France Travel Skills

France Travel Skills

France is a place of
gentle beauty, where the play of light can turn the
routine into the exceptional. My name’s Steve Smith, and for 25 years
I’ve been introducing Rick to my favorite French people, and teaching him
the Art of French living, while he taught me the science of guidebook writing.
Together we’ve produced a variety of books, maps, phrasebooks, and travel tips
to help you negotiate this marvelous country. France is filled with
iconic sights and mesmerizing views. My job today is to help you sort through
many of those, so that you can organize your trip to be the best
experience possible for you on your trip, hopefully in 2015 or 2016. Let’s get
oriented first. France is central in Europe, in Western Europe, you’ll notice
it just between Spain, with Atlantic to its west, the Mediterranean to the south,
and Germany, Austria, Switzerland, to its east. It doesn’t suffer from the extreme
heat of the South, nor cold of the north, so it’s a mild climate, things grow well
there. Food, wine, think that. It’s about 700 miles across from east to west and
north to south. Were it a square, it would take about eleven hours to go to top to bottom or
left to right. What’s astonishing about this country, is the variety of scenery
that is packed within a country eighty per cent the size of the state of Texas. For
this country offers, from its northern monumental city of Paris, to the capital
of the Riviera, Nice, in the south, pastoral landscapes, like this in Normandy, to rock sculpted
villages of Provence hanging from cliff edges. Two distinctly different
coastlines dominate the coastal region in France, from the rugged Atlantic to
the west, to the balmy, warm seas of the Mediterranean to the south. Wouldn’t Central European countries love
at least one coastline, France is blessed with two distinctly different ones. And
if it’s the highest peaks in Europe that you must scale, you gotta go to France.
France’s– Europe’s highest peaks are in the Alps, 15,700 foot Mont Blanc
is resting there between Switzerland and France for you
to visit. The Alps are just one of the main mountain regions in France, there are two
others. The Pyrenees form the mountain range to the southwestern corner of the
country, guarding the border to Spain and
Portugal, and the Massif Central Mountain Range harbors great canyons to the
southeastern part of France, surprising many Americans as the destination for
European outdoor lovers and thrill-seekers. Kayakers, whitewater
rafters, rock climbers love southern France for that reason. France has a
variety of each culture. Traveling between the various regions in France, you’ll
experience different cultures and cuisines, as well as different scenery.
For one day you could be here, the northeastern corner of France, quaffing
liters of beer next to these Germanic fellows, hearing a language that sounds
very German, and eating sauerkraut smothered in ham, and potatoes, and
sausage, in the Alsace in the northwestern corner of the country. The
next day, maybe ten hours away by car, an hour flight away, you’d encounter
lads like this who look more Irish than French, and they are because this is
Brittany, whose history and roots carry that history with them. And
here in this in this region of Brittany, their sauerkraut is crepes and galette for dinner every
night. I imagine that most of these kids have never even seen sauerkraut in their
life. Such is the cuisine so regional in France. To the southwestern corner, where
the locals look “muy Spanish” and Paella is on most venues and the fiesta– the
siesta is still respected, to the southeastern corner where the– where
France inherited its Italian heritage of “what me worry,” “what’s the hurry,”
devil-may-care Italian sort of love of life attitude. And you’ll see this in the Riviera and
the regions that border Italy, and you find fresh pasta in most shops, and
windows, and in restaurants in this corner. Traveling through France then
is like experiencing a variety of different countries in Europe within
this small country, again smaller than the state of Texas. But France is more
than just a beautiful place to eat well and drink well, for in many ways, the rich
heritage of this country’s history is a yardstick of human achievement. For here,
you can trace the whole of Western civilization from mesmerizing cave art
20,000 years old, to Roman ruins that rival anything that Italy has to
offer, to feudal fortresses that rival anything that the rest of the European
countries have to offer, like here at Carcassonne. All of this, in the country
of France. In the Middle Ages, France gave birth to Gothic architecture.
stretching the– this technique of designing churches to stretch its ceilings
taller and filling their windows with radiant windows of stained glass. In the 1500s and 1600s, engineers and architects design palaces by the
hundreds like this, announcing France’s emergence as
Europe’s first superpower, and richest country by far. Becoming the envy of kings and queens
throughout Europe, where palaces like this at Vaux Le Vicomte, and certainly Versailles just
outside the city of Paris. In the 1800’s, France gave birth to impressionist art, and the foundation of modern art, and the
way we think abstractly today, born in the roots of French soil. You can
trace the origins too on your trip to France, all of this history staying
within this one country, and maintaining that foundation. France today insists on
remaining capital of art today, designing homes for contemporary artists
throughout the country, and performing arts as well, like the Pompidou Center
here in Paris. For many people, this range, or this combination I wanna say, of rich
history, glorious scenery, great food and wine right sounds pretty tempting. And
they would have been long ago, many times, were it not for the French. Waiters like
this can seem intimidating, until you understand how this system works. Understand that this waiters tip is
included in the bill. You do not tip in French restaurants,
maybe just a little bit if the person was nice to you, but you don’t tip. His
tips are included in the bill so he’s not working for a tip, he’s paid to be
fast and efficient. If you understand how the system works and you slow down,
you’ll have that waiter eating out of your hand, by understanding the system and
working with that waiter. Slow down, that’s the first rule of travel in France to
me, slow your itinerary down. See fewer regions, more time in fewer region for
France rewards the traveler who slows down. Take time to sample the goat cheese from Jerry Garcia’s farm. If you’re moving too fast you won’t even see that he’s
handing with that lovely piece of goat cheese. Connect with the locals. I offer
opportunities throughout the book in France to make these connections. Go
on a wine tour with Michelle in southern France, take a cooking class anywhere throughout
the country, connect with the locals, with these
fluent English-speaking people, and understand what matters to them about
culture and their country. And your trip will have an added dimension and become
much richer for it. Traveling in France. Getting around the
country is really about as good as it gets. France is home to Europe’s state of the art
bullet train system connecting all the major cities. Two hundred miles an
hour whisking you from left to right, to up to down. And remember. the country’s
only 700 miles across any way. you can cover a
lot of territory thanks to this technology. That’s the good news. The bad
news is you have to reserve these high-speed trains in France and frankly
anywhere in Europe. It’s about $10 for a reservation, that’s no problem, but if
you’re traveling with a rail pass, which is generally a good value for Americans,
it’s heavily subsidized by the French government. The problem is that they
limit the number of seats for pass holders on these TGVs, which means you
just have to be on the ball. Book your train well ahead if you’re traveling
with a rail pass, otherwise you don’t have to worry about it that much, or separate your rail pass from TGV
trains and buy those trips when you’re in France. Local trains takeover will the
where the bullet trains leave off, getting you to smaller towns and
mid-size towns, and this will be most of the train riding you’ll do if you’re
traveling by train in France. And minivans and regional buses take off
where those trains leave you, allowing you to explore this marvelously,
largely rural, country whether you’re driving or not. These minivan tours that
I’m showing you an example of here in the Alsace region are an opportunity, even if you’re
driving, to spend a day with a local. With running commentary as you go, join other
people and pile into his minivan. It’s anywhere from 40 to 80 dollars a
day for this kind of service, you see, and if you don’t have a car it’s essential
to seeing the small villages, caves in the Dordogne region or the D-Day beaches for
example. France seems to me like it was made for driving. The country after Paris, between
Paris and Nice, is largely– the highlights of this country are rural in
nature. You’ll end up on a lot of small roads
just like this. Well maybe not quite this small, but the
beauty of driving in France is a big — they drive on the same side of the road that
we do, obey largely the same traffic rules that we do, and so much the country’s
rural compared to Italy, or Spain for example, where cities dominate your
sightseeing menu. In France it’s gonna be castles,
vineyards, hill towns and the like. Making the advantage of a car terrific. I think
a great way to go when traveling to France is to mix high-speed train travel
with car rental. A lot of people like to do that, why drive the eight hours from
Paris to Provence? Take the two-hour bullet train, then rent a car from there,
you see, unless you have things you wanna see on the way. There are a couple of key
signs I want to remind you of today before you embark on your driving in France,
and this is the most important one. this signed is found throughout small
roads and highways in France everywhere. It warns you that there is a radar
coming, a camera box, that the speed limit is 50 miles, and if you’re going faster
than that, in 130 meters where the camera is, you’ll get a ticket.
And you ask yourself, how could anybody screw that up? You won’t believe how
often they happen, how easy it is to do. And if you’re even going just 52 kilometers,
two kilometers over the speed limit, that’s like a mile and a half, you’ll still
get a ticket, and the biggest part of the ticket is the ticket itself, not the
mileage above and beyond the speed limit. Pay attention to those radar signs, and
buying gas is not as easy as it appears. Understand I had this summer at our
house in burgundy where I hang my beret in research season, and friends came
to visit and rented a car and put the wrong gas in their diesel car. That’s not
covered by insurance we found out, so I mean seriously understand that “gasoil” is
diesel, it comes in– it’s always black or yellow on the fuel handles. Regular are
the other red and green handles that you see. Diesel gas is far cheaper France,
20 to 25% cheaper than regular gasoline. Most for manual transmissions come with
it. It’s a good deal and the mileage is better, you want a diesel car if you can
drive a manual transmission. If you insist on an automatic car, probably it’s
going to use regular gasoline. Not the end of the world, the distances just
aren’t that great in France. Even though they pay more than twice per gallon what we do, their cars
typically get typically get twice the mileage, and again, the distance isn’t
that great. That’s what I’ve realized years of researching by train– car, pardon me.
The problem of buying gas after hours is an example of the
headache of traveling with credit cards today in France for some Americans,
Credit cards work brilliantly at restaurants, hotels, shops, as long as
there’s a person in front of you it’s just like here, but if you want to use
ticket machines, pay toll booths because the toll roads in France aren’t manned anymore, or you
might want to buy a train ticket from a ticket machine, or gas after hours. Good luck, unless you have a chip on your
credit card and a four digit PIN associated with that, and even if you
have that as an American, don’t count on it working everywhere. I don’t understand
why that’s the case, but all of the researchers at Rick Steves have had that
experience, so your best bet is to get that credit card, ’cause it will work much of the time,
but also always have cash on hand to pay that toll road when you leave the
freeway, or to buy gas when you need it and you’re almost out, right. Okay, sleeping in France. sleeping is– around
France accommodations are a remarkable range at reasonable prices. The mainstay hotels there are starred from one
to five stars. The hotels we recommend and focus on in our guidebook are two and three
star hotels. This is a two-star hotel in front of you in Honfleur, downtown Honfleur. Also we look for
centrally located places, reasonably priced, family run whenever possible. Two
star hotels are simple, comfortable places, always private
bathrooms. 80 to 100 dollars, outside the city of Paris, buys a two-star hotel on the
average throughout the country of France. If you want a little bit more character
and sometimes more comfort, three-star hotels stay $150 a night for a double
room and it varies, more in Paris, buys you that much more comfort, sometimes. I
want to warn you, three star hotels, I have listed many two star hotels that are
better than three star hotels, trust the write-up in the guidebook. Use a guidebook, use resources before
you go. And even if you find your accommodations on your own, through other
sources, use our books to know what you should be paying. We update these books
every year, these prices should be accurate. that gives you a good handle on
appropriate price to pay. The interior, three 3 star hotels is cozier, sometimes
on rooms as well. Four-star hotels are worth paying for, I
think, when you get to sleep in a seven hundred fifty year old castle like this,
but not just ’cause you need four stars. Trust me, three stars provides more than
sufficient comfort for anybody in this room, and if you want to wake up feeling
like a king in the morning this is worth paying for. Mix your hotel accommodations up.
Stay in one star, two star, three star, four star hotels. Really don’t insist on a certain
level of comfort and your budget will be pleased for that, and so will your
experience. Bed and breakfasts are marvelous options
in France, and there are about 15,000 of them throughout the country. They’re mostly in rural areas so you need a car to get to them. 80 to $100 for a double most, for most of these bed and breakfasts that I list, will buy a room and breakfast.
This is a big deal because hotels in France do not include breakfast as a
part of their room price. You’ll save, because bed and breakfasts include
breakfast, 25 to 30 dollars on the average for a couple per day for breakfast, by staying
in bed and breakfasts, good value. Apartment rental and home rental, this is
the rage certainly in Paris today. everybody wants to rent an apartment and
everybody wants to rent you an apartment. A apartment rental is
relatively easy to do, whether you go directly to the owner, or the way I
prefer, using an organization to inspect these places, and I write them up in my
guidebook, in our guidebook on Paris to help you sift through the pros and cons.
I can’t know all of these apartments because they change all of the time,
unlike a hotel where it stays where it is and there’s 50 rooms 30 rooms, I
can inspect that. I can’t do that for apartments, so you’re left to your own
devices or the website reviews, client reviews to make
that decision. Apartment rental won’t save any money in
Paris, certainly, compared to a nice comfortable hotel. You’ll get more space,
a nice living room, and a kitchen, that’s the big deal. You can save
some money on meals, certainly breakfast, by having your own cereal milk in the morning,
or the advantage, I think, is you get to shop like a local, pretend that you’re a local,
and bring stuff back to your kitchen and have to function that way, and cook maybe
a few times. But it’d be a shame not even restaurants in France, don’t cook in
your kitchen every night. Home rental throughout France is a great
value, I think, compared to apartment rental. They’re called ‘gite,” G-I-T-E-S, and there home rental is generally Saturday to Friday night’s,
weekly only, and it’s a good value. Homes like this that you’re seeing here in the
countryside are available throughout the country, but again its weekly
only. Here you’ll spend about $1,500 on the average, and relatively high season
for a three-bedroom two-bathroom place so if there’s three couples traveling
together, that’s 500 bucks per week per couple, good value, plus you get
a kitchen and lot of space to relax. Eating in France. France should be
sightseeing for your taste buds, that’s the reason you came. This is not a place
to skimp on your sightseeing budget, and bakeries like this should be a daily
stop on anybody’s itinerary. If you’re staying at hotels and breakfast isn’t
included, bakeries in cities often offer breakfast
deals for a fraction of the price. Yeah sure it’s a lot less than what you get at
your hotel, but a lot of times you only have the choice of $15 for the buffet
breakfast at hotel and that’s too much for you. Go to the neighborhood bakery, or
certainly to a cafe to order your breakfast, and save lots of money and
breakfast– break your croissant with locals. Lunches that bakeries like this
offer, fresh sandwiches, if you look closely you’ll see them there, and treats
throughout the day. The fresh sandwiches for $5 apiece make a great, cheap, on-the-go lunch for
many people. Cafes are the most flexible way to eat
out in France. They’re open late, their hours are
generally longer than restaurants, and more flexible menus for you to order
from. And a cafe, perfect for bringing families and kids, you can order just
snails if that’s all you want, or a salad or bowl of French onion soup, whereas at
a restaurant or bistro, you must order at least a main course. You can split the
first course or a dessert, that’s no problem, but everybody must order a main course.
You can– this is the kind of place that I look for naturally throughout the
country places, where the chalkboard menu is brought to you by a waiter who
smiling. There are two ways of ordering food at a French restaurant, understand
this. The item, the object that he is showing you in French is called the “carte.”
Ordering from “la carte” means “off the menu” to us it’s a menu. If you order a menu
in France, you’ve already ordered dinner. That’s a fixed price: two, three, or four
core sequence of items for a set price that you’ve ordered. And that’s a great
deal if you want that much food. Today in France, this never used to exist, most
restaurants specialize in two course menus for about $25, tax and tip included.
That’s a good deal. You typically, and this is very common throughout almost
all the restaurants, you can order a three-course. Appetizer, main course,
dessert. For two courses– and that would be about say, $30, I’m close– for two
courses, for maybe $25, you get a choice of entree, first course, I’m sorry, and main
course or main course and dessert. When my wife and I travel together, she does
main course and dessert, I do first course and main course, and we split the
first and the third courses, you see. And the best deal going, I think, today, are
“plat Du jours” in French– in France. Most cafes and restaurants offer this, about
$20, tax and tip included, that’s your dinner. Beautiful plates, garnished, that’s
what a “plat Du jour” is. Not part of a menu, it’s just “plat Du jour,” and often it’s
better than the average item on the menu. Every so often, much like hotels, allow
yourself to splurge a little bit in a French restaurant scene and enjoy the ambiance of this kind of restaurant.
I list places that, mostly thanks to my wife, she’s a culinary expert, that she thinks are
worth that kind of money. This is 48 euros by the way, for a four course
dinner at a place like this. And you have to be willing to go with the chefs
daring concoctions. Sometimes I don’t recognize what I’m eating but that’s
okay, that’s part of the deal, isn’t it though. So mix it up with restaurants also.
Cafes, bistros, restaurants, and elegant restaurants are a nice way to go.
Every so often do a picnic dinner, I think that’s a great way to go as well.
If you’re traveling in the summertime, France is replete with vistas and
benches to have picnic dinners on. Many people are perfect, love doing all
of this– they’re perfect do it yourselfers. They look to be their own
guides, and all this organization makes total sense to them, and they love to
take it on. Others are a little bit overwhelmed by the task. My friend Rick
here lying on the floor of the Louvre Museum, right. For them, going on a tour, sharing their
experience, but not the headaches of hotels, and, “how am I gonna get from point
A to point B,” makes more sense. And we offer tours at Rick Steves, we offer
tours for people who– for whom want to travel in the style, stay in the
kind of hotels I’ve just described to you, and sharing their experience. Our–
it’s 25 people on the average on a tour that we offer, in 48 passenger bus,
traveling from region to region with a Rick Steves trained guide, matched with a
local expert everywhere. Together their teaching brings you great learning,
and that is the hallmark of our tours, the most– the core to our tours
then is teaching, and you’re learning. Group time and free time, you can learn
by experiencing these great works of art on your own as well, can’t you. So
we’re leaving you free time to explore on your own, whether it’s the art of
living in “cafe au laits,”or art as I showed you before. We occupy about two–
half of your time on our tours. The other half you’re free to use our guidebooks and explore on
your own. Our guide– we also use group time to take advantage of French’s cuisine,
France’s cuisine, doing potluck picnics whenever we can. And we offer options in the afternoon, if
you want to join us for a special wine tasting with translation that would be
impossible, unless you spoke French, to do on your own, these are the advantages
of group travel, I think. We offer three– four primary itineraries to enjoy the country
of France. We have a week in Paris tour that runs basically year ’round. People love the week in Paris, you only unpack once, we stay in a cozy hotel in a great neighborhood.
Or my favorite, or the best if you’ve never been before, Paris and the heart of France. 11 days,
featuring Burgundy, a corner of Burgundy, the Loire Valley, Mont St-Michel, the
D-Day beaches in Normandy, Claude Monet’s gardens in Giverny, and four nights in
Paris, as well. Our western France tour is 13 days, starting outside of Paris in
Chartres, running through the Loire Valley, the Dordogne, Languedoc, and Provence, ending in
the French Riviera. Our West eastern France tour highlights the east, starting
in the Champagne district, going through the Alsace, Burgundy, the French Alps,
Provence, and ending in Marseille. The average price of a tour is about $300 a
day and it includes everything but a few meals, your sightseeing is included, we
don’t allow tips to the driver or the guides, that’s nice, that’s annoying, but
everything’s included, there are no surprises, and that’s critical to Rick.
All of the information about getting ready to go to France, that I have just
explained to you, is included in our France guidebook, and much more. All– we even
give you a diagram of a roundabout, if you’re driving, to show you how to
maneuver those in your car, and much more detail and how to get from
point A to point B. Paris, world capital, Paris, City of Light, world
capital of fashion, art, literature, food, and all things fine that civilization
has to offer. This is the highlight of anybody’s trip to France, probably, if
they have never been before. Notice the city that you’re looking at
here, the man– the beauty is man-made. Notice the height of the buildings, eight
stories, it’s a very human scale, and throughout the entire central part,
city of Paris. Here pedestrians are treated to this sort of
human scale that makes them feel good about walking from point A to point B.
The city works well in any season, and a I’m not a big fan of travel in the
off-season to every place, but cities like Paris, whether it’s summertime and the
warmth of the summer in the city becomes like one big festival, and by the way
hotel rooms tend to go on sale in the month of August, because Europeans don’t
travel that much to cities at that time of year. This time of year, Paris looks
like this in the fall, it’s beautiful. All the trees are deciduous,
they all change. The parks. Paris has– the amount of space devoted to people is
remarkable in the city, and in the wintertime, my favorite time to go and
I’m not kidding, is when the City of Light earns its name. Christmas in Paris or anytime near or
after that, it’s a lovely time to experience the city, it rarely snows, the moderate temperatures of traveling
in Paris can be compensated for with proper dress. Cafes, you’ll share them with
the locals, and museums will be much quieter, naturally, at this time of
year. I like winter travel so much that I read a whole chapter about it in the
guidebook to help you understand why, and where, and what to do about it in Paris.
Consider that, flights are cheaper, hotel rooms commonly are cheaper in January,
February, March, as well. Hotel rooms in Paris are smaller
than the average, get ready for it. Book your rooms early, don’t wait. I
list places with great deals, 100 dollars for a comfortable double room, 125, are you kidding me? But you have to book those before other people get to
them, there are only so many of them. I list hotels in four different
neighborhoods because I– only four different neighborhoods, because I’d
rather have average hotel in a really cool neighborhood than a really great
hotel in a crummy neighborhood, think about that. So, the neighborhoods
we list in Paris are the Rue Cler area, the pedestrian only shopping street that
you see near the Eiffel Tower. The hip and trendy, if you’re young you
want to stay out at night, Marais district near the Ile Saint-Louis, we also list
hotels on the Ile Saint-Louis, as those areas are basically connected. The stately
Luxembourg Gardens area, surrounding this beautiful park, I think Paris’ most
beautiful park on the edge, on the Latin Quarter for those who want to dabble in
all things Latin. To the budget neighborhood of Montmartre. The further you
get from the river, the cheaper hotels get in Paris. And Montmartre is a fifteen minute
subway ride from the river, where along the river most of Paris’ sights reside,
you see. Like about focusing on four neighborhoods is in each of those neighborhoods
we list restaurants, lots of them, cafes, travel tips, allowing you to come
home after a busy day of sightseeing and not need to take a bus or subway to a
restaurant, or to go do something. You’re a temporary local in that
neighborhood, post offices, and all sorts of things like this so that you can
function as a local. Your learning is understanding what you’re looking at and
why it matters. This is why you came to Paris. Our books,
I think, respect that by offering terrific information focused on your
sightseeing. Our main guide to Paris describes 21 different walking tours of
museums, neighborhoods, castles, and monuments, and 50 other sights with good descriptions, listed in that
guidebook. Our Paris, Pocket Paris book on the other side, is for those with less
time and shorter attention spans, it’s abbreviated. If you want that information,
the main, primary difference in these two books; if you want those walking tours
you need the main Paris guide. If you have other ways of getting that
information or you’re taking a guided tour, don’t worry about it, buy the Pocket
Paris book. Either way, download our free audio tours in Paris
to your device, if it’s a phone or any kind of application, or device, for free.
You can do it on our website and you’ll get Rick’s voice narrating you through the
Louvre Museum, the d’Orsay, and the palace at Versailles, and the historic walk in
central Paris. I’m a big fan of local guides for your learning, not all the
time, not every day, but they add a dimension to a tour that a book that
you’re reading and a self-guided tour just can’t, you see. So in museums like the
Louvre, where you’ll have several English tours departing each day. They
do a credibly good job. Or the d’Orsay, or neighborhood walking tours like
here in Montmartre, where neighborhood walking organizations, my favorite is
called Paris Walks, they offer tours every day. Meet at ten o’clock, virtually every day
they do the Montmartre and the Impressionist neighborhood, but they do many others.
It’s whoever shows up at ten o’clock goes on the tour, about $20 a person
for two and half hours of a walking tour. Pepper your trip with with walking tours
like this when you’re in Paris. The Paris Museum Pass makes sightseeing a breeze for
ninety percent of any of the museums that you’re interested in, are covered in
this pass. Over 60 different sites covered with a museum. It comes in two, four,
and six day increments, it averages about $15 a day, cost-wise. You’ll save money, no
question. The average site in Paris is 11 or $12, all you have to do is go to two sites,
that day and that’s pretty easy to do and you’ve saved money. But the real
reason to buy this pass is because you own it, and you have this pass, and you’ll
dart into simple other museums that, well, Steve or Rick or Gene described in the
book, but I don’t know if it’s not great, but I wouldn’t pay $10 for it, but I got
the pass so why not, and you’ll be astonished at what you, what you discover in some of those
lesser-known museums. The pass also saves you waiting time in line for ticket
lines, but not for security lines, like this. This reminds me that the travelers
greatest challenge today in Paris are the crowds at the key monuments, like
Versailles or the Louvre. Thanks to growing economies in various parts of
the world, more and more people want to see this grand city, and if you don’t pay
attention, if you don’t read your guide book, you’ll end up here at Versailles on
a Tuesday, when all the big museums in Paris are closed. “Hey, good idea, let’s go to
their side at 10 in the morning.” Not an original brainstorm, read your
book, arrive after two, there’s no line. That’s not that hard to do, but if you’re
there at ten o’clock what you gonna do? Tour the gardens first, Rick said
that in his guidebooks. The gardens don’t get crowds, and then come back later to
tour the inside of the palace. Trust us and our guidebooks, really the best,
probably, service we provide you with, how to avoid lines these days in Paris.
Getting around this city works just really well, it’s a walker’s paradise, I
think. It’s a flat city with the river running through the center of it, right. East to west to send river runs, anything
to the right, if you’re on a boat, as the current goes as the right bank. To the
left, is the left bank. It’s a flat city, if you remember. Walking and human scale
with these eight-story buildings, you don’t have these wind tunnels as we do in our
high skyscraper cities, and it works well. Just to give you a sense of scale,
walking from the Eiffel Tower all the way to the Louvre Museum is a little bit
over an hour along the river. Most of those sites that you want to see are
also within a 10 or 15 minute walk of the river. You could walk a heck of a lot
of the city, but you have to remember that once you get to the sight. you have
to keep walking. So the subway system, Europe’s greatest subway system, it
covers you everywhere you go in Paris. When you’re exhausted, there will be a subway stop somewhere nearby learn
the words, “Ou est Le Metro, Monsieur, si’l vous plait?” and “Where is the nearest
Metro stop?” And you’ll be whisked home on a subway line. The subway in Paris works logically, it’s easy to figure out, and
honestly gets you everywhere you want to go. But it seems a shame to me to
be underground in this beautiful city, so I’m a big fan of using the buses when it
makes sense. Bus 69 that you’re seeing here is one of
those examples. You get beautiful views, and this bus connects the Eiffel Tower and
the Rue Cler neighborhood with the Rodin Museum, the d’Orsay museum, the Louvre, the Ile de la Cite, and Notre Dame, the Marais district, and the Père Lachaise Cemetery. This
bus gets you to many of the sites that you wanna see in Paris. We liked it so
much we wrote a self-guided tour. Start at the Eiffel Tower, hop on the bus and
you’ll see when you cross the street, look to your left, now when you cross the
street look to your right. For $2, for the price of the bus ticket, you get a
self-guided tour through the heart of Paris. Only Rick would agree to that
crazy idea of mine, and I know we’ve had happy readers that use that. The best way
to buy tickets is a “carnet” of 10. It’s really the easiest, most flexible way to
go. They work on buses and on subways, though
you can’t transfer between the two. You can transfer between buses. You can split
those ten tickets between two travelers or three travelers, children get a
cheaper version of the “carnet.” “Carnet” means 10 of something in French. There
are bus– transit passes, pardon me, that work on a weekly basis or on a monthly
basis, but they are harder to use and to fit into your travel schedule. So for
most people that is the best way to go. The latest rage in Paris today is
biking. 15,000 bikes are at your disposal in over 1000 different, not 1000, I don’t know how
many different bike stands, allowing you to pick them up at one point and dropping them at
another. The French, the Parisians have embraced this big time. It’s used mostly
by locals, but tourists can now take advantage of those bikes, even if their
credit cards don’t work on them, by booking on the website or, and the reason to do
this really isn’t a sight– to use this is a sightseeing instrument, if you feel
like just getting out one day and taking advantage of all the bike lanes that
have been built now for bikers, because of this
point-to-point bike, it’s called Velib, built for locals. We can take advantage of it, rent
a bike through one of the bike rental agencies agencies I recommend in the book,
it’s easier that way, and go for a two hour ride if you want to. Ride between
Notre Dame and the Eiffel Tower and loop back on the other side, easy to do in a couple of hours. Historic
Paris. I’ve decided to organize my sight seeing for you today around my favorite four
days in Paris, because of this way I can describe to you an example to organizing
your sightseeing ahead of time, not just running out, “let’s go to the Louvre
Museum, oh, oh, oh, the Orsay Museum’s close by let’s go there too.” Premeditated
sightseeing, organizing your sightseeing plans ahead of time makes so much sense.
Let’s go, and you’ll see how I do this. Start with the city of Paris, Historic Paris,
right, its grandest Gothic monument, recently cleaned, it looks just like this
today, it’s glorious, as it stands. Started in the year 1163, taking over 200 years
to complete. Imagine the medieval mindset then, it
didn’t matter to them. The community built a cathedral like this, time was not
important. All that mattered was contributing to
the construction of this grand edifice of which they were so proud.Today, if my
child doesn’t get on the internet in 10 seconds, we’re screaming. Our patience
compared to medieval times is dramatically changed, isn’t it. Put yourself
in a medieval mood then, when you’re going to cities in Europe and Paris like
this, and understand how different things were then, and try to grasp, oh, pardon me,
try to grasp how differently they thought. You can climb, rarely does this– is this
ever a possibility in Europe, climb to the top of the Gothic cathedral, yes you can
it’s covered in the museum pass. The entry for the church itself, the
cathedral, is free but I think this is the greatest view you have over Paris.
If you have a Museum Pass it’s free, be careful, lines are long because the
four hundred steps up naturally are winding and slow. Strategize when you
choose to go up the tower, the South Tower of Notre Dame. Then tour the, drop
down to the inside of this beautiful cathedral. Our walking tour and our audio tour take, self-guided tours take
you through it. A stone’s throw away, a long stone’s throw
with a good arm, lies the Chapel of Sainte-Chapelle, still on the island of
the Cite where the city of Paris was founded, between a split in the river Seine.
This chapel that we’re looking at here today, almost smothered by the law courts
of Paris, is the greatest example of Gothic architecture, if indeed the
purpose of Gothic architecture is to stretch the church taller and
to raise the windows using buttresses, and to fill the windows, pardon me, with stained
glass to tell stories of the Bible. This has got to be the ultimate
accomplishment. For here, at the Sainte-Chapelle, built by King Louis XI, the
only sainted king of France. Because he found the crown of thorns, he wanted an
appropriate place to house them, that’s motivation. Took only six years to build
this, compared to the two hundred years it took for Notre Dame, thanks to the king’s
energy. Here, over 1,000 panels will tell you the history of Christian
civilization, from the beginning of the world to the end of the world. Designed
so, because when it was built in the 1200s, most people couldn’t read, they were
illiterate. But they did understand symbolism, through those stained glass
windows, you see. Get out, get off the island after this, after Notre Dame and Saint-Chapelle, wander into the Latin Quarter, ties in perfectly, see the beautiful
views of the flying buttresses of Notre Dame from the left bank. Wander
deep into the Latin Quarter, so called because some of Europe’s first
universities are located here, and the professors taught in the Latin language
only and students lived here, this is still a student ghetto. Today the Latin
Quarter is in Paris, check the pulse of your lost generation compatriots
here at Shakespeare and Company. In the early 1900s, thanks to WWI,
the lost generation of people of Ernest Hemingway, Scott Fitzgerald, James Joyce,
and more, Aldous Huxley, Gertrude Stein, would gather here and try to figure out
what sense of the world there was, and meet to discuss their writing.
Further deep into the Latin Quarter, a few blocks away, you can dart into, with
your museum pass, my favorite, one of my favorite, museums in Paris. This is the
Cluny Museum, it’s the museum to medieval times in Paris. Here, because you’ll see
stiffer examples, lots of medieval relics gathered from monuments throughout Paris,
like the heads here that you’re seeing here, were chopped off on the facade of Notre Dame, during the French Revolution. They are gathered here and on display for you
to see today. You see, this is our historic Paris tour, celebrating the
Middle Ages. The highlights though, of the Cluny Museum, are the several panels of
original stained glass from the Sainte Chapelle church that I just showed you.
These are original, 800 years old, posted about five and a half feet high
so you can see them very closely. You see, normally when you see stained glass, it’s
so far away, “how could I possibly, without binoculars, understand and appreciate the
detail?” Well you can at the Cluny Museum, you can
actually reach out and touch these things, and see how heavy that lead is
that they used in stained glass windows. The highlight for many is the
series of six tapestries called the, “Lady and the Unicorn,” where a noble lady teaches
unicorns about the senses of human touch, sight, smell, and taste. Guided tour,
self-guided tours, one of our self-guided tours in our guidebooks, city of Paris,
Cluny Museum. End your day going local. Hangout at this park, the
Luxembourg Garden. This will be a highlight that you haven’t anticipated.
Enjoy watching Parisians at play. Rent a little sailboat if you have kids, and
even if you are a kid yourself, rent one at this point right here, and
let it race with other people’s sailboats. There’s no shortage of activities for
children in the Luxembourg Gardens, but mostly I just like to sit at one of
those chairs and watch what Parisians do in a park, in the afternoon. You see, this
is a perfect blend of heavyweight sightseeing sights, museums, neighborhood
walks in parks, blended into one day. Day two, We’re going to tackle the Louvre Museum
and then sashay up the Champs-Élysées to the Arc de Triomphe. The Louvre museum. The Louvre is
the palace of the kings and queens of France over the centuries. Come the
revolution in late 1700’s when the museum was closed to kings and
queens, it was turned into Europe’s first public art museum. And today it remains
as such, it’s though not designed as an art museum in the least bit, so that
pyramid that you see, the glass pyramid was added in 1985 to rationalize the
entry, and boy did that work. It’s a grand entry to a grand art museum that makes
sense of getting between the various wings, you can’t imagine improvement
unless you had seen it beforehand. With over 30,000 works of art, the Louvre
Museum is a full inventory of Western civilization. From Mesopotamian artifacts
5,000 years old Egyptian mummies, to classical Greek sculpture, to Renaissance
art, to Napoleonic art in the early 1800’s where the museum stops
chronologically. Here we’re seeing the crowning of Napoleon by
himself. No small ego there. This museum, to remind you we provide
self-guided tours in our guidebooks, the audio tour that you can download onto your
phone or tablet works very well for the Louvre. There are local guides as well, and
crowds can be an issue here. If you want to get closer to the Mona Lisa, you want
to strategize when you enter this museum. And yes, the Mona Lisa does look a bit
smaller than people realize she’s going to be when they see her in person.
Go at night if crowds are a problem. It all depends on the time of year you’re going.
I would go at night even if there weren’t crowds, because the museum on
Wednesday and Fridays is open till 9:30 at night. So go about six. everybody
else is tired, they’re going home, they’re done, they’re going to cafes, they’re done. Enter the museum then, then exit when it looks like
this. It’s glorious at night. I’m not making this up, and even if
you don’t go to see the museum on the inside, make sure to pass by the Louvre to
see the glistening, glimmering pyramid from the outside, glimmering from the inside. Then spend
the rest of your day going a couple stops up the Champs-Élysées, world’s
most famous boulevard, climb up the 420 steps covered in the museum pass to
Europe’s grandest triumphal arch, the Arc de Triomphe. Yes, built by Napoleon, two
times larger than anything in Rome, and sashay your way back down, crossing
side-by-side, using our self-guided tour of the Camps-Élysées as you do. Passing by over-the-top, opulent shopping
stores like this, some of which you need an appointment to
enter. How about that, you want to buy a dress, “I’m sorry, do you have an appointment?” I’m
not kidding. And stop to enjoy a cafe at this grandest of Europe’s boulevards,
paying more than you ever should for a cup of espresso, 10 euros. $10.00,
call it. That’s crazy, on one hand, on the other, how many times do you have a
chance to sit and watch the conveyor belt of European traffic go by. And know
also that the waiter won’t bring your bill until you ask for it, so bring postcards,
or write in your journal. Two hours later that 10 euros is a pretty good investment
of your time. He or she who comes home with the most money doesn’t win. Allow
yourself some silly expenses once in awhile. The Champs-Élysées is
brilliant at night. If you have to choose and you only have one time you can go,
go at night. You can still– the Arc de Triomphe is open till 10:30 or 11:00 at
night, depending on the time of the year, and it truly does glisten any time of
the year at night. My third– day three is my favorite day in Paris,
impressionist Paris day. We’re gonna explore the hill town where the
artists gathered during the late 1800’s, and then visit the three art museums
that house their collective genius. This is a cool day to put together, and you
should think this way. Wandering up then to this hill town here, that
until 1870 was not Paris, but its own city. A wall separated that hill town from the
city of Paris, and behind that wall laws were different. Rents were cheaper, tax
was not booed, people were happier. Buildings like Sacré-Cœur were built, by
the way, not so interesting on the inside, you can tour it, our book walks you
through it, but beautiful views from the steps in front of this Neo-Byzantine
church. But the neighborhood behind it feels distinctly apart from the rest of
Paris, and the artistic heritage, cheaper rents that drew the likes of Auguste
Renoir to paint the spirited people here. Again, drinking, dancing, having fun,
because it wasn’t that much fun down on the flatlands of Paris. And dazzling,
symbolic, “ooh, la, la,” red windmill. In late 1800’s this was more scary, and
daunting to the French, and the Eiffel tower built in about the same time was,
because they had never seen the can-can done before. It drew the attention of
certain artists that you know, Toulouse-Lautrec, for example, and this was earth-shattering,
and pushed I think it pushed art to another level. I
mentioned before we do a self-guided tour of the Montmartre neighborhood in our book, but
Paris Walks does a brilliant– this is one of the ones I would highlight of theirs,
or anybody give you a walking tour because it really brings it to life, so
many of the stories come to life of that hill town. Then spend your afternoon
touring the great museums, again, that house their art. The Orsay museum is a
converted train station, brilliant home. Now it is right on the Seine River,
housing all the great, the greatest collection of impressionist art, from
Monet to Manet, Manet to Monet, pardon me, I reversed that. To Paul Cezanne, Vincent
van Gogh, Toulouse Lautrec, and everybody in between. Across the river you’ll enjoy
the– fans of Claude Monet can make their pilgrimage to the
Orangerie, built precisely to hold the panels, eight panels, of his water lilies.
Painted at an elderly age when he had cataracts and could barely see, these are
remarkable accomplishment of this artist. 15 minutes, the other direction from the
Orsay museum, you can pay respects to the man who did for sculpture what
Claude Monet
did for painted art. Auguste Rodin. His works are thoughtful and romantic. Each
one of them. This is typical of impressionist art. The greatest sculptor
since Michelangelo. Again, walking tour in our guidebook. This museum
seldom gets too crowded, and you can tour just its gardens if you want to
for a couple of euros, or spend ten, or your museum pass to get into the
interior. Day four, the Marais district. This is cool, backdoor, hip, trendy Paris
example of seeing Paris it’s trendy finest. This is medieval Paris at its
best, with stone walkways all centered around Paris’ greatest square, I
think, the Place des Vosges. The oldest square in Paris as well, in the heart of
the Marais district. It’s also the center for Jewish culture, Jewish people.
Until WWII, the center, the largest concentration, in fact, of Jewish
people, lived in Paris. Monuments, then, to their deportation during WWII,
when 76,000 Jews would be deported from the city of Paris to concentration camps,
is well commemorated at the Mémorial de la Shoah.
As well as, there’s a brilliant, relatively new history museum to Jewish
culture, and it highlights their contributions to western European
culture. Many people come to the Marais district though for the modern art that’s
possible to see here. And here, at the Pompidou Center, at the end of the
eastern, well the western end of the Marais district, wandering through, you can tour Europe’s greatest collection of modern art. The museum itself is fun, escalate to the top, it’s all glass windows, and you have brilliant
views over the city of Paris, while “wham, bam,” you get a sample of the greatest
modern artists today, in one floor of one museum. Thanks to the brilliance of the
co-author, who is sometimes silent, Gene Openshaw, we have a guided tour to
this, and many other museums in Paris, to help make sense of this abstraction in
art. Just a few blocks away, covered in the museum pass by the way, is
the recently reopened museum dedicated to Pablo Picasso. 400 works of his, in
the greatest single collection anywhere in Paris are now– is now open again,
covered with the museum pass, and ready for you to visit. End your day with the
capital, in my opinion, the greatest monument to the Belle Époque in France, The
opulent Opera House. Paris’ Opera House, built and finished in 1875, where once
you enter, you can tour on your own or with a tour, a couple times a day they
offer guided tours. You will find, right away, that the point of this
theater was to impress you, and it was more about being seen than seeing
whatever the play was when you came, or the Opera. It was all about how you
looked, how you appeared, and its surroundings that you got to enter and
and have your intermission in. If you’re not properly dressed, “oh, go today,” If it’s
Opera season when you’re there, it’s well worth attending one and being
able to sit in this auditorium where only 2000 seats are. And it’s easy, it’s not
that hard to get tickets. If you’re not properly dressed, why you can go right next
door to the Galleries Lafayette, built at the same generation that feels like an
extension of Opera House, another Belle Époque structure, and enjoy its grand
perfume floor, the greatest I’ve ever seen in a department store, and shop for
your own gown. Also, what I like about the Galeries Lafayette, in many department
stores in Paris, they leave their top floors open for free with rooftop view
terraces. This is the back of the Opera House right there, you’re staring point blank at it. And
cafeterias to provide cheap meals for people in those departments stores. The Eiffel
Tower. You can’t leave Paris without seeing the Eiffel Tower, there’s no way. I save it
for the end, before we head to Normandy. Europe’s tallest structure for a long
time, that 1,000 foot, 1,063 foot Eiffel Tower, the greatest view from it is the
Place Du Trocadéro here, and here’s a tip, if you read your guide book, there’s a
little museum off to the left side dedicated to the architecture and
monuments of France. I love the museum, included in the museum pass, you never
pay the 11 euros or dollars to get in, but with the museum pass maybe you’ll go.
What’s cool about it is there’s a cafe right here on the outside that nobody
knows about, with this view of the Eiffel Tower. It’s called the Cafe Carlu. Now you
know. The greatest view from the Place Du Trocadéro of the Eiffel Tower, and it’s a
crowded site. This is not the line waiting to get the tower, this is waiting
for the fireworks to explode on the 14th of July, when they were lit off from the
Eiffel Tower. But the Eiffel Tower is Europe’s, oh no– France’s most difficult site
to get into, if you don’t come prepared to wait an hour and a half in line, which
is a lot of time out of a day in your time, book ahead. You can reserve your
elevator up to the top three months ahead of time. The problem with booking
ahead, that far ahead, is you don’t know what the weather’s gonna be, do you. You may go
on a rainy day, bummer, but at least you’ll get up the tower. My advice is
that you can climb– that you can stand in line, there are certain times a day
that are quieter, or walk the stairs up to the first floor. It will take you about 10
minutes, you’ve got to have energy to do so, you can also climb to the second
floor. Those are the two greatest viewing platforms anyway, for a fraction
of the price of getting up or booking a reservation. And then from there you can
take an elevator all the way to the top if you want, you have to buy your way from there.
But go late in the day whenever you go, Go late in the day watch as the sun goes
down, and the city sparkles below, then exit the Eiffel Tower when it’s
glimmering at its best. Without question, whether you go up the Eiffel Tower or
not matters little to me, because there’s other
great views of the city of Paris, but there’s nothing like seeing this
monument lit at night, every night of the year, looking this way. All the information
I’ve just given you, and a lot more is provided in our guidebooks, the Paris
book or the Pocket Paris guidebook. Normandy and the Loire. If you’ve never been to France before,
these two regions are the second-most, and third-most important to see after Paris. And
they loop into a perfect route, combining with the city of Paris. For about 10 days,
you can combine Paris, and the Normandy area, Loire, and maybe even a corner of Burgundy if you
want, but I’d dart back to Paris probably after that, traveling on my own. Let’s travel west of Paris, following the
Seine River then, and get into the Normandy countryside. Both of the
regions, Normandy and Loire, are actually very close to the city of Paris,
and easy to access. Following the Seine River west about an hour, takes you to the
“Camp David” of impressionist art, or Claude Monet’s home, where he spent the last 40
years of his life cultivating his art and his garden. It’s a remarkably beautiful
place to be, and it’s open until November. It’s gorgeous anytime of the year
that it’s open, seven days a week now, it’s easily daytrip-able from Paris. Train to a
short shuttle bus, or bicycle rental, if you want to, for the four kilometer last
stretch done by bike or bus to get to these gardens. It’s crowded, its popular,
so strategize your sightseeing when you go. It’s about also halfway to the coast
of Normandy, and my favorite first night stop outside of the city of Paris, in the
seafaring town of Honfleur. With over a thousand years of seafaring history,
sailors sailed from here to discover Canada, Quebec, and the St. Lawrence
waterway for example, all from this little tiny town of Honfleur. Which
today just seems like an adorable place to hang out, and enjoy its cute buildings,
and see its principal site of 100% wood Gothic church, where if you turn it upside down
it looks like it would float on the on the ceiling because it was built from
shipwrights, remember the history of the city. Honfleur is
also a favorite of Impressionist artists, who loved to paint the beaches nearby.
Remember you’re on the coast of Normandy, where the Seine meets the Atlantic.
Luminous light drew their attention, and Eugène Boudin, favorite son of the
city Honfleur, has a museum dedicated to him today. Lovely, easy, sample of the
impressionist art inspired by this town, but mostly Honfleur is a lovely place just to
hang out, just to get over jet lag if you just recently arrived. Have a crepe,
remember, you’re in Normandy, Brittany. Crepes, anything with apples, cider, Calvados,
cream sauces, or seafood makes sense. An hour and a half south of Honfleur, the gorgeous cliff of Normandy line the D-Day
beaches that looked entirely different seventy-two years ago. Here, museums, monuments, cemeteries litter the
landscape, paying homage to the British, Canadian, and American soldiers whose
courage landed successfully the greatest amphibian invasion of history. It’s a
remarkable accomplishment. The great news is the museums that exist in the sights
describe this so beautifully well to travelers, particularly we Americans.
Here’s a point of time where we’re involved in Europe’s history, in a very
favorable way. Museums dot the landscape. This is my favorite. The largest is in
the city of Caen, it’s a great WWII museum, no question about it, but I’d rather be
here, right on the beaches, at Utah beach. This is the Utah Landing Museum, only
reopened two years ago. Built over a German bunker, you pop out,
it does a brilliant job explaining the strategy that had to happen for
paratroopers, the line behind the lines, for ships to do their work, for landings
to happen, just all had to happen just right on time. It’s a gripping event that
these museums describe to you beautifully. All of the equipment you’ll
see, depending on the museum that you’re looking at, from all the airplanes, I don’t
care if it’s a B-52 or a duck, they have a lot of ducks, the floating duck ships that
we use today, tanks, jeeps, they’re all on display somewhere for you to see, along this fifty-mile stretch of the D-Day beaches. It’s such an important sight that
I highly recommend hiring a local guide. And this is not a cheap event, if you’re
traveling on your own, join a group minivan tour for about $100 for the
day. Private guides run 400 to 500
dollars for the day, right, for your family and you, yes. But if you’re gonna ever spend that kind of money, here is the place in France to do so, because
no matter how good I think my description is in the guide book to
these D-Day beaches, there’s no way that I can do justice like Dale Booth does, or Paul
Woodadge, or Stuart Robertson. These guys are writing books about it, and you can
ask them any questions you have, and you can’t imagine what your questions are
until you go. There are three key sights that you must see along this fifty-mile
stretch. Arromanches, the epicenter of the attack, where the allies figured that we
couldn’t– they couldn’t take an existing port because they were so fortified by
the Germans and protected, that they built their own port overnight. Towing, at Arromanches, 17 old ships, 115 huge, football- sized blocks of concrete across to
surprise the Germans, and arrange them in an arcing-fashion in the harbor to be a
breakwater. They were supposed to last a few years, they’re still there today. This
is the view from last year that I took. A remarkable accomplishment. Imagine boats
with floating pontoons coming to the shore, and within one week, the port Winston, named for the genius of
Winston Churchill whose idea it was, offloaded over 3,000 troops, 100,000 tons
of material, and 60,000 vehicles to support the inland invasion. We had a
foothold, finally, in Western Europe. Remarkable accomplishment,
there’s a cool little museum right there to tell you the history of that particular
event, and that harbor. The Pointe Du Hoc is another important sight, the number two
for you to see on the D-Day beaches. For here, this cliff separating Utah from
Omaha Beach on the D-Day beaches, juts out far into the cliffs and housed six
155-millimeter guns. I’m not a military expert, but I know that they
could range 13 miles out into the sea. In order for safe landings to occur, and
for this successful invasion, they had to run the Germans off that cliff with six
guns like this. And so, backing up, the rangers scaled those cliffs, the US Rangers, 200 of
them, imagine at low tide, because they had to using ladders and grappling hooks
from London fire departments, in one of the most gripping events in Normandy D-Day
invasion history. That’s after we bombed the smithereens at the top of the site,
hoping to destroy those guns in any case, but the Rangers had no idea what
they would find when they got to the top. it is a gripping sight to see. And the
American cemetery, where 10,000 almost Americans lie today. Crowning white crosses and Stars of
David, crowning a beautiful bluff above Omaha beach, the eye of the storm of
the D-Day invasions. And the visitor center today presents travelers with a
great– different than the museums, it has artifacts, personal possessions of the
fellows who lie in the cemetery, establishing for you, as a visitor, a
personal connection to these people. Their names, the state they’re from, what
mattered to them, letters to their parents, and this kind of thing. The
American cemetery is a powerful sight for us to visit. Just six miles inland of the
D-Day beaches, the city of Bayeux lies in perfect state of repair because it was
the first to be liberated, it wasn’t bombed in the war. And in that church, the
Grand Cathedral of Bayeux, “Notre Dame de Bayeux,” this tapestry hung for a
long period of time, commemorating an entirely different
invasion. 70 yards long, about a meter high, a yard high, the Tapestry of Bayeux told the
story of a reverse invasion across the Atlantic, of William the Conqueror’s
victory in 1066 over Harold in England at the Battle of Hastings, just off the
D-Day beaches. Oh and it’s– the museum where it’s located today, presents this
tapestry, one of the greatest documents we have from the middle ages, in a beautiful fashion for you to visit today. Allocate
a whole day to the D-Day beaches at least, then your morning and early
afternoon to Bayeux, then head out for an hour and a half south, down here to
the Mont Saint-Michel. A headache to get to unless you have a car but it’s doable. Read
the book, it is doable if you don’t have a car, it’s manageable, but you need
to plan ahead here. And that Europe’s greatest tidal change region. This island
abbey, for a long time an island abbey, sits as a reclusive place for monks to
get away from the madding crowd, but in the 1800’s, it was no longer an island.
This causeway was built to allow us to come and access the island, so they didn’t
have to muddy their feet in the mud waters when it was low tide. 10 years of
planning and work have destroyed that causeway, and created an entirely new
bridge, which today is done. This was two years ago when I took this image. That’s
gone, that bus over here is on this bridge, allowing the water to circulate around
the island again, re-creating its island fashion. That’s a
remarkable accomplishment, and for me, as a guide book writer who sees it all the
time, it’s thrilling. I think so many sights in France are getting better every year
because of the investment of the government. Half of the height of the island abbey at Mont
Saint-Michel is man-made. When you see it, it’s a remarkable accomplishment. 1200
years old, one civilization built on top of the other, higher and higher they
built. Arrive after five, or you’ll run headlong into this group of people. Don’t arrive
before five, simple, it rhymes. Arrive after five, and you’ll have the city to yourself,
the island abbey, all the streets, pardon me, to yourself. Spend the night, five different hotels are
available at reasonable prices on the island, or where the shuttle buses leave
from on the mainland to get you across. The shuttle buses run to the island, I should
tell you, every couple of minutes, so staying on the mainland works just as easily. But
the key is to see this beautiful abbey late in the day with no crowds, or
first thing in the morning when it opens. It’s also open late at night in the
summer months, with logs, and fires, and classical music playing if you want
to tour it, but the idea of spending the night is so you see it looking like this. Every day of
the year, this beautiful monument is illuminated
like this. If you came between ten and three, imagine what you would have
missed. That’s Normandy too. It’s about a four to five hour car– call it five
hours car, six hour train ride, to connect Mont Sainte-Michel in with the heart of the Loire
Valley, then a couple hours right back up to Paris, by the way. This is the happy
hunting grounds of kings and queens of France. Because of its strategic
location, in the Middle Ages and 1400s and 1500s, over 1,000 castles are
built in this region. It’s crazy. Hunting was the sport of the day and
age, the king, this is the king’s palace, hunting palace of Chambord, we’ll
get you more detail in a moment. It’s popular because so many people wanted to
rub shoulders with a king. Because of all those castles, many of them have been
turned into hotels ’cause they can’t all be open to tourists for
visiting, so here’s your chance to stay at a château and eat goat cheese. This is the– if you love goat cheese, the Loire Valley is probably the greatest region for goat
cheese. It’s also popular for trout and “pate de pork,” kind of a pate of pork.
Bike riding is a romantic notion in the Loire Valley, it sounds great to
travel, to ride your bike between castle to castle, until you get on that bicycle
seat, if you haven’t ridden for a while, and realize it’s an hour and half ride from this castle to that castle. Go ahead, if you
want to, but my advice is to take it easy, take a minivan tour if you don’t have a
car, they work very well. Trains work well in the Loire Valley,
believe it or not, mixing in with buses to get you to the châteaux and stay in
Amboise or take a car, rent a car. Many people rent a car just for the day. Amboise is on the
Loire River, on the Loire River, the largest river in the area, is the best base
for, I think, for seeing the chat– the greatest of the châteaux. This is
the king’s palace, and it’s a lovely little town with lots of hotels and
restaurants that we recommend, and the highlight for most sightseers in the
little town of Amboise is the home of Leonardo da Vinci. Few people know he
ended the last several years of his life here, brought up by the Renaissance King
of France, Francois I, just to be smart for him. That’s pretty cool, “just
be smart for me.” I’d like somebody do that with me someday. You can– the Clos Lucé is the name
of his home, and that’s nice to visit, and memories of Leonardo da Vinci are
interesting, but what really matters is that in the basement, and in the huge
park around, they have reconstructed the inventions of this genius who died
over 500 years ago. And you’ll see tanks in the background, helicopters, the invention of the helicopter, airplane
flight, as you wander through this museum and you wonder, “how did he come up
with these ideas?” It’s a remarkable understanding of the genius of Leonardo
da Vinci. With a full day outside of Amboise, two, maybe three, châteaux for big people is
the recommended dosage. Start with Chenonceau. Arrive before
nine, leave Amboise at 8:30, arrive about quarter of nine here, and beat the crowds. This is
the full package, this is the grandest of the Loire Valley châteaux: Chenonceau.
It has beautiful gardens, gorgeous interior with good audio guided tours
for you, we also cover it in our guidebook, it has the whole package of the sights of a
livable château. By the way, in the summertime the gardens are open till
late at night. Consider having dinner at one of the
restaurants I recommended in Chenonceau, then wander in for $5 and enjoy just the
gardens, and the reflected light of Chenonceau at night. The king’s palace,
Château Chambord, is about 45 minutes away, only way to get here is
really a minivan tour, or your car, or scheduled buses from the city of Blois.
Anyway, 440 rooms, 365 chimneys. You could have a fireplace in a different room every day
of the year. This is the king’s castle, it’s his hunting palace. He never spent
very much time here. The rooms are big, the place is big, so the crowds aren’t a
problem. Doesn’t matter when you go. Make sure, whatever you do, get to the top rooftop, and explore those chimneys that
received 365– spires, pardon me, chimneys’ worth of fire, and
understand why they were there. Plan your own hunting attack. Hunting is
a winter sport, the trees are deciduous. It’s a lot
easier to see those animals when the trees are empty of leaves, isn’t it. Thus, people
come and hunt in the winter time, and they need heat, and they need tapestries
guarding their walls to make it worthwhile for them to go. End your day,
maybe, at the Château de Cheverny, a lovely, intimate castle where the duke– the count
still lives on the corner right side, and still today you can tour the bottom
two floors. And get the best sense of the French hunt by visiting in the afternoon,
and seeing the feeding of the 80 french blood hound dogs, every afternoon of the
year at Cheverny. That adds a dimension and a statement to your sightseeing of the
Loire Valley, and understand the importance of the hunt. Ninety minutes
away, if you have another day for your sightseeing in the Loire Valley, the
beautiful city of Chinon lies on the Vienne River. Feudal castle, Eleanor of Aquitaine, Henry II,
ruled a swath of Europe not seen from England to southern France,
southwestern part of France in the 1200s. Joan of Arc, in the 1400s, would come and
stay at this castle in Chinon, To encourage Charles VII to rally
the French against the English, and kick them out of France for once and for
all, and the feudal fortresses is there for you to visit today. There’s really not a
lot to see there, unless you like just the memories of those two powerful women, Eleanor
of Aquitaine and Joan of Arc. The city below is a lovely town just to spend
time in and I like it as a base for touring châteaux on this side of the Loire
region. It’s also a good base for nearby visiting châteaux of the garden varietal.
Here at Villandry, if you’re into gardens and even if you’re not into gardens,
you gotta see this– I mean this place is remarkable. Herbal plants planted according to medieval
monks ideas, and vegetables, and ornamental gardens at the Château of Villandry here, give the traveler a lovely example of another aspect of château life.
The Château of Azay-le-Rideau floats gorgeously in a reflecting pond, and is open most nights
of the year, many nights, I should say, in high season until late, with the sound and light show,
and its remind– that’s also close to Chinon. This reminds me that many châteaux– several châteaux do
the sound and light shows for you, and they’re interesting, they’re not
overwhelming, but they’re interesting, but they certainly extend the traveler’s day.
This information for the Loire and the Normandy region is all covered in my– in
our guidebook on France, and again, these two regions coupled together with
Paris make for an ideal 10-day trip, particularly if you’ve never been before. The Dordogne, and the Languedoc. Seven hours south of Paris,
the city of Sarlat is the heart of the Dordogne region, another three
hours south from there, Carcassonne is the capital site for the Languedoc area,
taking us all the way to the border of Spain. The Dordogne, the lazy
Dordogne River is often, this region, American’s favorite place that they had
never heard of, or been to in France, when they go, for it’s simply beautiful. Stone
palaces, stone fortresses, pardon me, guard above the lazy river. Walnut orchards,
tobacco fields, and sunflowers carpet the valleys below. Traditions run deep here.
Walking– passing your neighbor walking his geese in the evening is not an unusual
event in the Dordogne region. And remember, this is the land of stuffed
geese and duck liver, foie gras, and confit de canard, or magret de canard, duck and
goose, are very present on your menus at night in this region. Sarlat, 10,000,
15,000 person town makes a great base, this is a largely very rural area. Only
recently was there a freeway that led to the Dordogne region. Sarlat is a
seductive tangle of cobblestone alleys and gold stone buildings. Entirely free
of cars, except for one main street that intersects the city. You’ll find, two days
a week, it’s Europe– France’s greatest market day, and it covers and fills all
of the pedestrian-only lanes, it seems, and squares in the town of Sarlat,
making it lovely. There’s no important sight to see in the town of Sarlat, it’s
just a beautiful place to be and to base yourself for great sightseeing. We like
the market day so much there, if you’ve seen the TV show that I’ve done with
Rick, we take you through, and in our guidebook, we do a self-guided tour
through a market day, Wednesdays and Saturdays in Sarlat.
Arrive on a Tuesday night or Friday night, and
wake up to the sounds of the market being established. Anything
you see in the market should be fresh, you should be looking for it on your
menu that dinner, at night. And again, Sarlat makes a lovely place to stay. I’d recommend three nights here for all
there is to do within a short distance of the town. If you don’t have a car, a
minivan tour is essential. There’s no way public transit’s gonna get
you to the great sites around, unless you choose to take a canoe trip down the
lazy river. This is one of Rick’s favorite things to do. Whenever I travel with him
we always make time to canoe down the Dordogne River. For here, you can
spend two hours, four hours, all day if you want to, sauntering down different parts.
They’ll drop you– pick you up in Sarlat, if you don’t have a car, and then
drop you at the river and allow you, and it’s a fat, very slow-moving
river, to sight-see from a canoe. Stop at Castelnaud, here. Wander to the top through
the village and check out one of France’s greatest monuments to the
the Hundred Years War. The castles in the Dordogne, then, have a lot of
history related to the Hundred Years War. Every room in the Castelnaud castle has war–
military inventions, and crossbows, and such from the Middle Ages. It’s a great
education if you’re into warfare, and the catapults are the capping part from the
top of the castle. Then continue on your canoe to the town of Beynac. Slide your canoe
into this town, wander the top of this castle. That Castelnaud castle was British
for a long time, Beynac here was French, and they fight each other for a long
time. And climb to the top that castle
for grand views. We list the chateau of– the castle of Beynac. This region of France is
famous for having more artifacts from prehistoric times than anywhere else in
the world, and nowhere else is it accessible as well as it is in
the Dordogne Valley to see this incredible concept of art from 20,000 years ago. When woolly mammoths and saber-toothed tigers were prowling
the earth, cavemen were painting inside caves. And we can see four of those
original caves today, if we plan our time well. First I’d start at the Museum of
Prehistory in the town of Les Eyzies. Over 400,000 years of history
are covered pretty well in English, they do a good job translating in
English. With eighteen thousand artifacts, this is a good basis of understanding
prehistoric art. And if you can’t get to this museum, read the exceptional
passage and introduction to this form of art that Gene Openshaw wrote for the
France book. That gives you an understanding and a sympathetic view to
these people. And, as you approach the caves, understand that they painted deep
inside a cave. In limestone caves you needed this kind of rock for this to
occur, often prowling in six miles 15,000 to 20,000 years ago
with lamps made of animal fat, I guess, I understand, to paint on the walls.
There are four caves I mentioned before where you can see the original thing and you have
to be organized and on the ball to do so. This is the entry to the Font-de-Gaume cave, the greatest of them all, and the hardest to get into. I won’t pretend
that it’s going to be easy for you to get into this, but, by the internet, if you
do well ahead, you might get lucky and find a spot, or show up very early in the
morning, and I mean six o’clock early for nine o’clock opening, and hope for the
first spot available in line that day. I think that’s crazy. Because, nearby, the
caves of the Rouffignac, where a train takes you three miles in the cave, passing ice age
bear scratches on the walls as you go, and seeing black outlines of woolly
mammoths like this. It’s a gripping site, and easy to get into is the cave at Rouffignac. Pech Merle, about 45
minutes to the south, add color to what Rouffignac did with black and
white, and paintings of horses. You have to imagine all these different animals
painted. And imagine this, this is one of a kind, where a man blew with a straw,
probably, paint around his hand or her hand, incredible. Pech Merle, this cave
with original cave art, can be booked rather easily, 500, 600 people
are allowed in on a daily basis, that’s pretty good. Most of these caves have very
limited numbers of people who are allowed in. Two hours north of Sarlat lies the
powerful village of Oradour-sur-Glane. Here, halfway to the Loire Valley, good
stuff on your way if you’re ready for it. Four days after the invasion of D-Day,
looking into town on June 9, looking very much as you see it in this image, was
invaded by Nazis. All the people, 642 people, were rounded up, taken to the
church, machine-gunned to death, and then burned,
left under a blanket of ash as the whole town was. The fact that that happened
really wasn’t so unusual in WWII, just ask Italians and other French. What is
unusual, is the French left the town exactly as they found it, exactly on June– and you’ll see what it looked like on June 10,
1944, clearing out so that tourists could see a little bit. You can see the light rail
line, or the tramway, that led to the big city of Le Monge nearby. Walk by rusted
out cars, bicycles left positioned against the sides of walls, sewing machines
inside of buildings. It’s a powerful sight to see, and the reason it’s kept, of course, by
the French government for us to see today, is to remind us that this happened,
and that it should never happen again. Sadly, in the 1990s in
Bosnia-Herzegovina, we know that genocide occurred again, so I’m glad that
they still keep this going. And it’s a powerful site for you to see, with a
great museum that introduces you to the event and why, why, why, why, why this would
have happened. Two, three hours south of the Dordogne region, the grand feudal
fortress of Carcassonne lies with accepting is the capital, to me, of
sightseeing of this cool region that blends French and Spanish culture. Wines in this area are coarse and heavy. I
love the wines made from the Languedoc, and I love touring the walled city of
Carcassonne. Arrive, again, much like– arrived after five, and– otherwise it’ll
be very crowded behind those walls. There are four or five hotels within the walls, and
several with views just outside the walls. Spend the night in it or close. Arrive at the end of the day, tour 80% of
the walls, there are three levels of walls that protect the city, started by the Romans,
in Carcassonne. You can wander 80% of them for free, and then have
the famous dish, the local dish of the area, cassoulet, a Roman concoction of mutton,
pork, sausage, goose, duck, and white beans. I call it a fancy “weenies and beans dish,”
my wife calls it fattening. This is the traditional dish though,
of a peasant cooking in the Languedoc area, matched by a very coarse, heavy red wine,
mind you, that’s heavy for France’s heavy red wine, then get out and see
Carcassonne at night. The same walking tour you may have done in the daytime is
entirely different at night. Camelot lies beautifully illuminated every
day of the year, and again, if you don’t spend the night here or nearby, you won’t
see this, and I’d say, arguably, it’s not worth going. it’s too crowded in the daytime, it’s just– I wouldn’t go. Nearby, sights in the
Languedoc area, just adjacent outside of Carcassonne, that remind us of
Provence, but this is southwestern France, that’s southeastern France, lie in memories of
the Cathar people, a heretical group of Christians who grew in numbers from
11 to the 13th century, who were chased out by the Pope and the king of France, and
the ultimate collusion to rid the church, first of all, of a competing, ever
increasing in popularity, religious approach to Christianity, and the King of
France saw the advantage of a land grab to the southwestern corner of France. And
together, after the genocide, if you want to call it that, the Crusades preached against
the Cathar people, who hid in villages just like this. It’s a gripping history
that you’ll see a lot– read a lot about in the Languedoc area. After that, the last
Cathar was killed burned, at the stake in 1301, the French took control of this
region, adding it to their ever-increasing country size. Minerve,
here, is the village that you can see, and the castles, the Cathar castles as
they’re called today, where they ran to hide, to escape. They were pacifists, they were
vegetarians, they didn’t fight, the Cathars, they didn’t have a chance against French the army, you
see. Peyrepertuse is this castle, even if the Cathar history is not that interesting to you, the incredible construction of this castle
4,000, 3,500 feet high in the Pyrenees Mountains near Carcassonne, about an hour
and a half away. Beautiful drive that I narrate in the guidebook between Carcassonne
and there, follow the route I recommend . These were originally built as outposts to
protect, there are about 12 castles, the Maginot Line, I call it, of the 12th century, to protect
what is today Spain from what is today France, you see. The Cathars just simply occupied
deserted castles. Another hour away lies the beachy hill town of Collioure, a perfect
place to take a vacation from your vacation on this western swing through
the southern-western corner of France. Collioure, most Americans have
never heard of, yet it has France’s best, most moderate climate year-round. It’s a
gorgeous little fishing village, or really, resort town, with a lovely old city here,
a chateau of its own, and a beautiful church. But really there’s no sight, no
turnstile worth paying for, worth crossing. This is a chance just to sit on the sandy beach,
drink the local wine vignoles or their white or their red wine from Collioure, and
imagine how close you are to Spain. Eat something Spanish. Here, it’s only a
couple hours by train to Barcelona. If you drop your rental car here, you can
train to Barcelona and continue your trip into Spain if you want to. Collioure makes a
great stopping off point then for that. The Languedoc and the Dordogne, together, are
remarkable sights in the southwest corner of France. Let’s explore the eastern corner of– side of
this country. I’m not sure which side of France I like better. My house is here, in
the Burgundy region on the eastern side, but boy, every time I travel through the west, and the
places that I get to go every year, I’m never sure where I’d live if I could
choose again. But the eastern side, we’ll start in the Burgundy area and cover
Burgundy and the Alps, which adjoin each other, basically, for a great central
eastern look at this region– at this side of France, I should say. Here you go, two
hours by bullet train, four hours, at least, by car. Believe me I know, I’ve done this a lot
of times. From Paris Airport to Beaune, and the capital of the wine country in Burgundy,
another couple hours up, three hours up to the heights of the Alps in Chamonix,
again, not faster by train this time, because local trains takeover, although
certainly doable in a day, let’s get going. In Burgundy, the countryside is sophisticated
and calm as the residents. If you’ve come to see quintessential France, you’ve
arrived at the right place in Burgundy, for here, the landscapes are crisscrossed
with canals and beautiful canal boats like this, I just grabbed that one in the
guidebook by the way. Lovely Romanesque chapels like this one
in Brancion, and hill towns far off the normal beaten path. And of course, the
cuisine is world famous, snails cooked in garlic sauce, Coq Au Vin,
red meat from the Charolais cattle, the white cattle,
simmered in red wine for hours. Coq Au Vin, rooster cooked in red wine
for hours. “Oeufs en meurette,” “Oeufs en meurette,” if you’re French, “oofs,”
if you’re American, phonetically, is my favorite of those dishes, and those are eggs,
poached eggs, again, served in a red wine– cooked in a red wine sauce. There’s something about red wine in this area, isn’t there.
Beaune, I mentioned before, is the perfect base for touring the
Burgundian area. This is twenty minutes from our house and I spent a lot of time
in the city. It’s a lovely, quintessentially French town of 25,000 people, and capital of
the wine industry here. So there’s many chances to taste wine in the town of Beaune.
It works well even if you don’t have a car– does the Burgundian– does
Burgundy. Its most famous monument, there’s one sight that’s important to see
outside of the wineries, for most Americans, and that’s its medieval hospital
here, that I’m showing you. The Hospices de Beaune. You’ll see medieval– other examples of
the Middle Ages in churches, and castles, hill towns, and walled cities, right, but
rarely will you see a hospital from the Middle Ages, particularly one as glorious
as this one. How is it, that this classically, by the way, tiled Burgundian roof and
hospital is in such great state of repair kits from the Middle Ages? Mind you,
Middle Ages is when the nurses were where nuns, and the primary antidote to any
cure was bloodletting. When you travel through this museum you get to see
examples of the– what looks like a caulking gun. They would let blood from people’s
heads, and of course, as a modern-day person, you realize that you were far
better off in the Middle Ages outside this hospital, rather than within, because
the idea of infection had not yet arrived, and oftentimes two to three, even,
sometimes patients would lie these narrow beds. But the reason this hospital looks
like this today, is that it was used as a hospital until 1971. That
makes it remarkable alone, right, incredible, right. And it’s unique in the
world because of its financing technique, method of financing. Every year, over the
hundreds of years that this hospital’s existed, when people died, they would
donate their land if they were saved and it felt like they were well-treated at
hospital, to the Hospices de Beaune, and to the nuns, etc. That land eventually grew
great wine. That means that this hospital is one of the greatest landholders of vineyards in Burgundy, and every year they
do an annual selling of their wine, it’s the famous wine that determines– auction that
determines the price of wine throughout the world, almost, the auction in Beaune, every third– it’s coming
up– third week of November. Anyway, that’s fascinating. Beaune has great market days two days a
week, Wednesday’s and particularly Saturdays. I love the Saturday Market in Beaune, we
never miss when we’re there. The best thing to do, I think, the best place
to rent a bike in all of France is in Burgundy, because short distance from
Beaune, easy to do, great guys running the bike rental store, in a couple miles you’re
there, in the villages, along these wine service roads. Cars don’t use these roads,
maybe tractors do if they’re tending to their grapes. Bicycle riders have free
run then, throughout the vineyards, running wine village to wine village,
it’s a glorious area, the prettiest vineyards, I think, in France are here in
Burgundy. And stop to taste along the way if you want to. I wouldn’t drink
too much if you’re riding your bicycle, but I’m probably feeling better about that
than if I were driving a car. So I list two different bike loops that you can do,
because it is early so easy to do. And bike-only lanes, and paths, and well signed paths allow you to do so. The importance of abbeys in Europe and
in France’s history come to life more in Burgundy than anywhere else, thanks to the
Abbey at Cluny, the most powerful abbey in Europe’s history, which had over 2,000
dependent churches and abbeys based on it, and vied with the church in Rome,
St. Peter’s, the Vatican, for power for a period of time. We have Burgundy’s
importance with abbeys like this one, and this one, at Fontenay, is maybe one of
the best examples, perfectly preserved, for you to visit today, to understand.
This is a Cistercian abbey. St. Bernard, thanks to him, constructed in the 1200s, and from the 1200s and
1300s, this abbey flourished, all the way, really, until the French Revolution. For
700 years, this mini city gathered the knowledge, and kept the
knowledge that was lost after the fall of Rome, and the barbarian invasions, and
the Dark Ages. Monks retreated to places just like
this, or the island abbey of Mont St. Michel, to study the workings of the clock, to
illuminate manuscripts, to study metalworking, the first forge in European–
in Europe arrives here at the Abbey at Fontenay, and thanks to abbeys like this, Europe, and France in particular, makes
it through the Dark Ages. People start moving back into cities, thanks to the
techniques, the study of wine and cheese in particular, at abbeys like Fontenay.
And here, just an hour outside of Beaune, you can get that sense of life. My
favorite site in France today is being built. The Castle at Guédelon is a
daring move by the French private enterp– entrepreneurs. Imagine
building a castle using, from the 1200s, blueprints that we have,
drawings designed in the year 1200, from the king Philip the Fair. Imagine
building a castle using only the tools and techniques of the year 1200, and
building it taking forty years. They’re twenty years into it today at Guédelon, what you’re looking at here. Nobody knows of this site, it’s kind of in a remote
corner of Burgundy anyway, we have deviated two of our tours to visit it,
we think it’s so important. The reason they did this, they’re building
this castle, is to learn. There’s so much we
don’t know, ironically, about the construction of
medieval castles, and it teaches– they’re learning as they go, and also
it’s a great showpiece for children, for tourists to understand, to see how rocks
are taken right out of the quarry nearby, and and then dressed into squares and rectangles, and
then pulled up the squirrel wheel, continuing the structure, taller, and taller, it’s
all happening in front of your eyes when you visit. Is it at the Castle of
Guédelon, that’s Burgundy’s latest sights. For many people though, that’s nothing
compared to being face to face with the awesome Alps. Whether you’re in
Switzerland, or France, or Italy, the Alps are one of the more remarkable mountain
ranges in the world, and here there’s, I don’t think there’s a better place in
Europe to appreciate the drama of the Alps, and the glaciers that you can see
flowing down from the high Alps in France, just two and a half hours east of
Beaune, of Burgundy. Here, melted cheese matters. You won’t find this in most– I mean
there’ll be fondu places, but this is every restaurant in the Alps, where
you’ll find fondue, melted cheese, right, or raclette, or tartiflette, which is my
favorite, and if you’ve never heard of tartiflette, it’s scalloped potatoes with
melted cheese. It’s always melted cheese over the top. All of these dishes, of course, keep
people warm in the winter in this cold climates, there’s a reason for it. A lot
of cows produce lots of cheese in this area too. Two sights I recommend, two cities for
basing yourself, or for appreciating the French Alps. The most beautiful city in
France, and I think maybe arguably in Europe, Annecy, pronounced, “ahnsee”
here. 50,000 people laced with canals, arcaded walkways, a glorious
situation, town, on the lake Annecy. The Alps are a little bit in the distance, they’re not
right there for you to hike up right in front of you, but for a lakeside visit of
the Alps, Annecy competes very favorably with any Swiss city, from Lucerne to
Geneva, that I’ve ever seen, with a fraction of the price for hotels, and better
food and wine anyway, right. Here you can travel around the lake, there’s a path that goes
halfway up the lake. Rent a bike. Everybody’s renting bikes here these days,
it’s like Greenlake. Ride around the lake halfway, 45 minutes or so at an average
pace, then pull your bike onto one of the steam ships that runs about every
two hours, and come back rolling your into bike to the city of Annecy via boat. Or
rent a paddle boat, but get out into the lake a little bit. Lakefront Alpine sightseeing is
brilliant in the city of Annecy, but if it’s the Alps in your lap that you
must have, if you need to go hiking, if you need to
stand face to face with those glaciers, and the highest peaks in Europe, then to Chamonix you must go. Chamonix Mont Blanc, as it’s called, is a town of about 2,000 people,
whose entire existence has always been devoted to exploration of the mountains.
In the late 1700’s, early 1800’s, when the mountains became no longer obstacles in
the way, but obstacles of desire. “We’re gonna tackle that mountain and climb it
because it’s there.” Chamonix was perfectly positioned to do so. And today, every
every street name in the town of Chamonix is named for a famous mountain climber.
People come to Chamonix from around the world to study the heroic list of
climbers, to understand what they did. And by the way, traveling in this city, in the
French Alps, they do a brilliant job of explaining the history of mountaineering,
as well as the history of the, of glaciers and their current status today,
but we’ll talk about that more. But for you, the most incredible thing you can do
from the downtown of Chamonix is to ride a cable car up to 7,000 feet, then
transfer to another one to get up to 12,800 feet to the top edge of the side
of the Mont-the massive Mont Blanc. 12,800 feet. Dress warmly. This is open most of the
year, by the way. Then, from the rooftop– I love this next slide– from the– the French are crazy, they’re nuts. Only the French would build a glass
platform hanging from the edge of this building that you’re looking at, with a
three thousand foot drop below, to allow tourists to do this. This started just
last year. I thought the tour office was kidding me, and then I went back the next
year and I saw it sure enough. Wow, this is incredible, and there many other things
to see a 12,800 feet right next to Mont Blanc, but the greatest thing you can do,
and there there are expositions of mountaineering, and of glaciers, and of this
kind of thing here, really, and restaurants, and the whole thing, but the
greatest thing you can do, is hop into one of these little teacups, and travel at 12,500 feet, or 800 feet, with you and your partner, they can fit no more than four per car, and
crossover to Italy. We used to have to say, “bring your passport,” and then drop
down the other side if you want to, on a similar looking cable car, down into the
Italian city of Courmayeur, off to a Aosta, A-O-S-T-A, a beautiful city, and
onto Milan, if that’s what you want. There can be no greater European border
crossing than this that I’ve just showed you. At 12,000 feet you’ll pass the Matterhorn on
the left and all these– I’m serious, Switzerland is right there. Wow. That’s worth going to Chamonix alone,
I don’t know anywhere else in the world that does that. Then drop back down, on
your way back down to Chamonix, get off halfway, that I mentioned where the
transfer was, and hike Chamonix’s– this region’s greatest hike. From the Aiguille Du Midi, which is what that great lift is called, to the Mer de Glace glacier here
below. Eight mile long, one of the greatest– the greatest glacier in the French
Alps. Drop down, anyway, drop down to the cogwheel train to take you back
down to the city of Chamonix. That’s about a three hour hike for anybody. Rapid walkers can do it in two hours. But
it is– it undulates, up and down, but it’s a brilliant hike. If that’s
too much hiking for you, throughout, just above the city, there are easier trails
that I describe in the book, to get you up to some of these chalets with great
views, and a glass of wine, or hot tea, or coffee. Just enjoy the mountains all
around you without so much effort. On the opposite side of Chamonix’s valley, there are lifts and cable cars taking you on the mountains that hem it in on the other side
just as well. It’s a little bit claustrophobic in Chamonix, because you’re
surrounded by high mountain peaks. Burgundy and Chamonix and the
Alps, pardon me, the French Alps, combine together for a brilliant five or six
days of your time on a trip to France. Provence and the French Riviera anchor the southwestern
corner of your trip here. It makes a grand finale in the southwestern corner.
Provence provides a splendid recipe of arid climate, seas of vineyards, fields of
lavender, sunflowers, so good and great cities and villages, that we had to
write a book just dedicated to this one region, the size of the state of
Massachusetts, is this little region of Provence and the French Riviera. It
features great cities like Arles, a principal Roman city on the Via Domitia that connected Italy with Spain. Here in Arles, 50,000 people, you can explore
its Roman history which is– its heritage is shown beautifully. It’s also
an inexpensive place to stay with great hotels and restaurants in remarkable
price ranges. The Ancient– Antique Museum of Arles presents
its Roman history. Look at how little the city looks to have changed, let’s look backwards. Here it is
today, this is what it looked like in a model in this museum that I’m showing
you, two thousand years ago. Geez, I wish every city had a museum like this, that
presented what the city looked like in its heyday, you see. And then from the model
of the city of Arles, there’s the arena, there’s the theater, the Roman theater,
there’s the forum, and then you go model to model over, and see all of
its great monuments, Roman monuments, in this museum. It’s a great way to start
your Roman lesson 101. Then get out in the city of Arles, and see the real
thing, whether it’s its great theater, its Roman arena that could handle 25,000
gladiator crazy fans two thousand years ago, and enjoy it’s market days. Two days
a week where you’ll feature its fine
olives, a feature of the of the Provence cuisine and tapenade. The market days
throughout the region of Provence are terrific, and Arles has two of them, has two days
of the greatest of them. Vincent van Gogh spent– dropped down– came
down to the city of Arles when he was just 35 years old, hoping to jump-start
his career, his artistic career and a social life. Coming from the flatlands,
and the Grey skies of Holland, he was bowled over by everything Provencal. The wind, the sunshine 350 days of the year, and he lived here for 18 months, sadly. And this is the region, when he
lived here, that influenced his art so greatly, and the paintings that we see,
that we love of Vincent van Gogh’s were painted when he was at his time here. Productive artist he was, cranking out a
masterpiece every two to three days during his time here. There are very few
of his paintings, maybe one or two, left that we can visit, depending on the year, in the city of Arles, but you can go in the footsteps, a tour, of Vincent van Gogh, and
stand where he did, you see, and look on the edge of the river, of the Rhone River,
over the city of Arles, and watch Starry Night over the, over the skylight and see
what he say, it looks just the same today. Twelve different panels are positioned
in Arles, taking you on the footsteps of Vincent van Gogh, showing paintings of
what you’re looking at that he painted in his style. I’d love that. Half an hour
north of Arles lies the walled city of Avignon. Behind its powerful walls
lies an interesting history. Avignon is twice the size of Arles, with more
of a sophisticated look and a great vibe from its market squares. It’s a young city, it’s a
student city, with very little to do in terms of sightseeing. This is the sight
in Avignon, and I actually think it’s a rather mediocre one, though historically,
it’s critically important. This is the Pope’s palace in the year– in the 1300’s, for almost a hundred years. The Vatican was moved to southern France, and
the entire city of Avignon was given a makeover. Nine popes ruled from here in the
1300’s. You can tour the inside of the Pope’s palace in Avignon, it’s
largely vacant rooms, with not a lot of things to see, but the history is
interesting. That said, you get a lot of history by staring at it from the
outside, if you want to, as well. “Sur Le Pont d’Avignon, on y danse, on y danse.” You can walk on this famous medieval bridge if you want
to, once 3,000 feet long with 22 arches, there are only four arches left to cross.
Avignon makes a brilliant base for those who don’t have cars for sightseeing in
the Provence area. Buses and trains get you out to see its
most important sites, and those would be the Roman sites nearby. The Pont Du Gard is
just 45 minutes by bus, 30 minutes by your own car, probably, from the city of
Avignon. Here the greatest Roman aqueduct that we get to see today in Europe.
Carried nine million gallons of water a day across this aqueduct, along a 30 mile
channel, to serve the important Roman city of Nîmes, dropping one inch for every 350 feet as it went. It’s a remarkable accomplishment that two
thousand years ago this bridge was built, this aqueduct, before the invention of
gunpowder, gunpowder? Mortar. I’m getting tired. Before the
invention of mortar, so these stones are just positioned into place perfectly. Still
today, floods happen on a regular basis in southern France. Modern bridges wash
away, Roman bridges lie intact. The Nîmes, the city of Nîmes, that the Pont Du Gard served, has
one of the greatest Roman monuments, the Maison Carrée, the best-preserved
interior, a brilliant Roman arena nearby, about half an hour from Avignon by train. Half an hour north, the city of Orange
offers Roman sightseers the best preserved Roman theater of Antiquity.
Easy by train to visit, 10,000 people could attend a Roman play, opera, or musical
here and experience remarkable sound effects, thunder, lightning. Go to
visit the theater of Orange to appreciate what the Romans were capable of. For many
people, the most important part of traveling in Provence is getting out onto the roadways, like this, and escaping the
madding crowds, and getting out to explore the gorgeous, arid landscape
dotted with olive trees, vineyards. We do a self-guided driving tour through
the Cotes Du Rhone vineyards in the France book and the Provence book. Friendly,
easy-going tasting places like this, and hill towns like this likely, like Le Beau, the
powerful hill town of Le Beau. Or France’s answer to Tuscany, the Luberon hill towns
of Gordes, or my favorite, Roussillon, with cozy squares, and lovely places to
spend the night or at least some time, before heading off onto the French
Riviera. Just a few hours east of these hill towns that I just showed you, and the
city of Arles and Avignon, lies the French Riviera. Attracting cruise ships,
sun worshipers, and travelers, with a surprising array of sights for you to
visit. The city of Nice is the epicenter of this area, with its best– with France’s
second best and most easy to use airport, lots of people fly into Nice and out of
Paris or vice versa. It’s half an hour for all that we cover, for all that’s
interesting on the French Riviera, it’s half an hour from Nice to Antibes by train,
and about the same distance to Monaco at the eastern edge. Don’t bring your car. If
you’re renting a car, rent it when you’re ready to leave, if you have a car when
you arrive, drop it off right away. Public transit in this area is brilliant,
and the penalty for trying to drive in this compact area is high. Nice is the fifth-largest city of
France, it’s a gorgeous city that’s really cleaned up its act in the last
five years, thanks largely to its tramway system, where all of the cars were taken
off the roads that it goes near including great squares. Until this
tramway was built just a few years ago, the Place Massena here had cars racing right
through it. Today it looks like this, and at night it looks like this. How
pedestrian-friendly, and how– what a change to the character of Nice, this is, and for me,
as a guide book writer, to see some place change that, well, that I used to not look
forward to going to is a joy. Stand up on Castle Hill, and admire the fact that
just below you, the old city of Nice is very Italianesque when you wander
through it. And we do a walking– self-guided walking tour through the
city of Nice, the old city, that looks more, really, looks like it could be in downtown Rome. Well until the late 1800’s this
was Italian, it was part of a principality owned by Italy. So the food, the architecture,
feels very Italianesque in Nice. Market days, the Cours Saleya is the heartbeat at the center
city of old Nice. The Promenade des Anglais is essential for understanding that
the history of the city began, really of importance, about a hundred years ago,
when Russian and British tourists started to come here to escape
their dreary winter weather. You can– we do a self-guided walking tour in our
guidebook, taking you along the Promenade des Anglais, which looks like this today by
the way. Sunny weather, probably 65 degrees, something like
that, nobody’s lying on the beach. Come in the summertime, it looks a little
bit different, doesn’t it. Who would do this? Lie on rocky beaches like this? The
French don’t care, it doesn’t matter. They rent lounges, and chairs, and such to avoid the
rocks commonly, but for you, put yourself in one of these lovely chairs and just
let the scenery in front of you pass by, and enjoy the Promenade des Anglais. The
Riviera is France’s greatest corner for understanding contemporary art. There it
drew artists, thanks to WWI, post-WWI, a variety of artists from Renoir to Marc
Chagall, whose museum we’re looking at, to Pablo Picasso, and many others. And there
is a museum dedicated to each of those artists along the Riviera, several of
them in the city of Nice alone, here the greatest museum that you want to see is
dedicated to Marc Chagall, who painted a series of 17 paintings, just for this
museum, inspired by the Bible, passages from the Bible. This is a brilliant
museum and we take you on a self-guided tour through it, thanks to the genius of
Gene Openshaw, again, with the help of Rick Steves. I just get to update it when I go. The
other museum nearby, just a couple of minutes away, is dedicated to Henri Matisse, who
lived just before Marc Chagall, died in the early nineteen hundreds. And he
painted in an abstract style, his museum, the museum dedicated to Henri Matisse is less compelling
to me, less essential for your visit. Though if you’re a Matisse fan you must go visit, right. Dedicated the
church, the Russian Church in Nice is an interesting site to visit, without
question. Here five hundred families doled together their money to build this church,
well thanks to the czar principally, the 500 families who lived in Nice year
round used this is a place of worship. And it’s a fascinating– it’s the greatest, probably the
greatest Russian Orthodox Church outside the country. Fascinating place to visit. Day trips from Nice are easy. Thanks to buses and practical trains, you can go next door, 15
minutes away, to the lovely city of Villefranche-sur-Mer, where many people prefer establishing their home base, because
it’s so quick to get into downtown Nice, if you want, and then get away to this
lovely little small village for their Riviera experience. Buses and trains connect it to downtown
Nice on a regular basis in one direction, in the other you can walk along
beautiful seafront promenades, across to the Peninsula of Cap Ferrat.
Visit the remarkable Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild, with seven different gardens,
gorgeous interior, but the gardens are what it’s all about. Looking to Monaco on one
direction and Villefranche the other, have dinner at one of my favorite restaurants,
the Plage de Passable here, with views back onto Villefranche. It’s about a 45
minute walk, taxis will take you there in about 10 minutes. Having dinner, watching the
light of Villefranche come on, on the beach, is a marvelous experience to have.
And what to eat? In Nice, bouillabaisse. Anything from the sea is very expensive, bouillabaisse is, but there are cheaper
versions like bourride, B-O-U-R-R-I-D-E. Anything shellfish from the
Mediterranean makes logical sense to order in this region. End your
sightseeing on the French Riviera at the– if you see it once, that’s enough, but you
gotta go there– Principality of Monaco. This principality, just 30 minutes
outside of Nice, another twenty maybe from Villefranche, is where 30,000 Monegasques live today, most because of the tax-free status, income tax free status.
You’ll want to tour the rock, Monaco-Ville. There are two principal parts of this
small little principality, I think it’s 30 kilometers, it’s smaller than Edmonds. It’s
its own country, but it uses French currency and a lot. Visit the rock, the
Monaco-Ville, where Prince Rainier’s palace, now Prince Albert’s palaces, remember, married
Grace Kelly, and arrive before noon every day for the changing of the guard.
Which is sort of silly to contemplate that a country this size has a
changing of the guard, and all of its pomp and circumstance, when you consider
there are more people in the Philharmonic in Monaco than in the army.
I like that, alright. Then cross the port here, where race cars have raised since 1929
up and down these hills, doing 78 laps in the Monaco Grand Prix, and find the
neighborhood of Monaco called Monte Carlo. And here, the casino is the
main site, right, this is the if they build– “if you build it they will come,” structure in Monaco, built as a
economic investment plan where you can feel downright James Bond-like after two o’clock.
Anybody can enter, it’s free now to enter the gaming rooms, but you have
to dress up and look as nice as you possibly can. Shorts are not allowed, tennis shoes, and
this kind of thing. Wear the best thing that you brought with you and spend your
last night, maybe, on your French experience in this glimmering city of Monaco.
It’s glorious at night. Easy to get back to your home base in Nice or Villefranche-sur-Mer. Well, this southeastern corner of France
is covered perfectly well in our France book, but even better in our book that
dedicates itself to Provence and the Riviera. All the information is updated
on our website, information about our tours. Things change, so we update our books
on our website. Check our website out before you go, maybe the price or maybe
the price of a great monument has changed, or its closed. you’ll find information on our
website. And I know, that if you go to France, no matter what region you choose
to go to, if you paddle on your own, choosing to do it on your own, or with a
group, you’ll have a marvelous experience,
because of those waiters, not in spite of them. “Merci,” everybody. Thank you for
your attention on this rainy night.

16 thoughts on “France Travel Skills”

  • We live and die by Rick Steve's books. We are fortunate enough to travel to Europe 4 or 5 times a year. We have never been steered wrong by his books. Lastly, France is an incredibly beautiful country to visit – top to bottom, east to west.

  • Having lived and worked in magical France, this fella knows exactly what he's talking about.
    He's one of the best public speakers I've ever heard.
    To talk for nearly 2 hours with no 'erm' and to keep me interested when I know most of this info already, is a great skill.
    Well done sir, you obviously love the country and Rick is blessed to have you on his team.
    Thank you for all your fantastic work, especially regarding France.

  • Tertiary Adjunct says:

    0:53 Orientation
    – 6:42 Waiters
    – 7:55 Trains
    – 9:50 Driving Tips
    – 10:45 Speed Cameras
    – 11:30 Gasoline/Petrol
    – 13:40 Accommodations
    – 18:00 Food and Restaurants

    24:55 Paris
    – 30:19 Museum Pass
    – 31:11 Lines!
    – 32:02 Getting around
    – 35:37 Sightseeing Suggestions / 4 Days in Paris

    54:10 Normandy & the Loire
    1:11:23 Dordogne & Languedoc
    1:23:25 Burgandy & the French Alps

  • Your speech is awesome, but I am extremely disappointed because you did not talk very much about Brittany, or Gironde region which is also great. To sum up what is Brittany, I would say it is a mix of Scottish, Irish, Welsh and French cultures, a Celtic culture. We have our own language, flag, long history, etc… I think your summary is too cliché but I know that you wanted to be quick.
    Brittany is the 3rd most visited region in France after Paris and Provence. It's better than Normandy to be honest, and I fully understand that you prefer visiting Normandy because of the common history with the US.
    I hope you will travel there later and that you will make a special video about this awesome region !

  • OH YES CASH ON HAND!!! We left hotel in wee hours to drive to the train station. Almost missed our train to Paris coz we didn’t have the right change for the toll and credit card didn’t work. We lucked out when a single soul was working in the office. We saw the lights on. After some running around in and out of the office, we were on our way. Whew!

  • A carnet is a book and a carnet de dix is a booklet of ten metro tickets. Carnet doesn’t mean 10 of something. Otherwise excellent info.

  • Very informative but he does cover the same ground as Rick's shows.
    I also find it difficult to sit through ÀNY presentation greater than 60 minutes, especially ones where so much information is given. It's a bit overwhelming. Steve himself seemed to run out of steam. Maybe focus on one region at a time, rather than trying to give us everything at once. This felt like a James Michener novel.

    Note to @ricksteves please continue the excellent work you're doing, but consider breaking these talks to 45-60 minutes.

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