From the boulevards of Paris to the fashionable seaside resorts of the Côte d’Azur, France offers some of the most beautiful scenery in the world. France delights romantics with fairy-tale castles, soaring cathedrals, and picture-perfect villages, yet still impresses realists with its progressive, contemporary style. Begin with the Eiffel Tower, the modern emblem of France. Then discover famous masterpieces of art at the Louvre Museum. Spend a day pretending to be royalty at the elegant Palace of Versailles. Save time for leisurely gourmet meals; traditional French gastronomy has been inscribed on the UNESCO list of Intangible Cultural Heritage. Each region has its own distinctive cuisine and culture. Quaint fishing villages of Brittanyspecialize in crêpes and seafood, while cozy chalets in the French Alps serve hearty cheese fondue with charcuterie. Indulge in it all and savor the irresistible charm of France.
1 Eiffel Tower
The symbol of Paris, the Eiffel Tower is one of the world’s most famous landmarks. This feat of ingenuity is a structure of 8,000 metallic parts, designed by Gustave Eiffel as a temporary exhibit for the World Fair of 1889. Originally loathed by critics, the 320-meter-high tower is now a beloved and irreplaceable fixture of the Paris skyline. The structure’s unique gracefulness has earned it the nickname of “Iron Lady.” Visitors are impressed by the tower’s monumental size and the breathtaking panoramas at each of the three levels. Tourists can dine with a view at the first level or indulge at the Michelin-starred Jules Vernes restaurant on the second level. At the exhilarating height of 276 meters, the top level offers a sweeping outlook over the city of Paris and beyond-extending as far as 70 kilometers on a clear day.
2 Louvre Museum
In the former royal palace of French Kings, the Louvre is an incomparable museum that ranks among the top European collections of fine arts. Many of Western Civilization’s most famous works are found here including the Mona Lisa by Leonardo DaVinci, the Wedding Feast at Cana by Veronese, and the 1st-century-BC Venus de Milo sculpture. The collection owes its wealth to the contributions of various kings who lived in the Louvre. Other pieces were added as a result of France’s treaties with theVatican and the Republic of Venice, and from the spoils of Napoléon I. The Louvre has an astounding collection of 30,000 artworks, including countless masterpieces. It’s impossible to see it all in a day or even in a week. Focus on a shortlist of key artworks for the most rewarding experience.
3 Palace of Versailles
More than just a royal residence, Versailles was designed to show off the glory of the French monarchy. “Sun King” Louis XIV transformed his father’s small hunting lodge into an opulent palace with a sumptuous Baroque interior. The palace became Louis XIV’s symbol of absolute power and set the standard for princely courts in Europe. Architect Jules Hardouin-Mansart created the elegant Baroque facade and lavish interior. The famous Hall of Mirrors is where courtiers waited for an audience with the king. This dazzling hall sparkles with sunlight that enters through the windows and is reflected off massive ornamental mirrors. Versailles is equally renowned for its formal French gardens featuring decorative pools, perfectly trimmed shrubbery, and charming fountains. Beyond the formal gardens is Marie-Antoinette’s hamlet, a make-believe pastoral village where the queen came to dress up as a peasant and escape court life.
4 Côte d’Azur
The most fashionable stretch of coastline in France, the Côte d’Azur is synonymous with glamour. The Côte d’Azur translates to “Coast of Blue,” named after the mesmerizing deep blue color of the Mediterranean Sea. Also known as the French Riviera, the Côte d’Azur extends from Saint-Tropez to Menton near the border withItaly. During summer, the seaside resorts are packed with beach lovers and sun-worshippers. The rich and famous are also found here in their lavish villas and luxury yachts. The town of Nice has panoramic sea views and stellar art museums. Cannesis famous for its celebrity film festival and legendary hotels. The best sandy beaches are found in Antibes. Saint-Tropez offers great beaches along with the charm of a Provençal fishing village, while Monaco seduces with its exclusive ambience and stunning scenery.
5 Mont Saint-Michel
Rising dramatically out of the sea on the coast of Normandy, Mont Saint-Michel is one of France’s most striking landmarks. This “Pyramid of the Seas” is a mystical sight, perched on a rocky islet and surrounded by walls and bastions. At high tide, Mont-Saint-Michel is an island. At low tide, it is possible to walk across the sand to the Mont. The main tourist attraction, the Abbaye de Saint-Michel was founded in 708 by the Archbishop Aubert of Avranches after the Archangel Michael appeared to him in a vision. The Abbey is a marvel of medieval architecture with Gothic spires soaring 155 meters above the sea, a sublime sanctuary, and splendid views. Since it was built in the 11th century, the Abbey Church has been an important pilgrimage destination. Because of its soul-inspiring serenity, Mont Saint-Michel is known as “The Heavenly Jerusalem.”
6 Loire Valley Châteaux
Traveling through the Loire Valley feels like turning the pages of a children’s storybook. Throughout the enchanting countryside of woodlands and river valleys are fairy-tale castles complete with moats and turreted towers. The entire area of the Loire Valley, a lush area known as the “Garden of France,” is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Some of the Loire castles are medieval fortresses built on hilltops and surrounded by ramparts. However the most famous Loire châteaux are sumptuous Renaissance castles that were designed purely for enjoyment and entertaining, as an extension of court life outside of Paris. The Château de Chambord, built for King Francis I, is the most magnificent château; Château de Chenonceau has a distinctive feminine style; and Cheverny is a charming manor house in idyllic surroundings.
7 Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Chartres
For more than eight centuries, the magnificence of Chartres Cathedral has inspired the faithful. Some say this breathtaking beauty of Chartres has restored belief in the doubtful. The UNESCO-listed cathedral exemplifies the glory of medieval Gothic architecture. Covering 2,500 square meters, the brilliant stained-glass windows allow colorful light to filter into the vast nave, creating an ethereal effect. Many windows date from the 13th century; all reveal the incredible craftsmanship in depicting biblical stories. The rose windows are especially noteworthy for their incredible size and details. Other highlights are the Passion window, one of the most original in its style and expression, and the Blue Virgin window that dates from the 12th century. From April through October, Chartres puts on a spectacular light show illuminating the cathedral at night.
Provence is a gorgeous landscape of olive groves, sun-drenched rolling hills, and deep purple lavender fields, with little villages nestled in the valleys and perched on rocky outcrops. The vibrant scenery has enchanted many famous artists, including Cézanne, Matisse, Chagall, and Picasso. Provence is a perfect blend of rustic natural beauty and country charm where the art de vivre is a way of life. Take leisurely strolls along the cobblestone streets and bask on sunny terraces of outdoor cafés. Visit the colorful open-air markets and savor the delicious cuisine based on olive oil, vegetables, and aromatic herbs. Aix-en-Provence is the most important market town.Arles has fascinating ancient ruins and traditional festivals. Avignon was the medieval city of popes. Even the tiny villages, like Saint-Paul-de-Vence, Saint-Rémy, and Gordes, have amazing historic sites, fantastic museums, and an irresistibly quaint ambience.
The awesome spectacle of Mont Blanc in the French Alps is an unforgettable sight. The highest mountain peak in Europe, Mont Blanc forms part of the French border with Italy. Mont Blanc, “White Mountain,” soars to 4,810 meters, so high that it’s always blanketed in snow. Beneath its heavenly peak is the traditional alpine village of Chamonix, nestled in a high-mountain valley. This quaint little town is filled with historic churches, cozy chalet restaurants, and charming auberges. Chamonix is a great base for skiing, hiking, rock climbing, and outdoor adventures, or just relaxing. Soak up the serene scenery and listen to the sound of rushing streams. Savor hearty meals of the rustic Savoy cuisine-based on potatoes, cheese, and charcuterie with specialties likefondue and raclette.
10 Prehistoric Cave Paintings in Lascaux
Visitors can delve into the fascinating world of prehistoric art in Lascaux, the finest example of Paleolithic art in the world. This UNESCO-listed site is in the Vézère Valley of the Dordogne region. Discovered in 1940, the Lascaux Cave contains exquisite prehistoric paintings but has been closed to the public to prevent damage. A replica of the cave was created at the nearby Lascaux II site, 200 meters from the actual cave. Lascaux II is a faithful reproduction of the cave and its paintings. The Paleolithic art has been carefully recreated, including every detail of the animal paintings in authentic ochre hues. Highlights are the Salle des Taureaux (Hall of the Bulls) with panels featuring unicorns and bears and the Diverticule Axial, a narrow 30-meter-long hall with impressive drawings of bulls, cows, and horses. The art reproductions of Lascaux II are so accurate that visitors would not be able to tell the difference from the original.