I’ve just returned from two memorable weeks in France, one of my favorite countries, and Paris is definitely my favorite city in the world. I’ve been visiting France for 35 (yikes) years, and after this 12th visit, I’d like to share with you some observations and suggestions from this recent experience in a 2-part blog post. I’ll share my stops, my favorite must-sees, and my secret-off-the-beaten-path wonders to explore!
Provence (the South of France)
The trip began in Nice, glittering capital of the Cote d’ Azur, and a delightful and absolutely beautiful town on the French Riviera. The highlight here was the market, held daily, in vieux Nice (old Nice). Here was our wonderful opportunity to shop for local specialties like Provencal soaps, herbs, pottery, textiles and watercolors by local artists at reasonable prices. I advise you to walk the town…she’s a treasure!
Onward to Arles to board our ship for the 7 night river cruise, which proved to be one of my most treasured travel experiences ever. I cannot extol the virtues of river cruising enough…it is a fantastic way to see Europe. Pack/unpack once, beautiful accommodations/ship, fantastic crew/staff, 3 meals a day, free wine with dinner, free shore excursions. I am TOTALLY SOLD on this hot new travel ticket, and hope you will be too!
Arles is memorable for its connection to Van Gogh and Cezanne, and the ancient Roman Amphitheater, still in use today.
From Arles, we went to my favorite town in Province, Avignon. On three past occasions I’d sat in the town square, enjoying lunch and a good Provencal rose wine and soaked up the local color. I did it again this trip, and the experience did not disappoint. There is an excellent chain of wine stores all over France, called “Nicholas” and they offer a wide range of French wines (many local) at excellent prices, so stop in for your wine provisions. Also be aware that ATMs are available everywhere, even in the smallest villages, so just get cash with your debit card as needed and don’t carry wads of Euros with you.
We went onward to the tiny town of Viviers, whose cathedral was magnificent, but quite a trek up a very steep hill, then to Tournon a great example of a medieval city, and Vienne, where we rode a little train to the top of the town with a lovely view of the Rhone River below.
Then, we headed to Lyon, the 2nd city of France, and her gastronomic capital, and home of the renowned chef, Paul Bocuse. Thanks to an invitation by our shipmates Carl & Carolyn, we enjoyed a splendid lunch visit at Paul Bocuse’s bistro “Le Sud“; highly recommended and it wont’ break the bank. This was my 1st visit to Lyon and I loved this city. There is a great cathedral on Fourviere Hill with panoramic views of the city below, and you can explore “old Lyon” with the “traboules”…small little covered passage-ways from medieval times when the silk traders needed to cross the city and avoid bad weather. This part of Lyon was truly fascinating and well worth a serious visit.
The river cruise towns ended with Macon and Chalon sur Saone, nothing too notable here, but then we visited beautiful Beaune, and oo lala, what a town, and well worth a visit! DO NOT miss the incredible Hostel-Dieu, one of France’s architectural highlights, and a joy to explore. This was a charity hospital, founded in 1443. The main part of the hospital is now a fantastic museum, but a portion of the building is still in use today as a retirement home for the impoverished elderly. There are fantastic shopping and wonderful cafes and bistros in Beaune. We ourselves enjoyed a wonderful lunch at the Brasserie le Carnot.
From here it was on to the incomparable city of light—Paris! Having done (several times) the mainstays of Paris…Arc d’ Triomphe, Champs Elysees, Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame, Opera, and the Louvre, I wanted to explore some off-the-beaten-path places. So let me share those that struck a chord and that I think are noteworthy, worth your time and effort, and in some cases, money!
1st off, for those of you who don’t know the “hot spot” in Paris these past few years is an area called “Le Marais.” This is a district in Paris that has been gentrified and fluffed of late, and retains an enormous amount of historical significance. Steeped in royal and revolutionary history, this village in the heart of Paris offers medieval streets, museums-filled mansions, and the city’s oldest and most beautiful square.
To get there, get off at Metro St. Paul. Walk over to the enchanting Place des Vosges, that lovely square, and don’t miss Victor Hugo’s house and a museum on the southeast corner of the square. Sadly the Picasso Museum is closed for renovation until 2012, but shopping and sight-seeing in The Marais is a dream!
Tips on Sight-Seeing at Le Marais:
- Get fun handmade toys at “Tumbleweed” located at 19 rue du Turenne, Paris 75004
- DO NOT miss the olive oil experience of a lifetime at O & Co….this shop specializes in Mediterranean olive oils, soaps, herbs, and vinegars. If you’re looking for reasonable gifts to take home to friends and family, here’s your spot! Located at 47 Rue Vielle du Temple Paris 77005
- My absolute favorite shop in Paris is called As’ Art…an African import gallery with fantastic objects of every type…the only time I’ve spent money in Paris the past 3 visits is at this shop! Also, it’s in a wonderful little area called “Village St. Paul” full of delightful shops of all sorts. As’ Art is located at 35 Rue St Paul, Marais, Paris 75004
- Where to eat in Marais? Some ideas include:
- Le Petit Fer a Cheval: Good food, cheap wine and very adorable!
Located at 30 Rue Vielle du Temple Paris 75004
- Cafe des Musees Bistro: In the heart of Marais, a good Parisian bistro with reasonable prices.
Located at 49 Rue de Turenne, Paris
What else in Paris?
Do not miss a totally unknown shop opposite the Jardins Luxembourg, the Library/Book Shop of the Senat, located near the entrance to Luxembourg Gardens at 20 Rue de Vaugirard, Paris 75006. This shop has beautiful post cards and very fine gifts in leather (wallets, credit card holders, etc) and are at remarkably good prices. I always go here and am always rewarded.
Speaking of metro tickets, the best value is to buy a “carnet des billets” a group of 10 metro tickets at a reduced price. You can purchase these tickets with a credit card or Euro cash at the ticket machine in any metro station. I find this a better buy than the “Metro Card”…
Montmartre is the highest point in Paris, and the view is beautiful from the Sacre Coeur cathedral. This is also the area that attracted many artists in the 19th century. The “Place du Tertre” is a bit touristy, but fun with shops and cafes. I’ve enjoyed two good meals at a sweet little restaurant at the top of the hill called Chez Plumeau with the typical outdoor café setting—and it’s charming inside too. Chez Plumeau is located in 4 Place Du Calvaire 75018 Paris, France.
Check out a delightful little street in the Montparnasse area, called Rue du Cherche Midi Paris 75006…there are shops, restaurants galore, and it’s a joy to experience!
Another good restaurant is a small chain in Paris, called “Chez Clement” with locations all over Paris. I enjoyed two very excellent meals here at good prices. I was staying in St. Germain area, and I ate at Chez Clement’s St. Michel restaurant, not 100 yards from the St. Michel metro stop. Check their website for a location near you… www.chezclement.com
Don’t miss the Palais Royal, metro Louvre/Palais Royal. A BEAUTIFUL square with whimsical sculptures, fountains, and gorgeous shops along the arcades that line both sides of the square. This is a treat indeed. Keep your pocketbooks closed here, but it’s a great place for “window licking,” the French version of “window shopping.”
One block away is another exceptional find, the Galerie Vero-Dodat Arcade, linking the Rue du Bouloi to Rue Jean Jacques Rousseau. These are 19th century, renovated shopping galleries—the oldest in Paris—with magnificent covered glass ceilings and beautiful carved wooden fronts on the shops. In my book, this is a MUST-SEE with shops, cafes, art galleries and magnificent architecture.
Stay tuned to Part 2 of The South of France where I’ll share more of Paris’s hidden treasures, history, museums, and treats for wine connoisseurs!
Meanwhile, check out the Photo Gallery!
© 2011 Sandra B. Wilkins
About the Author
Sandra Wilkins is a Tour Specialist at AffordableTours.com
Tel: 800.935.2620 Ext 115