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17 experiences every tourist in France should have

The ultimate bucket list of must-have experiences for tourists

As one of Europe’s most beautiful and diverse destinations, France has much to attract tourists from all over the world. But it’s easy to get caught up in the romance of Paris or the glitz of St Tropez. To celebrate all that France has to offer, we’ve compiled the ultimate bucket list of must-have experiences for tourists.

1. Drink Champagne

But you can do that anywhere, right? Well not quite – it’s a whole different experience sipping this world famous drink while looking out over the vineyards where it’s produced. Suddenly your favourite Champagne takes on a new dimension and you’ll remember the view of those vineyards every time you drink it.

Palais Ideal du Facteur Cheval
Palais Ideal du Facteur Cheval

2. Visit Cheval’s Ideal Palace

This astounding construction in the Rhône-Alpes was built by a humble postman with big dreams. Starting with a single stone that Cheval found on his daily rounds, it took 33 years to create and was inspired by wildlife and mythological creatures.

3. Go for a swim by the calanques

The Cote d’Azur may be famous for its glamorous resorts and jet-setting vibe, but it has a quieter side too. Between Cassis and Marseille is a series of fjord-like inlets called the calanques, which can be reached by boat. Don’t miss the opportunity to take a dip in the crystal clear waters here, away from the crowds.

4. Visit the International Garden Festival

Set in the grounds of Château de Chaumont, this festival celebrates all things horticultural, featuring up to 30 themed gardens by different designers. It runs from April until November and has proved extremely popular with visitors from across the globe since its inception in 1992.

5. Eat fresh seafood on the Brittany coast

Visiting Brittany and passing up a seafood dish is like visiting the Louvre and skipping the Mona Lisa. Sitting in a seafront restaurant with a plate of oysters or moules frites and watching the boats bobbing in the harbour is pure bliss.  

6. Remember the fallen

The centenary of the Great War is a particularly poignant time to visit the Picardy battlefields and pay tribute to those who lost their lives. In addition to the memorials and cemeteries, the Caverne du Dragon gives an insight into how soldiers on the front lines lived, and you can follow in the footsteps of the troops by walking along the Chemin des Dames.

Place Du Tertre, Montmartre
Place Du Tertre, Montmartre

7. Discover Montmartre

The Sacre Coeur is one of the best known landmarks of Paris, but behind it is a world of cobbled streets and quaint boutiques that show a more bohemian side to the city. The haunt of artists and writers for centuries, its lively, unpretentious atmosphere epitomises the spirit of Paris’ bygone days.

8. See the volcanoes of the Auvergne

The Auvergne brings something unexpected to the French countryside – dormant volcanoes rising into the sky, their slopes clad in lush vegetation. The Chaîne de Puy, a series of domes and craters stretching 30km, is the only one of its kind in Europe and one of the country’s most dramatic landscapes.

9. Splash out on black truffles

One of the rarest and most coveted foods in France is the Perigord black truffle. Splashing out on a dish that contains this exceptional ingredient, with its earthy, chocolaty flavour, is one of those gastronomic experiences you won’t forget.

Glass skywalk on Aiguille du Midi
Glass skywalk on Aiguille du Midi

10. Step into the void

Atop the Aiguille du Midi is a glass skywalk that offers panoramic views of the surrounding Alps. Exchanging their shoes for soft slippers, tourists shuffle onto the glass and discover the sensation of floating amid the snow capped mountains.

11. Cruise the Canal du Midi

A feat of 17th century engineering, the Canal du Midi runs from Toulouse in the Midi-Pyrénées to the Mediterranean Sea. One of the best ways to appreciate both the canal itself and the surrounding countryside is to take a barge cruise along it, stopping for regular excursions ashore.

12. Cycle the Alsace wine route

One of the oldest tourist routes in France, the Alsace wine route takes in some of the most interesting towns, villages and vineyards of the region. Hopping into the saddle is a great way to discover the trails, meet locals and taste some of the excellent wines produced here.

13. Visit Biarritz during the surf festival

Biarritz is renowned for its golden beaches and surfing culture, and the town is at its most lively during the annual surf festival each July. Spectators are treated to a range of contests during the day and music, films, dancing and more by night.

14. Ramble through the Landes Forest

The Landes Forest is unique in that it was created almost entirely by man, and is managed largely for industrial purposes. A wander through the pines reveals the extent of the project and enables visitors to understand the impact it has had on the local communities.

15. Bathe in the thermal baths at Aix-les-Bains

A little rest and relaxation is just as important as exploring all the sights that France has to offer. The thermal waters at Aix-les-Bains are said to have healing properties that can revitalise visitors. If you prefer to stay active, Lake Bourget has a wealth of water sports to try.

Cevennes
Cevennes

16. Trek the Stevenson Trail

In 1878, Robert Louis Stevenson’s Travels with a Donkey was published – an account of his trip through the Cevennes with a donkey named Modestine, Following their footsteps with a donkey of your own is a fantastic experience, both for the dramatic scenery and for the unlikely companionship.

17. Visit Napoleon’s birthplace

One of France’s most famous sons, Napoleon grew up in the town of Ajaccio on Corsica. A visit to the Bonapartes’ ancestral home reveals details about his life, and there are statues and structures dedicated to him across the town. 

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