The river falls from Rougon at the top of the gorge, disappearing into tunnels, decelerating for shallow, languid moments and finally exiting in full, steady flow at the Pont du Galetas at the western end of the canyon. Alongside is the huge artificial Lac de Sainte-Croix, which is great for swimming when the water levels are high. Otherwise, the beach becomes a bit sludgy.
The tangle of medieval lanes at the city’s heart, known as Vieil Aix, is a great monument in its entirety, an enchanting ensemble that’s far more compelling than any individual building or museum it contains.
With so many streets alive with people; so many tempting restaurants, cafés and shops; a fountained square to rest in every few minutes; and a backdrop of architectural treats from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, it’s easy to while away days enjoying its pleasures.
The origins of the art gallery, the Musée du Louvre, lie in the French kings’ personal art collections. The royal academy mounted exhibitions, known as salons, in the palace as early as 1725, but the Louvre was only opened as a public art gallery in 1793, in the midst of the Revolution. Within a decade, Napoleon’s wagonloads of war booty transformed the Louvre’s art collection into the world’s largest.
Paris has a wealth of attractions to suit all tastes. Our guide about the best areas to stay in Paris will help you to choose what suits you best.
Executed by Cro-Magnon people 17,000 years ago, the paintings are among the finest examples of prehistoric art in existence. There are five or six identifiable styles, and subjects include bison, mammoths and horses, plus the biggest known prehistoric drawing, of a 5.5m bull with an astonishingly expressive head and face.
Its provenance most likely comes from the time when inns serving wine would attach small bundles of straw to their signs, indicating that horses could be cared for (bouchonnés) while the coachmen went inside to have a drink.
The food may not be to everyone’s taste – andouillette (hot cooked tripe sausage) and pieds de veau (calves’ feet) are typical staples. However, the dishes are usually beautifully cooked and they’re wonderfully convivial places. While many bouchons claim to be authentic, only 22 are certified, the best of which are found in the Presqu’île.
Start your tailor-made trip to Tasting Eastern France in Lyon with some unique food tours before setting off on a 4-day walk across the Beaujolais region. Almost every day ends with a wine tasting in your guesthouse, soothing for body and soul.
Large crowds gather each day at the North Tower to watch the tide sweep in across the bay. Seagulls wheel away in alarm, and those foolish enough to be wandering too late on the sands have to sprint to safety.
Experience the best of Northern France on this tailor-made Northern France Tour. Visit Brittany and Normandy for pretty port towns and sombre historic sights. Discover galleries and gourmet restaurants, and explore the beaches and scenery of the wild Atlantic coastline.
A spectacular summer evening sound and light shows show how the west front would have looked, with an explanation of the various statues on the facade in French and then in English. The interior, on the other hand, is a light, calm and unaffected space.
Visitors with strong legs can mount the cathedral’s front towers. One of the most atmospheric ways of seeing the cathedral is to attend a Sunday morning Mass (9 am and 10.30 am), which is accompanied by sublime Gregorian chants.
Annecy’s old town is a bewitching warren of passages and arcaded houses that date from the sixteenth century and are divided by peaceful little branches of the Canal du Thiou. Many of the houses here are ringed by canalside railings overflowing with geraniums and petunias in summer. Added to the cool shade offered by the arcades, these flowers make the town’s pedestrianized streets a delight to wander around on a sunny day.
At the top of the village, a church and houses surround a mighty twelfth- to sixteenth-century château, which houses the paintings of the contemporary Flemish artist Pol Mara, who lived locally.
As well as the charming architecture of the Provençal villages, many of them are also excellent starting points from which to explore the famous Provence lavender fields.
The gorge winds back and forth, much of the time dropping 300m straight down to the almost dead-flat scrubby Plateau des Gras. It’s beautiful, but a tourist trap. The road following the rim, with spectacular viewpoints at regular intervals, is jammed with traffic in summer.
The canal has, since its construction, been known for the lovely plane trees that line the riverbank. Sadly, a wilt infection was discovered in 2006 and since then the trees have been systematically cut down. They will be replaced, however, the view will not be the same for many years to come. You can follow the canal by road, and many sections have foot or bicycle paths, but the best way to see it is, of course, by boat.
Most people enjoy the view from the many elegant sage-green chairs dotted throughout the gardens. Sprawling on the lawns is strictly forbidden, except on the southernmost strip, which gets fantastically crowded on sunny days. The shady Fontaine Médicis, in the northeast corner, is another pleasant spot to relax, and there are a couple of sit-down places to eat.
This is the perfect tailor-made trip for lovers: stay in the luxurious Park Hyatt Paris-Vendôme and take things completely at your own pace. From tours to sightseeing, you can choose from a range of activities to suit your individual tastes and desires.
Burgundy is particularly well served with an 800km circuit. While the Loire à Vélo cycle route runs the length of the Loire Valley from Nevers to St Nazaire. The Fédération Française de Cyclisme has useful information on mountain-biking sites and tourist offices can provide details of local cycleways.
Only one-third of the 18,000 to 20,000 hikers who start it each season complete all sixteen stages, which can be covered in ten to twelve days if you’re in good physical shape. If you’re not, don’t even think about attempting this route.
Marked with red-and-white splashes of paint, it comprises a series of harsh ascents and descents, sections of which exceed 2000m and become more of a scramble than a walk, with stanchions, cables and ladders driven into the rock as essential aids.
The centre of champagne production is Épernay, a town that’s made much of its association with the fizzy stuff. This is where all the Maisons of the well-known brands are lined up along the appropriately named Avenue de Champagne.
All of these champagne houses offer tours and tastings, and one of the best places to indulge in at the maison of Moët et Chandon, arguably the best-known brand in the world. The splendid, cathedral-like cellars afford suitable dignity to this most regal of drinks, while the multilingual guides divulge the complexities of blending different grapes and vintages to maintain a consistency of flavour from one year to the next.
A major summertime event worth catching is the Festival de Carcassonne from late June to mid-August, featuring world-class dance, theatre and music. The high point is the mammoth fireworks display on Bastille Day (July 14).
Divided between the original Carnac-Ville and the seaside resort of Carnac-Plage, modern Carnac has a special charm, especially in spring and autumn. For most visitors, the alignments are, if anything, a mere sideshow. The town and seafront remain well-wooded, and the tree-lined avenues and gardens are a delight.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, it has become a magnet for tourists. On its little island in the Indre, the château is one of the loveliest in the Loire. Perfect turreted early Renaissance, pure in style right down to the blood-red paint of its window frames.
Several companies operate from the port; be prepared for rough seas. If you’re feeling energetic, follow the well-marked GR98 footpath from Port-Miou on the western side of the town. It’s a four-hour round trip on foot to the calanque, En Vau, where you can reach the shore. The water is deep blue and swimming between the cliffs is pure heaven.
Unexpectedly, and unceremoniously, the first thing you see on entry is the tapestry itself, with an interesting audio-guided commentary to explain the events it so vividly depicts. Only afterwards comes an exhibition detailing the theories that surround the tapestry’s creation, and explaining more about its turbulent history, followed by a film that gives more of the historical background.
First-rate museums, excellent shopping, fine restaurants and lively nightlife make Bordeaux an absorbing place to spend a long weekend. Don’t miss the spectacular new Cité du Vin if you have even a cursory interest in the city’s wine history.
Stroll along the historical streets of Bordeaux; tour the surrounding vineyards, tasting some of the region's best wines; create your own French dinner and dine in a romantic castle, combining history with gastronomy, all with this unique tailor-made trip to the Romance, Food and Wine of Bordeaux.
Nowadays the 1789 surrender of the Bastille is celebrated with parades of tanks followed by fireworks, concerts and street dances.
Of the fourteen or so individual markets, you could concentrate on Marché Dauphine. Good for vintage movie posters, chanson and jazz records, comics and books. Or try Marché Vernaison for curios and bric-a-brac.
On the southwestern edge of Somme is a war cemetery and memorial by the British architect Sir Edwin Lutyens. It’s a movingly elegiac, classical colonnade of brick and stone, commemorating 35,928 missing soldiers, their names inscribed on the walls.
Around the back of the barracks is the stark Mémorial des Fusillés, which commemorates two hundred Resistance fighters shot by firing squad during World War II – many of them of Polish descent, nearly all of them miners, and most of them Communists.
Retrace the steps of the Liberation Route in France. From the Normandy beaches where the US allies landed over museums in Paris to Memorial museums and the concentration camp in Alsace - this tailor-made tour brings the Liberation Route in France to live.
Roussillon, Languedoc and the eastern Ariège were the twelfth-century sect’s power base. Their name derives from the Greek word for “pure” – katharon. As they abhorred the materialism and worldly power of the established Church, and they were initially pacifist, denying the validity of feudal vows or allegiances.
Resorts in the Alps have an abundance of hotels, equipment outlets and ski schools, while at many you can simply clip your skis on at the hotel door and be skiing on some of the most challenging pistes on earth within minutes.
Although downhill is the most common form of the sport at all the resorts, cross-country or nordic skiing has become increasingly popular on gentler slopes while there are also several famous routes for ski touring.
If you are planning your winter holiday in France check our list of best French skiing resorts.
Nowhere in the Mediterranean has beaches finer than the island’s perfect half-moon bays of white sand and transparent water, or seascapes more dramatic than the red porphyry Calanches of the west coast.
Even though the annual visitor influx now exceeds the island’s population nearly twenty times over, tourism hasn’t spoilt the place. There are a few resorts, but overdevelopment is rare and high-rise blocks are confined to the main towns.
Discover the variety of mesmerising French beach destinations with our guide to the best beaches in France.
Although they are found all over southwest France, from the Dordogne to the foothills of the Pyrenees, there is a particularly high concentration in the area between the Dordogne and Lot rivers. At the time they formed the disputed “frontier” region between English-held Aquitaine and Capetian France.
It is one of the world’s most complete monastic complexes, including a caretaker’s lodge, guesthouse and chapel, dormitory, hospital, prison, bakery, kennels and abbot’s house, as well as a church, cloister, chapterhouse and even a forge. On top of all this, the abbey’s setting, at the head of a quiet stream-filled valley enclosed by woods of pine, fir, sycamore and beech, is superb.
Looking for more French-themed inspiration? You might want to discover 20 fun facts about France.
As the summer playground of Europe’s youthful rich, St-Tropez is among the most overhyped spots in the Mediterranean. It remains undeniably glamorous, its vast yachts and infamous champagne “spray” parties creating an air of hedonistic excess in high summer. Alas, partaking of its designer charms can seriously dent your budget at any time of the year.
Immerse yourself in the Mediterranean lifestyle with this 5-day tailor-made trip to the French Riviera. Staying just 2 miles from the charming town of Antibes, you may opt to pass the days soaking up the sun on the golden sands of the Côte d'Azur, or exploring this alluring part of the world.
While the views are almost better from the second level, especially on hazier days, there’s something irresistible about going all the way to the top and looking down over the surreally microscopic city below.
One of the masterpieces of the Gothic age, the Cathédrale de Notre-Dame rears up from the Île de la Cité’s southeast corner like a ship moored by huge flying buttresses. It was among the first of the great Gothic cathedrals built in northern France and one of the most ambitious, its nave reaching an unprecedented 33m.
Fall in love with Paris on this tailor-made luxury trip. Discover some of France's most wonderful gourmet delights and experience the city from the Seine. Explore the charming cobbled streets of the lovely Marais, shop until you drop, and then head to the Champs Elysées to make perfume at Maison Guerlain.
Today the bridge is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and something of a tourist trap, but is nonetheless a supreme piece of engineering and a brilliant combination of function and aesthetics; it made the impressionable Rousseau wish he’d been born Roman.
When visiting the Languedoc, take time to explore Montpellier, a city firmly established in its place in the sun.
Ready for a trip to France? Check out The Rough Guide to France or The Rough Guide to Provence & the Cote d'Azur. If you travel further in France, read more about the best time to go and the best places to visit in France. For inspiration use the itineraries from The Rough Guide to France and our local travel experts.
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