Things to Do in France - page 4
Second only to the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame Cathedral (Cathedrale de Notre Dame de Paris) is one of Paris' most iconic attractions, a marvel of medieval architecture that was immortalized in Victor Hugo's classic novelThe Hunchback of Notre Dame. Today, the Gothic grandeur and stained-glass windows of the UNESCO World Heritage site continue to reign supreme from Ile de la Cite, an island in the middle of the Seine River.
(UPDATE: Notre Dame Cathedral is currently off-limits due to fire damage)
Known as the “Village of Painters,” Barbizon is a little town of around 1,500 people perched on the edge of the Fountainebleau Forest just outside Paris. Famous for the Barbizon art movement of French Revolution fame, Barbizon was the place where many artists headed at the time. Inspired by the rural paintings of English painter John Constable, the school of artists found the village’s fields and surrounding Fountainebleau Forest central to their work.
The area’s most famous painters, Théodore Rousseau and Jean-François Millet, made their homes, lived their lives and ultimately died in the village. Millet is especially famous for his paintings of peasant figures working the fields. He purposely hid the peasant’s faces and gave them bent figures to show their anonymity and the difficulty of their lives, a huge step away from the formal aristocrat portraits of the time.
The Barbizon movement of 1830-1870 also inspired the next generation of French artists; impressionists such as Monet, Renoir and Alfred Sisley all discovered the joys of painting in the Fontainebleau Forest.
In Barbizon village, it’s popular to take a stroll down the Grand Rue to see its stone houses and discover its restaurants. There are several museums and artists’ studios to visit in town, too.
Dominating the landscape around Aix-en-Provence, Sainte-Victoire Mountain (Montagne Sainte-Victoire) is a limestone ridge immortalized by Aix-en-Provence painter Paul Cézanne. Whether you bike or hike to the top or just admire the silhouette from afar, its angular profile can be seen for miles around.
The oldest Roman theater in France, Lyon’s Ancient Theatre of Fourvière (Théâtre Antique de Lyon) was built under the orders of Augustus and expanded in Hadrian’s time. Completed in 17 B.C. with space for 10,000 people, today the Grand Theatre is part of the UNESCO World Heritage site of Lyon.
Restored in the 20th century, the ancient theater is now used to stage popular cultural events such as the summertime Nuits de Fourvière festival, where dance, opera and circus performers play alongside international music acts like Franz Ferdinand.
Situated on Fourvière Hill near the Notre Dame Basilica, from the theater you can also see the grand remains of the Odeon of Lyon, with its beautiful inlaid floor of marble and porphyry. Forming a pair with the main theater, the Odeon was built early in the second century with space for 3,000 people. Behind the Ancient Theatre of Fourvière, you can also visit the remains of an ancient Roman temple, dedicated in 160 A.D. to goddess Cybele.
Inaugurated in 1900 and currently undergoing a thorough renovation and extension by the Stanton Williams architect group, the Nantes Art Museum (Musée d'Arts de Nantes) is Nantes’ flagship art museum, celebrated for its large and varied collection of works, dating from the 12th to the 20th centuries.
Highlights of the vast permanent collection include works by Delacroix, Rousseau, Tintoretto, Perugino, Renoir, and Gauguin, among many others, with key pieces including Rubens’ The Triumph of Judas Maccabaeus, Delaunay’s David Triumphant and Chagall’s Le Cheval Rouge. A well-established series of temporary exhibits complement the main displays, with a greater focus on contemporary art, while late openings on Thursday evenings include music, dance and literature inspired events.
On the coast of Normandy, Arromanches 360 is a circular cinema with nine screens that work together to create an immersive cinematic experience. Here, visitors can watch an HD film that tells the story of the 100-day Battle of Normandy during World War II, complete with archival footage from France, Germany, the UK, Canada, and the US.
As important to French culture as Paris and paté, the art of perfume is on display at the Fragonard perfumery in Grasse, one of the oldest-running perfumeries in France. Dating to 1926 and featuring plenty of artifacts from the original distillery, the historic factory functions as a modern artisanal perfume factory deeply rooted in tradition.
The medieval island village of Mont Saint-Michel, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, sits right off France’s Atlantic coast at the mouth of the Couesnon River. Crowned by a Gothic abbey that sits atop the rocky isle, Mont Saint-Michel rises dramatically from the tidal flats of the bay, creating one of the country’s most recognizable images. It’s a must-see for history buffs and those interested in religious sites, and visits are often combined with tours through the region of Normandy.
Rivaling the Louvre as Paris' favorite art museum, the Orsay Museum (Musée d'Orsay) is known for its impressionist, post-impressionist, and art nouveau works from 1848 to 1914. Equally impressive as what’s inside the museum is its exterior: a former Beaux-Arts railway station with an enviable location on the banks of the Seine River. Both architecture and art buffs will want this museum on their Parisian itineraries.
Perched in the shadow of Mount Salève, the Maison du Saleve is an 18th century farmhouse dedicated to showcasing the relationship between man and mountain. With exhibits, workshops, guided walks, hikes, and an exhibition for children, there are plenty of learning opportunities. There are also some incredible views — from the exhibit’s photography to the outlook over Lake Geneva and the Mont Blanc mountains. The mountain has affectionately been called the “Balcony of Geneva.”
La Salève has a long legacy of scientific study, and is also considered to be a birthplace of rock climbing and mountains expeditions. Permanent and temporary exhibits detail the history, study, and sports of the mountain. Guided walks in the nature around the museum allow for the best immersion in the surroundings, and bikers will appreciate the cycling paths weaving throughout. The whole experience is family-friendly and accessible from Geneva, which offers access via its city pass.
More Things to Do in France
The arresting Château du Clos de Vougeot lies at the heart of Burgundy’s wine country and makes a popular stop along the Route des Grands Crus tourist trail, offering a unique insight into the region’s wine-making history. Although the winery was originally built by monks in the 12th-century, the Renaissance-style château that stands today dates from the 16th-century and the complex includes the original kitchens, medieval vat-house and presses, and Cistercian cellar.
The Clos de Vougeot no longer produces wine, but is preserved as a national monument and hosts regular events, exhibitions and concerts, as well as daily tours, which allow visitors to peek at the historic grape presses and stroll through the surrounding vineyards.
Built in 1495, this dramatic Gothic Revival 35-meters tall city gate was built to commemorate King Charles VIII's victory at Fornovo in Italy during the Italian War of 1494. At the time, it was the main entry point to Bordeaux from the port. It faces Place du Palais and features several ornamental sculptures and towers, something that is very typical of architecture built under the reign of Charles VIII; indeed, the monarch wanted this gate to showcase his power and affluence. The gate, which was once part of the Bordeaux city wall, was later on used as a defensive tower (the multitude of portcullis, murder holes, and machicolation features are there to prove this), and as a salt scale and storehouse.
Nowadays, it houses an informative exhibition dedicated to the tools and materials with which the tower was built as well as the urban development of Bordeaux. There is a wonderful view of the old town center, the Garonne River, and the Pont de Pierre Bridge from the top floor.
Located in a building that overlooks La Rochelle’s Old Port (Vieux-Port), the Aquarium La Rochelle is one of the largest aquariums in France and attracts nearly 1 million visitors annually. Learn about more than 600 species—including rays, sharks, and jellyfish—in display areas dedicated to animals from a variety of habitats.
The most remarkable religious building in Bordeaux, according to locals, the Bordeaux Cathedral (Cathédrale St. André) is famous for having a separate and independent bell tower. The cathedral was first built in the 13th century and is now a UNESCO World Heritage site, while having once played a significant role in the religious and cultural development of Bordeaux; it is indeed where the prosperous Eleanor of Aquitaine got married to the future King of France, Louis VII. Her considerable wealth benefited the entire city and even the cathedral itself, which was subsequently enlarged and lavishly decorated. One of its most remarkable features is undoubtedly the wrought ironwork by local craftsman Blaise Charlut, which is located in the middle of the transept. The cathedral’s 14th-century tympanum depicts the Last Judgment in the most dramatic way in prominent Gothic architecture.
Bordeaux Cathedral is also where Archbishop Bertrand de Goth found out that he had been elected Pope and officially became Pope Clement V, the first to move the Curia from Rome to Avignon. Its also infamous for suppressing the order of the Knights Templar. The cathedral would again see the wedding of a royal family in 1615, this time between King Louis XIII and Queen consort Anne of Austria, following a tradition of fortifying military and political alliances between the Catholic powers of France and Spain with royal marriages.
A gleaming retro-Byzantine confection of Roman columns and religious iconography, the Basilica of Notre-Dame de Fourvière (Basilique Notre-Dame de Fourvière) is visible, by design, from almost anywhere in Lyon. Today it is the symbol of the city and Lyon's most visited attraction, well worth the climb just to enter the outrageous interior.
Completed in 1896 as a challenge to secular forces then gaining power in France (likeSacré-Coeur Montmartre), the basilica's gleaming marble, gold gilt, fantastic stained glass, and borderline hallucinogenic ceiling are meant to impress. And they do.
In addition to the basilica and an adjacent chapel dedicated to a particularly miraculous Virgin Mary, both free to the public, this site also offers an observatory, museum, and fantastic views.
The largest Gothic palace in the world, Avignon’s Palace of the Popes (Palais des Papes) was home to the heads of the Roman Catholic Church in the 14th century. Visitors can tour the grand rooms, landscaped gardens, and secret passages used by members of the clergy, and see special exhibitions and concerts held at the palace.
Château du Clos Lucé may not be the country’s grandest castle, but it’s still gained favor among art and history loving travelers thanks to its notoriety as the official final residence of famed artist Leonardo da Vinci. While the castle was once home to King Francis I, today it stands as a museum to the great painter’s works. Travelers can wander the halls and check out more than 40 models and machines designed by da Vinci, as well as wander the underground tunnel that connects Château du Clos Lucé to the royal Chateau d’Amboise.
Appropriately situated just north of the Toulouse Airport and near the Airbus Factory, the aviation museum Aeroscopia features a wide variety of aviation-related exhibits. Here visitors of all ages can learn about everything from airplane design to air traffic control in a fun and interactive environment.
Perched on a hilltop looking down over the Cote d’Azur and just minutes from the border of Monaco, La Turbie makes a worthwhile detour for those en-route to Monte Carlo. With its narrow paved streets and stone-brick archways, the small village offers an authentic slice of old Provence, and its baroque church and medieval buildings make for a pleasant walking tour.
The undisputed star attraction of La Turbie is the striking Tropaeum Alpium or ‘Trophy of the Alps’, a grand 35-meter-tall monument that looms over the town and was built by the Romans in 7 BC. North of the Tropaeum, walking trails run up into the surrounding hills and offer impressive lookouts over the Mediterranean coast below, with views spanning Cap Ferrat, Antibes and as far as Vintimille bay in Italy.
The covered markets of the Les Halles de Lyon have been open since 1970. The full name of the markets includes the name Paul Bocuse, a legendary figure on both the French and international cooking scene. Many of the shops located here are star-rated by the Michelin guide, and more than 95% of the shops are run by business owners who really know their products. These are local businesses, which draws in loyal customers.
There are approximately 60 shops in Les Halles selling products that have to do with cooking and food. You'll find butchers, bakers, caterers, fishmongers, and more selling their high quality fresh products. It is also a showcase for local food products and a great place to find good meats, poultry, seafood, cheeses, fruits, and vegetables. You can also enjoy a sit down meal with a glass of wine at the markets.
Set between the dramatic landscapes of the Verdon Gorge and the Valensole plateau, the man-madeLake of Sainte-Croix (Lac de Sainte-Croix) is among Provence’s most popular vacation spots. With sandy lakeside beaches, water temperatures rivaling those of the Mediterranean Sea, and fewer crowds than the French Riviera, it’s the ideal summer destination.
The Hospice Comtesse Museum (Musée de l'Hospice Comtesse) is the town museum of Lille. It's housed in an old hospital founded by Jeanne, Countess of Flanders, for the poor of the city in 1237. Most of the building dates from the 15th-17th centuries, and retains a warren-like feel.
The collection features 17th and 18th century art; woodwork; ceramics; tapestries and musical instruments. But being the town museum, it also focuses on the history of Lille, particularly its revolutionary history, and the story of the hospital and the monks that ran it.
The ground floor is devoted to a recreation of a Flemish house and the hospital as it would have been centuries ago.
The 12th-century Senanque Abbey (Abbaye Notre-Dame de Sénanque) which to this day is the home and worshiping place of Cistercian monks, has no great history. There are no iconic frescoes or statues to see, and while pretty, it isn't especially notable architecturally. So why is it on every visitor's must-see list when visiting Provence?
One word: lavender. The monks here grow, harvest and process lavender from the surrounding fields, which means that come June visitors have a front-row seat to one of the most gorgeous photo ops of all time. Whether passing by in a car or stopping to smell the flowers, the Sénanque Abbey, near Gordes, is a summertime treat.
- Things to do in Paris
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- Things to do in Arles
- Things to do in Marignane
- Things to do in Nîmes
- Things to do in Montpellier
- Things to do in Blois
- Things to do in Switzerland
- Things to do in Monaco
- Things to do in Burgundy
- Things to do in Rhône-Alpes
- Things to do in Languedoc-Roussillon