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    Biarritz

    by solopes Updated Mar 1, 2015

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    A very nice beach, where I had a swim not so cold as expected. The problem is that only back home I realised that the pleasure of the beach made me forget the pleasure of photo.

    Maybe in the very old archives, twenty years ago...

    Biarritz Biarritz
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    Lille Christmas Market

    by cleocat Written Jan 22, 2015

    We went on a quick Christmas Market trip just before Christmas 2014. We decided on Lille as it was on the way to Brussels. I expected more, but that said I might be spoilt by Christmas Markets in the UK.

    Christmas Market Lille
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    The Citadel Explored

    by Drever Written Dec 29, 2014

    We visited Carcassonne in September. After a flight lasting 2:15 hours from a local airport we landed at Carcassonne airport on a Sunday. There we stepped onto a waiting bus. As we reached each hotel its name was called out and soon the driver called out the Aragon, our hotel. After a short trudge up an incline we reached our abode. It was just a short distance from the entrance to Carcassonne itself. In truth the hotel was more a bed and breakfast establishment and the room was rather small but it sufficed for our stay.

    Our first sight of the citadel brought to mind King Arthur and his many turreted Camelot. Nowadays no armored knights clatter along its cobbles and instead the excited babble of tourists fills the air. Their needs are catered for by gift shops and restaurants. We often ate there but occasionally we went down into the new town instead and ate in one of its magnificent squares.

    Carcassonne has been a fortified settlement from the 6th century BC to guard the routes linking the Atlantic with the Mediterranean and the routes linking the Iberian peninsula with the rest of Europe. During the 1st century BC it became absorption into the Roman Empire.

    During the turbulent years of the late 3rd and early 4th centuries the fortifications were strengthened. The citadel then consisted of two lines of walls and a castle surrounded also by fortifications, in total the walls extending over a total length of 3 km. It came under Visigothic rule in the 5th century. They created a bishopric here in the 6th century. Now Carcassonne boasts a cathedral. Its main body consists of a central six-bayed nave with an interrupted barrel vault and two narrow side-aisles rising to almost the same height and fully vaulted.

    The citadel withstood many attacks but the Arabs were more successful in 724, but were driven out in 759. In the 9th century it became the seat of a count, and later of a viscount. The 12th-century count's castle was built over the western part of the Roman walls; it was surrounded by a rectangular fortified enclosure in 1226. At the same time the external defensive walls were built, so as to make the town, recently annexed to the Royal domains completely impregnable.

    Two final construction campaigns took place in the 13th and early 14th centuries, following unsuccessful sieges in 1240 and 1280. By the end of the 13th century the town had assumed its definitive appearance as a medieval fortress. A local revolt in 1262 caused the king to expel most of the inhabitants. He allowed them to settle on the other side of the river. The new town that they set up was itself fortified in 1347.

    Such was the impregnability of Carcassonne that it was never attacked during the Hundred Years' War, even during the Black Prince's raid in 1355. The Huguenots made two surprise attempts to seize the town by force in 1575 and 1585, but both were quickly repressed. It became an arsenal and supply depot during the Ancient Regime and then during the Revolution.

    Falling out of use the magnificent fortifications of Carcassonne very nearly suffered the fate of becoming a stone quarry but fortunately in 1852 the first funds were made available for restoring the ramparts. The restoration process was not completed until1910.

    We spent three nights in Carcassonne, which was enough time to explore both the historic and the more modern parts, but the town lies only an hour by train from Toulouse so the town could provide a base for further exploration of the area.

    Entrance View from citadel The cathedral Double wall defence Street in the citadel
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    Mont St Michel

    by Jim_Eliason Written Oct 8, 2014

    If you get one place out of Paris, this should be it! Unfortunately its a good 5 hours from Paris but well worth the visit. This abbey dates back to the 10th century and was built on an island. Originally the only access was to walk there during low tide.

    Mont St Michel Mont St Michel Mont St Michel Mont St Michel
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    Loire Valley

    by Jim_Eliason Written Oct 8, 2014

    A favorite place for Royals to build castles, the Loire Valley is an amazing day trip from Paris. The 3 best Chateaus are Cheverny, Chenonceau and Chambord but their are literaly dozens of others to choice from.

    Loire Valley Loire Valley Loire Valley Loire Valley Loire Valley
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    Chateau Vaux Le Vicomte

    by Jim_Eliason Written Oct 8, 2014

    Built by Nicolas Fouquet, Louis the XIV's finance minister, the grandeur of the place invoked the jealousness of the King and got its owner imprisoned. Today this grand mansion is restored and open for visits.

    Chateau Vaux Le Vicomte Chateau Vaux Le Vicomte Chateau Vaux Le Vicomte Chateau Vaux Le Vicomte Chateau Vaux Le Vicomte
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    Paris

    by Jim_Eliason Written Oct 8, 2014

    Any first trip to France, must include one of the world's most beautiful and iconic cities' Paris. Paris is an art lovers paradise with an unparalleled collection of masterpieces. Its also a great city for walking.

    Paris Paris Paris Paris Paris
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    St Malô

    by solopes Updated Sep 14, 2014

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    For decades,
    St Malô was, for me, the place where adults played with the sand, building, year after year incredible and ephemeral sculptures.

    With a short visit, I could appreciate the wonder of the site, with the stronghold by the rocky sea (and everybody wearing anoraks in August!).

    It fits.

    Only the the classical beauty of the place surprised me!

    St Mal�� - France St Mal�� - France St Mal�� - France
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    PARIS

    by solopes Updated May 20, 2014

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    Is it possible to go to France skipping Paris?

    Of course, not. And Paris, as a landmark of universal culture, is a city where we may keep on going year after year, always with a new surprise, new interests, new attractions.

    When will it be my next time? Maybe next month!

    Paris - France Paris - France
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    Provence . . . outside the Riviera . . . fun!

    by Beausoleil Updated Mar 22, 2014

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    When we travel in early spring or late fall, we like the south of France where you are "almost" guaranteed warm weather. It can get pretty cold in winter except right on the shore and summers can be terribly hot so shoulder season is great. I must admit I love Provence any time of year though.

    So many people visit Nice and the Riviera and think they've seen southern France. There is a completely different southern France just north of the Riviera and we prefer it. You won't see the crowds and you will see lovely perched villages, country markets and very friendly French people who want you to enjoy your visit.

    Here is a set of Travel Pages I put together for our youngest daughter planning her first trip to Provence. Provence is also referred to as PACA

    Favorite places of ours are:
    Tourrettes-sur-Loup by Beausoleil (found as Tourette-sur-Loup on Virtual Tourist)
    Gourdon by Beausoleil
    St. Paul de Vence by Beausoleil with the Maeght Foundation
    Vence by Beausoleil
    Grasse and its perfume factories by Beausoleil and flower market
    Aix-en-Provence by Beausoleil
    Avignon by Beausoleil with the Rhone River and the Palace of Popes
    St. Remy-de-Provence by Beausoleil
    Les Baux (never visit in high season!)
    Arles by Beausoleil
    Le Barben, chateau and zoo
    The Camargue with wild bulls and horses and wonderful nature/bird walks
    Abbey of Montmajour and Daudet's Mill (an easy day trip from Arles)
    the famous Pont du Gard, especially if you enjoy kayaking
    Roussillon by Beausoleil wonderful villages like Lourmarin, Bonnieux, Rousssillon, Fontaine-de-Vaucluse . . .
    Aigues-Mortes by Beausoleil (walk the ramparts)
    Abbeys in fields of lavender
    Martigues and its canals

    Useful Official Tourist web sites:
    Glanum
    The Pont du Gard

    Tourrettes-sur-Loup in Provence Cagnes-sur-Mer and Gourdon St. Paul de Vence Roussillon Arles Roman Arena
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    Loire chateaus, a good first trip out of Paris.

    by Beausoleil Updated Feb 2, 2014

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    You've seen Paris and now you want to explore. Hooray! There is an entire country just waiting for you. Rent a car or hop on the train and explore!

    If you only have a few days, choose one area and have a good look at it. A good first choice outside of Paris would be the Loire Valley, the Valley of Kings. You can visit Versailles as a day trip from Paris, but Versailles is not your typical chateau. That's why it's so famous.

    For something a bit more normal, there are many possibilities. My favorite is Azay-le-Rideau in the town of the same name. It is a small, perfect, white wedding-cake of a chateau set in the middle of a moat by a river. It is nicely furnished; there is adequate (or excellent) accommodation nearby, the grounds are fun to explore and in season there is a fun Sound and Light Show at night. The chateau is right in the small town so you can walk to shops and restaurants or even camp by the river if you like.

    More info at Azay-le-Rideau by Beausoleil including places to stay and restaurants.

    Click on the photo to see a few other chateaus you can visit nearby.

    Here are photos of 16 different Loire Valley chateaus to give you some idea of what is waiting for you.
    Eight Loire Valley Chateaus Travelogue
    Eight More Loire Valley Chateaus

    Chateau Azay-le-Rideau Chateau at Amboise Chateau Chenonceau at Chenonceaux Chateau at Villandry Chateau at Luynes near Tours
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    Visit the Dordogne regions (le Perigord Noir)

    by Beausoleil Updated Jan 31, 2014

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    Update: We revisited the Dordogne to show it to our youngest daughter. We stayed in the same lovely gite in Cenac-et-St.-Julen and enjoyed a few of the places we'd visited before. There is so much to see that we also found a lot of new places and plan to return to explore again. Our daughter is now hooked on the Dordogne too. ;^)

    Original Review: We just returned from an area we had driven through a few times but not explored. This was the year to explore. We rented a gite in the tiny village of Cenac-et-St.-Julien on the Dordogne River and, after escaping the Iceland volcanic ash cloud that grounded flights all over Europe, we settled in to a delightful visit and decided the Dordogne was one of our very favorite regions of France.

    Officially, the Perigord Noir is part of Aquitaine. It is called the Perigord Noir (black) because there are so many forests that the hills look dark. Needless to say, it is green and lovely and the many rivers flowing through it add a wonderful dimension. This is an area that was fought over for hundreds of years so there is a castle on every hilltop and most are magnificent. Many are open to the public and if you climb to the highest part (the Keep), you are rewarded with incredible views.

    Places to visit include:
    Sarlat-la-Caneda (Old Town, historic buildings and really interesting market)
    Domme (fabulous views up and down the Dordogne river and lovely Old Town)
    Chateau Bonaguil (castle dating to 1271 with later additions)
    Chateau at Castelnaud-la-Chapelle (castle with medieval military museum)
    Les Cabanes du Breuil (dry stone bories (cabins) as part of a living history museum
    Chateau des Milandes (home of chanteuse Josephine Baker)
    Abbey at Cadouin
    Caves with prehistoric paintings in the Vezere Valley
    Museum of Prehistory at Les Ezyies de Tayac-Sireuil
    Perigeux
    Many lovely Plus Beaux Villages of France

    Eating in the Perigord is a joy. Even the simplest meals are delicious. In season you have the freshest of produce and this is the home of fois gras if you enjoy it. Duck, lamb and rabbit are on virtually every menu. If you don't like exploring foods, the beef and pork here are also excellent. This is the walnut capital of France so you will even find walnut wine and walnut liqueur. The liqueur is potent! It is also a famous wine region and your waiter will help you find something to your taste. We try to drink local wines just to see what is available.

    There are the little tourist trains you find all over France, but more fun are rides in a Gabare. These are the flat-bottomed boats that were used for shipping in the past. They have been motorized and now carry tourists. You chug down the river and see the castles and abbeys on the surrounding hillsides with herons and hawks swooping overhead. There are few better ways to spend an afternoon.

    Exploring caves is fun but if you have limited mobility, you may want to try the cave at Rouffignac. There is an electric train that takes you through the cave. The commentary is in French and it would not be wheelchair accessible but it is fine for someone who can walk a normal city street and climb onto a small train. We had a family from New Zealand with us and the guide gave a brief explanation of everything in English for them so make your language known if you want help. Les Eyzies Official Web Site

    Here are some of the places we enjoyed. Just click on each link to see the page.
    Beynac-et-Cazenac by Beausoleil
    Domme by Beausoleil
    Brantôme by Beausoleil
    Condat-sur-Vézère by Beausoleil
    Daglan by Beausoleil
    Sarlat-la-Canéda by Beausoleil
    Villefranche-de-Rouergue by Beausoleil
    Castelnaud-la-Chapelle by Beausoleil

    Domme View from the esplanade at Domme Castelnaud la Chapelle Sarlat-la-Caneda (former goose market) La Roque Gageac, a Plus Beau Village
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    Instead of the Alps, try the Pyrenees

    by Beausoleil Updated Jan 31, 2014

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    You always hear about the Alps and they are spectacular . . . However, the Pyrenees are equally spectacular. They run the length of France from Atlantic to Mediterranean forming a barrier to Spain.

    Tucked away in these mountains are lovely hidden villages, monasteries, abbeys, ruined castles and churches. It is great fun to get off the AutoRoute and find these places. One year we bought Cathar Passes with discounts to all the Cathar sites and had a great time trying to visit all of them. We didn't quite get to all but we sure had fun trying.
    Foix and the Chateau by Beausoleil
    Ceret by Beausoleil
    Beautiful Castelnou by Beausoleil
    Lourdes, a pilgrimage by Beausoleil
    Toulouse, the pink city by Beausoleil

    Don't forget to pick up your Cathar Pass. The Cathar Pass Official Site

    The Ariege Tourism Site

    A hidden village in the Pyrenees Mountains Castelnou in the Pyrenees Castelnou in the Pyrenees Lourdes in the Pyrenees Elne in the Pyrenees
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    Normandy, Low (Basse Normandie)

    by Beausoleil Updated Jan 31, 2014

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    This is the Normandy where you'll find the D-Day Beaches and WWII cemeteries. The American Cemetery is outside of Colleville-sur-Mer right above Omaha Beach. As you walk through the cemetery, you look down on Omaha Beach and can (on a clear day) see Pointe du Hoc. USA Government Cemetery Information

    There are cemeteries for all the nationalities who died in WWII, including a German cemetery. You may wish to book a tour of several. We stayed near a Canadian War Cemetery near Cauvicourt and the back was lined with Canadian maple trees in full Fall color (October). They are all very peaceful places but it's unnerving to see how many lives were lost.

    Once through the WWII sites, lower Normandy is a fabulous place to visit. It is the one area of France that does not make wine. They are instead famous for their cider and it is really fun to visit in the autumn if you can. There are Calvados tastings (cider liqueur) and it is potent stuff!

    Normandy is also famous for cheeses and dairy products. You will see the healthy black and white Norman cows grazing peacefully in fields all over Normandy. You can visit cheese factories in Livarot and Pont-l'Eveque. Get there early in the morning because that's when the farmers bring in the milk and the cheese making process begins then. Tastings are fun if you like strong cheese. We do . . . 8^)

    Honfleur is an art center on the coast at the mouth of the Seine and a lovely historic village. It's fun to drive along the coast and visit seaside resorts like Trouville-sur-Mer, Deauville, Villers-sur-Mer, Houlgate and Cabourg.
    Honfleur, Harbor and Artists by Beausoleil
    Villers-sur-Mer by Beausoleil
    Houlgate on the Sea by Beausoleil
    Cabourg and the Grand Hotel by Beausoleil

    If you want to venture into la France profonde, leave the coast and venture inland to such beautiful villages as Beuvron-en-Auge, Bayeux with its famous cathedral and the Bayeux Tapestry, Clecy in the Suisse Normand and Falaise, home of William the Conqueror.
    Beuvron-en-Auge by Beausoleil
    Bayeux by Beausoleil
    Clecy in Normandy by Beausoleil
    Crevecoeur-en-Auge by Beausoleil
    Falaise by Beausoleil

    Venture further west to see the most-photographed Mont St. Michel on a rock in the ocean. It is stunning and will be crowded even out of season. Tidal heights vary throughout the year so ask locally to find out if there is one near your visit. . If you want to see the famous high tides at Mont Saint Michel, be forewarned that the highest tides are at the vernal and autumnal equinoxes.

    We enjoyed Villedieu-les-Poeles the home of copper pans and things copper. The Abbey de Hambaye just north of Villedieu is worth a visit. Driving north you can visit Cherbourg where the cruise ships come in. Just east of Cherbourg is a wonderful little port city of Barfleur and then you can drive back east along the coast and visit more WWII beaches.

    We once spent an entire month in lower Normandy and didn't begin to see all the interesting sites. It is a great place for a vacation, not just a quick runout from Paris. Really stop and enjoy it.

    Mont St. Michel Honfleur Harbor Bayeux Old Town American Military Cemetery, Colleville-sur-Mer Beuvron-en-Auge
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    Brittany (Bretagne), Celtic France, mysterious

    by Beausoleil Updated Jan 31, 2014

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    Visit Bretagne (Brittany). If you get as far as Mont St. Michel, cross the river into Brittany and see Celtic France. There is a wild seacoast, lighthouses, excellent seafood, grey stone houses with bright red geraniums in the windows. The churches have a Parish Close or enclosed courtyard filled with statuary. If the church is closed and you appear to look at it, someone will come running from a nearby house with a key and let you in. More often than not they will not speak English but they know what you want and will help you.

    The westernmost point in France is here at Point Raz. There is parking and a walk out to the point where you can view the lighthouse. Often there are wild waves crashing against the rocks. Point du Grouin across the bay from Mont St. Michel is a wildlife sanctuary where there are well marked walks along the shore and flora and fauna are identified on large signs with pictures if you don't speak French.

    Merlin the Magician from King Arthur was buried here and Chateau de Comper is where Sir Lancelot was raised and there is a Center of Arthurian Legend in the castle which is open to the public. Don't miss the Forest of Broceliande in Paimpont. The Forest of Broceliande by Beausoleil

    There are plenty of festivals featuring local music and the wonderful native costumes including incredible lace headdresses on the women.

    It is a wild and wonderful land well worth visiting for a completely different French experience and there are several lovely large cities like Quimper and St. Malo. Quimper by Beausoleil
    St. Malo by Beausoleil

    Chateau du Comper of Sir Lancelot fame Les Forges, a tiny village Pointe du Grouin . . . not the Caribbean Parasurfing off the coast of Brittany Horses on the coast of Brittany
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