Although a younger member of the family once spent a whole month in Biarritz on a French language immersion program, we have primarily drove through the south-western regions without stopping in the past. The only destination that we have explored on our travels in this area is Carcassonne.
Travel by train is considerably more common in Europe than in the US, with multitude of routes, options and departures. Besides vast commuter networks in and around large metropolises and regular long-distance service, there are several high-speed networks that reach most if not all of the major destinations in Western Europe.
We, so far, took advantage with only a couple of those.
|In 4 words: Simply incomparable in spirit.
For your first visit you need no less than 5 days to be able to fully appreciate the city and all of its major sights while keeping pleasantly unhurried pace. Allow an extra day for visiting Versailles.
Distances between major sights are longer than in many other European cities. You will need to use the excellent Metropolitain more than occasionally.
Love its café culture, the people-watching, the romantic feeling it fills you with.
Don’t miss: Viewing Eiffel Tower from Trocadero; taking a Seine boat ride; relaxing in the shade in Jardin du Luxembourg; taking a stroll through a market.
On the other hand: Architecture of the city center is too uniform (six-story apartment buildings everywhere) to be remarkable.
Worthy attractions: Eiffel Tower; Notre-Dame; Sainte-Chapelle; Louvre; Arc de Triomphe; Musée d’Orsay (especially its impressionists collection); Musée de l’Orangerie (especially Monet’s Les Nymphéas); Monmartre with Sacré-Coeur and the painters’ market; Panthéon; Opéra Garnier; Musée Carnavalet; Conciergerie; Hôtel des Invalides; La Défense; Jardin des Tuileries; Jardin du Luxembourg; a number of churches.
|Recommended day trip: Versailles.
Left for another visit: Musée de Cluny; Petit Palais; Musée Rodin; Musée Picasso.
Wise to skip: Cabaret Lido.
Last visit: November 2008.
While we drove many miles through northern parts of France on our way to more southerly destinations, we did not explore this part of the country much, with only two short stays in major towns to our credit. Hopefully, more opportunities will present themselves in the future.
In 3 words: The glamorous Mediterranean.
For your first visit, depending on the season, you may want to spend anywhere from three to seven days. There are several destinations in the area that each warrant a day to explore.
Worthy destinations: Nice; Cannes; Monaco; St-Tropez; Grasse.
Left for another visit: Antibes; Vallauris with Musée Picasso; Villefranche-sur-Mer; Cap Ferrat; Menton.
Last visit: August 2008; most of the main destinations were last visited in May 2002.
|In 6 words: One of the Paradises on Earth (but explored very little by us)
Most people would make a week or more out of a Provençal holiday; it’s a place conducive to leisurely pursuits in addition to sightseeing.
Worthy destinations: Avignon; Pont du Gard; Aix-en-Provence; Arles.
Left for another visit: Marseille; St-Paul-de-Vence; Orange and Châteauneuf-du-Pape; Gordes; Gorges du Verdon; any number of villages.
Last visit: August 2008 for Aix; April 2002 for other destinations.
Provence is one of those dream places that attract with its blend of food, wine, history, weather and people. I see a movie with a Provençal background and I immediately think I want to be there. Now! As it happens, my actual familiarity with Provence is rather cursory: On two occasions now, in 2002 and 2008, we spent a bit of time at a few major sights and missed on experiencing the quintessential Provençal lifestyle in our haste to get to the Riviera.
Hopefully, this will eventually be rectified.
It is rather arbitrary to combine areas of France to the West and South of Paris into a single region. The only true commonality here is the fact that these parts do not figure high on foreign travelers’ wish-lists, with only a couple of exceptions. Mont-St-Michel (yet to be visited by us) and the Loire Valley (a 5-star destination whose detailed overview can be found at this link) come to mind, but little else.
Nonetheless, since most of the destinations in these parts do not rise to status of “major”, they are being combined under the loose “West and Southwest” umbrella.
|In 9 words: Amazing land of castles; great food and wine included.
For your visit you need no less than two full days to be able to enjoy all of major locations.
Plan for certain amount of driving between castles; car is essential.
Don’t miss lingering at the attraction of your choice (say, Villandry gardens) and imagining yourself a romantic hero of the Renaissance.
Worthy attractions: Chambord; Cheverny; Chenonceau; Azay-le-Rideau; Villandry; Langeais; Chartres; many other castles and towns.
Left for another visit: Orléans; Tours.
Last visit: October 2007.