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Must see locations, events and places to travel and enjoy in France.
Must see locations, events and places to travel and enjoy in France.
No trip to Paris is complete without a trip to view its famed cemeteries. Here are just a few to start you on your way
Once littered with the victims of the Reign of Terror, Montmartre is now an oasis of tranquility in one of the city’s most famed districts. Rich in awe-inspiring sculpted tombs and resting place of some legendary Parisians, it is not to be missed.
The largest of these cemeteries is also the world’s most visited. Thousands of visitors flock to it every single day to wander through its 70,000 tombs and pay homage to figures from rockstars to artists to politicians and beyond. No trip to Paris is complete without a stroll through Pere Lachaise.
This iconic and opulent building is famed for its magnificent crypt, where visitors can easily lose a day exploring everything it has to offer. In this neoclassical splendour, some of the greatest names from throughout French history have been laid to rest here including Voltaire, Hugo and the Curies.
When it opened in 1824, Montparnasse was the first cemetery to have been established in Paris in decades. Particularly popular as a burial ground for French and international intellectuals, Montparnasse cemetery is a hugely a popular stop for travellers in the capital.
Though less famous and a lot quieter than some of Paris’s other cemeteries, Passy is no less steeped in history. To add to its beauty, the Eiffel Tower looms over the burial ground. Those laid to rest here include the Debussy, Renault and celebrated American actress and adventuress, Pearl White.
The French Riviera town of Menton welcomes the end of winter with a celebration that involves tonnes and tonnes of sunny, juicy lemons. At the Fete du Citron or Lemon Festival, organised every year in February-March, lemons and other citrons are arranged to create 30-foot-high structures at the town’s Bioves Gardens. Artists and enthusiasts create designs based on the year’s theme, which has ranged from Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea inspired by the Jules Verne novel, to Tribulations of a Lemon in China, a spin-off on a popular French novel. Come nightfall, the orange and yellow structures are illuminated with myriad lights, and often accompanied by sounds to bring the fruity creations to life.
There’s also a parade once a day along the adjacent Promenade du Soleil that lends the festival a carnival air. There’s the Golden Fruits Parade and the nighttime parades, which have extravagantly decorated citrus floats that are sometimes accompanied by dramatic fireworks and followed by brass bands, confetti-showering crowds, and brightly-dressed dancers and performers. The whole town gets into the spirit of the festivities with shops selling citrus-flavoured foods and fragrances among other things.
The viticulture gods do shine down on this UNESCO World Heritage site at the end of June each year. With an architecturally stunning setting and world-famous vineyards surrounding the town, this fabulous festival draws in wine aficionados from all corners of the globe.
You will most certainly not be alone; this shindig is known as one of the biggest wine festivals in the world and while the wine is first and foremost, the four-day fiesta includes barrel-rolling competitions, live music, fireworks displays and sound and light shows each night. That is, of course, if you get tired of all the tippling.
The festival sets up on a two kilometre stretch of road between the historical old town and the river, with a string of tasting pavilions featuring more than 80 appellations from Bordeaux and the Aquitaine region. Make your way to the water.
In the 2016 French barging season, Michael and I barged on our Betty B from Auxerre into Migennes and along the Canal de Bourgogne, accompanied by our barge partners, John and Margaret. This canal is a beautiful stretch of waterway with some lovely, historic and fascinating towns. You might remember that there were floods in northern France in May 2016, so our barging proved to be challenging, dealing with canal and river closures, as well as eclusier (lock keeper) strikes!
Along the route, I fell in love with one town, Saint Florentin and its fabulous Eglise Saint Florentin. We visited it twice, and the second time was just as special as the first.
The township of Saint Florentin overlooks the junction of the Canal de Bourgogne and the Armancon river. From some distance away as you barge toward it, you can see a huge church on top of a hill, as is the norm in France.
We moored on the right bank opposite the marina since the marina mooring was in disrepair. The large, imposing church, which we assumed was a cathedral, towered above us. At night, it’s floodlit and looks glorious bathed in lights.
It rained during the night again, and another grey day dawned. After breakfast, we set off to walk into the Centre Ville of Saint Florentin to find the Sunday market. On the way, the rain started again, lessening the joy of our walk up the hill.
We popped into the Office de Tourisme to inquire about the church and were told we needed to collect the key from the office prior to our visit. We walked past the two antique shops called hrocantes and took a look inside, as I’m always on the lookout for antique French asparagus plates. But no luck. It was then on to shop at the marche convert, a covered market, which we found next to the elaborate, ubiquitous war memorial with its flags and flowers saluting the war dead from WWI and WWII. It’s always sad to see how many young French lives were lost in these tragic wars.
The covered market was a large hall, but the day we visited, there were only a few stall holders. This was possibly owing to the bad weather, but also possibly due to our late arrival around 11:00 a.m.
One stall was devoted to the local cheese, Soumaintrain, made by the cheese-maker at the Ferme Leclere. She told us that this cheese is made in the Yonne Region, called Le Soumaintrain terroir d’Armange, after the local river. 1 was told the Ferme Leclere farm has been making cheese from their Montbeliarde cows since 1984, and the cheese is with the affineur (cheese maker) for maturing for 21 months. It’s a pale yellow to orange color, has a strong smell and soft, fine, creamy texture. It tastes of hazelnuts, champignons and the undergrowth.
We were thrilled to find this artisanal cheese and buy it for our guests arriving in a week’s time.
Since 2008, this farm has also made Le Chaource AOP, another great local cheese and a favorite of ours.
At another stall, the white asparagus looked lovely, so we bought some for dinner. We added some bright red strawberries to the collection, along with a freshly roasted chicken from the rotisserie man, which completed our lunch with the fresh baguettes.
Bordeaux — a name synonymous with fine wines — is a port city on the Garonne River in southwest France. Vineyards first planted here by Romans more than 2000 years ago “seeded” and shaped the city’s economic and cultural identity over centuries. Bordeaux’s location near the Gironde estuary (the largest estuary in Europe) proved ideal for the growth of the wine trade, offering easy access to the Atlantic Ocean.
Due to its unique mix of history, geography and terroir, the surrounding region (also named Bordeaux) now houses more than 8,000 wine-producing chateaux that export some of the best French wines enjoyed throughout the world. These include Sauternes, title of “European Best Destination 2015” in a competition among 20 major cities. In 2017, Bordeaux placed first on Lonely Planet’s list of top cities to visit.
The rundown waterfront area was redeveloped to make it more appealing and pedestrian friendly. Facades of weathered limestone buildings that had blackened with age were cleaned to restore the original patina of their stone. New hotels and restaurants began opening. The now-lively city boasts more than 350 listed buildings of historical significance, ranking second to Paris. A high-speed TGV train service links Bordeaux to Paris.
When we chose our Bordeaux river cruise itinerary, we of course looked forward to being able to tour the city and taste the famous wines of the region in their own terroir. As expected, the wines were poured generously at both lunch and dinner on the ship. They were also featured at various port stops where we heard lectures, attended tastings, and spoke to vintners and wine merchants about the wines of Bordeaux.
However, three extraordinary optional shore excursions not only introduced us to the wines of Bordeaux but also allowed us to “branch out” and explore other epicurean foods and spirits identified with the region, notably Perigord truffles, oysters and cognac.
Sprawling between white limestone hills laced with greenery and the blue hues of the Mediterranean, Marseille shares in the natural beauty that makes the French coastline so appealing. But unlike so many destinations along this stretch of the Med, Marseille isn’t primarily a tourist town, but a working city’ of more than 850,000, the second largest in France. It’s also its oldest, dating back 2,600 years to the Greek port of Massalia.
Not all 26 centuries have been kind. Blighted neighborhoods, crime and a gritty, industrial look kept Marseille from reaching its potential as a destination for visitors, especially cruise passengers.
But the biggest regeneration project in Southern Europe has transformed France’s largest cruise port and a rapidly growing one. Last year more than 1.6 million passengers alighted from cruise ships here, compared to 1.3 million in 2014. Even in tough economic times for tourism, the cruise sector has continued to grow and shows no sign of stopping. Estimates put the number of cruise passengers at 2 million in 2020.
The turnaround began in 1995 with the launch of Euromediterranee, a massive urban renewal project funded by the European Union, France and local governmental bodies. Then Marseille was named a European Capital of Culture of 2013 and more money flowed in.
Passengers on small to mid-size cruise ships lucky enough to dock at J4, one of two cruise ports in Marseille, will see the change right away. The other, larger cruise port six miles north sits in an industrial area, not so pretty to the eye, though the new Marseille Provence Cruise Terminal has brought welcome amenities.
But J4 takes pride of place in the revitalized Joliette neighborhood, walking distance to the heart of the city and next door to one of its newest and most exciting public spaces.
MuCEM, the Museum of European and Mediterranean Civilizations, and C-shaped Villa Mediterranee, with cantilevered exhibition floor and underwater conference center, both opened in 2013. They sit next to one another on a broad public plaza connected by elevated walkway to the 17th-century Fort St-Jean.
MuCEM immediately catches the eye. A black concrete lattice drapes the building’s cube shape like a mantilla. The work of architect Rudy Rcciotti in association with Roland Carta, it houses two exhibit halls, one displaying temporary exhibits, the other a permanent collection of artifacts from Mediterranean civilizations. It’s the first French national museum to be located outside Paris.
From the top of the limestone escarpment, the Canal du Nivernais appeared no wider than a ribbon, the stationary canal barge no bigger than a toy. The only sound was that of the wind in the treetops far below. How strange to think that this forest was once an ancient seabed, and that sharks had slipped by at eye level. Because I was about as far inland as it was possible to be, halfway along the 110 miles of canalised river that bisected Burgundy, connecting the valley of the Seine in France’s north with the valley of the Loire in the south.
My journey had begun a couple of days earlier in the Gallo-Roman city of Auxerre. ‘Welcome to the Randle,’ Captain Tim Harrold had said as I stepped aboard his barge and adjusted to the sensation of being afloat. I felt much as Mole must have done when he was first brought aboard a riverboat by Ratty. ‘It’s traditional to name your boat after your dearest love’. Tim was saying, ‘but Randle named his barge after himself.’ Tim explained how the original owner of the barge had sourced the ship’s wheel, the portholes and the engine from an eclectic array of vessels, ranging from a Scottish herring boat to an ocean cruise liner that had seen action in the Falklands War.
Tim had moored the Randle for the night, and yet there were still several hours till suppertime, so we returned to the quayside and set off to explore Auxeire. Before long, the evening traffic noise was hushed within a complex lace of medieval streets. Pastel-coloured timber-framed homes reminded me of Hansel and Gretel’s gingerbread house. Gardenias, wisteria and roses re ached through cast-iron railings. Chocolate shops and patisseries reflected the confectionery nature of the architecture. A 9th-century abbey and a great Gothic cathedral dominated the skyline. An older Romanesque cathedral still crouched within the walls of the Gothic church. A third church, dedicated to St Pierre en Vallee, rivalled the cathedral with its flying buttresses and tower. As the heat of the day faded, and the daylight with it, the streets began to fill with townspeople.
We dined in the tiny and appropriately named La P’tite Beursaude – one whitewashed, wood-beamed room with a red-terracotta tiled floor – and so small it would have been easy to miss but for the blue painted door and baskets of pink geraniums outside. A waitress wearing traditional Morvan dress, with wide lace sleeves, brought us an amuse bouche of oeufs en meurette – tiny quail’s eggs cooked in bourguignon sauce, and a speciality of the house. Two identical twin men, wearing identical paisley shirts, were applauded by their companions as two identical bowls of steaming snails, cooked in Chablis wine, arrived in front of them.
On our way back to the Randle we stopped at a bar and ordered milky absinthe, while a band dressed in jellabas played French-Moroccan fusion, the bass line performed on a euphonium. As we returned to the quayside, the great cathedral of St Etienne blotted out the stars, its windows glittering with their reflections. The music was still audible from the riverbank, and a trace of cigarette smoke mixed with the improbable scent of candyfloss.
In the morning, I woke to the squeals of starlings as they turned in arcs above the quay. We were moving! The Canal du Nivernais was not a canal in the sense that I was used to. In 1784, the River Yonne’s curves were modified by a system of locks and weir-like barrages to enable the river traffic to reach the higher ground upstream. As a result of this, the canal, for the most part, runs along one bank of the river. Its original function was to carry firewood to Paris, in a process known as flottage du bois, and in its heyday the river was clotted with timber bound into woo den rafts until there was no more wood left to cut. The great forests that surround the river today have sprang up from the stamps of thousands of acres of felled trees. In later years, grain, stone, wine and coal replaced the wood as cargo, although today the only traffic is that of leisure boats.
France – In Epernay built on champagne – quite literally. Some 70 miles of cellars, filled with 200 million bottles, hide under this self-proclaimed capital of bubbly. On the town’s outskirts lies France’s official champagne school, where future masters learn their craft. A full course here takes two years, but members of the public can get a crash course on one of the day workshops.
Under expert guidance, study how champagne is made, discover the secrets of terroir and different grape varieties, and learn how to use sight, smell and taste while sampling 10 different cuvees. Back in town, explore Avenue du Champagne, a boulevard of Neoclassical villas built by the big producing families, and dine at restaurants such as La Cavek Champagne, where typically champenois dishes, including snails and veal in mustard sauce, can be paired with flights of the region’s finest vintages.
Italy – Blending Mediterranean and North African food, Sicilian is among the most distinctive of Italy’s regional cuisines, and the Anna Tasca Lanza Cooking School offers total immersion in the island’s culinary culture. Hosted in a 19th-century stone farmhouse, part of the aristocratic family’s wine estate, the Food and Culture itineraries include classes on how to cook ingredients harvested from the kitchen garden, plus visits to local producers. Depending on the season, guests might visit pizzerias, ricotta cheesemakers and more, but all can expect fantastic meals featuring flavor some local produce.
Spain – Acorn-fed Iberico pigs make Spanish ham the best in the world, and a leg from one of these premium porkers becomes a legitimate souvenir option after completing A Taste of Spain’s Ibarico ham carving course. Under the tutelage of an English-speaking master carver at ham shop Gondiaz, knife-wielding novices learn about the product while whittling off their own slices. Then it’s next door to Restaurante La Mi Venta for tapas dishes including Ibarico cooked over charcoal. Extend your culinary journey with visits to Madrid’s food markets – San Miguel and San Anton have good charcuterie stalls – and to the Museo del Jamon, with its array of ceiling-hung hams.
Combine sightseeing and bistro dining aboard Bustronome, the city’s restaurant on wheels. With a glass roof, the bus-cum-restaurant allows diners to take in every inch of the splendour the city has to offer. Enjoy an entrée of seasonal vegetables flavoured with olive oil, lime and honey as you ride along the Avenue des Champs-Elysées, sample a filet of guinea fowl served with puréed corn, romanesco cabbage and roasted pear and take in the Musee d’Orsay before savouring vanilla panna cotta, sorbet and blackcurrant meringue, Genoa cake and sweet crystallized violet as you pass by the Eiffel Tower. Bustronome operates for lunch and dinner and can also be privatised.
The Hard Rock Café Paris offers more than just great food and service. Discover authentic memorabilia from rock ‘n’ roll legends covering the walls, 21 screens showing videos, and an unbelievable sound system. In this restaurant and famous cocktail bar all is done to give the international clientele an American experience.
Ideally located just a few steps from the Avenue des Champs-Elysees is the recently opened Michelin starred restaurant Penati Al Baretto where authentic Italian cuisine is served in chic contemporary surroundings. The refined decor with a nod to la Dolce Vita creates an elegant room with authentic black and white photographs adorning the walls featuring well-known Italian personalities including actors and fashion designers that diners can admire from their comfortably spaced out tables as they enjoy the fine fare. Italian-born chef Alberico Penati proposes a seasonal menu that boasts the best of Italian cuisine combining the finest culinary traditions of his native country with contemporary creativity.
The pasta is homemade daily with flours and ingredients imported from Italy and cooked to al dente perfection with the standout being the signature dish “Spaghetti de verrigni with fresh sardines Sicilian style” and the Tagliolini with Alba white truffle. The wine list pays homage to the greatest wine producing regions of Italy boasting an extensive selection of wines and grand crus. For dessert a traditional Tiramisu is elegantly served in a glass and if you are a chocolate connoisseur the “Gianduiotto”, a gianduja chocolate mousse with Piedmont hazelnuts and enrobed in a thin layer of chocolate, is not to be missed.
The trend continues in Paris of welcoming one Italian restaurant after the other and in June the French capital welcomed the latest establishment to join the ranks and it most certainly deserves a spot in Little Italia in Paris.
After a successful opening in New York, which saw all the biggest stars flock to it for the best Italian food, Mamo has opened in the chic 16th arrondissement of Paris and is proving to be equally popular with both visitors and locals. Seating 50 guests, the restaurant is chic and welcoming with a bubbly manager whose smile is contagious.
Bare wooden beams and stone walls contrast against the crystal chandeliers and red velvet banquet seating that guests are invited to settle into for a hearty meal. The menu here is classic Italian with traditional dishes including Risotto aIla Milanese, Rigatoni con polpette with meatballs, and eggplant parmigiana. The chef here is quite generous with each dish served in large quantities, even entrées resemble portions usually seen for mains, so make sure when you come here you are famished or willing to share.
Occupying the high-ceilinged space at the entrance to the Galerie Vivienne that once housed the Jean Paul Gaultier boutique, this lively Italian table is a perfect choice for that night when you want a light meal or a break from French food.
In addition to pizzas, try the one with mozzarella, crumbled sausage and marinated broccoli rabe, and pastas, Daroco do the best spaghetti carbonara in Paris, there’s a brief selection of starters, including swordfish carpaccio with raspberries and avocado and burrata with pine nuts and pesto oil.
Open daily for lunch and dinner, making it an ideal weekend address, this lively restaurant with a charming decor of white terrazzo floors, exposed brick walls, wicker chairs and banquettes covered in royal blue velvet, also offers some of the best people-watching in Paris right now.