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Rick Steves Best of France
By Rick Steves
By Steve Smith
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Hit France's can't-miss art, sights, and bites in two weeks or less with Rick Steves Best of France! Inside you'll find:
- Strategic advice from Rick Steves on what's worth your time and money
- Short itineraries covering the best of Paris, Normandy, the Loire, Dordogne, Provence, the French Riviera, and Burgundy, including Versailles, Nice, the D-Day beaches, Côtes du Rhône, Monaco, Avignon, and more
- Rick's tips for beating the crowds, skipping lines, and avoiding tourist traps
- The best local culture, flavors, and more, including insightful walks through museums, historic sights, and atmospheric neighborhoods
- Trip planning strategies like how to link destinations and design your itinerary, what to pack, where to stay, and how to get around
- Over 400 full-color pages with detailed maps and vibrant photos throughout
- Suggestions for side trips and excursions
Experience France's old-world romance and modern-day excitement for yourself with Rick Steves Best of France!
Planning a longer trip? Pick up Rick Steves France, an in-depth guide perfect for spending more than two weeks exploring France.
THE BEST OF FRANCE
Map: Top Destinations in France
THE BEST OF PARIS
THE BEST OF NORMANDY
THE BEST OF THE LOIRE
THE BEST OF THE DORDOGNE
THE BEST OF PROVENCE
THE BEST OF THE FRENCH RIVIERA
THE BEST OF BURGUNDY
THE BEST OF THE REST
Designing Your Itinerary
Trip Costs Per Person
Before You Go
Travel Strategies on the Road
France is a place of gentle beauty, where the play of light transforms the routine into the exceptional. Here, you’ll discover a dizzying array of artistic and architectural wonders—soaring cathedrals, chandeliered châteaux, and museums filled with the cultural icons of the Western world. Gaze dreamy-eyed at Monet’s water lilies, rejoice amid the sunflowers that so moved Van Gogh, and roam the sunny coastlines that inspired Picasso and Matisse.
There are two Frances: Paris...and the rest of the country. France’s cultural energy has always been centered in Paris, resulting in an overwhelming concentration of world-class museums, cutting-edge architecture, and historic monuments. The other France venerates land, tradition, and a slower pace of life. Le terroir (the soil) brings the flavor to food and wine and nourishes the life the French enjoy. Although the country’s brain resides in Paris, its soul lives in its villages—and that’s where you’ll feel the pulse of France.
L’art de vivre—the art of living—is not just a cute expression. France demands that you slow down and savor the finer things. Come with an appetite to understand and a willingness to experience. Linger in sidewalk cafés, make unplanned stops a habit, and surrender to the play of light as the Impressionists did.
France is Europe’s most diverse, tasty, and most exciting country. Bienvenue! You’ve chosen well.
THE BEST OF FRANCE
In this selective book, I recommend France’s top destinations—a mix of the most interesting cities and intimate villages, from jet-setting beach resorts to the traditional heartland.
Paris is the queen of culture. Coastal Normandy features romantic Honfleur, historic Bayeux, the stirring D-Day beaches, and the surreal island abbey of Mont St-Michel. The lovely Loire offers beaucoup de châteaux in all shapes and sizes. Go back in time in the Dordogne to visit prehistoric cave art and cliff-hanging medieval castles. You won’t need a year in Provence to enjoy down-to-earth Arles, elegant Avignon, and the Côtes du Rhône wine road. On the French Riviera, choose your favorite coastal resort and become an expert in the art of relaxation. Wine connoisseurs savor Burgundy. In some cases, when there are interesting sights or towns near my top destinations, I cover these briefly (as “Near” sights), to help you enjoyably fill out a free day or a longer stay.
Beyond the major destinations, I also cover the Best of the Rest—great destinations that don’t quite make my top cut, but are worth seeing if you have more time or specific interests: Reims (with Champagne caves), Carcassonne (with medieval walls), Chamonix (with alpine wonders), and Colmar (with Germanic flair).
To help you link the top stops, I’ve designed a two-week itinerary (see here), with tips to help you tailor it to your interests and time.
Versailles’ colorful gardens lead into a vast park with ponds, fountains, and a royal retreat.
The Rodin Museum’s iconic statue, The Thinker, ponders in the garden.
The best time to enjoy a Seine riverboat cruise is at sunset.
Paris’ oldest and most appealing square, Place des Vosges, is in the Marais district.
The grand view from Notre-Dame Cathedral stretches from the Seine River to the Eiffel Tower.
The Eiffel Tower is loveliest at night when it’s floodlit.
The Louvre Museum’s pyramid entrance glistens at twilight.
Notre-Dame Cathedral The French are rebuilding historic Notre-Dame Cathedral, which lost its roof to a 2019 fire but retained its structure, bell towers, and facade.
Rising dramatically from the sea, Mont St-Michel has long attracted pilgrims and travelers.
In picturesque Bayeux, a stone building on the riverbank sports an old water mill.
In a series of scenes, the Bayeux Tapestry depicts William the Conqueror’s victory over England in 1066.
At Pointe du Hoc, US Army Rangers heroically scaled cliffs under Nazi fire on D-Day, June 6, 1944.
The American Cemetery, which lies above Omaha Beach, makes a powerful pilgrimage.
Creamy cheeses, including locally made Camembert, tempt buyers at cheese shops.
Charming, half-timbered buildings dot townscapes throughout Normandy.
Honfleur’s harbor is lined with skinny, soaring homes from the 16th and 17th centuries.
Arcing over the Cher River, the graceful Château de Chenonceau is the toast of the Loire.
The rooftop of massive Château de Chambord is a pincushion of spires and towers.
Bigot’s Pâtisserie and Salon de Thé offers the best chocolate and desserts in Amboise.
The defense-minded Château de Chaumont features palatial luxury, fine gardens, and state-of- the-art stables.
The many hunting dogs at Château de Cheverny prove that hunting is still the rage here.
The gardens at the Château de Villandry are the most elaborate and decorative in the Loire.
Floating down the lazy Dordogne River is the best way to appreciate this glorious region.
The locally quarried stone, used here for a church in Domme, exudes a timeless warmth.
In summer, radiant fields of sunflowers brighten large swaths of the Dordogne.
Classic delicacies of the region are pâtés and fois gras—worth loosening your belt for.
It’s dinnertime on the main square of Sarlat, one of France’s most pedestrian-friendly towns.
Colorful paintings from Grottes de Cougnac are testament to the artistry of prehistoric people.
The brooding Château de Castlenaud was an English stronghold during the Hundred Years’ War.
Fragrant samples of lavender are a common sight in Provence’s shops and restaurants.
In Arles, the Place du Forum is lined with cafés and filled with ambience.
The Pont du Gard aqueduct is one of the world’s most magnificent Roman monuments.
Provençal outdoor markets are France’s best, offering the most fun and greatest range of products.
Boules, popular in Provence, is a social-yet-serious sport that’s entertaining to watch or play.
The powerful Palace of the Popes evokes medieval memories of when the popes ruled from Avignon.
Easels featuring scenes from Van Gogh’s time in Arles illustrate the artist’s unique vision.
Provence is littered with brilliant Roman structures like this arena—nearly 2,000 years old—in Arles.
Nice, the Riviera’s capital, offers an engaging mix of urban sightseeing and seaside relaxation.
The French Riviera’s Italianate character is revealed in old-town centers.
Monte Carlo’s elegant casino lies between a lush park and the Mediterranean.
A refreshing salade niçoise makes an ideal lunch or light dinner on warm days.
The Picasso Museum in Antibes, housed in a fine stone building, showcases a memorable collection of his work.
Renting a lounge chair is the perfect antidote to Nice’s rocky beaches.
The courtyard of Beaune’s medieval hospital dazzled its patients 500 years ago and dazzles travelers today.
Market days in Burgundy offer a chance to sample what’s fresh and to meet the producer.
Traditional wine tastings in Burgundy come with pewter wine cups and candlelight.
The Château de la Rochepot is beautifully situated in the hills above Beaune.
Only the French can make a snail taste good. Be sure to sample escargots.
The mountains just above Chamonix are laced with scenic hiking trails for all levels of ability.
Reims’ magnificent cathedral gleams at night with 800 years of history.
The feudal fortress of Carcassonne is a romantic’s dream come true.
Colmar’s lovely half-timbered, pastel buildings proudly show off its Germanic heritage.
Approach France like a veteran traveler, even if it’s your first trip. Design your itinerary, get a handle on your budget, make advance arrangements, and follow my travel strategies on the road. For my best advice on sightseeing, accommodations, restaurants, and transportation, see the Practicalities chapter.
Designing Your Itinerary
Decide when to go. Late spring and fall generally have decent weather and lighter crowds. Summer brings festivals, good weather, and tourists. Crowds hit their peak from mid-July to mid-August, but they concentrate primarily on the Alps, the Riviera, and Dordogne. June is generally quiet outside of Paris. Winter travel is fine for Paris and Nice, but smaller cities are buttoned up tight. The weather is gray, milder in the south, and wetter in the north. Sights and tourist information offices keep shorter hours.
Choose your top destinations. My itinerary (described later) gives you an idea of how much you can reasonably see in 14 days, but you can adapt it to fit your timeframe and choice of destinations.
Suave, classy Paris is a must for anyone, especially for art and history lovers. WWII buffs storm the Normandy beaches while sun worshippers bask on the Riviera. Fans of opulent architecture explore luxurious Loire châteaux. Wine devotees meander along the wine roads of Provence and Burgundy. If you like your art prehistoric, linger in the Dordogne, but if it’s ancient Roman ruins you’re after, focus on Provence. Hikers love to go a’wandering in the French Alps, and photographers want to go just about everywhere.
Draft a rough itinerary. Figure out how many destinations you can comfortably fit in the time you have. Don’t overdo it—few travelers wish they’d hurried more. Allow enough days per stop: Count on at least two days for major destinations (and at least three days for sights-packed Paris and spread-out Normandy).
Staying in a home base (like Paris, Arles, or Nice) and making day trips can be more time-efficient than changing locations and hotels. Minimize one-night stands, especially consecutive ones; it can be worth taking a drive (or train ride) after dinner to get settled into a town for two nights.
Connect the dots. Link your destinations into a logical route. Determine which cities in Europe you’ll fly into and out of; begin your search for transatlantic flights at Kayak.com.
Decide if you’ll be traveling by car, public transportation, or a combination. Regions that are ideal to explore by car—Normandy’s D-Day beaches, the Loire, the Dordogne, and Provence—usually offer minivan tours, buses, or taxis for nondrivers. A car is useless in big cities (park it). If relying on public transportation, the bigger cities are easy to visit, and well-connected by trains, but buses reach some places that trains can’t.
Even if you’re flying into Paris, you don’t need to start your trip there. You could drive or take the train to Bayeux in Normandy for a gentler small-town start, and let Paris be the finale, when you’re rested and ready to tackle the big city. Or you could fly into Nice and out of Paris; many find the easygoing Mediterranean city of Nice easier than Paris as a starting point.
Allot sufficient time for transportation in your itinerary. Whether you travel by car, train, or bus, it’ll take a half-day to get between most destinations.
To determine approximate transportation times, study the driving chart (on here) or train schedules (at www.bahn.com or www.sncf.com). If France is part of a bigger trip, consider budget flights; check Skyscanner.com for intra-European flights.
Plan your days. Fine-tune your itinerary; write out a day-by-day plan of where you’ll be and what you want to see. To help make the most of your time, I’ve suggested day plans for destinations. But check the opening hours of sights; avoid visiting a town on the one day a week that your must-see sight is closed. Research whether any holidays or festivals will fall during your trip—these attract crowds and can close sights (for the latest, visit France’s tourist website, http://us.france.fr).
Give yourself some slack. Nonstop sightseeing can turn a vacation into a blur. Every trip—and every traveler—needs downtime for doing laundry, picnic shopping, relaxing, people-watching, and so on. Pace yourself. Assume you will return.
Ready, set... You’ve designed the perfect itinerary for the trip of a lifetime.
Trip Costs Per Person
Run a reality check on your dream trip. You’ll have major transportation costs in addition to daily expenses.
Flight: A basic round-trip flight from the US to Paris or Nice costs about $1,000-2,000, depending on where you fly from and when (cheaper in winter).
Public Transportation: If you’re following my two-week itinerary, allow $525 per person for buses and second-class trains ($600 for first class). Buying train tickets as you go can be fine for short rides, but expensive for long ones. To save money, buy a rail pass and make seat reservations (note that rail passes must be purchased outside of Europe), or lock in reserved tickets with advance-purchase discounts. In some cases, a short flight can be cheaper than taking the train. Make good use of bus companies such as Ouibus and Flixbus.
Car Rental: Allow roughly $250 per week, not including tolls, gas, parking, and insurance. Rentals and leases (an economical way to go if you need a car for at least three weeks) are cheaper if arranged from the US.
Budget Tips: Cut your daily expenses by taking advantage of the deals you’ll find throughout France and mentioned in this book.
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- On Sale
- Sep 26, 2023
- Page Count
- 472 pages
- Rick Steves