I've always been enamored with the French. They have a lifestyle filled with the pleasure of experiencing art, partaking in fine cuisine (in addition to a leisurely style of eating), political passion and -- my favorite perk -- the beauty of the French language. It took me a while to perfect, but after a ton of research, I have organized my dream vacation to France.
Having never actually been to any part of Europe, I will put a disclaimer on this to the effect that I do not actually know firsthand if any of my vacation destination spots are great ones, but please be assured that I did not select these spots on a whim. All were carefully and thoughtfully selected. So whether you're itching to plan next year's spring break trip, or you need an idea of what summer vacation to make, come explore France with me!
I would start my trip in the Côte d'Azur -- which means the Blue Coast in English -- the region of France on the southeastern coast, bordering the Mediterranean Sea. The region is known for it's high-class living and expensive tourism in cities like Nice and Cannes, the latter of which hosts an annual international film festival. The beaches are also famous, especially at Nice, where they have the Promenade des Anglais, a long strip of beach space in front of all sorts of shops. If you're willing to spend a day of your time and little money for a rental car, you can take a trip out to the smaller areas around Nice and explore some of the lesser known cultural activities.
On the trip between Nice and Cannes, you can stop in Biot, where there is a glassblowing shop called La Verrerie de Biot. The demonstration of the blown glass is free! But be sure to purchase some of their lovely work to take home with you. North of Cannes, you can stop in a town called Grasse, and visit the Musée International de la Parfumerie, a perfume museum. The French take their perfume very seriously and spend a good deal of time on picking out the perfect scent for themselves. When you have left the Côte d'Azur, you will have collected some southern sun and beautiful treasures.
Next I would travel to the Dordogne region in central France, where there is a different kind of outdoor adventure to be had. The Dordogne River is a fairly smooth river, and is perfect for taking a float trip. Spend several days and you can go camping while floating and enjoying the scenery. The perfect companion to this float trip are the Dordogne region's caves, full of prehistoric paintings. The most famous prehistoric cave art is in the Lascaux cave, which is technically closed to the public. Shortly after the cave's discovery in 1940, the public traffic became too great and was damaging the artwork, so Lascaux II was built, an exact replica to be enjoyed by the public without the risk of damaging centuries-old cave paintings. Another Dordogne must is to eat foie gras, or fattened goose liver. You can find this delicacy all over France, but is a specialty of the Dordogne region. After visiting this area of France, you will probably be exhausted, but well fed and enlightened in ancient art.
We take our journey to the Loire Valley, the home of 42 of France's châteaux, or castles. It is said that you should choose only a few castles to visit because although all of them are very beautiful, it can become much of the same thing over and over again. I have taken the liberty of selecting the three castles I find most intriguing. First up is the Château du Clos Lucé. The most fascinating thing about this castle is not even the castle itself, but a person who lived in it -- Leonardo da Vinci! On site is a museum and park that are home to some of da Vinci's most fascinating creations.
The Château de Chenonceau is worth seeing for it's beautiful moat, exquisite stained glass, and surrounding garden, yes. But what is really intriguing is the fact that it was built, decorated, and saved from demolition by women, and is a living testament to the power of women in the Renaissance. The third and final castle is the Château d'Azay-le-Rideau. It is set on the Indre River and known as the Diamond of the Indre. It is home to rare Renaissance tapestries that hang on the walls. The history of them spans several centuries and can give an idea of the history of the Renaissance in France. Leaving the Loire Valley, one will be full of culture and bursting with history, and it is a region not to be missed.
Finally, of course we must stop in Paris, the City of Lights. Famed all over the world for its culture, cuisine, and atmosphere, we can't go to France without visiting Paris. And while it may be tempting to visit the Eiffel Tower, you may want to reconsider. Many of the French look at the Eiffel Tower as an industrial eyesore, rather than a monument to be revered. If that doesn't phase you, by all means take some of your time to go see it, and I would probably still visit it, to be honest. But if it's historical architecture you seek, check out the Arc de Triomphe. It is featured on the Avenue des Champs-Élysées. The rest of the avenue is lined with hotels and restaurants and many wonderful shops and should be explored as well. The Arc was commissioned by Napoleon in the 17th century, and is highly decorated with sculptural relief, and below the arch is the Grave of the Unknown Soldier, which commemorates the unknown lives lost in World War I.
To view some of the best art in the world, with chambers so long that you'd never see it all in one visit, go to the Louvre Museum. It is the home of wonderful paintings, such as the "Mona Lisa," the "Raft of the Medusa," and "Liberty Leading the People." It also contains some of the world's best sculpture -- the "Seated Scribe" from Egypt, the Hellenistic "Winged Victory of Samothrace," and the stunning "Venus de Milo." You will leave inspired. And for a taste of France, as well as something to take home to a loved one, considering visiting La Maison du Chocolat. It is expensive, but one of the most famous chocolate shops in the world.
So, with the beaches of Nice, the wilderness of Dordogne, the beauty of the Loire Valley, and the culture of France under your belt, you can go home renewed and refreshed, and seeing the world from a different perspective. I hope to make this trip sometime in the future because as wonderful as it is to plan a trip to another country, I long to experience it firsthand. If you want to travel the world, now is the perfect time to start.