Favorites in France


Chateau de Chenonceau, in the Loire Valley

Chateau de Chenonceau, in the Loire Valley


The Experience

A visit to the best of France including: Avignon, Carcassonne, Albi, The Dordogne, Normandy, Rouen, The Loire Valley, and Paris.



Avignon is a beautiful city in southeastern France on the left bank of the Rhône river.   Its historic center, which includes the Palais des Papes, the cathedral, and the Saint-Bénézet Bridge, was classified as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1995.


Pont d'Avignon

Pont d’Avignon


Form 1309 to 1377, seven successive popes resided in Avignon.  Avignon’s Palais des Papes, served as the Popes’ residence and as the center of Catholicism for almost a century.   The Palais des Papes  is surrounded by churches, chapels, convents, and town houses – all sheltered within the city ramparts.  The rest of this ancient city has beautiful medieval architecture with an atmosphere all of its own.


Palais des Papes, Avignon

Palais des Papes, Avignon


La Mirande in Avignon is one of our favorite hotels.


La Mirande3

La Mirande, Avignon


The Pont du Gard

The Pont du Gard, a ‘Grand Site de France’, is a marvel of Roman architecture.  The bridge was built in the 1st century over the river Gard. With its 142 m long arcades standing 49 m above the surface of the river, it is the most spectacular section of an aqueduct that took water from Uzès to Nîmes. The Pont du Gard has been immaculately preserved.  Great care has been taken to improve access.   There are several paths on both banks of the river which give visitors views of the exceptional precision and artistry of the Pont du Gard.


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The Pont du Gard


The Carthusian Monastery in Villeneuve-les-Avignon

After you have explored Avignon, take a moment to visit the Val de Bénédiction Carthusian Monastery.  It was built in the heart of Villeneuve in the 14th century by Pope Innocent VI, and takes you into an atmosphere of great tranquillity.   The cloister of St. John and the Cemetery cloister, the chapter house, church and refectory all bear witness to the former power of the Carthusian order.


The Carthusian Monastery in Villeneuve-les-Avignon

The Carthusian Monastery in Villeneuve-les-Avignon


Aix-en-Provence and Cézanne’s studio

With its 17th and 18th century town houses, tiny squares with fountains, and café terraces, Aix-en-Provence is a perfect example of Provençal art de vivre.


Aix-en-Provence and Cézanne’s studio

Cézanne’s studio, Aix-en-Provence


Paul Cézanne’s house in Aix is one of the most remarkable artists’ studios in the world.  Preserved exactly as he left it, the studio contains not just the objects he painted but also, his hat still sitting on its peg and a glass of wine on the table, a sense of the man himself.


Villa Gauchi, Aix

Villa Gallici, Aix


L’Hostellerie de l’Abbaye de la Celle

L’Hostellerie de l’Abbaye de la Celle is a small country inn and restaurant owned by Alain Ducasse.  La Celle is a tiny village about 45 minutes from Aix.  The inn incorporates a 12th-century building that extends on one side of a back courtyard.  Tables are set on the terrace under large canvas umbrellas.


L’Hostellerie de l’Abbaye de la Celle

L’Hostellerie de l’Abbaye de la Celle



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Place Richelme, Aix



Carcassonne is one of the best preserved medieval towns in Europe.  The original fortified Cité was superimposed on a Roman town, which itself had replaced an earlier settlement.  In the thirteenth century, Carcassonne reached its peak as a thriving haunt of artists, jugglers and troubadours who sang their ballads in what we know as Occitan or langue d’oc.  This culture led to the name of the modern French region Languedoc-Roussillon.

La Cité was practically abandoned and allowed to crumble until the mid-nineteenth century.  Then work on restoration began, narrowly averting the need for demolishing the town.





A double ring of walls protects the old town.  Eighteen towers are on the inner wall and twenty six are on the outer wall.  The Narbonne Gate, with its twin towers and drawbridge, leads to the medieval houses.  The old cathedral of St Nazaire and St Celse features beautiful stained-glass windows.



The pretty pink-hued city of Albi in southern France is the birthplace of Toulouse-Lautrec and the home of the largest museum dedicated to his work.

Set on the banks of the river Tarn, Albi is rich in the Languedoc style of architecture, featuring red brick and tiles.  The Cathedral of Sainte Cecile and the Musee Toulouse-Lautrec are particularly fine examples of this style.  In 2010, the old episcopal city around the cathedral was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site.


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Palais de la Berbie

In the very heart of the city’s historical centre is the fortress known as the Palais de la Berbie with its thick, high walls and formal gardens.  Originally built as a stronghold in the thirteenth century, this monumental building was transformed and enlarged by successive prelates until the eighteenth century.   The stately palace bears testimony to the power of the Bishops of Albi.


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Palais de la Berbie, Albi


The building became a museum in 1905 to house the world’s largest collection of work by Toulouse-Lautrec.  Over 1,000 paintings, lithographs, drawings and preparatory studies provide a comprehensive and well-documented view of Albi’s best-known son.

Some of Toulouse-Lautrec’s most famous creations are here, arranged in chronological order, including Femme tirant son bas (Woman pulling up her stocking), l’Anglaise du StarLa Modiste (The dressmaker) and le Divan Japonais (The Japanese couch).  There are also early works: portraits, scenes of the bohemian life of Montmartre the theatres and cabarets of Paris and the French capital’s brothels.  Also here are a collection of posters by the French artist devoted to the stars of the Parisian night with settings such as the Moulin Rouge, the Moulin de la Galette and Le Chat Noir.



Saint-Cirq-Lapopie was a favorite summer destination of the French Surrealist Andre Breton.  Overlooking the river Lot, Saint-Cirq-Lapopie boasts beautiful medieval architecture, including an impressive fortified church.


Saint Cirq Lapopie

Saint Cirq Lapopie


Pont Valentre, Cahor

Nearby, the town of Cahor’s finest sight is a 14th-century bridge.  Its three elegant towers are an impressive feat of medieval engineering.



Pont Valentre, Cahor


The Dordogne

Located in Aquitaine between the Loire Valley and the Pyrenees, the Dordogne is named after the great river that runs through it.  It roughly corresponds with the ancient county of Périgord.

In addition to its castles, chateaux, churches, bastides and cave fortresses, the Périgord region has preserved a number of wonderful villages which still have their market halls, dovecotes, tories (stone huts), churches, abbeys and castles.  Saint-Léon-sur-Vézère, Connezac, Saint-Jean-de-Côle, La Roque-Gageac and many others are jewels.


Kayaking on the Dordogne River

Kayaking on the Dordogne River


Lascaux Caves

Just south of Montignac, the famous Lascaux Caves contain hundreds of prehistoric wall paintings between 15,000 and 20,000 years old.  The horses, cow, black bulls, and unicorn on their walls were discovered n 1940 by four school children looking for their dog.  Painted in black, purple, red, and yellow, the powerful images of stags, bison, and oxen are brought to life by the curve of the stone walls.  Many of them appear pregnant, and historians think these caves were shrines to fertility rather than living quarters.  No tools or implements of the artists were ever found.



Lascaux Caves, Dordogne


Over time, the original Lascaux cave paintings began to deteriorate due to the carbon dioxide exhaled by thousands of visitors.  To make the colorful mosaic of animals accessible to the general public, the French authorities built Lascaux II, a formidable feat in itself.  They spent 12 years perfecting the facsimile.


Le Vieux Logis

Built around the most gorgeous dining room in the Dordogne, this vine-clad manor house in Trémolat is one of the region’s top hotels.  The warm guest rooms vary in size, but most face the garden and a rushing brook.   The loveliest have terra-cotta tile floors, stone walls, and suite-like bathrooms.  The lounge offers exposed beams, Louis Xlll–style furniture, and faïence plates over the fireplace. The gourmet restaurant is decorated in charming half-timber and pink-and-red paisley fabrics.

The six-course dinner menu there might include a specialty, veal in a mustard sauce.  Less expensive fare is available from a second restaurant, the popular Le Bistrot d’en Face, located in a house at the gates to the property.


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Le Vieux Logis, Dordogne



Located on the northwest coast of France, Normandy has changed hands many times.

Mont St. Michel has been a strategic fortification since ancient times.  In the eighth century AD, it  has became the seat of the monastery for which it is named.  The town is considered to exemplify the feudal society that constructed it: on top God, the abbey and monastery; below this the great halls; then stores and housing; and at the bottom, outside the walls, fishermen and farmers’ housing.

One of France’s most recognizable landmarks, Mont Saint-Michel and its bay are part of the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites.

During the Second World War, on D-Day, Allied forces landed on Normandy’s beaches with code names Omaha, Utah, Gold, Juno, and Sword.  Today the beaches and cemeteries are moving sights for visitors.  The Battle of Normandy helped bring about the liberation of Paris, the restoration of the French Republic, and the eventual defeat of Nazi Germany.


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Mont St. Michel, Normandy


Normandy was also the embarkation point for the Norman invasion of England in 1066, an event memorialized in the Bayeaux Tapestry.



Bayeux Tapestry, Normandy



Rouen, in north-western France on the River Seine, is the historic capital city of Normandy.  Rouen was one of most prosperous cities of medieval Europe. In addition, Rouen was the capital of the Anglo-Norman dynasties that ruled England and large parts of modern France from the 11th to the 15th centuries.

Rouen is known for its Notre Dame cathedral, with its Tour de Beurre (butter tower) financed by the sale of indulgences.  The cathedral’s gothic façade (completed in the 1500s) was the subject of a series of paintings by Claude Monet, some of which are exhibited in the Musée d’Orsay in Paris.


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Rouen Cathedral



Claude Monet, Cathedrale De Rouen, 1892-94

Claude Monet, Cathedrale De Rouen, 1892-94


In the age of sail, Rouen was the first major impression most Americans had of Europe when visiting for the first time.

….And then I was thinking about their – the voyage of these Americans who ventured off to France at a time when they were all only able to go across the North Atlantic by sailing ship and it was rough and it was anything but traveling on a cruise liner, and what a journey that was.

And then they got to – they landed at La Havre, almost all of them.  And they then went by land to Paris which was a two-day trip by a huge, cumbersome stagecoach affair. And they would stop at Rouen halfway and they would see for the first time a European masterpiece and the masterpiece was the Rouen Cathedral.

And many of them wrote at length and very much from the heart about the impact of this one building, this one experience, and that they knew that something greater had begun being in the old world. The old world to them was the new world.

(David McCullough, on Rouen Cathedral in his book  The Greater Journey, excerpted from a 2011 C-Span interview)


The Loire Valley

The Loire Valley is a land of castles.  Each great building has its own history and character.  Some were homes to kings, others to nobles and aristocrats who held fabulous balls and parties and who hunted in the surrounding forests. Most chateaux attest to the splendor of Renaissance art and style; and all give witness to the delicacy and good taste of French fine living.

The landscape shows the great cultural and architectural heritage of historic towns and villages and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  Visiting one of the chateaux givea a taste of the area and its culture.  Highlights are Cheverny, Villandrey, Chenonceau, and Azay-le-Rideau.

Chateau de Chenonceau, in the Loire Valley

Chateau de Chenonceau, in the Loire Valley


Le Marais, Paris

Its name may literally mean ‘The Marsh’, but Le Marais, in the third and fourth arrondissements of Paris, is traditionally one of the most elegant and aristocratic city districts.  It’s also bohemian, artistic and one of the most lively and cosmopolitan areas in the French capital.

Spreading along the right bank of the Seine, Le Marais offers galleries, museums, bustling cafes, and restaurants, craft and antique shops.


Marais, Paris

Marais, Paris


The symbolic centre of the Marais is la Place des Vosges, a perfectly symmetrical gem of a square which is one of the most beautiful spots in Paris.  The Place des Vosges is framed by red brick pavilions with steep blue slate roofs, arranged symmetrically around the central garden.


Place des Vosges, Paris

Place des Vosges, Paris


Musée d’Orsay

In the centre of Paris, on the banks of the Seine, the Musée d’Orsay is located in a former railway station, built for the Universal Exhibition of 1900.

The Musée d’Orsay houses the largest collection of impressionist and post-impressionist masterpieces in the world, by painters including Monet, Manet, Degas, Renoir, Cézanne, Seurat, Sisley, Gauguin and Van Gogh.  Many of these works were held at the Jeu de Paume prior to the museum’s opening.


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Musée d’Orsay, Paris


Musée Nissim de Camondo

If you have time, try to visit the Musée Nissim de Camondo near the Parc Monceau.  It holds one of the world’s great collections of late-18th-century French furnishings and decorative arts.  All the objects have been left as they were when the patriarch, Moïse de Camondo, a wealthy Jewish banker from Constantinople, and his family lived there.


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Musée Nissim de Camondo, Paris


Musée Nissim de Camondo also has a tragic story. When Camondo died in 1935, he left his mansion and collections to France’s Musée des Arts Décoratifs.  His only condition was that the house be turned into a museum and named after his son, Nissim, who died as a combat pilot for France in World War I.



Musée Nissim de Camondo, Paris



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