10 Things to do in France
This post is not about what sites you should see when in France. We all have our own agendas when travelling, while France does have so many spectacular places to visit try and fit in the basics while visiting and I assure you that you won't regret it!
1- Sip a very small coffee.
I'm sure you know that coffee is a very big part of French culture. Coffee means everything to the French, however they are served in very small helpings. Coming from North America it's definitely something to get used to. A traditional coffee is called a "café allongée". This is a traditional espresso with added hot water to make it bigger. It's quite strong still but very small compared to north american standards. It's best to ask for a small pot of warm milk to add to it. Coffee in France is cheap and is really like rent for your beautiful spot on the terrace. You can sit for hours, enjoy the scenery and spend less than 5euros, it's completely acceptable!
2- Eat from a Boulangerie.
Baguettes, macaroons, croissants and of course my all-time favorite "Mille Feuille". When you find a good bakery you go back and try it all... When you finally think you've found the best croissants in town someone else gets top marks though!
A staple in French life is bread, a baguette is a must in daily life and you've not lived unless you've had a fresh out of the oven baguette. France is against GMOs in many of their staple food items such as bread. That's why you'll never understand how someone can eat bread every day in France and maintain a decent weight yet it seems impossible in North America, it has to do with GMOs. The bread is fresh, cheap and comes in so many varieties. Don't even get me started on cheese, that's a given cheese and bread go together. Visit a local bakery and the neighboring cheese shop and you are all set!
3- Take a train.
Travel in Europe is easy, cheap and quick. If you have a few hours you can get to the most beautiful places taking a train. A quick search can result in so many options. Popular destinations from France by train are Italy, Switzerland, Netherlands, Germany and so many more. The options are endless. Here are some advantages to travelling by rail in Europe.
- No luggage limits:
Heavy on the shoe packing? No problem, so long as you can find a spot for your luggage which is usually a non-issue then you are fine, no extra fees or limits apply - YES!
No security lines and mandatory check-ins:
Nobody will ask you to take your shoes off and scan your belongings. No lines or zone loading. SO many people get so stressed about this procedure in an airport - it's really quite nice to avoid this step. Have a ticket - get on, find your seat, enjoy.
Eat, drink and be merry:
Go to the local grocery store, grab a bottle of wine, baguette and some cheese and you are off. You can bring anything on a train including alcohol - crazy! It's quite nice to enjoy some food and wine while watching the world go by.
Efficient and quick:
You absolutely must experience a TGV train. The flexibility of getting somewhere very quickly is brilliant. It's amazing to experience a train going that quickly. Once you get over the speed you can really enjoy the lull with a nap. Trains are generally speaking always on time, unlike air travel European trains are hardly ever late unless there's an accident on the tracks which does happen but very rarely.
4-Rent a bike.
France really embraces the concept of biking and being active in general. Therefore they have many bike paths, bike lanes and they make it quite easy to enjoy touring by bike. When you get on a bike there is a certain sense of freedom and adventure that you experience. You can see so much more by bike, you'll be tempted to stop in every small town, chat with locals and enjoy the sights. Biking is perfect for any age and fitness level... It's cheap, accessible and so simple an activity.
Pack a picnic, stop in at local markets and take your time enjoying the simpler pleasures in life.
5- Drink wine
Like bread, wine is essential to the life in France. With so many amazing wine regions in France it's no wonder you can buy a really good bottle for about 2-3 euros, an amazing bottle for 8-10 euros. When we travel we love to try the region's own wine. There are so many vineyards in France some have been passed down from generation to generation and take such pride in producing a beautiful product.
I read that the he top five wine regions in France are traditionally Bordeaux, Champagne, Burgundy, the Loire Valley and the Rhône Valley each with it's own character. I prefer a good red wine with quality chocolate but many say cheese and bread go best. It's a personal thing and I encourage you to buy French wine wherever you are!
6- Splurge on a Michelin star restaurant.
What's better than chocolate with that wine, a beautiful meal from a Michelin star chef. The Michelin Star, the hallmark for fine dining and quality is taken quite seriously so if you can splurge on this then it will certainly be one of the most memorable parts of your visit to France.
Not every "starred" restaurant is unattainable, France boasts a long list of restaurants with this accolade many that set the standard for superior dining. I'm always curious to see what makes these places and their food so special. Make a reservation, get dressed up and don't forget your manners. Dining in such restaurants is an experience and should be taken seriously, since most dishes are tiny and overpriced, every bit counts. It's as though you've entered a private club where the waiters know your name and you are the priority for those 3 hours. Each dish is a piece of art, carefully selected and presented like an interactive performance. It's an incredible dining experience you won't soon forget if you're a foodie like me!
7- Visit a museum
Museums are institutions travelers visit to learn about the past, but sometimes the actual museum itself is also so rich in history. With so much history in this country every region has it's own story. Coming from Canada a very young country of only 150 years (in 2017) it's a must do when traveling through a different city and a great great way of getting to know the history of a particular area.
Seeing and touching artifacts can be really important, it can invoke a whole range of emotions. A Roman slab of stone that resembles a bed can really bring you back to that time and it's an amazing way to peak a child's imagination. It's a wonderful opportunity for kids to explore unique environments while giving them perspective and connection to the world around them. While I agree that museums can be sort of boring for kids, it's important to us to have them experience and learn about such history and culture. Most museums are free and many have guided tours, some have audio guides, and of course you can wander about at your own pace.
8- Get to the mountains.
I wrote about this before but i'll say it again, if you can get to the French Alps, you must. Windy roads, violet fields and astonishing views can take you by surprise. Most tourists visit these majestic mountains by bike, hiking or sometimes even jumping off of them! The Alps are a mountain range spanning several countries: Italy, France, Monaco, Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Austria, Germany and Slovenia. The French Alps boast 24 peaks over 4,000 metres of altitude. The highest point is located in the Mont Blanc, France, with 4,810 metres.
The Alps are the ultimate destination with the most natural scenery and most magnificent breath taking landscapes. Rent a car and drive, stopping in every little town, dipping your feet in the crystal clear lakes that surround the mountains. If you are brave enough to explore in the winter months, the skiing is bountiful with so many resorts boasting beautiful chalets furnished with cozy fireplaces overlooking the snowy peaks and glaciers!
9- Go to church
France is home to some of the most magnificent cathedrals. To walk into a church so historic will render you speechless for so many reasons but to top the list is the sheer enormity of them. The ornate Gothic decor of many churches makes you wonder how they were even able to construct such architectural feats in those times. Large stone arches, stained glassed windows and statues to marvel in for hours. Sometimes these churches are larger than the towns they are standing in, they are the sort of matriarch figures of the city center.
You can easily spend your day exploring, sitting on engraved pews staring up at the high vaulted ceilings. If you can catch a service and be lucky enough to have a choir signing or an organ playing in the background then you should stay put. Many cathedrals in France are considered UNESCO world heritage sites, they are worth a visit and to pay your respects.
10- Finally - do like the French and find a patch of grass to lounge around.
The French are notorious for lounging around. I suppose they do have plenty of time on their hands with a 2 hour lunch and all. If you happen to find yourself with nothing to do, grab a blanket, a book perhaps, a snack and a patch of grass. Every city in France has a spot where you can find locals enjoying the weather, eating, drinking and generally chilling out without pretense. It is quite amazing that a small country such as France can have so many green spaces to enjoy, they really do make it a priority in urban planning. Whether alongside the Seine river in Paris or in the middle of Annecy's old town, take a moment and enjoy the scenery, the people and the culture for which you are among.
Of course there are so many things to see and do when you travel to France, most importantly engage with the locals and don't embarrass your country ok!