France See And Do
Tel: 33 3 80 92 15 00
Founded in 1118 by Saint Bernard and finished in 1147, Fontenay Abbey is a masterpiece of Romanesque architecture and one of the oldest Cistercian monasteries in Europe. After being abandoned during the French Revolution, the complex was converted into a paper mill, and it took decades to restore it to its former glory (work began in 1906, but the scientifically executed restoration began in 1960). Today, the abbey is a UNESCO World Heritage site and a place of rare beauty. Tucked away in a quiet green valley in northeastern Burgundy, it seems as if it's in the middle of nowhere, but in reality, the down-to-earth town of Montbard (with its TGV high-speed train station) is only a few miles away, as are major attractions such as the Canal de Bourgogne, the Gallic archaeological site of Alésia/Alise-Ste.-Reine, and the medieval village of Flavigny-sur-Ozerain. Highlights of the abbey include the rib-vaulted Council Room, monks' sleeping quarters, bakery building and forge, landscaped garden, gatehouse, and tower. Guided tours last about an hour.—David Downie
Open daily 10 am to noon and 2 to 5 pm, November 11 through March 31; 10 am to 6 pm April through June and September through November; 10 am to 7 pm in July and August.
Tel: 33 2 41 51 73 52
This important Romanesque abbey, founded in 1101 under the patronage of the Plantagenets, was ruled by a series of royal abbesses. After an interlude as a prison from 1804 to 1963, Fontevraud has emerged rather over-restored and pristine, but it is well worth seeing for the light-filled church, where you'll find effigies of King Henry II of England, Eleanor of Aquitaine, Richard the Lionheart, and Isabelle of Angoulême (widow of King John of England). Also be sure to see the extraordinary 12th-century kitchen, with its conical roof and chimneys. The complex originally included four priories, one of which, Le Prieuré St. Lazare, now contains an excellent restaurant (33-2-41-51-73-16 , www.hotelfp-fontevraud.com, open late March through mid-November).
Open daily 10 am to 6 pm.
3 Rue de l'Abbaye
Tel: 33 4 96 11 22 60
On the south side of the port lies the Basilique St. Victor, a Romanesque basilica constructed in the fifth century by St. Cassien, and then destroyed by the Saracens; the fortified Gothic church was a later addition. The restored abbey is still used for worship, and the tomb of two martyrs, dated to A.D. 250, rests among the catacombs and sarcophagi.
Open daily from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Perfectly preserved medieval walls and turrets surround France's oldest port, at the southern end of the Camargue marsh. The town dates to Roman times, but its significance began under Louis IX, who used it as a launching base for various crusades in the 13th century. This is the edge of Provence, and it feels like the edge of France: You can see the Spanish influence in the bullfighting advertisements and in the many restaurants serving the resulting meat. Take a few hours to wander the town's small grid of streets. Be sure to stop at La Cure Gourmande, a sweet-shop paradise overstuffed with caramel and fig products. The Camargue's salt plains, white horses, and bull farms surround the town. You can also drive down to Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer, 20 miles away, and take in the port-town ambience, abundant water birds, and crashing waves, a rarity for the Mediterranean.
The world's highest cable car soars 12,600 feet up the Aiguille ("Needle") du Midi, providing staggering views of Mont Blanc—at 15,780 feet, Western Europe's loftiest peak. Vertigo sufferers should be aware that the cables are, at some points, suspended more than 1,640 feet above the ground. Expect a lengthy wait, both going up and coming down, and wear warm clothing. More intrepid types can return by skiing down the Vallée Blanche, though the run is not for the faint of heart. Those who just want to take a day trip to the summit can contemplate the snowy peaks over a chocolat chaud in the Aiguille du Midi's café, before descending the same way they came up.
Amboise is, above all, a spectacular site. The immense château royal looms above the river right in the center of town, with its tiny Gothic chapel containing the tomb of Leonardo da Vinci (33-2-47-57-00-98; www.chateau-amboise.com). Part medieval fortress (witness the two massive round towers) and part Renaissance residence, the interiors run the gamut from the vaulted Gothic guard room to the plush chambers of Citizen-King Louis-Philippe. About a ten-minute walk up the hill is the town's other major sight, the Clos Lucé, a red brick manor where Leonardo da Vinci spent his last years (33-2-47-57-00-73, www.vinci-closluce.com). It's since been converted into an exhibit of the artist's incredible inventions (helicopter, armored tank, and more), and full-size models constructed from his designs are scattered around the gardens (open April through October). The rest of the town is also pleasant, with its white stone and half-timbered houses, several fine hotels, and riverside promenade.
The cradle of the Plantagenet kings and former capital of the counts of Anjou is perhaps the most agreeable of the main Loire cities. It is dominated by its powerful castle, with 17 massive round towers, where the dainty white limestone of the Loire Valley alternates with thick black stripes of local schist (angers.monuments-nationaux.fr ). Within the ramparts, a special building houses the town's star sight, the extraordinary 345-foot-long 14th-century Tapestry of the Apocalypse, a virtuoso medieval cartoon strip of the battle between good and evil. East of the castle in the tastefully restored old town, you'll find a Plantagenet cathedral, the Musée des Beaux-Arts (housed in a striking former abbey), and plenty of upscale shopping.
Antibes is an odd combination of cutesy medieval town and luxury yacht harbor, with one of the Côte d'Azur's longest stretches of beach at its western edge. The old walled city is almost intact and dominated by the Château Grimaldi, built in the 14th century and restored in the 16th and 19th centuries. It's now home to the Musée Picasso, in recognition of the man who seems to have left his mark on every village worth its salt in the region. Antibes's streets are crowded with tourists, at least just inside the gates; climb the Rue d'Auberon to escape the hordes and come to the town's covered market, where easygoing cafés and gourmet shops line the arcadelike square (including the funky Balade en Provence and its Absinthe Bar, downstairs). Outside the gates are a few postage stampsize beaches crowded with locals and tourists. But the real draw for the moneyed set is the port, full to bursting with yachts, many of which are for hire at the agencies lining the quais.
This is Vincent's town, as you can see when you look at the live copy of his Café du Soir standing in the Place du Forum or visit l'Espace van Gogh, the cultural center they've made of the institution where he received treatment. But Arles is equally renowned for its Roman remains—the largest set outside Italy.
Autun Tourism Office
13 Rue Général Demetz
Tel: 33 3 85 86 80 38
About ten miles south of Mont Beuvray, on the southern edge of the Morvan, is Autun, a walled city founded by Augustus Caesar. One of France's great cathedrals, St. Lazare, dominates the upper section of town, an area studded with landmark buildings on narrow, twisting streets. Below, you'll find a handful of Roman monuments: third-century gates, temples, and an amphitheater. Dedicated in the early 12th century, Romanesque St. Lazare Cathedral has fantastic stained-glass windows; the master French sculptor Gislebertus carved a Last Judgment above the western doorway, a nude Eve above the northern doorway, and 60 capitals. The 12,000-seat Roman amphitheater was once the largest in Gaul. Each August it hosts a kitschy, weeklong Gallo-Roman extravaganza, complete with gladiators wielding cardboard shields and plastic swords. Skip that, but don't miss the amphitheater itself, or walking along Autun's ramparts and through the lively outdoor market, held on the main square each Wednesday and Friday morning.—David Downie
1–2 Quai de la République
Tel: 33 3 86 52 06 19
Founded during the Roman Empire along the Via Agrippa consular highway, Auxerre (originally named Autessio-durum) is an atmospheric town of about 40,000 inhabitants that overlooks the Yonne River in northern Burgundy. Lively and fun to explore, it's a popular destination for river- and canal-cruise vacationers. But don't worry: The town is rarely overrun, even in the July and August high season. Auxerre is also a favorite destination for gourmands and is home to Jean-Luc Barnabet, Burgundy's truffle king. The most appealing part of town is the partially pedestrianized area that links the riverbank and the city's main attractions: St, Étienne Cathedral and St, Germain Abbey. St. Étienne, which was built in the Gothic style between the 13th and 16th centuries, has magnificent stained-glass windows and was recently sandblasted to a blinding shade of white. St. Germain Abbey is a must for anyone interested in crypts (dating to the ninth century, they hold the tombs of Auxerre's bishops) and church history: The abbey's displays run from prehistory to the late Middle Ages and include art, archaeological treasures, jewelry, weapons, and coins found in and around Auxerre. Culture vultures and history buffs will want to spend a whole day in town, but half a day is all you'll need if you're just strolling and shopping.—David Downie
Over the last decade, hip Paris has been leaning farther and farther east, as mega-rehab projects transform what was a dowdy part of town. The Place de la Bastille, where the dreaded prison once stood and the 1789 Revolution began, is now home to the clunky modern Opéra Bastille (Place de la Bastille; 33-1-72-29-35-35; www.operadeparis.fr). But far more indicative of the neighborhood's dynamism are the boîtes, bistros, and galleries that animate the web of streets radiating northeast. Behind the opera house on Avenue Daumesnil, the Viaduc des Arts—a restored 1850s railway viaduct—curves east for almost a mile, flanked by wide, tree-lined sidewalks. Under its arcades are dozens of craft shops and restaurants; on top, the Promenade Plantée, a linear park with roof-level views, spreads its trees, benches, and reflecting pools along a pedestrian-only path. Southeast of the Viaduc on the Seine at Bercy, 35-acre Bercy Park wraps itself around a handful of 200-year-old wine warehouses and equally ancient sycamores. The park links via a footbridge to the National Library on the Left Bank at Tolbiac—as a billion-dollar building, it's just too mediocre to be true (Quai François Maurice; 33-1-53-79-59-59; www.bnf.fr). Back at the Bastille, head north toward the Place de la République. The Cirque d'Hiver, a handsome indoor circus built in 1852, is still used for circus performances as well as fashion shows and other events (110 Rue Amelot; 33-1-47-00-28-81; www.cirquedhiver.com). Here, too, adjoining streets like Rue Jean-Pierre Timbaud are shoulder-to-shoulder with hipster hangouts.
There are a few beaches on the Baie de St. Tropez, east of town, but most are along the beautiful Baie de Pampelonne, three miles southwest of town (technically in Ramatuelle). While a few are public, you can only access the worthiest stretches by paying admission to one of the beach clubs listed here. They're fancy affairs, with facilities including restaurants, lounge chairs, changing rooms, and showers, and occasionally dance floors and open-air hot tubs. Many have live DJs (forget about peace and quiet), and each has its own personality. Fees for private beaches average $20 to $40 for a dressing room and lounge chair. Expect lunch and drinks to be pricey, too.
La Voile Rouge
Plage de Pampelonne
Tel: 33 4 94 79 84 34
If you've never seen a group of five young women wearing nothing but spike heels and metallic bikini bottoms grinding together on tabletops, this infamously hedonistic beach club will change all that. Arrive pretanned and with at least two different "dry" outfits (one for lunch and another for lounging after a swim and a shower). Plenty of nudity and sexy high jinks earn this place an NC-17 rating. Open daily from 9 am.
Tel: 33 4 94 97 54 00
Not far from the center of town, this quiet, sandy beach club is ideal for families with children, since it overlooks the calmer, shallower waters of the bay. The stylish restaurant is a fashionable place to dawdle over grilled fish and a chilled bottle of rosé. Open daily 10 am to 7 pm.
Le Club 55
Plage de Pampelonne
Tel: 33 4 94 55 55 55
With a mix of French movie stars, Russian and Middle Eastern businessmen, and aristocratic young couples with children, Club 55 is often referred to as the Beverly Hills of beach clubs. Everyone seems to have a Vertu cell phone, a Louis Vuitton beach bag, and an impossibly expensive watch. (There's so much bling on display in St. Tropez that there's a special SOS number for jewelry lost while swimming.) Even if this sn't your scene, it's worth a once-in-a-lifetime visit for the human comedy alone. Open daily 9 am to 7 pm.
Plage de Pampelonne
Tel: 33 4 94 97 18 02
Long-running, exclusive, and expensive. The most common sound is the pop of Champagne corks. The guests are "mature" French showbiz types, but it's quieter since the opening of Nikki Beach. There's a hotel here as well, if you can't tear yourself away. Open daily 9 am to 7 pm.
Plage de Pampelonne
Tel: 33 4 94 79 82 04
Hangout of the same supertanned, blonde-streaked, designer-clad Euro crowd who spend winter roosting at the original Nikki Beach in Miami or the St. Barths branch. Disco music thumps away all day long, and the young rich get their kicks by spraying one another with bottles of icy bubbly. Expect men in leopard-print posing cups (think Speedos, but much, much smaller) and topless women in white cowboy hats. Open daily noon to 8 pm.
Plage des Graniers
A public beach located just below the citadel that overlooks the harbor, Graniers is the best bet for those without wheels or who don't want to get stuck in the traffic jams that begin and end any day at Pampelonne. It is free, and there is a restaurant on-site.
The Mediterranean is an often shockingly intense blue on the Côte d'Azur, but it takes a bit of know-how to find the right sandy or rocky spit to appreciate it from. For the truth is, the beaches here are better for strutting and posing than they are for sunbathing or swimming. The pebbly beach at Nice is long and almost entirely public, with gorgeous turquoise shallows. If it's sand you want, then head to Cannes, preferably with your wallet at the ready. The town's luxury hotels control most of the city's beachfront, renting chairs, and sometimes umbrellas, at prices that accelerate steeply as they approach the sea. Antibes has a few public sandy beaches near the port and old town, as well as a miles-long stretch of pebble beach that extends along the eastern shore of the Cap d'Antibes. Juan-les-Pins, on the western shore of the Cap, has a busy public sand beach that is the liveliest on the coast. The best option for the adventurous is at the Côte d'Azur's western edge, in the town of Théoule-sur-Mer, where a fair amount of stair climbing and hiking can result in a private, rocky cove straight out of a 1960s French movie.
It seems a shame to be entirely shore-bound on your trip. For full access to the coastline and to taste the salt spray on your lips, rent a boat from Suncap, which has a variety of sizes and amenity-equipped motorized vessels (15 quai Suffren; 33-4-94-97-11-23; www.suncap.fr). Charters come with a captain and crew, and there are a number of vessels available. Zing over to Île de Porquerolles for lunch at Le Mas du Langoustier. Or take a slow trawl along the coastline and luxuriate in views of the plunging cliffs and small coves that beg for private picnics.
Long a working-class neighborhood with an edge, the Canal St-Martin is the latest quartier to be reinvented by artists and young bohemians. Built in the early 1800s for industrial transport, the canal is spanned by hump-back bridges and lined with cobbled banks, giant sycamores, and warehouses that are being converted into lofts. There are still some seedy surroundings and homeless encampments, but by day, blue- and white-collar locals plus a sprinkling of tourists add normality to the scene. By night, the hipsters take over. Galleries and boutiques are quirky and marginal. The bars, cafés, and restaurants feel like they've followed you from the similarly hip but older Bastille and Oberkampf areas. Near the canal's southern end, off Quai de Jemmapes and Quai de Valmy, you'll find Café l'Atmosphère (49 Rue Lucien Sampaix; 33-1-40-38-09-21), Le Poisson Rouge (112 Quai de Jemmapes; 33-1-40-40-07-11; www.le-poisson-rouge.com), and l'Hôtel du Nord (102 Quai de Jemmapes; 33-1-40-40-78-78; www.hoteldunord.org)—interchangeable hangouts with outdoor tables and an arty feel. Farther north are casual Le Chaland café (163 Quai de Valmy; 33-1-40-05-18-68), Quai Ouest, a cutting-edge new-music venue (167 Quai de Valmy and 1 Rue Alexandre Parodi; 33-1-40-36-54-30), and the laid back Opus Jazz and Soul Club (167 Quai de Valmy; 33-1-40-34-70-00). Further up, near the dicey Stalingrad Métro station, hopping local hangouts surround the mainstream MK2 cinema-theater-café-restaurant-bookstore complex which sits on both canal banks (14 Quai de la Seine and 7 Quai de Loire; 33-8-92-69-84-84; www.mk2.com).
A fashionable resort town since the 19th century, Cannes is one of the coast's primary shopping and party destinations. The Croisette is the big see-and-be-seen thoroughfare. Walk along this broad avenue under palm shade, with rows of hotel-owned beach chairs on one side and glorious 1920s hotel facades on the other, their names reminiscent of Lost Generation romance: Miramar, Carlton, Martinez. If you're not in town for a conference or the Film Festival, skip the concrete shell of the Palais des Festivals et des Congrès, except for a possible dip into Casino Croisette for a late-night pull at the slots. A few blocks inland, shopping happens along the Rue d'Antibes, home to the usual posh Italian and French boutiques; there are also a few high-end one-off stores that share space with the city's constantly shifting nightclub scene on the Rue du Commandant d'André. Geographically, Cannes makes an ideal jumping-off point for the western Riviera, including the Massif de l'Estérel and its trails and parks.
Arguably more glamorous than the Oscars, this ten-day mid-May schmoozefest ties up the coast's harbors with megayachts, while hotels are booked solid (at significantly higher rates) and traffic jams are the norm. Don't count on crashing any high-ticket events; security is omnipresent and the Palais des Festivals, known locally as "the bunker" for its Brutalist concrete-block design, lives up to its nickname. But check the festival's official site for tickets; you can still catch a movie after its premiere but well before it hits theaters stateside. For those dedicated to stargazing, note that Mougins, a few miles inland, is where the hottest American celebrities usually hole up to escape the paparazziand you.
7 Rue Ferrère
Tel: 33 5 56 00 81 50
One of the city's truly essential sightsas much for its collection as for the space itself. Converted from a monumental, dark-stone warehouse built in 1824 to hold imports from France's Caribbean colonies, the museum, which has a massive, dramatically lit main room with three tiers of arcades running along its four sides, competes for your attention with whatever is on display. The other galleries are more conventional: white-walled with wood ceilings and concrete floors. The permanent collection contains a number of installations and murals by Richard Long and an uncharacteristic series of early pastoral triptychs by Gilbert and George. Exhibits change regularly. The building is also home to the Arc en Rêve architecture museum (www.arcenreve.com).
Closed Saturdays and Sundays.
Breaking the bank at the Monte Carlo Casino has happened once, and only oncein 1891. To give it a try, you'll need to cough up at least $14 at the door and put on a jacket and tie (Place du Casino; 377-92-16-20-00; www.casino-monte-carlo.com). Gambling on the Côte d'Azur is all downhill from that splendorous Belle Époque palace, however. French efforts to replicate Monte Carlo's glamour have a decidedly second-rate feelReno to Monaco's Vegas. Nice's Palais de la Mediterrannée, a swank hotel in its own right, offers a few public rooms of slot machines. At the Palm Beach Casino, on the eastern edge of Cannes, a half-hour walk from the hotels of the Croisette, Americans and Brits play poker behind velvet ropes. The ubiquitous slot machines dominate there and at the city's official casino at the Palais des Festivals (Esplanade Ponte Dou; 33-493-390-101; www.palaisdesfestivals.com). In all cases, be prepared to provide a passport and signature on your way in; it's the casinos' way of making sure your debts follow you.
Tel: 33 1 44 78 12 33
Metro: Châtelet-Les Halles or Hôtel de Ville
When it opened in 1977, the intention of this inside-out modern art museum—the staircases and pipes are famously exposed on its exterior—was to snatch back Paris's role as the art capital of the world, a title it lost to New York after World War II. The Pompidou fell short of that goal (the contemporary art scene in Paris remains puckish), but it has become one of the top tourist attractions in France. Beaubourg, as Parisians call it, has a permanent collection that runs from 1905 to the present and includes such "isms" as primitivism, Cubism, Fauvism, surrealism, and Abstract Expressionism. Making the most of those riches, it mounts outstanding exhibits that cover everything from Andy Warhol to the films of Alfred Hitchcock. The complex also includes an open-to-the-public library, cinemas, children's programs, and Georges, a trendy if expensive and slightly snooty restaurant with fabulous vistas from its top floor—it's great for lunch (33-1-44-78-47-99).
Open 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Closed Tuesdays.
466 Avenue Henri Matisse
Tel: 33 4 93 58 03 26
The simple town of Vence is unremarkable except for the Chapelle du Rosaire, a church whose stained-glass windows were designed by Henri Matisse. It was the artist's last work, consuming four years of consultations, observation, and actual glasswork. The result from the outside is simple and humble, and inside is a stunning play of light and color.
Open Mondays through Saturdays 2 to 7 pm, Tuesdays and Thursdays 10 to 11:30 am. Sunday Mass at 10 am.
Place de Clermont-Tonnerre
Tel: 33 3 86 75 14 63
One of France's great Renaissance châteaux, Ancy-le-Franc's perfectly symmetrical, chalky white edifice—surrounded by a moat and manicured grounds—was completed in 1550 by Italian architect Sebastiano Serlio. Its location, about 20 miles east of Chablis in northern Burgundy, makes it a great day trip. Visitors can tour dozens of salons, including the wood-paneled Arts Pavilion, which has a gilded fireplace and antique furniture, and view the original frescoes and inlays of the richly decorated chapel. Guided tours last about an hour and begin at 10:30, 11:30, 2, 3, and 4 (also at 5 pm between late March and September). Leave time to walk around the grounds and visit the farm buildings.—David Downie
Open daily late March to mid-November, except on nonholiday Mondays. (Groups can visit year-round with advance reservations.)
Rue de Pineau
Tel: 33 2 47 45 42 04
The exquisite exteriorpure, turreted Renaissanceis one of the loveliest in the region. Built between 1518 and 1527 by financier Gilles Berthelot and then almost immediately confiscated by King François I, the château seems to rise out of the Indre River, a tributary of the Loire. The interiors are furnished according to different periodslook for the portraits of the assorted Valois kings who stayed here and some impressive French and Flemish tapestries from the 16th and 17th centuries. But if you've done enough traipsing around echoing château rooms, then come at night (May through September), when the facades and grounds are spectacularly lit, making the visit particularly magical.
Tel: 33 2 54 50 40 00
François I's 440-room "hunting lodge" is the largest of the Loire châteaux and one of the most extravagant commissions of its age. From the outset of construction in 1519, the original patron's principal objective was to outshine the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, and the results are impressive. The castle's uncompromising design even involved diverting the Cosson River. A highlight of the building is the double helix staircasethought to have been designed by Leonardo da Vinciwhich can be climbed by one person and descended by another without the two ever meeting each other. Don't miss the rooftop walk, where you can look down on the parkland below amid a forest of ornate chimney pots.
Tel: 33 2 47 23 90 07
Stretching across the Cher River, 21 miles southeast of Tours, the Château de Chenonceaux is indisputably the most beautiful and the most photographed of all the Renaissance châteaux. During World War II, the river marked the boundary between free and occupied France, so the château and its drawbridge became an important escape route. Its history has been dominated by powerful women: The original design was supervised by Catherine Briçonnet, then added to by Diane de Poitiers (mistress of Henri II) and, later, Catherine de' Medici (widow of Henri II), who turned what had been simply a bridge across the Cher into the 197-foot-long Grande Galerie. During the French Revolution, the château was saved from ruin by George Sand's grandmother. Since the early 20th century, it has belonged to the Menier family, manufacturers of the superior cooking chocolate.
Tel: 33 3 85 50 16 55
You'll find France's best-preserved Louis XIII–period interiors at this early-17th-century castle built on 12th-century foundations. A slate-covered mansard roof, gables, and turrets give the limestone château a fairy-tale look. Inside, you'll see giant carved-stone fireplaces, an impressive central staircase, lapis lazuli and gold wall decorations in the boudoir, and a period kitchen with a cast-iron stove. The Grosne River, which runs around the site, creates a natural moat and reflecting pools. If you don't have time to take a tour, purchase a ground pass ($7) and explore the geometrical parterres of lawn, lavender, and boxwood; the classic kitchen garden; and the boxwood labyrinth with its neoclassical birdhouse. The fortified farmstead and orangerie house a café (open only in July and August).—David Downie
Open 10 am to noon and 2 to 3 pm, Easter through mid-November. Interior open by guided tour only.
Tel: 33 1 30 83 76 20 or 33 8 92 68 46 94 for advance ticket sales
Metro: RER C5 or train from the Gare St-Lazare to Versailles-Rive Droite
People visit Versailles in the hopes of being absolutely dazzled by opulence. They're rarely disappointed. The palace is glorious, but unless you already have a good grasp of French history, it's a good idea to bone up, since the endless references to seemingly out-of-sequence kings and their queens, mistresses, and children can dull the magic if you can't keep up. Get here as early as you possibly can to avoid the tour-bus herds, and don't just troop through the most famous rooms—the Hall of Mirrors, the Grand Appartement where Louis XIV held court, and the queen's bedroom. The lavish private apartments of Louis XV, Louis XVI, and Marie-Antoinette give a glimpse of why the Revolution took place, and the Opera House and Royal Chapel tell you plenty about the gilded-lily, ancien régime lifestyle. Do check out Madame de Pompadour's gorgeously restored "secret" apartments, wander the sublime gardens, and visit the Petit Trianon, where Marie Antoinette futilely, fatuously, famously attempted to re-create the simple life of her subjects. Also stop by the Potager du Roi, the vegetable garden to the west of the palace that supplied the court. The palace compound is currently undergoing extensive renovations, which have added new must-sees to a visit, including the gilded salle de bain (bathroom) of Louis XV.
Open 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. November through March; 9 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. April through October. Palace closed Mondays; gardens open daily.
Tel: 33 2 47 50 02 09
Even if fancy gardens aren't your thing, the grounds of this 16th-century château in tiny Villandry are well worth a visit. When Spanish-American couple Joachim Carvallo and Ann Coleman designed the gardens a century ago, their masterstroke was to re-create the formal Renaissance gardens they found in old engravings, but to do it with vegetables. Nine squares, bordered by espaliered apple trees, drooping pear bushes, and standard roses (which symbolize the monks who once tended the first medieval kitchen gardens), are a vegetal feast of big purple cabbages, autumn pumpkins, mounds of celery, and colorful bell peppers, all replanted twice a year with a brilliant eye for the colors of the changing seasons. You can also visit the inside of the château, but it's not nearly as remarkable as the grounds.
Tel: 33 3 80 62 86 09
If this fortified Renaissance château's towers, gabled roof, and 12th-century cellars look familiar, it's because they're on practically every postcard and brochure of the Burgundy region. Clos de Vougeot is located on the most popular part of the Burgundy wine route, between Nuits-St.-Georges and Dijon, and despite being a tourist magnet, it's authentic and (unlike most Burgundy estates) easy to visit. (Domaine de la Romanée Conti, in Vosne-Romanée, which produces the most expensive, sought-after red wine in the world, is better known, but it's not open to the public.) Seventy winemakers own parcels of the 125-acre vineyard—all of it Grand Cru—and while the château doesn't sell those wines or do tastings, the 45-minute guided tours are great. Since 1945, the château has been the headquarters of the Chevaliers du Tastevin, an organization of wine experts who wear four-cornered hats and gold and scarlet robes and carry silver tasting cups. Kitsch? Not entirely: They rate the region's wines twice yearly, and only a third of bottlings submitted win approval, giving those wines extra prestige—and the ability to fetch premium prices.—David Downie
Open Saturdays through Thursdays 9 am to 6:30 pm, Fridays 9 am to 5 pm, April through September; Saturdays through Thursdays 9 to 11:30 am and 2 to 5:30 pm, Fridays 9 to 11:30 am and 2 to 5 pm, October through March. Closed Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, and New Year's Eve.
Wine pilgrims have been heading here ever since Avignon-based Pope John XXII, an early oenophile, encouraged the locals to produce a wine that would compete with Burgundy and Bordeaux. The result was a dark-colored red wine of great concentration and power, now known around the world. The town itself is a somewhat businesslike medieval ring topped by a ruined Papal palace, with a long, steep climb past dozens of stores selling old and young versions of the local star product. Near the top is Le Verger des Papes, an excellent restaurant and wine store that offers tastings and a sweeping view of the Rhône valley. Don't bother driving around outside of town to check out prestigious wine properties in the area: Most can be visited only with an appointment, if at all. Instead, go to one of the local wine stores. They offer an astonishing variety of Châteauneuf-du-Pape wines, both red and white. Vinadéa is the best of these, a warm mini-emporium that sells 200 different wines, with tastings for collectors and amateurs alike. They also speak English and are open every day, a huge relief in this neck of the woods. The town bustles, even in low season, with tourists on a mission. You don't catch many camcorder-wielding crowds disgorging from tour buses: Your fellow visitors are likely to be red-toothed couples staggering under the weight of newly bought liquid treasure.
Tel: 33 2 54 90 33 32
All six kings of the 16th century spent time at Blois. In the early 17th century, the castle was given to Louis XIII's brother to keep him away from Paris. Consisting of four wings dating from four different periods, much of the château can be visited, from its oldest part, the 13th-century assembly hall, to the flamboyant Gothic east wing of Louis XII and the Italianate north wing of François I, where the pseudo-Renaissance interiors have just been painstakingly restored.
Open daily 9 am to 6 pm, late March through September, and 9 am to 12:30 pm and 2 to 5:30 pm, October through March.
Tel: 33 2 54 20 99 22
The Chaumont Garden Festival stands out from other garden festivals, in that it is as much for design buffs as garden ones. Each year, more than 25 international landscape designers, gardeners, artists, and architects are chosen according to a theme (for example, weeds, water, vegetables, and games), and the resulting designs are often wildly experimental. Over the years, participants have included L.A.'s Morphosis; botanist Patrick Blanc, who developed his vertical vegetal walls here; and theater directors Macha Makeïeff and Jérôme Deschamps. The Château de Chaumont, an intimate turreted affair, is also open to the public.
Open end of April through mid-October.
Even if you speak no French, Paris is the world's best city for going to the movies. On any given night, hundreds of films, both new and classic, are screened—most in their original languages. Check Pariscope and l'Officiel du Spectacle, sold at newsstands citywide, for listings ("v.o." means version originale, or original version, "v.f." often means dubbed). Paris's loveliest vintage cinema is La Pagode, a Japanese pagoda built by a French architect in one of the city's toniest neighborhoods. Look for films shown in the Salle Japonaise, the resplendent faux-Japanese projection room. Also, the café here sells excellent brownies (57 bis Rue de Babylone; 33-8-92-89-28-92). Le Grand Rex, a landmark Art Deco cinema that opened in 1932, hosts movies, star-studded events, jazz and rock concerts, and a big-screen virtual-visit of the theater itself in its 2,400-seat auditorium (1 Blvd. Poissonnière; 33-1-45-08-93-58; www.legrandrex.com). Atop Montmartre, Studio 28 is a much-loved neighborhood spot from the 1920s—Luis Buñuel's surreal Golden Age premiered here in the 1930s. It's still an active movie house (and puts on art shows and theatrical events as well), and the interior is largely unchanged since its glory days (10 rue Tholozé; 33-1-46-06-36-07). Le Louxor, under restoration since 1987, is still closed—but take a look at the crazy neo–Ancient Egyptian facade from 1920 (170 Boulevard Magenta).
For a great overview, climb the 229 dizzying, twisting steps of the Tour Pey-Berland by the cathedral. You'll survey the entire city, including the extraordinary law courts, designed by Richard Rogers in 1998. The series of seven irregular podlike structures (reminiscent of a row of wine bottles or vats) is surrounded by glass walls and topped by an undulating copper roof.
This animated town of 5,000 inhabitants about 15 miles northwest of Mâcon was long home to the biggest, most powerful monastic order in Europe: Cluny Abbey. The Benedictine abbey was founded in 910, and its main church, the Basilica of St. Peter and St. Paul (constructed between 1088 and about 1130), was the largest in the world until St. Peter's Basilica in Rome was finished nearly 500 years later. Much of the abbey was destroyed after the French Revolution, but you can still explore the soaring right transept, several watchtowers, a wine cellar–granary, the cloister, and sections of the perimeter wall. The abbey museum, Musée Ochier-Palais Jean de Bourbon, exhibits salvaged architectural elements and artwork. For an aerial view of the abbey's remnants and the town, climb the Tour des Fromages, a watchtower used for centuries as a cheese factory and aging facility, accessed through the tourism office. Cluny is also home to the National Stud Farm, which holds competitions and shows year-round, and the town's cobbled streets and squares, lined with medieval and Renaissance houses, are ideal for wandering. If you're shopping for wine, stop at Le Cellier de l'Abbaye. Transplanted American owner Alice Brinton, aided by local oenologist Sonia Blondeau, is particularly helpful and knowledgeable, making this one of Burgundy's best resources for finding little-known and organic winemakers. You can taste a selection of wines at the shop's small bar.—David Downie
Musée Ochier-Palais Jean de Bourbon open daily 9:30 am to 6:30 pm, May through August; 9:30 am to noon and 1:30 to 5 pm, September and April. Closed on New Year's Day, May 1, Nov. 1 and 11, and Christmas Day. Times may vary, call ahead.
Tour des Fromages open Mondays through Saturdays 10 am to 12:30 pm and 2:30 to 5 pm, January through March, November, and December; daily 10 am to 12:30 pm and 2:30 to 6:45 pm, April; Mondays through Saturdays 10 am to 12:30 pm and 2:30 to 6:45 pm, May and June; daily 10 am to 6:45 pm, July and August; Mondays through Saturdays 10 am to 12:30 pm and 2:30 to 6:45 pm, September; Mondays through Saturdays 10 am to 12:30 pm and 2:30 to 6 pm, October. Closed Jan. 1 and 2, May 1, Nov. 11, and Dec. 25 and 26th.
Le Cellier de l'Abbaye open Tuesdays through Saturdays 10 am to 12:30 pm and 3:30 to 7 pm, Sundays 10 am to 12:30 pm.
5 Rue Violette
Tel: 33 4 90 16 56 20
Aficionados of contemporary art should make time for the Collection Lambert, which is housed in the 18th-century Hôtel de Caumont. The museum was opened in 2000 to exhibit more than 350 works owned by collector Yvon Lambert. The interiors, designed by Andrée Putman, house work by Carl André, Anselm Kiefer, Christian Boltanski, aNan Goldin, and Cy Twombly.
Closed Mondays September through June.
The sweeping vistas, pink sunsets, and medieval towns along the Grande Corniche were romanticized in Hitchcock's To Catch a Thief. They are all still there and still worth the trip. There are actually three Corniches: the Grande Corniche, the Corniche Moyenne, and the Corniche Inférieure. All connect Nice to Monaco (actually to Menton, but the road after Monaco is anticlimactic), running parallel through, or above, the same towns. A lovely drive would start on the Promenade des Anglais in Nice and follow the Corniche Inférieure (marked N98 on maps) along the shore to Monaco. You'll pass through Villefranche-sur-Mer, a fishing village where the Rolling Stones hung out in the 1970s and that today feels like a less spoiled, more family-friendly version of St. Tropez. After the mansions in the hills of St.-Jean-Cap-Ferrat comes the shock of the high rises and marble shopping malls of Monte Carlo. The route back on the Corniche Moyenne, marked as the N7 or the D45, hugs the cliffs and delivers plenty of dramatic vistas, as well as the cliff-top village of Eze. The Grande Corniche is laughably hard to find, on a map or in either Nice or Monaco; officially, it's the D2564, a tiny departementale road.> Take the Corniche Moyenne and look for tiny signs that take you onto the Grande Corniche for a few high-altitude viewsand plan your return to coincide with sunset.
Megève is a popular destination for cross-country skiers, with four circuits totaling 43 miles, including a long, scenic track from the Mont d'Arbois cableway to Le Bettex and St. Nicolas-de-Véroce.
The many attractions of Dijon, Burgundy's capital city, center on the Ducal Palace and the Place de la Libération that fronts it. Toss a coin from there and it will probably land on a medieval church or Renaissance town house; boutiques, restaurants, and cafés line the surrounding car-free streets. The palace houses a miniature Louvre, Le Musée des Beaux-Arts–Palais des États de Bourgogne. The collection, one of France's largest, includes works from antiquity through the Renaissance and Impressionism to the present; don't miss the magnificently sculpted marble tomb of Duke Philippe le Hardi. If it's open (see below for hours), climb the Tour Philippe le Bon, a medieval tower that flanks the palace: You'll be rewarded with views over Dijon's rooftops. While often overlooked, the Musée Archéologique, located in the medieval St. Bénigne Abbey, is worth a visit for its pre-Roman treasures (some excavated from the nearby springs that are the source of the Seine River) and vaulted, subterranean scriptorium. The museum is a 15-minute walk due east of the Ducal Palace.—David Downie
Dijon also makes an ideal base for exploring Burgundy: It has a handful of outstanding hotels and restaurants (including Hostellerie du Chapeau Rouge, Le Bistrot des Halles, and Stéphane Derbord), plus good wine shops and bakeries that specialize in Burgundian gingerbread.
Le Musée des Beaux Arts open Wednesdays through Mondays 9:30 am to 6 pm May through October, 10 am to 5 pm November through April. Closed Jan. 1, May 1 and 8, July 14, Nov. 1 and 11, and Christmas Day.
Tour Philippe le Bon open daily for guided tours 9 am to noon and 1:45 to 5:30 pm, Easter through late November. Open Wednesdays (tours at 1:30, 2:30, and 3:30 pm) and weekends (tours at 9, 10, and 11 am and 1:30, 2:30, and 3:30 pm), late November until Easter. Closed Jan. 1 and Christmas Day.
Musée Archéologique open Wednesdays through Mondays 9 am to 12:30 pm and 1:30 to 6 pm. Closed Jan. 1, May 1 and 8, July 14, Nov. 1 and 11, and Christmas Day.
When you need a break from the exotic creatures on the ground, take to the waters with Octopussy, a well-regarded PADI diving outfit that sets up both experienced and novice divers in the marine-life-rich azure waters of the Baie de St. Tropez (33-4-94-56-53-10; www.octopussy.fr). Newbies have their own instructor to take them to depths of around 16 feet, where fish such as red mullet can be spied.
1/3 Cours du XXX Juillet
Tel: 33 5 56 00 22 88
The city's École du Vin offers thorough but inexpensive beginner and intermediate courses (in English) on appreciating the local wine and identifying your own tastes. Sessions range from a two-hour intro to vineyards, grape varieties, blending, and wine tasting to four intensive days exploring Bordeaux's Médoc, Sauternes, Pessac-Léognan, and Saint-Emilion appellations.
Champ de Mars
Tel: 33 1 44 11 23 23
Metro: Champ de MarsTour Eiffel, Bir-Hakeim, Trocadéro or École Militaire
It's hard to imagine just how avant-garde this tower of cast-iron girders was when it was built in 1889 to celebrate the World's Fair and the centenary of the French Revolution. The great majority of Parisians loathed it, and the press brayed on about how it was an industrial pimple on the face of the city. But a century and then some later, the elegant slope-legged tower has become the quintessential symbol of the City of Light. Its latest attraction is a mantle of 20,000 flashbulbs, originally installed to celebrate the new millennium, that glitter for ten minutes every hour on the hour after dark. So, do you need to actually visit it? Well, yes, and not just if you happen to be proposing publicly to Katie Holmes. It's a fascinating example of early industrial architecture, and the panoramas really are swell. Go at night to skip at least some of the teeming masses. Or better still, book a table perched 400 feet up on the second level, at the Jules Verne restaurant. Now part of the Alain Ducasse empire, it attracts savvy local families and visitors alike with French classics (33-1-45-55-61-44).
Open 9 am to 12 midnight between June 15 and September 1; open 9:30 am to 11 pm during the rest of the year.
Try to rise early enough to catch the renowned seafood and fish market, daily at the Vieux Port, for a sneak peak of what will be in the bouillabaisse come lunchtime.
According to legend, Flavinius, a Roman who arrived in Burgundy with Julius Caesar around 52 B.C., fell in love with the site of this enchanting village and decided to stay. Beyond the setting—cupped by the Ozerain River and two other streams, about 35 miles northwest of Dijon—Flavigny is famous for the aniseed candies produced at the Abbaye de Flavigny since 1591. The abbey, built by the Burgundians in the early eighth century, is also worth a visit for its ramparts, views, and crypt, where the bones of the martyr Ste. Reine, of nearby Alise-Ste.-Reine, once reposed. Many of the churches and houses in town date to the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, giving the village an enchanting, stage-set look you might recognize—the movie Chocolat was filmed here. You'll want to spend several hours touring the abbey, tasting aniseed candies, and walking around the village.—David Downie
Dreams of owning property in the region are often born in this template of a Provence village: The dramatic limestone cliff is covered in red-roofed buildings set at vertiginous angles among olive trees and scrubby vegetation, with views of fields and vineyards for miles around. The village is not above taking advantage of its visual charms: There's a Sotheby's real-estate office on the town square for impulse purchases. Aside from the sweeping vistas that greet you at every turn, the town is fairly standard, with a central square and a few decent restaurants (beware lunch closing time; after 2:30 you're out of luck, with no exceptions), a ruined château, and a church. But the streets are slanted at an especially steep angle, and those views sneak up on you when you least expect it, whether you're exploring an alley or trying to find the church stairwell. A quick trip to the cliff-side village of Roussillon is also in order if you're in the neighborhood. It's worth it just for the drive through the vineyards, especially in fall, when the grape leaves change colors, lighting up the fields in gorgeous reds, yellows, and browns.
The Gorges du Verdon, at 12 miles long and up to 2,300 feet deep at points, is wild France at its most awe-inspiring. The turquoise-green Verdon River sits at the bottom of jagged limestone faces covered in garrigue (the scrub bush of southern France). A paradise for outdoorsy types who can kayak or canoe on the river, the gorges are also popular with hikers and fishermen. The town of Castellane provides a good point of departure via car, as the gorges are at their highest here; the trip to Moustiers-Sainte-Marie includes many a cliff view, ancient bridges, and a spot the French call "Point Sublime"—a viewing platform over the junction of the Baou and Verdon rivers that allows for an extensive view of the gorge. This is the French Grand Canyon, so be warned that you may have to share it with many a fellow tourist. Still, a hike here is a fine way to work up an appetite.
Not for nothing does Chamonix call itself the "birthplace of mountaineering." In summer, the mountains are a hikers' paradise, with sparkling-clean air, pine forests, jagged peaks, and meadows filled with wildflowers. Lightweight shorts and boots are sufficient, and trekking poles are useful. Beware of patches of old snow, especially early in the season. Trails are well signposted and accessible either from the valley floor or by cable car. For a good day hike, take a cable car to Plan d'Aiguille then hike across to Montenvers, or take a lift up La Flégère then hike to Lake Blanc.
Tel: 33 3 80 24 45 00
For centuries, the Hospices and Hôtel-Dieu of Beaune (better known simply as the Hospices de Beaune) was the main hospital of this fortified town, Burgundy's wine capital. Now it's a museum with an outstanding 5,000-piece collection that includes Renaissance tapestries, furniture, everyday objects, apothecary jars, and The Last Judgment, a haunting religious masterpiece with nine panels painted by Rogier van der Weyden circa 1450. The building's Renaissance architecture is itself a work of art, particularly the half-timbered Grand Salle (the former hospital dormitory), colorful Burgundian glazed-tile roof, and courtyard. Each November, a gala charity wine auction is held here, which helps set prices for the year's top vintage wines and funds the hospice, which is also a geriatric hospital and retirement home.—David Downie
Open daily 9 to 11:30 am and 2 to 5:30 pm, January through late March and late November through December; daily 9 am to 6:30 pm late March through mid-November.
Midstream in the Seine, the Île de la Cité is Paris's birthplace, where a Celtic tribe known as the Parisii built their wattle settlement around 250 BC. The island is bound to the mainland by four bridges, including the city's oldest—the now mislabeled Pont Neuf ("new bridge"). To get a sense of what the island was like before Baron Haussmann totally redeveloped it, visit the archeological crypt (1 Place du Parvis de Notre-Dame; 33-1-55-42-50-10), the pretty Place Dauphine (Between Pont Neuf and Rue de Harlay), and the side streets on the north side of Notre-Dame. Sainte-Chapelle, a masterpiece of Gothic architecture, is always mobbed for its stained glass; to beat the crowds, try going to an evening concert, especially in summer, when the days are long and the light through the stained glass is gorgeous until 10 p.m. (4 Blvd. du Palais). On the upstream tip of the island, behind Notre-Dame, the Deportation Memorial is a moving monument to French citizens who were deported and died in Nazi camps.
Developed in the 17th century as an exclusive enclave, half-mile-long Île St-Louis is lined by the mossy town houses of the old-money elite (the Rothschilds lord over the upstream eastern side). Plaques identify dozens of the artists, writers, and bigwig politicians who've lived here, from Charles Baudelaire to Georges Pompidou and Ernest Hemingway. Some of the richest, most irresistible ice cream anywhere comes from Berthillon, headquartered at 29–31 Rue St-Louis-en-l'Île (33-1-43-54-31-61; www.berthillon-glacier.fr), and is also sold by a half dozen island cafés and restaurants. And if you want to learn to fly-fish or spin-cast like a true Parisian, head to century-old Maison de la Mouche, on the Boulevard Henri IV, the roadway bridge that crosses the island's upstream end (1 Blvd. Henri IV; 33-1-43-54-60-46). Head to the island's south side for a great view of Notre-Dame's flying buttresses from the Quai d'Orléans.
Tel: 33 4 91 90 42 22
For a picture of Marseille's earliest civilization, visit the Jardin des Vestiges, a public garden installed in the remains of an original Greek port, which was uncovered during the development of the area behind the Centre Bourse shopping area. Collections from the archaeological find are on display at the Musée d'Histoire de Marseille inside the Centre Bourse.
Open daily 8 a.m. to sunset.
10 Rue de Penthièvre
Tel: 33 1 53 30 05 82
With a convenient location and well-equipped kitchens, this cooking school offers a two-hour, hands-on course taught by working chefs. You'll learn how to cook three dishesperhaps vichyssoise, chicken breasts stuffed with foie gras, and roasted apricots with Mascarponethen feast at a communal lunch with wine. Note that the class is in French, but you won't have trouble following along, and your chef may even speak English. For fluent French speakers, a variety of other classes are available, including different ways of preparing potatoes, cooking with flowers, and exploring international cuisines such as Cambodian. Book well ahead of time if you want to wow the gang back home with a gourmet dinner after your trip.
Quai Suffren in the Vieux Port
Tel: 33 4 94 54 40 61
This comfortable schooner with a friendly bilingual staff offers tours of the magnificent Baie de St. Tropez, with various departures through the day. A great way to get a sense of local geography or a breath of fresh air when the scene gets to be a little too Trop.
Driving up to Les Baux is an exercise in pure Mediterranean escapism: Switchback roads lead past endless olive groves, plane trees, and vineyards, giving regular jaw-dropping views over the rolling countryside. At the summit is a ruined mountaintop town, complete with castle, both of which appear to be a few thousand years old. The view from the top, which you'll unfortunately share with several busloads of tourists, is one of the best in all of Europe. Trees growing at odd angles dot the rocky outcroppings of the Alpilles mountains all around, and the plateau below is an Impressionist's dream of lavender fields and those ubiquitous olive groves and vineyards. On clear days, you can sometimes see all the way to the Mediterranean from the 1,000-feet-up vantage point. Château des Baux, historically a strategically important fortress that now belongs to the Grimaldi dynasty of Monaco (think Princess Rainier), offers a few winding, crowded streets inside the town walls. An added attraction for medievalists and kids is the display of catapults, including the largest trebuchet in Europe.
Massif des Calanques
The coastal, creek-lined mastiff gorges known as "Les Calanques" dot the 12-mile jagged shore between Marseille and the attractive fishing port of Cassis. Gorse-covered white cliffs lead down to these clear, clean waterways, which are popular with swimmers. The best, at Port-Pin and d'En-Vau, can only be reached on foot or by boat. A popular spot to start trekking over the mastiffs and across the gorges is the fishing area of Callelongue (at the end of Marseille's Corniche) where you will find a simple restaurant, La Grotte, well worth visiting for its end-of-the-world feel (1 rue des Pebrons; 33-4-91-73-17-79). From here, adventurers can embark on ambitious hikes over the calanques to Cassis—the shorter of two routes takes 10 to 11 hours, and the longer path that follows the coast takes a full two days. However, due to risk of forest fires, footpaths through the calanques are restricted during the summer.
Alternatively, you can explore the calanques via sea kayak. Raskas Kayak runs half-day to week-long tours of the calanques out of Marseille, visiting nearby islands and gliding into hard-to-reach coves (33-4-91-73-27-16; www.raskas-kayak.com).
Entrances: Place Auguste-Comte, Place Edmond-Rostand, or Rue de Vaugirard
On that inevitable day when you don't want to go to a museum and you're sick of shopping, come to the Luxembourg Gardens. Quite simply, there's no better people-watching in Paris, and it changes all day long. In the morning, you'll see joggers, early tennis players, dog-walkers, and students; around 11 a.m. or so, a more mature crowd arrives—elegantly dressed women out for a stroll, men playing chess or checkers in the northwest corner—along with nannies pushing baby carriages and scolding toddlers. At noon, secretaries from the surrounding art galleries and publishing houses come to picnic, followed by academics carrying heavy books and heading for the park's quietest corners. By afternoon, all of Paris is present, and the genius of this park becomes undeniable—you can do everything from riding a merry-go-round or a pony to learning how to keep bees (a beekeeping school produces honey for the French Sénat, which occupies the palace on the park's northern flank). Just south of the park on the Rue d'Assas is in one our favorite little museums: Musée Zadkine, the former home and studio of Russian sculptor Ossip Zadkine. Zadkine ran with the wild, absinthe-swilling Montparnasse crowd of the early 20th century; as interesting as his stylized figures in bronze and marble is the studio itself, which rambles around a leafy garden court and gives a glimpse of what the artists' colony of the Left Bank—made famous by Picasso, Modigliani, et al—was like (100 bis Rue d'Assas; 33-1-55-42-77-20; www.zadkine.paris.fr; closed Mon.).
Open daily from dawn to dusk (but never before 7 a.m.).
9 Rue Etienne Berny
Tel: 33 4 94 97 63 45
With so many rare and beautiful creatures flapping their wings around town, there's some poetic justice in the fact that St. Tropez has one of the best butterfly museums in the world. The collection belonged to the entomologist son of photographer J.H. Lartigue, and occupies his old Provençal-style house. Handsomely displayed under glass, it includes all 250 varieties of butterflies found in France. Harmlessly eccentric and surprisingly interesting.
Open Mondays through Saturdays 2:30 to 6 pm, April through November, or by appointment.
82 Rue François Miron
Tel: 33 1 44 78 75 00
Metro: Saint Paul or Pont Marie
Paris was one of the pioneering cities in the birth of photography: It was recognized as an art form here long before anywhere else. This handsome 17th-century stone mansion in the Marais holds a collection of 15,000 photographs, prints, and films by artists from the 1950s to the present day (Robert Frank, Depardon, Salgado, and Cartier Bresson among them). Temporary shows are often based on the permanent collection or contemporary photographers. There might be a retrospective of VU magazine between 1928 and 1940, or works from the interwar period by Hungarian photographer André Kertész. There is also an extensive library, individual video viewing stations, and a film series.
Open Wednesdays through Sundays 11 am to 8 pm.
Since the 1990s, the focus of the city's cruising and schmoozing scene has been the Marais, especially the area around Square du Temple in the Third Arrondissement. It wasn't always so: Historically grubby (the name means "marsh"), the district was almost razed during the interwar years, replaced by a mass of skyscrapers designed by Le Corbusier. World War II stopped him, but postwar developer-visionaries tried to create a historical theme park out of the neighborhood. Instead, culture minister André Malraux designated the neighborhood a historic monument in 1962, resulting in blanket gentrification: Museums, administrative offices, and mansions now occupy buildings that once housed factories or tenements. Starting in the 1980s, the gay scene moved into the roistering Rue Vieille du Temple and engendered dozens of leisure and entertainment venues. And the small Jewish neighborhood that grew up in the 1800s around Rue des Rosiers is now a clutter of funky boutiques, kosher food stores, and falafel joints. In 1988, the Jewish History Museum opened in the masterfully restored Hôtel Saint-Aignan (71 Rue du Temple; 33-1-53-01-86-60; www.mahj.org; closed Sat). Also nearby are the Musée Carnavalet; the superb and comprehensive Picasso Museum (5 Rue Thorigny; 33-1-42-71-25-21; www.musee-picasso.fr; closed Tues); the Musée Cognacq-Jay, a small, personal collection of fine art (8 Rue Elzévir; 33-1-40-27-07-21; www.cognacq-jay.paris.fr; closed Mon); and the Pompidou. The centerpiece of the neighborhood is Place des Vosges, where fountains and horse chestnut trees are hedged by symmetrical, slate-roofed pavilions of brick built in the early 17th century to house King Louis XIII's court. Visit the Victor Hugo house museum, on the square's southeast corner, to get an aerial view (6 Place des Vosges; 33-1-42-72-10-16; www.musee-hugo.paris.fr; closed Mon).
The Côte d'Azur isn't known for its hiking and camping, but nature is just a 20-minute drive west along the coast from Cannes on the N98 road, a.k.a. the Corniche de l'Estérel. The Massif de l'Estérel itself is range of red-rock volcanic mountains that go no higher than 2,000 feet. Dedicated hikers can explore national trail routes threading through protected nature reserves, but the casual day-tripper will probably want to stick to the coast, with its semisecluded coves. Just past the town of Théoule-sur-Mer, the road rises dramatically, providing elevated views of Cannes and the coast beyond. The Parc Naturel de la Pointe de l'Aiguille offers hiking (uphill from the road) and high-altitude views of Canneswatching private jets shoot down the bay and into Cannes's tiny airport can be a thrilling sightwhile downhill lies a series of steep paths that lead down to rocky inlets where swimming and sunbathing au naturel are the norm.
Rent a car and head north of the city into the Médoc, home of Château Latour Martillac (Chemin de La Tour; 33-5-57-97-71-11; www.latour-martillac.com), Margaux (33-5-57-88-83-83; www.chateau-margaux.com), Lafite-Rothschild (20 Rue du Rajol; 33-5-65-59-26-83; www.lafite.com), and Mouton-Rothschild (33-5-56-73-21-29; www.bpdr.com), among other celebrated, if less rarefied, domains. It's possible to visit all four, but generally only through an appointment made at least a week or two in advance and, with occasional exceptions, only on weekdays.
One vine may look much like another (those producing the greatest wines are in sight of the Gironde estuary), but it's a diverting drive nonetheless. And the châteaux you pass on the D2 are magnificent: Margaux with its grand Ionic portico; Pichon Longueville with its candle-snuffer turrets (Pauillac; 33-5-56-73-17-17; www.pichonlongueville.com); Palmer with its fancy ironwork roof, above which flutter the French, Dutch, and United Kingdom flags to reflect the nationalities of its owners (Cantenac; 33-5-57-88-72-72; www.chateau-palmer.com); Cos d'Estournel, a fantastical faux-Indian palace with pagoda-style turrets hanging with bells (Saint-Estèphe; 33-5-56-73-15-50; www.cosestournel.com).
Of course, names like these have no need to flirt with tourists or prostitute themselves by selling from the gate, but there's nothing to stop you gawking from the roadside. And there is a definite pleasure at mentally ticking off the names of the domains you recognize and bottles you have drained. Have lunch at one of the many scruffy riverfront restaurants overlooking Pauillac, the Médoc's principal town, whose whole raison d'être is the wine trade.
Menton is at the end of the French Riviera in the last dazzling cove before the Italian border. Long known as a winter spot for English aristocrats, Menton's balmy microclimate allows for spectacular gardens and lemon groves on view throughout town. Like much of the region, Menton was historically a pawn between Italy, France, and Monaco, and it wasn't a permanent part of France until 1861. It doesn't feel French: Easy streets lead off the main artery, the Avenue Félix Faure, uphill to lemon groves and downhill to the sailboat-filled port. Past the old town and almost at the Italian border, the botanical gardens of the Villa Val Rahmeh feature more than 300 plant species that tumble over cliffs and hills (Avenue St. Jacques; 33 4 93 35 86 72; pagesperso-orange.fr/.mnhn.valrahmeh). There's also the Musée Cocteau, down on the Old Port, located in a 17th-century fort and decorated by Jean Cocteau himself, with a selection of minor works on display (Bastion du Vieux Port; 33-4-93-35-49-71; www.cote.azur.fr/tourisme_musee-cocteau-menton_48.htm; open Wednesdays through Mondays).
The massive, desolate glacier known as Mer de Glace is 4.3 miles long and moves 295 feet per year. In summer, a number of gorgeous walks start here; in winter, you can descend to it through the steep Vallée Blanche from the Aiguille de Midi on skis. If you're not up for the steep slopes, take the train from Chamonix to Montenvers and admire the views from there. Afterward, take the cable car from Montenvers to La Grotte de Glace, a fairy-tale cavern hollowed out of the glacier, or learn more about the place's geology at the Crystal Gallery next to the station. The train to Montenvers-Mer de Glace departs frequently from Chamonix (the station is behind the Gare SNCF in the town center).
Metro: Pigalle, Blanche, Place de Clichy, or Lamarck-Caulaincourt
The bulbous white-stone domes of Sacré-Coeur (built from 1875 to 1919) are Montmartre's dreamy visual emblem, but its real appeal is far earthier. Lacking a port district as the usual venue for less-than-holy pleasures, mid-19th-century Parisians claimed this hilltop village as a place to escape from the pieties of bourgeois France. Taverns, dives, and dance halls opened—some, like the iconic Moulin de la Galette, occupied the old windmills that crowned this breezy outcrop—and artists (Toulouse-Lautrec, of course, but also Picasso, Braque, Modigliani, and Utrillo) followed in search of provocative and accommodating subjects. Today, nostalgia for the Belle Époque is an industry perpetuated in cafés, clubs, theaters, restaurants, bars, and boutiques centered on the Place du Tertre, the prototype tourist trap that's fascinating precisely for that reason: The Butte (as Montmartre is often called by locals) and the Pigalle–Place de Clichy area below it have been in the kitsch-entertainment business so long they've acquired a historic patina. For something more authentic, try the leafy Place des Abbesses, coiling Rue Lepic, or lower sections of the edgy Rue des Martyrs. On the far side of the hill near the Lamarck-Caulaincourt metro station, real locals hang out in atmospheric joints on serpentine streets. Nearby, the Cimetière de Montmartre is possibly the only cemetery in the world with a century-old viaduct flying over its tombs.
Picasso met his maker in this gorgeous hillside village-perché about 15 minutes from Cannes. Amazingly, the town contains precious little Picasso-related kitsch, a rare instance of restraint along the coast. The Moulin de Mougins, both a hotel and a two Michelin star restaurantwhere Alain Ducasse once toiledis a major gastronomic draw. The town square offers an array of surprisingly good touristy restaurants and art galleries, surrounded by a series of narrow, circular residential streets.
5 Rue Laboureur
Tel: 33 4 90 82 29 03
The former home of the heir of Parisian couturier and collector Jacques Doucet (1853-1929) exhibits half a dozen Picassos as well as paintings by Degas, Derain, Modigliani, Van Gogh, Manet, Cézanne, and Sisley. The sumptuously decorated upstairs rooms, their walls lined in gorgeous patterned silks, are a treat.
Closed Mondays April through November; closed Mondays and Tuesdays December through March.
65 Rue Joseph Vernet
Tel: 33 4 90 86 33 84
The Musée Calvet is worth visiting for the structure alone, an elegant 18th-century mansion built around two courtyards. It also has a fine collection of paintings ranging from Brueghel to Bernard Buffet, via Géricault, Daumier, Bonnard, and Vuillard. Mixed in amongst the art is the odd curiosity, like a 13th-century Cambodian head and a pair of mounted narwhal tusks, each several yards long.
23 Rue de Sévigné
Tel: 33 1 44 59 58 58
Metro: Saint-Paul or Chemin Vert
Ignore the Mona Lisa's prima donna claim on the world's imagination. The first museum you should go to in Paris is this superb 140-room collection dedicated to the history of the city itself. Once you've been here, you'll have a rough historical scaffolding in the back of your mind and everything else about the city will make sense. The beautiful structure was built in 1548 and turned into a museum in 1866 by that famous architectural busybody Baron Haussmann (did he ever take a day off?). The story of the city begins with wooden canoes used by the Parisii, who fished the Seine in the Neolithic age. The Roman collections are outstanding, as are exhibits devoted to 17th-, 18th-, and 19th-century Paris. Whatever you do, don't miss the Carnavalet's weirdest treasure—writer Marcel Proust's bedroom, cork-lined so he could write in silence.
Open 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Closed Mondays.
1 Rue de la Légion d'Honneur
Tel: 33 1 40 49 48 14
Metro: Musée d'Orsay
Since opening in 1986, the Musée d'Orsay has become one of the most successful and beloved museums in the world. The grandiose limestone edifice was originally built as a train station to process the throngs who came for the World Fair of 1900. It stood idle for many years before Italian architect Gae Aulenti remodeled the interior without annihilating its original heritage; coats of arms on the main concourse's elaborate ceiling represent the cities served by the old station, for example. The collection represents that fruitful era from 1848 to 1914—approximately the incubation period of modern art and, as luck and late socialist president François Mitterand would have it, also concurrent with the birth and flowering of socialism. Politics aside, it's a great institution, with a terrific collection of Impressionist canvases, including Manet's famous Déjeuner sur l'Herbe and Van Gogh's first Starry Night. Don't miss the Art Nouveau furniture collection, or views of Paris from behind the glass clock faces on the Seine side of the building.
Open 9:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. (9:45 p.m. on Thursdays). Closed Mondays.
Tel: 33 4 94 17 84 10
A superb collection of paintings by artists who brought St. Tropez its initial renown, particularly pointillist Paul Signac, whose boldly pixilated paintings capture the special quality of light here. Other artists on display in this whitewashed former chapel include Matisse, Vuillard, Derain, Braque, and Vlaminck. Between the drinking and dancing, really do stop in. A wonderful museum.
Open Mondays through Saturdays 10 am to 1 pm and 2 to 10 pm, June through September; 10 am to 1 pm and 2 to 6 pm October through May; closed November.
Roche de Solutré
Tel: 33 3 85 35 85 24
In prehistoric times, hunters ambushed mammoths and horses at Roche de Solutré, a startling hogback outcropping six miles east of Mâcon, near the villages of Pouilly and Fuissé. (The Solutrean Phase of the Upper Paleolithic period, 15,000–12,000 B.C., was named for this area.) Today, the outstanding Musée Départemental de Préhistoire stands on the spot where millions of animal bones were unearthed. Exhibitions change regularly: Most feature archaeological items that were unearthed here, while others are thematic (prehistoric weaponry, for instance) and draw on museum collections from around the world. Kids love this museum, as do plenty of adults; many of the items displayed, though thousands of years old, look like powerful works of modern art. After visiting the museum, continue to the top of the cliff (it's an easy stroll from the museum parking lot). On a clear day, the views range across the countless vineyards of southern Burgundy and the northern Rhône Valley.—David Downie
Open daily 10 am to noon and 2 to 5 pm, January through March, October, and November; 10 am to 6 pm, April through September. Closed December, New Year's Day, and May 1.
39 Rue Bouffard
Tel: 33 5 56 10 14 00
The exhibitsporcelain, pictures, furnitureare moderately diverting, but they pale in comparison to the surrounding building: a perfectly preserved, perfectly proportioned hôtel particulier, built in 1779 around a cobbled courtyard. The delightful interiors are a riot of rich colors and pastel boiserie. A new temporary exhibit is installed about every three months.
Jardin de la Mairie 20
Tel: 33 5 56 10 20 56
Set in two galleries in the gardens of the splendid Baroque Palais Rohan, which now serves as the city's Hôtel de Ville (town hall), the collection, about 200 works, is extremely impressive for a city this size. The south wing contains works by Rubens, Titian, Hals, Chardin, Brueghel, and Tischbein, among others, while the other gallery has paintings by Delacroix, Boudin, Seurat, Bonnard, and Kokoschka, along with four Matisses, a couple of Renoirs, and eight works by native son Odilon Redon.
Tel: 33 4 91 91 24 62
The Museum of the Roman Docks houses a unique and intimate collection where vast dolia (grain-storage jars) share space with Roman treasures mainly found in shipwrecks. Marseille's ancient pier was unearthed during the construction of postwar apartments in the Quartier du Panier, parts of which had been destroyed by the Germans. Although the new buildings were still built, their ground floors were adapted to accommodate the excavated docks in their natural setting, and everything is intelligently organized and explained.
Open from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Closed Mondays.
Rue de Rivoli
Tel: 33 1 40 20 53 17
Metro: LouvreRivoli or Palais RoyalMusée du Louvre
The world's most famous museum, originally a royal residence, usually elicits one of two strong reactions from those who've never been before—exhilaration or dread. The most reasonable response may be a mixture of the two, since it's a lot of work to see even a small part of it. What's needed is some strategy. Download a floor plan from the website before you show up, and arrive with a list of what you absolutely can't miss (Leonardo's masterpieces, Veronese's like-it-or-loathe-it Wedding at Cana, Caravaggio's superb Fortune Teller, Michelangelo's Dying Slave sculpture, etc., etc.). If you're coming in summer, buy your ticket in advance on the website, and use an alternative entrance instead of I.M. Pei's mobbed glass pyramid (the best access point for first-timers is the Porte des Lions entrance, which drops you off almost directly at the Mona Lisa). No matter how you find your way in, prepare yourself for crowds: Attendance at the Louvre has gone up by over a million a year since the release of The Da Vinci Code, which is the subject of the most popular tours and audio guides now, much to the chagrin of authentic art lovers and historians. Try to see the most famous pieces at lunchtime or during dinner on Wednesday and Friday, when the museum is open until 10 p.m. Keep in mind that some rooms are closed on a rotating weekly basis; if you have your heart set on seeing something beyond the traditional masterpieces, check the website to make sure it'll be accessible. And don't forget that your ticket is valid all day long—you're not a bad person if you want to go sit on a bench in the gardens of the Tuileries or the Palais Royal for a time-out.
Open 9 am to 6 pm (until 10 pm on Wednesdays and Fridays). Closed Tuesdays.
37 Quai Branly
Tel: 33 1 56 61 70 00
Metro: Iéna, Alma-Marceau, Pont de l'Alma or Bir-Hakeim
After a decade of dithering, Parisian star architect Jean Nouvel's $300 million Seine-side complex finally opened in June 2006. Built to embody President Jacques Chirac's politically correct dream of French multiculturalism, Quai Branly is a provocative architectural and cultural statement, and the city's latest must-see. Imagine a comic-strip cargo ship with rust-red and yellow containers jutting from one side, the rusty louvers of a tobacco-drying barn on the other, and a freeway underpass below. That's the main building. Plants cascade junglelike from adjacent twin office towers; behind high glass walls, sinuous garden paths coil toward the dark, tangled, Halloween nightmare within. Wild proliferations of artwork and objects (masks, totems, sculptures) from the non-European world are swirled, stacked, or hung with apparently methodless madness (though they're actually organized by geographical region and date). Many are gorgeous, others downright disturbing—a 19th-century Nigerian headdress made from a skull and human hair, for instance. Intense spotlights cast shadows everywhere, and multimedia pods add acoustic confusion. Of course, it's all intentional: By observing yourself and others struggling to make sense of it all, you become a player in Nouvel's neo-mannerist game. The final challenge is to find the one unqualified success here: glass-domed Les Ombres restaurant, where talented young chef Arno Busquet turns out innovative Franco-world meals made from fair-trade ingredients. (There's a separate, badly marked entrance at 220 Rue de l'Université; 33-1-47-53-68-00.) The indoor-outdoor café is also a good place to snack or lunch, and to watch others hunt for the entrance. Go clockwise; you'll find it eventually.
Open 10 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. (until 9:30 p.m. on Thursdays). Closed Mondays.
P.S. Take a virtual spin around the museum in our "24 Hours in Paris" video.
Rue du Paradis
Tel: 33 3 80 22 08 19
In Beaune, Burgundy's wine capital, some wine shops call themselves museums, but a visit to the Musée du Vin is the best way to learn about the history of wine, from antiquity through the 20th century. The museum is housed in the former palace of the Dukes of Burgundy (the dynasty moved to Dijon in the late 14th century), and the medieval architecture, art, and objects associated with winemaking—antique bottles, glasses, tools, and pitchers—are interesting even if you aren't a wine fanatic.—David Downie
Open daily 9:30 am to 6 pm, April through November; Wednesdays through Mondays 9:30 to 5 pm, December through March. Closed Christmas and New Year's Day.
17 Rue Victor Hugo
Tel: 33 4 90 86 03 79
The Musée Louis Vouland is another town house named in honor of its former owner, a city father and grand bourgeois with a passion for porcelain and antique furniture. It is an intriguing collection but unfortunately is rather untidily displayed.
2 Rue Louis-Boilly
Tel: 33 1 44 96 50 33
Metro: La Muette
Only in Paris could the world's single largest collection of Monet paintings (along with works by Pissarro, Sisley, and Renoir) be overshadowed by other museums. But don't ignore this little-known gem, tucked away in the leafy, residential 16th Arrondissement. Housed in an atmospheric old hunting lodge—the area was once wooded—the ballast of the collection came from two bequests. The first was a trove of canvases donated by the daughter of Georges de Bellio, Monet's doctor; the second came from Monet's son Michel. The real prize here is Impression Soleil Levant, a magnificent work from 1873 recording Monet's impression of a sunrise at Le Havre.
Open 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Closed Mondays.
164 Avenue des Arènes de Cimiez
Tel: 33 4 93 81 08 08
This museum in Nice offers an exceptionally wide collection of Henri Matisse's works that appeals to casual fans as well as aficionados. The sculptures, paintings, and gouaches are displayed in an Italianate villa atop an olive grove. Major works include Nu bleu IV and Nature Morte aux Grenades, which Matisse himself donated to start the collection in 1953.
6 Place Paul Painlevé
Tel: 33 1 53 73 78 00
Metro: Saint Michel, ClunyLa Sorbonne or Odéon
The best museums in Paris awe with beauty or provide a deepened understanding of the city. The Musée National du Moyen Age (also known as the Musée de Cluny) does both, but perhaps due to its slightly great aunt–like appearance and personality, it's not as well known as other museums. That means you'll often have this former home of the bishops of Cluny to yourself. The star attraction is the magnificent Lady and the Unicorn tapestry cycle, and though the word "tapestry" is a surefire yawn-puller, the delicate beauty of these six late-15th-century Flemish works depicting allegories of the five senses is very moving. The 12th-century illuminated manuscript The Ascension of Christ, which was produced at the Abbey of Cluny, is another must, though it's the mundane medieval objects like tools, dishes, and shoes that have a way of making a remote slice of history immediate.
Open Mondays and Wednesdays through Sundays 9:15 am to 5:45 pm.
4 Rue des Cordiers
Tel: 33 4 92 90 54 20
Picasso had his studio in Antibes' Château Grimaldi for just three months back in 1946. But it was a prolific period in which he found inspiration in his new lover, Françoise Gilot. The 245 works at the museum include paintings and drawings he produced there as well as later pieces donated in the 1990s by his second wife, Jacqueline. The museum reopened in July 2008 after major renovations.
Chemin des Collettes
Located at the back of a maze of streets in residential Cagnes-sur-Mer, this complex is made up of two-story traditional Provençal houses with a series of outbuildings, all built by Renoir himself in 1907. The place works more as a lifestyle museum than as an impressive display of work, but the setting among rolling hills full of ancient olive and lemon trees is a fantasy backdrop from a now-disappeared time.
Open Wednesdays through Mondays 10 am to 12 pm and 2 to 6 pm.
79 Rue de Varenne
Tel: 33 1 44 18 61 10
Metro: Varenne, Invalides or Saint-François-Xavier
Rodin's powerful bronze and stone sculptures would be stunning even if they were displayed in a parking lot, but here, they're housed in a 1728 private mansion, just across the boulevard from the Invalides. The gorgeous grounds are studded with old trees and amazing roses circled by winding paths, and the handsome salons are filled with the furniture, art, and objects Rodin collected (including works by Monet, Renoir, Camille Claudel, and Van Gogh). More than a half million visitors troll through the house and garden annually, but its openness means that you rarely feel crowded when contemplating the master's sketches, plaster casts, waxworks, and finished statues. There's a nice little snack bar under the trees, plus a boutique and bookstore out front.
Open 9:30 am to 4:45 pm, October through March; 9:30 am to 5:45 pm, April through September. Closed Mondays.
Nice is chock-full of high-energy eating, drinking, and culture, all of which reflects the city's Italian heritage and proximity to Italy. Nice is the fifth largest city in France and is far more than a resort. It has genuine local color, embodied in its street food and the vibrant old town of Vieux Nice. The more literal local color extends to the city's hues: The typical French beiges and grays are mixed with ocher, yellow, and terra-cotta buildings, especially toward the port. It's all loud, very Southern and hectic, more Naples than Paris. Wander through Vieux Nice and duck into the shadowy, whispering Cathédral Ste. Réparate on the Place Rossetti. You can wander for hours among the arcades of the pink-hued Place Masséna, or take a tram ride starting therea 1-euro bargain that takes you past the Old Port and allows several drop-offs in Vieux Nice. And then there's the Musée Matisse. The local entry in the Côte d'Azur art wars is housed in an impressive villa and contains pieces from all aspects of the artist's career. For a panoramic view of the town and the blue, blue sea, climb the Parc du Château, between Vieux Nice and the Old Port; its cliffs are dotted with pines and an artificial waterfall that looks over the city.
Les Arènes, perhaps the world's best-preserved Roman amphitheatre, and the Maison Carrée, ditto in temples (33-4-66-21-82-56; www.arenes-nimes.com), are reason enough to visit this attractive but somewhat staid town. Time your visit to see an event in the 1st-century amphitheater—it's in regular use as a concert venue, theater, and bullfighting ring. By way of contrast, the Carré d'Art, a modern art complex, opened in 1993 in a Norman Foster building (66 Ave. Jean Jaurés; 33-4-66-64-56-16; www.carredart.org). About 14 miles northeast of Nîmes, you can visit the impressive Pont du Gard, the highest aqueduct the Romans built anywhere, which supplied the city with water (www.pontdugard.fr).
Place du Colonel Edon
Tel: 33 4 91 13 40 80
Towering on the highest point of the city, 532 feet above the harbor, the neo-Byzantine Notre-Dame-de-la-Garde was originally built as a small chapel in the 12th century and later expanded into a basilica during the 19th century. How Notre Dame looks, however, is far less important than what it represents to the sea-centric people of Marseille. Known affectionately as La Bonne Mère ("The Good Mother"), the church is a repository for sailors' votive offerings, many of them quite touching. Atop the belfry, a 36-foot gold statue of the Virgin Mary watches over the Vieux Port and city of Marseille. The car or trolley ride to the basilica is worth the trip alone, as it passes through a gracious neighborhood and offers stunning views over the city and the Mediterranean beyond. The Office du Tourisme has the timetable of the Petit Train de la Bonne Mère.
Open daily from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Place du Parvis-Notre-Dame
Tel: 33 1 42 34 56 10
Tel: 33 1 53 10 07 02 (towers)
Faith may have helped Bishop Maurice de Sully get Notre-Dame underway in 1160, but ceaseless toil is what finished the job by the end of the century. Despite severe damage during the Revolution of 1789 and clumsy 19th-century restorations and additions (including the faux-medieval spire, much of the statuary, and the stained glass), this great Gothic masterpiece ranks among the most moving and important Christian sites in the world. After a ten-year, largely successful restoration (finished in 2002), the blond-stone facade is again free of grime. In high season, you'll have plenty of time to admire the exterior as you wait to get in. And wait again, if you want to gaze down on Paris with a 230-foot-high gargoyle's-eye view: The 400-step climb up the north tower, passing the cathedral's giant bells and Gallery of Chimeras, is worth the effort—and the long lines. Your best chance to beat the queue is to avoid Sundays and holidays, and arrive before opening hours or at the end of the day. On weekends in July and August, the towers are open until 11 p.m., so do the interior first then get in line for the climb. Notre-Dame's buttressed back is best seen from the adjoining Pont de l'Archevêché or the Quai d'Orléans midstream on the Île Saint Louis.
April 1 through June 30: 9:30 am to 7:30 pm.
July 1 through August 31: 9 am to 7:30 pm (11 pm Saturdays and Sundays)
Sept. 1 through Sept. 30: 9:30 am to 7:30 pm.
October 1 through March 31: 10 am to 5:30 pm.
Noyers is a remarkably handsome, thoroughly restored medieval fortress town on the Serein River about 13 miles south of Chablis. Artists and artisans d'art have opened a dozen galleries in and around town, and there's a museum of local history and naïf art—both the galleries and the museum are cute and charming but ultimately skippable. The town's real draw is its atmosphere and architecture: Half-timbered houses line the cobbled streets, and sections of the city walls and a city gate still stand. There are bakeries, cafés, and restaurants, but if you can, visit on a Wednesday morning to browse the regional food market that sets up on the main square (arrive around 9:30 am, when all the vendors are open). Plan to spend at least an hour or two exploring Noyers.—David Downie
Place du Palais
Tel: 33 4 90 27 50 00
The massive Palais des Papes, built when the Holy See moved its seat to Avignon in the early 1300s fearing insurrection in Rome, is impregnable and austere. It dominates the town, both with its bulk and as a tourist attraction. It claims to be Europe's largest Gothic palace and is undeniably impressive—even beautiful—from outside, with its towers, spires, and crenellations. However, it is tedious to visit: The opulent trappings of papal power have long since been stripped out, and the palace's 25 rooms are mostly bare. The exception is the papal bedroom, which is frescoed with vines and birds and laid with a richly colored (reproduction) tile floor.
13 Avenue de President Wilson
Tel: 33 1 47 23 54 01
Metro: Iéna, Alma-Marceau
After lying dormant for several years, this Art Moderne gallery burst back onto the scene under the edgy aegis of curators Nicolas Bourriaud and Jérôme Sans. They've reinvented the place as a sort of art incubator specializing in shows that might not otherwise get a look from the city's rather tradition-bound establishment. Stripped down to its functional gizzards in the idiom of the Centre Pompidou, the venue works a charm for installations, including video or sculpture shows, fashion events, and performances. The curators take particular pride in the links they've created to emerging art scenes in Asia, especially Beijing and Shanghai. Last but not least, the café here is a fun place to clock the young movers and shakers of the local art world.
Open noon to midnight. Closed Mondays.
Metro: Palais Royal
The Palais Royal is just across the Rue de Rivoli from the mobbed Louvre, yet surprisingly few people wander into the compound's quiet, colonnaded courtyard. The 18th-century palace itselfwhich has a blood-soaked history but now houses numerous government offices and lavish private apartments (Colette and Cocteau both lived here in the 1950s)is off limits. But the garden is the ideal place to recharge after the Louvre. In the 1990s, American designer Mark Rudkin revived the courtyard's 1730 layout and added small "scented sitting rooms" within earshot of the fountain; you can also wander around and view the controversial fountain-art installation Les Deux Plateaux by Daniel Buren (under the Culture Minister's windows). The elegant arcades enclose cafés, restaurants, and shops.
Avenue du Prado
Tel: 33 4 91 55 25 51
On the eastern edge of the city near the Corniche is the 100-acre peaceful oasis of Parc Borély. It boasts the 18th-century Château Borély, a lake with a good restaurant on an island that you can reach by rowboat, as well as a botanical garden, a splendid rose collection, a fine view, and bikes for rent.
To get the big picture of the region, visit Parc Rocher des Doms, where on a clear day you should be able to see as far as Mont Ventoux—at 6,263 feet, the tallest mountain in Provence.
Tel: 33 1 48 09 21 40
The best approach to seeing the French capital is with a lot of shoe leather and a good guide, which is why it's so much fun to join a Paris Walks tour. Owned and run since 1994 by Peter and Oriel Caine, a charming British couple, the tours are exceptionally well-priced and easy to join. Reserve by phone, fax, or e-mail, or just show up at the appointed place and time as announced by flyers found in many Paris hotels. Themes range from Hemingway's Paris to The Da Vinci Code (yes, still) to a "Saints and Sinners" tour of the Marais, each offering a lively mix of history, art, and local lore delivered by highly qualified Anglophone locals. Each tour lasts about two hours. Paris Walks also offers private tours to Paris neighborhoods, museums, or out-of-town destinations such as Monet's house and gardens in Giverny, or the D-day beaches of Normandy.
Metro: Père Lachaise
The winding, cobbled paths of Père-Lachaise spread over 100 acres in the 20th Arrondissement, knotting around thousands of historic tombs, giant old trees, flowerbeds, and romantic ruins. Most visitors come to see the famous residents: Abelard and Héloïse, Chopin, Balzac, Oscar Wilde, Proust, Piaf, Gertrude Stein, and, inevitably, Jim Morrison. The cemetery's southern edge is flanked by Boulevard de Ménilmontant, the spinal column of an up-and-coming, multiethnic neighborhood locals call "Ménilmouche," where bars, cafés, and North African, Asian, and kosher restaurants spill across wide sidewalks under arching trees. Intersecting Ménilmontant a couple of hundred yards northwest of the cemetery, Rue Oberkampf extends the hip zone by several city blocksyou'll find hot spots like Café Charbon (109 Rue Oberkampf; 33-1-43-57-55-13) tucked between Turkish eateries and hole-in-the-wall shops.
Place du Palais
Tel: 33 4 90 86 44 58
The vast cobbled square of Place du Palais offers a crash course in the history of European architecture, flanked as it is by buildings dating from almost every century since the 13th. The Petit Palais, a former archbishop's palace, is much lovelier than the Pope's home. It now contains a world-class collection of Italian Renaissance paintings, including a transfixing Botticelli as well as works by Carpaccio and Crivelli. Among the most intriguing is a Gerini depicting the devil as a woman in a red dress (the tail and clawed feet are a bit of a giveaway).
Route du Pont du Gard
A UNESCO World Heritage site, this is one tourist attraction that's well worth the drive and crowds. The spectacular Roman-built bridge is worthy of a Romantic painting—three elegant layers of arches, 1,200 feet long, span two rocky precipices with the Gardon River flowing 160 feet below. The original structure is an aqueduct running from springs around the small town of Uzès to the city of Nîmes, a distance of 31 miles. No cement was used in the construction, making the architectural marvel all the more impressive. The Pont has been a tourist site for hundreds of years—Louis XVI had his engineers shore up its structure for visitor traffic, and the span got a major makeover under Napoleon III in the 1870s. Visitors can scamper about on the bridge with little keeping the overly adventurous from plunging over; however, walks along the highest archways, where the actual aqueduct is, are available only via tours offered by the site's staff—maddeningly enough, hours are unpredictable and are only available on-site. A spiffy new visitors center offers interactive museums and other educational exhibits, but the bridge itself is really the whole show.
This 800-year-old bridge is an impressive structure even though less than a fifth of it still stands: Eighteen of its original 22 arches have collapsed or been washed away by the spectacularly fast-flowing currents of the Rhône. There are good views of both the city and its towers and turrets, and across to the satellite town of Villeneuve-les-Avignon, where many of Avignon's cardinals built grand mansions known as livrées cardinalices.
During the late 19th and 20th centuries, such celebrated painters as Cézanne, Braque, Derain, and Renoir were attracted to a small working-class port in the northernmost part of the city called L'Estaque ("connection" in Provençal). And with good reason: The neighborhood has a colorful character and is still one of the most picturesque areas of the city, where families congregate on summer evenings and weekends. The parents settle at one of the cafés for an aperitif; the children get money to buy a panisse (chickpea-flour fritter: circular and slightly salted) or a chichi freggi (a doughnut sprinkled with sugar); both are specialties of the port. Of the many cafés and simple restaurants, try Larrieu, right on the waterfront (64 Plage Estaque; 33-4-91-46-09-53).
Explore the crooked, narrow streets of the Quartier du Panier north of the Vieux Port, the oldest part of the city where the original Greek settlers built their temples. The winding streets lead up to the Centre de la Vieille Charité, probably the most beautiful poorhouse ever conceived, with a rectangular courtyard that boasts sweeping galleries on three levels (2 Rue de la Charité; 33-4-91-14-58-80). Today, it contains several exhibition spaces and museums (one on Mediterranean archaeology, another on the native arts of Africa, Oceania, and the Americas). More-modern work is displayed nearby, at the former granary now named Red Light District gallery, featuring lively exhibitions of contemporary art (20 Rue Saint-Antoine; 33-4-91-90-49-67; www.reddistrict.org).
Le Majestic Centre De Congrès
The concerts of the Semaines Musicales du Mont-Blanc fill the Grande Salle of the Majestic with jazz and classical favorites from mid-July to August. Built in the 18th century, this hulking pile of a building was once an opulent hotel but is now an apartment building and, prosaic though it may be, a convention center. The Majestic hosts the popular Semaines Musicales series every year, and the crowd-pleasing program typically includes hits by Vivaldi, Pachelbel, and other masters. Tickets are available from the tourist office (85 Place de Triangle de l'Amitié; 33-4-50-53-0024; www.chamonix.com).
This enormous family-friendly ski area covers some 276 miles of prepared trails that stretch east across rolling mountainside to the ancient spa town of St. Gervais and the attractive little village of St. Nicolas-de-Véroce. To the west of Megève, you can ski down through the woods from the top of the Jaillet sector to the little resort of La Giettaz. From there you can climb the lift system and continue south to Praz-sur-Arly in the Val d'Arly. The natural progression in the future will be for Megève to join the Espace Diamant circuit that includes Flumet, Notre-Dame-de-Bellecombe, Les Saisies, and Crest-Voland.
For the moment, the focus of the skiing remains on the southeast of Megève, where trails are divided into the two sectors of Mont d'Arbois and Rochebrune, joined by cableways. The skiing is much tamer than in nearby Chamonix, and it's best suited to intermediates who like to clock up a big daily mileage on mainly benign and gloriously scenic trails. However, experts will discover that after a snowfall, Megève is home to some of the most easily accessed and enjoyable backcountry skiing in the region.
A gondola from the town center or a cable car from the outskirts takes you up to Rochebrune. The area offers the most attractive runs in the resort and is usually less crowded than Mont d'Arbois. From the top of the gondola, a sequence of further lifts and pistes lead up to Cote 2000, which has some of the most challenging runs.
The main beginner and intermediate area of Mont d'Arbois is reached by cable car and gondola from Rochebrune or by a choice of two gondolas from the other side of town. A network of novice and easy pistes bring you back toward Megève, or you can venture almost endlessly farther afield. From 6,424-foot Mont Joux, you cruise wood-fringed pastures to Le Bettex and St. Gervais, or you can tackle higher and more demanding exposed terrain at 7,710 feet on Mont Joly. The resort's only terrain park is at Mont Joux, and there is a boardercross course at Rochebrune.
There's a considerable choice of lift tckets. The Megève lift ticket covers 87 lifts, including Combloux, St. Nicolas-de-Véroce, St. Gervais, and La Giettaz (around $47 for a full day). The more expensive Evasion Mont-Blanc ticket spans the entire 276 miles. It also covers Chamonix, Les Houches, and Italy's Courmayeur, which is easily reached through the Mont Blanc Tunnel (around $236 for six days). A nonskier ticket allows walkers to take designated lifts in Megève and St. Gervais.
While it's possible to learn to ski in Chamonix—Le Tour at the head of the valley, has beginner slopes and there are other isolated novice lifts and trails—it's best suited to adventurous intermediates and experts because the disparate nature of the ski areas makes it unsuitable for groups or families of different levels.
The town's main skiing is reached by cableway from the outskirts of the resort or from Les Praz, a short bus ride away. Both serve the two areas of Le Brévent and La Flegère, which are linked by cable-car. Together they provide a sunny playground with lots of serious challenges and magnificent views of Mont Blanc. But the pièce de résistance is situated five miles up the valley at the little village of Argentière. An 80-person cable-car and a four-person chair-lift give access to the mid-mountain station of Lognan. From there a further cable-car (you pay a supplement on the local lift pass) takes you up to Les Grands Montets, one of Europe's greatest ski mountains. This is the starting point for some epic off-piste descents such as the infamous Pas de Chèvre.
The fourth and most famous of the main ski areas is the 12,600-foot Aiguille du Midi, reached by the world's highest cable-car (it also has the largest span of cable), which starts from the south side of the resort. From the first stage you can ski back down to town. The top is the vertiginous starting point for the Vallée Blanche, a beautiful 14-mile glacial descent. It is essential to take a guide, but the actual skiing is not difficult; anyone who can ski parallel and is fit can tackle the easiest of the four routes. However, you do need a head for heights—the descent begins with a slither down ice steps with a 6,000-foot vertical drop to your left. The best guides rope up their clients at the start.
Guides can be arranged through the Association Nationale des Guides de Mont Blanc or the Compagnie des Guides de Chamonx. If you want ski lessons there's a choice of six main schools including the École de Ski and Evolution 2. Both also provide care and lessons for kids from three years old.
Your choice of lift pass depends on where you want to spend most time. Chamonix Le Pass covers Le Brévent-La Flegère, Le Tour/La Balme, and Lognan (excluding the Grand Montets cable-car) as well as the various nursery slopes scattered along the valley. The wider Chamonix Unlimited covers all transport including the Grands Montets and L'Aiguille du Midi as well as the neighboring resort of Les Houches. Both passes can be purchased through the Chamonix Office of Tourism.
Both the state-funded Ecole du Ski Francais and the independent Ecole de Ski & Snowboard are recommended. Ecole Freeride and Summits are vibrant alternatives. New in 2007 are Agence de Ski à Megève and Evolution 2. Megève has a long-established reputation for providing good child care. Meg Accueil, situated next to the Palais des Sports, cares for kids starting at age one. The ESF runs Club Piou-Piou, which offers day care for little skiers from three to five years, and La Princesse, which looks after skiers from two-and-a-half years old.
Alternatives to skiing include snowshoeing excursions organized by the Bureau des Guides and Evolution 2. If you haven't tried dog-sleighing then this is a popular place to learn. Take a one-hour ride or spend a morning discovering the skill required to drive your own team with Mont du Villard Nord.
The archetypal Provençal hilltop town, St. Paul de Vence calls itself "the most beautiful village in the world." This is debatablethere's plenty of competition in this part of Francebut the walled town is easily worth the nine-mile drive inland from Nice. St. Paul de Vence's main thoroughfare, the Grande Rue, is clogged with forgettable art galleries, but the side streets are lined with classic Provençal townhouses, and there are jaw-dropping views from the ramparts. As in many of the small towns on the coast, there is a disproportionate number of artistic masterpieces on display here: The hypermodernist Fondation Maeght is just outside of the old town and has a 9,000-piece collection of Matisse, Miró, Chagall, Braque, Calder, Léger, and Giacometti on a rotating exhibit schedule (33-4-93-32-81-63; www.fondation-maeght.com; open daily 10 am-12:30 pm and 2:30-6 pm October through June; 10 am-7 pm daily July through September). In Vence, three miles away, there's the Chapelle du Rosaire, with extraordinary stained-glass windows by Henri Matisse. The gastronomic arts are found in the old town at the Colombe d'Or restaurant, where Picasso and his cohorts swapped art for food, resulting in an astonishing art collection (33-4-93-32-80-02; www.la-colombe-dor.com). It's pricey and fantastically hard to get a reservation, so plan weeks in advance (months ahead in high season).
This is that small French town you always dreamed of, a mix of pristine Beaux-Arts and medieval buildings set among plane trees with peeling bark. Arriving from Les Baux or Avignon via one of the most romantic and gorge-filled drives in France, visitors find a ringed boulevard that holds a maze of about a dozen medieval streets chock-a-block with artisanal textiles, olive oil, wine, cheese, and sausages. The outside ring, which changes its name from Boulevard Gambetta to Victor Hugo to Boulevard Marceau, has two of the world's greatest gourmet shops. Olives Huiles du Monde sells a range of award-winning, locally produced olive oils and truffle products. Joël Durand Chocolatier's offerings go way beyond his delicately infused chocolates to include pots of crème caramel and sweets flavored with local olives and almonds. After a stop by these two temples, head down to the Bistrot d'Eygalières some 15 km south for one of the most rewarding meals on offer in Provence or anywhere.
Route des Plages
Tel: 33 4 94 97 15 52
Whether you're a debutante in need of lessons or you just want to get in a quick morning match, this welcoming, well-equipped tennis club is perfect. The staff is top-rate and bilingual, and the eight lighted courts present a choice of surfaces: four hard courts and four synthetic clay.
Open daily 8 am to 9 pm.
On the southeastern edge of the Côte Chalonnaise wine district in southern Burgundy, Tournus is a handsome town on the Saône River that was founded by the Gauls, turned into a major river port by Julius Caesar, and is now home to about 6,000 inhabitants. While vestiges of the Roman city still stand, the town's medieval foundations are the real draw here. St. Philibert Abbey, a Romanesque fortress church with a labyrinthine crypt and a barrel-vaulted ceiling in the cavernous nave, has stood here for 1,000 years. On the south side of the abbey, monastic buildings from the 12th and 13th centuries surround the remains of an 11th-century cloister. Guided tours, available through the tourist office, last about an hour and 15 minutes.
A 15-minute walk southwest across the historic center of town, the Hôtel-Dieu–Musée Greuze, a local history museum dedicated to 18th-century court painter Jean-Baptiste Greuze, displays art and objects in a 17th-century hospital similar to the Hôtel-Dieu in Beaune.
Tournus's sycamore-lined riverbanks are a great place to relax at a café, and few towns in Burgundy have more or better restaurants (we recommend Aux Terrasses for updated Burgundian classics). If you're staying the night, La Tour du Trésorier, an antique-filled B&B near the abbey, is a good bet.—David Downie
St. Philibert Abbey open daily 8:30 am to 6 pm, October through April; 8:30 am to 7 pm, May through September. Religious services 10:30 am Sundays.
Hôtel Dieu–Musée Greuze open Wednesdays through Mondays 10 am to 6 pm, late March through early November.
There is magic in the sycamore-lined Tuileries garden between the Champs-Élysées and the Louvre. Named for the roofing-tile factory that once stood here, this is Paris's oldest public garden, but recent replantings and the addition of a dozen works of modern and contemporary art have given it new life. There are four cafés, hundreds of comfortable garden chairs and shady benches, and two monumental pools with water jets. On the northwest terrace, the Jeu de Paume, originally a handball court, is now a photo gallery with great temporary exhibits (1 Place de la Concorde; 33-1-47-03-12-50; www.jeudepaume.org; closed Mon). On the Seine-side terrace is the Musée de l'Orangerie—an absolute must-see. Reopened in spring 2006 after a six-year, $36-million renovation, it displays a tour de force by Monet: eight huge water lily paintings, shown in two oval-shaped rooms under skylights that re-create the natural light conditions Monet knew in the 1920s. The remake has succeeded to excess: The other rooms, with their amazing canvases by Cézanne, Renoir, Matisse, Modigliani, Picasso, André Derain, and Chaim Soutine, fade in comparison. So visit twice—once for Monet, a second time for everyone else (33-1-44-77-80-07; www.musee-orangerie.fr; closed Tues).
Tel: 33 1 64 14 41 90
If you don't have time to visit the Loire Valley châteaux, this gorgeous palace an hour from Paris by commuter train will give you a sumptuous taste of the genre (take the RER D train from the Gare de Lyon to Melun, then a taxi or the Châteaubus shuttle to the château). In its day, the beauty of Vaux le Vicomte, owned by French finance minister Nicolas Fouquet, was so talked about that it got under King Louis XIV's collar and propelled him to massively remodel Versailles, previously a much more modest hunting lodge. Although the castle is lovely, what's really magnificent are the surrounding gardens, a masterpiece of French formal landscaping by André Le Nôtre, who also designed those at Versailles.
Open 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. March through November only.
Square du Vert Galant
Tel: 33 1 46 33 98 38
Metro: Pont Neuf
Sure, a boat ride on the river is as touristy as an Eiffel Tower hat made of foam rubber, but the fact is that you get a completely different view of Paris, and a very romantic one at that, from the water. Several companies offer Seine cruises, but this one has the advantage of a charming, central, and easily reached location on the northwestern edge of the Île de la Cité, and the boats are smaller than the troop-carrier affairs deployed by most other companies. They don't serve meals, either, which is a good thing: The food on lunch and dinner cruises is unfailingly mediocre, and if it's harmless enough to be a tourist out in the fresh air, it's a sad business in an enclosed stock-pen of a dining room.
The medieval citadel of Vézelay, a UNESCO World Heritage site, is celebrated for its basilica, which houses the relics of Mary Magdalene. Though the town remains a pilgrimage site and spiritual center—the basilica draws more than a million visitors each year—most visitors come seeking earthly pleasures: the hotels, restaurants, cafés, and boutiques that line the tilting cobbled streets. You can't get lost: There's one long, main street (the name changes from Grande Rue to Rue St. Etienne) that runs from the Porte de Barle city gate uphill to the basilica. On it is Vézelay's best place to eat, Le St. Etienne, and the area's best gourmet food and wine store, Le St. Vincent, which stocks all the best Burgundies. A 15-minute drive south, in the village of Pierre-Perthuis, is hotel-restaurant Les Deux Ponts.
Due south of Vézelay are the peaks and gorges of the Morvan, a vast parkland that covers the center of Burgundy and is a favored summer retreat for Parisians. Unlike the limestone bluffs of the Burgundian wine country, the Morvan is an eroded granite plateau that ends abruptly a few miles south of Mont Beuvray, the area's geographical and historical high point. Site of the Gauls' ancient "lost city" of Bibracte, where Julius Caesar dictated The Conquest of Gaul in 52 B.C., Mount Beuvray is now an archaeological park. The Museum of Celtic Civilization, located halfway up the mountain, is worth a stop for its historical displays, but the best things about this magic mountain are its hikes and views.—David Downie
Le St. Etienne open Fridays through Tuesdays, late February through mid-January.
Le St. Vincent open daily 9 am to 7:30 pm, Easter through mid-November.
Museum of Celtic Civilization open daily to individual visitors 10 am to 6 pm, mid-March through June and September through mid-November; daily 10 am to 7 pm, July and August. Open year-round for groups with reservation.
Wines are said to have been cultivated in the Loire since before Roman times, but it was fourth-century Saint Martin of Tours who took time out from evangelizing to teach the locals how to prune their vines. Today the wine region is vast, taking in over 60 appellations d'origine contrôlée (AOC), 49 of them in the heart of the region Anjou-Saumur-Touraine. Touring the vineyards and tasting the wines in situ, often in picturesque old cellars, is a great way to see the region and understand the French notion of terroirthe idea that soil type, geology, climate, and local know-how are as important as grape variety. For example, the dry, sweet, and sparkling whites of Vouvray and Montlouis-sur-Loire, east of Tours, and the superb, more mineral flinty whites of Savennières, just west of Angers, are all produced from the same chenin blanc grape. The area also produces fine reds, including full-bodied Chinon and Saumur-Champigny, lighter Cheverny, and fruity St. Nicolas-de-Bourgueil. A well-indicated Route des Vignobles du Val de Loire runs through the principal vineyards. Consult the Web site www.vinsvaldeloire.fr for information on wine producers and cooperatives that are open to the public for tastings and sales, as well as wine museums and hiking trails, or visit the Maisons du Vin, such as the Maison du Vin de Saumur (Quai Lucien Gautier, Saumur).
Cannes and Antibes are the centers for boat rental (and purchase). Several companies line the streets of Cannes just off the Croisette, including Locarama, which offers tiny speedboats at $564 per day (13 Rue Latour Maubourg; 33-4-93-94-45-81; www.cannesboat.com). MS Yachts offers even bigger, if-you-have-to-ask-you-can't-afford-it yachts (57 La Croisette, 33-4-93-99-03-51; www.ms-yachts.com). Antibes's Port Vauban is one of the world's busiest yacht ports. The harbor is packed with 2,500 boats, ranging from day cruisers to megayachts. Rental agencies line the Avenue 11 Novembre and Avenue de Verdun, as well as the small streets tucked just behind them. ABYS Yachting has rentals that start at about $3,500 per day for a 56-foot Fairline Squadron (18 Avenue Mirabeau; 33-6-03-80-88-47; www.yachtworld.com/abys-yachting). Blue Water Yachting's boats start at 60 feet (and at around $29,600 per week) and include sailing yachts as well as motorboats (14 Avenue Mirabeau; 33-4-93-34-34-13; www.bluewateryachting.com).