There is not only Paris : the provinces (#1)

Paris is only a part of France and outside Paris, there's more than Provence. Many regions deserve more interest.

Enjoy one of my innovative suggestions, including one of the many spas or some ususual places!

And read the page basic geographical facts about France

 Regions in France : a brief reminder    Unusual places in France
  • Administratively and politically, the country is divided into 22 regions, each of them with an elected assembly ("Conseil regional", with a "Président de Région"), a representative of the State ("Préfet de Région"), and the various administrations of the State and the Region, etc

  • By American and even by European standards, French regions are small and weak but, the country being extremely varied, each of them has its own personnality. 

  • In addition to the 22 metropolitan regions, there are 4 overseas regions, with exactly the same organization : Ile de la Réunion (pop 700,000), Guyane (pop 200,000), Martinique (pop 400,000), Guadeloupe (pop 400,000). (see DOM-TOM)

  • More about the various layers of power in France : "communes, départements", "régions", etc...

  • More to come

DID YOU KNOW THAT....? If Eurodisney is, by far, the largest and the most professional theme park in France (more than 16 million visitors/year), several other parks are worth a visit if you are traveling in their region. Among them : Le Mémorial de la Paix, in Normandy (Caen), pedagogical and touching, definitely worth a visit, the Futuroscope (near Poitiers), technology and image, the Cité de l'Espace (Toulouse), and many others...

Traveling in France and touristic labels ....

  • The label "L'un des plus beaux villages de France" ("one of the most beautiful villages of France" is not a commercial advertizing. Only 156 villages (of less than 2,000 inhabitants) deserve it and each of them is worth a trip (like Gordes, Riquewihr or Collonge-la-Rouge). The label is confirmed every 6 years and it can be removed if the village did not respect the (very demanding) specifications.

  • "Petite cité de caractère" ("little town with personnality") means a little town with pretty (generally medieval) houses and a local policy to keep an authentic flavour and to avoid advertizing posters and poor taste.

  • The label "Village fleuri" ("village with flowers") is represented by one to five flowers marqued " * " under its name. From two or three *, you can tell the difference with other villages.

  • What are the most spectacular sites or monuments in France ? France has 35 UNESCO World Heritage sites : see them all.

  • More to come....

USEFUL TIP ....: when you travel in France, always try local food and local drinks. You will be astonished by the variety of flavours and tastes and many excellent products taste better in their native region and some are hardly found outside of it. Among hundreds of examples : calvados (Normandy), lillet (Bordeaux), piment d'espellette (Pays Basque), boulette d'Avesnes (Nord), choucroute (Alsace), cannelé (Bordeaux), calissons (Aix en Provence), etc...

 

In addition to major monuments (see : most visited sites), if you travel in France don't miss some places (all listed historical monuments) which illustrate an incredible sense of fantasy and imagination such as:

  • The " Palais Idéal du Facteur Cheval " in Hauterives (South of Lyon) : Ferdinand Cheval was a postman in a small village ; for 50 years he collected stones he picked up during his rounds (on foot) and he built an amazing 30 foot high 3,000 square feet monument with corridors, grottos, naive sculptures, mysterious warning signs, etc

  • The " Maison Picassiette " in Chartres : Raymond Isidore spent his whole life covering every square inch of his house with pieces of broken porcelain and the result is spectacular (but still doesn't compare with the cathedral!). Tel. (0)2 37 36 41 39.

  • The "Saline Royale d'Arc-et-Senans" : in the Eastern part of France, near Besançon, Architect Claude-Nicolas Ledoux imagined and built in 1774 an "Ideal City", around a salt-producing plant : it is beautiful, impressive and crazy ; there are a few bedrooms inside the monument itself (tel 33-3 81 54 45 45).

  • Pierre Loti's House in Rochefort : behind an ordinary house on an ordinary street, the eccentric 1900's writer built an amazing house with a mosque and a Renaissance Hall.

  • The whimsical "Château de Monte Christo " in Port-Marly, near Paris, built by writer Alexandre Dumas.

  • The House of Victor Hugo in Guernesey where he lived in exile with his wife (his mistress lived across the street).

  • More to come

Other visits relate to more tragic events :

  • The village of Ouradour-sur-Glane, near Limoges (Center West of France), has been kept exactly how it was on the evening of June 10, 1944 when the SS Division "Das Reich" killed more than 600 inhabitants (all but 5 or 6), men shot, women and children burnt alive in the church. A breathtaking vision of horror.

  • The American cemetery of Colleville, near Omaha Beach, is not only profoundly moving, it is also beautiful in a spectacular scenery with a very interesting visitor's center.

  • The whole region of Verdun still bears the marks of the huge 1916 battl where 700,000 were killed.

  • More to come...

 Festivals outside Paris (most of them in Summer)    Lyon

The country  is a giant theme park and many local festivals are definitely worth a trip. It is impossible to list all the music, theater, cinema, etc.... festivals that take place in France. There are hundreds of them, everywhere, but some of them are very notorious and represent major events in French cultural life. Among them :

  • Nantes (January) : " La Folle Journée ", classical music all around the city
  • Angouleme (January) : "Festival de la Bande Dessinée" (BD), international comic book festival (read more)
  • Bourges (April) : " Festival de Bourges " (French songs), since 1976
  • Nimes (the week-end of Pentacost) : "Feria", excellent bullfights, bodegas (bars) open all night, etc.
  • Juan-les-Pins (June) : " Jazz Festival ", since 1960 in the wonderful site of a pine forrest above the sea
  • Avignon (first 3 weeks of July) : " Festival d'Avignon " (Theater and dance), since 1947, probably the major event for theater in France, the most prestigious performances of the ON take place in the spectacular courtyard of the Palace of the Popes, hundreds of companies in the OFF, several hundred thousand spectators
  • La Rochelle (July) : " Francofolies " (French songs), since the 1970s
  • La Roque-d'Anthéeon (July) : " International Piano Festival ", since 1980, 80 piano concerts in the Abbaye de Silvacane (XIIth Century) or Château de Florans
  • Aix-en-Provence (July) : " Festival d'Art Lyrique ", since 1948, opera with a particular preference for Mozart
  • Charleville-Mézières (July) : "Festival international de marionnettes" (muppets)
  • Orange (July) : " Chorégies d'Orange " (opera), a prestigious opera festival, with few performances, in the incredibly dramatic site of the Roman theater of Orange, the best singers and orchestras in the world
  • Marciac (2 weeks in August) : " Jazz in Marciac ", a very friendly jazz festival, with dozens of jazz groups, among the best in the world, in a charming village in the Gers (South-West)
  • Aurillac (around August 15) : " Festival International du Théatre de Rue " (Street Theater), since 1985, ON (16 companies, 18 shows) and OFF (more than 500 companies) ; in 2005, 634 performances per day (on 4 days), more than 60,000 visitors
  • Deauville (first week of September) : "Festival du Film Américain", since 1975, always interesting
  • Nantes (Novembre) : " Festival des Trois Continents " (cinema from Asia, Africa and Latin America), since 1978
  • Visit their websites for more details ...
  • Read about French movies and French songs
  • (Many) more to come

Other events :

  • Cannes film  festival (May)
  • Braderie de Lille (First week-end of September) : a spectacular garage and antique sales, all over the city (11,000 stands along 50 miles!) ; more than a million visitors ; excellent deals and an opportunity to enjoy the local specialty mussels and French fries with beer ;
  • Christmas Market in Strasbourg (December)
  • And many others
 

When in Lyon, take a tour in the Beaujolais Wine Country ! (French Tuscany)

Pore over medieval treasures and sample renowned cuisine in Lyon. Then visit the "golden stone villages" of Beaujolais where mustard-colored stones and earth give the countryside an incredible luminosity. For the grand finale, follow the Routes des Vins de Beaujolais, between Brouilly and St.Amour, stopping to taste wine in the vineyards of the famous 10 crus. Stay overnight in a luxurious 13th-century chateau-hôtel :

  • Lyon : the entire historic center is a UNESCO World Heritage Site ; lunch in a traditional Lyonnais bouchon, or bistro. Click here for Lyon Tourist Office.
  • Oingt (23 miles) : medieval houses, panoramic view from tower of chateau church
  • Châtillon (7 miles) : 12th-century fortress, St-Barthélémy chapel
  • Bagnols (6 miles) : 15th-century church and houses ; overnignt at château de Bagnols, a magnificently restored 13th-century château with a moat, drawbridge and formal gardens (Château de Bagnols, le Bourg, tel. 33-4 74 71 40 00)

Lyon is a wonderful city, which in itself deserves a trip : a long history with spectacular monuments (do not miss the Roman museum), a tradition of beauty (a spectacular museau of silk), possibly the best food in France, etc...

  • The local hero is a muppet character called "Guignol" you can also see in Paris. Guignol is impertinent, mocking and rebel to any form of authority (he beats the policeman with a big stick : children love it!)
  • a site for Americans living in Lyon (or visiting) and interested in food and American products
  • In Paris, a rather typical "bouchon lyonnais" (i.e. good homey food in unpretentious surroundings) in Paris is Chez Fred.
  • Click here for an article Harriet wrote in the issue of "2000 France Discovery Guide" on Patrimoine and Art de Vivre in the Rhone Alpes Region.
  • More to come....

USEFUL TIPS.... When you take the train in France, you MUST use one of the yellow machines on the platform to punch ("composter") your ticket BEFORE you go onboard. Otherwise you may be fined as if you did not have a valid ticket. Another tip : buy your ticket as soon as you can before your trip : the price can be much lower for the same trip. It's easy on internet with the SNCF site.

 Suggestions....    Other regions
  • Misc. ideas and links :
    • The most beautiful gothic statues and bas relief of France are in Paris ! Visit the Musée des Monuments Français with its incredible presentation of casts in plaster.
    • If you move (permanently) to a city, contact Accueil Villes de France (AVF), a very helpful organization, active in most French cities.
    • Travel in France and learn the history of the country !
    • Do you know "Thalassotherapy" ? It is a wonderful form of spa the French have developed on all its coasts. Click here for details...
    • More to come
  • Accomodation
    • Sleep in a real castle! It can also be an opportunity to be welcomed by real aristocrats ! They are always friendly and it can be a fascinating experience. All the chains below are good and it is a great formula to travel in France, for the price of a traditional hotel :
    • Why not try a (very comfortable) troglodyte bedroom ! Over the Loire Valley, former monks' cells then Vouvray-wine cellars, now house 12 bedrooms (120 to 200 Euros, April 1 till October 31). Domaine des Hautes Roches, 86 Quai de Loire 37210 Roche Corbon tel. 33-2 47 52 88 88
    • and for further information on cave sites, read : Deep in the Heart of France: A Guide to the Loire Valley’s Contemporary Caves by Robert Bonnell. This e-book, which reviews nearly 200 cave sites open to the public, including restaurants, lodgings, museums, etc. and 22 suggested walks in cave country.

Facts & links :

DID YOU KNOW THAT…..? Around France, and not to mention Luxembourg which is a duchy, ruled by a Grand Duc, three countries, formally independent, are ruled by medieval traditions. They have different laws, and particularly tax laws and they are, to some extend, tax-havens. Andorra, on the border between France and Spain, is a a co-principality and his two co-heads of State are the King of France (represented by the President of France) and the King of Spain (represented by the bishop of Urgel) ; every year the delegates of the people bring the tribute of the country to the King of France (a basket of chickens and eggs!). Monaco, on the Riviera, is formally ruled by a Prince but in fact its cabinet and the higher positions in its government are provided by France and this makes a wonderful "pre-retirement-jobs" for high ranking French top civil servants. In the Manche (the English Channel), the Channel Islands were taken from France in the 14th Century and are now part of the UK. Each of them has retained something from its origin : a lord (the lord of Sark prohibits cars on his island), the use of French (medieval French!) for certain official acts, a large power for the (male) heads of family and their assembly, etc. Andorra and Monaco, although reluctant, have decided to be associated to the European Union, while the Channel Island have not.

 
  • South-West :

    • The city of La Rochelle, on the West coast, is a very beautiful XVIIth Century city and harbor and it enjoys the highest number of sunny days in France (more than Provence!).
    • A peaceful "get away" only 2 1/4 hrs TGV from Montparnasse, for a week-end or longer
  • Côte-d'Azur (Americans call it Riviera) :

    • On the Riviera, the old city of Antibes is well worth a visit with its sea walls and Picasso museum. For a fantastic homemade "soupe au pistou", head to Le Pistou (18 rue James Close 06600 Antibes tel 33-4 93 34 73 51) and make a meal out of this rich vegetable and bean soup made by chef (and sculptor in his spare time) Bernard Abril. Also in Antibes, try an olive oil tasting at the Balade en Provence at the Marché Provençal (25, Cours Masséna 06600 Antibes tel. 33-4 93 34 93 00). The owner will allow you tiny spoonfuls of the rich stuff and you'll want to buy every bottle in the place. His daughter makes wonderful painted pottery for gifts to bring home.
    • Useful links :
    • La Costa Properties Monaco's portfolio of some of the most prestigious properties in the Principality offers luxury apartments with stunning views and excellent facilities to buy or rent.
    • Carlton International Villa Hotels combine the privacy of a luxury estate with five-star services you would expect at a top hotel. Contact for high end real estate sales or rental, South of France.
    • Eurofrance Real Estate specialise in South of France property for sale and rental. Their portfolio of properties include beautiful character or contemporary villas with pools.
    • Avoid the over-crowded Riviera and enjoy the beautiful inland of the Côte d'Azur with a very useful website.

Where was this beautiful picture taken : in Indonesia, in Mexico? on the moon? NO : in Auvergne, one the most beautiful regions of France, with its (extinct) volcanoes, its emptiness, its fabulous cheeses and its down-to-earth inhabitants (that's where I come from...)

  • Alsace

    • Visit the Ecomusée d'Alsace, in Ungersheim (near Colmar; tel. 03 89 74 44 74) : authentic and beautiful traditional Alsacian houses rebuilt in a village, with exhibitions, animations, craftsmen working in front of you ; a genuine dive into traditional rural Alsace, definitely worth the visit...
    • A wonderful region, with a very strong personality and its own language (but everybody speaks French). An important thing to know : Alsace is NOT in Germany ! If you believe it or act as if, you'll offend them very seriously !
  • Bretagne

  • More to come
French regions at a glance...

 Region

 Location

 Population

(million)

 Capital

 known for...

 absolute must...
 Poitou-Charentes  West  1,7  Poitiers (pop 100,000)  Romanesque architecture, islands and sailing, cognac  La Rochelle, ile de Ré, House of Pierre Loti
 Limousin  Center-West  0,7  Limoges (pop 200,000)  Rural, far from everything, empty , porcelain  Oradour/Glane
 Pays-de-Loire  West  3,3  Nantes (pop 600,000)  Sailing, Nantes a lively thriving city  Tapestries in Angers, ile d'Yeu
 Bretagne  West  3  Rennes (pop 400,000)  Beautiful rocky coast, sea food, cider and pancakes, a very strong regional culture, stubborn, hard-working people, Celtic Carnac megaliths, granite houses  Saint-Malo, golfe du Morbihan
 Basse-Normandie  West  1,4  Caen (pop 200,000)  D-Day beaches, calvados, the tapestry of Bayeux, Deauville, the American cemetery in Colleville  Mont-Saint-Michel and Memorial de la Paix in Caen
 Haute-Normandie  North-West  1,8  Rouen (pop 400,000)  Joan of Arc, Rouen cathedral  Etretat cliff
 Picardie  North  1,9  Amiens (pop 200,000)  The cradle of Gothic architecture  Amiens and Beauvais cathedrals
 Nord-Pas-de-Calais  North  4   Lille (pop 1,100,000)  An industrial region, beer and smelly cheeses, very friendly people. Read about its cult movie "Bienvenue chez les Ch'tis"  Lille
 Champagne-Ardennes  East  1,4  Reims (pop 200,000)  Great wines, visit cellars  Reims
 Lorraine  East  2,4  Nancy (pop 300,000)  Art Deco in Nancy, Verdun and sites of WW1  Place Stanislas
 Alsace  East  1,8  Strasbourg (pop 500,000)  Wonderful villages with Hansel and Gretel houses, storks, a very strong regional culture, Strasbourg and its cathedral  Riquewihr and the Route des Vins
 Bourgogne  Center-East  1,7  Dijon (pop 300,000)  Great wines everywhere,  Beaujolais, the little Tuscany of France
 
Franche-Comté
 East  1,2  Besançon (pop 200,000)  Watches and clocks-making, caves and caverns, Arc-et-Senans  Vin Jaune
 Rhone-Alpes  South-East  5,8  Lyon (pop 1,200,000)  A strong economy, great cooking, Mont-Blanc (highest mountain in Europe : 4807m = 16,000 ft), sky resorts  Chamonix Mont Blanc, Palais du Facteur Cheval
 Provence-Alpes-Cote-d'Azur  South  4,6  Marseille (pop 1,000,000)  Provence and Riviera, lavender, light inspiring painters, Grand canyon Verdon, colorful markets, bouillabaisse, Antibes  City of Nice
 Corse  South  0,3  Ajaccio (pop 100,000)  The Island of Beauty, among the most beautiful landscape in France, mountain and sea, a strong regional culture

 Hiking on GR20

listen to a beautiful polyphonic song

 Languedoc-Roussillon (see a site with a mine of information about the region)  South  2,4  Montpellier (pop 400,000)  Catalan region, Roman acqueduct Pont du Gard  Carcassonne walled city
 Midi-Pyrénées  South-West  2,6  Toulouse (pop 600,000)  Fortified cities (bastides) on the Franco - English border during the 100-Year War, speleology, Cathars castles perched on top of mountains  Toulouse, the pink city (bricks)
 Aquitaine  South-West  3  Bordeaux (pop 700,000)  Includes the Basque country, with its strong regional culture, and the Périgord, sand dunes and surfing  Wine castles
 Auvergne  Center  1,4  Clermont-Ferrand (pop 300,000)  A remote country with spectacular landscapes, mineral waters, Michelin  The volcanoes
 Centre  Center  2,5  Orleans (pop 300,000)  The Garden of France and the " Châteaux Région " with hundred of well or lesser-known Renaissance castles, the bread basket, troglodyte houses  Chartres cathedral and Chambord castle, Picassiette
 Ile-de-France  Center  11  Paris (pop 2,100,000)  The leading region, most of the wealth, major firms, the political power, the domineering arrogant Parisian, etc  Versailles, Louvre,
 To related pages : geographical facts (#2) about France, etc...

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Harriet Welty Rochefort writes articles and books about France and the French. Order her books :

  • "Joie de Vivre", Secrets of Wining, Dining and Romancing like the French, St.Martin's Press, New York, 2012
  • "French Toast, An American in Paris Celebrates The Maddening Mysteries of the French", St.Martin's Press, New York, 1999
  • "French Fried, The Culinary Capers of An American in Paris", St.Martin's Press, New York, 2001

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