We celebrate Bastille Day on 14 July with 20 Gitanes, a croque-monsieur, and a cracking bottle of Côtes du Rhône. Stick on some Serge and Jane and let us take you on our very own tour de France…
Cliché? Yes, of course. But isn’t it rather lovely? You’ll find fields of lavender like this on postcards in places brimming with the warmth of the south, like Avignon and Arles, and for real in the Luberon and Vaucluse. If you prefer orange to purple, go walking in the inside-of-a-Crunchie landscape of the aptly-named Colorado Provençal.
Rome hasn’t got the monopoly on coliseums, you know. Nimes, birthplace of the bue-hued trouser (denim = from Nimes), boasts some of the best Roman remains this side of the Tiber. Check out its Pantheon too, and go for a freshwater swim under the monumental Pont du Gard.
With its fairytale turrets and ramparts, Carcassonne‘s Cité looks so perfect it should be in Disneyland. It’s a little too perfect actually – it was done up a bit in the 19th century. It possibly looks its best by night when it’s all lit up. In contrast, from Carcassonne, drive out into the garrigue of Haut-Languedoc, a semi-arid scrubland of eagles, boar and, well, not very much really, but not very much can be a very good thing sometimes.
4. Mont Saint-Michel
Cross-channel counterpart to St Michael’s Mount near Penzance, Mont Saint-Michel in Normandy is one of France’s most recognisable landmarks, and one of it’s most-visited tourist attractions, so be prepared for crowds of plastic sword-toting schoolchildren pretending they’re storming the castle. Or buy a plastic sword and join in. Normandy is close to Paris but your nearest airport to Mont Saint-Michel is Rennes.
Nowhere quite sums up the French fame for food as Lyon. It would be lazy to employ the phrase ‘gastronomic capital’, but after a slap-up feed and a quart of Côtes du Rhône in a traditional bouchon, you’ll probably understand why Lyonnaise cuisine is so revered. Tip no.1: not every place that call itself a bouchon is worthy of the name, especially in the touristy old town. Tip no. 2: Le Café des Fédérations: enough said.
You may recognise the name Saint-Emilion, in the department of Gironde, Aquitaine, probably not because it’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site, but because of its wine. Get your nose round a Château Ausone or a Château Cheval Blanc. They’re the only two wines currently classified as Premiers grands crus classes A – basically, not bad bottles of plonk to wash down your picnic of ficelle and fromage. Your nearest airport to Saint-Emilion will be Bordeaux. Bergerac is also an alternative.
7. Mont Blanc
While France and Italy have long disputed whether it’s Mont Blanc or Monte Blanco, at 4,810 m (15,781 ft) it’s certainly western Europe’s highest mountain. Take the 10-day, 170km-long walking route Tour de Mont Blanc to admire the massif from every angle among a sublime snowscape of glaciers and icefalls. Or see from the sky by paraglider. The nearest airport to Le Mont Blanc is Geneva.
8. Gorges du Verdon
River deep, mountain high. While the French Alps scrape the skies, the jaw (and altitude)-dropping 25km-long Gorge plunges 700 metres down into its limestone depths to the almost unreal turquoise River Verdon. Experience this natural wonder on foot (including vertigo-inducing ladders), by kayak or, if you are a rock climber, dangling from a rope. Nice and Marseille are the closest airports to this gorgeous river.
You’ll probably have to up at 5am to see Nice in this state of quietude, but if you’ve been high rolling with the big players in Nice’s infamous casinos, you may well be tripping back to your yacht as the sun shoots its first rays on the Promenade des Anglais.
Fauvist master Henri Matisse had been feeling a bit down when he came to Collioure – a classy resort on the Med where France disappears into Spain. It obviously cheered him up a bit, as he proclaimed: ‘In France there is no sky as blue as the one in Collioure’. He obviously hadn’t been to Corsica, but he had a point. Your nearest airport to this lovely city is Perpignan.
11. Plage de Saleccia, Corsica
Unless you’ve got a yacht, you have to walk across a desert to get to Saleccia. Hidden by the desolate Désert de Agriates, a sunburnt expanse of nothingness in north-west Corsica, Saleccia is the heaven after the hell, a mile-long desert island dream of white sand and tropical turquoise water. Epic D-Day romp The Longest Day was filmed here, but it looks better in colour. Retire to the French Riviera-feel resort of St. Florent (‘St. Flo’) for a _pastis _under the palms. Bastia and Calvi are the closest airports to this beautiful beach.
12. The Auvergne
Listen to Joseph Canteloube’s spine-tingling Baïlèro, from his Songs from the Auvergne, and you’ll get a get a feel of the pastoral peace of this green and pleasant land right in the middle of France, known for its cheese, cows… and volcanoes. Clermont-Ferrand, the Auvergne’s capital will be your nearest airport to this magical part of France.
13. Cap Ferret
If you’ve already got a pleasant wee place on the Île Saint-Louis, a 50-foot yacht, and possibly a helicopter, and the Riviera is just getting too popular with the riff-raff, consider a holiday hideaway by the sea in Cap Ferret, near Bordeaux, the Antibes of the Atlantic coast. Bordeaux airport is the nearest to Cap Ferret.
Paris, oh Paris. Where do you start? Whether its proposing at the top of that tower that everyone makes so much fuss about, blowing your entire budget on a phone cover in Collette, or indulging in a late-night absinthe and electro session in Pigalle, Paris unarguably has a certain je ne sais quoi. Like Chris Froome or even monsieur Bonaparte Napoleon himself, we just had to finish our tour de France with a triumphal trip up the Champs-Élysées.
Search for flights to France to see a list of regional airports, from Bastia to Brest, Agen to Ajaccio, that you can fly yo from the UK. This displays the cheapest prices over the whole year. Or simply select the dates you want to travel… and away you go. Bon voyage!