What comes to mind when you think France? Elegant fashion, the best wines, art and culture. The country with tricolour flag has much more to offer than that. To fully admire it, it is worth visiting places beyond Paris. We invite you on a journey that starts in the capital and leads along the cities of Lyon, Bordeaux and Marseille.
You can start your French adventure with a weekend trip. Where should you go first? Of course, the city of lovers, i.e. Paris. You must feel the extraordinary atmosphere of the bustling cafés and the Avenue des Champs-Élysées filled with international crowd for yourself. You are just one walk along the wide boulevards of Paris with a view of the Eiffel Tower away from falling head over heels in love with this city.
Beneath the Parisian roofs
“Beneath the Pont de Bercy / Somebody dreams about happiness / Someone is sitting alone again./ Love with despair intertwines / A thread well-worn out of fate / But still / That’s how you want to live here!” – sang Edith Piaf about Paris. The first place to visit during your weekend getaway is Montmartre hill. A vantage point that overlooks the entire city, including the famous Eiffel Tower, is located at its top next to the Sacré-Cœur Basilica. It is a perfect place to admire the entire city, and then go for a romantic, leisurely walk through the streets of this artistic district in which Edgar Degas, Vincent van Gogh, Pablo Picasso, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec and Frederic Chopin lived. In its close vicinity, you can find the Place Pigalle (where, sadly, it is difficult to buy chestnuts today) or the Moulin Rouge. Art lovers should visit the Espace Dali museum devoted to Salvador Dali, as well as the home of the star of the French song Dalida, that are both located in this district.
However, real artistic fulfilment awaits you at the Louvre. It is worth persuading those who think that art is not for them to visit this world’s most famous museum. The amazing interiors of the Apollo Gallery and the Napoleon III Apartments will not leave anyone indifferent, and masterpieces such as “Mona Lisa”, “The Lacemaker”, “Nike of Samothrace” or “The Venus de Milo” will show you how the concept of beauty was changing over centuries. You need at least a few hours to see the Louvre, and you must not forget about visiting the three-level Musée d’Orsay (Impressionist canvas), the Musée de Cluny (medieval collections), the Centre Pompidou (contemporary exhibits) or the Musée du quai Branly (the art of Africa and Oceania). The less-typical establishments, such as the Museum of Air and Space, Hunting and Nature or … Canals, will make you decision even harder.
A casket full of admiration
Paris also captivates with monuments. The restoration of the Notre Dame Cathedral after the fire that broke out in April this year is a reminder of the pride and respect the French have for it. The Panthéon or the Arc de Triomphe also impress with their monumentalism. However, it is the Sainte-Chapelle, a small Gothic palace chapel, that will stay in your memory for the rest of your life. After walking in, you can feel like inside a casket lined with precious stones. The walls pierced by narrow, high windows seem to be thin like a curtain, and the stained-glass windows delight with Gothic finesse (it is worth noting that two-thirds of them have been preserved in their original form to this day!). You will get a lot of excitement just from ordinary walks along streets in Paris and observing the city’s inhabitants – for example, when looking over a cup of coffee or a glass of wine when resting for a moment in a café. It is worth visiting the Jewish district, Le marais (in English: swamps). On the Rue de Rosier Street, you can try the best falafel in Paris! The closer to the centre, the faster the rhythm of city life. Paris, of course, is all about fashion and shopping. The Champs Elysees is famous for boutiques and shops of world brands, however truly sophisticated goods can be found in the gold-decorated Galeries Lafayette. Those who do not want to spend a fortune should look for the signs “dégriffé” or “soldes” (in English: “sales”) or go to popular flea markets (e.g. the world’s largest flea market Marche de Saint-Ouen) or second hand stores (called here brocantes).
In the land of flowing wine
Bordeaux, located in the southwest of the country, attracts lovers of French cuisine and drinks. The area is famous for its wine. Vines stretch on scenic hills as far as the eye can see – enough to say that you can find here as many as 8 thousand château, i.e. wine estates! The bottles produced in them can be purchased in Les Halles de Bacalan – a covered market hall, which offers, apart from delicious drinks, the best quality food. Here you will find vegetables and fruit, cheese and cold meat, as well as ready meals served by restaurants and small bistros. Remember to buy canelés – vanilla and rum muffins typical for the Bordeaux region. After practice, it is time for theory, and the one related to the production of wine is best acquired in an ultramodern 3 000 square meter centre of La Cité du Vin, whose futuristic shape is difficult to overlook in the riverside panorama of the city. Finish your stay in Bordeaux with a walk around Rue Sainte-Catherine, one of the longest pedestrian streets in Europe.
Another city worth visiting is Lyon. It was here that the Lumière brothers created the cinematograph, and thus enthusiasts of the Tenth Muse should go to the Institute named after them, where they can learn not only about the history of cinema, but also take part in modern shows and festivals. Fans of theatrical performances will be delighted with the repertoire of the Opera that is housed in a historic, 19th-century building. The entire Vieux Lyon, i.e. the Old Town, is on the UNESCO list of monuments. Here, among the colourful tenement houses, the styles of Gothic, French and Italian Renaissance are mixed. Traboules, i.e. mysterious passages that can be considered a particular kind of shortcuts for pedestrians, are unique souvenirs of those times, still visible in the urban tissue to this day. Weavers and craftsmen often used them when carrying bales of silk from the river – thanks to them they could reach the opposite street faster through neighbouring yards or staircases. Discovering such passages on your own can be a real adventure that resembles the search for hidden treasures. Those who love to roam the city should also see the largest mural in Europe. Mur des Canuts is a three-dimensional work that plays with optics and stimulates the viewer’s imagination, encouraging them to create their own tale of the silk city.
A proud pearl of Provence
Marseilles can be visited at any time of the year – in summer you can enjoy the sun and sea, and during winter a mild Mediterranean climate and temperature that does not fall below 10 degrees will be a blast. The city’s symbol is Notre Dame de la Garde. The temple was erected on a hill and offers a view of the entire city, as well as the nearby famous island of If with the castle where Count Monte Christo described by Alexander Dumas was imprisoned. Another noteworthy architectural concept is the Radiant City – Cité Radieuse, which is part of Unite d’Habitation, i.e. “residential unit”. Le Corbusier, a visionary who set himself the goal of changing housing arrangements, assumed the creation of 337 apartments. It is worth knowing that the concrete and steel block built according to his design is open to visitors.
Marseille, called La cité phocéenne (the name refers to the Greeks from Fokai, who settled in Marseille after fleeing the Persians), tempts tourists with lively surroundings of the port. It is at the fish market taking place here that you can buy the best seafood. Lovers of local souvenirs should visit the flea market in Bougainville, Marseille, where they will find vinyl records and retro-style clothing. Finally, remember to enrich the trip with… dishes. Marseille is a place where French, Italian, Spanish and even African influences intertwine in the cousin. You must check how local soups taste: fish bouillabaisse and basil pistou, as well as rouille sauce with olives, breadcrumbs and saffron. You can finish the meal with anise pastis liqueur, drunk best in one of the many bars of the artistic district of Cours Julien – a bit rebellious and defiant, like Marseille itself.