France Beyond Paris
Each year, people around the world celebrate Bastille Day on July 14th to honor the call for establishing democracy and equality during the French Revolution. And as lovers of all things France, we’re excited to explore noteworthy destinations in France outside of Paris.
Even though the Loire Valley is just a short train ride from Paris, the best way to see this area of France is by car. And with glowing sunflower fields as your backdrop in the summer, we’re sure you won’t mind the drive. Countryside pit stops include majestic chateâux, medieval towns, thriving markets, and lush vineyards.
There are well over 20 fairytale-like castles to visit in the Loire Valley. And perhaps the most stunning of all is the Château de Chenonceau. You can tour this beautiful structure on the River Cher, which boasts a mix of late Gothic and early Renaissance architecture and was the home of Queen Catherine de Medici.
As you continue to make your way through the Loire Valley, you’ll come across bustling markets where you can buy everything from fresh food and flowers to books and vintage furniture. And if you have an interest in white, rosé, or sparkling wine, be sure to check out a local winery for a tour and tasting.
There’s a reason why artists like Cézanne and Picasso have flocked here for centuries—the stunning light. The “blue hour” between dawn and dusk creates a clear sky that’s perfect for painters or anyone taking in the incredible views of Provence. Add an amazing climate to this gorgeous mountainous landscape and what you have is a bucket list-worthy experience.
The Luberon, in the northern area of Provence, is filled with awe-inspiring medieval hillside villages like Gordes, Rousillon, and Bonnieux. Here, enjoying a delicious meal made with fresh ingredients and sipping a glass of the local rosé while people watching qualifies as a good day. The slow pace of Provence is perfect for taking the time to simply appreciate life.
Other must-see spots include the Pont du Gard—the great Roman aqueduct that you can marvel at as you walk through it or swim underneath in the river. Wander through Aix-en-Provence’s charming streets and learn why it’s dubbed the city of a thousand fountains. And if you happen to visit in the summer, don’t miss the showstopping lavender fields, which are worth the trip in and of itself.
For a dreamy beach escape, head to the South of France’s Côte d'Azur, a.k.a. the French Riviera. With almost 300 days of sunshine, you can expect a mild Mediterranean climate year-round and sparkling views of the sea. Nice’s Old Town is the perfect starting point. Here you’ll find plenty of cafés, eateries, shops, and galleries. Stroll down the Cours Saleya, a pedestrian street with daily markets filled with flowers, fruits, and vegetables, as well as antiques—depending on the day. Follow the Painters Trail to see replicas of artwork in the spot they were originally painted. And if you want to go deeper into the local art history, trek up to the Cimiez neighborhood, where you can visit the Marc Chagall and Matisse museums.
If you’re up for a hike with a dramatic backdrop, go up to the cliffside medieval village of Èze. You’ll get the most breathtaking views of the Mediterranean from this tiny picture-perfect hilltop village. Meander the winding narrow streets and artisan shops, set 1,400 feet above sea level.
Other Côte d'Azur towns worth checking out include Grasse, the perfume capital of the world, as well as the subtly enchanting Menton, on the Italian border of the French Riviera.
The Alsace region is so picturesque, it’s easy to mistake it for a scene out of a Disney movie. Colmar feels like you’re right in the middle of a fairytale town. Intricately decorated, colorful shops and houses line the streets, as do beautiful flower pots. The beauty is truly in the details of this German-influenced part of France. Petite Venise—or Little Venice—is an especially captivating part of Colmar’s old town, which gets its name from its series of canals.
Venture about an hour north and you’ll find Strasbourg. For an amazing view of the city, climb the spiral staircase of the Gothic cathedral while you admire its impressive filigree stonework and gargoyles. And finally, roam the Alsace Wine Route for some of the area’s prettiest family-run wineries, where you can not only indulge in wine tastings but also take cooking lessons.
If Bastille Day celebrations have you craving some French vacation time, we’re here to help you make it happen. Contact a Liberty Travel consultant today and voila! We’ll have you on your way to enjoying la belle France in no time.