France’s Top 5 Experiences
To coincide with the release of the updated France travel guide, the experts at Lonely Planet have provided us with France’s Top 5 experiences!
1. Eiffel Tower
More than six million people visit the Eiffel Tower annually – and from an evening ascent amid twinkling lights over a flute of Champagne to a lazy lunch in one of its restaurants, every visit is magical. Gustave Eiffel only designed the graceful tower as a temporary exhibit for the 1889 Exposition Universelle, yet its distinctive art nouveau–laced silhouette is an icon of Paris’ skyline. Best are the special occasions when all 324m of the iconic tower glows a different colour.
2. Mont St-Michel
The dramatic play of tides on this abbey-island in Normandy is magical and mysterious. Said by Celtic mythology to be a sea tomb to which souls of the dead were sent, Mont St-Michel is rich in legend and history, keenly felt as you make your way across the bridge – or barefoot across rippled sand – to this stunning architectural ensemble. Walk around it alone or, better still, hook up with a guide in nearby Genêts for a dramatic day hike across the bay.
Known-brand Champagne houses in the main towns of Reims and Épernay are famed the world over. But – our tip – much of Champagne’s finest liquid gold is created by passionate, small-scale vignerons (winegrowers) in drop-dead gorgeous villages, rendering the region’s scenic driving routes the loveliest way of tasting fine bubbly amid rolling vineyards. Our favourite: exploring the region’s best Champagne museum, the Musée de la Vigne et du Vin in Le Mesnil-sur-Oger, followed by a tasting and lunch in the village at Le Mesnil.
4. The Loire
If it’s aristocratic pomp and architectural splendour you’re after, this regal valley is the place to linger. Flowing for more than 1000km into the Atlantic Ocean, the Loire is one of France’s last fleuves sauvages (untamed rivers) and its banks provide a 1000-year snapshot of French high society. The valley is riddled with beautiful châteaux sporting glittering turrets and ballrooms, lavish cupolas and chapels. If you’re seeking the perfect fairy-tale castle, head for moat-ringed Azay-le-Rideau,Villandry and its gardens, and less-visited Château de Beauregard.
5. Chamonix Action
The birthplace of mountaineering and winter playground to the rich, famous and not-so-famous, this iconic ski resort in the French Alps has something for everyone. Snow-sports fiends fly down slopes on skis or boards in order to savour the breathtaking views of Mont Blanc and surrounding mountains. But there’s absolutely no obligation to do so: nonskiers can hop aboard the Aiguille du Midi cable car – and onwards to Italy aboard the Télécabine Panoramique Mont Blanc – for the ride of a lifetime above 3800m.