Life, we all know, isn’t fair. Amiens and Chartres are each only about an hour from Paris by train, and each has a spectacular cathedral. So when’s the last time you urged visiting friends or relations to make the trip to Amiens? Chartres – which, face it, is pretty much a one-site burg – hogs most of the tourists. Amiens languishes by comparison, in the unjustly maligned north, despite its charmingly restored artisans’ quarter, its ancient network of water gardens and, leave us not forget, its outstanding example of the French Gothic style in full flower, which happens to be the country’s largest cathedral.
Guidebooks and visitors disagree wildly on its physical attractions: to one, it’s grimy, squat and uninteresting, to another it’s a harmonious 18th century gem. Never mind them. You only need one reason to go to Bordeaux, and that’s Bordeaux.
In June 1944, the spirit and visage of Caen were altered forever. June 6, D-Day, was also the beginning of the Battle of Caen, which left some 2,000 civilians dead and 75% of Lower Normandy’s capital in rubble. The city that rose from these ashes has dedicated itself to enhancing its surviving historical monuments, nourishing the arts and sciences and promoting peace. To visit it in June is a poignant experience.
If the warm weather is not arriving quite fast enough for you, push the season by heading south for the weekend. The northern Provençal borderlands in the Drôme region, on the east bank of the Rhône River, are within easy reach by rail. And for a maximum of rays, consider spending your Midi break on a bike.
Its name is practically synonymous with mustard, the region of which it is capital means fine wine, the lake outside town evokes France’s favorite apéritif … almost inevitably, a Dijon weekend will have a gastronomic theme. Yet as you proceed from winery tour to fancy meal, as you shop for spice bread and decorated mustard pots, or as you make your way to the mustard museum, be sure to sample the flavor of Dijon the city as well.
The rail weekender feature has been resolutely urban so far, but everyone needs to rusticate now and then, and where better than by the sea? The French, firm believers in the restorative powers of a seaside stay, have elevated the principle to a quasi-science called thalassotherapy, from the Greek for “sea treatment.”
You needn’t leave the country to find the holiday bustle and cheery atmosphere of a traditional German Christmas market. Just go to the ex-German part of France. While the Alsatian markets are probably the best known, Strasbourg and Kaysersberg are a bit far for a rail weekend. But Metz, the capital of Lorraine, also has a Christmas market – and celebrates the official arrival of St. Nicolas in a big way. Continue reading “Metz for the Holidays”
Deprived of Thanksgiving, the French kick off their holiday season with an event that is far from traditional, totally artificial – and lots of fun. When Beaujolais Nouveau is released on November 16, try celebrating in the town that used to claim Beaujolais as its own.
In an hour, you can be in another country. Lille, capital of French Flanders, has a distinctive Flemish feel that makes a visit “dépaysant” in the good sense of getting away from your everyday surroundings. And now that it is on the northern TGV route, it is closer to Paris by train than many Paris suburbs are by car. Continue reading “Lille, “Flanning” in Flanders”