France has so much to offer, from the beaches of Normandy to the beaches of the French Riveriera, to wine regions galore, and the most stunning lavender fields! There's truly something for everyone. We've been lucky enough to travel around and enjoy the different areas in our time here, but we still haven't been to all the regions. I'm hoping we'll make it to Bordeaux this fall for a quick weekend trip (after all, there's a fast train that will get you there in about 2 hours!). As we continue to learn more about France, we'll share our experiences with you. My goal is to work on creating a blog post for each of these locations below because we have visited, and at the very least, have some inspiration images to share with you. Enjoy planning your travels!
During our first trip to France in 2010 we spent a few days in Beaune, Burgundy. To be honest, that trip and the lovely couple we met at our Bed and Breakfast are part of the reason we said yes to moving to France. We rented bikes and rode through the vineyards for about 15-20 miles to the South. The next time we returned, we rented electric bikes and went twice as far to the North. It was a beautiful way to truly take it all in! Of course we stopped for wine tours and tastings along the way. If you stay in Beaune of course check out Hospices de Beaune Museum . It's roof has become one of the symbols of Burgundy. And our gem of a place for your accommodations is here: L'Octroi St. Jacques . *They do not speak English, but if you are nice people, you'll get along just fine. ;)
We've only been skiing a handful of times, but we managed to do pretty well in Chamonix...on their bunny slope! We only ended up with one day to ski due to weather, but next time we will take a lesson so that we can ski more. We did attempt one of the main lines, but it was a little icy from rain the day before. However, wow! It was really amazing!!! For our travels there we flew to Geneva and then hired a shuttle to take us into Chamonix. We stayed in town and were able to walk where we needed to go. There were also buses available to go to other ski areas. With only three days there, we did not have enough time, we want to go back! The Aiguille du Midi is definitely worth it. To get to it you'll take the highest vertical ascent cable car in the world! It wasn't too scary, and I do get nervous in those situations. We actually got to see an avalanche while we were halfway up at the rest area. If you're in Paris for the holidays, a ski trip to Chamonix after would be the icing on the cake for a spectacular holiday trip.
Did you know that the Champagne region is only about 30 minutes from Paris by train?! Indeed it is! And that's why if you love champagne this is a must do while you're here in Paris. There are plenty of tours you can book as well if you're looking for a turn key experience. We're working on a direct reference for you, and hope to add one soon. :)
If traveling there by train on your own, don't make the mistake we made and take the Champagne Ardeche stop, make sure to either go to Reims or Epernay for all the action and ease of moving around. We stayed in Reims our second time to Champagne, and took the train over to Epernay, only about 20 minutes.
Our favorite Champagne Houses thus far would be as follows:
Le Pommery - one of the best cave tours
Mercier - an a ffordable champagne for most, the caves are expansive, you'll actually ride in train like cars for your tour.
G.H. Mumm - good o verall information of champagne
Krug is one of our favorite champagnes, but when we stopped by the House there were not any tours, but if you find this on a tasting menu and you aren't familiar, definitely try it!
The larger champagne houses need to be booked well in advance - Dom Perignon, Veuve Clicquot, etc. because even though there are many time slots throughout the day, only five are maybe in English for instance.
A few of our favorite restaurants...
Le Foch - in Reims, near train station
Le Millionaire - Michelin Restaurant that is delicious and very well priced
Le Theatre - in Epernay, also near train station
On our last afternoon in town we found a lovely shop with tastings, and they spoke English, even better! :)
Known for the view you see here. The white chalky cliffs are well worth the climb. We actually hiked both sides, and enjoyed both. We walked further on the cliff you see in this photo and had more spectacular views past this one. We visited in June while Paris was suffering a heat wave, but by the time we got to Etrétat we were cold! It was too cold to swim even, so make sure to check the weather. The main attractions here are outdoors, so it's good to plan with good weather if possible. There were lovely gardens we didn't have the chance to tour because it was rainy. The town itself is very quaint and picturesque too. Another notable sea town only 32 km away is Honfleur. If you're traveling by car it would be feasible to visit both places. By train it took us 2.5 hrs from Paris to Etrétat and then a bus ride into the town.
Oh sweet heavenly fields of Provence! There's nothing like them! It really looks like the photos...lavender for as far as the eyes can see! It's peaceful, and you can smell lavender all around you. But beware if you are allergic to bees because the fields are their home, and they are working very hard. We did not bother them, and they did not bother us. :) To travel to Provence from Paris, you can train into several areas, but once there, I would suggest a rental car to get around and take in all the views. The area we found with the most beautiful fields was in Valensole. And in particular the fields of Angelvin . They keep the fields very nicely manicured. As a bonus you can visit their shop and purchase some souvenirs as a thank you for your beautiful photo op.
Other notable mentions in the region...
The town of Gordes is another lovely area to visit. And of course, you'll find plenty of wine and traditional Provencale food in the region. If you have the opportunity to try a real ratatouille in this region, just say yes! The Abbaye Notre Dame de Senanque is well-known and visited by many. When we went it was pretty intense the amount of cars and people trying to come and go. It was pretty, but you couldn't walk within their lavender fields. If you're going more for the Abby part and less for the photo or the lavender then you are less likely to be disappointed.
The South of France, also known as the French Riviera. There is a wide range of diverse budgets throughout this area. From the millionaires of Monaco, to St. Tropez, Cannes, the yachts of Antibes, Nice, Eze, there are so many cities along the coast you can visit. We have been to Nice (pictured here) and we really enjoyed the city and the Old Town area. The bright colors and buildings reminded us a lot of the French Quarter back home in New Orleans. The beach is made up of the big pebbles though, so be prepared for that. We've also stayed in Antibes, and very close to Antibe in Juan Les Pins. We loved the low key atmosphere in Juan Les Pins and their boardwalk area. The beaches were also sand in this area. If you train from Paris it's around 5 hours.
It took us awhile, but we finally had the pleasure of visiting Monet's Gardens. I've had friends go before and experience extremely long lines, so my advice would be to get there early or book a tour that allows you to skip the line. We went in August, which is an ideal time to go and arrived at opening and had no issues at all getting inside. The gardens were beautiful, the flowers insane! I'd love to go with someone that knows flowers and ask about all the different varieties. There were flowers we've never seen before. The house was also nice to tour, and I found a couple new Monet favorites that day while touring the home.
By train it's about 1 hour from Paris, and by car closer to 2 hours, but 45 miles. I'd allow half a day as you'll spend about 2 hours in the gardens/home if going at a normal pace and without too much of a crowd. It doesn't take too long to tour the home. We enjoyed their gift shop as well. I was able to get some very nice coloring books for my nieces.
Chateau de Chantilly is less than 30 minutes by train from Paris, so if you're looking for an easy chateau to visit, this may be your winner! Chantilly is known for it's lace, porcelain, and it's horse racing.
From the train station it's about a 15 minute walk to the chateau give or take depending upon whether you take the walk through town or through the forest. If you're hungry or need a drink/coffee opt for the walk through town.
While we haven't toured the inside of the chateau yet, we hear it is well worth it. The chateau dates back to the French Renaissance period and houses one of the most prestigious art collections in France. We have been to Chantilly a few times and we've swam in the chateaus waters for a triathlon they host each August. If you're a triathlete, or are ready to do your first one, this is a magical place to check that box. This was the location of our first triathlon, and Doug has high goals to win his age group this year! The bonus for us Americans is that an English company runs the Castle Series Triathlons, so there are instructions provided in English on race day, and of course in your emails before the race.
If you prefer to avoid the crowds at the Palace of Versailles, this would be a great substitute as Chateau de Chantilly is thought to have provided inspiration to Marie Antoinette before Palace of Versailles was built.
**Fun fact, Picardy Chantilly Cream, is from Chantilly -- a sweetened, whipped cream. Um, yes please!
We're looking forward to your arrival in Paris and helping make your Paris experience a memorable one that you will cherish forever. We'd love to help you round out your Paris plans with your own customizable Paris photo session. It will be the most treasured souvenir when your trip is complete!