Trouville-Deauville and Honfleur: seaside, salty air and oysters
Trouville and Deauville are located on the West coast of France and are famous for their big striped and colorful sunshades, oysters and salty air. It is also where wealthy Parisians go on sunny week-ends in the summertime to relax, tan on the beach and sometimes take a dip in the Atlantic Ocean along with the serene back-and-forth of the waves. When you step off the train, take your time to walk around the town and then head to the seafront, past the line of cafés and restaurants. Afterwards, back at the train station, catch the bus bound to Honfleur, an old fishing town where artists such as Claude Monet, Gustave Courbet and Eugène Boudin painted the narrow old houses overlooking the picturesque port. On Saturday mornings, you can savor exquisite Norman strawberries, smell the mingled aromas of flowers and fish stalls at the market and stop at the beautiful Église Sainte Catherine.
Église Sainte Catherine, 13 Rue des Capucins, Honfleur, France, + 33 02 31 89 11 83
Giverny: stop and smell the flowers
When you think of Claude Monet, you instantly think of Impressionism and lily ponds, the subjects of his best-known pieces of art. Traveling to Giverny, a quaint and flowery Norman village, allows you to visit the painter’s house and gardens and have an insight into the painter’s universe that has been preserved to remain true to his paintings: luminous, colorful and poetic. There, you will be lucky to admire the gracious lilies swimming in the pond and cross the famous green bridge featured in his works as well. Take a stroll around the city, stop for a break and add Calvados, an apple brandy from Normandy, to your coffee before heading to the Musée des Impressionnismes that presents pieces of art related to impressionism, its history and legacy. Since there are always a lot of people eager to discover Monet’s house and gardens, try to take an early train, if possible during the week, and buy your entrance tickets online, otherwise you will spend a lot of time in line.
Fondation Claude Monet, 84 rue Claude Monet, Giverny, +33 02 32 51 28 21
Musée des impressionnismes, 99 rue Claude Monet, Giverny, +33 02 32 51 94 65
Tours: Place Plum, here we come
Ah Tours, you are so lovely with all your gorgeous flowers around the city, your spotless streets (the Parisians know how hard it is to keep a street clean) and your half-timbered buildings! One of the largest cities of central France, Tours is mostly famous for the French spoken there, which is said to be perfect, but you can also taste the Touraine region’s wines, such as the Bourgueil red wine. Since it is a little city, wander about rue Colbert and go admire Tours’ Cathedral, Saint Gatien. Right next door, you will find the charming Musée des Beaux-Arts, located in the bishops’ former palace surrounded by its French garden. Also very close, the 11th century Château de Tours welcomes temporary exhibitions and entrance is free. Finally, you cannot miss Place Plumereau (or ‘Place Plum’’ as the locals call it) because not only does it ooze with history and charm but the bars there are as vibrant as the cafés are cozy. No wonder it’s one of the locals’ favorite spots to gather and chat!
Musée des Beaux-Arts de Tours, 18 place François Sicard, Tours, +33 02 47 05 68 73
Château de Tours, 25 avenue André Malraux, Tours, +33 02 47 61 02 95
Orléans: a day in the steps of Joan of Arc
Welcome to Joan of Arc’s hometown! Joan of Arc is indeed Orléans’ emblematic figure, hence the annual festival, the fêtes johanniques, that takes place in late April–early May to commemorate the girl nicknamed ‘The Maid of Orléans’. Another exciting festival that takes place there every two years is Orélans Jazz for music lovers. The old town is a must-see and those who are fond of nature will not be disappointed. Take for instance the quiet flowery garden behind the Hôtel Groslot where weddings are held: it really feels like you are exploring your grandmother’s garden in the countryside. Another hotspot locals always talk about is Charlemagne Island, especially in the summertime when it is flooded with exiting sport activities. Finally, if you are into simple yet delicious organic food, stop at Oh Terroir, an organic fast food restaurant that uses local products and suits meat lovers, vegetarians and vegans alike!
Oh Terroir, 3 rue des Halles, Orléans, +33 02 38 75 71 26
Reims: The Birthplace of Champagne
Are you fond of sparkly beverages and have a passion for history? Jump on a train to Reims, at the heart of the Champagne region. Your day here should include tasting the Biscuits roses de Reims (pink biscuits) that melt in the mouth, sipping champagne and visiting the cathedral that witnessed the coronations of Kings of France! As one of the most astonishing pieces of gothic architecture, the cathedral of Notre-Dame de Reims is a UNESCO World Heritage monument: needless to say it is a must-see. Nearby you will find the recently-renovated Musée des Beaux-Arts. Stroll about rue de Vesle, the main commercial street, that crosses the city from northwest to southeast. If you are lucky enough to be there in December, the Christmas market at Place Drouet d’Erlon feels very warm and picturesque. Last but not least, how can one leave Reims without tasting champagne? Many champagne houses offer guided visits to their caves and special tastings of this fabulous sparkly beverage.
Musée des Beaux-Arts de Reims, 8 rue Chanzy, Reims, +33 03 26 35 36 00
Rouen: The Medieval City
Capital city of the region of Upper Normandy, Rouen is known for its cobble-stoned streets, its old half-timbered houses and its pressed duck (or Canard à la rouennaise, in French). While exploring in the city, make sure you walk down rue du Gros-Horloge, a pedestrianized cobbled street that either leads to the market square or to the cathedral. More importantly, stop and gaze at the Gros Horloge, a 14th century astronomical clock. If you are a fan of porcelain and earthenware, do not miss the Musée de la Céramique.
Musée de la Céramique, 1 rue Faucon, Rouen, +33 (0)2 35 07 31 74