A Travellerspoint blog

Visit la France Profonde, France outside of Paris

If you have only been to Paris, you're missing a lot of France. France is large and diverse so no matter what you enjoy, you will find it there someplace. You have only to look. Here are some places to explore and I'll keep adding new ones.


View Provence 2014 & Around France with Jean 2000 & Around France and through Switzerland 1998 & Pays de la Loire on Beausoleil's travel map.

Vezelay in Burgundy, France

Vezelay in Burgundy, France

Many people are looking for places off the beaten tourist path in France. Since France is such a popular tourist destination, you can't entirely escape tourists, but you can find places that don't host tourist groups on large buses and you can find places that are visited mostly by French tourists who are enjoying other beautiful parts of their country. If you've seen Paris and are curious about the rest of France, here are some ideas. So far, I've listed the Loire Valley, Brittany, Provence, Occitanie (formerly called Languedoc-Roussillon), and the eastern part of Grand Est (formerly called Alsace). I'll add more regions as time permits. If you have a request for a particular region or town, leave a comment or email me and I'll try to get it done quickly. There are a lot of useful links. If you right-click on a link and choose "to open in a new tab," when you're finished with that web site, close it and you will be right back here where you started.

Château de Brézé

Château de Brézé

Loire and the Loire-Atlantique

A first suggestion is to follow the Loire bike path, very picturesque and while not really off the beaten path since it is the Loire Valley, if you are on a bicycle path, you are not going to see hordes of tourists; bicycling is hard work. This is no small bike path. It extends 800 kilometers and goes across Centre and the Pays de la Loire regions. You can take organized tours or do it yourself. You can start at any point along the route, and you can even take the train with your bicycle to the starting point of your choice. You can rent bicycles and electric-assisted bicycles at various places. You'll find all the information you need on their web site. Loire by Bicycle web site

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Château de Montpoupon in the Loire Valley

Château de Montpoupon in the Loire Valley

If you are willing to go someplace where not a lot of English is spoken, look at the western Loire area. It is called Pays-de-la Loire and is part of the region called the Pays de la Loire. While the Loire-Atlantique has some interesting châteaux, they are not the famous châteaux that attract large tour groups. Those are in the region named Centre-Val de la Loire. Most of the tour groups you’ll meet in the Loire-Atlantique are French. The site tours are generally in French but will have an audio or booklet guide in English. There are larger cities like Angers, Saumur and Nantes with châteaux and cathedrals that also have interesting galleries and museums. We enjoy the countryside and recently rented a gite (vacation cottage) in the Brière Regional Nature Park and spent our time visiting the park and surrounding Plus Beaux Villages and the nearby seashore. We didn’t meet a lot of people who spoke English, but we did meet a lot of very friendly and helpful people and the area is beautiful. Loire-Atlantique Tourist Information

Château Brissac

Château Brissac

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Thatched cottages in the Brière Regional Nature Park

Thatched cottages in the Brière Regional Nature Park


Harbor and château in Pornic

Harbor and château in Pornic

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Roussillon, a Plus Beau Village of France

Roussillon, a Plus Beau Village of France

Provence, the France of legend

When we travel in early spring or late fall, we like the south of France where you are "almost" guaranteed warm weather. It can get pretty cold in winter except right on the shore and summers can be terribly hot so shoulder season is great. I must admit I love Provence any time of year though. So many people visit Nice and the Riviera and think they've seen southern France. There is a completely different southern France just north of the Riviera and we prefer it. You won't see the crowds and you will see lovely perched villages, country markets and very friendly French people who want you to enjoy your visit.

Saint Paul, usually called St. Paul de Vence

Saint Paul, usually called St. Paul de Vence


Provence is noted for tourists, but you can escape the most touristed spots and find lovely places with few or no tourists. Obviously, the easiest way to do this is to travel out of high season so if you can go any time except July and August, do so. The weather will be better then too. The famous names have the most crowds so avoid Cannes and St. Tropez. We usually fly into Nice and get our car and leave immediately. We stay in a country inn up the hill near Tourrettes-sur-Loup where it is very quiet and there are fabulous views. It is in the country so easy to get in and out in the morning and evening and visit small towns and spectacular mountains and gorges in the area. If we stay in the city of Nice for a few days, we turn in the car and use public transportation which is very inexpensive in Provence. Provence Tourist Information

Noves street market

Noves street market


Another way to escape the crowds is to head to western Provence. We love the area near Avignon which is the western border of Provence. When you cross the river at Avignon, you are in Occitanie (formerly Languedoc-Roussillon). Avignon is a great place to visit although you will have lots of company there. Just outside the city it is Provençal paradise. We rented a cottage outside Mollégès for a month in 2014 and loved it. We visited Arles several times, Saint-Remy-de-Provence several times, Le Baux de Provence, Tarascon, the Camargue and then spent the rest of our time visiting tiny villages, many perched on hillsides or mountain tops. We shopped in local markets and attended local churches, generally moved in for a month. We also drove over the river to visit the Pont-du-Gard and Uzés just across the border into Occitanie (formerly Languedoc-Roussillon). Many of these are famous places and have lots of tourists but we always returned to our little farmhouse out in the country where it was very quiet and peaceful at night.

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Some of our favorite places in Provence are: (in alphabetical order)
Abbey of Montmajour and Daudet's Mill (an easy day trip from Arles)
Aigues-Mortes, Tower of Constance, walking the ramparts, great souvenir shopping
Aix-en-Provence, a large, vibrant city
Arles from Roman ruins to Van Gogh, it’s fascinating, great for souvenir shopping too
Avignon on the Rhone River with the Palace of Popes in a beautiful city
Gourdon, a perched village with the Village of Bories just below it
Grassewith threes perfume factories and a wonderful flower market
Le Barben, chateau and zoo
Les Baux de Provence, spectacular perched village but never visit in high season!
Martigues and its canals decked with flowers
Pont du Gard Roman Aqueduct, a must-see in Provence
Roussillon and the adjoining ochre quarries, absolutely amazing color
Senanque Abbey and its fields of lavender
St. Paul de Vence, gorgeous perched village with the Maeght Foundation
St. Remy-de-Provence, fun market and a Van Gogh Walk
The Camargue with wild bulls and horses and wonderful nature/bird walks
Tourrettes-sur-Loup, a charming and quaint perched village above Nice
Vence with a quaint Old Town area
Villages of Lourmarin, Bonnieux, Fontaine-de-Vaucluse . . .

Here are a few more interesting and informative web sites:
The Glanum Archeological Park web site
The Pont du Gard
Provence and Beyond web site

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Rochefort-en-Terre, a Plus Beau Village in Brittany

Rochefort-en-Terre, a Plus Beau Village in Brittany

Brittany, Celtic France

Visit Bretagne (Brittany). If you get as far as Mont St. Michel, cross the river into Brittany and see Celtic France. There is a wild seacoast, lighthouses, excellent seafood, grey stone houses with bright red geraniums in the windows. The churches have a Parish Close or enclosed courtyard filled with statuary. If the church is closed and you show up to look at it, someone will come running from a nearby house with a key and let you in. More often than not they won’t speak English but they know what you want and will help you.

Pointe du Grouin in Brittany

Pointe du Grouin in Brittany


Almost the westernmost point in France is at Pointe du Raz. There is parking and a walk out to the point where you can view the lighthouse. Often there are wild waves crashing against the rocks. The actual westernmost point in France is Pointe de Corsen, just to the north of Pointe du Raz. Then there is Pointe du Grouin which is a wildlife sanctuary across the bay from Mont St. Michel where you'll find well-marked walks along the shore and flora and fauna are identified on large signs with pictures for those who don’t speak French. If you enjoy nature and the shore, these are places you are sure to enjoy. These are in the Breton region called Finistère which translates as Land’s End. It is all ocean to the west.

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Château du Comper and Arthurian Center near Paimpont

Château du Comper and Arthurian Center near Paimpont


Don't miss the Forest of Broceliande in Paimpont. Merlin the Magician from King Arthur was buried in the Forest of Broceliande and Château de Comper is supposedly where Sir Lancelot was raised. There is a Center of Arthurian Legend in the castle which is open to the public. This is very popular with kids from tiny to teens.

There are plenty of festivals featuring local music and the wonderful native costumes including incredible lace headdresses on the women. Brittany is a wild and wonderful land well worth visiting for a completely different French experience and there are several lovely large cities like Quimper and St. Malo.

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The Upper Town from inside the Château de Fougères

The Upper Town from inside the Château de Fougères


The seacoast is wild and wonderful; the Arthurian connection fascinating and there are marvelous castles to be explored. One particularly good castle is the Château de Fougères. It is huge, beautiful, has lots of activities and is set in a charming town. Château de Fougères web site There is another nice château in Josselin and there are the famous alignments of Carnac, all in Brittany. There are not many Plus Beaux Villages in Brittany but the ones listed are gorgeous, especially in summer and autumn. My favorite was Rochefort-en-Terre covered in bright red geraniums.

Brittany is the Northwest region of France and includes the districts Côtes-d'Armor, Finistère, Ille-et-Vilaine and the Morbihan.
Brittany Tourist Information

Shops near the Château de Rochefort-en-Terre

Shops near the Château de Rochefort-en-Terre

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Surf at Canet-Plage, our favorite beach in France

Surf at Canet-Plage, our favorite beach in France

Occitanie, formerly Languedoc-Roussillon

(Languedoc-Roussillon has recently been renamed Occitanie so you will see it both ways in guide books for a few years.) The Riviera and Provence get a lot of press and a lot of visitors. It is beautiful and we love it, but it's a little more relaxed and wild in the southwest region of Occitanie (formerly called Languedoc-Roussillon). There are miles of soft sand beaches, wild wonderful mountains, perched villages and even a couple cities if you like excitement. One of our favorite stretches of beach is between Canet-Plage and Saint-Cyprien-Plage. It is a long stretch of soft sand with free parking and a nature preserve, the Village of Fishermen, on the other side of the road. If there is any wind at all, there will be lovely waves and you will be joined by quiet, happy French families and can watch the wind surfers. The nature reserve is an excellent place for bird watching and you may see flamingoes in migration. Occitanie (Languedoc-Roussillon) Tourist Information

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La Cité at Carcassonne driving to Saint-Hilaire

La Cité at Carcassonne driving to Saint-Hilaire

For wine and food, you might look farther south in Occitanie. There are tourist hordes in Carcassonne, but about five minutes out of town, they are gone . . . all still back in Carcassonne. Visit Carcassonne on a Sunday morning if you want to see it without tourists (early Sunday morning, i.e. before 11 AM). It is a great sight and I highly recommend it. The rest of Occitanie is reasonably untouristy and gorgeous. There is a bike path along the Canal du Midi that is beautiful and takes you through some charming villages with excellent restaurants. We loved Auberge de L'Arbousier just outside of Homps. Auberge de L'Arbousier web site

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Canal in Old Town Perpignan

Canal in Old Town Perpignan

There are marvelous restaurants in the area and lots of wine tasting in the Corbières wine region. There's an abbey in St. Hilaire just south of Carcassonne and it is definitely worth a visit. You'll hear the story of how a renegade monk named Dom Perignon stole the recipe for sparkling wine and took it north to Champagne and the rest is history. The local sparkling wine (supposedly the purloined recipe) is Blanquette de Limoux and we love it. The restaurant we loved there was Le Clos Saint-Hilaire and it is unfortunately now closed. Abbey Saint Hilaire web site

You can find good food way off the beaten path. We found Les Calicots in Fabrezen by accident when the restaurant we were looking for in another village was closed. Les Calicots was excellent and the town was cute. Les Calicots Restaurant web site

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Les Terrasses - Pont du Gard

Les Terrasses - Pont du Gard


Then there is Alet-le-Bains. It’s a tiny village on the Aude River that has vestiges of its original Roman wall, lots of beautifully preserved medieval half-timbered houses, a ruined abbey (get the key in the Tourist Office) and a marvelous hotel-restaurant right on the river . . . and a few tourists but not many. The hotel-restaurant is Hotel de L’Evéché and their web site is: Hostellerie de L'Eveche web site

You can visit cities if you like. Narbonne is a large city and has a convenient Tourist Office right in the center. The cathedral and museum are together which is convenient and the market is great fun on market day. Perpignan is a Catalan city with a very Spanish flavor. There is the wonderful Palace of the Kings of Majorca and several other museums to visit. There is also a wonderful canal going through town that is decked with flowers and sculptures. Stop at a café along the canal and enjoy lunch and people-watching.

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The square - Mirepoix

The square - Mirepoix


The town of Limoux (Blanquette de Limoux, a delicious sparkling wine) is a fun visit on market day and there are various wine tasting places there. If you like really small and way off the beaten path, drive over to Camon. The château has been restored and is a private hotel but we wandered the grounds and building freely as there were few people about. You could go on to Mirepoix and Foix to make a day of it. Beautiful drive and interesting towns. Mirepoix is becoming more touristy as the years go by but it’s still fun to visit. There are other places north and east of Carcassonne. We’ve stayed at various places in the area but in rentals rather than hotels so I can’t advise you on where to stay. There is a château in Cavanac that looks like fun and the place in Alet-les-Bains looked interesting too. Chateau-Restaurant de Cavanac web site

That should give you a few places to look at. Check them via web sites, TP Search and Google. Here are some useful web sites:
French Government Tourist Guide
Languedoc-Roussillon web site
Web site for the Ariege region of Occitanie
Pays Cathar web site

Once with our oldest daughter we all bought Cathar Passes and did our very best to see everything on the pass. We didn't make it but we had fun trying and learned a lot of history and saw some magnificent scenery in the process. This may be one of the most dramatic parts of France.

The Plus Beau Village of Peyre on the Tarn river

The Plus Beau Village of Peyre on the Tarn river

Aveyron (a district of the new region called Occitanie) may be one of the hidden wonders of France. It has no sea coast so escapes a lot of tourists.The Dordogne has the most Plus Beaux Villages (Most Beautiful Villages) of France but Aveyron comes very close. Aveyron is mountainous and there are lovely little surprises hidden in the hills. Check the Plus Beaux Villages for Central France-Auvergne at The Most Beautiful Villages of France web site

We make a habit of searching them out and in Aveyron have visited Najac, Conques, Peyre, Belcastel and Brousse-le-Chateau. We spent several days in Brousse-le-Chateau once to take a boat ride under the magnificent Viaduc de Millau. The Viaduc de Millau Official Site and Here's the boat ride web site and it's great fun. Bateliers du Viaduc web site

The Viaduc de Millau from a nearby highway

The Viaduc de Millau from a nearby highway

Conques, a Plus Beau Village and on the Pilgrimage Route<br />to Compostela

Conques, a Plus Beau Village and on the Pilgrimage Route
to Compostela


A good web site for the Aveyron is listed below and the Aveyron is a great vacation combined with a visit of the Dordogne. If you have time, do both. It may be the best vacation you've ever had. Aveyron Tourist web site

Belcastel, a Plus Beau Village in the Aveyron

Belcastel, a Plus Beau Village in the Aveyron


Belcastel, crossing the bridge to the Church

Belcastel, crossing the bridge to the Church


Brousse-le-Château, a Plus Beau Village of France

Brousse-le-Château, a Plus Beau Village of France

Some of our favorite places in Occitanie (formerly Languedoc-Roussillon) are: (in alphabetical order)
Carcassonne, the famous double-walled castle
Castelnou and Eus, two lovely perched villages;
Ceret
Collioure with colorful fishing boats,
Elne
Foix
Grotte (cave) de Niaux with cave paintings,
Medieval Mirepoix,
Mediterranean shore
Montolieu, the Village of Books
Narbonne, a vibrant city
Parc de la Prehistoire, a prehistory theme park (fun and educational)
Perpignan, a Catalan city
Puivert with marvelous views from the château on a hill and a museum
Pyrenées Mountains with spectacular scenery and ruined castles
Rennes-le-Chateau if you like a good mystery
Villefranche-de-Conflent with a château and the Little Yellow Train

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Ste. Odile Fountain in Place Beffroi, Obernai

Ste. Odile Fountain in Place Beffroi, Obernai

Alsace

(Now a part of the region named Grand Est composed of the former Champagne-Ardenne, Lorraine and Alsace)

Alsace, a part of Grand Est, is on the eastern side of France along the German border. It has been passed back and forth between France and Germany for centuries so you can expect many people to speak both French and German . . . and often English too. They enjoy some of the same foods you expect in Germany including my favorite, soft pretzels (called bretzels). We've even seen sandwiches made of these large pretzels.

Downtown Barr in Alsace

Downtown Barr in Alsace

There is excellent wine in Alsace, tending more to whites than reds although you will find both. There are spectacular mountains with views to match. Strasbourg is the largest city and a good base for your visit. We prefer the smaller wine villages and take day trips but if you are a city person, Strasbourg or Colmar might suit you better. The Christmas Markets in Strasbourg can’t be beat. We like them better than Paris. Strasbourg is magic during the holiday season. Colmar is famous for the Musée d'Unterlinden. The Issenheim Altarpiece is the highlight of the museum. Again, the free audio guide is invaluable. The Issenheim Altarpiece is stunning and very well displayed. There is also enough room to enjoy it and plenty of explanations available. Musée d'Unterlinden web site

In the warmer months you will often see artists perched around the square of many Alsatian villages painting in groups or classes. Alsace is nearly as popular as Provence with artists and rightfully so. It is very colorful and they’ve done a marvelous job of preserving their heritage.

If you visit Obernai, take the time to go up to Mont Sainte-Odile where you’ll find not only magnificent views but a lovely, peaceful monastery that you can visit. There is a hotel and restaurant on the grounds and guided tours. On the grounds is a wonderful sun dial moved from a closed Cistercian Monastery. It tells the time in many places around the world so on a sunny day you can see the time in your own country. Fun . . . There are also excellent hiking trails in the area. Mont Sainte-Odile web site

Another fun trip is the castle at Haut-Koenigsbourg. It is between Selestat and Ribeauville and well worth a detour. It is a restored red sandstone castle on top of a mountain and is open to the public. The views on the way up are amazing but are even better from the top of the castle.
Haut-Koenigsbourg Castle web site

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Biere Schutzenberger Weinstub - Barr

Biere Schutzenberger Weinstub - Barr

Whatever you do, take the time to visit the tiny wine villages spread across the base of the mountains. Then take a bike ride along the Rhine. Visit a few castles and a monastery or two. There is an amazing amount to do and so much to see. You will find friendly people and good food with wonderful quiet nights made for sleeping. There is excellent hiking and waterfalls, spa towns and colorful villages. A good place to find picturesque villages is the Plus Beaux Villages of France (Most Beautiful Villages of France) web site. Plus Beaux Villages of France web site Filter by Terms of Geographic Area for Alsace-Lorraine for now.

The current listed villages are: Eguisheim, Hunawihr, Hunspach, Mittelbergheim, Riquewihr, Rodemack and Saint-Quirin.

Alsace is a wonderful vacation spot. Here are some of our favorite places: (in alphabetical order)
Andlau, a tiny picturesque wine village
Barr, wine tasting and a very cute village We usually stay here.
Bergheim, another picturesque wine village
Colmar, a vibrant city with an excellent art museum
Eguisheim, one of the prettiest villages
Haut-Konigsberg Castle, high on a mountain with fabulous views
Obernai, a favorite of artists
Ribeauville, picturesque wine village
Riquewihr, very touristy but still a picturesque wine village
Selestat, small city and very busy
Strasbourg, largest city in Alsace with lot to do. The Christmas markets are fabulous.
Turckheim, picturesque wine village

The Strasbourg Cathedral from Place Gutenberg

The Strasbourg Cathedral from Place Gutenberg

Alsace is a good stopping off point on a trip to Bavaria or the eastern parts of Germany.

Here are a couple good web sites for the Alsace region.
Strasbourg Tourist Office web site
Alsace Tourist Office web site

Posted by Beausoleil 13:33 Archived in France Tagged france loire bretagne brittany provence dordogne aveyron Comments (2)

Souvenirs and Gifts - Things original to France

For souvenirs and gifts I like things that are useful and will last and that say something about the place I'm visiting. It's also nice to get something you can't easily buy on the Internet. It can also be fun to get something silly on occasion.


View Provence 2014 & Around France with Jean 2000 & Around France and through Switzerland 1998 & Pays de la Loire on Beausoleil's travel map.

Souvenir shop in Lourmarin

Souvenir shop in Lourmarin


Christmas Market by the Strasbourg train station - Strasbourg

Christmas Market by the Strasbourg train station - Strasbourg

We often do our Christmas shopping while on vacation. It's fun for us and we don't have to figure out how to store or display things when we get home because we are going to give them away. I'm definitely not a shop 'til you drop person but I have a weakness for local crafts and for watercolor paintings, Provencal print tablecloths, place mats and napkins. We are getting quite a collection.

What to buy is a good question and it depends on where you are in France and your personal tastes . . . not to mention the person you are buying it for if it’s a gift. I try to find things that are not easily available on the Internet and that becomes more difficult each year.

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Shop in Old Town Vence, France

Shop in Old Town Vence, France

Children:
Hand crafted toys at local markets or craft fairs are great for the kids or grandkids. Museum gift shops are also a fun place to look for things for the little ones. We used to get coloring books from museums and the grandkids loved them and learned a bit of history and geography. For tiny ones, story books in French are great fun. The books are mostly pictures and the kids will pick up a little French in the bargain. As they get older, kits to make castles and abbeys are fun. There are dolls in native costumes of the various parts of France and always knights in shining armor.

Most museums have free hand-out sheets with activities for children so if your kids are with you, get these and use them. The kids will enjoy the museum more because the activities are usually fun games and when they’re done, you have a nice souvenir. Have the kids sign and date them and they can make a trip scrapbook when you get home. Be sure to get pictures of the kids doing the activities.

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Street Market in Saint-Remy-de-Provence

Street Market in Saint-Remy-de-Provence

Adults:
Each part of France seems to have a specialty and it’s fun to look for souvenirs that emphasize it. For instance, in Provence, we always look for and buy Provençal table cloths for our daughters (and for us). You will also see the beautiful Provençal prints used for aprons, tea cosies, purses and tote bags and are especially nice when made into children’s clothes. Another thing I always get is a scarf. Sometimes I get several. Years ago, this was a very French souvenir. Now you can buy them in Target but somehow the French ones are my favorites. Check the labels to make sure they are made in France if you are getting them as a souvenir.

Crickets are a symbol in Provence so you will see all sorts of things from ceramic crickets to cast iron crickets, including crickets that chirp. Consider packing before you buy a cast iron cricket.

Mollinard Perfumerie with lessons and a gift shop

Mollinard Perfumerie with lessons and a gift shop

Gift shop Santons at La Petite Provence du Paradou

Gift shop Santons at La Petite Provence du Paradou

Bowls and things carved from olive wood are very popular. Santons, the little Provençal figures that are brought out at Christmas are great fun and collectors items. There is even a Santon Museum in Paradou near Saint-Remy-de-Provence. The little pottery figures are created to represent any profession you can think of and then a few more you can’t conceive. Really good santons are very expensive, but as a souvenir (not a collector’s item), you can spend a lot less and still get a very nice little figure. La Petite Provence du Paradou web site You will also find very nice pottery in Provence and most other parts of France.

There are different styles of dishes in different parts of the country and some can be very expensive. Budget for this if it's what you want. There are less expensive copies but be careful to read labels because many of the inexpensive copies are not made in France. I like my souvenirs to be made in the country where I'm buying them. It seems to make more sense.

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My watercolor painting of The Blue Door, <br />a souvenir shop in Tourrettes-sur-Loup

My watercolor painting of The Blue Door,
a souvenir shop in Tourrettes-sur-Loup

Perfume is another good gift or souvenir and comes in all price ranges. In the town of Grasse both the Molinard and Galimard perfumeries offer courses in perfume making. Our daughters and I took a course once, with two of us taking the short course and one taking the longer course. At the end you have a perfume you have created yourself although I must admit mine is more to look at than to actually wear. The longer course allows you to register your own creation and they will keep it and you can reorder if you like. For the more serious among us, that is a nice perk.

Soaps are another great souvenir or gift idea. In Provence you have the wonderful Marseille soaps and other regions have their own soaps. Our last trip was in the northwest and we got some lovely soaps from Brittany. If you want lovely soaps and don’t want to pay extra, consider buying them in a local hardware store instead of a souvenir store. They’re the same soaps with lower prices. To go with the soaps, there are beautiful woven towels. The Jacquard woven towels are amazing and available in most parts of the country. This is one of those items you can find in local shops including hardware shops and save a bit of money. Again, check labels to make sure you are getting French weaving. We use ours on a regular basis and they last nearly forever. You can also make them into gift pillows for friends.

Shops near the Château de Rochefort-en-Terre

Shops near the Château de Rochefort-en-Terre

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Painted Bakeware - Obernai

Painted Bakeware - Obernai

You’ll find salt as a souvenir in both Provence and along the Atlantic coast. We’ve gotten salt in Aigues-Mortes in Provence and in Guerande in the Loire-Atlantique. You can’t believe the difference until you taste it. In the Loire-Atlantique, most restaurants have a little dish of salt from the area on the table. You will find little bags of salt with cute labels in most souvenir stores in salt-producing areas.

The southwest has a distinct Catalan influence and they have an entirely different kind of weaving so they have very different table linens and apparel. When you get into Brittany and Normandy, they are famous for their lace. This is a lovely gift if you know a bride-to-be and a lovely souvenir if you like lace. If you enjoy tapestry, this is often sold in museum shops and in many other places if you are near a famous tapestry like the Apocalypse Tapestry in Angers.

Un Ete A Saint Remy De Provence

Un Ete A Saint Remy De Provence

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Bigot Patissier - Chocolatier in Amboise

Bigot Patissier - Chocolatier in Amboise

Chocolates are a nice gift, but if you are traveling in the warmer months, it doesn’t travel well; therefore, you may want to buy some and enjoy it there, but don’t try to pack it or you’ll be disappointed. If you travel in winter, it’s fine but be sure you keep your luggage way from heaters on the trip home.

Tourist Shop in Aigues-Mortes

Tourist Shop in Aigues-Mortes


Shops by St. Mary and St. Veran Church in Fontaine-de-Vaucluse

Shops by St. Mary and St. Veran Church in Fontaine-de-Vaucluse

Wine at La Ferme Restaurant in Angers

Wine at La Ferme Restaurant in Angers

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Shop display with very useful souvenirs

Shop display with very useful souvenirs

If you are a wine drinker, wines from different places make great gifts and souvenirs. You may want to have them shipped home if you buy a lot. On the other hand, we have a friend who takes an extra suitcase just to bring home his wine. Just be sure you declare what you have at Customs and know the rules for your country. Whether it is shipped or not, you are still bringing it home.

On that subject, there are various local liqueurs that are very nice too. In Normandy where they don’t make wine, they do make Calvados, an apple liqueur. Provence has pastis; Burgundy has Crème de cassis; there is a walnut liqueur in the Dordogne; Guignolet is found in the western Loire; Izarra is from the Basque regions. There are other more famous French liqueurs but most of those are easily purchased in the USA so I really don’t consider them a souvenir, not when I can go downtown and buy them.

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My painting of Lavardin on the Loir River

My painting of Lavardin on the Loir River

Another great souvenir and one we often buy is a painting. We visit local galleries and studios and if something appeals to us, we buy it. If a painting is too large to pack, have it removed from the frame, roll it up and put it in a tube which can be carried or shipped. If you are talented, create your own paintings. These are wonderful souvenirs although it takes a bit of work. I always take my painting supplies with me.

What to pay: My advice is to budget for what you want and when the budget is spent, stop buying. We’ve only gone over our budget once and that was for a painting. We’ve had it nearly twenty years and thoroughly enjoyed it the entire time so it was worth what we paid for it. For the most part, when you’ve reached your budget, stop buying. You can always send postcards if you haven’t gotten something for everyone on your list. You can keep your costs down by shopping in local markets and hardware stores rather than tourist souvenir shops. We’ve found wonderful gifts in local stationers, bookstores and hardware stores including a nice set of fish knives for friends. Those are hard to find in the USA and really bring back memories when you use them.

Posted by Beausoleil 14:42 Archived in France Tagged france souvenirs gift_ideas Comments (0)

A Good First Trip out of Paris & 3 Day Trips from Paris

If you just have an extra day, check the 3 Day Trips from Paris. If you've seen Paris and are ready for some adventure, the Loire Valley is a great place to start visiting "the rest of France."


View Provence 2014 & Around France with Jean 2000 & Around France and through Switzerland 1998 & Pays de la Loire on Beausoleil's travel map.

Château d'Amboise in the Loire Valley

Château d'Amboise in the Loire Valley

A Good First Trip out of Paris

You've seen Paris and now you want to explore. Hooray! There is an entire country just waiting for you. Rent a car or hop on the train and explore! If you only have a few days, choose one area and have a good look at it. A good first choice outside of Paris would be the Loire Valley, the Valley of Kings. You can visit Versailles as a day trip from Paris, but Versailles is not your typical château; that's why it's so famous. It is also not in the famous and lovely Loire Valley. Rent a car and stop in Chartres on the way or just hop on a train for a two-hour trip to Amboise which is a great central base for exploring the most famous chateaux.

Château d'Azay-le-Rideau

Château d'Azay-le-Rideau

For something a bit more normal than Versailles, there are many possibilities. My favorite is Château d’Azay-le-Rideau in the town of the same name. It is a small, perfect, white wedding-cake of a château set in the middle of a moat by a river. It is nicely furnished; there is adequate (or excellent) accommodation nearby, the grounds are fun to explore and in season there is a fun Sound and Light Show at night. The château is right in the small town so you can walk to shops and restaurants or even camp by the river if you like. Château Azay-le-Rideau web site

Château de Chenonceau in the Loire Valley

Château de Chenonceau in the Loire Valley


Château de Villandry in the Loire Valley

Château de Villandry in the Loire Valley

The Loire Valley is famous for châteaux and if you have a few days, you can visit several of them. My three favorites are Château d’Azay-le-Rideau, Château de Chenonceau known as the Château of the ladies and built over the river Cher, and Château de Villandry famous for its beautiful gardens and a labyrinth. Another one that is fun and easy to visit is Château d'Amboise with the nearby Château du Clos Lucé where Leonardo de Vinci spent the last three years of his life. If you only visit these five, you will have a very nice Loire experience. (Right click on the links below and choose "open in new tab" and when you are finished, simply close the tab and you will be right back here to continue your exploration.)
Chateau de Chenonceau web site
Chateau de Villandry web site
Chateaud' Amboise web site
Chateau du Clos Lucé web site

Château de Chaumont in the Loire Valley

Château de Chaumont in the Loire Valley

That said, there are many more if you have time. There is a wonderful garden festival at Château de Chaumont during the summer. Château de Cheverny has a fun feeding of the hounds. Château de Chambord is not only the largest of the Loire châteaux, they have a wonderful equestrian show. Château d’Ussé has a connection with the fairy tale of Sleeping Beauty. Château de Langeais is smaller but very interesting in a quiet village with a fascinating bridge over the river. Château de Chinon is where Joan of Arc was a prisoner and Chateau de Fougères-sur-Bièvre is a medieval masterpiece and set up to be an educational château so it has good exhibits for children. Farther west along the Loire are wonderful châteaux in Angers and Saumur set in busy vibrant cities.
Chateau de Chaumont web site
Chateau de Cheverny web site
Chateau de Chambord web site
Chateau d’Ussé web site
Château de Langeais web site
Château de Chinon web site
Chateau de Fougères-sur-Bièvre web site

Garden at the Château Chaumont Garden Festival

Garden at the Château Chaumont Garden Festival

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Fontevraud L'Abbaye Royale Cloisters

Fontevraud L'Abbaye Royale Cloisters

If you get tired of châteaux, there are ancient churches and beautiful abbeys and several of the Plus Beaux Villages (Most Beautiful Villages) of France in the Loire Valley. We have visited Fontevraud-l'Abbaye three times, ten years apart. That has given us a good idea of the progress they’ve made in their restoration process of this largest abbey in Europe, and it has been amazing. They have several interactive exhibits ranging from a table where you can make models with Lego blocks to an Abbey mock-up that has moving parts you can manipulate. There is a snack restaurant and an excellent gourmet restaurant all on the Abbey grounds. My favorite interactive exhibit was inside the main sanctuary of the Abbey Church. There is a panel where you can manipulate colored lights onto the opposite wall to “paint” the abbey wall as it might have been when it was new. My husband had to drag me away from that. Fontevraud-l'Abbaye web site

Fontevraud L'Abbaye Royale Chapter House

Fontevraud L'Abbaye Royale Chapter House

Lavardin, my watercolor of a Plus Beau Village on the Loir River

Lavardin, my watercolor of a Plus Beau Village on the Loir River


The Most Beautiful Villages of France are always fun to visit. They can have a population of no more than 2000 and must have at least two historic sites in addition to going through an application process that involves the entire village. In warm months they are covered with flowers and there is usually at least one good restaurant in or nearby.

Plus Beaux Villages in the Loire Valley include Montresor, Crissay-sur-Manse, Candes-Saint-Martin, Montsoreau and Lavardin. Plus Beaux Villages of France web site

View of Montsoreau from Château Montsoreau

View of Montsoreau from Château Montsoreau

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Three Day Trips out of Paris

Have an extra day and want to experience something of the rest of France? Here are three suggestions depending on your interests.

1) There is a lovely town called Provins northeast of Paris. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. There is Saint Quiriace Collegiate Church and the town is a charming cobblestone town that people think of when they think of old Europe. It would be a complete change from Paris and in the summer there are reenactors and all sorts of activities to enjoy. Here is the town web site that lists several transportation options. Official Provins Web Site

2) You can easily take the train to Chartres, one of our favorite towns in France. The cathedral is world famous and many people don't know about the labyrinth inside. It is covered with chairs except on Fridays when the chairs are moved and the labyrinth is open and you can walk it, or watch others do so. Also in Chartres are two more magnificent churches, the lovely Eure river with the Old Town along the banks and a very nice small art museum. There is a stained glass museum and you can take a little tourist train around town to get oriented for walking afterwards. The tourist office is right in front of the cathedral in a house. Stop there and they will give you a free map with walking tours of the town. Here's a web site to get you started. Official Chartres Web Site

3) If you want to do something very French and entirely crazy, go to Parc Asterix. Your children would love it and I suspect you would too. It is a theme park (think Disneyland with character) based on the historic comic character Asterix. It is great fun and you won't see a lot of American tourists there; perhaps not any at all. It is even educational if you need an excuse. Here's a web site to check. Parc Asterix Web Site

Chartres Cathedral in Chartres

Chartres Cathedral in Chartres


Finally, when you get some ideas, type the names of the towns into the TP Search Window above and that will take you to the TP Travel Guides for each place. There will be photos, hotels, things to do, transportation information and web links you can check.

Beaux-Arts Museum - Chartres

Beaux-Arts Museum - Chartres


Chartres Cathedral from the Eure River

Chartres Cathedral from the Eure River

Posted by Beausoleil 14:41 Archived in France Tagged paris france loire chateaux chartres loire_valley provins day_trips chateaus parc_asterix Comments (3)

Trains in France

Trains are much nicer and more fun than budget airlines. Try them . . .


View Provence 2014 & Around France with Jean 2000 & Around France and through Switzerland 1998 & Pays de la Loire on Beausoleil's travel map.

Leaving Strasbourg for Paris

Leaving Strasbourg for Paris


Depending on where you live, you may fly to Europe. Once there, you have many choices. We usually lease a car unless we're only visiting cities. If we are visiting cities, we do not get a car. We take trains between cities and use the wonderful public transportation systems in the cities.

Gare de l'Est, Paris on the way to Strasbourg

Gare de l'Est, Paris on the way to Strasbourg


If you don't want to drive in France, there is a fabulous train system and although the prices differ depending on which train you choose, it is an excellent way to get around. Most train stations are in the historic centers of the towns so you can walk anyplace you want to go. If the train station is outside town (usually the newer TGV fast trains), there will be a shuttle service. It's meant to be convenient.

Arriving in Paris, passing Résidence Michelet

Arriving in Paris, passing Résidence Michelet


As a side note, buses are designed to not compete with trains, so you take the train to the region you want and then you may take a local bus to your final destination. Taking a bus from one region to another is difficult because they are all independent bus operators so don’t coordinate schedules. The rule is to get the train to the region and then the bus to the final destination. Usually this can be done on the train web site so you don’t need to worry about finding the local bus. The bus station is usually at or beside the train station. The exception to this rule is when you book the bus on the train web site. Then everything is coordinated for you and you just walk across to the bus station and hop on.

The TGV can get from Paris to Avignon in 2 hours 36 minutes and you don’t have to be there two hours ahead of time as when you fly. It is generally much more pleasant than flying and we were surprised at how much of the scenery you can see when you are going that fast. You can also get up and walk around and depending on your train, visit the dining car en route. You also will usually end up right in the historic center of the city. The trains are clean, comfortable and safe. It’s a wonderful experience.

Here is the web site for French trains in general. Official French Train web site

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Gare de Tours, the downtown train station

Gare de Tours, the downtown train station

If you want to use local trains that are inexpensive and go nearly everywhere, you will want the TER trains. TER Information web site

If you want to take the famous high-speed TGV trains, here is the web site but remember, to get the best prices you need to book 90 days before your trip: Official TGV web site

The TGV seen from the Autoroute du Soleil

The TGV seen from the Autoroute du Soleil


For a less expensive high-speed trip, look at iDTGV which is a budget version of the high-speed trains. You print your own e-tickets when they are emailed to you, but other than that, they are pretty much the same as the regular TGV. They are hooked on the end of the TGV trains so you have a good hike at the station but you save a lot of money; however, they are nonrefundable. iDTGV Official web site

If you are going to Aix-en-Provence, Avignon, Lyon St-Exupéry, Marne-la-Vallée (Disneyland), Marseille, Montpellier, Nîmes or Valence, you can use the high-speed low-price option of OuiGo Trains. These are inexpensive trains hooked on the back of the TGV so they go just as fast but cost much less but must be booked online. If you are traveling with a family, children under 12 pay only 5 euros a ticket. It may pay to book to one of these cities and take a bus or local train from there. There are strict luggage restrictions so check the web site at: OuiGo Train web site

There are specific trains just for tourists that include protected areas and special scenery. More information here: French Tourist Trains web site

If you only speak English, you may find the Capitain Train (now TrainLine) web site easier to use. It’s a favorite of ours. Trainline web site, formerly Capitain Train

Gare Saint-Lazare in Paris

Gare Saint-Lazare in Paris


A word of warning here. There is a site called RailEurope that caters for the USA market and they don't list all the trains and they seem to charge more than the official web sites so I'll recommend avoiding the RailEurope web site. Use Trainline (Capitain Train) instead. They don't have extra charges and they do have all the trains. Of course, the official train web sites will give you all the information and prices and most of them are now in English if you don't have a good command of French.

If you have any more questions, check the wonderful web site The Man in Seat61 that tells you anything you want to know about trains. Highly recommended. The Man in Seat61 web site

Posted by Beausoleil 10:56 Archived in France Tagged trains france tgv ter idtgv oiugo Comments (1)

Crossing Borders in Europe

. . . if you want to visit more than France, you will have to cross a border into another country. How long can you stay? Do you need a visa?


View Provence 2014 & Around France with Jean 2000 & Around France and through Switzerland 1998 & Pays de la Loire on Beausoleil's travel map.

Welcome to France (from Belgium)

Welcome to France (from Belgium)

If you are visiting France, you may want to take a few days or weeks to visit one or more of the surrounding countries. It is easy to drive to Belgium, Italy, Switzerland, Germany, Italy, Spain or to take trains to any of the European countries. We usually lease a car and with a lease, you are free to drive to nearly all the other European countries. Check with your leasing agent for a list of allowed countries. With rental cars be sure you let them know which countries you will be driving in so you are insured for all of them. Some countries may not be allowed and then you can take plane or train and rent another car in that country. That would be the cheapest way to do it anyway and I'll recommend the train because it's more comfortable and you can see the scenery. If you are interested in leasing a car, here is some information: Leasing a car in France information

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Leaving France and entering Germany

Leaving France and entering Germany

As we all know, Europe is composed of many different countries with many different languages. In the good old days when you went from country to country, you had to go through an official border checkpoint and show your passport. Since the EU and the Schengen Agreement, most of those stops are cute little abandoned shacks by the roadside accompanied by a large sign telling you the name of the country you are entering. This means that for the most part, you do not have to stop; no one asks you any questions; there is no stamp on your passport and if you miss the border sign, you may not even know you have entered another country. Occasionally, the posts are manned and you may be flagged over. They are probably looking for someone specific and will wave you through. We've only been stopped once because there was a demonstration (manifestation) ahead and they wanted us to take another road. We did and had no problems.

Old Customs House at the France-Italy border in the Alps

Old Customs House at the France-Italy border in the Alps

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Entering the Netherlands from Germany

Entering the Netherlands from Germany


Everyone in Europe doesn't fit neatly into this scheme, however. Some countries require visas of other countries; some countries are in the EU but not in the Schengen Agreement and some countries just have different rules. It is your responsibility to figure out which category fits you. You can get a list of which countries fit each category here: List of countries in the Schengen Agreement

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Entering Belgium from the Netherlands

Entering Belgium from the Netherlands


To find out if you need a visa, check this web site: Do you need a Schengen Visa? Generally, if you are from the United States of America, you do not need a visa to stay within the Schengen area for 90 full days. Then you must leave for 90 full days. You can't just zip out and back in again. You must stay out for 90 days. Then you can repeat the cycle. If you plan to visit more than the 90 days, you must get a visa of some sort, student visa, work visa, some kind of visa. Generally, if your trip is fewer than 90 days, you don't have to worry about this unless you are going to a country that requires a visa. Check the web site at the beginning of this paragraph.

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Returning to France from Belgium

Returning to France from Belgium

If you plan well, you can stay by spending 90 days inside Schengen and then another 90 days outside Schengen (England, for one, is not a Schengen country) and then repeating the cycle. It takes a bit of planning but may be worth it. Most of us go for shorter periods of time so it's not a problem.There's a pretty good explanation at the web site below. If you have questions, it is always best to contact the embassy of the country you want to visit.

There are some exceptions to the rules too. You can drive in and out of Monaco and Andorra with no problems. San Marino and Vatican City do not have border checks. They are so small that having border checks would be very difficult. However, there will be no passport stamp and you must still abide by the Schengen rules so you really haven't left Schengen when you go into and out of these countries.


Entering Italy from France

Entering Italy from France

Posted by Beausoleil 14:29 Archived in France Tagged borders travel driving visa border_crossing europe schengen visa_information Comments (0)

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