Photo: Boris Stroujko/Shutterstock

Beyond Paris: 5 Other Places to Experience La Belle France

France Insider Guides Culture
by Tanya Brothen Mar 21, 2009
Looking to branch out from la vie Parisienne? Here is a list of my favorite places to take a French vacation sans the Eiffel Tower.
1. The Loire Valley

Kings, queens, and the bourgeoisie alike spent generations snatching up real estate in this prime, perfect-for-building-castles location. As a result, the Loire Valley is home to some of the most iconic French images outside of Paris.

Here, you can visit Catherine de Medici’s graceful home at Chenonceau, Francois I’s ostentatious hunting lodge at Chambord, and even the grave of Leonardo da Vinci at Amboise.

Some of the chateaux have been converted into modern-day hotels and restaurants guaranteed to bring out your inner aristocrat.

Accessible from Paris as a day trip (but with plenty to see and do during an extended stay), the Loire Valley is a great option for travelers wanting to break up their Parisian stay with a non-Parisian adventure.

2. Alsace

Alsace now belongs to the French, but the local flavor is heavily German.

France and Germany spent centuries disputing ownership of this eastern region, with France only definitively laying claim to the land in 1945.

After exploring the countryside, be sure to visit Strasbourg, which is not only France’s sixth most populous city, but also home to a world-famous Christmas market, an impressive Gothic cathedral, and numerous European institutions.

Don’t miss the area known as La Petite France and its winding streets, flowing canals, and 16th- and 17th-century homes. For those hoping to practice their auf wiedersehens as well as their au revoirs, Strasbourg’s German Quarter should do the trick.

3. Burgundy

Burgundy, or Bourgogne in French, is known as the gastronomic capital of France; the only way to visit this center-east region is on an empty stomach.

Specialties include adventurous escargot, hearty boeuf bourguignon, and the classic coq au vin.

Prefer a liquid diet? Burgundy’s Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays are some of the finest in the world.

Bypass the larger cities of Dijon and Auxerre for villages such as Beaune and Aloxe-Corton. As you sip the locally produced Meursault, dine on regional cuisine, and stroll the vine-laden hillsides, you’ll finally know what it’s like to live la belle vie.

4. Champagne

If those Burgundy wines sit well with you, you’ll also want to head north to Champagne. The bottles here are just as prized, only this time they come with bubbles.

Small, non-exporting producers are everywhere, but if you want to sip like a jet-setter, check out the cities of Épernay or Reims, where you’ll find all the big-name Champagne houses: Moët et Chandon, Veuve Clicquot, and Taittinger, to name a few.

Take a tour of their naturally chilled caves (Taittinger’s is the best) and they’ll serve you a glass when the tour’s done.

History buffs will also enjoy a visit to Notre-Dame de Reims. After centuries of serving as the coronation site of French kings, this inspiring cathedral barely escaped total destruction during the two World Wars.

5. Provence

Between the seemingly endless clouds and rain, the rushed pace of life, and the Parisian penchant for wearing all black, the City of Lights can sometimes feel like anything but.

Provence offers an escape from the capital’s melancholic mood. Color reigns supreme in this mythical southern locale, as bright yellow buildings and fields of lavender radiate in the sunshine.

Stay in tranquil Arles, whose history dates back to the Greeks and whose Roman arena is still in use today.

After seeking out the areas of town that inspired paintings by Van Gogh, rent a car to explore the surrounding countryside and authentic Provençal villages.

Feel the warm breeze on your face as you wander a grove of olive trees, spot wild horses and pink flamingos in the Camargue, or sip the local liqueur, Pastis, on a sun-baked terrace. Now, who needs Paris when they’ve got all that?


For more ideas on getting beyond Paris, check out How to Travel in France for Less Than $100 a Day and Castles, Wine, and History on the Cathar Trail.

Discover Matador