Amiens… France’s Best Kept Secret

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.

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Visting Caen in Normandy

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.

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Dijon… More Than Mustard

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.

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Visting Barbizon

 At first, Barbizon does not seem an obvious choice as an artistic center. After all, this picturesque village to the southeast of Paris is more or less made up of a single street. Yet, between 1830 and 1875, over 60 artists flocked to what was then a modest woodcutters’ village and the movement that grew up around them was later to be called the Barbizon school. Continue reading “Visting Barbizon”

Metz for the Holidays

 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”