Home to globally influential cuisine, art, and architecture, France is awash with iconic cultural treasures and natural wonders. With an abundance of hidden gems dotted around the country, this ultimate romantic destination is guaranteed to leave you enamoured. Join in on an enchanting journey through the top five places to discover quintessential France.
1. Explore the fascinating history and natural beauty of Normandy
Famous for D-Day and a coastline home to over 80 sites that became prominent during World War II, Normandy is the perfect place for learning about European History and the world’s largest invasion by sea. Nature and culture lovers also have plenty to explore – marvel at the influential Bayeux Tapestry up close and relive the story of the famous Normandy conquest, sea kayak along the glorious coast, or even embark on a helicopter tour of Mount Saint Michael, a famous tidal island topped by an ancient walled hamlet.
In the colorful fishing port of Honfleur, step straight into a Monet painting and discover the pretty places that inspired the revered impressionist. Wander through the Garden of Personalities and discover magnificent statues of historical figures connected to Normandy, including Holy Roman Emperor Charles V and landscape painter Eugene Boudin.
Board a boat for a guided tour of the area, passing beneath the striking Normandy bridge and beside Honfleur’s stunning lock chamber. As you sail the calm seas, take in sweeping views of the picturesque Le Havre commune and Seine Estuary, a protected wetland with mudflats and reed beds full of beautiful native birds.
Nearby, explore the nearby villages of Camembert, Livarot, Pont-l’Evêque and Neufchâtel to sample some of the most delicious cheeses in the world. Follow the famous trail and sample four types of cheeses awarded with the much-coveted PDO (protected designation of origin) certification.
2. Discover Italian-influenced food, wine, and history in Bonifacio
Perched on a cliff on the southern tip of Corsica, a unique island close to Sardinia, Bonifacio is a small seaport town with a fascinating history that dates back to the Roman era. Spend an afternoon wandering the charming streets of the old town, shop for local artisanal cork products, or ascend the citadel for unrelenting views of the rugged, turquoise coastline. At Le Voilier, which sits at the base of the citadel overlooking the harbor, chef Jean-Paul Bartoli serves exceptional Mediterranean cuisine with more breathtaking ocean views.
For the ultimate Corsican experience, and to get even further off-the-beaten-path, charter a yacht from Bonifacio’s marina and explore the hidden coves and secluded beaches that are nestled along the shoreline, where complete tranquility awaits you.
Vineyards are abundant in Corsica and the area of Porto-Vecchio, to the northeast of Bonifacio, is the perfect place to experience the region’s richest wines, surrounded in every direction by soaring mountain summits. Take a tour of a renowned vineyard and sample the velvety hues of the finest Corsican wine, then tantalize your taste buds with Bonifacio’s fresh seafood.
3. Enjoy a slower pace of life in Èze
The exclusive Côte d’Azur region is awash with turquoise waters surrounded by verdant pine forests and marinas dotting the coastline. Èze is a stunning medieval village perched on a pretty hilltop between the exclusive cities of Monaco and Nice. Surrounded by incredible hiking opportunities, like the Neitzche path that offers impressive views over the Mediterranean.
Hotels in Èze tend to be boutique, balancing their quaint exterior with modern decor and awe-inspiring views of the twinkling coast. Whilst the village feels sleepy and intimate, it is the perfect base for day trips to Monaco and other well-known jewels of the south like Antibes and Frejus.
Côte d’Azur is known for its blend of Mediterranean and Provencal cuisine, and Nice is the perfect place to sample this unique food culture. Join a culinary tour of the most exciting nicoise flavors, from family-run cafes to chic hotspots, amid the city’s blend of classic and Art Deco architecture. Or, embark on a cultural journey that highlights the Côte d’Azur’s influence on Matisse, and witness the beautiful landscapes that inspired one of the world’s most famous artists.
For a deeply indulgent experience, meet with a Maître-Parfumeur and create your own signature scent; a special souvenir to capture the memories of your trip.
4. Find the place where France meets Germany in Colmar
The fairytale town of Colmar is a unique blend of France and Germany, and this fusion is clearly reflected in the town’s architecture, food, and culture.
The picturesque Old Town and Little Venice areas are arguably some of the quaintest parts of France, and taking a boat ride on the Lauch river that runs centrally will allow you to slow down, relax, and really appreciate the town for all its beauty.
To experience the pretty sights in the historic center of Colmar and the wider Alsace region, hop on an e-bike for a tour through the area and follow the wine route that winds throughout the Alsace region, sampling gourmet local wines at the world-famous Wolfberger winery. For an extra special experience, take to the skies in a hot air balloon and gaze down at the rolling hills and charming towns of the Alsatian landscape.
To taste some of the best Alsatian food, savor an exquisite meal at Michelin-starred Restaurant Girardin, or take a cooking workshop with a local chef and discover how French and German cuisine combines to create unique, indulgent dishes.
At Christmas time, Colmar is especially magical, with market stalls selling local crafts and delicacies lining the cobbled streets, and the iconic half-timbered buildings glisten with baubles and twinkling lights.
5. Bathe in Champagne in Reims
Just an hour away from Paris, Reims is the unofficial capital of the Champagne region, and home to breathtaking layers of history and architecture. Reims has played an important role in the French kingdom, with Joan of Arc even declaring Charles VII as her king inside the city walls. Today, such stories remain woven throughout the urban fabric, making Reims a truly special place to visit for those yearning to discover more about France’s history.
Discover the royal history of the city on an immersive walking tour, and explore the Notre Dame Cathedral of Reims, where French kings were crowned and became one of the first monuments in the world to be given UNESCO heritage status.
At the nearby Tattingers headquarters, which covers over 288 hectares in 34 vineyards, you can catch a glimpse of the chardonnay grapes up close, before sampling some of the world’s finest Champagne.
If you’re interested in post-war architecture, take a tour of the city center and discover its dazzling Art Deco architecture, such as the Carnegie Library and the jaw-dropping Boulingrin Central Market Hall.
After a day of exploration, taste some of the city’s best traditional cuisine at Le Millénaire, where a haute couture interior and refreshing dishes create the perfect relaxed evening atmosphere, paired with some of the region’s most celebrated Champagne.
Anna Mascaro is Founder of Terracotta Travel. Terracotta Travel is a boutique travel agency that caters for luxury travellers who want to go beyond the guidebook and behind the scenes in every corner of the world.