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.