast size of the Louvre’s collection, it is useful to set a few viewing priorities before starting. The collection of European paintings (1400–1848) is comprehensive, with over half the works by French artists. The extensively renovated departments of Oriental, Egyptian, Greek, Etruscan, and Roman antiquities are of world renown and feature numerous new acquisitions and rare treasures. The hugely varied display of objets d’art includes furniture, jewelry, scientific instruments, and armor.
EUROPEAN PAINTING: 1400 TO 1848
Notable Flemish paintings include Jan van Eyck’s Madonna of the Chancellor Rolin (c.1435). The fine Dutch collection features Self-portrait and Bathsheba (1654), both by Rembrandt. Among important German works are a Venus (1529) by Lucas Cranach and a portrait of Erasmus by Hans Holbein.
Italian paintings are arranged chronologically, and include Fra Angelico’s Coronation of the Virgin (1435) and the celebrated Mona Lisa (1504) by Leonardo da Vinci.
Outstanding French works are represented by Enguerrand Quarton’s Villeneuve-lès-Avignon Pietà (1455) and the delightfully frivolous The Bathers (1770) by Fragonard.
Among English artists featured are Gainsborough, Reynolds, and Turner, while the Spanish collection has portraits by Goya and works by El Greco and Zurbarán.
EUROPEAN SCULPTURE: 1100 TO 1848
The French section opens with a 12th-century figure of Christ and a head of St. Peter. Several works by French sculptor Pierre Puget (1620–94) are assembled in a glass-covered courtyard. Other masterpieces of French sculpture, including Jean-Antoine Houdon’s busts of Diderot and Voltaire, stand in the Cour Marly. A notable Flemish sculpture is Adrian de Vries’s long-limbed Mercury and Psyche (1593). Michelangelo’s Slaves and Benvenuto Cellini’s Fontainebleau Nymph are among the many splendid Italian works.
ORIENTAL AND EGYPTIAN ANTIQUITIES
Important works of Mesopotamian art include one of the world’s oldest documents, a basalt block, bearing a proclamation of laws by Babylonian King Hammurabi, from about 1750 BC.
The warlike Assyrians are represented by delicate carvings, and a fine example of Persian art is the enameled brickwork depicting the king’s archers (5th century BC).
Egyptian art on display, dating from between 2500 and 1400 BC, and mostly produced for the dead, includes lifelike funeral portraits, such as the Squatting Scribe, and several sculptures of married couples.
GREEK, ETRUSCAN, AND ROMAN ANTIQUITIES
The famous Greek marble statues here, the Winged Victory of Samothrace and the Venus de Milo, both date from the Hellenistic period (late 3rd to 2nd century BC). A highlight of the Roman section is a 2nd-century AD bronze head of the Emperor Hadrian. Other fine pieces include a bust of Agrippa and a basalt head of Livia. The star of the Etruscan collection is the terra-cotta sarcophagus of a married couple. Among the vast array of earlier fragments, a geometric head from the Cyclades (2700 BC) and a swan-necked bowl hammered out of a gold sheet (2500 BC) are noteworthy.
More than 8,000 items feature in this collection, many of which came from the Abbey of St-Denis, where the kings of France were crowned. Treasures include a serpentine plate from the 1st century AD and a golden scepter made for King Charles V in about 1380. The French crown jewels include the splendid coronation crowns of Louis XV and Napoleon, scepters, and swords. The Regent, one of the purest diamonds in the world, worn by Louis XV at his coronation in 1722, is also on show. An entire room is taken up with a series of tapestries, the Hunts of Maximilian, executed for Emperor Charles V in 1530. The large collection of French furniture ranges from the 16th to the 19th centuries, and includes pieces by exceptional furniture-maker André Charles Boulle. He is particularly noted for his technique of inlaying copper and tortoiseshell. Among more unusual items is Marie-Antoinette’s inlaid steel and bronze writing desk.
Jardin des Tuileries
Tuileries, Concorde. Apr–Sep: 7am–9pm daily; Oct–Mar: 7:30am–7pm daily.
These gardens once belonged to the Palais des Tuileries, a palace which was razed to the ground during the time of the Paris Commune in 1871.
The gardens were laid out in the 17th century by André Le Nôtre, royal gardener to Louis XIV. He created a Neoclassical garden with a broad central avenue, regularly spaced terraces, and topiary arranged in geometric designs. Recent restoration has created a new garden with lime and chestnut trees and striking modern sculptures. Also in the gardens,
two royal tennis courts built in 1851 and known as the Jeu de Paume – literally “game of the palm” – now host exhibitions of contemporary art.
Musée de l’Orangerie
Jardin des Tuileries, Place de la Concorde. Tel 01-44 77 80 07. Concorde. 24, 42, 52, 72, 73, 84, 94. 9am–6pm Wed–Mon. May 1, Dec 25. www.musee-orangerie.fr
The museum reopened in 2006 following a long closure for restructuring. Claude Monet’s crowning work, his celebrated water lily series, still takes pride of place here. Known as the Nymphéas, most of the canvases were painted between 1899 and 1921 in the garden at Giverny, Normandy, where Monet lived from 1883 until his death at the age of 86.
This superb work is complemented by the WalterGuillaume collection of artists of the Ecole de Paris, from the late Impressionist era to the inter-war period. Among a number of paintings by Cézanne are still lifes, portraits such as Madame Cézanne, and landscapes. The collection also features The Red Rock. There are 24 canvases by Renoir, one the most notable of which is Les Fillettes au Piano. Picasso is represented by early works such as The Female Bathers. Henri Rousseau has nine paintings, including The Wedding and Le Carriole du Père Junier. Among outstanding portraits is that of by Modigliano. Works by Sisley, Derain, and Utrillo are also featured. All the works are bathed in the natural light that filters through the windows of the museum.
Place de la Concorde
One of Europe’s most magnificent and historic squares, covering over 8 ha (20 acres), the Place de la Concorde was a swamp until the mid-18th century. It became the Place Louis XV in 1763 when royal architect Jacques-Ange Gabriel was asked by the king to design a suitable setting for an equestrian statue of himself. He created an open octagon, with only the north side containing mansions.
The statue, which lasted here less than 20 years, was replaced by the guillotine (the Black Widow, as it came to be known), and the square was renamed Place de la Révolution. On January 21, 1793, Louis XVI was beheaded here, followed by over 1,300 other victims, including Marie Antoinette, Madame du Barry, Charlotte Corday (Marat’s assassin), and revolutionary leaders Danton and Robespierre. The blood-soaked square was optimistically renamed Place de la Concorde after the Reign of Terror finally came to an end in 1794.
The grandeur of the square was enhanced a few decades later when the 3,200-year-old Luxor obelisk was presented to King Louis-Philippe as a gift from the viceroy of Egypt (who also donated Cleopatra’s Needle in London). Two fountains and eight statues personifying French cities were also installed.
Flanking the Rue Royale on the north side of the square are two of Gabriel’s Neoclassical mansions, the Hôtel de la Marine and the exclusive Hôtel Crillon.
Rue de la Légion d’Honneur. Tel 01-40 49 49 78. Solférino. Musée d’Orsay. 24, 68, 69, 84 & many others. Tue–Sun. Jan 1, May 1, Dec 25. www.musee-orsay.fr
Originally built as a rail terminus in the heart of Paris, Victor Laloux’s superb building, completed in 1900, narrowly avoided demolition in the 1970s. In 1986 it reopened as the Musée d’Orsay, with much of the original architecture preserved. The majority of the exhibits are paintings and sculptures dating from between 1848 and 1914, but there are also displays of furniture, the decorative arts, and cinema. The social, political, and technological context in which these diverse visual arts were created is explained.
Paintings from before 1870 are on the ground floor, presided over by Thomas Couture’s massive Romans in the Age of Decadence (1847). Neoclassical masterpieces, such as Ingres’ La Source, hang near Romantic works like Delacroix’s turbulent Tiger Hunt (1854), and canvases by Degas and Manet, including the latter’s Le Déjeuner sur l’Herbe and Olympia (1863).
The museum’s central aisle overflows with sculpture, from Daumier’s satirical busts of members of parliament to Carpeaux’s exuberant The Dance (1868). Decorative arts and architecture are on the middle level, where there is also a display of Art Nouveau, including Lalique jewelry and glassware. Impressionist works on the upper level include Renoir’s Moulin de la Galette (1876). Matisse’s Luxe, Calme et Volupté is among highlights of the post-1900 collection.
79 Rue de Varenne. Tel 01-44 18 61 10. Varenne. Invalides. 6, 9, 82, 87, 92. Tue–Sun. Jan 1, May 1, Dec 25. restricted. www.musee-rodin.fr
Auguste Rodin (1840–1917), widely regarded as one of France’s greatest sculptors, lived and worked here in the Hôtel Biron, an elegant 18th-century mansion, from 1908 until his death. In return for a state-owned flat and studio, Rodin left his work to the nation, and it is now exhibited here. Some of his most celebrated sculptures are on display in the attractive garden and include The Burghers of Calais, The Thinker, The Gates of Hell, and Balzac.
The indoor exhibits are arranged in chronological order, spanning the whole of Rodin’s career. Major works in the collection include The Kiss and Eve.
La Tour-Maubourg, Varenne. Invalides. 28, 49, 63, 69 & many others. Hôtel des Invalides Tel 01-44 42 37 72. daily. Jan 1, May 1, Nov 1, Dec 25. St-Louis-des-Invalides Tel 01-44 42 37 72. daily. Dôme Church Tel 01-44 42 37 72. daily. Jan 1, May 1, Jun 17, Nov 1, Dec 25. restricted.
This vast ensemble of monumental buildings is one of the most impressive architectural sights in Paris. The imposing Hôtel des Invalides, from which the area takes its name, was commissioned by Louis XIV in 1671 for his wounded and homeless veterans. Designed by Libéral Bruand, it was completed in 1676 by Jules Hardouin-Mansart. Nearly 6,000 soldiers once resided here; today there are fewer than 100. Behind the Hôtel’s harmonious Classical façade – a masterpiece of French 17th-century architecture – are several museums.
The Musée de l’Armée is one of the most comprehensive museums of military history in the world, with exhibits covering all periods from the Stone Age to World War II. Among items on display are François I’s ivory hunting horns and a selection of arms from China, Japan, and India.
The Musée de l’Ordre de la Libération was set up to honor feats of heroism during World War II, while the Musée des Plans-Reliefs has an extensive collection of detailed models of French forts and fortified towns, considered top secret until as late as the 1950s. St-Louis-des-Invalides, the chapel of the Hôtel des Invalides, is also known as the “soldiers’ church.” It was built from 1679 to 1708 by Jules Hardouin-Mansart, to Bruand’s design. The stark, Classical interior is designed Page 163 | Top of Articlein the shape of a Greek cross and has a fine 17th-century organ by Alexandre Thierry.
The Dôme Church was begun in 1676 to complement the existing buildings of Les Invalides, and to reflect the splendor of Louis XIV’s reign. Reserved for the exclusive use of the Sun King himself, the resulting masterpiece is one of the greatest examples of grand siècle architecture and a monument to Bourbon glory. The crypt houses the tomb of Napoleon – six coffins with an enormous red sarcophagus on a pedestal of green granite. Marshal Foch, the World War I hero, is also buried here.
Built for the Universal Exhibition of 1889, and to commemorate the centennial of the Revolution, the 324-m (1,063-ft) Eiffel Tower (Tour Eiffel) was meant to be a temporary addition to the Paris skyline. Designed by Gustave Eiffel, it was fiercely decried by 19th-century aesthetes. It was the world’s tallest building until 1931, when New York’s Empire State Building was completed. A number of crazy stunts have been attempted here. In 1912 a local tailor launched himself from the tower using a cape as wings. He plunged to his death.
Musée du Quai Branly
22 Rue de l’Université. Tel 01-56 61 70 00. Alma-Marceau. Pont de l’Alma. Tue–Sun. www.quaibranly.fr
Built to give the arts of Africa, Asia, Oceania, and the Americas a platform as shining as that reserved for Western art, this museum boasts a collection of more than 3,000 objects. It is particularly strong on Africa, with stone, wooden, and ivory masks, as well as ceremonial tools. The Jean Nouvel-designed building, raised on stilts, is a sight in itself: the ingenious use of glass allows the surrounding greenery to act as a natural backdrop for the collection.
Palais de Chaillot
Place du Trocadéro 17. Tel 01-44 05 39 10. Trocadéro. Trocadéro. 27, 30, 32, 63, 72, 82. Museums Wed–Mon.
With its curved colonnaded wings, each culminating in a vast pavilion, this palace was designed in Neoclassical style for the 1937 Paris Exhibition by Azéma, Louis-Hippolyte Boileau, and Jacques Carlu. It is adorned with sculptures and bas-reliefs, and the pavilion walls are inscribed in gold with words composed by the poet Paul Valéry. The square between the two pavilions is highly decorated with bronze sculptures, ornamental pools, and shooting fountains. Steps lead down from here to the Théâtre National de Chaillot, famous for its avant-garde productions.
The Cité de l’Architecture et du Patrimoine is a vast new complex and information center incorporating Violletle-Duc’s original Musée des Monuments Français (1882).
The Musée de l’Homme in the west wing traces human evolution through a series of anthropological, archaeological, and ethnological displays. Next door is the Musée National de la Marine, devoted to French naval history.
The centerpiece of the lovely Jardins de Trocadéro is a long rectangular ornamental pool, bordered by statues. The gardens themselves are perfect for a quiet evening stroll.
Arc de Triomphe
Place Charles de Gaulle. Tel 01-55 37 73 77. Charles de Gaulle–Etoile. 22, 30, 31, 73, 92. daily. Jan 1, May 1, May 8 (am), Jul 14 (am), Nov 11 (am), Dec 25. www.monum.fr
After his greatest victory, the Battle of Austerlitz in 1805, Napoleon promised his men they would “go home beneath triumphal arches.” The first stone of what was to become the world’s most famous triumphal arch was laid the following year. But disruptions to architect Jean Chalgrin’s plans – combined with the demise of Napoleonic power – delayed completion until 1836. Standing 50 m (164 ft) high, the Arc is encrusted with flamboyant reliefs, shields, and sculptures, depicting military scenes such as the Napoleonic battles of Austerlitz and Aboukir.
On Armistice Day, 1921, the body of the Unknown Soldier was placed beneath the arch to commemorate the dead of World War I. The flame of remembrance which burns above the tomb is rekindled by various veterans organizations each evening. Today, the Arc de Triomphe is the customary rallying point for many victory celebrations and parades.
The viewing platform on top of the Arc overlooks the length of the Champs-Elysées. Inside the Arc, a museum documents its history and construction.
Franklin D. Roosevelt, George V, Champs-Elysées Clemenceau. Grand Palais Porte A, Ave Eisenhower. Tel 01-44 13 17 17. Wed–Mon (only for exhibitions). Palais de la Découverte Tel 01-56 43 20 21. Tue–Sun. Petit Palais Ave Winston Churchill. Tel 01-53 43 40 00. Tue–Sun. public hols. for temporary exhibitions.
Paris’s most famous and popular thoroughfare had its beginnings in about 1667, when landscape gardener André Le Nôtre extended the royal view from the Tuileries by creating a tree-lined avenue. The Champs-Elysées (Elysian Fields) has also been known as the “triumphal way” since the homecoming of Napoleon’s body from St. Helena in 1840. With the addition of cafés and restaurants in the late 19th century, the Champs-Elysées became the most fashionable boulevard in Paris.
The formal gardens that line the Champs-Elysées from Place de la Concorde to the Rond-Point have changed little since they were laid out by architect Jacques Hittorff in 1838, and were used as the setting for the 1855 World’s Fair. The Grand Palais and the Petit Palais were also built here for the Universal Exhibition of 1900.
The exterior of the massive Grand Palais combines an imposing Neoclassical façade with Art Nouveau ironwork. A splendid glass roof is decorated with colossal bronze statues of flying horses and chariots at its four corners. Inside is a science exhibition (Le Palais de la Découverte) and the Galeries Nationales du Grand Palais, which holds frequent temporary exhibitions.
Facing the Grand Palais, the Petit Palais houses the Musée des Beaux-Arts de la Ville de Paris. Arranged around a semicircular courtyard and garden, the palace is similar in style to the Grand Palais, with Ionic columns, a grand porch, and a dome echoing that of the Invalides across the river. The exhibits are divided into medieval and Renaissance objets d’art, paintings, and drawings; 18th-century furniture and objets d’art; and works by the French artists Gustave Courbet, Jean Ingres, and Eugène Delacroix.
Abbesses, Anvers. 30, 54, 80, 85. Sacré-Coeur 35 Rue du Chevalier de la Barre. Tel 01-53 41 89 00. daily. for crypt and dome. restricted. www.sacrecoeur.montmartre.com
The steep hill of Montmartre has been associated with artists for 200 years. Théodore Géricault and Camille Corot came here at the start of the 19th century, and in the early 20th century Maurice Utrillo immortalized the streets in his works. Today, street artists of varying talents exhibit their work in the Place du Tertre, and thrive on the tourist trade. Exhibitions at the Musée de Montmartre usually feature works of artists associated with the area, while the Musée d’Art Naïf Max Fourny houses almost 600 examples of naive art. The Espace Montmartre Salvador Dalí displays over 300 works by the Surrealist painter and sculptor. Much of the area still preserves its rather louche, prewar atmosphere. Former literary haunt Au Lapin Agile, or “Agile Rabbit,” is now a club. The celebrated Moulin Rouge nightclub is also in the vicinity.
The name Montmartre, thought to derive from martyrs tortured and killed here around AD 250, is also associated with the grandiose Sacré-Coeur. Dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Christ, the basilica was built as a result of a vow made at the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian War in 1870. Businessmen Alexandre
Legentil and Hubert Rohault de Fleury promised to finance its construction should France be spared from the impending Prussian onslaught. Despite the war and the Siege of Paris, invasion was averted and work began in 1876 to Paul Abadie’s designs. The basilica, completed in 1914, is one of France’s most important Roman Catholic shrines. It contains many treasures, including a figure of the Virgin Mary and Child (1896) by Brunet.
Below the forecourt, Square Willette is laid out on the side of a hill in a series of descending terraces. A funicular railway takes visitors up from the bottom of the gardens to the foot of the steps of the basilica.
Parc de la Villette
30 Ave Corentin-Cariou. Porte de la Villette. 75, 139, 150, 152, 250A. Cité des Sciences Tel 01-40 05 80 00. Tue–Sun.
The old slaughterhouses and livestock market of Paris have been transformed into this massive urban park, designed by Bernard Tschumi.
The major attraction of the site is the Cité des Sciences et de l’Industrie, a hugely Page 167 | Top of Articlepopular science and technology museum. Architect Adrien Fainsilber has created an imaginative interplay of light, vegetation, and water in the high-tech, five-floor building, which soars to a height of 40 m (133 ft). At the museum’s heart is the Explora exhibit, a fascinating guide to the worlds of science and technology. The Géode, a giant entertainment sphere, houses a huge hemispherical cinema screen. In the auditorium of the Planetarium, special effects projectors create exciting images of the stars and planets.
Also in the park, the Grande Halle was the old cattle hall, and has been turned into a huge exhibition space. The Cité de la Musique is a quirky but elegant complex that holds a music conservatory – home of the world-famous Paris conservatoire since 1990 – and a concert hall. Built as a venue for pop concerts, the Zénith theater seats over 6,000 spectators.
Cimetière du Père Lachaise
16 Rue du Repos. Père-Lachaise, A Dumas. Tel 01-55 25 82 10. daily.
Paris’s most prestigious cemetery is set on a wooded hill overlooking the city. The land was once owned by Père de la Chaise, Louis XIV’s confessor, but it was bought by order of Napoleon in 1803 to create a completely new cemetery. This became so popular with the Parisian bourgeoisie that its boundaries were extended six times during the 19th century. Here are buried celebrities such as the writer Honoré de Balzac, the famous playwright Molière, the composer Frédéric Chopin, singer Edith Piaf, and actors Simone Signoret and Yves Montand. Famous foreigners interred in the cemetery include Oscar Wilde and the singer Jim Morrison. The Columbarium, built at the end of the 19th century, houses the ashes of American dancer Isadora
Duncan, among others. The equally charismatic Sarah Bernhardt, famous for her portrayal of Racine heroines, also reposes at Père Lachaise. Striking funerary sculpture and famous graves make this a pleasant place for a leisurely, nostalgic stroll.
La Défense. La Grande Arche Tel 01-49 07 27 57. daily.
This skyscraper business city on the western edge of Paris is the largest office development in Europe and covers 80 ha (198 acres). It was launched in 1957 to create a new home for leading French and foreign companies. La Grande Arche is an enormous hollow cube, spacious enough to contain Notre-Dame cathedral. Designed by Danish architect Otto von Spreckelsen in the late 1980s, the arch houses an exhibition gallery and offers superb views over the city.
Bois de Boulogne
Porte Maillot, Porte Dauphine, Porte d’Auteuil, Sablons. 24 hrs daily. to specialist gardens and museum.
Located between the river Seine and the western edges of Paris, this 865-ha (2,137-acre) park offers a vast belt of greenery for strolling, cycling, riding, boating, picnicking, or spending a day at the races. The Bois de Boulogne was once part of the immense Forêt du Rouvre. In the mid-19th century Napoleon III had the area redesigned and landscaped by Baron Haussmann along the lines of Hyde Park in London (see p54 ). A number of self-contained parks include the Pré Catelan, which has the widest beech tree in Paris, and the Bagatelle gardens, with architectural follies and an 18th-century villa famous for its rose garden. The villa was built in just 64 days as the result of a bet between the Comte d’Artois and Marie-Antoinette.
By day the Bois is busy with families, joggers, and walkers, but after dark it is notoriously seedy – and best avoided.
Château de Versailles
Visitors passing through the dazzling state rooms of this colossal palace, or strolling in its vast gardens, will soon understand why it was the glory of the Sun King’s reign. Started by Louis XIV in 1668, the palace grew from a modest hunting lodge built for his father, Louis XIII, to become the largest palace in Europe, housing some 20,000 people. Architect Louis Le Vau built the first section, which expanded into an enlarged courtyard. From 1678, Jules Hardouin-Mansart added the north and south wings and the superb Hall of Mirrors. He also designed the chapel, completed in 1710. The interiors were largely the work of Charles Le Brun, and the great landscape gardener, André Le Nôtre, redesigned the gardens with their monumental fountains.
Exploring the Palace
The main rooms of the palace are on the first floor. Around the Marble Courtyard are the private apartments of the king and queen. Visitors can see the King’s Bedroom, where Louis XIV died, aged 77, in 1715. The room next door, the Cabinet du Conseil, was where the monarch would receive ministers and family members.
On the garden side, the state apartments are richly decorated with colored marbles, carvings in stone and wood, murals, and gilded furniture. Each is dedicated to an Olympian deity. Louis XIV’s throne room, the Salon d’Apollon, designed by Le Brun, is dedicated to the god Apollo. A copy of the famous portrait of Louis by Hyacinthe Rigaud hangs above the fireplace. The war theme of the Salon de la Guerre is reinforced by a stucco relief of Louis XIV riding to victory. The high point of the tour is the Hall of Mirrors, with its 17 great mirrors reflecting the light from tall arched windows.
Among the other major attractions are the Chapelle Royale and the Musée des Carrosses (coach museum) opposite the palace.
The Gardens of Versailles
The gardens are a fitting counterpart to the colossal palace. Immediately in front of the palace is the Water Parterre, decorated with superb bronze statues. Paths lead through the formal gardens, with their regularly patterned flowerbeds and hedges, to groves, lakes, fountains, and architectural features such as the Colonnade (1685), a circle of marble arches designed by Mansart. The largest stretch of water is the Grand Canal, where Louis XIV held spectacular boating parties.
The gardens contain two smaller palaces. The Grand Trianon, built of stone and pink marble, was designed by Mansart in 1687 as a discreet hideaway for Louis XIV and his mistress, Madame de Maintenon. The nearby Petit Trianon (1762) was built for Madame de Pompadour, Louis XV’s mistress. It later became a favorite retreat of Marie-Antoinette. Behind it is the Hameau, a minivillage where the queen would dress up as a shepherdess and play with a flock of groomed and perfumed lambs.
1 Rue de la Légion d’Honneur. St-Denis-Basilique. St-Denis. Tel 01-48 09 83 54. daily. Jan 1, May 1, Dec 25. restricted.
Constructed between 1137 and 1281, the basilica is on the site of the tomb of St. Denis, the first bishop of Paris, who was beheaded in Montmartre in AD 250. According to legend, his decapitated figure, clutching his head, was seen here, and an abbey was erected to commemorate the martyred bishop. The basilica was the first church to be built in the Gothic style of architecture.
From as early as the 7th century St-Denis was a burial place for French rulers, and all the queens of France were crowned here. During the Revolution many tombs were desecrated and scattered, but the best were stored, and now represent a fine collection of funerary art. Memorials include those of Dagobert (died 638), François I (died 1547), Henri II (died 1559) and Catherine de’ Medici (died 1589), and Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette (died 1793).
Of the medieval effigies, the most impressive are of Charles V (1364) and a 12th-century likeness in enameled copper of Blanche de France with her dog. Their mask-like serenity contrasts with the realistic Renaissance portrayal of agony in the sculptures of the mausoleum of Louis XII and Anne de Bretagne.
Marne-la-Vallée, Seine-et-Marne. TGV from Lille or Lyon. Marne-la-Vallée-Chessy. from CDG & Orly airports. Tel 08-25 30 60 30. daily. www.disneylandparis.com
The theme park, which lies 32 km (20 miles) east of Paris, covers 60 ha (150 acres). It is divided into five themed
areas. Although these rely heavily on Hollywood nostalgia, Disneyland Paris has tried to give the park a European touch.
“Frontierland,” inspired by the Wild West of 19th-century America, can be explored on paddlewheel steamboats. A roller coaster trundles through mountain scenery.
In “Adventureland” visitors encounter characters and tales from adventure fiction, including Caribbean pirates and the Swiss Family Robinson.
Small-town America at the turn of the century is evoked in “Main Street.” Authentic details include horse-drawn vehicles and a traditional barber’s shop.
Young children will enjoy “Fantasyland,” devoted to Disney characters and tales, where they can fly with Peter Pan or search the Alice in Wonderland maze for the Queen of Hearts’ castle.
“Discoveryland” has futuristic architecture and sophisticated technology. Here, visitors can choose to be miniaturized by a hapless inventor or sent on a thrilling space trip.
Château de Vauxle-Vicomte
Maincy, Seine-et-Marne. Melun, then taxi. Tel 01-64 14 41 90. late Mar–mid-Oct: daily.
Located 64 km (40 miles) southeast of Paris, just north of Melun, the château enjoys a peaceful rural setting. Nicolas Fouquet, a powerful court financier to Louis XIV, challenged architect Le Vau and decorator Le Brun to create the most sumptuous palace of the day. The result was one of the greatest 17th-century French châteaux. However, it also led to his downfall. Louis was so enraged – because its luxury cast the royal palaces into the shade – that he had Fouquet arrested and confiscated all his estates.
As befits Fouquet’s grand tastes, the interior is a gilded banquet of frescoes, stucco, caryatids, and giant busts. The Salon des Muses boasts Le Brun’s magnificent frescoed
ceiling of dancing nymphs and poetic sphinxes. La Grande Chambre Carrée is decorated in Louis XIII style with paneled walls and an impressive triumphal frieze, evoking Rome.
Much of Vaux-le-Vicomte’s fame is due to French landscape gardener André Le Nôtre (1613–1700). At Vaux he perfected the concept of the jardin à la française: avenues framed by statues and box hedges, water gardens with ornate pools, and geometrical parterres “embroidered” with floral motifs.
Château de Fontainebleau
Seine-et-Marne. Tel 01-60 71 50 60. Wed–Mon. www.musee-chateau-fontainebleau.fr
Fontainebleau was a favorite royal residence from the 12th to the mid-19th century. Its charm lies in its relative informality and its spectacular setting in a forest 65 km (40 miles) south of Paris. The present château dates back to François I. Drawn to the area by the local hunting, the Renaissance king created a decorative château modeled on Florentine and Roman styles. Subsequent rulers enlarged and embellished the château, creating a cluster of buildings in various styles from different periods. During the Revolution the apartments were looted by a mob, and remained bare until the 1800s when Napoleon refurbished the whole interior.
The Cour du Cheval Blanc, once a simple enclosed courtyard, was transformed by Napoleon into the main approach to the château. At one end is the Escalier du Ferà-Cheval (1634), an imposing horseshoe-shaped staircase.
The interior suites showcase the château’s history as a royal residence. The Galerie François I has a superb collection of Renaissance art. The Salle de Bal, a Renaissance ballroom designed by Primaticcio (1552), features emblems of Henri II on the walnut coffered ceiling
and reflected in the parquet floor. The apartments of Napoleon I house his grandiose throne, in the former Chambre du Roi. The complex of buildings also contains the Musée Napoléon, in which eight rooms recreate different scenes from the Emperor’s life.
Nearby is the Chapelle de la Sainte Trinité, designed for Henri II in 1550. The chapel acquired its vaulted and frescoed ceiling under Henri IV, and was completed during the reign of Louis XIII.
The gardens are also worth exploring. The Jardin Anglais is a romantic “English” garden planted with cypresses and exotic species. The Jardin de Diana features a bronze fountain of Diana the huntress.
Northern France’s main sights span thousands of years of history, from the awesome megaliths of Carnac, through the 18th-century grandeur of Nancy’s town architecture, to Strasbourg’s futuristic Palais de l’Europe, seat of the European Parliament. Its cities boast some of the country’s greatest cathedrals, such as those of Reims and Rouen. The region’s most famous religious monument is Mont-St-Michel, whose evocative silhouette has welcomed pilgrims since the 11th century.
Bas Rhin. 450,000. 15 km (8 miles) SW. 17 Place de la Cathédrale (03-88 52 28 28). International Music Festival (Jun). www.otstrasbourg.fr
Located halfway between Paris and Prague, this cosmopolitan city is often known as “the crossroads of Europe.” It is also home to the European Parliament.
A boat trip along the waterways that encircle Strasbourg’s Old Town takes in the PontsCouverts – bridges with medieval watchtowers – and the old tanners’ district, dotted with attractive half-timbered houses.
Dating from the late 11th century, the Cathédrale Notre-Dame dominates the city. There are wonderful views from the top of its spire.
The grand Classical Palais Rohan houses three museums: the Musée des Beaux Arts, the Musée Archéologique, and the Musée des Arts Décoratifs, which has one of the finest displays of ceramics in France. Also worth visiting is the Musée d’Art Moderne et Contemporain, Le Vaisseau, a scientific discovery center for children aged 3–15, and the Musée Alsacien, which contains exhibits on local traditions, arts, and crafts.
Marne. 200,000. 2 Rue Guillaume de Machault (08-92 70 13 51). www.reims-tourisme.com
Renowned throughout the world from countless champagne labels, Reims has a rich historical legacy.
The city’s most famous monument is the magnificent Gothic Cathédrale Notre-Dame, begun in 1211. For several centuries the cathedral was the setting for the coronation of French kings. Highlights are the 13th- century Great Rose Window and the west façade, decorated with over 2,300 statues.
On the eve of a coronation, the future king spent the night in the Palais du Tau (1690), the archbishops’ palace adjoining the cathedral. Its
15th-century banqueting hall, the Salle du Tau, with its barrel-vaulted ceiling and Arras tapestries, is a star attraction.
Among other fine historic buildings are the 17th-century Ancien Collège des Jésuites, which is closed until 2012 for restoration, and the Basilique St-Remi, Reims’ oldest church.
Relics of the town’s Roman past include the Cryptoportique, part of the former forum, and the Porte Mars, a triumphal Augustan arch.
The Musée de la Reddition occupies the building that served as Eisenhower’s French headquarters during World War II. It was here, in 1945, that the general received the Germans’ surrender, which ended the war.
A short drive south of Reims is Epernay. Here you can visit the cellars of a number of distinguished champagne “houses,” including those of Moët et Chandon.
Seine Maritime. 138,000. 11 km (7 miles) SE. 25 Place de la Cathédrale (02-32 08 32 40). www.rouentourisme.com
Formerly a Celtic trading post, Roman garrison, and Viking colony, Rouen became the capital of the Norman Duchy in 911. Today it is a rich and cultured city that boasts a wealth of splendid
historical monuments. Rouen’s Gothic cathedral, the Cathédrale Notre-Dame, has an impressive west façade, made famous by the great Impressionist painter Claude Monet (1840–1926), who made almost 30 paintings of it. A number of these can be seen in the city’s excellent Musée des Beaux Arts.
From the cathedral, the Rue du Gros Horloge leads west, passing under the city’s Great Clock, to the Place du Vieux Marché, where Joan of Arc was burnt at the stake in 1431. The Flamboyant Gothic Eglise St-Maclou and the Gothic Eglise St-Ouen are two of Rouen’s finest churches. The Eglise St-Ouen is noted for its restored 14th-century stained-glass windows.
The Musée de la Céramique displays around 1,000 pieces of Rouen faïence – colorful glazed earthenware – as well as other pieces of French and foreign china.
The former family home of Gustave Flaubert (1821–80) has been converted into a museum containing memorabilia from this famous French novelist’s life.
Calvados. 15,000. Pont-St-Jean (02-31 51 28 28).
The main reason for making a stop at this small town in Normandy is to see the world-renowned Bayeux Tapestry. This incredible work of art depicts William the Conqueror’s invasion of England and the Battle of Hastings in the 11th century from the Norman perspective. It was probably commissioned by Bishop Odo of Bayeux, William’s half-brother. The 70-m (230-ft) long embroidered hanging is displayed in a renovated seminary, the Centre Guillaume-leConquérant, which also gives a detailed audio-visual account of the events leading up to the Norman conquest.
Apart from its tapestry, a cluster of 15th–19th-century buildings and the Gothic Cathédrale Notre-Dame are Bayeux’s principal attractions.
Bayeux was the first town in Nazi-occupied France to be liberated by the Allies following the D-Day landings in 1944. On the southwest side of the town’s ring road, the Musée Mémorial de la Bataille de Normandie traces the events of the Battle of Normandy in World War II.
Ille-et-Vilaine. 53,000. Esplanade St-Vincent (08-25 13 52 00). Tue, Fri (Old Town).
Once a fortified island, St-Malo stands in a commanding position at the mouth of the river Rance. In the 16th–19th centuries the port won prosperity and power through the exploits of its seafaring population. Intra-muros, the old walled city, is encircled by ramparts that provide fine views of St-Malo and its offshore islands. Within the city walls is a web of narrow, cobbled streets with tall 18th-century buildings housing many souvenir shops, seafood restaurants, and creperies.
St-Malo’s castle, the Château de St-Malo dates from the 14th and 15th centuries. The great keep today houses an interesting museum charting the city’s history. In the three-towered fortification known as the Tour Solidor, to the west of St-Malo, is a museum devoted to the ships and sailors that rounded Cape Horn.
Morbihan. 4,600. 74 Avenue des Druides (02-97 52 13 52).
This popular town is probably most famous as one of the world’s great prehistoric sites. As long ago as 4000 BC thousands of ancient granite rocks were arranged in mysterious lines and patterns in the country-side around Carnac by Mega-lithic tribes. Their original purpose is uncertain, though they are thought to have religious significance or to be related to an early astronomical calendar. Celts, Romans, and Christians have since adapted them to their own beliefs.
You can see some of the menhirs at the Kermario site, on the town outskirts, while in the center, the Musée de Préhistoire gives an insight into the area’s ancient history.
Shrouded by mist, the silhouette of Mont-St-Michel is one of the most enchanting sights in France. Now linked to the mainland by a causeway, the island of Mont-Tombe (Tomb on the Hill) stands at the mouth of the river Couesnon, crowned by a fortified abbey that almost doubles its height. Lying strategically on the frontier between Normandy and Brittany, Mont-St-Michel grew from a humble 8th-century oratory to become a Benedictine monastery that had its greatest influence in the 12th and 13th centuries. Pilgrims known as miquelots journeyed from afar to honor the cult of St. Michael, and the monastery was a renowned center of medieval learning. After the French Revolution the abbey became a prison. It is now a national monument that draws some 850,000 visitors a year. Work on a bridge to link the island to the mainland is due to finish in 2015.
The Loire Valley
Renowned for its sumptuous chateaux, the relics of royal days gone by, the glorious valley of the Loire is rich in both history and architecture. As the Loire runs through the heart of France, so the region embodies the essence of the French way of life. Its sophisticated cities, luxuriant landscape, and magnificent food and wine add up to a modern paradise. The Loire has long been described as exemplifying la douceur de vivre: it combines a leisurely pace of life, a mild climate, and the gentle ways of its inhabitants. The overall impression is one of an unostentatious taste for the good things in life.
Loire-Atlantique. 270,000. 2 Place St-Pierre (08-92 46 40 44). Tue–Sun. www.nantestourisme.com
The ancient port of Nantes was the ducal capital of Brittany for 600 years, but is now considered a part of the Pays de la Loire. Many of its fine 18th- and 19th-century buildings were built on profits from maritime trade. Modern-day Nantes is a lively city, with good museums, chic bars and shops, and wide open spaces.
The Cathédrale St-Pierre et St-Paul was begun in 1434, but not completed until 1893. It is notable for its sculpted Gothic portals and Renaissance tomb of François II (1435–88), the last duke of Brittany.
The Château des Ducs de Bretagne, now with a museum documenting the town’s history, was the birthplace of Anne of Brittany, who irrevocably joined her fiercely independent duchy to France by her successive marriages to Charles VIII and Louis XII. A smaller royal lodging lies to the west of it. It was here, in Brittany’s Catholic bastion, that Henri IV signed the 1598 Edict of Nantes, which granted all Protestants freedom of worship.
The Musée des Beaux-Arts has a splendid array of paintings representing key movements from the 15th to the 20th centuries. Packed with mementos, books, and maps, the Musée Jules Verne is dedicated to the life and works of the famous writer (1828–1905).
Vienne. 85,000. 45 Place Charles de Gaulle (05-49 41 21 24). Tue–Sun. www.ot-poitiers.fr
Three of the greatest battles in French history were fought around Poitiers, the most famous in 732 when Charles Martel halted the Arab invasion. Today the town is a dynamic regional capital with a rich architectural heritage.
Behind the Renaissance façade of the Palais de Justice is the 12th-century great hall of the palace of Henry II and Richard the Lion-Heart. This is thought to be the scene of Joan of Arc’s examination by a council of theologians in 1429.
Notre-Dame-la-Grande, whose west front is covered with superb 12th-century Poitevin sculpture, stands out among the city’s churches, as does the 4th-century Baptistère St-Jean, one of the oldest Christian buildings in France. The latter contains Romanesque frescoes.
The Musée Sainte-Croix has archaeological exhibits, as well as paintings and sculpture.
Just 7 km (4.5 miles) north of Poitiers, Futuroscope is a theme park dedicated to state-of-the-art visual technology, including the largest cinema screen in Europe.
Abbaye Royale de Fontevraud
Maine-et-Loire. Tel 02-41 51 73 52. daily. Jan 1, May 1, Nov 1 & 11, Dec 25. restricted. www.abbaye-fontevraud.com
Fontevraud Royal Abbey, founded in 1101, was the largest of its kind in France. It now hosts concerts and exhibitions. The abbey’s nuns lived around the Renaissance Grand Moûtier cloisters, and the leper colony’s nurses were housed in the St-Lazare priory, now the abbey’s hotel. Little remains of the monastic quarters, but the St-Benoît hospital survives. Most impressive is the octagonal kitchen in the Tour Evraud, a rare example of secular Romanesque architecture.
In the nave of the abbey church, the painted effigy of Henry Plantagenet (1133– 1189), Count of Anjou and King of England, lies by those of his wife Eleanor of Aquitaine, who died here in 1204, and their son, Richard the Lion-Heart (1157–1199).
Indre-et-Loire. 140,000. 78 Rue Bernard Palissy (02-47 70 37 37). Tue–Sun.
The pleasant cathedral city of Tours is built on the site of a Roman town, and became an important center of Christianity in the 4th century under St. Martin. In 1461 Louis XI made the city the French capital. However, during Henri IV’s reign, the city lost favor with the monarchy and the capital left Tours for Paris.
The medieval old town, Le Vieux Tours, is full of narrow streets lined with beautiful half-timbered houses. St. Martin’s tomb lies in the crypt of the New Basilica, built on the site of the medieval Old Basilica. Two towers, the Tour Charlemagne and the Tour de l’Horloge, survive from the earlier building.
Nearby, the vaulted cellars of the 13th-century Eglise St-Julien now form the Musée des Vins de Touraine, where exhibits include a Renaissance winepress and displays on early viticultural history.
The foundation stone of the Cathédrale StGatien was laid in the early 13th century. Building work continued until the mid-16th century, and the cathedral provides an illustration of how the Gothic style developed over time.
The Château Royal de Tours, a royal residence between the 13th and 15th centuries, houses the Historial de Touraine, which illustrates the region’s history in waxworks.
Loir-et-Cher. 60,000. Place du Château (02-54 90 41 41). Tue–Thu & Sat–Sun.
A powerful feudal stronghold in the 12th century, Blois rose to glory under Louis XII, who established his court here in 1498. The town remained at the center of French royal and political life for much of the next century. Today, Blois is the quintessential Loire town. The partly pedestrianized old quarter is full of romantic courtyards and fine mansions.
Home to kings Louis XII, François I, and Henri III, no other Loire château has such a sensational history as the Château de Blois. It was here, in 1588, that the ambitious Duc de Guise, leader of the Catholic Holy League, was murdered on the orders of Henri III. The building itself juxtaposes four distinct architectural styles, reflecting its varied history.
Among Blois’ most impressive religious monuments are the beautiful three-spired Eglise St-Nicolas, formerly part of a 12th-century Benedictine abbey, and the Cathédrale St-Louis, which dominates the eastern half of the city. The cathedral is a 17th-century reconstruction of a Gothic church that was almost destroyed in 1678.
Château de Chenonceau
Chenonceau, stretching romantically across the River Cher, is considered by many to be the loveliest of the Loire châteaux. Surrounded by elegant formal gardens and wooded grounds, this pure Renaissance building began life as a modest manor and water mill. Over the centuries it was transformed by the wives and mistresses of its successive owners into a palace designed solely for pleasure. On July and August evenings, the Promenade Nocturne allows visitors to stroll about the gardens accompanied by classical music.
Château de Chambord
Loir-et-Cher. to Blois, then taxi or bus. Tel 02-54 50 40 00. daily. Jan 1, May 1, Dec 25.
The brainchild of the extra vagant François I, the château began as a hunting lodge in the Forêt de Boulogne. In 1519 the original building was razed and Chambord begun, to a design probably initiated by Leonardo da Vinci. By 1537 the keep, with its towers and terraces, had been completed by 1,800 men and three master masons. The following year, François I began building a private royal pavilion on the northeast corner, with a connecting two-story gallery. His son, Henri II, continued the west wing with the chapel, and Louis XIV completed the 440-roomed edifice in 1685.
The innovative double-helix Grand Staircase was supposedly designed by Leonardo da Vinci. The two flights of stairs ensure that the person going up and the person going down cannot meet.
Loiret. 113,000. 2 Place de l’Etape (02-38 24 05 05). Tue–Sun. Fête Jeanne d’Arc (May 7 & 8). www.tourisme-orleans.com
Orléans was the capital of medieval France, and it was here that Joan of Arc battled the English in 1429, during the Hundred Years’ War. Later captured by the enemy and accused of witch-craft, she was burned at the stake in Rouen at the age of 19. Since her martyrdom, Joan has become a pervasive presence in Orléans.
A faded grandeur lingers in Vieil Orléans, the old quarter bounded by the imposing Cathédrale Sainte-Croix, the Loire, and the Place du Martroi. The Maison de Jeanne d’Arc was rebuilt in 1961 on the site where Joan lodged in 1429. Inside, audiovisual exhibits recreate her life.
A selection of European art of the 16th to early 20th centuries is on display at the Musée des Beaux-Arts.
According to art historian Emile Male, “Chartres is the mind of the Middle Ages manifest.” Begun in 1020, the Romanesque cathedral was destroyed by a devastating fire in 1194. Only the north and south towers, south steeple, west portal, and crypt remained. Inside, the sacred Veil of the Virgin relic was the sole treasure to survive. Peasant and lord alike labored to rebuild the church in just 25 years. Few alterations were made after 1250 and, fortunately, Chartres was left unscathed by the Wars of Religion and the French Revolution. The result is an authentic Gothic cathedral with a true “Bible in stone and glass” reputation.
Burgundy and the French Alps
Burgundy is France’s richest province, historically, culturally, and gastronomically. The region’s fine wines have inspired awe for centuries, and every year the historic town of Beaune hosts one of the most famous wine auctions in the world. Dijon is a splendid city, filled with the great palaces of the old Burgundian nobility. The majestic French Alps attract visitors for winter sports, and, in summer, walking and a host of water sports on the glittering mountain lakes.
Yonne. 400. Basilique Ste-Madeleine Tel 03-86 33 39 50. Sermizelles, then bus. daily.
Tourists come to Vézelay to visit the picturesque Basilique Ste-Madeleine. In the 12th century, at the height of its glory, the abbey claimed to house the relics of Mary Magdalene, and it was a starting point for the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela in Spain (see p302 ).
The star attractions of the Romanesque church are the tympanum sculpture (1120–35) above the central doorway, the exquisitely carved capitals in the nave and narthex, and the immense Gothic choir.
Côte D’Or. 23,000. Boulevard Pepreuil (03-80 26 21 30). Baroque Music (Jul).
The indisputable highlight of the old center of Beaune is the Hôtel-Dieu. The hospice was founded in 1443 for the town’s inhabitants, many of whom were left poverty-stricken after the Hundred Years’ War. Today it is considered a medieval jewel, with its superb multicolored Burgundian roof tiles. It houses many treasures, including the religious masterpiece, Rogier van der Weyden’s Last Judgement polyptych.
The Hôtel des Ducs de Bourgogne, built in the 14th– 16th centuries, houses the Musée du Vin de Bourgogne, with displays of traditional winemaking equipment.
Further to the north is the 12th-century Romanesque church, the Collégiale Notre-Dame, which has a collection of fine 15th-century tapestries.
Rhône. 453,000. 25 km (16 miles) E. Place Belle-cour (04-72 77 69 69). daily. www.lyon-france.com
Dramatically situated on the banks of the Rhône and Saône rivers, Lyon has been a vital gateway between the north and south since ancient times. Vieux Lyon, the oldest part of the city, is the site of the Roman settlement of Lugdunum, the commercial and military capital of Gaul founded by Julius Caesar in 44 BC. Vestiges of this prosperous city can be seen in the superb Musée de la Civilisation Gallo-Romaine. There are also two excavated Roman amphitheaters: the Grand Théâtre, built in 15 BC to seat 30,000 spectators, and the smaller Odéon.
Other major sights are the 19th-century mock-Byzantine Basilique Notre-Dame de Fourvière, and the Cathédrale St-Jean, begun in the 12th century. Vieux Lyon’s fine Renaissance mansions are the former homes of bankers and silk merchants.
The excellent Musée des Beaux Arts showcases the country’s largest and most important collection of fine arts after the Louvre. The modern works, dating from after the mid-1900s, have found a new home in the Musée d’Art Contemporain in the north of the city. An exquisite display of silks and tapestries, some dating back to early Christian times, can be seen in the Musée des Tissus.
Annecy. 51,000. 1 Rue Jean Jaurès (04-50 45 00 33). Tue, Fri–Sun. www.lac-annecy.com
Annecy is one of the most beautiful towns in the Alps, set at the northern tip of Lac d’Annecy and surrounded by snow-capped mountains.
A stroll around the town’s small medieval quarter, with its canals, flower-covered bridges, and arcaded streets, is one of the main attractions of a stay here. Look out for the formidable Palais de l’Isle, a 12th-century prison in the middle of the Thiou canal.
The turreted Château d’Annecy, perched high on a hill, affords fine panoramic views. The clear waters of the lake are perfect for swimming and water sports. Boat trips leave from the Quai Thiou.
One way to enjoy the area’s spectacular scenery is to take a boat to Talloires, a tiny lakeside village, noted for its hotels and restaurants.
Isère. 165,000. 14 Rue de la République (04-76 42 41 41). Tue–Sun.
Ancient capital of Dauphiné, Grenoble is a busy and thriving city, attractively located at the confluence of the Drac and Isère rivers, in the shadow of the mighty Vercors and Chartreuse massifs.
A cable car from the Quai Stéphane-Jay on the north bank of the Isère takes you up to the 16th-century Fort de la Bastille, where you are rewarded with magnificent views of the city and surrounding mountains. From here, paths lead down through pretty gardens to the excellent Musée Dauphinois at the foot of the hill. Housed in a 17th-century convent, the museum contains displays on local history, arts, and crafts.
On the other side of the river, the focus of life is the Place Grenette, a lively square lined with sidewalk cafés. Nearby, the Place St-André is the heart of the medieval city, overlooked by Grenoble’s oldest buildings, including the 13th-century Eglise St-André and the 15th-century Palais de Justice.
Also worth visiting is the Musée de Grenoble, the city’s principal art museum. With works by Chagall, Picasso, and Matisse, the modern collection is especially good.
Street by Street: Dijon
The center of Dijon is noted for its architectural splendor – a legacy from the dukes of Burgundy (see p182 ). Wealthy parliament members also had elegant hôtels particuliers (private mansions) built in the 17th and 18th centuries. The capital of Burgundy, Dijon today has a rich cultural life and a renowned university. The city’s great art treasures are housed in the Palais des Ducs. Dijon is also famous for its mustard and pain d’épice (gingerbread), a reminder of the town’s position on the medieval spice route. A major rail hub during the 19th century, it now has a TGV link to Paris.
The Wines of France
Winemaking in France dates back to pre-Roman times, although it was the Romans who disseminated the culture of the vine and the practise of winemaking throughout the country. The range, quality, and reputation of the fine wines of Bordeaux, Burgundy, and Champagne in particular have made them role models the world over. France’s everyday wines can be highly enjoyable too, with plenty of good-value vins de pays and vins de table now emerging from the southern regions. Many wine producers offer tours and have their own tasting rooms, where visitors can try a selection of wines without feeling pressurized to buy.
THE WINE REGIONS OF FRANCE
Each of the 10 principal wine-producing regions has its own identity, based on grape varieties, climate and soil, and local culture. Around 40 percent of all French wines are included in the appellation d’origine contrôlée system, which guarantees their style and geographic origin, though not their quality.
HOW TO READ A WINE LABEL
Even the simplest label will provide a key to the wine’s flavor and quality. It will bear the name of the wine and its producer, its vintage if there is one, and whether it comes from a strictly defined area (appellation contrôlée or VDQS) or is a more general vin de pays or vin de table. It may also have a regional grading, as with the crus classés in Bordeaux. The shape and color of the bottle are also guides. Most good-quality wine is bottled in green glass, which helps to protect it from light.
The southwest is farming France, a green and peaceful land nurturing crops from sunflowers to walnuts. Other key country products include forest timber, Bordeaux wines, and wild mushrooms. Major modern industries, including aerospace, are focused on the two chief cities, Bordeaux and Toulouse. Visitors are mainly drawn to the wine chateaux, the ski slopes of the Pyrenees, and the prehistoric caves of the Dordogne. The major sights of this favored region include some of France’s most celebrated Romanesque buildings.
Gironde. 220,000. 12 Cours du 30 Juillet (05-56 00 66 00). daily. Fête du Vin (Jun every two years from 2010). www.bordeaux-tourisme.com
Built on a curve of the Garonne river, Bordeaux has been a major port since pre-Roman times and for centuries a focus and crossroads of European trade. The export of wine has always been the basis of the city’s prosperity, and today the Bordeaux region produces over 44 million cases of wine per year.
Along the waterfront, a long sweep of Classical façades is broken by the Esplanade des Quinconces, with its statues and fountains. At one end, the Monument aux Girondins (1804–1902) commemorates the Girondists sent to the guillotine by Robespierre during the Terror (1793–5). Buildings of architectural interest include the massive Basilique St-Michel, begun in 1350, which took 200 years to complete, and the 18th-century Grand Théâtre, a magnificent example of the French Neoclassical style. The Musée des Beaux Arts holds an excellent collection of paintings, ranging from the Renaissance to our time.
Montignac. Tel 05-53 51 95 03. Feb–Mar & Nov–Dec: Tue–Sun; Easter– Oct: daily. Jan, Dec 25.
Lascaux is the most famous of the prehistoric sites in the Dordogne region. Four young boys and their dog came across the caves and their astounding Palaeolithic paintings in 1940, and the importance of their discovery was swiftly recognized.
Lascaux has been closed to the public since 1963 because of deterioration due to carbon dioxide caused by breathing. An exact copy, Lascaux II, has been created a few minutes’ walk down the hillside, using the same materials. The replica is beautiful and should not be spurned: high-antlered elk, bison, and plump horses cover the walls, moving in herds or files, surrounded by arrows and geometric symbols thought to have had ritual significance.
Haute-Garonne. 390,000. Donjon du Capitole (05-61 11 02 22). Tue–Sun. Piano (Sep), Contemporary dance (end Jan–early Feb). www.toulouse-tourisme.com
Toulouse, the most important town in southwest France, is the country’s fourth largest metropolis, and a major industrial and university city.
The area is also famous for its aerospace industry; Concorde, Airbus, and the Ariane space rocket all originated here. Airbus tours can be booked at www.taxiway.fr. Cité de l’Espace has a planetarium and interactive exhibits on space exploration.
The church known as Les Jacobins was begun in 1229 and took over two centuries to finish. The Gothic masterpiece features a soaring, 22-branched palm tree vault in the apse.
The bell tower (1294) is much imitated in southwest France. Toulouse became a center of Romanesque art in Europe due to its position on the route to Santiago de Compostela (see p302 ). The largest Romanesque basilica in Europe, the Basilique de St-Sernin, was built in the 11th–12th centuries to accommodate pilgrims. The Musée des Augustins has sculptures from the period, and incorporates cloisters from a 14th-century Augustinian priory. Also featured are French, Italian, and Flemish paintings.
The 16th-century palace known as the Hôtel d’Assézat now houses the Fondation Bemberg, named after local art lover Georges Bemberg, with Renaissance art and 19thand 20th-century French work.
Pau. Bayonne & Pau. Place des Basques, Bayonne (08-20 42 64 64); Place Royale, Pau (05-59 27 27 08).
The mountains dominate life in the French Pyrenees. A region in many ways closer to Spain than France, over the centuries its remote terrain and tenacious people have given heretics a hiding place and refugees an escape route.
The Parc National des Pyrénées extends 100 km (62 miles) along the French– Spanish frontier. It boasts some of the most splendid alpine scenery in Europe, and is rich in flora and fauna. Within the park are 350 km (217 miles) of footpaths.
The region’s oldest inhabitants, the Basque people, have maintained their own language and culture. Bayonne on the Atlantic coast is the capital of the French Basque country, and has been an important town since Roman times. Biarritz, west of Bayonne, has two casinos and three good beaches, with the best surfing in Europe. A short distance south, St-Jean-de-Luz is a sleepy fishing village that explodes into life in summer. A main attraction is the Eglise St-Jean Baptiste, where Louis XIV married the Infanta Maria Teresa of Spain in 1660.
A lively university town with elegant architecture, Pau is the most interesting large town in the central Pyrenees. It has long been a favorite resort of affluent foreigners.
Other places of interest include the many mountain ski resorts, the shrine at Lourdes, and the pretty hilltop town of St-Bertrand-de-Comminges.
The South of France
The south is France’s most popular holiday region, drawing millions of visitors each year to the resorts of the Riviera and the Côte d’Azur, and to the vivid landscape and historic villages of Provence. Painters such as Cézanne, van Gogh, and Picasso, have been inspired by the luminous light and brilliant colors of the region. Agriculture is still a mainstay of the economy, but the new high-tech industries of Nice now make a significant contribution to the region’s prosperity.
Aude. 46,000. 28 Rue de Verdun (04-68 10 24 30). Tue, Thu & Sat. Festival de la Cité (all of Jul), Medieval fête (Aug). www.carcassonne.org
The citadel of Carcassonne is a perfectly restored medieval town. It crowns a steep bank above the Aude river, a fairytale sight of turrets and ramparts overlooking the Basse Ville below.
The strategic position of the citadel between the Atlantic and the Mediterranean led to its original settlement, consolidated by the Romans in the 2nd century BC.
At its zenith in the 12th century the town was ruled by the Trencavels, who built the château and cathedral. The Cathars, a persecuted Christian sect, were given sanctuary here in 1209 but, after a two-week siege, the town fell to the Crusaders sent to eradicate them. The attentions of architectural historian Violletle-Duc led to Carcassonne’s restoration in the 19th century.
Flanked by sandstone towers, the defenses of the Porte Narbonnaise included two portcullises, two iron doors, a moat, and a drawbridge. A fortress within a fortress, the Château Comtal has a surrounding moat and five defensive towers.
Within the Romanesque and Gothic Basilique St-Nazaire is the famous Siege Stone, inscribed with scenes said to depict the siege of 1209.
Gard. 145,000. 6 Rue Auguste (04-66 58 38 00). daily. www.ot-nimes.fr
An important crossroads in the ancient world, Nîmes is well known for its bullfights and Roman antiquities. The city has had a turbulent history, and suffered particularly in the 16th-century Wars of Religion, when the Romanesque Cathédrale Notre-Dame et St-Castor was badly damaged. In the 17th and 18th centuries the town prospered from textile manufacturing, one of the most enduring products being denim or serge de Nîmes.
All roads in the city lead to the amphitheater, Les Arènes. Built at the end of the 1st century AD, it is still in use today as a venue for concerts, sporting events, and bullfights.
The Maison Carrée is an elegant Roman temple, the pride of Nîmes. Built by Augustus’ son-in-law Marcus Agrippa, it is one of the best preserved in the world, with finely fluted Corinthian columns and a sculpted frieze.
Set in the Roman wall is the Porte d’Auguste, a gateway built for travelers on the Domitian Way, which passed through the center of Nîmes. Nearby is the Castellum, a tower used for storing water brought in by aqueduct. The water was distributed around the town by a canal system. A display of Roman statues and mosaics can be seen at the Musée Archéologique.
Five floors of Nîmes’ controversial arts complex, the Carré d’Art, which stands opposite the Maison Carrée, lie underground. The complex incorporates a library, a roof-terrace restaurant around a huge glass atrium, and the Musée d’Art Contemporain.
To the northeast of the city lies the Pont du Gard, a 2,000-year-old aqueduct. The Romans considered this to be the best testimony to the greatness of their empire, and at 49 m (160 ft) it was the highest bridge they ever built.
Vaucluse. 100,000. 41 Cours Jean Jaurès (04-32 74 32 74). Tue–Sun. Le Festival d’Avignon (mid-Jul–mid-Aug). www.avignon-tourisme.com
Massive ramparts enclose this fascinating town. The huge Palais des Papes is the dominant feature, but Avignon contains other riches. To the north of the Palais is the 13th-century Musée du Petit Palais, once the Archbishop of Avignon’s residence. It has received such notorious guests as Cesare Borgia and Louis XIV. Now a museum, it displays Romanesque and Gothic sculpture and paintings of the Avignon and Italian Schools, with works by Botticelli and Carpaccio.
Avignon boasts some fine churches, such as the 12th-century Cathédrale de Notre-Dame-des-Doms,
with its Romanesque cupola and papal tombs, and the 14th-century Eglise St-Didier.
The Musée Lapidaire contains statues, mosaics, and carvings from pre-Roman Provence. The Musée Calvet features a superb array of exhibits, including Roman finds. It also gives an overview of French art during the past 500 years, with works by Rodin, Manet, and Dufy. The Place de l’Horloge is the center of Avignon’s social life. Under the town hall’s Gothic clock tower stands a merry-go-round from 1900. Until the 19th century, brightly-patterned calicoes called indiennes were printed nearby. These inspired today’s Provençal patterns.
From mid-July until mid-August, the Avignon Festival takes place at the Palais des Papes. France’s largest festival, it includes ballet, drama, and classical concerts. The “Off” festival has street theater and music from folk to jazz.
The Pont St-Bénézet, built from 1171–1185, once had 22 arches, but most were destroyed by floods in 1668. One of the remaining arches bears the tiny Chapelle St-Nicolas.
PALAIS DES PAPES
Pope Clement V moved the papal court to Avignon in 1309. Here it remained until 1377, during which time his successors transformed the modest episcopal building into the present magnificent palace.
Few other towns in Provence combine all the region’s charms so well as Arles. Its position on the Rhône makes it a natural gateway to the Camargue (see p195 ). Its Roman remains, such as Constantine’s baths and the amphitheater, are complemented by the ocher walls and Roman-tiled roofs of later buildings. Van Gogh spent time here in 1888–9, but Arles is no longer the industrial town he painted. Visitors are now its main business, and entertainment ranges from the Arles Festival to bullfights. A bastion of Provençal tradition and culture, its museums are among the best in the region. For enthusiasts, an inclusive ticket is available giving access to all museums and monuments. All the tourist sites in Arles are within walking distance of the central Place de la République.
Bouches-du-Rhône. 5 Ave Van Gogh, Stes-Maries-de-la-Mer (04-90 97 82 55). Pèlerinage des Gitans (end May & end Oct). www.saintesmaries.com
This flat, sparsely populated land is one of Europe’s major wetland regions and natural history sites. Extensive areas of salt marsh, lakes, pastures, and sand dunes cover a vast 140,000 ha (346,000 acres). The native white horses and black bulls are tended by the region’s cowboys, or gardians. Numerous seabirds and wildfowl also occupy the region.
Bullfights are advertised in Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer, the region’s main tourist center, which has a sandy beach with water sports and boat trips. A few kilometers inland, the information center at Pont-de-Gau offers wonderful views over the flat lagoon. Photographs and documents chronicle the history of the Camargue and its diverse flora and fauna. Most of the birds that live in or migrate within the region, including thousands of flamingoes which come here to breed, can be seen at the nearby Parc Ornithologique du Pont-de-Gau.
In the north of the region, a traditional Provençal mas or farmhouse, Mas du Pont de Rousty, has been converted to accommodate the fascinating Musée Camarguais. Displays here provide an introduction to the customs and traditions of the Camargue.
Bouches-du-Rhône. 140,000. 2 Place Général de Gaulle (04-42 16 11 61). daily. www.aixenprovencetourism.com
Provence’s former capital is an international students’ town, with a university that dates back to 1409. The city was transformed in the 17th century, when ramparts, first raised by the Romans in their town of Aquae Sextiae, were pulled down, and the mansion-lined Cours Mirabeau was built.
North of the Cours Mirabeau lies the town’s old quarter. Cathédrale St-Sauveur creaks with history. The jewel of the church is the triptych of The Burning Bush (1476) by Nicolas Froment. The modest Atelier Paul Cézanne, a studio designed by Cézanne himself, is much as he left it when he died in 1906.
The main museum is the Musée Granet. François Granet (1775–1849) left his collection of French, Italian, and Flemish paintings to Aix. Work by Provençal artists is also shown, some by Granet.
Bouches-du-Rhône. 1,000,000. 25 km NW. 4 La Canebière (04-91 13 89 00). daily. www.marseille-tourisme.com
France’s most important port and oldest major city is centered on the surprisingly attractive Vieux Port. On the north side are the commercial docks and the old town, rebuilt after World War II.
The old town’s finest building is the Vieille Charité, a large, well-restored 17th-century hospice. The first floor has a small but rich collection of ancient Egyptian artifacts.
The Neo-Byzantine Notre-Dame-de-la-Garde dominates the city but Marseille’s finest piece of religious architecture is the Abbaye de St-Victor, founded in the 5th century, with crypts containing cata-combs, sarcophagi, and the cave of the martyr St. Victor.
During postwar rebuilding the Roman docks were uncovered. The Musée des Docks Romains mainly displays large storage urns once used for wine, grain, and oil. In the Centre Bourse shopping center is the Musée d’Histoire de Marseille. Reconstructions of the city at the height of the Greek period make this a good starting point for a tour.
Flavors of the South of France
It’s a heady experience just to stand, look, and sniff in a Provençal market. Tables sag under piles of braided pink garlic, colorful fresh peppers, tomatoes, eggplants, zucchini, and asparagus. In the fall and winter an earthy scent fills the air, with wild mushrooms, Swiss chard, walnuts, and quinces crowding the stalls. The waters of Coastal Provence provide a
bountiful sea harvest, including plump mussels, oysters, and tellines (tiny clams). The area is especially famous for its fish dishes, notably bouillabaisse. Lamb is the most common meat in Provence; the best comes from the Camargue, where lambs graze on herbs and salt-marsh grass. The South supplies France with the first of the season’s peaches, cherries, and apricots.
OLIVES AND OLIVE OIL
Most of the olive crop is crushed for oil. Ripe olives are black and the unripe ones are green; both can be preserved in brine or oil. At the end of the olive harvest tapenade is popular, a paste of black olives, capers, anchovies, and olive oil eaten with bread.
The Côte d’Azur
The Côte d’Azur is, without doubt, the most celebrated seaside in Europe. Almost everybody who has been anybody for the past 100 years has succumbed to its glittering allure. Today the Côte d’Azur is busy all year round; expect heavy traffic around Cannes and St-Tropez in summer. Between Cannes and Menton, the coast forms the glamorous French Riviera, playground of the rich and famous. The bustling city of Nice lies at the area’s heart, richly deserving the title “capital of the Côte d’Azur.”
Exploring the Côte d’Azur
The Côte d’Azur is the most popular destination in France for sun-worshipers, with its seaside vacation towns and long, golden beaches. St-Tropez is currently the trendiest resort; Tahini-Plage is the coast’s showcase for fun, sun, fashion, and glamor. By contrast, the family resort of St-Raphaël is peaceful, with excellent tourist facilities.
East of Cannes, at the western edge of the Riviera, Juan-les-Pins is a lively resort. Its all-night bars, nightclubs, and cafés make it popular with teenagers and young adults. Founded by the Greeks, Antibes is one of the oldest towns along this stretch of coast, and home to a large museum of Picasso’s work, donated by the artist himself.
Clifftop walks replace seafront promenades around the wooded peninsula of Cap Ferrat, where grand villas and private beaches can be glimpsed between the trees.
At the eastern edge of the Riviera, past the glitz of the casinos and hotels of Monaco, the beaches of Menton are the warmest along the coast; sunbathers enjoy a beach climate all year round.
Alpes-Maritimes. 70,000. Palais des Festivals, 1 La Croisette (04-92 99 84 22). daily.
The first thing that most people associate with Cannes is its many festivals, especially the International Film Festival held each May. The first Cannes Film Festival took place in 1946 and, for a while, it remained a small and exclusive affair. The mid-1950s marked the change from artistic event to media circus, but Cannes remains the international marketplace for moviemakers and distributors. The annual festival is held in the huge Palais des Festivals.
There is, however, more to the city than this glittering event. The Old Town is centered in the Le Suquet district, which is dominated by the church of Notre-Dame de l’Espérance, built in the 16th and 17th centuries in the Provençal Gothic style. The famed Boulevard de la Croisette is lined with palm trees. Luxury stores and hotels look out over fine sandy beaches.
Alpes-Maritimes. 346,000. 5 Promenade des Anglais (08-92 70 74 07). Tue–Sun. Carnival (Feb). www.nicetourisme.com
The largest resort on the Mediterranean coast, Nice has the second busiest airport in France. Its temperate winter Page 197 | Top of Articleclimate and verdant subtropical vegetation have long attracted visitors, and today it is also a center for business conferences and package travelers.
There are many art museums in Nice, two of which devote themselves to the works of particular artists. The Musée Matisse displays drawings, paintings, bronzes, fabrics, and artifacts. The Musée Chagall holds the largest collection of works by Marc Chagall, with paintings, drawings, sculpture, stained glass, and mosaics.
A strikingly original complex of four marble-faced towers linked by glass passageways houses the Musée d’Art Contemporain. The collection is particularly strong in Neo-Realism and Pop Art. The Musée des Beaux Arts displays works by Dufy, Monet, Renoir, and Sisley.
A 19th-century palace, the Palais Masséna is filled with paintings of the Nice school, works by the Impressionists, Provençal ceramics, folk art, and a gold cloak once worn by Napoleon’s beloved Josephine.
The onion domes of the Cathédrale Orthodoxe Russe St-Nicolas, completed in 1912, make this Nice’s most distinctive landmark.
Monaco. 34,000. (Nice). 2a Boulevard des Moulins (092-16 61 16). daily. International Circus Festival (Jan–Feb). www.visitmonaco.com
Arriving among the towering skyscrapers of Monaco today, it is hard to envisage the turbulence of its history. At first a Greek settlement, later taken by the Romans, it was bought from the Genoese in 1297 by the Grimaldis who, in spite of bitter family feuds, still rule as the world’s oldest monarchy. Monaco covers 1.9 sq km (0.74 sq miles) and, although its size has increased by one-third in the form of landfills, it still occupies an area smaller than New York’s Central Park.
The best-known section of Monaco is Monte Carlo. People flock to the annual car rally held here in January, but the area owes its renown mainly to its Grand Casino. Source of countless legends, it was instituted by Charles III to save himself from bankruptcy in 1856. So successful was this money-making venture that, by 1870, he was able to abolish taxation for his people. Designed in 1878 and set in formal gardens, the casino gives a splendid view over Monaco. Even the most exclusive of the gaming rooms can be visited.
Across the harbor lies Monaco-Ville, the seat of government. The interior of the 13th-century Palais Princier, with its priceless furniture and magnificent frescoes, is open to the public from April to September.
The aquarium of the Musée Océanographique holds rare species of marine plants and animals. Marine explorer Jacques Cousteau established his research center here.
France is justifiably proud of its many attractions, for which it has good tourist information facilities. Both in France and abroad, French Government Tourist Offices are an invaluable source of reference for practical aspects of your stay, especially for those with special needs. If you are unfortunate enough to need medical or emergency assistance, France has excellent hospitals, ambulance, fire, and police services. The country also has a modern communications network, making it easy to keep in touch by telephone, post, or e-mail.
VISA REQUIREMENTS AND CUSTOMS
Currently there are no visa requirements for EU nationals or visitors from the United States, Canada, Australia or New Zealand who plan to stay in France for under three months. Visitors from most other countries require a tourist visa. Non-EU visitors can, with some exceptions, reclaim the French sales tax (TVA) on goods if they spend over a certain amount in one shop and get a détaxe receipt.
All major cities and large towns have offices de tourisme. Small towns and even villages have syndicats d’initiative. Both will give you town plans, advice on accommodations, and information on regional recreational and cultural activities.
You can also get information before you leave for France from French Government Tourist Offices, or by contacting local tourist offices (see individual town headings in this guide) or the appropriate CRT (Comité Régional de Tourisme) – ask the FGTO for the address.
Violent crime is rare in France – even a major city such as Paris is surprisingly safe. However, muggings and brawls do occur, so avoid isolated or poorly lit places, especially at night. Women should take extra care, especially when traveling alone. Also beware of pickpockets, who are active in large cities.
There are two types of police in France. The Police Nationale look after large towns and cities. If you need to contact them, find the Commissariat de Police (police headquarters). Small towns, villages, and country areas are policed by the Gendarmerie Nationale. If you need to report a crime in these places, go to the nearest local gendarmerie.
Generally, opening hours for tourist sights are from 10am–5:40pm with one late evening per week. Most close on public holidays.
National museums and sights are normally closed on Tuesdays, with a few exceptions which close on Mondays. Municipal museums normally close on Mondays. Churches are open every day but sometimes shut at lunchtime.
FACILITIES FOR THE DISABLED
Facilities for the disabled vary in France. Details of services in most towns can be obtained from the GIHP (Groupement pour l’Insertion des Personnes Handicapées Physiques). The Association des Paralysés de France provides information on wheelchair access.
All European Union Nationals are entitled to French social security coverage. However, treatment must be paid for at the time, and hospital rates vary widely. Reimbursements may be obtained if you have the correct documents before you travel, but the process is long and complicated.
All travelers, particularly nonEU nationals, should, therefore, consider purchasing travel insurance before they arrive. In the case of a medical emergency call SAMU (Service d’Aide Médicale Urgence). However, it is often faster to call Sapeurs Pompiers (the fire
service), who offer a first aid and ambulance service. This is particularly true in rural areas.
Casualty departments (service des urgences) in public hospitals can deal with most medical problems. Your consulate should be able to provide you with details of an English-speaking doctor in the area. Pharmacists can also suggest treatments for many health problems. Look for the green cross sign outside pharmacies.
BANKING AND CURRENCY
The French unit of currency is the Euro. This replaced the French franc and was introduced into general circulation in January 2002. The best way to take currency when traveling is often as traveler’s checks, as, in the case of theft, they are replaceable. These can be obtained from American Express, Travelex, or your usual bank.
Most credit cards are widely accepted in France, but, because of the high commissions charged, American Express is often not. The most commonly used credit card is Carte Bleue/Visa. Eurocard/MasterCard (Access in UK) is also often accepted. Credit cards issued in France contain a microchip and are called “smart cards”, but many machines can also read cards with magnetic strips. If you find your conventional card cannot be read in the smart card slot get the cashier to swipe the card through the magnetic reader. You will be asked to tap in your PIN code (code confidentiel) on a small keypad.
You can also use credit cards in most banks to withdraw cash; either from an ATM (automatic teller machine), which should have an English language option, or from a cash desk. Banks are usually open Mon–Fri, from 9am–4:30 or 5:15pm, with some also open on Saturday morning. Many close for lunch, and many, especially in the south, are closed on Monday.
Payphones in France take mainly plastic telephone cards (télécartes). Only a few take coins. Cards are cheaper and more convenient to use than coins. They are sold in 50 or 120 units and can be bought at post offices, tobacconists (tabacs), and newsagents. For local calls, a unit lasts up to six minutes. Many phones also accept credit cards (with a PIN number). Some post offices have telephone booths (cabines) where you can call first and pay afterwards. This is cheaper than making longdistance calls from hotels. The Minitel electronic phone directory, shopping, and information service can also be used in most post offices.
La Poste (the Post Office) used to be called the P.T.T. (postes, télégraphes, téléphones), and some road signs still give directions to the P.T.T. The postal service in France is fast and reliable. However, it is not cheap, especially when sending a parcel abroad.
At La Poste, postage stamps (timbres) are sold singly or in carnets of seven or ten. They are also sold at tabacs, although you need to go to the post office for international stamps. At post offices you can also use telephone directories (annuaires), buy phonecards, cash or buy money orders (mandats), and make international calls.
Post offices usually open from 9am–5pm Mon–Fri, often with a break for lunch, and 9am–noon on Saturdays. Mail boxes are yellow, and often have separate slots for the town you are in, the département, and other destinations (autres destinations).
Internet cafés are slowly making an appearance, especially in major towns.
France has highly advanced transportation systems, with Paris at the hub of its air, rail, and road networks. Paris’s two main airports have direct flights to North America, Africa, Japan, and the rest of Europe. The city’s six major railway stations connect it to some 6,000 destinations in France, and provide links to the whole of Europe. An extensive, well-developed road network makes it easy to reach all parts of the country by car or bus. France is also well connected by sea, with frequent ferry crossings from the UK to ports on the Channel.
FLYING TO FRANCE
France is served by nearly all international airlines. Paris is the major airline destination in France, but there are a number of other international airports across the country. Some airports near the border, such as Geneva, Basle, and Luxembourg, can also be used for destinations in France.
The main French airline is Air France, which has services to major cities across the world. The main British airlines with regular flights to France are British Airways and British Midland. Inexpensive flights from the UK to various French destinations are available from carriers such as easyJet and Ryanair. Major airlines including American Airlines, Delta, and United operate flights from the United States. Air Canada flies from several cities in Canada, and Qantas provides flights from Australia and New Zealand.
Airline fares are at their highest during the peak summer season in France, usually from July to September. Fierce competition between airlines, however, means there are often discounts on offer.
APEX fares are booked in advance. They cannot be changed or cancelled without penalty and there are also minimum and maximum stay requirements. Packages are also worth considering, as airlines and tour operators can put together a great range of flexible deals to suit your needs. These can include car rental and rail travel, enabling you to continue overland.
There are a number of domestic airlines that fly between the cities of France, some of which only operate within one region; others also fly to French-speaking countries, with Air France offering the largest number of routes. However, unless you are eligible for discounts, you may find it cheaper and faster to travel on the high-speed trains, given the time it can take to reach the airports.
There are several crossings between the UK and French ports. P&O Ferries operates between Dover and Calais, with frequent crossings (75-90 minutes). P&O also operates between Portsmouth and Le Havre (5 hrs 30 mins) or Cherbourg (5 hrs).
Brittany Ferries runs a nine-hour service from Portsmouth to St-Malo, a six-hour service from Portsmouth to Caen, a three-hour service from Portsmouth to Cherbourg, and a six-hour service from Plymouth to Roscoff.
Sea France has a fleet of six ships and has been operating up to 15 crossings daily each way between Calais and Dover since 1996. Crossings take 1 hr 15 minutes. You need to check in 30 minutes before departure. Norfolkline has a two-hour crossing from Dover to Dunkerque.
The Channel Tunnel (Tunnel sous La Manche) was inaugurated in 1994. A car-carrying shuttle service, which is operated by Eurotunnel, runs between Folkestone and Calais. The passenger service, Eurostar, links London and Paris (2.5 hrs).
GETTING AROUND PARIS
Central Paris is compact, and the best way to get around is often to walk. Public transportation in the city is good, however, with an efficient metro (subway) system, frequent buses, and a commuter train service (RER). These are all operated by the Paris transportation company, RATP.
There are many types of ticket available, sold at metro and RER stations, and most can be used on any RATP service, including buses. Single bus tickets can also be bought from the driver when boarding. All tickets used on buses must be stamped in the machine on board.
Single RATP tickets are valid in metro/RER zones 1 or 2, or for any bus journey. Carnets (books of ten single tickets), are more economical if you plan to make a number of journeys. Various passes are also available, which entitle you to unlimited travel in certain zones for a set number of days.
France has always been known for the punctuality of its trains. The French state railway, the Société Nationale des Chemins de Fer (SNCF), provides an excellent rail network which covers nearly all of France. The fastest services are provided by the high-speed TGV (Trains à Grande Vitesse) trains, which link most major cities.
Overnight services are popular in France, and most long-distance trains have couchettes (bunks), which you must reserve for a fee. Reservations are also compulsory for all TGV services, trains on public holidays, and for a siège inclinable (reclinable seat). Information on the various rail services and fares is available from the Rail Europe office in London. In France, leaflets are available at most stations. There are a number Page 201 | Top of Articleof special tickets available, including ones for over 60s, families, and under 26s. There are also special tickets for those doing a lot of train travel.
Automatic ticket and reservation machines (billetterie automatique) are found at main stations. They take credit cards or coins. You can also check train times, fares, and make reservations by phoning SNCF. Both reservations and tickets must be validated in one of the orange composteur machines near the platforms before boarding the train.
TRAVELING BY ROAD
France has one of the densest road networks in Europe, with modern motorways which allow quick and easy access to all parts of the country. However, you can save money on tolls and explore France in a more leisurely way by using some of the other high-quality roads, such as RN (route nationale) and D (départementale) routes.
Most motorways in France have a toll system (autoroutes à péage), which can be quite expensive, especially over long distances. There are some short sections which are free, however, usually close to major centers. Tolls can be paid with either credit cards or cash. Where only small sums are involved, you throw coins into a large receptacle and the change is given automatically.
Speed limits in France are shown in km/h. The limit in all towns, unless shown otherwise, is 50 km/h (30 mph). On major roads, higher limits are usually shown. On the autoroutes the usual limit is 130 km/h (80 mph), but this is reduced to 110 km/h (70 mph) when it is raining. On-the-spot fines may be demanded for speeding offences, and there are severe penalties for drink-driving.
Sunday is usually a good time to travel in France, as there are very few trucks on the road. Try to avoid traveling at the French holiday rush periods known as the grands départs. The worst times are weekends in July, and at the beginning and end of August.
All the main international car-rental companies operate in France. It is worth ringing around before you leave for France as there are many special offers for rentals booked and prepaid in the UK or US. Good deals are often available from Autos Abroad, brokers who use cars owned by other car rental companies. Booking in this way may work out at half the price of the standard rental.
Long-distance buses generally operate only where there is not a good train service in operation (for example, between Geneva and Nice). SNCF (the state railway) operates some bus routes and issues regional TER (Transports Express Régionaux) timetables and tickets. Eurolines serves a wider range of destinations within France, as well as providing services to hundreds of major cities across Europe. They also offer excursions and arrange accommodations.
There are also many local buses, which run from the town’s Gare Routière.
Shopping in France is a delight. Whether you go to the hypermarkets and department stores, or seek out the many small specialist stores and markets, you will be tempted by the stylish presentation and high quality of the goods on offer. France is especially renowned for its wine, with a vast selection available, from cheap table wines to classic vintages. French food is also excellent, in particular the cheeses, cured meats, patés, cakes, and pastries. France also offers world-famous fashion, pottery and porcelain, crystal, and fine-quality antiques.
Food shops open at about 7am and close around noon for lunch. After lunch most are open until 7pm or later. Bakeries often stay open until 1pm or later.
Shops that do not close at lunchtime include some supermarkets, department stores, and most hypermarkets.
General opening hours for non-food shops are around 9am–7pm Mon–Sat, often with a break for lunch. Many are closed on Mondays.
Food shops (and news-agents) are open on Sunday mornings. Virtually every shop in France is closed on Sunday afternoon, except for the last weeks before Christmas when hypermarkets remain open all day. Smaller shops may be closed one day of the week, usually Monday. However, those in tourist regions are often open every day in the high season.
Hypermarkets (hypermarchés or grandes surfaces) can be found on the outskirts of every sizeable town: look for signs indicating centre commercial. Among the biggest are Carrefour, Casino, Auchan, and Continent. Discount petrol is often sold, and most, but not all, now have pumps which take credit cards.
Department stores (grands magasins), such as the cheap and cheerful Monoprix and Prisunic, are often found in town centers. Others, like the more upscale Au Printemps and Galeries Lafayette, can be found both in town and outof-town centers.
One of the pleasures of shopping in France is that specialist shops for food still flourish despite the new large supermarkets. The boulangerie, for bread, is frequently combined with a pâtisserie selling cakes and pastries. The traiteur sells prepared foods. Cheese shops (fromagerie) and other shops specializing in dairy products (laiterie) may also be combined, while the boucherie (butcher’s) and charcuterie (pork butcher’s/delicatessen) are often separate shops. For general groceries go to an épicerie. An épicerie fine is a delicatessen.
Markets are found in towns and villages all over France. To find out where the market is, ask a passerby for le marché. Markets usually finish promptly at noon and do not reopen in the afternoon.
Look for local producers, including those with only one or two special items to sell, as their goods are often cheaper and of better quality.
By law, price tags include the origin of all produce: pays means local. Chickens from Bresse are marketed wearing a red, white, and blue badge giving the name of the producer as proof of authenticity. If you are visiting markets over several weeks, look for items just coming into season, such as fresh walnuts, the first wild asparagus, truffles, early artichokes, or wild strawberries. The special seasonal markets held throughout France are the best places to find these items, and there are often foires artisanales held at the same time, which sell local produce, arts, and crafts.
French regional specialties can be bought outside their area of origin, although it is interesting to buy them locally. Provence, in the south, prides itself on the quality of its olive oil, while the southwest is notable for its patés. Central France is famous for snails, cured meats, and Roquefort cheese. Cheese is also an important product of the temperate north, the best-known varieties being Brie and Camembert.
Popular drinks are also associated with particular regions. Pastis, made from aniseed, is popular in the south, while Calvados, made from apples, is from the north.
Location also determines quality. Lyon’s culinary importance stems from the many locally produced cheeses, the proximity of Bresse for chickens, Charolais for beef, and the Alsace region for sausages.
In wine-producing areas, follow the dégustation (tasting) signs to vineyards (domaines) where you can taste the wine. You will be expected to buy at least one bottle. Wine cooperatives sell the wine of small producers. Here you can buy wine in five- and ten-liter containers (en vrac), as well as in bottles. The wine is often rated AOC, appellation d’origine contrôlée, selling at less than 2 euros a liter. As wine sold en vrac is “duty-free,” customers receive a laissez-passer (permit) indicating their destination. Bottled wine sold by co-ops is duty-paid.
France is famous for its fashion, and elegant clothes can be found even in quite small towns. Paris, however, is the home of haute couture. There are 23 couture houses listed with the Fédération Page 203 | Top of ArticleFrançaise de la Couture, and most of these are concentrated on the Right Bank around Rue du Faubourg-St-Honoré and Avenue Montaigne. Famous names include Yves Saint Laurent, Chanel, Guy Laroche, Christian Lacroix, Nina Ricci, and Christian Dior. Other top designers include Hermès and Giorgio Armani.
Men don’t have the luxury of haute couture dressing: their choice is limited to ready-to-wear, but most of the big name womenswear designers also produce a range for men. A good example is Gianni Versace, with his classic Italian clothes for men. On the Right Bank, the household name designers include Giorgio Armani, the stylish Pierre Cardin, Yves Saint Laurent, and Lanvin, who is particularly popular for his beautifully made leather accessories. If time is short and you want to make all your purchases under one roof, try the grands magasins. These stores offer a wide choice of fashions, and prices will be more within most people’s budgets. Au Printemps, for example, is huge, with separate buildings for menswear, household goods, and womens’ and children’s clothes. The beauty department, with its vast perfume selection, is definitely worth a visit. Le Bon Marché, on the Left Bank, was the first department store in Paris, and is the most chic, with an excellent food hall. Galeries Lafayette has a wide range of clothes at all price levels. There are also homewares, and the branch in Boulevard Haussmann has Paris’s biggest souvenir shop.
ART AND ANTIQUES
You can buy fabulous art and antiques from stores, galleries, and flea-markets all over France. The best places to visit in Paris are Le Louvre des Antiquaires, a huge building containing around 250 antique dealers, and the famous Marché aux Puces de St-Ouen flea market (open Saturday to Monday). To avoid paying duty, you will need a certificate of authenticity when exporting objets d’art over 20 years old and any goods over a century old that are worth more than €150,000. Seek professional advice and declare them at customs if in doubt.
Visitors resident outside the European Union can reclaim the sales tax, TVA, on French goods if they spend more than €305 in one shop, get a détaxe receipt, and take the goods out of the country within six months. The form should be handed in at customs when leaving the country, and the reimbursement will be sent to you.
Exceptions for détaxe rebates are food and drink, medicines, tobacco, cars, and motorbikes. More information is available from the Centre des Renseignements des Douanes, but this is usually in French.
The entertainment center of France is Paris. Whether your preference is for drama, ballet, opera, jazz, cinema, or dancing the night away, Paris has it all. Across the rest of the country the arts are also well represented, and there are a number of internationally renowned arts festivals throughout the year. With a varied physical, as well as cultural, landscape, there are also many possibilities for outdoor sports and activities, including golf, tennis, walking, and skiing. Specialist holidays cater to those interested in French language, food, and wine.
Two of the best listings magazines in Paris are Pariscope and L’Officiel des Spectacles. Published every Wednesday, you can pick them up at any newsstand. Local newspapers and offices de tourisme are the best places to find entertainment listings for the regions.
Depending on the event, tickets can often be bought at the door, but for popular events it is wiser to purchase tickets in advance, at the box office or at FNAC chains. Theater box offices open daily from about 11am–7pm. Most accept credit card bookings by telephone. You can also purchase tickets from Virgin Megastore and other commercial centers in large towns.
From the grandeur of the Comédie Française to slapstick farce and avant-garde drama, theater is flourishing in Paris. Founded in 1680 by royal decree, the Comédie Française is the bastion of French theater, aiming to keep classical drama in the public eye. In an underground auditorium in the Art Deco Palais de Chaillot, the Théâtre National de Chaillot stages lively productions of mainstream European classics. The Théâtre National de la Colline specializes in contemporary drama. Among the most important of the independents is the Comédie des Champs-Elysées, while for over 100 years the Palais Royal has been the temple of risqué farce.
Excellent theaters and productions are also to be found in major cities across France, and there are big theater festivals held in Nancy (June) and Avignon (July; see p191 ).
The music scene in Paris has never been so busy, especially with the emergence of many internationally successful contemporary French groups. There are numerous first-class venues in the city, with excellent jazz, opera, contemporary, and classical music concerts.
Opened in 1989, the ultra-modern 2,700-seat Opéra de Paris Bastille stages classic and modern operas. Productions from outside France are staged at the Opéra Comique.
The Salle Pleyel is Paris’s principal concert hall and home of the Orchestre de Paris. Paris’s newest venue is the Cité de la Musique in the Parc de la Villette.
Top international and pop acts are usually to be found at huge arenas such as the Palais Omnisports de Paris-Bercy or the Zénith. A more intimate atmosphere is found at the legendary Olympia.
Paris is, perhaps, most renowned for its jazz, and the best talent in the world can be heard here on any evening, especially throughout October during the jazz festival. All the great jazz musicians have performed at New Morning, which also hosts African, Brazilian, and other sounds. For Dixieland go to Le Petit Journal St-Michel.
CLUBS AND CABARET
Music in Paris nightclubs tends to follow the trends set in the US and Britain, although home-grown groups, especially those playing garage, are popular and influential both here and abroad.
Balajo, once frequented by Edith Piaf, and the ultra-hip Folies Clubbing, once a strip joint, are particularly up-to-the-minute with their music. For a more Latin touch, try La Java. The dance floor of this club, where Edith Piaf once performed, now sways to the sounds of Cuban and Brazilian music.
When it comes to picking a cabaret, the rule of thumb is simple: the better-known places are best. The FoliesBergère is the oldest music hall in Paris and probably the most famous in the world. It is closely rivaled by the Lido and the Moulin Rouge, birthplace of the cancan.
Paris is the world’s capital of film appreciation. There are now more than 300 screens within the city limits, distributed among 100 cinemas. Most are concentrated in cinema belts, which enjoy the added appeal of nearby restaurants and shops. The Champs-Elysées has the densest cinema strip in town, where you can see the latest Hollywood smash or French auteur triumph, as well as some classic re-issues.
The cinemas on the Grands Boulevards include two notable architectural landmarks: the 2,800-seat Le Grand Rex, with its Baroque decor, and the Max Linder Panorama, which was refurbished in the 1980s. Page 205 | Top of ArticleThe largest screen in France is the La Géode flagship in the 19th arrondissement. On the Left Bank, the area around Odéon-St-Germain-des-Prés has taken over from the Latin Quarter as the city’s heartland for art and repertory cinemas.
A country as richly diverse in culture and geography as France offers an amazing variety of sport and leisure activities. Information on current leisure and sporting activities in a particular region is available from the tourist offices listed for each town in this guide.
Golf is popular in France, especially along the north and south coasts and in Aquitaine. You will need to take your handicap certificate with you if you want to play. Tennis is also a favorite sport, and there are courts to rent in almost every town.
More than 30,000 km (19,000 miles) of Grandes Randonneés (long distance tracks) and shorter Petites Randonneés cover France. The routes are clearly way-marked, and vary in difficulty, including long pilgrim routes, alpine crossings, and tracks through national parks. Some routes are open to mountain bikes and horses.
The mountains provide for excellent skiing and mountaineering. The Atlantic coast around Biarritz offers some of the best surfing and winds-urfing in Europe. Sailing and waterskiing are popular all round France, and swimming facilities are generally good, although beaches in the south can be crowded in August.
French government Tourist Offices (see p199 ) have extensive information on travel companies offering special interest vacations. Send off or download from a selection of brochures. Vacations are based on subjects such as the French language, wine appreciation, and cooking, as well as craft activities and organized nature trips.
The main sporting action in France revolves largely around soccer, rugby, tennis, and horse racing. There are various stadia and circuits all over the country; the best are near major cities, particularly Paris. Here, the Stade de France and the Palais Omnisports de Paris-Bercy host all the major events. Parc des Princes is home to the top Paris soccer team Paris St-Germain.
Cycling is also a very popular sport in France, and there is racing action across the country. The most famous event is the annual Tour de France held during July.
Where to Stay in France
French hotels are graded from one to a maximum of five stars. They range from historic châteaux with magnificent furnishings and food to informal family-run hotels. In high season some will offer only full pension (all meals) or demi-pension (breakfast and dinner). A popular option for a self-catering vacation is a rural gîte.
BEAUBOURG AND LES HALLES Hôtel Roubaix
6 rue Greneta, 75003 Tel 01-42 72 89 91 Fax 01-42 72 58 79 Rooms 53 Map E3
In an area with few good places to stay, Hôtel Roubaix is a pleasantly old-fashioned and inexpensive choice. The owners are exceptionally friendly and the rooms are clean, if a little shabby. The hotel is popular with repeat guests, so be sure to book a room in advance. www.hotel-de-roubaix.com
CHAILLOT QUARTER Hôtel Keppler
12 rue Keppler, 75016 Tel 01-47 20 65 05 Fax 01-47 23 02 23 Rooms 49 Map B2
This is an excellent budget hotel, a rare commodity in an expensive part of the city. Set on a quiet street, the rooms here are simple but clean, spacious and comfortable. High ceilings throughout add to the sense of space. www.hotelkeppler.fr
CHAILLOT QUARTER Hôtel du Bois
11 rue du Dôme, 75016 Tel 01-45 00 31 96 Fax 01-45 00 90 05 Rooms 39 Map B2
Two minutes from the Arc de Triomphe and the Champs Elysées, Hôtel du Bois is ideal for haute-couture boutique lovers. Behind a typically Parisian façade is an interior exuding British charm – Georgian furniture in the lounge, thick patterned carpets, and fine prints in the guest room. www.hoteldubois.com
CHAILLOT QUARTER Raphaël
17 av Kléber, 75016 Tel 01-53 64 32 00 Fax 01-53 64 32 01 Rooms 83 Map B2
This hotel is the epitome of discreet elegance, where film stars come to be sheltered from the paparazzi. The decor is opulent, and the roof terrace bar is the loveliest in Paris, popular with the jet set. There are amazing views of the city, especially at night when the monuments are illuminated. www.raphael-hotel.com
CHAMPS-ELYSEES Résidence Lord Byron
5 rue Chateaubriand, 75008 Tel 01-43 59 89 98 Fax 01-42 89 46 04 Rooms 31 Map B2
Close to the Etoile, the Résidence Lord Byron is a small, discreet hotel with a courtyard garden for breakfast. Its bright guest rooms are quiet but small; if you want more space, ask for a salon room or a ground-floor room. www.escapade-paris.com
CHAMPS-ELYSEES Four Seasons George V
31 av George V, 75008 Tel 01-49 52 70 00 Fax 01-49 52 71 10 Rooms 246 Map B2
This legendary hotel, dotted with salons, old furniture, and art, lost a little of its charm when it was renovated. But it gained a stunning restaurant, Le Cinq, which boasts the world’s top sommelier and an award-winning chef. There is also a great spa. Sheer opulence. www.fourseasons.com/paris
CHAMPS-ELYSEES Le Bristol
112 rue du Faubourg-St-Honoré, 75008 Tel 01-53 43 43 00 Fax 01-53 43 43 01 Rooms 162 Map B2
One of Paris’s finest hotels, the Bristol’s large rooms are sumptuously decorated with antiques and magnificent marble bathrooms. The period dining room, with its Flemish tapestries and glittering crystal chandeliers, has been given rave reviews. There is a wonderful swimming pool. www.lebristolparis.com
INVALIDES AND EIFFEL TOWER QUARTER Grand Hôtel Levêque
29 rue Cler, 75007 Tel 01-47 05 49 15 Fax 01-45 50 49 36 Rooms 50 Map B3
The Levêque lies between the Eiffel Tower and the Invalides on a pedestrianized street with a quaint fruit-and-vegetable market. The great location isn’t the only attraction – guest rooms are well kept and the hotel also provides internet access. www.hotel-leveque.com
INVALIDES AND EIFFEL TOWER QUARTER Hôtel de Suède St-Germain
31 rue Vaneau, 75007 Tel 01-47 05 00 08 Fax 01-47 05 69 27 Rooms 39 Map C4
Located near the Orsay and Rodin museums, Hôtel de Suède St-Germain offers elegant rooms, decorated in late 18th-century style with pale colors. Guests receive an exceptionally warm welcome. The deluxe rooms offer a view over the park. A lovely little garden to breakfast in completes the picture. www.hoteldesuede.com
Key to Symbols see back cover flap
LATIN QUARTER Hôtel Esmeralda
4 rue St-Julien-le-Pauvre, 75005 Tel 01-43 54 19 20 Fax 01-40 51 00 68 Rooms 19 Map E4
The much-loved bohemian Hôtel Esmeralda lies in the heart of the Latin Quarter. With old stone walls and beamed ceilings, its charm has seduced the likes of Terence Stamp and Serge Gainsbourg. The best rooms overlook Notre-Dame cathedral. Breakfast is not provided here.
LATIN QUARTER Hôtel des Grandes Ecoles
75 rue Cardinal Lemoine, 75005 Tel 01-43 26 79 23 Fax 01-43 25 28 15 Rooms 51 Map D4
This hotel is a cluster of three small houses around a beautiful garden, where you can breakfast in good weather. The rooms are all comfortable and furnished with traditional 18th-century-style floral wallpaper; some open on to the courtyard. Internet access is available. www.hotel-grandes-ecoles.com
LATIN QUARTER Hôtel des Grands Hommes
17 pl du Panthéon, 75005 Tel 01-46 34 19 60 Fax 01-43 26 67 32 Rooms 31 Map E4
Teachers at the Sorbonne frequent this quiet family hotel close to the Jardin du Luxembourg. It boasts a great view of the Panthéon from the attic rooms on the upper floor. The guest rooms are comfortable. www.hoteldesgrandshommes.com
LUXEMBOURG QUARTER Hôtel Aviatic
105 Rue de Vaugirard, 75006 Tel 01-53 63 25 50 Fax 01-53 63 25 55 Rooms 15 Map D4
A hotel of character situated between St-Germain and the Luxembourg Quarter, the much-loved Aviatic combines bohemian style with modern amenities. The spacious rooms are individually decorated with charming pieces found at local flea markets and warm, bright furnishings. Parking is available for an additional fee. www.aviatic.fr
MONTMARTRE Regyn’s Montmartre
18 pl des Abbesses, 75018 Tel 01-42 54 45 21 Fax 01-42 23 76 69 Rooms 22
Near Sacré-Cœur, this is an impeccably kept budget hotel. The top-floor guest rooms have views of the Eiffel Tower. Around the corner is Tabac des Deux Moulins at 15 rue le Pic, where Amélie worked in the film Amélie. www.hotel-regyns-paris.com
MONTMARTRE Terrass Hôtel
12–14 rue Joseph-de-Maistre, 75018 Tel 01-46 06 72 85 Fax 01-44 92 34 30 Rooms 100
Montmartre’s most luxurious hotel, the rooms here are comfortably, if unremarkably, furnished. A few rooms retain the original Art-Deco woodwork. The big draw is the rooftop restaurant, where in the summer fashionable Parisians take in a world-class view. www.terrass-hotel.com
MONTPARNASSE Villa des Artistes
9 rue de la Grande Chaumière, 75006 Tel 01-43 26 60 86 Fax 01-43 54 73 70 Rooms 59
The Villa des Artistes aims to recreate Montparnasse’s artistic heyday when Modigliani, Beckett, and Fitzgerald were all visitors here. The guest rooms are clean, but the main draw is the large patio garden and fountain, where you can breakfast in peace. www.villa-artistes.com
OPERA QUARTER Ambassador
16 bd Haussmann, 75009 Tel 01-44 83 40 40 Fax 01-44 83 40 57 Rooms 300 Map D2
One of Paris’s best Art Deco hotels, the Ambassador has been restored to its former glory with plush carpeting and antique furniture. The ground floor has pink marble columns, Baccarat crystal chandeliers, and Aubusson tapestries. The restaurant, “16 Haussmann”, is popular with Parisian gourmets. www.hotelambassador-paris.com
ST-GERMAIN-DES-PRES Grand Hôtel des Balcons
3 rue Casimir Delavigne, 75006 Tel 01-46 34 78 50 Fax 01-46 34 06 27 Rooms 50 Map D4
Embellished with Art Nouveau features, this hotel has a beautiful hall with stained-glass windows and striking 19th-century-style lamps and wood paneling. Most guest rooms, quiet and well-decorated, enjoy a balcony. www.hotelgrandsbalcons.com
ST-GERMAIN-DES-PRES Hôtel du Quai Voltaire
19 quai Voltaire, 75007 Tel 01-42 61 50 91 Fax 01-42 61 62 26 Rooms 33 Map D3
Overlooking the river, this hotel was once the favorite of Blondin, Baudelaire, and Pissarro, and has featured in several films. It is best to avoid the rooms facing the quay, as they suffer from traffic noise. Higher floors are quieter, though, and the views are superb. www.quaivoltaire.fr
ST-GERMAIN-DES-PRES Hôtel de l’Abbaye St-Germain
10 rue Cassette, 75006 Tel 01-45 44 38 11 Fax 01-45 48 07 86 Rooms 44 Map D4
A 17th-century abbey, just steps from the Jardin du Luxembourg, this charming hotel has a history as a preferred hideout for artists and writers. Its finely furnished guest rooms and apartments have been tastefully done up and provided with modern facilities. www.hotel-abbaye.com
ST-GERMAIN-DES-PRES Relais Christine
3 rue Christine, 75006 Tel 01-40 51 60 80 Fax 01-40 51 60 81 Rooms 51 Map D4
Always full, the Relais Christine is the epitome of the hôtel de charme. Part of a cloister from a 16th-century abbey, the hotel is a romantic, peaceful haven. The guest rooms, especially the deluxe rooms, are bright and spacious. Reserve in advance. www.relais-christine.com
THE MARAIS Hôtel de la Bretonnerie
22 rue Ste-Croix de la Bretonnerie, 75004 Tel 01-48 87 77 63 Fax 01-42 77 26 78 Rooms 29 Map D3
Carved stone walls and an arched dining room in the basement are some of the charming features of Hôtel de la Bretonnerie, housed in a 17th-century mansion. Its spacious rooms, with beams and antique furniture, are each decorated differently. Service is warm and friendly. www.bretonnerie.com
THE MARAIS Pavillon de la Reine
28 pl des Vosges, 75003 Tel 01-40 29 19 19 Fax 01-40 29 19 20 Rooms 52 Map F4
Set back from the marvelous place des Vosges, the Pavillon de la Reine is the best hotel in the Marais. Incredibly romantic, the hotel has a peaceful courtyard and sumptuous guest rooms, furnished with excellent reproduction antiques. www.pavillon-de-la-reine.com
TUILERIES QUARTER Brighton
218 rue de Rivoli, 75001 Tel 01-47 03 61 61 Fax 01-42 60 41 78 Rooms 61 Map D3
A real insiders’ location, the Brighton provides a much-sought-after Rivoli address without the sky-high prices. The guest rooms have beautiful, high ceilings and large windows that look out either over the Jardin des Tuileries or over the courtyard. www.esprit-de-france.com
TUILERIES QUARTER Ritz
15 pl Vendôme, 75001 Tel 01-43 16 30 30 Fax 01-43 16 45 38 Rooms 161 Map D3
A legendary address, the Ritz still lives up to its reputation, combining elegance and decadence. The Louis XVI furniture and chandeliers are all original, and the floral arrangements are works of art. The Hemingway Bar is home to the glitterati. www.ritzparis.com
VERSAILLES Hôtel de Clagny
6 impasse de Clagny, 78000 Tel 01-39 50 18 09 Fax 01-39 50 85 17 Rooms 21
The welcome in this quiet hotel near the train station is genuinely friendly. The rooms are simply furnished and clean, but unremarkable. There are numerous restaurants in the vicinity, and the owners of the Hôtel de Clagny are only too pleased to offer guidance.
FONTAINEBLEAU Grand Hôtel de l’Aigle Noir
27 pl de Napoléon Bonaparte, 77300 Tel 01-60 74 60 00 Fax 01-60 74 60 01 Rooms 18
This prestigious mansion overlooks Fontainebleau château and its vast park. The elegant rooms are decorated in styles ranging from Louis XIII to Napoléon III. The conciergerie can organize a host of activities in the area and the bar serves snacks all day. www.hotelaiglenoir.com
CARNAC Lann Roz
36 av de la Poste, 56340 Tel 02-97 52 10 48 Fax 02-97 52 24 36 Rooms 13
A friendly hotel with a pretty garden ten minutes’ walk from the beach. The rooms are fresh and bright, decorated in pale blues and pinks. The typical Breton dining room with oak beams and open fireplaces serves local specialties. There is a terrace and garden. www.lannroz.com
REIMS Château Les Crayères
64 bd Henry Vasnier, 51100 Tel 03-26 82 80 80 Fax 03-26 82 65 52 Rooms 20
Superbly aristocratic château with every luxury set in an English-style park next to the Roman crayères – the wine cellars of the Champagne houses which have been cut into the chalk. There is a superb restaurant, one of the best in France. www.lescrayeres.com
ROUEN Le Vieux Carré
34 rue Ganterie, 76000 Tel 02-35 71 67 70 Fax 02-35 71 19 17 Rooms 13
City-center hotel near the Musée des Beaux Arts and a short walk from the cathedral. This charming timbered 18th-century building hides prettily decorated, intimate guest rooms. Cozy atmosphere and attentive service. There is a shaded cobbled courtyard and tearoom. www.vieux-carre.fr
ST MALO Hôtel Elizabeth
2 rue des Cordiers, 35400 Tel 02-99 56 24 98 Fax 02-99 56 39 24 Rooms 17
This hotel is located within the ramparts of the old town, just 2 minutes’ drive from the ferry terminal. The building has a 16th-century stone façade. The interior is classic in style, if a little somber. Rooms are comfortable and well equipped. Friendly owners, and private garage. Closed Jan–Feb. www.hotel-elizabeth.fr
STRASBOURG Au Cerf d’Or
6 pl de l’Hôpital, 67000 Tel 03-88 36 20 05 Fax 03-88 36 68 67 Rooms 43
An inexpensive base for visiting the sights of old Strasbourg, this old-style half-timbered Alsace hotel has refurbished rooms throughout. The main hotel has more charming rooms, but the annex has a small pool and a sauna. There are several restaurants on the nearby waterfront. www.cerf-dor.com
THE LOIRE VALLEY
AZAY LE RIDEAU Le Grand Monarque
3 Place de la République, 37190 Tel 02-47 45 40 08 Fax 02-47 45 46 25 Rooms 24
In a peaceful setting, this hotel comprises two buildings, one an ancient staging post, the other a large house, separated by a tree-lined courtyard. The rooms are traditionally furnished and bathrooms functional. An attractive terrace overlooking the park is the ideal spot for summer breakfasts. www.legrandmonarque.com
CHARTRES Le Grand Monarque
22 place des Epars, 28005 Tel 02-37 18 15 15 Fax 02-37 36 34 18 Rooms 60
This converted 16th-century staging post, with massively thick stone walls, has been managed by the same family since the 1960s; part of the Best Western network. The rooms are simple. There is a pleasant bistro, and a gastronomic restaurant, “Le Georges”. www.bw-grand-monarque.com
CHENONCEAUX Hostel du Roy
9 rue du Dr Bretonneau, 37150 Tel 02-47 23 90 17 Fax 02-47 23 89 81 Rooms 32
A sprawling hotel-restaurant, with a 16th-century fireplace and a dining room hung with hunting trophies. The well-equipped rooms are simple and appealing, and the atmosphere relaxing. There is a garden and pretty terrace. The restaurant serves classic dishes, including game in season. www.hostelduroy.com
CHINON Château de Marçay
Le Château, 37500 Tel 02-47 93 03 47 Fax 02-47 93 45 33 Rooms 34
Elegant hotel in this restored 15th-century fortified château. Enjoy the lovely views over the surrounding parkland and vineyards from the well-appointed bedrooms. Refined and aristocratic atmosphere, impeccable service and cuisine. www.chateaudemarcay.com
FONTEVRAUD-L’ABBAYE Le Prieuré St-Lazare
38 rte St Jean de l’Habit, 49590 Tel 02-41 51 73 16 Fax 02-41 51 75 50 Rooms 52
The surroundings of this hotel, housed in the former St-Lazare priory within the famous royal abbey complex, are stunning. The rooms are elegantly decorated in a modern, contemporary style. The restaurant, in the ancient cloister, is a gourmet’s delight. Closed mid-Nov–mid-Mar. www.hotelfp-fontevraud.com
NANTES Hôtel La Pérouse
3 allée Duquesne, 44000 Tel 02-40 89 75 00 Fax 02-40 89 76 00 Rooms 46
Named after a French navigator, this chic hotel with its zen atmosphere opened in 1993. The rooms have glossy wooden flooring and crisp, contemporary furniture. Reasonably quiet. The breakfast buffet is good. Free access to nearby gym for guests. www.hotel-laperouse.fr
TOURS Hôtel de l’Univers
5 bd Heurteloup, 37000 Tel 02-47 05 37 12 Fax 02-47 61 51 80 Rooms 87
Statesmen and royals have stayed at this luxurious hotel. A picture gallery depicts the famous guests since 1846. Elegant architecture, right in the city center, with large, prettily furnished bedrooms. The restaurant serves classic gourmet cuisine. Private garage. www.hotel-univers.fr
BURGUNDY AND THE FRENCH ALPS
ANNECY Hôtel de l’Abbaye
15 chemin de l’Abbaye, 74940 Tel 04-50 23 61 08 Fax 04-50 23 61 71 Rooms 18
A hotel, full of character, occupying a 15th-century abbey set in its own gardens. A stone archway leads to a cobbled courtyard surrounded by a wooden gallery with access to the bedrooms. Charming rooms, some with jacuzzi. Quiet, comfortable atmosphere. Buffet breakfast. www.hotelabbaye-annecy.com
BEAUNE Hôtel Le Cep
27 rue Maufoux, 21200 Tel 03-80 22 35 48 Fax 03-80 22 76 80 Rooms 62
In the heart of the old town is this elegant hotel, renovated in a Renaissance style. Legend has it that Louis XIV preferred to stay here rather than at the hospice. The rooms, some with Baroque decor, are ornately furnished with antiques. Each is named after a local wine. www.hotel-cep-beaune.com
DIJON Hostellerie le Sauvage
64 rue Monge, 21000 Tel 03-80 41 31 21 Fax 03-80 42 06 07 Rooms 22
This attractive half-timbered hotel was a staging post in the 15th century. Located in the city center near the historic sites, it can be noisy – the quietest rooms overlook a lovely interior cobbled courtyard, where meals can be taken in fine weather. Excellent service. Good breakfast. www.hotellesauvage.com
GEVREY-CHAMBERTIN Hôtel les Grands Crus
Route des Grands Crus, 21220 Tel 03-80 34 34 15 Fax 03-80 51 89 07 Rooms 24
A light, airy hotel with wonderful views over the grands crus vineyards. Located in the heart of the Côte de Nuits, this country house built in a typical Burgundian style has traditionally furnished rooms that overlook the garden. The comfy lounge centers around an open fireplace. Closed Dec–Easter. www.hoteldesgrandscrus.com
GRENOBLE Splendid Hôtel
22 rue Thiers, 38000 Tel 04-76 46 33 12 Fax 04-76 46 35 24 Rooms 45
Smart, centrally located hotel in a quiet location, with a walled garden. The guest rooms range from classical to modern, with gaily painted frescoes. Efficient service and amenities. Continental and à la carte breakfast served in the dining room, or garden terrace. www.splendid-hotel.com
St-Père-sous-Vézelay, 89450 Tel 03-86 33 39 10 Fax 03-86 33 26 15 Rooms 30
The guest rooms here are in three buildings: the main building has classic furnishings, Moulin has rustic charm, and Pré des Marguerites is contemporary, with terraces overlooking the garden. Wonderful restaurant, excellent but expensive wines, and impeccable service. Closed mid-Jan–Mar. www.marc-meneau-esperance.com
BIARRITZ Hôtel du Palais
1 av de l’Impératrice, 64200 Tel 05-59 41 64 00 Fax 05-59 41 67 99 Rooms 132
The grande dame of Biarritz’s hotel scene, with an ambiance harking back to the resort’s Belle Epoque heyday. A magnificent heated seawater pool, direct beach access, a putting green, a playground, and kids’ pool complement the lovely rooms and outstanding restaurants. www.hotel-du-palais.com
BORDEAUX Best Western Bayonne Etche-Ona
4 rue Martignac, 33000 Tel 05-56 48 00 88 Fax 05-56 48 41 60 Rooms 63
This is two hotels in one: the contemporary Bayonne and (just round the corner) the more atmospheric Etche-Ona with its Basque-inspired decor. Both occupy elegant 18th-century mansions in the heart of the Golden Triangle and offer comfortable rooms and top-notch service. www.bordeaux-hotel.com
MARGAUX Le Pavillon de Margaux
3 rue Georges-Mandel, 33460 Tel 05-57 88 77 54 Fax 05-57 88 77 73 Rooms 14
In the center of Margaux village, this handsome hotel provides a comfortable base for exploring the Médoc vineyards. Guest rooms, which are “sponsored” by local wine châteaux, are individually styled. Some have antiques and four-posters, others rattan and floral fabrics. www.pavillonmargaux.com
PAU Hôtel du Parc Beaumont
1 av Edouard VII, 64000 Tel 05-59 11 84 00 Fax 05-59 11 85 00 Rooms 80
This luxurious modern hotel, part of the Concorde group, stands in beautiful grounds next to Pau’s casino and palm-lined boulevard with great views of the Pyrenees. Rooms are lavishly furnished, and there is a heated pool, whirlpool, sauna, and hammam (Turkish bath). www.hotel-parc-beaumont.com
ST JEAN-DE-LUZ La Devinière
5 rue Loquin, 64500 Tel 05-59 26 05 51 Fax 05-59 51 26 38 Rooms 10
The bedrooms in this charming 18th-century building are all different, prettily decorated and furnished with antiques, artworks, and rare books. There is a cozy lounge-library with an open fireplace and a grand piano, and a breakfast-tea room. Tiny garden. No restaurant. www.hotel-la-deviniere.com
TOULOUSE Hôtel des Beaux Arts
1 pl du Pont Neuf, 31000 Tel 05-34 45 42 42 Fax 05-34 45 42 43 Rooms 20
Behind a beautiful Belle Epoque façade, beside the Pont Neuf, lies a chic hotel with modern comforts. The less expensive rooms are on the small side – better to upgrade for river views and more space. For a special occasion, opt for room 42 with its own tiny terrace among the roof tiles. www.hoteldesbeauxarts.com
THE SOUTH OF FRANCE
AIGUES-MORTES Hôtel St Louis
10 rue Amiral Courbet, 30220 Tel 04-66 53 72 68 Fax 04-66 53 75 92 Rooms 22
Spacious rooms with modern comforts and a location next to the famous Constant Tower make this friendly hotel in an 18th-century building one of the better places to stay in Aigues-Mortes. Good restaurant, pretty patio, and garage parking available for a fee. Closed mid-Oct–Easter. www.lesaintlouis.fr
AIX EN PROVENCE Hôtel des Augustins
3 rue Masse, 13100 Tel 04-42 27 28 59 Fax 04-42 26 74 87 Rooms 29
In a converted 12th-century convent, with the reception housed in a 15th-century chapel, the Hôtel des Augustins offers a haven of peace in the heart of bustling Aix. The rooms are large and comfortable in traditional Provençal style. No restaurant, but places to eat nearby. www.hotel-augustins.com
ANTIBES Mas Djoliba
29 av Provence, 06600 Tel 04-93 34 02 48 Fax 04-93 34 05 81 Rooms 13
Mas Djoliba is a big, old-fashioned farmhouse set among lots of greenery, with palm trees surrounding the pool terrace. Convenient for old Antibes and the beaches nearby, it is perfect for a romantic weekend or a longer stay. Wi-Fi is available. Closed Nov–Feb. www.hotel-djoliba.com
ARLES Hôtel d’Arlatan
26 rue du Sauvage, 13200 Tel 04-90 93 56 66 Fax 04-90 49 68 45 Rooms 47
The former 15th-century town residence of the Comtes d’Arlatan, this is one of the most beautiful historic hotels in the region. The rooms are furnished with antiques. Glass panels in the salon floor reveal 4th-century Roman foundations. Walled garden and stone terrace. www.hotel-arlatan.fr
CANNES Hôtel Molière
5-7 rue Molière, 06400 Tel 04-93 38 16 16 Fax 04-93 68 29 57 Rooms 24
This 19th-century building is very close to la Croisette, Cannes’ sea-front esplanade, with bright and comfortable rooms and balconies overlooking an attractive garden where breakfast is served. Good value and very much in demand – book well in advance. www.hotel-moliere.com
CANNES Carlton Inter-Continental
58 la Croisette, 06400 Tel 04-93 06 40 06 Fax 04-93 06 40 25 Rooms 374
The grandest of the grand, this is where the stars come to stay. During the film festival, there is a long waiting list for reservations. Art Deco surroundings, with discreetly luxurious facilities in the rooms and public areas, and a private beach with loungers and parasols. www.ichotelsgroup.com
CARCASSONNE Hôtel de la Cité
Pl August-Pierre Pont, 11000 Tel 04-68 71 98 71 Fax 04-68 71 50 15 Rooms 61
The finest hotel in the Languedoc-Roussillon region, with immaculate service, opulent rooms, a glorious pool, formal gardens, superb restaurants, and an unbeatable location within Carcassonne’s medieval town, La Cité. Golf, canoeing, and white-water rafting are available nearby. www.hoteldelacite.com
11 rue Dalpozzo, 06000 Tel 04-93 88 59 35 Fax 04-93 88 94 57 Rooms 57
The Hôtel Windsor provides a wide array of services and facilities, including a pool in an exotic palm garden, a children’s play area, and a health and beauty center offering massage and a sauna. Some rooms are individually decorated by local artists. Snack bar and restaurant. www.hotelwindsornice.com
NICE Le Negresco
37 promenade des Anglais, 6000 Tel 04-93 16 64 00 Fax 04-93 88 35 68 Rooms 137
The Negresco is the grande dame of Riviera hotels and has been a landmark on the promenade des Anglais since it opened in 1913, with a seemingly endless list of rich and famous guests. Superbly decorated and furnished with works of art, flawless service, and modern facilities. www.hotel-negresco-nice.com
NIMES New Hôtel la Baume
21 rue Nationale, 30000 Tel 04-66 76 28 42 Fax 04-66 76 28 45 Rooms 34
Housed in an elegant 17th-century townhouse, la Baume is one of the most pleasant places to stay in Nîmes. A short step from the sights, it blends old-world charm with modern facilities. Some rooms are even listed as historic monuments. No restaurant, but a welcoming café-bar. www.new-hotel.com
ST JEAN CAP FERRAT La Voile d’Or
Port de St-Jean, 06230 Tel 04-93 01 13 13 Fax 04-93 76 11 17 Rooms 45
Not quite the most expensive hotel in St-Jean but not far off, La Voile d’Or is worth every cent – service is superb and the rooms are immaculate. Two pools, views of the yacht harbour and the coast, and beach pavilions. Excellent restaurant in classic French culinary tradition. Closed Nov–Mar. www.lavoiledor.fr
ST TROPEZ La Ponche
Port des Pêcheurs, 83990 Tel 04-94 97 02 53 Fax 04-94 97 78 61 Rooms 18
For those looking for a boutique hideaway in St-Tropez, this cluster of one-time fishermen’s cottages may fit the bill. The bedrooms are large and artfully chic, and include two family-size rooms. Among the famous guests have been Pablo Picasso and 1950s film star Romy Schneider. www.laponche.com
VILLEFRANCHE SUR MER Welcome Hotel
3 Quai Amiral Courbet, 06230 Tel 04-93 76 27 62 Fax 04-93 76 27 66 Rooms 36
Formerly an 18th-century convent, this hotel offers period charm and attractive views of the sea and the port. Rooms are decorated in different artistic themes: Chagall, Dufy, Matisse. Most have balconies or terraces – ask for one overlooking the bay. Artist Jean Cocteau stayed here after his partner’s death in the 1920s. www.welcomehotel.com
Where to Eat in France
The variety of places to eat in France is enormous. Throughout the day, the ubiquitous café is ideal for a snack, while bistros and brasseries offer full menus. Restaurants encompass the whole gamut of French cooking, from simple and rustic to the very finest haute cuisine. Fixed-price menus are a good value option.
BEAUBOURG AND LES HALLES Au Pied du Cochon
6 rue Coquillière, 75004 Tel 01-40 13 77 00 Map D3
This colorfully restored brasserie was once popular with high society, who came to observe the workers in the old market and to savor the onion soup. Although touristy, this huge place is fun, and its menu has something for everyone (including excellent shellfish). Still one of the best places after a night out.
BEAUBOURG AND LES HALLES Georges
19 rue Beaubourg, 75004 Tel 01-44 78 47 99 Map E3
On the top floor of the Centre Pompidou, the Georges offers stunning views, especially from the immense terrace. Light and inspired cuisine, such as crispy, delicate millefeuille of crab and mushrooms. Minimalist decor, with lots of steel and aluminium.
CHAILLOT AND PORTE MAILLOT La Butte Chaillot
110 bis av Kléber, 75016 Tel 01-47 27 88 88 Map A3
This is the boutique restaurant of the renowned, not to say deified, chef Guy Savoy. The bistro cuisine includes snail salad, oysters, roast breast of veal with rosemary, and apple tart. The clientele are smartly attired, so make sure you dress up.
CHAILLOT AND PORTE MAILLOT Zebra Square
3 Place Clément Ader, 75016 Tel 01-44 14 91 91
Part of the Hotel Square complex, this restaurant is in a modern building and has stylish, minimalist décor, spiced up by splashes of zebra prints. The food is equally modern: crispy goat’s cheese salad, veal escalope with tandoori tomatoes, and pasta gratin. A hit with the fashion and media crowd.
CHAMPS-ELYSEES Le Bœuf sur le Toit
34 rue du Colisée, 75008 Tel 01-53 93 65 55 Map B2
Highly inspired by the 1930s Les Années Folles, this building was formerly a cabaret venue (The Ox on the Roof). Exemplifying the classic Paris Art Deco brasserie, its changing menu can include sole meunière, snails, foie gras and crème brûlée. The specialty is crêpes Suzette.
CHAMPS-ELYSEES Guy Savoy
18 rue Troyon, 75017 Tel 01-43 80 40 61 Map B2
A handsome dining room and professional service further complement the remarkable cuisine of Guy Savoy. The three Michelin-starred menu includes oysters in aspic, artichoke soup with black truffles, grilled sea bass, and an extraordinary dessert list.
FONTAINEBLEAU Le Caveau des Ducs
24 rue de Ferrare, 77300 Tel 01-64 22 05 05
Near the château de Fontainebleau, this restaurant has a carved staircase leading to the magnificent 17th-century cellars that house the dining room, decorated with tapestries and chandeliers. Classic cuisine, such as snails in puff pastry. Good lunch menu of main course salad and a glass of wine.
ILE DE LA CITE AND ILE SAINT-LOUIS La Rose de France
24 pl Dauphine, 75001 Tel 01-43 54 10 12 Map E4
Majestic setting overlooking a 17th-century square. Updated French classics, with specialties like blanquette de veau à l’ancienne (veal in a white sauce), roast honeyed lamb, and parmentier of duck. More traditional is the duck fillet in ratatouille. A cuisine du marché restaurant, La Rose uses the freshest produce from the day’s market.
INVALIDES AND EIFFEL TOWER QUARTER L’Arpège
84 rue de Varenne, 75007 Tel 01-47 05 09 06 Map C4
Alain Passard’s three-star restaurant near the Musée Rodin is one of the most highly regarded in Paris. It has striking pale-wood decor and sprightly young service as well as excellent food. Contemporary cuisine includes dishes such as gnocchi d’Alice with sage, and leg of lamb cooked with Menton lemon and coriander. Don’t miss the apple tart.
JARDIN DES PLANTES QUARTER Marty Restaurant
20 av des Gobelins, 75005 Tel 01-43 31 39 51 Map E5
The Marty was established by E. Marty in 1913 and is still family-run. The interior is authentic Art Deco in style, but the cuisine steals the show. The menu features hearty fare, such as roast duck or rabbit casserole, and seasonal dishes, such as gazpacho. Excellent crème brûlée.
LATIN QUARTER Le Balzar
49 rue des Ecoles, 75005 Tel 01-43 54 13 67 Map E4
There’s a fair choice of brasserie food here but the main attraction is the Left Bank ambiance. Traditionally dressed waiters weave their way among the hustle and bustle, providing express service, with archetypal brasserie decor to match: there are large mirrors and comfortable leather seats.
LATIN QUARTER L’Atelier Maître Albert
1 rue Maître Albert, 75005 Tel 01-56 81 30 01 Map D4
Dishes from the rôtisserie are this restaurant’s specialty. Traditional fare such as veal kidneys and mouthwatering chocolate cake are the chief attractions. Other specialties include veal, mixed salad du moment, and chicken livers. The antique fireplace is a nice touch. This is another Guy Savoy restaurant.
MONTMARTRE La Famille
41 Rue des Trois Frères, 75018 Tel 01-42 52 11 12
The contemporary French cuisine at La Famille is as delicious as it is avante-garde. Don’t be fooled by the relaxed atmosphere, a highly professional approach is de rigueur in the kitchen. The dishes reflect current Parisian food trends: celery soup au siphon (with foam on top) and red tuna roll with yuzu (a Japanese citrus fruit).
MONTPARNASSE La Coupole
102 bd du Montparnasse, 75014 Tel 01-43 20 14 20
This famous brasserie has been popular with the fashionistas, artists, and thinkers since its creation in 1927. Under the same ownership as Brasserie Flo, it has a similar menu: shellfish, smoked salmon, and good desserts. Lamb curry is a specialty. Open from breakfast until 2am.
OPERA QUARTER La Vaudeville
29 rue Vivienne, 75002 Tel 01-40 20 04 62 Map D2
This is one of seven brasseries owned by Paris’s reigning brasserie king, Jean-Paul Bucher. Good shellfish, Bucher’s famous smoked salmon, many fish dishes as well as classic brasserie standbys like pig’s trotters and andouillette (tripe sausage). Quick, friendly service and a noisy ambiance make it fun.
OPERA QUARTER La Fontaine Gaillon
1 rue de la Michodière, 75002 Tel 01-47 42 63 22 Map D2
Housed in a 17th-century mansion, Fontaine Gaillon is partly owned by legendary film actor Gérard Depardieu. The menu changes daily and showcases sautéed John Dory, Merlan Colbert with sorrel purée, confit de canard, and lamb chops. The interiors are comfortable, and there is a good wine list.
13 rue de l’Ancienne Comédie, 75006 Tel 01-40 46 79 00 Map D4
Opened in 1686, Paris’s oldest café welcomed literary and political figures such as Voltaire and Diderot. Nowadays, it’s still a hub for the intelligentsia, who sit alongside those curious about this historical place. Coq-au-vin (chicken cooked in wine) is the specialty. Shellfish platters, too.
THE MARAIS Auberge Nicolas Flamel
51 rue de Montmorency, 75003 Tel 01-42 71 77 78 Map E3
Located in Paris’s oldest house (1407) and named after the famous alchemist who lived here, this restaurant’s specialties include tatin de foie gras poellé (pan-fried foie gras) and gala au pain d’épices (gingerbread pudding). The tour de force here, however, is the great choice of desserts.
THE MARAIS L’Ambroisie
9 pl des Vosges, 75004 Tel 01-42 78 51 45 Map F4
In a former jewelry shop restored by Chef Bernard Pacaud, this is one of only nine Michelin three-star restaurants in Paris. The cuisine includes a veal escalope with finely chopped artichoke and langoustine feuillantine with sesame seeds. Reservations accepted one month in advance.
TUILERIES QUARTER Le Grand Véfour
17 rue de Beaujolais, 75001 Tel 01-42 96 56 27 Map D3
This 18th-century restaurant is considered by many to be Paris’s most attractive. The chef Guy Martin effortlessly maintains his third Michelin star with dishes such foie gras ravioli with a truffle cream, and hazelnut and milk chocolate palet served with caramel ice cream.
VERSAILLES Le Valmont
20 rue au Pain, 78000 Tel 01-39 51 39 00
Refined cuisine is served at this bistro tucked behind the market hall. Chef Philippe Mathieu presents an ambitious menu with dishes such as veal steak with a creamy cepe mushroom sauce, and escalope of foie gras accompanied by a Banyul vinegar sauce. Good wines by the glass.
BAYEUX La Table du Terroir
42 rue St Jean, 14400 Tel 02-31 92 05 53
In summer, dining on the terrace is a treat; in winter the rustic dining-room is welcoming, with large convivial wooden tables and old hewn stone walls. La Table du Terroir specializes in meat dishes, homemade pâtés, and terrines. The desserts are delicious, too.
CARNAC La Bavolette
9 allée du Parc, 56340 Tel 02-97 52 19 69
One of the classier eating places at the popular seaside resort of Carnac-Plage. Fish brochettes and sardine terrine are among the favorites. La Bavolette’s specialties include fish soup served with a rich garlicky aioli and croutons, and flambéed langoustines.
EPERNAY La Table Kobus
3 rue Dr Rousseau, 51200 Tel 03-26 51 53 53
An original brasserie near the center of this town that is all about champagne. Uniquely, you can bring your own bottle of champagne to drink with your meal. The menu is classic French cuisine. The home-made terrine of foie gras is particularly recommended.
MONT-ST-MICHEL Auberge St Pierre
Grande rue, 50170 Tel 02-33 60 14 03
Lamb grazed on the surrounding salt marshes, known as agneau pré-salé, features on the menu in this charming timbered 15th-century building. Seafood is also a house specialty. Try the favorites such as crab or salmon. Fresh local produce is used in the preparation of traditional dishes.
MONT-ST-MICHEL La Mère Poulard
Grande rue, 50170 Tel 02-33 89 68 68
A deluxe brasserie on the famous Mont St-Michel, where visitors come from all over the world to sample the famous omelette Mère Poulard, cooked in a long-handled pan over a fire. Also delicious are the pré-salé lamb (lamb fed on the surrounding salt marshes), and spit-roasted pig.
REIMS La Brasserie Boulingrin
48 rue Mars, 51100 Tel 03-26 40 96 22
This famous Reims brasserie and a regular meeting place for locals has kept its Art Deco mosaics of jolly grape harvesters known as “Vendangeurs en Champagne”. Good value and a lively place to dine, near the covered market. Oysters and steak tartare are specialties. There is also a large selection of champagnes.
REIMS Château les Crayères
64 bd Vasnier, 51100 Tel 03-26 82 80 80
In the former home of the Pommery Champagne family, this gourmet retreat allows visitors to relax in sumptuous guest rooms and savor superb cuisine. The dining room is grand, with huge windows and tapestries. Try the lobster, crab prepared in three ways, or lamb served with smoked beetroot and goat’s cheese ravioli.
ROUEN La Couronne
31 pl Vieux Marché, 76000 Tel 02-35 71 40 90
In the oldest auberge in France, dating from 1345, the experienced, talented chef ensures that you pass a memorable moment here with classic gourmet dishes such as foie gras with chestnuts, roast veal, and duck à la Rouennaise. Great Normandy cheeses.
ROUEN Restaurant Gill
8–9 quai de la Bourse, 76000 Tel 02-35 71 16 14
A highly recommended restaurant on the Seine quays. For nearly 20 years chef Gilles Tournadre has been creating sophisticated dishes in this elegant dining room. Specialities include crayfish salad, Pigeon à la rouennaise and fillet of bass with asparagus. Remarkable wine list.
ST-MALO Le Chalut
8 rue de la Corne de Cerf, 35400 Tel 02-99 56 71 58
One of St. Malo’s best restaurants, the chef excels in fish dishes and well-chosen produce simply prepared. Fillet of red mullet with orange and saffron sauce, and St-Pierre accompanied by Jerusalem artichokes are examples of the delicious dishes on offer. Good selection of cheese, too.
STRASBOURG Au Crocodile
10 rue Outre, 67000 Tel 03-88 32 13 02
One of the finest restaurants in France’s other capital. Splendid polished woodwork, elegant decor, and the famous crocodile brought back from a campaign in Egypt by an Alsatian Captain in the French army. Super service and light original cusine. A truly great wine list that covers the world.
THE LOIRE VALLEY
BLOIS Au Rendez-vous des Pêcheurs
27 rue du Foix, 41000 Tel 02-54 74 67 48
Well known regionally, this restaurant is famed for its menu focusing on seafood and fish creations like eel with pig’s trotter and foie gras, stuffed courgette flowers, and roast sea bass. There is also Sologne game, in season, and a good selection of wines from Cheverny and Montlouis. Book ahead.
CHARTRES Le Grand Monarque
22 pl des Epars, 28000 Tel 02-37 18 15 15
Within this magnificent 17th-century staging post are both a gourmet “le Georges” restaurant, and a brasserie serving traditional food. The cuisine is ambitious and flavorful, with dishes such as red mullet and Loire eel in vinaigrette, and bass cooked in a clay crust. Excellent desserts. First-rate wine cellar.
CHENONCEAU Auberge de Bon Laboureur
6 rue de Docteur Bretonneau, 37150 Tel 02-47 23 90 02
Refined classic cuisine is served in this former coaching inn just a few minutes from the château. The produce is seasonal and vegetables come from their own vegetable patch. A typical menu could include crayfish bisque, king prawns served with truffle-flavored mash potato, and white chocolate and exotic fruit gratin.
FONTEVRAUD-L’ABBAYE La Licorne
Allée Sainte-Catherine, 49590 Tel 02-41 51 72 49
Next to the splendid abbey, this popular restaurant has a pretty courtyard terrace and elegant dining room. The menu includes creations such as prawns and basil ravioli in morel sauce and, for dessert, strawberries flavored with roses. Good Saumur wines. Book ahead.
NANTES La Cigale
4 pl Graslin, 44000 Tel 02-51 84 94 94
This ornate Belle Epoque brasserie dates from 1895 when it was frequented by celebrated writers and the Nantes elite. The quality of the cuisine matches the exceptional interior. Oysters, carpaccio of salmon, and beef à la plancha (cooked on a hot plate). Open all day. Extensive wine list.
ORLEANS Les Antiquaires
2 rue Au lin, 45000 Tel 02-38 53 52 35
Popular with locals for its inventive cuisine, the well-known chef Philippe Bardau prepares contemporary dishes such as cappucino of shellfish with lobster, and seasonal dishes such as venision. The dining room is decorated in warm tones. Great selection of local wines.
TOURS L’Atelier Gourmand
37 rue Etienne Marcel, 37000 Tel 02-47 38 59 87
A charming small restaurant in a 15th-century building in the old part of Tours. Fabrice Bironneau presents a competitively priced, interesting menu. Fresh dishes include succulent rabbit terrine accompanied by red fruits, ragoût of lamb, and a fondant of chocolate. Warm, homely ambiance.
TOURS La Roche le Roy
55 Route de St-Avertin, 37200 Tel 02-47 27 22 00
Located at the edge of the city center, in an elegant 18th-century mansion house, is the Michelin-starred La Roche le Roy. Classic, quality French cuisine includes specialties such as scallops à la plancha (cooked on a hot plate) served with a creamy celery sauce, roast Racan pigeon, and pike perch cooked in a gingerbread crust.
BURGUNDY AND THE FRENCH ALPS
BEAUNE La Ciboulette
69 rue Lorraine, 21200 Tel 03-80 24 70 72
A delightful little bistro frequented by locals; always a good sign. The basic decor is in contrast with the high standard of cooking. Hearty dishes, such as steak with pungent Epoisses cheese feature on the menu. The best value in town. Local wine merchants come here to choose from the excellent wine list.
BEAUNE Hostellerie de Levernois
Route de Cobertault, Levernois, 21200 Tel 03-80 24 73 58
This beautiful old mansion with formal gardens occupies an idyllic country setting. The classic restaurant serves up “serious” cuisine, such as snail and frogs’ legs risotto, lightly smoked pigeon and foie gras with caramelized turnips in blackcurrant sauce, or salmon smoked over vine cuttings. Vast wine list. Faultless service.
DIJON Le Bistrot des Halles
10 rue Bannelier, 21000 Tel 03-80 49 94 15
At lunchtime this 1900s-style bistro is roaring. Located next to the market, it attracts food merchants and local business people with its meat pie, jambon persillé (ham with a parsley sauce) and bœuf bourgignon. Well-known Dijon chef Jean-Pierre Billoux, who has an up-market restaurant in Dijon center, oversees this bistro.
DIJON Le Pré aux Clercs
13 pl de la Libération, 21000 Tel 03-80 38 05 05
Run by Jean-Pierre Billoux, one of the most renowned chefs in Dijon. Traditional rustic ingredients with a novel modern twist result in unique dishes, such as caramelized lamb. The fixed-price menus offer classic dishes, such as a foie gras terrine. Charming dining area and good choice of Burgundy wines.
GRENOBLE Le Chasse-Spleen
6 pl Lavalette, 38000 Tel 04-38 37 03 52
Well situated in central Grenoble, Le Chasse-Spleen is known for the quality of its cooking. Dishes are inventive, such as the parmentier of minced oxtail with foie gras specialty and the regional dessert baba with Chartreuse. Inside, walnut-drying racks hang from the ceiling, and Baudelaire’s poems decorate the walls.
LYON Le Mercière
56 rue Mercière, 69002 Tel 04-78 37 67 35
Chic, lively Lyonnais brasserie with its own traboule (medieval passageway) crossing the dining room. Frequented by both tourists and locals, the menu includes regional specialties such as ravioli served in a truffle stock, Bobosse andouillette (tripe sausage), and a mouthwatering chocolate mousse. Good Rhône wines.
83 Rue Moncey, 69003 Tel 04-72 61 15 69
The young, talented chef at L’Alexandrin prepares gourmet Lyonnais dishes that are cooked to perfection and ooze personality – try the pigeon with chorizo or fillet of bass roasted in a spicy crust. The same care is taken with the vegetables in such creations as cocotte of vegetables with chestnut.
BAYONNE Auberge du Cheval Blanc
68 rue Bourgneuf, 64100 Tel 05-59 59 01 33
Stray from the set menu to eat à la carte at this well-regarded hotel in the riverside Petit Bayonne quarter. The menu changes with the seasons, with local dishes, such as xamano (ham and mashed potatoes), fine Atlantic seafood, interesting soups and casseroles, and delicious desserts. Respectable wine list. Closed Feb–mid-Mar.
BIARRITZ Chez Albert
Port des Pêcheurs, 64200 Tel 05-59 24 43 84
From the terrace there are superb views of Biarritz’s picturesque fishing harbor and surrounding cliffs and beaches, making this fine seafood restaurant popular. Arrive early for the best tables. Piled platters of seafood, freshly caught lobster, sole, sea bream, tuna, and sardines are among the treats here.
BIARRITZ Le Sissinou
5 av Maréchal Foch, 64200 Tel 05-59 22 51 50
Managed by chef Michel Cassou-Debat – a veteran of some of France’s top establishments – Sissinou is one of Biarritz’s most talked-about restaurants. Elegant in a minimalist way. Wonderful food such as tuna carpaccio and a fricassée of veal sweetbreads served with carrots flavored with balsamic vinegar, and desserts that invite indulgence.
BORDEAUX La Tupina
6 rue Porte de la Monnaie, 33800 Tel 05-56 91 56 37
The heart of La Tupina is the open fire over which succulent meats are grilled and in winter a cauldron of soup bubbles away. This is an excellent place to try bordelais specialties such as lamprey in wine, grilled shad, or baby eels cooked in olive oil with garlic and hot pepper. Simple, old-fashioned desserts.
PAU Chez Pierre
16 rue Louis Barthou, 64000 Tel 05-59 27 76 86
Chez Pierre exudes 19th-century elegance and prides itself on the old-fashioned, club-like atmosphere that harks back to Pau’s heyday as a British expatriate’s hideaway. Classic French regional cooking along with some surprises, such as cod with espelette peppers, and an extensive wine list.
TOULOUSE Brasserie Flo Les Beaux Arts
1 quai de la Daurade, 31000 Tel 05-61 21 12 12
An authentic and bustling brasserie serving a broad range of dishes, from salads and seafood to southwestern favorites. To start, you could opt for a flavorsome dish of scallops baked with chanterelle mushrooms, followed by a seafood pot-au-feu, and prune-and-armagnac ice cream. The menu changes regularly.
TOULOUSE Les Jardins de l’Opéra
1 pl du Capitole, 31000 Tel 05-61 23 07 76
Gourmet dining at its most refined in the restaurant of the Grand Hôtel de l’Opéra. Hushed tones and widely spaced tables create a suitably reverent atmosphere for dishes such as whole lobster garnished with a seaweed crust, or figs cooked in Banyuls wine and filled with vanilla ice cream. Impeccable service.
THE SOUTH OF FRANCE
22 rue Victor Leydet, 13100 Tel 04-42 27 76 16
An up-to-date array of dishes and a good wine list have made this one of Aix’s most popular eating places. L’Aixquis is located in a narrow lane in central Aix. Chef Benoît Strohm is known for excellent Provençal cooking, such as rabbit marinated in herbs. Closed Sun, Mon lunch.
AIX-EN-PROVENCE Le Clos de la Violette
10 av Violette, 13100 Tel 04-42 23 30 71
This is an elegant address in a chic mansion standing in its own gardens: tranquil, intimate, and perfect for a romantic evening. People do dress up a little to eat here. The wine list is extensive (and very strong on local and Provençal wines) and the menu is Provençal with a modern edge. Closed Sun, Mon.
ARLES Lou Marques
Bd Lices, 13200 Tel 04-90 52 52 52
Lou Marques – the restaurant of the venerable Hôtel Jules César – is one of the best places to eat in Arles, with a central location, pleasant terrace with tables under white umbrellas, and a bill of fare that concentrates on classic Provençal dishes. Dignified surroundings. Closed Nov–Apr; Sat, Sun.
5 rue de la République, 84000 Tel 04-90 86 17 07
Old-fashioned provincial restaurant with a long history of catering to the gourmands of Avignon. Decorated in Belle Epoque style, the restaurant has a menu concentrating on the classics revisited, such as mackerel marinated in white Châteauneuf du Pape. On the first floor of a medieval building.
CANNES La Palme d’Or
73 la Croisette, 06400 Tel 04-92 98 74 14
Children are not actually barred from this restaurant of the stars, nor is it essential to wear a tie – but diners who are not dressed to impress may feel self-conscious here. The food is imaginative and superb, with an impressive, costly wine list. Reservations required. Closed Sun, Mon.
43 boulevard Barbes, 11000 Tel 04-68 72 04 04
Housed in 18th-century stable buildings, “The Stables” is worth a visit just to sit in these elegant old-fashioned surroundings. A favorite with local people, its restaurant tends towards meat dishes, traditionally presented. There is a pretty inner courtyard with tables in the shade or in the sun.
MARSEILLE Restaurant Michel
6 rue des Catalans, 13000 Tel 04-91 52 30 63
Bouillabaisse is the specialty of the house at this fine, busy brasserie. Other fish dishes include bourride, sardines, and the always reliable catch of the day, fresh and simply grilled. Popular with locals – get there early to be sure of a table. Wine list includes names from Bandol and Cassis.
MONACO Zebra Square
10 av Princesse Grace, 98000 Tel 00 377 99 99 25 50
This trendy restaurant is an offshoot of one of Paris’s smartest hotel-restaurants and lives up to its name with zebra stripes everywhere. The menu is multi-cultural and features good grills, seafood, and fusion recipes. Great location, with terrace tables right on the sea. The best choice in Monaco for lunch or dinner.
NICE Le Boccaccio
7 rue Massena, 06000 Tel 04-93 87 71 76
One of the best places for seafood in Nice, the central Boccaccio is on a bustling car-free street. The interior design is imaginative, with stained-glass windows and tables spread over several floors, and the bill of fare features the best fish dishes – fresh, simply prepared, and with attentive service.
2 bd des Arènes, 30000 Tel 04-66 67 29 15
Lisita is not to be missed. This is one of the most popular restaurants in Nîmes, serving cutting-edge food and an outstanding wine list. The surroundings are attractive too, with modern design set off by old stone walls in two rooms, plus an attractive terrace. Closed Sun, Mon.