I’ve been writing about France for twenty years – these are my favorite places to visit

<span>A statue of Notre Dame de France overlooking Le Puy-en-Velay in the Massif Central.</span><span>Photo: CW Images/Alamy</span>” src=”https://s.yimg.com/ny/api/res/1.2/.NravQpm96DMzhPlilA02g–/YXBwaWQ9aGlnaGxhbmRlcjt3PTk2MDtoPTU3Ng–/https://media.zenfs.com/en/theguardian_763/ee2acc3cd02b838a72d4b47 73a3f4c51″ data src =”https://s.yimg.com/ny/api/res/1.2/.NravQpm96DMzhPlilA02g–/YXBwaWQ9aGlnaGxhbmRlcjt3PTk2MDtoPTU3Ng–/https://media.zenfs.com/en/theguardian_763/ee2acc3cd02b838a72d4b4773a 3f4c51″/></div>
<p><figcaption class=A statue of Notre Dame de France overlooking Le Puy-en-Velay in the Massif Central.Photo: CW Images/Alamy


When you can look at the salt pans of Guérande, near Nantes, cycle through lavender fields in the Drôme, in the south-east, and enjoy the splendor of the Cirque de Gavarnie in the Pyrenees, you wonder how France is so lucky with its varied landscapes. Recently the volcanic landscape of the Massif Central captured my heart. The chain of extinct volcanoes runs south from the highest, Le Puy de Dôme (there is a cog railway to the top) near Clermont-Ferrand.

South of the rugged peaks of the Cantal, the town of Chaudes-Aigues has two hot springs – the hottest in Europe at 65 and 82 degrees Celsius – which spout from springs in the town square. Two hours east, the special town of Le Puy-en-Velay is the starting point for the medieval pilgrimage route to Santiago de Compostela. The Saint-Michel d’Aiguilhe Chapel sits atop a basalt needle, while the other peaks are topped by the cathedral and a statue of Notre Dame de France.


It’s not just the landscapes that are so different across the country; the French coast has so many characteristics that there is a name for each part. On the Côte d’Opale, on the north coast, I admired the villas from the Belle Epoque; further west, on Brittany’s Côte de Granit Rose, I’ve swam in coves surrounded by pink-hued boulders carved into extraordinary shapes by wind and sea. In the south-west I enjoyed the sun and dug my toes into the silky blond sand as the Atlantic Ocean rolled onto the coast at Capbreton on the Côte d’Argent; and I will never forget an impromptu paddle from a small beach hidden among the oyster farmers’ huts at L’Herbe on Cap Ferret, on the other side of Arcachon Bay.


The French coast is dotted with islands, all with their own identity. On the Atlantic coast I fell in love with the Île d’Yeu, which was reminiscent of Greece with its whitewashed houses and colorful shutters, while on the Île de Porquerolles on the Côte d’Azur we cycled past pine-lined beaches and vineyards.

The one that really sticks in the memory, however, is Ouessant in Brittany (Île d’Ouessant in French), in the Iroise Sea off the far west coast. On a warm summer day we cycled across the heathlands, past lighthouses and houses with green shutters. When we reached the Pointe de Pern, the westernmost point of metropolitan France, I couldn’t believe the roar as the Atlantic waves crashed against the tumbling brown rocks.


Those looking for natural highlights have no shortage of options L’Hexagone. Now that our children are a bit older, paddling on the beach is no longer enough, so we rented sand yachts and sped across the wide beach of Barbâtre on the Île de Noirmoutier off the coast of Nantes. We swung and climbed through the trees in many forests throughout France accrobranche adventures in the treetops.

That is of course the activity in which the French excel cyclism, and the Île de Ré off the west coast was made for it. We cycled on smooth cycle paths between whitewashed villages decorated with hollyhocks, our legs powered by salted butter caramel.


Paris is always the first stop in France for art lovers, and little can match the experience of coming face to face with Van Gogh’s self-portrait in the Musée d’Orsay, reflecting that, as he created those striking and colorful brushstrokes. as a penniless artist, he would never know what his impact on the art world was 135 years later.

Outside of Paris, I loved being immersed in lesser-known galleries, which also offer moments of wonder. The light-filled André Malraux Museum of Modern Art in Le Havre has one of France’s largest collections of Impressionist art, including works by Renoir, Pissarro, Sisley, Degas and Courbet. It’s a must-visit during this year’s Normandy Impressionist Festival.


It never ceases to amaze how the French manage to create museums on such diverse subjects, from the surprisingly fascinating Musée de la Fraise (strawberry) in Plougastel, Brittany, to the exquisitely intricate models in the Musée Cinema et Miniature in Lyon. There are also big-budget ones, like the recently revamped Musée National de la Marine at the Trocadéro in Paris, which combines historic ship models and paintings with modern innovations like a giant CGI wave to bring the history of seafaring to life.

But smaller museums can be just as attractive. In a beautiful mansion in the northeastern walled city of Langres, the House of Enlightenment tells the story of the city’s most famous son, Denis Diderot, the philosopher, art critic and writer who wrote most of the 1751 books. Encyclopedia.


The many castles and cathedrals in France get the most attention, but I am also enchanted by more modern architecture. During my visit to Le Corbusier’s concrete Saint-Pierre church in Firminy, in the Loire Valley, I found a group of music students practicing four-part harmony in the extraordinary acoustics of the sloping walls, as sunlight filtered through dozens of small windows . like a constellation.

In Le Havre, high above the Lego-like apartment complexes, stands the equally impressive St. Joseph’s Church. Inside, I sat reverently beneath the kaleidoscopic octagonal tower as I gazed up at the 12,000 panes of colored glass.


I love Lyon for its gastronomy, Marseille for its countless neighborhoods and characters, Bordeaux for its splendor and Nice for its light. But lesser-known cities also offer pleasures. Nantes is a creative powerhouse with its own magic, encapsulated by the Machines de Nantes, including the giant robot elephant that wanders around an island in the Loire, alongside a three-story Jules-Verne-inspired carousel (their creations can be found in Toulouse and Calais now too). There are street art installations and, along the river towards Saint-Nazaire, a collection of crazy art installations.

Travel around

It’s a pleasure to make the journey part of the holiday, especially for those who choose not to experience the stress of the airport and want to keep their carbon footprint low. I have always enjoyed standing on deck when the ferry comes into Saint-Malo: the view of the stately walled city is particularly good from the sea.

Driving in France is a pleasure (especially compared to much busier Britain): the empty roads lined with plane trees are justifiably famous. The A49 from Grenoble is a great route as it passes the Vercors mountains and walnut orchards, while the Millau viaduct on the A75 is always exciting to cross.

And trains are fast, efficient and comfortable; I love the route along the Côte d’Azur from Marseille to Nice – TGV OuiGo trains leave from Saint-Charles station in Marseille and arrive in Nice Ville in less than three hours, where among the terracotta roofs and cypresses you can enjoy a catch a glimpse of the glittering Mediterranean Sea.

Where to stay

Whatever you have in mind in terms of accommodation, France has it. A bedroom in a castle – Château de Saint Paterne is my favorite. A beautiful gite – Le Mas and Le Mazet in the Dordogne overshadowed all the others. A cute one guest rooms d’hotes, where the owners treat you like long lost friends – I have never been disappointed by Sawday’s places. And the French are in a class of their own when it comes to more unusual places. There are fantastic tree houses – at La Chouette Cabane in the Mayenne our delicious dinner was lifted to the deck on a pulley and accompanied by a choir of frogs as night fell.

In lesser-known Lorraine, the rustic hut with its own sauna next to Lake Pierre-Percée felt extremely remote. And then there was the eco-lodge in the shape of a cow: in the depths of Burgundy, a region rightly proud of its beef and cheese, the Vache Ecolodge can accommodate twelve people and is completely decorated with a bovine theme . Pretty crazy, but brilliantly fun.

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