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There's so much more to France to discover beyond Paris

There's so much more to France to discover beyond Paris
When you say you’re going to France, most people will automatically assume you’re visiting Paris. And why not? It’s incredibly chic, with amazing attractions, incredible restaurants – but it often has the crowds to match too.
France is a country with a rich history and culture, and there is so much to see and do beyond its capital city. For your next trip, why not explore some of the other delights France has to offer; glorious beaches, majestic mountains and bustling medieval towns to explore across four wonderful destinations - Chamonix, Normandy, Bordeaux, and Strasbourg
Image of people climbing a mountain covered in snow in Chamonix

Discover the Alps in Chamonix  

Chamonix is a town that’s perfect for nature lovers with truly breath-taking views of the Alps. Hike to your heart’s content, go rock climbing, or just stand in awe of Mont Blanc, the highest mountain in Western Europe at 4810m.
Whilst you can view from the valley floor, one of the best ways to appreciate the mountain’s majesty is from up high. If you only do one thing, get the cable car up to Aiguille du Midi, a 3,842-metre mountain on the Mont Blanc massif. For unparalleled views of the Alps from the top, be sure to take your sunglasses with you, as the glare from the snow and ice can be extremely strong at this altitude.
Accessed by the vintage Montenvers train, another fantastic place to visit is the huge Mer de Glace glacier. From the top, you can descend to an ice cave excavated into the glacier via a gondola and a series of walkways and steps.
After exploring, if you’ve worked up an appetite, there are also some great restaurants to enjoy, and it’s worth remembering at lunchtime most restaurants will offer a well-priced 'Plat du Jour' (dish of the day), normally consisting of locally sourced meat, potatoes and a salad or seasonal vegetables. Additionally, as the town is so close to the Italian border, you can also pick up a good pizza from an Italian pizzeria if you fancy!
It's not just beautiful scenery and good food that Chamonix offers. The skiing in this region is world-class and it’s also known as a fantastic mountaineering destination. Prefer watching the action? Chamonix also hosts a wide range of sporting events throughout the year, including June’s Mont Blanc Marathon and the UTMB trail running race in August.
If music is more your thing, then April’s Musilac Mont Blanc is a must-visit and at the end of July, the Cosmo Jazz Festival hosts concerts all around the valley.
Whatever time of year you decide to holiday, Chamonix has a great range of things to do, see, hear and eat!
Image of Mont-Saint-Michel a tidal island and mainland commune in Normandy

Enjoy the culture of Normandy

Normandy is a region in northern France that is known for its history, culture, and food and it offers something for every type of holidaymaker. Plus, it’s so easy to get to - a simple hop on the ferry and few hours later you’ll be docking in France.
For history lovers, there are, of course, the D-Day landing beaches. Code-named by names they are still known as today - Utah, Omaha, Gold Juno and Sword - and stretching from the Carentan estuary to Ouistreham, the beaches were the site of the largest invasion in world history. Today, there are many memorials at the beaches and along the Normandy coastline, and there are still relics of time passed, with German bunkers, gun batteries and other evidence of the intense fighting that took place still dotted upon the landscape.
In March this year, the D-Day Museum (Musée du Débarquement) in Arromanches unveiled a new 1200 m2 exhibition space to help visitors understand the incredible technological challenge of building the artificial port, a gigantic project initiated by Winston Churchill. It offers a fascinating into how this famous structure worked and is well worth a visit.
If you’re visiting the Normandy beaches, Bayeux is a great place to base yourself. A hugely historical site in its own right, Bayeux can trace its roots back to the 1st century BC, so there’s lots to explore within the town itself - the magnificent Norman-Romanesque-Gothic Cathedral Notre-Dame de Bayeux, with its well-preserved frescos and spooky crypt is well worth a visit.
A vacation here wouldn’t be complete without a look at The Bayeux Tapestry, now on display at the Musée de la Tapisserie de Bayeux after spending many years in the Bayeux Cathedral. Measuring an incredible 230 feet, it’s one of the longest and certainly one of the most famous tapestries in the world, telling the story of the events that led to the Norman conquest of England in 1066. Made up of fifty-eight scenes, it depicts Harold’s (King of England) betrayal of William the Conqueror and the Battle of Hastings where Harold is killed. Don’t forget to pick up an audio guide to really get to grips with the story as you take it all in. 
Then there are other Normandy towns to explore like the impressive Mont Saint-Michel and the area’s capital, Rouen, where Monet was inspired to paint the Rouen Cathedral series.  And it’s not surprising he was. This city has it all, from a stunning Gothic cathedral (the tallest in France) and one of the oldest clock mechanisms in the renaissance Gros-Horloge clock tower (straddling one of the most snapped streets in Rouen), plus world-class museums, parks and gardens. 
It's also home to the Rouen Armada, one of the largest gatherings of tall ships in the world. Visit between the 8 to 18 June 2023 and enjoy the festival, where you’ll see fifty magnificent tall ships, along with military boats from all over the world, lining Rouen’s quaysides. It’s the is the only event of its kind in France and get very busy so don’t forget to plan ahead.
Wherever you visit, be sure to tick off the four Cs of Normandy: Camembert; cider; crème and Calvados, a type of brandy. Just not all at the same time….
Image of the city of Bordeaux in France

Go on a Taste Journey in Bordeaux  

After Paris, Bordeaux is arguably the most famous area of France. The city boasts the title of the world's largest urban World Heritage Site, with 347 UNESCO listed buildings that span history over 2000 years, and at every corner there’s something more to see. Plus with world-class vineyards, and some excellent restaurants, you might need to stay longer than you think in this great destination.
Firstly, the wine. Bordeaux’s wine region encompasses 65 appellations and more than 7000 individual châteaux. Some are closed to the public though, so make sure you check prior to visiting.
Despite this, there are an often bewildering array to choose from, with some châteaux offering more traditional ‘classic’ visits (a look at the vineyard, tanks, barrel room and finishing with a tasting of some of the estate wines). Others offer something a little different, with unique opportunities such as special workshops and tastings, or even the chance to blend your very own Bordeaux wine.
A little research before you go can go a long way on your vineyard experience, or if you prefer, a local expert guide can not only take you through the best bottles, but also offer advice on where to visit to suit your tastes and which are English-speaking châteaux, should you wish to enjoy a tasting in a more native tongue.
Once you’ve wandered the vineyards, take a stroll around the city. It really is a beautiful place, boasting beautiful Gothic architecture, like the Cathédrale Saint-André and historical areas such as the old quarters of Saint-Pierre and Saint-Michel. The ‘Water Mirror’, found between the Garonne and stunning 18th century façades, is the most-photographed site in Bordeaux and even better at night time.
There are also many parks and gardens to enjoy, or if the weather is bad, pop into the CAPC for a dose of contemporary art, soak up some regional information at the Musée d’Aquitainem, or mooch around the Musée Mer Marine for maritime history.

Explore Strasbourg’s Old Charm

Strasbourg is one of the great historic cities of Europe and has a fascinating blend of old French charm and German influence from across the border.
The city was founded by the Romans in the 1st century AD and was later ruled by the Germans and the French. As you explore this wonderful destination, you’ll notice that Strasbourg's history is evident in its architecture, food and culture. Neither French nor German: it is truly Alsatian, and has a culture of its own.
And what a culture it is. In 1988, UNESCO recognized the portion of the city within the Ill River, Strasbourg-Grand-Ill, as a World Heritage Site. However, this was not set on a single monument, but to the entire historic city centre – the first time UNESCO deemed anywhere as such. In 2017, the area was extended by UNESCO area to include the “new town” area built between 1871 and 1914 after annexation by Prussia.
It's a stunning place to simply stroll around, with architectural styles ranging from the Medieval, Renaissance, Romantic and Art Nouveau eras. Enter the old town and enjoy a maze alleys and narrow streets – it’s the perfect place to get lost, and the many waterways within the city shine and reflect pretty half-timbered houses with sloping roofs.
On a grander scale, the majestic Gothic Strasbourg Cathedral is extraordinary, both from the inside and out, with an incredibly ornate façade which will have you reaching for your camera.
And for something totally different, Strasbourg is also official seat of the European Parliament. A visit to the parliamentary debating chamber is a unique way to understand more about European politics. Tours usually last around 60 minutes, but don’t forget your passport - valid identity ID is required to access the building.
If walking (and debating!) has made you hungry, pop into a local restaurant or ‘winstub’  (family-owned eateries in Alsace) and sample Alsatian delicacies such as Tarte flambée (like a flat-bread pizza), choucroute (either fish or braised pork served with sauerkraut) or spaetzle (a type of noodle usually served with a fish stew). Wash your lunch down with some excellent Alsatian wines; Gewürztraminer, Pinot Noir or Riesling are all local to the area.

France – fabulous whatever holiday you fancy.

There’s so much more to France than its capital, so why not make exploring it a plan for this year’s holiday? Whether you hire a car and explore the regions or stick to one town or city, make sure an adventure this wonderful country is on your list for this year's travel.
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