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First-time France: Where to go and what to do
June 4, 2018, 2:40 pm

France is the world’s top tourist destination and for good reason. There is a lot packed into just one country – artistic and architectural masterpieces, remarkable museums and natural landscapes, and a history harking back far beyond the Romans.

Top it off with fine wine, food and a culinary culture that permeates through every city and small town, and the only hard part is deciding where to go first.

Paris: France’s chic, sexy capital has to be experienced at least once. Mix picture-postcard icons with simple Parisian moments and you will truly fall in love with the city. Scale the Eiffel Tower then walk or cycle along the Seine, or cruise down it on a bateau-mouche. Venerate Notre Dame then grab a post-cathedral café at Café Saint-Régis, ice-cream at Berthillon or super juice at literary café of mythical bookshop Shakespeare & Company. Hit the Louvre then collapse on a bench with a Pierre Hermé macaron in the Tuileries or Palais Royal gardens.

Champagne: This sparkling viticulture region in northern France is all class. Stay in Reims or Épernay to visit Pommery, Mumm, Moët & Chandon and other big-name Champagne houses. In Reims, pick a clear day to scale the tower of the cathedral where dozens of French kings were crowned.

Brittany and Normandy: A wind-buffeted part of northern France, Brittany and Normandy was created especially for outdoor fiends and history buffs with sensational seafood, cliff-top walks, a craggy coastline and ancient sights steeped in lore and legend. Top billing is Mont St-Michel, a magical mysterious abbey-island, best approached barefoot across the sand. Normandy’s time-travel masterpiece is the Bayeux tapestry but it is the heart-wrenching D-Day beaches and WWII war cemeteries nearby that will really take you back to a moment in history.

Provence: Start with Marseille, a millennia-old port with striking museums and coastline straight off a film set. Inland, zoom in on glorious Roman amphitheaters and aqueducts in Nîmes, Orange and at the Pont du Gard. Drive past lavender fields and cherry orchards to hilltop villages and food markets in the bucolic Luberon and Vaucluse regions. The peak of Mont Ventoux (a cyclist's paradise) and the Gorges du Verdon, Europe’s deepest canyon with 800m sheer-drop cliffs and startling emerald green water are a must visit.

French Alps: These are one massive outdoor playground, which pumps during the ski season when insanely challenging slopes and trails entice adrenalin junkies from everywhere. Europe’s highest peak, Mont Blanc, prevails and party town Chamonix is the place to get up close to its might and majesty – the mountain panorama from the top of the Aiguille du Midi cable car is the best there is, whatever the season.

Loire Valley: Stunning châteaux are scattered around the lush Loire Valley. Château de Blois with its whistle-stop tour of French architecture, and classical Château de Cheverny where the spectacle of the dogs having dinner steals the show, is the perfect one-day combo. In summer put the gardens at Château de Villandry and Château d’Azay-le-Rideau after dark on your hit list.

French Riviera: This strip of seashore on the big blue Med has it all – hence half the world crowding it out in summer. The seaside town of Nice is the queen of the Riviera with its cutting-edge art museums, belle époque architecture, pebble beaches and legendary promenade. Glitzy day trips trail film stars in Cannes, Formula One drivers in Monaco, and hobnobbing celebs ‘n socialites in St-Tropez. Sensational coastal views make the drive along the three coastal roads from Nice to Menton an absolute must.


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