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Intro

Art, food, history

Inarguably iconic, fervently chic, and always a la mode: France is perhaps Europe’s most defining destination. Whether it’s the cuisine (croissant, baguette, escargot, steak au poivre), the white sands glazed by the Mediterranean sun, the fairytale castles, or Paris’ dizzying Tour Eiffel and decadent nightlife that draw your eye to the ensemble of sweet treats that defines France, everything about it is just so captivating. So elegant. So enduring. So… French.

Geographical diversity lends quite a lot of weight to France’s sublime travel topography. There are mountains stretched across the borders of Spain, Italy, and Switzerland, some tumbling down to glacial lakes in the Alps and others populated by brown bears and mountain goats in the Pyrénées. A rugged Atlantic coastline breaks to shore across Brittany and Normandy, windswept and punctuated by charming villages filled with medieval houses, and the south of France offers dazzling celebrity towns fringed with some of the most stunning sugary white beaches you’ll find in Europe. 

 

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Bordeaux

The capital of wine

Bordeaux towers over the west bank of the Garonne as a honey-hued collage of neoclassical grandeur, romantic châteaux, and exquisite French style. But boasting more restaurants per head than Paris, it is just as easy to get lost in its culinary scene as in the backstreets of that dreamy old town. Speaking of Vieux Bordeaux: the old center is guarded by five fairy-tale gates, rising like toy castles from the medieval walls, all turrets and ornate clocks, as though plucked from the imagination of Charles Perrault. But once through (a difficult task, as the gates are sublimely photogenic), Vieux Bordeaux’s pedestrianized streets become warrens of bustle: busy restaurants and modish cocktail bars, chic cafes, and boutique shopping. 

 

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Bordeaux Food and Drink

The Anatomy of a Bordeaux

A walk around Bordeaux is a lesson in satiation. Plumes of steam funnel upwards from narrow backstreets, scented by pepper liberally broken over mouth-watering cuts of steak posed with shallots and chips as L’entrecôte bordelaise, a simple but iconic Bordeaux dish. Convivial squares are a clamor of cutlery and chatter, tables filled with wine swirled around the glass by overeager wine students, pints of local beers brewed on the banks of the Garonne, and so many burgers — an obsession of the modern French palette. But then beef and bread have always been the stars of La cuisine française.

The delicious food and sheer beauty of Bordeaux have only one rival: wine. As a region, few can compare to Bordeaux, a landscape of grape-scented countryside, stone villages toppling down hillsides, and chateaux with more lineage than a king. And while it may seem that the city has enough wine to fill a cellar the size of London and even a chateau for tastings from the barrel within its limits (Château Les Carmes Haut-Brion), it’s best to journey along the river north to Medoc and south to Céron to sample direct from the makers. Sip and swirl a glass of jammy red in deliriously pretty Saint Emilion, climbing its steep backstreets for views, or sit amongst the vines at the exquisite Château Grand Barrail, a restaurant with a terrace in the heart of a lush vineyard.

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Nice

The capital of the Riviera

The Mediterranean’s luminous blue waters and rocky coasts are a defining portrait of Nice, but city trippers will find plenty to uncover in its lively quarters and squares. The attractive old town is a collection of antique streets stuffed with chic bistros, and colored by all the flora of the Riviera, while leafy Cimiez hints at Nice’s impressive past, with Roman Ruins and a Belle Époque grand hotel overlooking the tangled cocktail of modern and antique below.

In the new town, outdoor art and contemporary architecture dominate, stitched together by grand avenues lined with boutiques and chic restaurants. Wander the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art for modernity with a side of city view from the roof, or the Musée Masséna for 18th-century arts in an exquisite Belle Epoque mansion set amongst the leafy splendor of the Promenade des Anglaise.

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Normandy

Art and History

An inspiration for artists and writers old and new from Monet to Victor Hugo, Normandy unfolds in an undulating landscape of charming Gallic towns, imposing castles colored by natural beauty, and miles of rugged coastline: a cinematic border of cracked bays, white cliffs, and wild beaches still bearing the scars of the world wars. It is a place of somber pilgrimage, breathtakingly juxtaposed by such breathtaking majesty. For travelers with a love of literature, cuisine, art, and history, Normandy is unmissable, offering bounds of inspiration between land and sea. 

A series of petite Gallic communities rich with cheesemakers, fishermen, and farmers fill the Normandy countryside, while picturesque coastal towns like Trouville-sur-Mer and Deauville supply a Riviera-like elegance enhanced by colorful Belle Epoque villas and azure Atlantic vistas across its coast. The cider route is ideal for those with a taste for exquisite French ciders and Calvados (apple brandy), with a route that traverses the idyllic communes of Cambremer, Beuvron-en-Auge, and Bonnebosq. Want to know more about the birth of impressionism? 

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This article was first published in issue eight of the Unforgettable Travel Magazine.

 

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