This classy southern city may be a university town, but its upscale cafés, restaurants, and shops make it a haven for France’s trendiest. Mansions from the 17th and 18th centuries line the avenues, and there won’t be a car in sight at the city center. Aix (pronounced like the letter “X”) is home to a slew of museums and galleries, and is the birthplace of post-Impressionist painter Paul Cézanne. Lovely year-round since it sees 300 days of sunshine, Aix is a great starting place to explore the Provence region and see blossoming purple lavender in the mid-summer months.
For wine-loving travelers, there’s no better region in France to visit than Bordeaux, which has been the world’s wine capital since the 8th century. As you sip and sample all that Bordeaux has to offer, you’ll find that the city and region is also home to France’s highest number of preserved historical buildings — the city itself a noteworthy example of ornate 18th century architecture. Warm summers and mild winters make Bordeaux a lovely getaway destination.
You know it from its eponymous film festival, that glamorous week in May when the rich and famous descend on the seaside town to celebrate the year’s best films. But there’s more to Cannes than the famous festival. Though its high-end real estate, breathtaking ocean views, and vibrant nightlife may cover it with a glitzy luster, there’s something here for everyone. Head to Le Suquet (Old Town) for an afternoon of eating and shopping along the cobblestoned streets, or maybe just spend a day at La Croisette, the catwalk by the sea perfect for people-watching.
This colorful town may look like the inspiration for Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast,” and that’s not far off — Disney animators drew inspiration from other towns in the Alsace region of France. But Colmar is unique. With a history that has seen it considered part of both France and Germany, this little town near the German border is a well-preserved example of both Germanic and French architecture. Having been spared destruction during the French Revolution and both of the World Wars, Colmar’s pink and yellow buildings continue to charm to this day.
Travel back in time with a visit to Lyon: the city itself is a UNESCO World Heritage Site thanks in part to its cuisine, architecture, and renowned history as a silk producer. Lyon has also played its part in promoting modern cinema — it’s the birthplace of the cinematographe. Visit in December and you’ll get to experience the city’s legendary “Fête des Lumières,” three nights in which the buildings, streets, squares, and parks around the city are illuminated with light installations.
France’s second largest city hugs the southern coast and holds the title as the oldest metropolis in the country — it originated as a Greek trading port over 2,500 years ago. Though Marseille’s reputation has faltered in the past, it has recently received a facelift in the form of an urban renewal project. The area is now home to a host of galleries, restaurants, shops, boutique hotels, and, of course, a stunning coastline overlooking azure waters.
In northeastern France, the long history of Metz continues into modern day. Once a Celtic settlement and Gallo-Roman city, Metz is one of the oldest republics in Europe. Its geographic location was cause for much Germanic influence, though today it stands as the economic heart of the Lorraine region of France. Metz boasts the oldest working Opera House and the oldest church in France, and the Gothic Saint-Stephen Cathedral features the largest expanse of stained glass in the world. At 289 feet tall (88 meters), the “Metz Cathedral” is the 11th tallest church in the world.
Nantes sits on the Loire river, right at the intersection of history and modernity. The northwestern French city was once chosen by the dukes of Brittany as their historic capital, and today you can still explore ancient structures like the castle and fortress, cathedral, and medieval quarter. Situated close to the Atlantic and on a waterway, Nantes is also home to fine dining — fresh seafood, exquisite wine from the Loire Valley, and “Nantes cake,” the city’s unique pastry. It hasn’t been called the “nicest city in France” without good reason!
In this old French city, the norms (perpetual sunshine and stunning views of the Cote d’Azure) make it one of the most popular spots in the country. Stunning views, charming markets, gorgeous architecture, and an abundance of great restaurants prove that you really can have it all in Nice: oh, except for sand on the beaches.
It’s hard to separate Normandy from the famed WWII invasion that took place along its shores. When Allied forces stormed the beaches on June 6, 1944, they immortalized it as one of the most crucial, and most deadly, battlegrounds of the war. But you don’t have to be a history buff to explore this stunning region of France. Whether tracing its varied coastline, marveling at its many chateaux, or immersing yourself in the heart of its expansive countryside, you’ll never run out of places to see.
Often referred to as the heart of France, the City of Light is the ultimate French destination. With a host of historical sites, charming cafés, and cobblestone streets, it’s a tourist’s dream destination, not to mention a photographer’s paradise. Visit the Eiffel tower, take a sunset cruise along the Seine, explore one of the most charming bookshops in the world, and indulge in some pastries in the very same cafés where your favorite artists once worked.
2,000 years ago, Provence was part of Roman Gaul — but once you lay eyes on the region, that won’t come as a surprise. The area is sprinkled with Roman remains and ruins, from the amphitheatres of Nîmes and Arles to the towering aqueduct in Pont du Gard. If you’re more into natural landscapes, take time to marvel at the lavender fields, climb the snow-capped mountains, and drive along the picturesque back roads. Or, if your idea of French paradise is sipping on red wine and soaking in the sparkling seascapes that attracted the likes of Matisse and Rénoir, you’ve also come to the right place — you can’t go wrong in Provence.
For those who can’t decide between visiting France or Germany, Strasbourg has the best of both worlds. Nestled in the multicultural Grand Est region (also known as Alsace), the city is lined with quaint buildings and glassy canals. It’s the perfect place to observe unique architecture, indulge in a variety of tasty refreshments (French wine and German beer), and observe the natural wonders of the region, including the Black Forest and Rhine River.
This city may only be the 4th largest in France, but is has been called the country’s “most dynamic city” more than once. Toulouse is the unofficial capital of Occitania (southern France) and boasts the largest remaining Romanesque building in Europe. The lovely pink-hued terracotta bricks of Toulouse earned the city the nickname “la Ville Rose,” or the Pink City, and it’s the perfect spot to settle between the Atlantic and the Mediterranean.
Header photo by Sasha Sloan.