France is cuisine and couture, art and architecture, glamour and grandeur, all of which are part of everyday life for the French, so you too can experience them with the same nonchalance. Sip a café at a café where Camus or de Beauvoir once wrote or compare Monet’s water lilies at his home with his paintings of them at museums. Window-shop at Tissot, Guerlain or Peugeot on the Champs-Élysées, take a sunglass-tinted stroll on the Promenade des Anglais in Nice and pair a Cabernet with camembert at a wine bar, bistro or a château surrounded by vineyards. The list of quintessentially French experiences is endless, just take your pick, et voilá, you’ll be experiencing la vie en rose.
It must be said – France has that je ne sais quoi! Paris is the City of Light, the City of Love, the star of films and capital of fashion. The list of must-see sights is longue... the towers of Notre Dame and Eiffel, the Louvre and the Pompidou, Versailles and the châteaux of the Loire, the vineyard-lined hills of Bordeaux and the unforgettable French Riviera, lavender-laden Provence and the underdiscovered delights of Lyon… Not to mention that French cuisine is just as famous as French couture. It can’t be defined, it must be experienced.
Versailles may be the ultimate expression of the lavish lifestyle of kings such as Louis XIV, but that doesn’t make France’s other châteaux any less lovely. Chambord is a mere ‘hunting lodge’ with 440 rooms, moat and towers, while Chenonceau, known for its arched gallery over the water, is the most visited château after Versailles. These are in the Loire Valley, worth a week or two in itself since there are more than 300 châteaux to marvel at here. The posh polish of 21st-century royalty, meanwhile, is on display on the Côte d’Azur, in Cannes, Nice and Monaco. Get a taste of Riviera high life with a walk along the iconic Cannes promenade, La Croisette, and yacht-studded Vieux Port, where even if you don’t get a glimpse of a celebrity, you can feel like one.
There’s of course the other sort of château – the winemaking sort. As in Château Lafite-Rothschild, in which case it refers to a single winery (with or without an actual château), or Châteauneuf-du-Pape, which is a town in southeastern France with its own appellation d'origine contrôlée. Wine connoisseurs may want to choose the Bordeaux region for a tasting tour to charming towns boasting brilliant reds, such as Saint-Émilion, Pomerol and Fronsac. Or head to the Médoc region to see the centuries-old châteaux including Mouton-Rothschild, Latour and Margaux. As for cuisine, don’t worry, it keeps up with the wine in these regions. Foodies should also visit Lyon, the country’s culinary capital, for hearty meals in the signature bouchon restaurant style, or haute cuisine in the tradition of the city’s famous son, renowned chef Paul Bocuse. And did we mention that the Côtes du Rhône wine region is also nearby?
The Louvre, the Musée d’Orsay, the Musée Rodin… it’s impossible to absorb all the art on offer in Paris, but you can try. Fortunately, the Louvre has themed ‘visitor trails’ to scale the 10,000-piece collection down to your size and interest, such as the Masterpieces (Mona Lisa, Liberty Leading the People, et cetera) or the Journey along the Nile. The Musée d’Orsay holds well-known works by Degas, Monet, Renoir and Cézanne, and The Thinker sits in the garden of the Musée Rodin. Not far from Paris, visit Claude Monet’s home and gardens, where his famous water lilies bloom under the familiar green Japanese bridge. In Lyon, meanwhile, peruse Rodin, Monet and Picasso at the Musée des Beaux-Arts, or watch the history of film at the Art Nouveau home of Antoine Lumière, father of the Lumière brothers of motion picture fame. And just walk the streets of Lyon for marvellous murals including the Mur du Cinéma, the seven-storey Fresque des Lyonnais and the Mur des Canuts trompe l’oeil of daily life. What’s more, Chagall, Renoir, Picasso and Matisse all enjoyed the sun and streets of the French Riviera, so take a break from the beach to wander the inner streets of Nice, into museums in villas and the old town.
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