Poor France. It’s gotten such a bad wrap lately due to terrorism in both Paris and Nice. Many travelers are a bit cautious, or downright terrified of traveling to France these days. But, France is such a beautiful country and it deserves your attention. It’s also so much more than Paris or Nice. Today I’m sharing five cities in France to visit – each with their own special appeal and unique character, in hopes that you’ll still consider a vacation or short getaway in France.
FIVE CITIES IN FRANCE TO VISIT BEYOND PARIS
The word Bordeaux conjures up images of grapevines, chateaux and expensive wine. And rightfully so. Bordeaux has such an incredible history with wines and vines – it’s a perfect spot for wine lovers. But there is so much more to do there. A scenic high-speed train from Paris’s Montparnasse station will whiz through gorgeous countryside and have you in Bordeaux in just over three hours.
Once there, you’ll be able to take trips to wineries for tours and tasting or go chateaux hopping. But, there’s more to love about the city of Bordeaux, you may not want to leave. You’ll find a spruced up chic city, a wonderful mix of ancient and modern, a vibrant art scene, a refurbished river-front, grand architecture and affordable prices. Notable sites include the Amphitheater and the Musée Beaux Arts. Taking the new tram is a great way to see the sites, especially at night. Nearby, the charming village of Saint-Emillion is a must visit for a day.
This southern city boasts elegant architecture, grand boulevards, plenty of culture and very young, hip vibe, thanks to a large student population. Montpel, as it’s known by locals, has something for every traveler. Right in the city, you will find museums, art galleries, parks and cathedrals; even their own Arc du Triomphe. Both a zoo and aquarium will keep children entertained.
Staying here also puts you within driving distance for day trips to the vineyards of the Languedoc and exploring the nearby coast with beautiful white sandy beaches. It also makes a great base for a trip to historic Nîmes, only about an hour away.
Toulouse is known as the pink city, because of the terracotta colored bricks used in its architecture. Its other unique feature is its location on two bodies of water – the Garrone River and the Canal du Midi. This dynamic city in the south of France, sits close to the border of Spain and is rising in popularity. The city has two UNESCO World Heritage sites – the Canal du Midi and the Basilica of Saint Sernin, which is part of the Santiago de Compostela pilgrimage route.
Toulouse offers many hôtel particuliers, churches, a botanical garden and a space theme park. For cafés, shops and the occasional special event, head to the main square, Place du Capitole, to mingle with the locals.
Further afield, visit the small village of Albi, also a UNESCO World Heritage site. Explore one of the oldest wine regions in France, the Fronton vineyards, which lies just north of the city. It’s also the place to enjoy cassoulet, a rich regional dish of sausage, duck and white beans in a thick tomato-y base. Toulouse is about a five-hour trip from Paris on France’s high-speed train; or a 90 minute flight.
An easy two-hour direct train from Paris drops you in Lyon, the gastronomic capital of France. Home to the bouchon (a special type of bistro in Lyon) and the famous chef, Paul Bocuse. If Michelin-starred dining is more your speed, you have two restaurants to choose from. Walk around Old Lyon and admire the Gothic and Renaissance architecture and take sneak peaks at all of the secret passageways. A boat ride on the river is a relaxing way to orient yourself to the city. Lyon is also perfectly placed to visit both the Beaujolais and Rhône wine regions. Many day tours are available, which is a great option for those who’d like to relax and imbibe, freely; but you can also rent a car and DIY.
The last of our cities in France to visit, happens to be its second largest. Marseille is gritty and has a bit of a bad reputation among the French, but it was the capital of culture in 2013, so the city has really spruced itself up, including adding a new tram. Due to its location and diverse history, this Mediterranean city boasts miles of coastline and very unique mix of North African, French, Italian and Corsican culture.
The Vieux Port (Old Port) has the most beautiful coastal setting offering panoramic views and every type of boat – from yachts to sailboats to colorful fishing vessels. For foodies, there is also a wonderful fish market and you’ll be able to enjoy the famous seafood stew, Bouillabaisse. You’ll also find panisse, a version of chickpea cakes based on Nice’s socca. The famous Salon de Marseille soap is also ubiquitous here. Whether you prefer large rustic cubes, or slender sherbet-colored bars – they make perfect packable souvenirs.
A short ferry ride away is the Chateau d’If, made famous in the Count of Monte Cristo. If you fancy a day trip, head to the Calanque National Park, for tranquility and spectacular natural beauty. Or charming Aix-en-Provence, a fountain-lovers dream is only about 30 minutes by train.
If that’s not enough to entice you, the city is adding a new cool underwater museum this year. Marseille can easily be reached by high-speed train from Paris in three hours. There is also frequent local rail service between Nice and Marseille.