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Around France

Photo by Chris Owen

Around France Itineraries

Bordeaux in 3 Days

Languedoc Road Trip: a Drive from Uzès to Nîmes

Marseille: a Boat Trip to the Calanques

Normandy in Four Days

Touring Toulouse Art and History

Weekend in and Around Rennes

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Start exploring here:
Alsace … Spectacular vineyards surrounding storybook Alsatian villages
Aquitaine … High mountains, long beaches, great wine, beautiful rivers and stunning medieval castles
Dordogne … The colour coded Périgord with the Quercy and a bit of the Limousin thrown in
French Riviera … Where fairy tales retire
Nice … Nice and easy Nice
Paris … Live your dreams in Paris
Provence … A state of mind?
South Burgundy … Hidden gems, gourmet food and French countryside


If you are the perfect specialist for any of the destinations below that we’re working on next, please contact us.


Bordeaux

Many locals and visitors alike refer to Bordeaux as “the Paris of the south,” but with more sunshine and salt air, and fewer crowds.  So much so that the greatest challenge for the visitor might be when or whether to leave.

Wine has been central to Bordeaux ever since the Romans discovered Aquitaine as the perfect place to cultivate vines. Its climate and terrain between ocean, rivers and plains made it as ideal for growing grapes as for exporting the results.

The English, too, have come here for centuries, much for the same reasons as the Romans. But they added one more cultural layer. In the Middle Ages many disembarked from ships here and began walking to the holy site of Santiago de Compostela.

That coastal path, called the Voie Littoral, remains a main tributary to the Camino de Santiago. In recent years it has regained its popularity among European trekkers and pilgrims alike.

In recent years Bordeaux’s municipal government restored many of the historic neighborhoods and monuments. The result is a delightful and easy city to inhabit.

Consider using Bordeaux as a home base to launch many wine tours in all directions—Médoc, Margaux, St-Émilion, Graves, Sauternes, and more. Or simply enjoy the surrounding wine by staying right here. Linger in one of many inviting cafés and watch the world go by.

While we get itineraries going, check out Bordeaux in 3 Days … a town, a vineyard and the ocean.




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Brittany

Occupying the northwest corner of France, Brittany protrudes into the Atlantic Ocean. Above all, this is a place apart whose inhabitants consider themselves primarily Breton rather than French. Much of the Région is sparsely populated and consequently it constitutes the ideal place to get away from it all. This is especially true of the west of the region – Finistère, literally ‘the end of the land’, is well named and has a character all of its own.

Named after Britain, hence the French name Bretagne, or Little Britain, it’s population migrated here from across the sea in the period following the collapse of the Roman Empire. Brittany remained relatively independent and became a Duchy during the 9th Century before reuniting with France in 1491.

There is plenty of dramatic evidence of prehistoric habitation too. Well before the migration from Britain during the so called Dark Ages the original inhabitants constructed megaliths around 4000 BC. Discover the most impressive of these at Carnac where dozens of Menhirs or upright stones stand in the fields.

A variety of other megaliths, including Dolmen with a stone placed precariously on top of two uprights, stand elsewhere around the Bay of Quiberon.

Bretagne comprises five départements or counties: Finistère, Morbihan, Côtes d’Armor, Ille et Villaine and Loire Atlantique. All offer relaxing beach activities, watersports, countryside retreats, castles and delightful fishing ports. Not to mention myths and legends involving King Arthur and the Holy Grail!

Apart from the Capital of Brittany Rennes, which has  a splendid historic centre, there are no large cities. However there are some splendid fortified towns around the coast such as St Malo and Concarneau plus numerous other interesting ports such as Auray, Vannes and Roscoff.

While we get itineraries going, check out Weekend in and Around Rennes … explore Brittany’s capital city and historic gateways.




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===> See the RELATED links below to explore local destinations.


Languedoc-Roussillon

When people speak of the South of France they are usually referring to the Côte d’Azur. However, the travelling cognoscenti know that there is another part of the so-called Midi. One which also enjoys equally beautiful blue skies, arguably even better beaches and nearby high mountains. While the cities and resorts are nowhere near as glitzy as its next door neighbour, they are nevertheless just as fascinating and steeped in southern French and Catalan culture and history.

We refer to the sun-kissed region of Languedoc-Roussillon which stretches from the border with Spain, marked by the majestic Pyrénées, in the West in a beautiful beach-lined crescent along the shores of the Mediterranean to the delta of the mighty River Rhône and Provence. Nowhere near as busy as the Côte d’Azur, Languedoc-Roussillon offers a quieter, more relaxed alternative which many visitors prefer.

Languedoc-Roussillon used to be a Région in its own right. Now it is part of the recently created Super Région of Languedoc Roussillon Midi-Pyrénées. Comprised of five départements or counties starting with the Pyrénées-Orientales in the South next door to the Aude. As the coast begins to curve eastwards we find the Hérault  which borders with the Gard at the Eastern extreme. The Lozére in the north completes its complement of counties.

There are several large cities in the Languedoc Roussillon each one as fascinating as it is different. In the very south is the Catalan city of Perpignan with its fabulous Palace of the Kings of Majorca. A little further north is Narbonne, an important Roman City on the Via Domitia leading to Spain. Nearby stands Béziers whose Cathar population the Crusaders massacred in 1209. The bustling, modern university city of Montpellier invites the visitor and close by the border with Provence is the fabulous, essentially Provençal city of Nîmes founded by the Romans and credited with giving the world denim jeans!

Discover the many great beaches and resorts especially at the Roussillon end of the coast such as Argelés Plage, St-Cyprien Plage and Canet Plage. Together with the picturesque fishing villages of Collioure and Cerbère near the Spanish border they offer everything you would expect. The port of Sète hosts regular spectacular water jousting tournaments which are well worth seeing.

Languedoc is one of the biggest wine producing regions and many visitors come to tour the vineyards of the Minervois  and the Corbières. The nearby reconstructed walled city of Carcassonne is unmissable especially if you have young children with you. The Cathar heritage left many castles perched high up in the mountains such as Montségur and Quéribus.




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While we get itineraries going, check out Languedoc Road Trip: a Drive from Uzès to Nîmes … from a medieval duchy via the spectacular Pont du Gard to a city for heroes.


Marseille

The oldest city in France, Marseille dates back 2600 years when it was founded by the Phocaeans, or Greeks, from what is now Turkey. Named  Massalia the town became very prosperous setting up trading posts in surrounding settlements. As you might expect there is a great deal to see in this historic city and most of it is based around the Vieux Port, the adjacent Rive Neuve and the famous Canebière.

Ever since the Phocaeans pitched up in the inlet, this has been the centre of what became a great city.

Best viewed from the Parc du Pharo in the late afternoon, the spectcular Old Port is a sight to behold. On the north side lies Le Panier, the oldest part where the Phocaeans and later the Romans settled. On the South side is the Rive Neuve dominated by the Romano-Byzantine Nôtre-Dame-de-la-Garde. From the head of the port, the Quai des Belges, runs the renowned Canebière. To save your legs a free ferry service operates between the Quai du Port and the Quai de Rive Neuve.

Picturesque it may be, but the port is too shallow to accept modern shipping which now this berths at Joliette. Nevertheless, it is a superb Marina for Marseille’s fishing fleet and other assorted small craft.

Situated to the north of the Vieux Port this is where the Greeks settled soon to be followed by the Romans.

In fact Le Panier (the Basket) has been the first port of call for successive waves of immigrants over the centuries, most recently from North Africa and Viet Nam.

Le Panier expanded considerably after the Middle Ages but unfortunately much of it was destroyed during the WW2. The Nazis cleared the area of much its population as well as tearing down their houses. Unfortunately, most of this housing was replaced by the typically 1950s Brutalist Architecture which lines the Quai du Port.

Nevertheless, there is much to see here including the restored former Hospice of la Vieille Charité and the Romano-Byzantine Cathédrale-de-la-Major built during the mid 19th century.

Something Greek? Well, not much remains but you could visit the Place des Lenches the site of the agora or Greek forum. Here you can enjoy the daily morning market and watch the locals getting their supplies. Perhaps you could treat yourself and buy some of the wonderful fresh produce for your own consumption or enjoy the delicious local fish stew, bouillabaisse, made from a traditional recipe and available everywhere.




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Great city itineraries are coming soon; in the meantime check out an amazing boat trip to the Calanques.


Midi-Pyrénées

The magical Midi-Pyrénées is sandwiched between the regions of Aquitaine and Languedoc Roussillon in southern France. It combines the term Midi, meaning the south of France, with the high mountains of the Pyrénées. These mountains define the region’s south and form the border with Spain.

Stretching from the Lot and Aveyron regions in the north, through the plain of the Garonne and the Gers to the Ariège in the south, the region is one of the largest and most diverse in France in terms of its heritage and culture.

The capital is the exciting southern city of Toulouse often called the ‘Pink City.’ This is due to the red brick and stone buildings that make up much of the city. Toulouse really does glow rose in the seductive light of the Midi’s sunrise and sunset.

This is the heart of southern Occitan culture — strongly expressed in its capital Toulouse — and also throughout the countryside.

The Midi-Pyrénées also possesses some of France’s most famous pilgrimage cities. Most are connected to the Camino to  Santiago de Compostela as it passes through France.  Among these stunning pilgrims sites are Conques, Figeac, Cahor, Moissac, and Auch.

The Midi-Pyrénées is home to yet another important pilgrimage, that of Lourdes.

Far more ancient, the Midi-Pyrenees is also home to some of France’s most important Paleolithic cave sites, both of Neandertals and of later arriving Cro-Magnons.

It is also a stunning place for wild treks, nature hikes, and exploring some of the more remote and untouched places in the Pyrenees.




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While we get more itineraries going, check out:
A drive through the Dordogne Valley and Haut Quercy … moorland, a spectacular cave, a pilgrimage site and a glimpse of Piaf.
Touring Toulouse Art and History … divining the artistic currents that influenced the city.


Normandy

Beautiful, tranquil and pastoral Normandy, named after the Normans who came from Scandinavia one thousand years ago.  Also known as Vikings, they invaded northern France and liked it so much they stayed! And who could blame them?

As every schoolchild knows however, a famous Duke of Normandy became King of England in 1066. Moreover, the Normans spread their tentacles around the Mediterranean becoming Kings of Sicily and Jerusalem among other successes. As far as Normandy itself goes however, King John of England lost the Duchy to the French in 1204. With the brief exception of a short period during the Hundred Years War, it has been part of France ever since.

Split into two parts, Basse, and Haute Normandy, the région comprises six départements or counties. These stretch from the Cherbourg Peninsula and Mont St-Michel in the west to beyond Rouen and Dieppe in the east.

Moreover, there is everything here. Amazing beaches, lovely pastoral countryside, impressive castles and fascinating cities abound. The famous River Seine majestically makes its way from nearby Paris to the port of Le Havre passing under the stunning Pont de Normandie before it reaches the sea.

The Normandy Beaches of Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno and Sword were the D-Day beaches where Allied troops came ashore to drive back the Germans in 1944. All of these lie between the Cherbourg Peninsula and Honfleur and there is much to see along the coast.

Perhaps the most well known attraction in Normandy is the iconic  Mont St Michel. The spectacular sight of the Abbey Church perched above the village on an island will linger in your mind long after you leave France!




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While we get itineraries going, check out Normandy in 4 Days … follow Impressionist painters to coastal fishing villages and the pastoral countryside.


Toulouse

Built on Gallo-Roman foundations more than 2,000 years old, Toulouse has a rich and ancient history and many fascinating medieval legends that weave their way throughout the city.

Toulouse is also an ancient pilgrimage center. This is the case both for pilgrims destined for Santiago de Compostela on the Camino, as well as those coming to visit Toulouse’s own saint, Saint-Sernin. Saint Sernin’s rose-stoned Romanesque basilica marks the heart center the city, set between the Garonne River and the Canal du Midi.

Toulouse is also a city of the future. It has a famous and dynamic aerospace industry.  More recent industries are innovating sustainable, earth-friendly energy systems.

This rosy outlook is also reflected in its signature buildings built of reddish-pink stone and brick.

Add to all this that Toulouse is also a vibrant university town.

Toulouse is the capital of the Midi-Pyrénées and the heart of Occitania. Occitania is the name of France’s medieval southern culture where Occitan was the dominant language rather than French. Occitan is the celebrated language once sung far and wide by troubadours in the Middle Ages.

Occitan culture and language never died out. The people of Toulouse are proud of this and their distinct region, culture and language.

This Occitan world extends to nearly anywhere south of Limoge, including neighboring Aquitaine, Languedoc-Rousillon and Provence. Don’t be surprised when you see street signs in both French and Occitan.

Toulouse is also the land of all things duck, goose, confit, cassoulet, and truffles. You will also find excellent and robust wines. And of course, the delicious traditional candies made from violets.

Among Toulouse’s many delights are savoring the city’s culinary creativity, its Occitan culture, and strolling through this elegant, earthy, and friendly city.

Though France’s fourth largest urban center, the pedestrian friendly streets, gregarious cafes , and warm locals make it feel more like a small town.




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While we get itineraries going, check out Touring Toulouse Art and History … divining the artistic currents that influenced the city.


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