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The French wrote the book on la vie en rose and gave the world champagne and camembert, de Beauvoir and Debussy, the Tour de France and the Tour Eiffel. There's a term for their seductive lifestyle - Douce France (Sweet France) and you'll find yourself using it often.
Although the ubiquity of Levis and Le Big Mac flusters the country's cultural purists, a year in Provence or a weekend in Paris will explain why half the world grows dreamy over stalking Paris's streets or picnicking Manet-style sur l'herbe
FRANCE TOURS & TRAVEL:
PARIS Tours, Travel & Activities
Paris is a city to look at, with boulevards, monuments, works of art and magical lights. It's a city to taste: cheese, chocolate, wine, charcuterie (cold meats), bread. It's also a city to hear, whether you like opera, jazz or world music, or you just like the sound of the metro cars whooshing by on their rubber wheels.
Looking for something a little different? Hit the road in a classic Citroen car, chauffeured by a knowledgeable local ready to respond to your every request (photo stops, ideas about restaurants, shows, etc). See Paris in style.
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ALSACE Tours, Travel & Activities
The charming and beautiful region of Alsace, long a meeting place of Europe's Latin and Germanic cultures, is nestled between the Vosges Mountains and the River Rhine - along which the long-disputed Franco-German border has found a final resting place.
Popularly known as a land of storks' nests and colorful half-timbered houses sprouting geraniums, Alsace also offers a wide variety of outdoor activities in and around its gentle, forested mountains.
Visit Eguisheim - a medieval village built in circles around the castle at its center. Continue on to Turkheim - a town right out of the Middle Ages & Renaissance. End the day discovering the beauty of the Black Forest.
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AQUITANE Tours, Travel & Activities
It may not have the glitz and glamour associated with its counterpart on the Mediterranean, but France's Atlantic Coast is just as appealing. Of course, there's the scorching sunshine and miles of sandy beaches, but there's so much more to this region than bucket-and-spade summer days.
Lively Bordeaux is emerging from an ambitious makeover to become one of France's hot destinations. Then there's the wine.
On the coast itself, the relaxed seaside resorts of Soulac-sur-Mer and Arcachon sit at either end of the Cote d'Argent, a long stretch of virtually deserted sand beaches and dunes best explored on bicycle.
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ARLES Tours, Travel & Activities
Arles is in Provence in the southeast of France. Remote, uneventful, but definitely no waste of time, Arles is absolutely steeped in Provençal culture. The museums are small, but have some interested artifacts. Unfortunately there are no Van Goghs to be found in the city, despite the fact that his residence in Arles was his most productive era.
The Roman arena (l'Arène d'Arles) is the main attraction here. You can wander through the same stone arches and passageways that were used in Roman days. Other sights include the Roman ruins, the marketplace, and a few museums.
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AVIGNON Tours, Travel & Activities
With its world-famous performing arts festival, Europe's largest Gothic palace, outstanding Cotes du Rhone wine, a nursery rhyme bridge and a historic walled city - a pocket of which falls under Unesco World Heritage protection - it is understandable why wealthy Avignon comes across as smugger than smug.
The city has it all: historic treasures, a clutch of interesting museums, great dining and a cutting-edge bar and cafe scene kept on its toes by a substantial student population.
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BAYEUX Tours, Travel & Activities
Bayeux was the first town liberated after the D-Day landings and has many attractions including the famous Bayeux tapestry and the British War Cemetery. The pretty harbor town of Honfleur is popular with weekenders from Paris who enjoy the beaches and the town's charm.
Finish off your day by exploring Pays D'Auge and sample one of France's most loved cheeses, Camembert.
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BORDEAUX Tours, Travel & Activities
Practice your best sante - you'll be raising your glass a lot in Bordeaux, home to one of France's seven key wine regions and known for its award-winning big reds. Tour the chateaux, imbibe the world-class wines and indulge in the regional cuisine, but remember that Bordeaux offers much more.
The city has excellent museums, lively nightlife and beaches close by. Wide avenues, neoclassical architecture and well-tended parks all give the city a certain 18th-century grandeur.
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CANNES Tours, Travel & Activities
It's the money of the affluent, spent with the nonchalance of those for whom it is no object, that continues to keep Cannes' expensive hotels, fancy restaurants and exorbitant boutiques in business, and its yachts as big as ocean liners afloat.
But the harbor, the bay, the hill west of the port called Le Suquet, the beachside promenade, the beaches and the people sunning themselves provide more than enough natural beauty to make at least a day trip here worth the effort.
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LOIRE VALLEY Tours, Travel & Activities
Some French words are understood the world over. 'Chateau' is one of them. Its very mention inspires images of grand towers rising to the heavens, of extravagant dining rooms for hundreds of guests, of exquisite gardens and shimmering moats. It says banquets, balls and decadence; crystal chandeliers and candelabras.
'Chateau' encapsulates both the intrigue of French history and our vision of romantic France. It's a word that belongs to the Loire Valley.
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MARSEILLE Tours, Travel & Activities
In parts very African, in others distinctly Middle Eastern but in its entirety unmistakeably French, the cosmopolitan port of Marseille (or Marseilles) is a brusque, bustling place with bags of character.
There's the pretty old port, the gritty (and often stinking) backstreets, lively markets with the atmosphere of a Moroccan souk, heavenly harbourside restaurants and an increasingly buzzing nightlife.
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NICE Tours, Travel & Activities
Nice, the capital of the Cote d'Azur, is not 'nice' - what an insult! Nice is a sparky, sexy city, with a gritty underside that keeps it grounded. If Nice were a person, it would wear designer cocktail dresses with old army boots, cause lots of trouble and be livid about that insipid adjective.
Nice's beaches are pebbly. On the other hand there are a lot of them, and most are free, warm and clean as a whistle. The city itself is brash and bold (there's no such thing as being too old to wear a bikini) and enormously popular, so if you're looking for a place of serenity and Zen-like peace… move on.
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NORMANDY Tours, Travel & Activities
Normandy is a land of tradition, of quintessential grey farmhouses rising out of rolling green pastures, of black-berried hedgerows lining patchwork fields of artichokes, cauliflower and corn.
It's a land of apples and crustaceans, of generous meals, half-timbered houses and honest fishing villages where deep rural countryside meets the bracing sea.
Normandy is a land steeped in history, the subject of successive invasions and decisive battles, a place where monasteries rise up from the sea and where tapestries recount historical watersheds.
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PROVENCE Tours, Travel & Activities
First-time visitors may be as captivated by the beauty of this ruggedly lovely chunk of France as the painter Van Gogh was when he arrived from a gloomy Paris in 1888. 'What intensity of colours, what pure air, what vibrant serenity,' he wrote. 'Nature here is extraordinarily beautiful, everything and everywhere.' He wasn't wrong. That colourful intensity in land, sea and sky is brought out by the glorious, almost-year-round southern sun.
Spend the day seeing all of the highlights of Provence. Starting from Avignon, to Pont du Gard, the lock of Vallabrègues on the Rhone river and Tarascon, Les Baux de Provence, the Antiques of Saint Remy de Provence, the Luberon through Menerbes, and finally, the Lavender Museum.
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TOULOUSE Tours, Travel & Activities
Located between the Mediterranean and the Atlantic coast, Toulouse is a city of students, a centre of cutting-edge European technology, and the capital of the good life; its taste for celebrations and fine food is attracting a growing number of new inhabitants.
The Canal du Midi is an enchanting waterway. Constructed under Louis XIV to link the Atlantic to the Mediterranean Sea, the canal is today inscribed on UNESCO's list of the world's cultural patrimony. A 40km (25mi) bike path stretches from Toulouse to Port Lauragais on the south bank and the many canalside paths are peaceful places to walk, run or cycle
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SUGGESTED ITINERARIES: FRANCE
The French are a festive bunch, with many cities hosting music, dance, theatre, cinema or art events each year. Rural villages hold fairs and fetes, which celebrate everything from local saints to agricultural progress.
Prominent national days off are May Day (1 May), when people trade gifts of muguet (lily of the valley) for good luck; and Bastille Day (14 July), which is celebrated by throwing firecrackers at friends. Regional events include the primping and preening pret o porter fashion show in Paris (early February); the glittering and often-canned Cannes Film Festival (mid-May); the International Music Festival in Strasbourg (first three weeks of June); the mainstream and fringe theatre of the Festival d'Avignon (mid-July to mid-August) and the Jazz Festival in Nancy (mid-Oct).
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