You guys, seriously. France is so incredible. If there’s one thing I got out of writing about France for BootsnAll, it is a profound love for the entire country. Not only is it beautiful, but it’s got great infrastructure. (Giving you the side-eye, Italy.) I mean, I love me some trains, we all know this; but I can’t tell you how astoundingly easy it is to drive around France and see the most unbelievable things.
And yet, unlike Italy, it seems like nobody knows a thing about it.
Sure, everybody knows Paris. People swoon when you say Paris. But even the French Riviera – which in my experience is the thing that people know the most after Paris – is not nearly as touristed as the many cities in Italy that people feel they “must see” on their first trip to the country.
You say Normandy beaches, and people are like, “Oh, right.”
Or the castles of the Loire Valley – “I’ve heard of those.”
But I’m constantly shocked that people don’t know this exists, for example, let alone that it’s an easy overnight trip from Paris:
It’s Mont Saint-Michel, and JUST LOOK AT IT. Why is every person who visits Paris for even one week not hightailing it to this place? (Don’t get me wrong, it’s popular; but people who think nothing of steamrolling through RomeFlorenceVenice somehow think it’s a pain in the ass to go see that big pile of fabulous? Come on, people.)
And so it goes to figure that Languedoc, the region where I live, is even less visited. Never mind that it makes more wine than anywhere else on the entire planet, or that it shares fully one-half of the southern coast of France with the Riviera, or that Nostradamus, Salvador Dali and Christian Lacroix among others have called it home.
Or that Montpellier, my town and the region’s capital, is four hours equidistant from Nice, Barcelona and Paris, and has Europe’s oldest medical school, oldest botanical garden and one of its largest public squares.
And then there’s the Canal du Midi. And the Cévennes mountain range. And Roman-era things just strewn about.
And wild white horses in the Camargue nature reserve. And miles of beaches you can have practically all to yourself. And water jousting from antique boats. And ridiculously delicious oysters.
Anyway. You get the point, I hope, which was also the main point of my two years’ worth of writing on WhyGo France: GET OUT OF PARIS AND LIVE A LITTLE.
So, as I was saying in my last post, there are these towns, like St-Privat and Usclas-du-Bosc, which I won’t get on your case for not knowing about, because I think like 55 people have heard of them (they each have a population of around 120). They’re scattered on the tops of these hills and mountains, and sometimes in the valleys, and they look like they just kind of rose up out of the earth, or that someone carved it whole out of the mountain itself. Just tons and tons of local stone, piled up on top of one another.
And these towns don’t have anything in them but homes and a church – always, always a church. So you walk through town, and you hear nothing. A bread truck comes by once a week or so, and there are other vendors who pass through as well. And the silence – like you just got in the car instead of out of it.
It stimulates the senses to spend time in these places exploring, like you’re 10 years old all over again. You can’t get lost when you’re in a tiny village on top of a mountain. Take pictures. Take a glass of wine! And take the time to literally stop and smell the flowers, because they’re everywhere.
I will warn you, however: There is a good chance that it can be overwhelming. Because there you are, in an impossibly tiny, impossibly perfect, impossibly picturesque village, and you realize that there is a whole region that’s like this that you haven’t even touched upon yet, and that the whole country is made up of regions just like this but yet entirely different in new and exciting ways, and you’ll never, ever have enough time to experience it all.
Mont St. Michel has always been on my to-do list. Now, so is the rest of France. Damn you, Christine!
Come on over!
Word. I never understood the whole US “Parisians suck” attitude, because for years I landed at CDG and went straight outside – Bayonne, Biarritz, Pau, Mont St Mich, and never had a negative experience. Plus, the men were hardier and hotter outside of Ile de France.
I also noticed in Spain last week that tourists really focus on the main drags, even if there is a parallel street with more shops and cafes nearby. This just happened to me in Malaga – Larios: full of just-off-the-cruise, sticker-wearing foreigners; Calle Nueva, a block west: all Malaguenyos all the time. Sure, I’ve always championed off-the-path city exploring, but this was the simplest of travel epiphanies.
The “parallel” thing happens a lot, doesn’t it? And it happens to towns, too. We went to St Paul de Vence in France and it was indeed lovely, but then we went to Tourrettes, which we liked MORE, and it was EMPTY. As in, were the only people other than shopkeepers. Werd indeed!
LOVE this! It is so, so very true.
WORD. I fell deeply, madly in love with the Languedoc, and wish to return for oysters, horses, mountains (yeah, that’s right — I said it) and barging!
ALL THE THINGS!
I love it too! It’s quite bizarre the way the world has focused on Provence to the exclusion of all of the rest of southern France (Merci, M. Mayle).
I have been to both the Normandy D-Day Beaches and Mont-St-Michel, but also to Bayeux (where the famous tapestry is encased under little faint lights). And to St. Valery en Caux, where a memorial to the 51st Highland Division stands high on a lonely hill above the town (they took a stand against the Nazi army there) and to the Somme, one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen as well as the site of one of the most horrific and bloody battles in WWII.
It’s difficult to get to many of these places without a car, and I think most tourists either go on a tour, or if they have a car, only hit the most famous places (Paris, Cannes, Avignon). Too bad, because once you get off the main motorways, there is so much to see that you’ll never miss the big cities.
Yeah, I loved rolling into some town and “discovering” it.
Oh God, yes.
Made my first rip to La Belle France in 2001 just before 9/11 went back 3 weeks after the would be shoe bomber incident and have never stopped since. Paris? The grand entrance to an astounding world go out and see La Belle France in all her mysterious beauty!
You get it! Spread the word!
I wish I had the time to explore, your article certainly wets the appetite for France. Plus I like old stone buildings – great for drawing 🙂
Oh my goodness, I would NEVER have the patience to draw all those stones!
It’s quite meditative drawing stones – almost go into automatic pilot with tone and shape dictating.
Amen, sistah!! Having just moved to the Languedoc from Tucson, Arizona USA, I can hardly believe my great good fortune. I could explore this region every single day for the next 10 years and hardly scratch the surface. Salut, sweet, sweet France!
I’ll be out your way in September, insh’allah, visiting friends in Lodeve for one thing, and checking out Montpellier. Can’t wait to see the area! We’ve driven through it on another occasion, and loved it.
OH, yay! Make sure to go to Lodeve on market day!
It was hard for me to see all the beauty because of the vast empty spaces without a single person visible! I just keep looking at the paths thinking, “No one to bump into! I wouldn’t have to ‘thread’ a crowd just to get a closer peek at something!”
My life was simpler when I didn’t know about all the things I was missing out on. My life was also in shades of black and white and gray and not a dollop of color. Do you ever find yourself wishing you hadn’t seen something so beautiful it makes your heart ache? I don’t know if that makes sense, but I think you get what I mean.
Yes, that makes sense. 100% sense. It happens all the time to me. It’s a weird, indescribable feeling, but it’s very real.
I love all of France, every last frakking inch of it. I’ve been to a few places no one has heard of, others that no one takes the time to visit, empty places that I love, if only because they are ancient and empty – allowing me to discover them, study them, be within them, on my own terms. Mon Dieu I love France, have I said that yet?
The great thing about travelling around France is that it’s always a voyage of discovery; especially if you get off the beaten path, avoid the tourist hot-spots and really sit down with the French and ‘casser la croûte’.
Pingback: Focus on France « Travel Notes – Travel Blog
Having lived both in Paris and near Montpellier, and visited Normandie and the Loire, among others — it’s like comparing apples and oranges! Many places off the beaten touristy track are indeed beautiful and unique!
Pingback: Scenes From France – Part Three: More Paris! « Jennifer's Journal
The excitement with which you write has me “page-turning” the entries of your blog! Thank you for the enchanting visuals!