The other day I looked at my calendar and realized that the high season for visiting Paris is rapidly approaching. If you’re planning on visiting Paris this year (and you should!), you’ve probably already started the arduous task of planning your itinerary. I often get asked how to make the most of your time here, and my answer always depends on how long you’re going to be in Paris. If it’s just for a couple of days, I usually recommend staying within the city, as there’s plenty to see and do. However, if you’re going to be here for a week or longer, I highly recommend taking a day or two to venture beyond Paris’ borders. France is a spectacularly beautiful country with so many incredible places to visit. In particular, below are five of my favourite places to visit outside of Paris.
Mont St. Michel
Mont St. Michel is the most visited site in France outside of the Greater Paris region, and for good reason! This beautifully preserved abbey church dates back to the 13th century, and it stands perched atop a small island in the middle of a bay. Needless to say, the views are stunning and the opportunities for photos are endless. The lines can be quite long in the summer months, so be sure to buy your tickets in advance. Also, be sure to try some local apple cider before you leave. It’s a specialty of the region of Normandy and it’s not to be missed. Speaking of Normandy…
This year marks the 75th anniversary of the D-Day landings on the beaches of Normandy on June 6th, 1944. There are numerous sites to visit all up and down the 80km stretch of shoreline that played host to the largest amphibious invasion in the history of mankind, including museums, monuments, and memorials. A particular highlight is the recently renovated museum at Utah Beach, which is home to one of only six original B26 bombers still in existence in the world. If you have time to spend a couple of days in the area, be sure to visit the city of Caen and its incredible memorial museum.
Chateau de Chenonceau
There are over 1,000 castles in the Loire Valley, but the stunning Chateau de Chenonceau is considered to be the most beautiful of them all. Come see the former home of Queens and the mistresses of the Kings, and hear the stories of the infamous Catherine de Medici and her arch-rival Diane de Poitiers. Additionally, Chenonceau produces its own wine from its vineyard, and in my humble opinion, their Sauvignon Blanc is the best you can find in a region famed for its white wines. If you have time to spare, make a weekend of it and take in the equally impressive Chateau de Chambord, Chateau de Blois, and Chateau Amboise, where the legendary Leonardo da Vinci is buried.
Speaking of wines, if red is more your colour, head to the southern city of Bordeaux. With the new rapid train line, it’s possible to reach Bordeaux in just two hours from Paris, meaning you can easily make it a day trip. The city itself is incredibly beautiful, and the vast variety of wines available to taste will make the trip well worth your while. It can get quite hot in the summer months, so be sure to check out the contemporary Water Mirror by artist Michel Corajoud, located across from Place de la Bourse. When the heat is sweltering, it’s the perfect place to cool down.
Of all the places to visit outside of Paris, the champagne region just might be my favourite, and not for the obvious reason that I love champagne. Although I will admit that that is definitely a factor. However, the champagne region is also home to an incredible history, the legendary Reims Cathedral, and over 320 beautiful champagne villages. If you’re looking for small, family run champagne estates, I highly recommend Champagne Vincey in the small village of Oger. Their grapes are grown on a Chardonnay Grand Cru, and they exclusively produce Blanc de Blanc champagne, which happens to be a personal favourite of mine.
Another beautiful champagne estate is the clos of Champagne Le Gallais in the village of Boursault. In addition to producing several types of cuvées, this estate is also home to a chateau that was built by the Grand Dame of Champagne herself, Veuve Clicquot.* Finally, be sure to visit the town of Epernay to take a walk down the legendary Avenue de Champagne to see all of the famous houses of champagne. If you’re looking for the best deal in town to do a tasting, head over to Les Grand Vins de France on rue Flordoard. Ask them for Laura’s favourite Blanc de Noir and they’ll know what you mean.
*please note that the chateau is not open for visits
So Many Places, So Little Time…
There are so many incredible places to visit outside Paris, so as you can imagine, this list is just the tip of the iceberg. If you are visiting for a week or more, I hope you will consider venturing out of the city limits for a day or two. Wherever you choose to go, it will be an experience you won’t soon forget.
Laura Moore is a professional storyteller who loves history and the many stories that make Paris one of the most fascinating cities in the world. Join one of her signature tours to learn the story of a city.