France is literally filled with medieval cities, alpine villages, and glorious beaches. Vineyards and wines make it world famous, as do the many classical museums and monuments. Ancient caves with prehistoric drawings, theatres and palaces, art galleries and eclectic villages – there is something for everyone in this amazing country!
1. Palais des Papes
In English, this means ‘Papal Palace’. It is one of the largest Gothic buildings in Europe. It used to be a fortress and a palace, and is now a papal residence. There are in fact, two buildings namely the old building, and the new Palais of Clement VI. Combined, they are the largest Gothic building of the middle ages. There is a papal library with over 2,000 books, and it was here that Johannes Ciconia came to study.
Be prepared to spend a half day here, more if you want to look around the gardens.
2. Centre Georges Pompidou
This is a collection of buildings housing the Public Information Library and the Museum of Modern Art, which is the largest modern art museum in Europe. Also, you will find the Centre for Music and Acoustic Research.
The centre is named after the President of France, George Pompidou, who commissioned the building in 1969.
Over 3 million people visit the museum each year while the centre itself has drawn some 180 million since 1977.
Plan to spend a full day around the area, you will find many small cafes where you can grab a bite to eat.
3. Gorges du Verdon
You will find this in the southeast of France. It is widely considered to be one of the most beautiful areas in Europe. Also called the Grand Canyon of Verdon. The canyon is 25 km long and in areas is 700 meters deep. The turquoise colour comes from the River Verdon running through the limestone. The river flows into the artificial lake Sainte-Croix-du-Verdon. It is very popular, and you can hire kayaks.
If rock climbing appeals to you, then this is the place to go, as the walls reach hundreds of meters high in places.
4. Take a cycle trip
If you enjoy cycling, then this is something you would enjoy. It is a dedicated route for cyclists which covers some 500 miles, and runs from St Malo to Biarritz. The routes are all safe, and there are plenty of villages along the way where you may stop for the night, or even for just refreshments.
5. Lascaux II
Back in 1940 four small boys were trying to rescue their dog who had become trapped in a cave. They helped each other down into the darkness and made the most amazing discovery! They found Paleolithic caves with over 1500 preserved painting and wall engravings. These were thought to have dated back 17,000 years. The site was immediately opened to visitors although soon after it was noticed that the paintings began to fade. The Ministry of Cultural Affairs closed the caves to the public, however they recognised the importance of this discover and replicas were made in 1980.
Plan to spend a half day here.
6. Carcassonne Medieval City
There are in fact two Carcassonnes, namely the walled city, and the town next to it. You will find that you have taken a step back in time with narrow cobblestones and medieval structures. The square is filled with iconic restaurants. The evenings are filled with spectacular views as the sun sets over the city, you may well be tempted to stay overnight.
7. Take the Petit Train
The Petit Train de la Rhune runs from Col de Saint-Ignace and goes high up into the mountains. If climbs 736m over the 4.2km trip. Needless to say, the scenery is fantastic, so don’t forget your camera!
Another train trip to consider is the Montenvers Railway which leaves from Chamonix, travelling 800m up Aiguilles de Chamonix. This trip goes up to 1,913m to the station where you may view the Mer de Glace glacier.
Allow yourself a full day for either of these trips, and you may consider staying the night before so you are ready to leave in the morning.
8. The Lérins Islands
These are a group of four islands just off the French Riviera. There are two large ones and two smaller ones. The smaller ones are uninhabited. The islands are thought to have been occupied in Roman times. Tradition has it that Saint Patrick, patron saint of Ireland, studied there. A fortified monastery was constructed between the 11th and 14th centuries, and there is still a monastic community there. On the Île Sainte-Marguerite it is said that the fortress housed the Man in the Iron Mask for a time.
Plan to spend a full day here, although you may consider staying a second day and exploring the area.
9. The Camargue
This is an area, rather than a specific place. It is a natural area just south of Arles, and lies between the Mediterranean Sea and the Rhône River delta. This was designated a ‘Wetland of International Importance’ in 1986. If you enjoy walking and wildlife, then spend some time here, and you will not be disappointed. The area has over 400 species of birds so make sure you take your binoculars and camera. Pack a picnic, and get your walking shoes on! Plan to spend the full day here.
Better still, drive your camper van or RV and stay as long as you like.
10. Boat in a volcanic crater
The volcanic crater holds a lake called Lac Pavin. This is in Mont-Dore. The crater is so deep that the water at the bottom never mixes with the top layer of water. It is also very steep-sided. You can take a boat trip around the inside of the crater. These leave from either Le Bourget-du-Lac or Aix-les-Bains.
Allow yourself a full day to see the inside of the crater, and then to explore the surrounding areas.
There is no doubt at all, that France is a country which has something which appeals to everyone. Whether you like architecture or cultural attractions, vineyards or countryside, there are plenty of things for you to explore, and to learn about. Just deciding on what to so first – now that’s the question.
– Janet Rogers
The full-text version has been published in the blog Your RV Lifestyle.
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