• Château de Villandry, Loire Valley

France

France is Europe's most diverse, tasty, and, in many ways, most exciting country to explore. Romantic hill towns and castles, meandering river valleys, and oceans of vineyards carpet this country's landscape. France remains at the forefront of technology, architecture, fashion, and cuisine. A delightful blend of natural and man-made beauty, France offers chandeliered châteaux, forever coastlines, soaring cathedrals, Europe's highest mountain ranges, and museums showcasing cultural icons of the Western world.

Places

At a Glance

▲▲▲ Paris World capital of art, fashion, food, literature, and ideas, offering historic monuments, grand boulevards, corner cafés, chic boutiques, cutting-edge architecture, and world-class art galleries, including the Louvre and Orsay.

▲▲▲ Provence Home to Arles (Van Gogh sights, evocative Roman arena), Avignon (famous bridge and brooding Palace of the Popes), the ancient Roman aqueduct of Pont du Gard, Orange (Roman theater), the beautiful Côtes du Rhone wine road, and rock-top villages such as Les Baux, Roussillon, and Vaison-la-Romaine.

▲▲▲ The French Riviera A string of coastal resorts, including Nice (big city with seafront promenade and art museums), romantic Villefranche-sur-Mer and Cap Ferrat, glitzy Monaco (casino), easygoing Antibes (silky-sandy beaches), intriguing inland villages (Vence and St. Paul-de-Vence), and little hilltop Eze-le-Village, with magnificent Mediterranean views.

▲▲ Near Paris Europe's grandest palace at Versailles, the radiant cathedral of Chartres, and Monet's flowery gardens at Giverny, and a mouse-run amusement park.

▲▲ The Loire Picturesque towns (such as Amboise and Chinon) and hundreds of castles and palaces, including Chenonceaux (arcing across its river), the huge Château de Chambord, Villandry (wonderful gardens), lavishly furnished Cheverny, and many more.

▲▲ Dordogne Prehistoric caves, rock-sculpted villages, lazy canoe rides past medieval castles, market towns such as pedestrian-friendly Sarlat-la-Canéda, and nearby, for wine lovers, St-Emilion.

▲▲ The French Alps Spectacular scenery featuring the drop-dead gorgeous town of Annecy, Mont Blanc (Europe's highest peak), and the world-famous ski resort of Chamonix, with hikes galore and lifts to stunning alpine views.

▲▲ Burgundy Aged blend of vineyards and spirituality, with the compact town of Beaune (world-famous vineyards), Fontenay (France's best-preserved medieval abbey), Vézelay (magnificent Romanesque church), the one-of-a-kind medieval castle under construction at Guédelon, Cluny's grand medieval abbey, and the modern-day religious community of Taizé.

▲▲ Alsace Franco-Germanic region dotted with wine-road villages, starring half-timbered Colmar and its world-class art, and high-powered Strasbourg and its sensational cathedral.

▲▲ Normandy Pastoral mix of sweeping coastlines, half-timbered towns, and intriguing cities, including bustling Rouen (Gothic architecture, Joan of Arc sites), the cozy port town of Honfleur, historic Bayeux (remarkable tapestry on the Battle of Hastings), stirring D-Day sites and museums, and the almost surreal island abbey of Mont St-Michel.

▲▲ Alsace Franco-Germanic region dotted with wine-road villages, starring half-timbered Colmar and its world-class art, and high-powered Strasbourg and its sensational cathedral.

▲ Brittany Windswept and rugged, with a forgotten interior, gorgeous coast, Celtic ties, two notable towns: Dinan (Brittany's best medieval center) and the beach resort of St-Malo, and the sea-swept castle of Fort la Latte.

▲ Languedoc-Roussillon Sunny region with a Spanish flair, featuring Albi (fortress-like cathedral and a beautiful Toulouse-Lautrec museum), medieval Carcassonne (walled town with towers, turrets, and cobblestones), remote Cathar castles and village, vineyards that stretch forever, and the lovely Mediterranean village of Collioure.

▲ Lyon Metropolitan city, located between Burgundy and Provence, with an Italianesque old town, two Roman theaters, a terrific Gallo-Roman museum, the stirring French Resistance Center, an impressive fine arts museum, and delicious but affordable cuisine.

Reims and Verdun Champagne-soaked Reims with a historic cathedral and cellars serving the sparkling brew, and nearby Verdun, site of horrific WWI battles, with a compelling, unforgettable memorial.

▲ Basque Country Isolated yet beautiful region anchored by the seaside resort town of St-Jean-de-Luz and the riverside town of Bayonne, with lovely villages dotting the countryside and easy access to cities and sights across the border in Spain.

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