I love Paris, but sometimes you have to get outside the city to experience the real France. (Though a Parisian may tell you otherwise.) While Paris does offer a lot of gorgeous moments, the quintessential France is most often times most approachable in quieter villages and small quiet towns.
Boulangeries with freshly baked bread, small cafes with waiters lazily leaning nearby, and artisan shops with unique (and mainly odd) trinkets line the shelves… Sigh. This is the France that makes me weak in the knees.
This famous area has vineyards and chateaus dotted along almost every mile of every road. While you can do this in a day, it's quite rushed. I think the best way to see this area is relaxed and at leisure. We did 3 nights and it felt just about perfect- paired on to a few nights in Paris, this combo of city and country could make for a perfect week in France.
LE CAFE DE LA PROMENADE, BOURGUEIL: This small restaurant looks unassuming enough as you pass by with its simple outside and faded colorful chairs scattered about in the front, but go in for one of the most indulgent treats I've ever tasted: le hambourgueil. A hamburger with foie gras layered on top. Their wine cellar is quite the scene, too. Read more here, but make sure not to miss out.
1 Avenue du Général de Gaulle, 37140 Bourgueil | +33 2 47 95 10 87
LE MANOIR DE CHAMPFREAU: If you're going to stay in the Loire Valley, you may as well stay in a previous residence of kings. (After all, the saying does go, "When in Rome...") We stayed at this amazing home with the most gracious hosts for the most unbelievable rates. Read more about our stay here.
8 Rue de la Croix, 49730 Turquant | +33 2 41 38 40 41
Speaking of living like a king, the Loire didn't earn its nickname ("Valley of the Kings") without good cause. The region is rich with gorgeous palaces and it can be overwhelming to chose which to go see. I'd recommend these three- and I think most people who know the area would agree.
CHATEAU DE CHAMBORD: This isn't Versailles, but it's the next best thing. With its endless topping of unique spires and intricate design, Chateau Chambord is a must. The palace, grounds and surrounding forests make up an area roughly the size of Paris.
Château, 41250 Chambord | +33 2 54 50 40 00
CHATEAU DE CHENONCEAU: With it's arches over the adjacent river, Chenonceau is one of the most photogenic places you'll ever be. (Read: Bring your good camera.) The tree-lined entrance to the chateau and the gardens add to the gorgeousness of the visit. Don't skip the maze for some added fun and lunch at The Orangery for a gorgeous bite.
37150 Chenonceaux | +33 820 20 90 90
CHATEAU D'AMBOISE: I love this chateau for it's stunning views of the valley and how it sits within the charming city. Plus, a visit here allows you to wander to Leonardo's DaVinci's nearby home in the town.
Montée de l'Emir Abd el Kader, 37400 Amboise | +33 2 47 57 00 98
PATISSERIE BIGOT: Sitting just across from the entrance to the Chateau in Amboise, this patisserie is one of my favorite stops in the Loire. With endless sweets and light lunch options, you'll dine like a queen.
2 Rue nationale, 37400 Amboise | +33 2 47 57 04 46
If you can't make it down to Champagne for longer than a day visit, I've taken this Viator day trip from Paris. It's a long day, but you do get a chance to see many highlights of the region.
REIMS CATHEDRAL: This gorgeous cathedral sits in the center of Reims. While the architecture is stunning, the real significance of this building is that it's where the kings of France were crowned and where the stained-glass window designed by Marc Chagall can be seen.
Place du Cardinal Luçon, 51100 Reims | +33 3 26 47 55 34
CHAMPAGNE CELLAR TOUR AT MOET & CHANDON: When you come to Champagne, you should probably pay respects to the regions namesake drink. The tour here not only sits on gorgeous property- but offers the full, pristine experience of Champagne making in France.
20 Avenue de Champagne, 51200 Épernay | +33 3 26 51 20 00
LA TABLE ANNA: This little local spot is just off the main cathedral square (maybe about a three minute walk?) and their daily menu for €17 is too good to miss. With three courses of delicious French cuisine, you'll be missing out on the real Reims experience by not stopping by for lunch.
6 Rue Gambetta, 51100 Reims | +33 3 26 89 12 12
BISCUIT ROSE DE REIMS: These pink cookies are the slightly-less-famous product of the Champagne region, but if you're in Reims, you'll see them dotting the storefronts of shops everywhere. Apparently, you're supposed to dip the cookies in champagne. How decadent! Get a bag from the famous Fossiers for the "original" recipe.
25 Cours Jean-Baptiste Langlet, 51100 Reims | +33 3 26 47 59 84
Wow. I can't say enough about Normandy. Not only will your visit be steeped in the emotion and history of WWII, but it's also astonishingly gorgeous. If I could ever describe a place as "stereotypically French," it would be Normandy (... okay, and the edges of Brittany that are too good to miss). I can't wait to go back.
To be honest, getting around isn't as easy as I would have guessed. To really get the most out of your visit, I'd recommend renting a car. The roads are mainly empty and the scenery is stunning. The drive approaching Mont Saint Michel at sunset is, without a doubt, one of the most breathtaking moments of travel I've ever had.
Find some of my favourite spots in Normandy here in my travel guide.
Ah, Provence is such a relaxing escape. With small towns that are easily connected to each other, you'll have a great time spending your time there relaxing with great food, gorgeous weather and lazy trips between the small towns of this beloved picturesque region.
Find my posts on Provence here.
DOMAINE DE FONTENILLE: We lucked out on this place with some outstanding rates on Tablet. Not only is the hotel luxurious and gorgeous, but the staff is so kind, too. The perfect location for Provence- as it sits in Lauris, just in the middle of Avignon, Aix En Provence & Arles. Plus, the incredibly-crafted food by the Michelin-starred chef on-site will be the perfect compliment to your stay in Provence. (Don't forget to book a massage for yourself, too!) Read my full post on our stay here.
Route de Roquefraiche, 84360 Lauris | +33 4 13 98 00 00
ST REMY DE PROVENCE: This small town is the town that Van Gogh featured in his legendary painting, "Starry Night." The tiny town has a small Wednesday market that floods the streets, as well as plenty of family run restaurants that will give you an authentic taste of the region. It's location within Provence is ideal for soaking up the true experience, and it's proximity to Arles and Avignon make it a convenient for seeing more of Provence.
JAMES VILLA: We stayed in this villa just outside of St. Remy de Provence. We had a great experience with James Villas, and I highly recommend staying in one of their comfy (and reasonably priced!) properties while in Provence.
AIX-EN-PROVENCE: Aix-En-Provence ticks all the boxes for what Provence feels like it should be. With pedestrian streets, like the Cours Mirabeau who is gorgeously jeweled with mossy fountains and adorned with classic bistro chairs full of locals meeting throughout the day, Aix is a Provencal dream. Don't miss the Atelier Cezanne for a peek at Cezanne's workshop (take a taxi!).
I really need to stress that a trip to Provence without going to Avignon is a tragedy. This town offers a great balance of historical sites (Papal Palace, Pont D'Avignon, and historic city walls) with small town French charm.
PALAIS DES PAPES: Unless you're a big history buff or debut Catholic, you may not know that the Papacy was moved out of the Vatican for a brief stint in history. And where was it moved to? Avignon, France! Visit the Papal Palace for a remarkable tour of this period of the church's history.
Place du Palais, 84000 Avignon | +33 4 32 74 32 74
HOTEL IBIS, AVIGNON: I won't pretend that this hotel is a luxury getaway, but it is, literally, out site the TBV station making it really easy to find. The rooms are decent- but the prices are extremely affordable. The buffet breakfast is a nice way to start the day, too. This is a good hotel for those on a budget or wanting to keep the travel plans easy.
42 Boulevard Saint-Roch, 84000 Avignon | +33 4 90 85 38 38
CHEZ GINETTE ET MARCEL: If you're looking for a picturesque place for lunch in Avignon, Chez Ginette et Marcel is a great stop. The hip eatery has a menu limited to "les tar tines" (read: open face sandwiches). I recommend the rosette and cornichons for a very French treat, though Tyler would suggest his favorite: goats cheese baked and drizzled with local honey. You can't go wrong with the food... especially, if you order dessert. Sit outside in the square if the weather is nice for the ultimate experience.
25-27 Place des Corps Saints, 84000 Avignon | +33 4 90 85 58 70
LE PETIT GOURMAND: This cozy (read: tiny) restaurant has a small kitchen that sits alongside the dining tables. With daily specials and homemade fare, this is a cozy place to tuck in for a bowl of truffle pasta or homemade cassoulet. The atmosphere is many things- cozy, inviting, local... definitely not high-brow or stuffy. We stumbled in there on a day that couldn't have been warmer than 20 degrees, and the smell of mulled wine and truffles immediately melted off the chill for us.
37 Rue du Vieux Sextier, 84000 Avignon | +33 4 65 81 38 35
L'ATELIER DE BELINDA: If you're looking for a great value for a dinner out, this is your spot. With a prime location sat on Place des Corps Saints, this tiny restaurant has fabulous daily menus and friendly service. While I wouldn't exactly say that this is a "family restaurant," we brought our one-year old and were happy to see another toddler in the table behind us being treated like a prince. As the restaurant only has 5-6 tables, it would be advantageous to book ahead.
17 Place des Corps Saints, 84000 Avignon | +33 4 90 82 69 53
There’s something about the French Riviera that feels really safe and calm to me. I mean, the place is gorgeous and overflowing with sunny cafes and bouganvillea. Who wouldn’t feel that way about the Southern coast of France? But to be honest, I haven’t always had the best grasp of what to do and where to go in this little seaside town. Nice has so many beautiful qualities that you can easily take at face value- the beach, the hills, the sunny promenades. Let’s just say that it kinda takes a little bit longer to find the good restaurants and hotels here. So: here are the places I like when I’m in Nice.
LE GRAND CAFÉ DE FRANCE | On the popular pedestrian street, Rue de France, there’s a shortage of classics brasseries. Luckily, Le Grand Café de France is there, and it’s got a classic terrace full of crisp white tablecloth and woven bistro chairs to make you feel at home. Go for breakfast (opt for le petit dejeuner classique for €8,90 and get a coffee, fresh orange juice and croissant) and you’ll be able to sit and people watch as you sip coffee and brush croissant flakes from your shirt. If you’re coming with a child, they even have an adorable high chair version of the classic bistro chairs ready and waiting for them.)
7 Rue de France, 06000 Nice | +33 4 93 53 97 38
LOU PILHA LEVA | Socca is a traditional dish from the area, and it’s really worth trying. Think of it like a thin crepe made from chickpea flour. It’s gluten-free, salty, cheap and delicious. You can get them at a few places in the Old Nice, but this is my favourite little shop filled with history and little tables and benches outside to eat on. They have some other local specialities like fried eggplant and stuffed vegetables there, so if you’re feeling adventurous (and hungry), go for the assortment.
10 Rue du Collet, 06300 Nice | +33 4 93 13 99 08
LA ROTONDE, HOTEL NEGRESCO | Sat inside the Negresco Hotel, La Rotonde is the more casual sibling eatery to the Michelin-starred Chantecler at the hotel. But if you’re looking for a pretty place to eat lunch (especially when the weather may not be the best for sitting outdoors), head here for the set menu at lunch. The food is fabulous and the decor is definitely unlike you’ll have ever experienced before: you’ll be sat amongst all the trimmings from a Belle Epoque carousel. Find my full review here.
37 Prom. des Anglais, 06000 Nice | +33 4 93 16 64 00
SNACKS AND TREATS
GELATERIA FINOCCHIO | On a hot day, an Ice cream whilst strolling along the Promenade des Anglais is hard to beat. If you’re near the Old Town, you can stop at this local institution for a cone of any flavour you might imagine. Or even flavours you might not be able to imagine, inspired from local flavours and treats. If you’re feeling adventurous, you can try a scoop of lavender, olive, orange blossom. thyme or jasmine.
2 Pl. Rossetti, 06300 Nice | +33 4 93 80 72 52
LA CIVETTE DU COURS | If you’re by the flower market, you’ll notice that people flock to the small cafes during the afternoon to socialise and relax. There are a smattering of options, but La Civette is a safe bet for a simple afternoon drink or ice cream. (The coffee, chocolate & coconut ice creams have all been tasted and approved.)
1 Cours Saleya, 06300 Nice | +33 4 93 80 80 59
MAISON MARGAUX | Head to this newly opened brasserie in the heart of Nice’s beloved Place Magenta. You can go any time of the day as it’s open from breakfast until late, but it Maison Margaux really shines on a warm night when the tables are crowded as people eat dinner and the atmosphere is lively. Expect classic French brasserie fare with a few modern additions, like, you know a mozzarella bar and freak shakes on the dessert menu.
2 Place Magenta, 06000 Nice
COPPER BRANCH | If you’re needing something light and fresh, Copper Branch offers plant-based food that is pretty tasty and in an easy atmosphere. Try one of their bowls (I liked the Azteque) for a massive pile-up of deliciously fresh veggies that will make you feel great… and less guilty when you walk down to get gelato from GROM on the way back to your hotel.
26 Rue Massena, 06000 Nice
VIEUX NICE | Explore the oldest part of Nice where sunlight streams down alleys along the narrow streets and people meander in and out of shops. You’ll find socca stands, fish markets, and, in the daytime, there’s a lovely flower market that runs along it, just off the promenade by the sea.
TAKE A HIKE | Oh, and that hill? The big one at the end of the city? It's called Colline Du Chateau—which means the "Castle Hill," though the Roman castle for which it was named has been long removed. Today it is simply a great (not-too-difficult) walk up to the top that rewards you with a sweeping view of the Riviera, cool sea breezes, & a giant park full of locals.
PLACE MESSENA | This is a great stop- either with or without kids. If you’ve got little ones, they can play and splash in the endless fountain area. There are benches and grassy patches around, so you should be able to find a place to sit. (I’d bring a change of clothes or a towel, as the sea air makes kids quite chilly when they are finished playing!) If you get tired of sitting int he park, you can also wander around the endless shops surrounding Place Messena.
HIT THE BEACH | If you come all the way to Nice and don’t spend a good chunk of time on the Mediterranean… you’re missing the point. You can sit along side the Promenade in the blue chairs that line the way, but the real treat is to wander down onto the beach. Now, the beach is rocky, so it’s not the easiest to relax on. If you’re wanting to go to the public beach, I’d head to Flying Tiger and buy a yoga mat or two to lay on to buffer the pain. However, I’d really recommend heading to one of the private beach clubs, like Hotel Amour, just by the Hotel Negresco. You can go and buy a drink (a bottle of water cost me €5) and stay for as long as you like. I perched up on one of their sofas and enjoyed the afternoon sun. It’s a great (and easier!) way to enjoy a day at the beach. Plus, you don’t have to figure out what to do with random yoga mats at the end of your trip that way.
ARÔME HOTEL | This is a great, small boutique hotel in a fabulous location just off the beach. You’ll be close to the beach, great shopping and loads of cafes and places to eat. The train station is walkable from here (about 15/20 minutes) or you could do a short taxi. The owner, Fabio, is very involved and the whole experience is high-touch. The rooms are really lovely and you’ll love the feeling here.
65 Rue de la Buffa, 06000 Nice | +33 4 93 88 99 46
L’ALCOVE HOTEL | If you’re on a budget, but still aren’t up for slumming, this is a great option. Rooms are clean and tidy with a little Scandi-vibe (read: IKEA). The staff is really friendly, and the location is just a couple blocks from the beach. It’s a no-frills but happy place to stay in Nice.
12 Rue Andrioli, 06000 Nice | +33 4 26 48 71 95
BEST WESTERN HOTEL NEW YORK NICE | This is a great location off the main shopping street, Avenue Jean Medecin, and very close to the rail station. The rooms can be hit or miss, but overall- it’s a decent budget option for Nice that will get you near to Old Town and the lively outdoor Place Messena.
44 Avenue du Marechal Foch, 06000 Nice | +33 4 93 85 14 31
Find my posts on Southwest France, the Languedoc, & the Riviera here.
*photography by noah darnell