France

Must see locations, events and places to travel and enjoy in France.

The Sweet Nostalgia Of A Long-Lost Paris

Flower shops and bistros thrive cheek by jowl along die Rue Lepic, gateway to Paris’s neon-dappled hilltop village of Montmartre. Late into the night, the griddle-hiss from burger joints is a siren call to bar-crawlers. One classic hang-out is the Cafe des Deux Moulins (‘Two Windmills Cafe’). Festooned with fairy lights, this invitingly gaudy corner spot has undergone remodelling since its starring role in Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s smash hit Amalie (2001).

A coy celebration of Montmartre’s bijou eccentricity and leafy charm as an artists’ haven, the film made an instant star of Audrey Tautou, who played the titular lovelorn waitress. Her face peeks knowingly from a comer display inside Deox Moulins, while the cafe’s ceiling emulates the texture of a Belgian waffle. From breakfast till the 2am close, the pink banquettes are filled with young bohemian couples, who eat crepes and watch the world go by.

Moulin Rouge

Moulin Rouge

Just downhill is its veteran namesake the Moulin Rouge, the notorious cabaret venue marked by a red windmill on its roof. Birthplace of the classic can-can, it has given its name to a half-dozen films: John Huston’s 1952 drama is a stuffy granddad to Baz Luhrmann’s 2001 extravaganza, which had Nicole Kidman’s consumptive courtesan swinging from the rafters. These days, clustered around myriad tables set with lamps and buckets of house champagne, audiences enjoy a show so mad and multi-coloured it regularly feels like an absinthe hallucination. During countless costume changes full-stage choreography gives way to circus interludes: whirling podium dances with ropes have you fearing for the performers’ safety, but they never put a foot out of place. The Moulin Rouge can’t be accused of resting on its laurels, so much as fluffing them up and wearing them as a headdress three times nightly.

Paris On Film: Where Cinema Was Born

Hollywood directors have long grasped the luminous romantic appeal of Paris. The Seine was turned into a set when MGM made its studio musical An American in Paris (1951), recreating the cobbled riverside walk along the Quai de Montebello for Gene Kelly and Leslie Caron to dance along at night. Even mid-afternoon a rare solitude holds sway on this charmed stretch, where usually the only sound is the echo of your footsteps. A few steps away is the spot for a reunion between the paramours in Before Sunset (2004), This is Shakespeare and Company, a much-cherished, delightfully ramshackle bookshop where Ethan Hawke’s Jesse begins the him with a signing of his novel.

The shop’s curators delight in books as objects, including Art Deco-embossed reprints of F Scott Fitzgerald. Upstairs, visitors take turns to entertain each other on an obdurate upright piano, while in the poetry comer a box labelled Lonely Hearts and Missed Connections contains tiny outpourings of the heart on scraps of paper and old receipts. ‘Mon cher Noam,’ reads one. ‘Ever waiting for the day you come back to me.’

The Pantheon, Rome

The Pantheon, Rome

The Pantheon – a Neoclassical church-turned-mausoleum – is king of the hill in this part of town. Crouching behind it is the smaller and older church of Saint-Etienne-du-Mont. The comer entrance betrays none of its cinematic status. A passer-by might perch outside to peer at a map, unaware that on these steps, Owen Wilson sat awaiting his nightly lift in Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris (2011), to be whisked back by antique car to the demi-monde of the 1920s.

The five-star Hotel Scribe, near the Palais Gamier opera house, was a cafe back in the days of the Lumieres, when they premiered their first filmmaking experiments in 1895. Crystal chandeliers abound, and the lobby’s fireside armchairs look built for giants. This was used as the residence of Meryl Streep’s Miranda Priestley, during the fashion-week section of The Devil Wears Prada (2006).

That film found an ideal venue for the week’s climactic party, at the Musee de la Mode, Paris’s fashion museum housed in the 19th-century Palais Galliera. Sculpted in white stone, the colonnaded building showcases dazzling designs from the likes of Sonia Rykiel, Yves Saint Laurent and Christian Lacroix, many of them him outfits worn by stars like Catherine Deneuve and Audrey Hepburn.

Hotel Scrib View

Hotel Scrib View

The Eiffel Tower got a prominent billing in the Bond film A View to a Kill (1985) – Grace Jones’s ferocious May Day jumped off it in a black ninja costume, her parachute somehow concealed. The restaurant inside, where she assassinates Roger Moore’s dining companion using a poisoned fishhook concealed in a butterfly puppet, is listed in the credits, erroneously, as Le Jules Verne, on the tower’s second floor. In fact, it must have been shot elsewhere, since the Verne’s three kidney-shaped rooms around the perimeter don’t even slightly resemble the establishment on screen. Mid-afternoon, business lunchers eke out their coffee before the pristine white tablecloths are reset for dinner. Although not the view to a kill, it does have a killer view – you’ll need to book three months ahead for the possibility of a window table.

Christopher Nolan’s Inception (2010) invents a city of dreams. The architecture student played by Ellen Page is meant to design a series of levels inside the mind of a sleeping target, but needs to be shown a simulation first: enter Paris. At the Pont de Bir-Hakeim, now regularly referred to as the ‘Inception Bridge’, the film creates an endless vista by swinging two giant mirrors closed, so that its metal colonnades go on forever. Alas, this isn’t an everyday feature of this cultish meeting place, which on a typical afternoon serves as a backdrop mostly for street performers and newlyweds’ photoshoots.

Life Is A Cabaret Through The Eyes Of Europe

Live At Zedel, London – Keeping up Soho’s reputation for late-night adult entertainment, The Crazy Coqs hosts a range of nightly acts in its original Art Deco hall. Its latest, innovative programme includes jazz vocalists, illusionists and comedians, alongside showgirls and drag artists. Classic cocktails, such as gin fizz, add to the period ambience.

Live-At-Zedel

Live At Zedel, London

Au Lapin Agile, Paris – Immortalised in Toulouse-Lautrec posters and Picasso paintings, Au Lapin Agile has been the grande dame of the Paris cabaret scene for more than a century. Don’t expect can-can dancers though – a night at this Montmartre institution means traditional French songs accompanied by piano or the wistful lilt of an accordion.

Kleine Nachtrevue, Berlin – Recapturing the hedonistic atmosphere of ’20s Berlin, the Kleine Nachtrevue has been used as a location for many films. This intimate theatre specialises in burlesque shows featuring dark humour, acrobatics and liberal amounts of nudity. A bar and dancefloor lets the good times continue after the performance.

corsica-featured

Rural Corsica – France

Jutting out of the Med like an impregnable fortress, this French island is beloved for its beaches but also has saw tooth peaks, pretty valleys, dense forests and enigmatic villages.

Villages

SARTÈNE

SARTÈNE

With its grey granite houses, secretive dead-end alleys and sombre, introspective air, Sartene has long been said to encapsulate Corsica’s rugged spirit. There’s no doubt that it feels a long way from the glitter of the Corsican coast; the hillside houses are endearingly ramshackle and life still crawls along at a traditional tilt. It offers a much more convincing glimpse of how life was lived in rural Corsica.

OTA & ÉVISA

OTA-&-ÉVISA

High up in the hills above Porto, the villages of Ota and Evisa make a fabulous day trip. Ota is quiet, mountainous and unperturbed by the ebb and flow of seasonal visitors. Further up the mountain on the D84, Evisa is a trekking hotspot. It’s also known for its chestnuts, which are turned into flour, jam and candied sweets. The scenic and informative Sentier des Chataigniers (Chestnut Trail) crosses some of the village’s groves; find the start opposite local restaurant A Tramula.

STRADA DI L’ARTIGIANI

STRADA-DI-L'ARTIGIANI

This signposted route links the Balagne region’s most attractive villages, and details workshops of artisans inspired by the hinterland. Particularly charming is Pigna, a mirage of burnt-orange rooftops and blue-shuttered houses, just over four miles south of Tie Rousse via the D1 51. Artisan workshops are scattered among the sweet cobbled streets both here and in the hamlet of Sant’Antonino, a little further south along the D151.

Landscapes

VALLEE DU TAVIGNANO

passerelle-de-rossolino

Passerelle de Rossolino footbridge

Corsica’s deepest gorge is an off-the-beaten-track wonderland only accessible on foot, despite being on Corte’s doorstep. From the town, a signposted track leads to the Passerelle de Rossolino footbridge, idyllic for picnics and dips in natural pools. The valley can also be explored on horseback; enquire at local b&b L’Albadu.

AIGUILLES DE BAVELLA

AIGUILLES-DE-BAVELLA

L’Alta Rocca, north of Porto-Vecchio, is a world away from the bling-bling and bustle of the coast. It’s a wilderness-like mix of dense, evergreen-deciduous forests and granite villages strung over rocky ledges. The jagged red peaks of the Aiguilles de Bavella (Bavella Needles) jab the skyline at more than 1,600m. This is one of Corsica’s most iconic landscapes, as well as being prime walking and climbing territory.

FORET DE VIZZAVONA

cascades-des-anglais-vizzavona

The Cascades des Anglais at Vizzavona is a good picnic spot

South of Corte, the cool mountain hamlet of Vizzavona is a mere cluster of houses around a train station, and an ideal base for exploring the Fork de Vizzavona. Here, 1,633 hectares are covered by beech and laricio pines, and threaded with lots of excellent hikes. Look for the signpost to a short, gentle path that meanders down through beautiful forest to Cascades des Anglais, a sequence of gleaming waterfalls.

Country cuisine

HÔTEL-RESTAURANT LA CORNICHE

HÔTEL-RESTAURANT-LA-CORNICHE

A bouqet of salad levaes at Hotel-Restaurant La Corniche

Perched in the hilltop village of San Martino di Lota, La Corniche is close to the Cap Corsewilderness. Family-run since 1934, it woos travellers with a fabulous location and locally sourced food such as fish soup or ravioli with Brocciu cheese. A CASARELLA

Flee the coastal hullabaloo at this lunch place in the Balagne interior, down a serpentine country road that trails countless valleys. A Casarella is a gorgeous informal eatery with tiered terraces and fine views. The menu features tapas-sized local charcuterie and cheese, along with a salad of the day and a wide-ranging drinks selection.

AUBERGE DU COL DE BAVELLA

AUBERGE-DU-COL-DE-BAVELLA

This rustic roadside inn near the summit of Col de Bavella is the spot to slake post-hiking hunger. Here you can feast on roasted baby goat, wild-boar stew and other hearty Corsican food, and there’s a particularly welcoming fireplace for cooler days. If you’re staying overnight, the auberge also has swish dorms.

A CASARELLA

A-CASARELLA

Flee the coastal hullabaloo at this lunch place in the Balagne interior, down a serpentine country road that trails countless valleys. A Casarella is a gorgeous informal eatery with tiered terraces and fine views. The menu features tapas-sized local charcuterie and cheese, along with a salad of the day and a wide-ranging drinks selection.

Essentials

TRANSPORT

Corsica has four airports but the two main ones for UK arrivals are Ajaccio and Bastia, both of which are sewed by easyJet with direct flights from around April to October. Bastia can be reached from Manchester and London Gatwick, and, with Flybe, from Birmingham and Southampton. Public transport in Corsica only operates between large towns and cities, meaning car hire is a must for rural forays. A detailed road map is indispensable, such as Michelin’s Corse-du-Sud, Haute-Corse, which covers the entire island in a scale of 1 : 150,000.

WHERE TO STAY

camping-les-oliviers

Swap fold-up camping stools for loungers at Camping Les Oliviers

  • Wooden chalets, colourful caravans and campsites are up for rent at Camping Les Oliviers, an idyllic spot near Porto set among overhanging olive trees. The steeply terraced site climaxes with a swimming pool surrounded by rocks.
  • For a taste of rural life, Maison Battisti is a chambre d’hote hidden in a beautiful golden-stone house. Furnishings in this old honey-maker’s workshop charm vintage lovers with historical romance.
  • A boutique farmhouse with a vegetable garden and herd of pigs, thoroughly contemporary. A Pignata has 16 rooms and two family-friendly treehouse cabins. The restaurant is among Corsica’s best.
galeries-lafayette

Les Galeries Lafayette – Paris, France

In Paris, elegance is everywhere. From the architecture and cuisine to the immaculately dressed locals that stroll the leafy Parisian boulevards, the city lives by the watchwords of style, poise and grace, so it’s only right that your shopping experience should be the same.

To describe Les Galeries Lafayette as Paris’s premier department store is to sell the 100 -year old building a little short. Yes, this is the place to go if you’re looking to choose from more than 3,500 carefully selected brands, but Les Galeries Lafayette is an architectural attraction in its own right, a centre for fine-dining and a place-to-be-seen for Parisians. It’s a far cry from its relatively humble origins, having been founded in 1895 as a haberdashery. The owners experienced such success that within 10 years they had commissioned the plans for the current site on regal Boulevard Haussmann. It’s a classic of Art Deco architecture, all grand steel and glass domes, ornate staircases and a light and airy opera-house-like design that turns a day’s shopping into a joyous sensory experience.

MORE THAN A DEPARTMENT STORE

 inside-of-galeries-la-fayette

Galeries Lafayette interior in Paris

Alongside a range of affordable and luxury brands, you’ll find all sorts of extras to enjoy, like an in -store gallery that showcases the very best in international art. Staff are eager to help, with a team of personal shoppers, fashion consultants and beauty therapists ready to advise. When you’ve finished, a concierge service can deliver your new finds to your car or hotel. The food is, perhaps unsurprisingly, superb. You’ll find a 7,500m2 food court, as well as several on-site restaurants to choose from, each with a different take on gourmet cuisine. Sample world-beating sushi at Japanese concept restaurant Paris Tokyo, or traditional French fare with panoramic Parisian views at the rooftop La Terrasse. Don’t miss the 30-minute catwalk show either; held every Friday at 3pm in a private salon. If you see a piece you like, speak to a member of staff and they’ll have it waiting for you at the till. Its yet another example of the elegant service that places Les Galeries Lafayette among the world’s most luxurious shopping experiences.

WIN AN EXCLUSIVE VIP EXPERIENCE

Les Galeries Lafayette is offering you the chance to win an exclusive VIP experience, including a €150 gift card to spend in-store, a VIP welcome and access to a personal shopper. On top of that, every Lonely Planet reader can get entry to the Le Concierge VIP Lounge, which includes concierge service, hotel deliveries, use of the private wi-fi network and fast-track restaurant reservations.

romantic-paris

Paris: Still The Perfect Valentine Destination For You

Paris too obvious a choice for Valentine’s Day? Sure, it’s the de facto capital of cinematic romance, but the French capital has many more petals to its rose than the twinkling lights of the Eiffel Tower. A sidecar tour of Parisian streets brings a fresh (yet vintage) angle on familiar landmarks, with an experienced local driver and guide to keep heart rates down.

moulin-rouge-sidecar

Swing by the Moulin Rouge with a sidecar tour

For a walking-pace option, a personalised tour of the city’s best marches aux paces (flea markets) ups the chances of finding a measured memento from decades past. And at the Idol Hotel, rooms bear names like “My Cherie Amour” but sport interiors that feel closer to the world of Austin Powers than the canvases of Manet and Renoir.

my-cherie-amour

Inside the Idol Hotel’s My Cherie Amour suite.

MAKE IT HAPPEN

Eurostar trains reach Paris Gare du Nord from London St Pancras in 21/2 hours or less, Air France, BA, bmi regional, Cityjet, easyJet, Flybe, Jet2,Transavia and Vueling serve Paris’s Charles de Gaulle and Orly airports from most major UK cities.

brittany-food

Food Tour On Brittany – France

Crêperies

breizh-cafe-galettes

Savoury galettes are a speciality at Cancale’s Breizh Cafe

  •  BREIZH CAFÉ

This creperie is renowned for its gourmet crêpes and galettes made from organic flours. The cappuccino-and-cream decor gives it a fresh, modern feel and the crêpes are really first-class. Where else could you savour a galette stuffed with langoustines and cheese? Wash it all down with a local cider.

  •  LA SAINT-GEORGES

Most crêperies play on the twee old-Breton style, but this one in Rennes takes an eccentric approach. Although it occupies a heritage building, its purple, green and gold furnishings, fluffy carpets and luxurious chairs make the place look more like a glam Ibizan chill-out club. Funky decor is matched by food with an experimental edge, such as crepe with marshmallows.

  • CRÊPERIE AHNA

Run by the same family for four generations and with unusual delights such as galette with duck and snail butter, this place deserves its reputation as one of the best creperies in the quaint walled medieval town of Dinan. It also serves grilled meats and excellent ice creams. Reserve a table in advance if you can, particularly on Saturdays.

Seafood

oysters-cancale

Oysters have been cultivated in Cancale for centuries

  • MARCHÉ AUX HUÎTRES

The idyllic little fishing port of Cancale, near St-Malo, is famed for its oyster beds and seafood at the Marche aux Hares. Locals sell their catch from stalls by the Pointe des Crolles lighthouse. Oysters are numbered according to size and quality: they’ll be shucked, dashed with lemon and served before your eyes – voila, one perfect lunch.

  • LE VIVIER

This convivial eatery is perched on a small cliff on the wave-lashed Cote Sauvage; bookings are essential for the top tables, squeezed onto a sun-trap terrace hovering above the rocky coastline. The menu is unpretentious – salads, mussels and smoked fish – and you couldn’t ask for a better spot when the sun is shining.

  • TY KORN

On day-trippers’ favourite lle d’Ouessant, Ty Korn has a ground-floor bar serving Breton black-wheat beers and an excellent restaurant upstairs where seafood is a speciality. Save room for the divine tiramisu breton – biscuit with apples, mascarpone and salted caramel sauce.

Bistros

atelier-des-gourmets

L’Atelier des Gourmets, in Rennes, focuses on seasonal produce

  • LE BISTRO DE JEAN

The enthralling mast-filled port town of St-Malo and its historic walled core is a beautiful spot. Peer through the windows of this lively bistro and you’ll see it’s packed with loyal regulars. The flavourful cuisine includes duck breast, lamb shanks and sea bass.

  •  L’ATELIER DES GOURMETS

Rennes has no shortage of cooking talent yet the chef at this smart bistro is still managing to garner serious accolades. L’Atelier is a hidden institution, adeptly blending the best of high-end bistro fare with solid regional cuisine. It’s good value, too.

  • LE MUTIN GOURMAND

This restaurant in Crozon is one of the region’s top gourmet experiences, with an intimate dining room and delicious cuisine. For a more affordable option, head to the annexe nearby where you’ll find lunch from £13.50 at Le Bistrot du Mutin.

Brittany essentials

  • TRANSPORT

It is relatively easy to get to Brittany. From Singapore, fly Air France with one stopover in Paris. For those flying from Kuala Lumpur, Air France will fly to Amsterdam first, then Paris, before heading to Brittany.

Brittany’s bus network is broad but infrequent, meaning that having your own wheels is the best option. Expect to pay about US$90 per day for car rental from Europcar, which has pick-ups directly at Brest Bretagne Airport.

  • WHERE TO STAY
la-roulotte-kastell-inn

La Roulotte, fitted with shower and heating, at Kastell Dinn

A quirky little hideaway just outside Crozon, Kastell Dinn offers accommodation in decommissioned fishing boats, a roulotte (caravan) and a traditional Breton longere, or long house.

Le Keo adds a touch of glamour to Ile d’Ouessant, with four individually decorated rooms in a coolly refurbished townhouse. One features a traditional lit clos (enclosed bed), and two have sea views.

Plume au Vent, a two-room b&b in Carnac town centre, exudes class with mellow shades, hundreds of neatly bound books, knick-knacks, and polished cement showers and sinks.

The know-how

  • THE GREAT BRETON MENU
kouign-amann

Kouign amman, a breton traditional cake

Brittany is a paradise for seafood lovers and you’ll find lobster, scallops, sea bass, turbot and mussels, as well as oysters from Cancale.

Kids will love eating crepes, ubiquitous in the region, and galettes— a traditional savoury buckwheat pancake.

Apple-rich cider is a Breton speciality, too. Pair une bolee (a stubby terracotta goblet) with a crêpe or galette and your taste buds will enter gourmet heaven.

Also on the drinks menu, you’ll find local beer Coreff; lait ribot (fermented milk); and chouchen, an aperitif of fermented honey liqueur.

Breton butter naturally goes into crêpes, galettes and the outrageously a buttery Breton cake — kouign amann.

wines-of-champagne

Wines of Champagne – Reims and Epernay, France

Wine education

musee-de-la-vigne-et-du-vin

MUSEE DE LAVIGNE ET DU VIN

  •  MUSEE DE LAVIGNE ET DU VIN

This outstanding wine museum, in the comely village of Le Mesnil-sur-Oger, belongs to the Launois family, champagne-makers since 1872. It displays a collection of century-old winery equipment. Two-hour tours run in French and English.

  • CHAMPAGNE DOMI MOREAU

Nathalie and Max run scenic and insightful three-hour minibus tours (in French and English) of their vineyard in Mancy, outside Epernay, passing through local villages, getting among the vines and then finishing with a tasting back at their house. The pick-up point is in Epernay; they can also organise self-guided cycling tours.

  • VILLA BISSINGER

You can try champagne anywhere but if you want to know more, Villa Bissinger near Epernay, home to the International Institute for the Wines of Champagne, runs an informative two-hour workshop (in French). Besides covering the basics such as names, producers, grape varieties and characteristics, the workshop includes a tasting of four different champagnes.

Cellar tours:

taittinger

Champagne bottles in ‘pupitres’ (wooden racks) at Taittinger

  • MUMM

Pronounced `moom’, Mumm is a convenient tasting stop in central Reims, founded in 1827. Engaging and edifying guided tours take you through cellars filled with 25 million bottles of fine bubbly and conclude with a tasting.

  • TAITTINGER

The headquarters of Taittinger are an excellent place to see a clear presentation on how champagne is made. Parts of the cellars, now Unesco-listed, were 4th-century Roman stone quarries; other bits were dug by 13th-century monks. The maison is a mile southeast of central Reims .

  • EPERNAY’S AVENUE DU CHAMPAGNE

This handsome street in the region’s champagne capital is lined with mansions and maisons de champagne. Moet & Chandon and Mercier are both based here; the tours at Moet are impressive, offering a peek into its 17-mile labyrinth of cellars

Food and champagne:

c-comme

A platter of local cheeses to go with champagne at C.Comme

  • C.COMME

There’s a relaxed ambience at this champagne bar in Epernay, which offers tasting plates and a stash of 350 varieties of champagne in its cellar ready for sampling. The bar-bistro is kitted out with funky bottle-top tables, and plates include rillettes (pâté), regional cheese and charcuterie.

  • LA CAVE A CHAMPAGNE

“The Champagne Cellar” is rated by locals for its champenoise cuisine – such as snail and pig’s trotter casserole, and fillet of beef in pinot noir – served in a warm, traditional atmosphere in Epernay.

  • PATISSERIE VINCENT DALLET

This sweet dream of a chocolaterie, patisserie and tearoom is the place to come for a champenoise speciality called the ‘Baba’ – vanilla cream topped by a cork-shaped pastry flavoured with champagne.

Champagne essentials:

  • TRANSPORT

There are no direct flights to the Champagne region, but it’s around 2’/2-3 hours’ drive from Calais and is easily reached from Paris and its airports. Trains run from Paris Gare de L’Est to Reims in less than an hour and to Epernay in about 11/2 hours (US$47). Direct trains also run between these two regional hub towns (US$15; 22-42 minutes). The best way to get to Troyes is by bus from Reims. To explore the countryside and wine-growing villages you’ll need a car: Hertz has a base in Reims and Europcar is in Epernay.

  • WHERE TO STAY
les-crayeres-room

One of 20 classically decorated guestrooms in Les Crayeres

Hotel Les Comtes de Champagne is ensconced in a trio of pastel-hued 16th-century half-timbered houses in Troyes, in the south of the region. Its bright courtyard lobby and flower boxes give it a lovely feel, and there’s a 12th-century cellar.

Sitting handsomely beside the Avenue de Champagne in Epernay in grounds with an outdoor pool, La Villa Eugene is a class act. This beautiful 19th-century mansion once belonged to the Mercier family.

To sip champagne in the lap of luxury, book into Les Crayeres on the fringes of Reims. Manicured lawns sweep to this graceful château, where you can dine in Michelin-starred finery.

The know-how:

champagne

  • Champagne Savoir-Faire:

Blanc de Blancs: Champagne made using only chardonnay grapes. Fresh and elegant with a bouquet reminiscent of fruits such as pear and plum.

Blanc de Noirs: A full-bodied, deep golden champagne made solely with black grapes (pinot noir or pinot meunier). Often rich and refined, with great complexity and a long finish.

Rose: Pink champagne (mostly served as an aperitif), with a fresh character and summer-fruit flavours. Made by adding a small percentage of red pinot noir to white champagne.

Prestige Cuvee: Usually made with grapes from top-classed grand cru vineyards, and priced and bottled accordingly.

Millesime: Vintage champagne produced from a single crop during an exceptional year. Most champagne is non-vintage.

France By The Ferry: Outstanding Views And Relaxation

“A cinema? On a boat?” Kids can pick up on the most innocuous details. But I’m grateful, all the same. Trying to get them enthused about being on a ship for several hours requires an incentive. My childhood holidays invariably involved ferries (flying was remarkably expensive in the ’80s), so taking the car across the Channel seems a natural thing to do with kids of a certain age — sharing the adventurBrittany-Ferries-Cinemae with t hem, rather than sharing a toddler’s tantrums with everyone else. There’s also a certain luxury in having all your usual items to hand, plus the comfy familiarity of your own car — even if you still get lost in confusing one way systems and can’t tune the radio.

One of the challenges of family travel is the cost, and part of the desire to take the ferry to France was also to prove that a week away for a family of four in August can be done for under £1,000 — rather than the four-figure prices often quoted. A short hop from Portsmouth over to Cherbourg (the cinema is on the return leg) means a brief overnight stay in the surprisingly pretty port town (advance rates at the modern, comfortable Hotel Mercure Cherbourg Centre Port are also surprisingly reasonable), and the opportunity to visit Mont Saint-Michel en route the next day. This is one of Europe’s most stunning sights, at the point where Normandy and Brittany merge, the medieval monastery atop a granite island entrances the kids with its fairytale castle quality.

A couple of hours’ drive south and we arrive in Arzon as the sun’s setting. It sits at the tip of the Rhuys Peninsula, in the Gulf of Morbihan. There’s a sense of warmth and calm here — a pace of life that reflects the milder climate and the seasonal visitors looking fora bit of R&R. Along this Atlantic coast, there are beautiful, sweeping, often-deserted beaches. Coastal walks, bike hire, sailing and other watersports are also draws, and our base in Port du Crouesty is home to a wealth of yacht sand motorboats.

Pierre & Vacances Port du Crouesty Holiday Village

Pierre & Vacances Port du Crouesty Holiday Village

Our accommodation at the Pierre & Vacances Port du Crouesty Holiday Village is a little basic but we’re blessed with blue skies and temperatures in the high 20s. The resort is great for kids — we have a playground 30 seconds from our apartment, while the pool and beach are less than five minutes away. And if you know kids under the age of 10, you’ll know all they want to do most of the time on holiday is splash about in the water. There’s plenty to explore — Chateau de Suscinio, the ramparts in Vannes, Musee de Prehistoire de Carnac… we even head to Nantes for the day to delight/scare the kids with the city’s famous Grand Elephant at the spectacular Les Machines de Pile. Be warned, the enormous mechanical wooden pachyderm requires advance booking if you want a ride.

More often than not, though, we go from the pool to the beach to the harbour and back to the pool. The restaurants, patisseries and ice cream parlours a constant draw — mussels and oysters are inescapable while cider, not wine, is the Breton way. We’re not complaining. But after all that, the cinema on the ferry home still holds as much fascination as it had at the start of the journey. It doesn’t take much, sometimes.

Exploring France In A Brand New Way

Overnight, an ocean has appeared under our window. Late arrivals with kids in tow are always disorienting, but dark as it’d been — the sort of deep, countryside dark that has shape and mass — I’m pretty sure our hilltop chalet (several hours from the coast) isn’t surrounded by water. And yet there it is, lapping at our balcony: a silvery lake stretching across the valley. Not a mirage — this mountainous part of inland France never gets that head-spinningly hot — but a dazzling optical illusion that causes each of oParisur days in the Tarn legion to begin with a sharp intake of breath followed by a deep, meditative ‘ahhhhh’. Trebas-les-bains is exemplary Tarn Valley terrain. Here, where mountains rise sharply off densely wooded riverbanks, morning temperature inversions cause the valley to be enveloped in a thick mist, which soon burns off to reveal a scattering of stone houses that just about qualifies as a town — and not many tourists. France’s beaches tempt most of its holidaying population, leaving this verdant river valley of farmland and beautiful medieval bastides (fortified towns) to the outdoors-loving Northern Europeans who travel here because no one else does.

“Why is it called Trebas, when it’s so high?” demands French-speaking Mia, as we climb slowly into the mountains on rental bikes the next morning. At points, it’s certainly not tres has (very low), she’s right, but for every up there’s a freewheeling down, roads cutting shady tunnels through woodland, grass verges releasing clouds of mint aroma as our wheels brush past.

Tarn Valley

Tarn Valley

From Les Magnolia’s, a hotel in truly pleasant Plaisance, we hire bikes, admiring but not tackling this village piled vertically up the banks of the Ranee River, ivy-clad houses set into the rocks. But from here on, virtually car-free roads make for easy pedaling. We pull over at an apple orchard here, a natural spring there, to refill water bottles, test legs and let the odd tractor pass, whose rumbling approach is audible long before it arrives in these tranquil green hills. At Villeneuve-sur-Tarn, the road skirts the water, butterflies and herons wheeling overhead. The Tarn’s fortified towns, we decide, are at t heir most impressive straddling the water as they do at Villeneuve and neighbouring Ambialet and Brousse-le-Château. Bastions against English invasion, they were built at a time when the Vatican encouraged crusades to rid the region of Cathar heretics.

The Tarn’s most postcard perfect village, Brousse-le-Château, comprises a series of stone houses stacked staircase-like up a narrow gorge, topped with a castle museum. Here, kids can try on medieval armour, learn about a captured princess and peer down through a floor grating into a deep, well like prison cell. “This is eeeeasy,” says Ella, when we exchange peddle for paddle power the next day. Shallow, steadily moving waters make the River Tarn a travelator for kayakers, leaving kids with hands free to trail through its mini rapids. Between villages, the river is delightfully devoid of shops or man-made distractions. The six-mile stretch from Trebas to Ambialet takes us much of the day, with plenty of pauses for picnics on tree-shaded river and lake beaches.

Les Magnolia’s

Les Magnolia’s

But with days spent kayaking, swimming, biking and — on the crystal-clear lake in the mountain village of Villefranche-de-Panat — powering a pedalo, appetites are not sated by picnic alone. “It’s caveman food!” exclaims Ella, tackling a vast platter of rough-cut charcuterie. We’re dining on the trellis-topped terrace at La Chanterelle, on the outskirts of Trebas. Inside, the scene is more medieval than primeval — hunks of meat braising on an open fire. Like so many of the Tarn’s restaurants, unfussy presentation and hearty portions reign supreme here. Rustic fare it may be, but some of France’s most prized farms furnish the Tarn’s tables. Evidence of this can be heard mooing and bleating in the fields raked along the valley; doe-eyed cows that produce a rosy veal that lures top Italian chefs across the border, and sheep whose milk is made locally into the cheese that becomes a legendary blue in the caves of Roquefort, 60 miles away.

Both Roquefort and Albi (a UNESCO World Heritage Sit e) are easy day trips from Trebas, but we don’t want to break the Tarn’s tranquil spell. Instead, we climb again into the mountains, to Ferme de Peyrouse, a family-run farm where kids can take tractor rides, feed chickens and commune with those doe-eyed cows. Afterwards, in the barn-cum-restaurant, Ella sits transfixed, watching aligot being made. The cheesy, creamy, buttery mash potato mixture is stretched like elastic dough, a metre above a tin bath-size pan, before being served. Ella, whose birdlike appetite is infamous, eats two huge bowls topped with steak hache (premium beef burger). “Mmmm,” she says, rubbing her swollen tummy. “I want to make this at home.” Reliant on the unique potatoes, milk and cheese produced in this verdant valley, aligot is among the many things I think we’ll simply have to come back to the Tarn.