Beyond Eiffel: 8 Bucket List-Worthy Destinations Outside Paris
Ah, France. No list of top destinations in the world is ever complete without that marvellous country steeped in history and heaped with medieval cities, alpine villages and Mediterranean beaches. A trip to France often means Paris hogging the limelight with its classical art museums, fashion houses, countless cafes and the iconic Eiffel Tower but there is much, much more to France than its much-loved capital city.
If you think a simple visit to Paris is enough to tick France off your list, think again. Here are eight more incredible French destinations worth checking out.
Vatican hasn’t always been the seat of the Catholic popes. From 1309 to 1377, the head of the Catholic Church resided in Avignon, making this Provencal city on the Rhône River a gem in medieval ecclesiastical architecture and a tourist magnet today. Palais des Papes, a massive fortress cum palace built in AD 1252 to shelter popes who fled from corrupt Rome, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. There’s also Musée de Petit Palais, another UNESCO World Heritage Site, which houses an impressive painting collection including 13th to 15th century Italian masterpieces. A tour in Avignon will also bring you to the iconic St Bénézet’s Bridge, much of which was washed away in the 17th century. Tip: the bridge’s construction is shrouded in myth and legend so take time to listen to stories. You’ll surely hear different versions!
Lyon doesn’t always make it onto tourist itineraries, but this city is second only to Paris when it comes to historical and cultural importance. A UNESCO World Heritage Site and a must-visit for history buffs, its history dates back to ancient Roman times as the old city of Lugdunum. Lyon is where you’ll find France’s oldest ruins, including the Ancient Theater of Fourvière and the Lyon Roman Baths. You can also play Sherlock and explore the intriguing traboules or hidden passageways in the Saint-Jean Quarter, or bask in the 19th century elegance of the city’s heart, the fabulous Presqu'ile quarter. Looking for a different experience? An Avignon-Lyon cruise will bring you the beautiful scenery and wildlife of the Camargue region and the historic monuments of Provence.
Travel to Rouen and you’ll realize the capital of Normandy is as magnificent as it is historic. This medieval port city along the Seine boasts the remarkable gothic Notre Dame Cathedral towering over streets lined with Disney-perfect timber-framed houses. Don’t miss Le Gros Horloge, a beautifully-decorated 14th century astronomical clock that is one of the oldest working clocks in Europe, and try the delicious goodies at the bustling Old Market Square, the same square where Joan of Arc was burned at the stake in the 15th century.
Dust off your crown, Disney fans! Dubbed the ‘Garden of France’, the peaceful Loire Valley is studded with sweeping palaces, fairy-tale villages, and quaint old towns that all seem to have leaped out of story books. A Loire Valley castles private tour will let you explore to your heart’s content and visit many of the sweeping structures the valley is known for, including Château de Chenonceaux spanning the River Cher, the most visited and photographed chateau in the valley, and Château de Chambord, known for its distinctive French Renaissance architecture and is also the largest in the Loire.
Rising at the bay where Brittany and Normandy merge, the island commune of Le Mont-St-Michel can’t help but draw the eye even from great distances. Enter the Mont on foot through the causeway and explore the village along the Grand Rue, but Le Mont-Saint-Michel is best seen from afar when high tide turns it into an island, creating the beautiful gothic dreamscape that has become one of France’s most stunning sights. If you plant to explore nearby towns, FTC’s Mont Saint-Michel tour includes the Scriptorial Museum at Avranches where preserved manuscripts from the Mont are kept and the charming fishing port of Cancale widely known for oyster farming.
When Victor Hugo said ‘Take Versailles, add Antwerp and you have Bordeaux,' he couldn’t be more right. Enjoying a romantic location on a bend of the Garonne River, splendid Bordeaux mixes urban elegance and provincial charm with its stunning panoramic views, striking buildings, sunlit vineyards, savoury gastronomy and of course, rich wines. Hailed by many as the wine capital of the world, it is almost a sin to visit Bordeaux and not sample a glass of fine Bordeaux wine. If you’re a certified wine lover though, a glass won’t be enough and wine tours are more like the thing for you! We suggest our Outstanding ‘90+ Point’ Bordeaux Wine Tour that is actually a two full-day wine tours in the most famous wineries in the region, with tasty lunches and exclusive visits and wine tastings in family-owned or Grand Crus wineries that hold a minimum of 90+ points over several vintages!
Colmar’s half-timbered houses, bridge-laced canals and cobblestone streets will make you think you’ve stepped into a Disney movie set or some storybook. With its town centre crisscrossed with alleys and bridges, the best way to explore the town is on foot. Take time to check out the local craft products and munch on some pretzels or sample flammekueche, Alsace’s version of pizza. Also considered as the “Capital of Alsatian Wine”, Colmar stands on the Alsace Wine Route and is a great starting point for wine tours in Alsace.
The Alabaster Coast
Opposite the White Cliffs of Dover is Normandy’s Côte d’Albâtre, or the Alabaster Coast so named because of its impressive impossibly white cliffs. The 130-kilometre long coastline runs from the port of Le Havre to the fishing village of Le Tréport, forming almost the entire length of Seine-Maritime. The most famous rock formations are perhaps the ones at Etretat so extraordinary it continues to lure plenty of Impressionist painters. The Falaise d’Aval arch will surely remind you of the Durdle Door in Dorset, England!
Still not sure where to go in France? Give our team of French travel specialists a call or enquire if you need expert advice or help booking your trip to France. We’ll help you tick off as many as possible in this list or suggest additions to your own bucket list!