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France

A guide to its main attractions
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Selected by piero scaruffi | Back to the travel page | Suggestions
My pictures of France
This page provides a list of the main things to see in France. "++" identifies the top attractions.
Legenda:
abbaye = abbey
basilique = basilica
bourg = town
chateau = castle
eglise = church
grotte = cave
place = square
quartier = quarters
ville = city

Northeast (Belgique, Allemagne)
Beauvais: cathedral (13th c), Saint-Etienne (choir)
Amiens (Pays du Nord): cathedral (1266) (+west portal, relief of central portal, facade, nave, eastern view, +choir)
Thiepval (Pays du Nord): Edwin Luytens' Memorial to the Missing (1925)
Arras (Pays du Nord): grand place, place des heros
Boulogne-Sur-Mer (Pays du Nord): ville haure
Saint-Omer (Pays du Nord): Basilica
Laon (Ardenne): ++cathedral (1151-1290) (nave, nave vault, six-part vaults, transept, exterior, facade, three-storey chapels, choir), +Chapel of the Templars (1160) in the garden of the museum
Loyon (Ardenne): +cathedral (1150-1235) (south transept, exterior of the transept, choir, facade)
Reims (Ardenne): ++cathedral (1211-1300) (choir, ambulatory, nave, southwest exterior, southeast view, facade, relief of central portal)
Troyes (Ardenne): quartier Saint-Jean, Saint-Urbain (1262) (choir)
Colmar (Alsace): bourg, +altar
Murbach: Abbey church (12th c)
Riquewihr (Alsace): +bourg
Kayserberg (Alsace): ++bourg
Haut Konigsburg: +castle
Strasbourg (Alsace): ++cathedral (1439), ++Petite France, Chambre de Commerce
Nancy (Lorraine): -Place Stanislas
Metz (Lorraine): +cathedral
Luneville (Lorraine): -Chateau
Hunspach (Lorraine): +bourg
Northwest (Manche):
Pontorson: ++Mont-Saint-Michel
Saint-Malo (Bretagne): bourg
Fougeres: Chateau
Le Mans: cathedral (13th c)
Les Andelys (Normandie): +Chateau Gaillar
Rouen (Normandie): Saint-Ouen (1250) (nave, choir, south aisle), Saint-Maclou (1514) (facade, nave)
Caen (Normandie): Sainte-Trinite (1062), +Saint-Etienne aka Abbaye-aux-Hommes (1081)
Cerisy-la-Foret (Normandie): Church (1100)
Carnac (Bretagne): +megalithic complex with 3000 menhirs (a 30 minute bus ride from Auray which is a 1.5 hour train ride from Rennes, always open and free)
  • ++Gavrinis megalithic monument (a 30 minute bus ride plus boat from Auray, open at odd hours)
    Barnenez/Finistere megalithic monument
    Locmariaquer "grand menhir brise" (largest menhir)
    Central:
    Paris: click here
    Fontainebleau: Palace
    Poissy: +Le Corbusier's Villa Savoye (1929)
    Mantes (48 kms west of Paris): Notre-Dame
    Houdan (63km west of Paris): donjon of 12th c
    Soissons (100 kms northeast of Paris): cathedral (exterior, south transept, nave, choir)
    Rampillon (Ile-de-France): cathedral (14th c)
    Chartres (Isle): medieval houses, +cathedral (1225) (++royal portals, +west windows, exterior of north transept, relief of north transept, north transept window, +reliefs of south transept, nave pier with four colonnettes, four-part vault for each bay of nave and transept, ambulatory)
    Germigny-des-Pres (Loiret): Carolingian oratory of Theodulf (806)
    Amboise: Chateau (1495), first Chateau in France
    Versailles (Isle): Chateau
    Vaux-Le-Vicomte (Isle): Chateau
    Azay-Le-Rideau (Touraine): Chateau
    Chambord (Touraine): +Chateau (1547)
    Blois: Chateau
    Saumur: Chateau
    Tours: Cathedral (16th c)
    Fontevrault: Abbey's kitchen (12th c)
    Autechre: +Church (10th c)
    Chenonceaux (Touraine): Chateau
    Loches (Touraine): +Medieval town
    Saint-Benoit-Sur-Loire (Touraine): +Abbey (1218)
    Ancy-Le-Franc (Bourgogne): Chateau
    Sens (Bourgogne): +Saint-Ethienne (12th c) (first cathedral that was Gothic throughout, ambulatory, choir, south aisle, nave)
    Pontigny (Bourgogne): +Abbey (1180)
    Autun (Bourgogne): +cathedral (1135) (++Gislebertus' tympan, +chapiteaux)
    Tournus: St Philibert's Church (1120)
    Beaune (Bourgogne): Hotel-Dieu/ Hospital (1451)
    Cluny (Bourgogne): Abbey
    Dijon (Bourgogne): cathedral, Chartreuse of Champmol (portal, The Well of Moses), Musee de Beaux-Arts (tomb og Philip the Bold)
    Fontenay (Bourgogne): +Abbey (1147)
    Semur-en-Auxois: old town
    Vezelay (Bourgogne): Basilica (1120-1200) (+tympanum "Mission of the Apostles", +chapiteaux, choir)
    Bourges (Berry): +cathedral (1195-1250) (nave, east end, aisle, choir, facade, southeast flank), courtyard of the house of Jacques Coeur (1451)
    Issoire: cathedral (12th c) (reliefs on lintels)
    Nevers: Saint Etienne (1097)
    Paray-le-Monial (Bourgogne): Sacre-Coeur
    East (Alps)
    Ronchamp: +LeCorbusier's Notre-Dame-du-Haut (1955)
    Arc-Et-Senans (Franche-Comte): Salines Royales
    Besancon (Franche-Comte): Citadelle
    Lyon: vieux-Lyon
    Firminy: +LeCorbusier's church
    Eveux-sur-Arbresle: Convent of La Tourette by Le Corbusier
    Clermont-Ferrand (west of Lion): +Notre Dame du Port (12th c)
    Lyons: Calatrava's Satolas TGV Station
    Bour-en-Bresse (50 km north of Lyons): +church of Brou (16th c) (nave, choir, tomb of Margaret)
    Chamonix (Savoie): Mont-Blanc
    West (Atlantique)
    Poitiers (Poitou): +Notre-Dame (1130), +baptistery of St Jean (7th c), nearby St-Jouin-des-Marnes (1130), +Futuroscope
    Aulnay-de-Saintonge: +Eglise St-Pierre (12th c)
    +Saint-Savin sur Gartempe (45 kms from Poitiers): +Church (1115) (nave, +murals)
    La Rochelle (Poitou): bourg
    Saintes (Poitou): bourg
    Saint-Savin (Poitou): Church
    Bordeaux (Bordelais): Place de la Bourse, Grand Theatre (with Rodin's ceiling fresco Apollo and the Muses)
    Rouffignac-Saint-Cernin-de-Reilhac: Caves of Rouffignac (wall paintings of 20,000 BC)
    Montignac (north of Toulouse, east of Bordeaux): +Caves of Lascaux
    Perigueux: Cathedral (12th c)
    Saint-Emilion (Bordelais): bourg
    Angers: Chateau d'Angers
    South-west (Pyrenees)
    Eyzies-de-Tayac (Agenais): grottes
    Cahors (Agenais): ponte Valentre`
    Sarlat (Aginais): +bourg
    Rocamadour: bourg
    Moissac (Agenais): +Saint-Pierre (1120, porch, +reliefs of south portal, +sculptures of cloister, +cloister capitals)
    Toulouse (Pyrenees): vieux quartier, ++St Sermin (1125), Church of the Jacobins (+pillars of the choir, southeast view)
    +Abbey of St-Michel-de-Cuxa
    Abbi (80 km northeast of Toulouse): cathedral (14th c) (nave, southeast view)
    Martin-du-Canigou: monastery (1026)
    Prades: Abbey of Saint Martin-du-Carnigou (1026)
    South
    Le Puy-en-Velay (Auvergne): bourg, +Chapelle Saint-Michel d'Aiguilhe
    Albi (Rouerge): cathedral
    Salers: Chateau de Val
    Conques (Aveyron): +Abbey de Sainte-Foy (1120) (++reliquary statue of St Foi, and tympanum sculture above west facade portal)
    La Convertoirade (Aveyron): vieille ville
    Saint-Come d'Olt (Aveyron): vieille ville
    ++Carcassonne (Languedoc): ramparts, bourg, Saint-Nazaire (1321) (nave, choir)
    Montpellier (Languedoc): vieille ville, Hadid's Herault Culture Sport
    Hauterives: +Ferdinand Cheval' "Palais Ideal"
    Gellone: Monastery of Saint-Guillaume-le-Desert (12th c)
    Gard (Ardeche): pont
    Nimes (Ardeche): Maison Carree, Jardin de la Fontaine
    Aix-En-Provence (Provence): cathedral
    Tarascon (provence): Chateau
    Senanque (provence): +Abbey (12th c)
    Arles (Provence): bourg, Saint-Trophime (1140, reliefs of cloister)
    Orange (Provence): +Roman theater (50 AD), + Roman monumental arch with decoration of Celtic armour
    Avignon (Provence): +Palais des Papes
    Villages of Provence: Goult, Gordes, +Lacoste, Bonnieux, etc
    +Chauvet Cave (50 kms north of Avignon)
    Les Baux (Provence): ++bourg
    Le Thoronet (Provence): ++Abbey (12th c)
    Saint-Gilles-du-Gard (Provence): Church (facade of 1130)
    Verdon (Provence): +grand canyon
    Hauterives: +Ferdinand Cheval's "Le Palais Ideal"
    Riviera (Cote d'Azur): +corniches
    La Turbie: Roman monument
    St-Paul-de-Vence: medieval fortified village, +Fondation Maeght
    Vence: Matisse's Chapel du Rosaire
    Villeneuve-Loubet: +Pyramidal buildings of Marina Baie des Anges by Andre Minangoy (1960)
    Marseilles: Hadid's CMA CGM Head Office, Palais Longchamps (1869), LeCorbusier's Unite d'Habitation (roof terrace)
    Millau Viaduct (2004)
  • Links
    Notes

    Things that annoyed me in France (1999):

  • (Note: in 2012 i was surprised that a lot has changed in France: people were consistently friendly and most of them spoke English, much more so than in Spain or Italy)
  • In most towns you cannot make a phone call unless you purchase a phone card. The cheapest phone card is 48 francs (1999). If you just need to make one short call, you have to pay 48 francs. Period. If you don't have a phone card and it's sunday (when stores are closed), you can't make a phone call, period (try the tourist office if it's open).
  • It is not enough to buy a train ticket: you also have to "validate" it before you board the train by inserting it in a small red machine that a foreigner may not notice but is almost everywhere. If you don't know this, you may be fined on the train. The same applies to several of the "modern" urban systems (trams, buses). Of course, the instructions are written only in French. If the "conducteur" catches you with a non-validated ticket, don't speak French: good chances they will forgive you. (The same idiotic system has been adopted in Italy and in some German cities).
  • Most museums will not hold your luggage. They are afraid of bombs. It is intersting that they do hold small bags and purses and so forth, but not suitcases or backpacks. (The French government seems to think that terrorists only use very big bombs.) If you enter a museum with a backpack or suitcase, you will be turned out and you will have to take the metro to the nearest train station.
  • Unless you find a good ethnic restaurant or the ubiquitous Italian ristorante-pizzeria, you are stuck with French cuisine, which is overrated at best.
  • French restaurants have a well-deserved reputation for the worst service in the world (you will wait forever for a waiter to show up, bring you the food, bring you the bill, etc).
  • Smoking in your face is a national passtime, so always prefer tables outside. (This is rapidly improving and now most restaurants have a non-smoking section). Unfortunately, the government is not cooperating. On most trains, the non-smoking cars are the first ones to get sold out. People are virtually forced to travel in smoking sections, unless they can plan their travel way ahead.
  • Public transportation outside of Paris is poor, especially on weekends (avoid traveling on sundays). The French tour their country by car.
  • Watch for dogshit on sidewalks in main cities
  • (2001) Amazing progress has been achieved in keeping stores and offices open. "Ferme`" used to be the most common word in French. Now long hours are common, a few stores are open on sundays and late evening. Certainly a lot better than Germany or Italy.
  • Language is still a problem, compared with the rest of the world. Most French speak only one language. I was at a station (a place where many tourists go) and asked (in my broken French) one of the tellers whether she spoke English, German, Spanish or Italian. She asked me (in French) why I didn't learn French before coming to France. I told her (in French) that I was traveling through Portugal, Spain, France, Germany, Italy, Hungary, Poland: was I supposed to learn all of those languages? She mumbled something (still in French), didn't seem to be grateful that I was making my best effort to speak her language, and didn't make the slightest effort to make it easier for me to understand her French. Alas, this is not the exception, but often the rule. Even in border areas like Strasbourg or Nice you will not find many people who speak a second language. While better than USA citizens, the French are still a long way from accepting that there exist other languages and that French (unlike English, Russian, Spanish or Arabic) is spoken pretty much only in France, therefore it is not the language a traveler would learn first.