Author Archives: Thomas Dowson

About Thomas Dowson

Hello, I am Thomas Dowson - a freelance writer and archaeologist living in Normandy, France. My field of expertise is prehistoric art - such as the cave paintings in the Dordogne and South Africa. But I am becoming passionately interested in France more generally, and Normandy in particular, and what this country and one of its very well known regions has to offer people with all sorts of tastes and desires. In 2005 I exchanged a university archaeology lecture room for a Bed & Breakfast in Normandy. More recently I started the Archaeology Travel website; sharing my expertise and love of archaeology and travel with others who also want to explore the many different pasts around the World.

Exploring Strasbourg in Eastern France

Strasbourg is the capital of the French region of Alsace, situated three kilometres from the border with Germany. This gives the city an unique mix of German and French influence in everything from architecture and artistic heritage, to food (sauerkraut or choucroute) and drink (Gewürtztraminer and Riesling).

Typical timber-framed buildings in Strasbourg.Maison des Tanneurs by Jonathan Martz

It’s easy to reach the city by rail, as it’s only two hours from Paris on the TGV Est line. Railbookers have some tailor-made rail trips available that can take you from London to Strasbourg via Rail, which will allow you take in the sights of France as you go. There are a number of hotels close to the station, but these tend to be at the budget end. About a ten to fifteen minute walk from the station is the Grande ÃŽle and Petite France, two areas in the city centre that have charming medieval streets and squares with its typical Alsatian white timber-framed buildings. Here you will find a range of good hotels, from affordable to luxury. Being in the city centre you are close to the many bars and restaurants frequented by visitors and locals alike by day and night. Given that much of the city centre is pedestrianised, it is easy and pleasant to just wander around these streets admiring the architecture.

One of the many squares in the picturesque centre of Strasbourg.
Place du Marché aux Cochons de Lait by Rh-67

Strasbourg is an incredibly picturesque city, and is justifiably a popular tourist destination throughout the year. During the summer it is the scenic, mountainous landscapes of Alsace and the typical white timber framed Medieval buildings that attracts many visitors to the area and the city. Whereas during the winter months, particularly in the weeks leading up to Christmas, it is the annual market that draws people in.

A Christmas market in Strasbourg.
Strasbourg Christmas market by Jonathan M

Perhaps the most prominent architectural attraction is the sandstone Gothic Cathédrale Notre-Dame of Strasbourg, with its astronomical clock. This and many other Medieval churches thankfully escaped destruction during the many wars that have plagued this region of Europe.  Time your visit for 12:30 pm to see the procession of Christ and his apostles while a life-size cock crows. The astronomical element of the clock shows an accurate, relative position of the sun and noon, as well as the solar and lunar eclipses. The clock was installed in 1843 during the first period of French possession of the city (1681 – 1870). When observing the clock – look to the left where you will see a statue of the clock’s maker admiring his masterpiece.

The astronomical clock in Strasbourg.
The astronomical clock in the Cathedral by Taxiarchos22

There are a number of breweries in Strasbourg, many offering  free tours during which you can see the production process, and even taste the beer at the end.

Leaving the Medieval city centre, there are more recent parks and castles to explore. The Baroque style Château de Pourtalès and the Parc de l’Orangerie with its Neoclassical castle are two popular attractions to explore on a sunny day.
The Neoclassical Pavillon Joséphine.
The Neoclassical Pavillon Joséphine by Jonathan M

Should the weather not be that great for exploring outdoors, there are plenty of museums to visit. Much of the city’s archaeological heritage is accessible in the Musée Archéologique. The more recent history of the city is explored in the Musée Historique.

There are a number of unusual museums in Strasbourg, some of which are owned and managed by the university. If you were ever curious about instruments that measure earthquakes and other seismic activity – don’t miss the Musée de Sismologie et Magnétisme terrestre. But perhaps the most unusual of the university museums is the plaster cast museum: Gypsothèque de Strasbourg, also called the Musée des moulages. In the basement of a Neoclassical Palace inaugurated by a German Emperor is an eclectic mix of plaster casts of various well known classical works of art – including some of the contested sculptures from the Parthenon in Greece. These casts were moved to the basement at the start of World War II, and have been there ever since. And, it was in this impressive building that the first meeting of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe took place in September 1949.

History of Strasbourg

People have been settling in the area for many thousands of years. Archaeological evidence of human occupation stretches back to at least 600,000 years ago. More recently, during the third century BC, an important Celtic town called Argentorate developed alongside the river. More recently still the Romans established a strategic military settlement here, and the original shape of the Roman fort can still be seen in the layout and plan of the inner city.

The more recent Medieval past is everywhere – and it is this period that gives the city much of its photogenic character.

To many people, Strasbourg is the seat of the European Parliament. Besides hosting a number of European institutions, members of the European Parliament meet here for twelve sessions a year, during which all parliamentary votes that effect the European Union take place. But there is so much more to the city than the EU. Strasbourg’s political significance today reflects a city that has been at the heart of Europe’s history for centuries. Strasbourg was the first city to have  its entire centre listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site – in 1988.

If you enjoy exploring Europe by train, Railbookers offer rail trips to many other European destinations including Luxembourg, Cannes and Monte Carlo.

Discovering Roman Sites in Paris

Unlike many southern French cities, Paris tends not to be associated with a Roman past. Some guidebooks barely mention their presence at all, or they do so only in passing. Not surprisingly then, of all the things to see and do in Paris the Roman sites rarely get a look in. Of course the Roman archaeology that does survive in Paris today is nowhere near as visually spectacular as say the amphitheatre in Nîmes or the theatre in Orange. But, for those interested in a deeper past of European cities there are some interesting Roman sites to visit.

roman-port-paris-640Multimedia display in remains of Roman port in Notre Dame’s crypt

Soon after Julius Caesar defeated the Celts in 52 BC, the Romans established a settlement on the left bank of the Seine River. Although it would never become an administrative centre, its location on the navigable river meant the settlement would always be strategic for shipping and maritime commerce. Visitors to the crypt of the Notre Dame Cathedral can see the remains of the Roman port. A wonderful but simple multimedia display that adds life to the stone foundations, and children today excitedly watch the arrival in port of a Roman ship (below).

The main centre of the Roman town, Lutetia as it was called then, lay to the south of the Notre Dame Cathedral and the Ile de Cit̩. Rue St. Jacques is generally thought to have been the main axis road, or the cardo maximus, of the town on the left bank, while the modern day equivalent on the right bank is the Rue Saint-Martin Рthe road that runs alongside the Pompidou Centre. So while tourists explore the very trendy Latin Quarter and students study at the Sorbonne, beneath them are the foundations of the Roman town.


Remains of Roman bath house in Paris

An exception can be found on Boulevard Saint-Michel, where the substantial remains of what was one of a number of public bath houses can be seen from the street (above). This bath house still stands today because it was not destroyed by the Franks when they sacked the city in the mid fifth century AD, and it has been in continuous use since. Part of the building now houses the National Middle Ages Museum.


Reconstruction of Roman amphitheatre in Paris

As with all sizeable Roman towns, Lutetia also had an amphitheatre. Do not expect anything like the Colosseum in Rome Рthat was after all the biggest and most elaborate amphitheatre in the entire Roman world. Today the Ar̬nes de Lut̬ce is a reconstruction of the amphitheatre that was located just beyond the edge of the Roman town. That there is anything there at all today is thanks in part to Victor Hugo who spearheaded a campaign to have the remains preserved when they were discovered in the 1860s.

The Romans were by no means the first to settle in Paris. The earliest evidence of human habitation along the Seine River goes back some 10,000 years. One of the earliest dugout canoes to have been excavated in Europe can be seen on display in the Carnavalet Museum; along with many other archaeological objects from the earliest times in Paris.

More Paris Tips

If you’re in Paris to attend a football or rugby match or a gig at the Stade de France, we’ve ideas for day trips by car from the Stade de France area in our guest post on the site. Having a hire car will enable you to visit places such as the Montmorency Forest and the Isle d’Adam, giving you a contrast to the hustle and bustle of the Paris.

A view from the central path of the Tuileries Garden towards the Arc de Triomphe.

Paris’s Axe Historique – From the Louvre to La Défense

If you’re looking for something different to do in Paris and would like to gain insight into the history of Paris, then exploring the Axe Historique, fits the bill perfectly. The Champs Elysées, which runs between the Place de la Concorde and the Arc de Triomphe, is the oldest part of the Axe Historique, also known as the Voie Triomphale (triumphal way)  an axis of roads and monuments that runs from the centre of Paris out beyond the city to the west.

With so much to see and do in the French capital of Paris. I’d start planning my Paris trip by thinking about my sightseeing itinerary. Having some ideas about what I’d like to see in Paris would allow me to decide in which area I wished to stay e.g. close to the route of the Axe Historique. While the Paris Metro is usually very efficient and reasonably priced, I’d prefer to stay in a hotel that’s not too far from the attractions that I wished to visit. Once I’d checked out hotel prices and availability, I’d book my flights to Paris. The city’s Charles de Gaulle Airport is served by a wide selection of airlines including Emirates, easyJet and Air France, which means that there are daily flights from most destinations to Paris. Once my flight was arranged, I’d book my hotel in Paris and then firm up my daily schedules.

Looking from the Place de la Concorde towards the Arc de Triomphe.
Looking up the Champs Elysées towards the Arc de Triomphe, with the tip of the Luxor Obelisk pointing the way. © Palagret

Exploring the Axe Historique

Walking along the Champs Elysées it is very difficult not to notice this alignment of monuments, which was first conceptualised in the 17th century, and has been repeatedly added to and extended ever since.. When going up the Champs Elysées towards the Arc de Triomphe, and looking back at the Louvre, the glass pyramids of the Louvre, the Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel, the central path of the Tuileries Gardens, the Luxor obelisk on Place de la Concorde are all but perfectly aligned with the Arc de Triomphe. Standing on the high point on which the Arc de Triomphe is situated and looking in the opposite direction of the Louvre, one can see that that Axe Historique continues on beyond the boundary of the city of Paris out to the business district known as La Défense with its modern Grande Arche.

A view from the central path of the Tuileries Garden towards the Arc de Triomphe.
A few of the monuments along the ‘axe historique’ from the Tuileries Gardens. © Ximeg

The Champs Elysées was created in the 1600s as an extension of the central pathway in the gardens of the royal Palace of the Tuileries. Although the palace is no longer standing (it was destroyed in 1871), the Tuileries Gardens and its pathway have been retained. On the place de la Concorde, that crazy looking round-about between at the Tuileries Gardens and the Champs Elysées, is the red granite obelisk from Luxor. Erected on the axe historique on Place de la Concorde in October of 1833, this ancient Egyptian artefact was a gift from Egypt to France.

The Louvre behind the Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel.
Looking through the Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel towards the Louvre, and the one end of the axe historique’. © Thomas Dowson

Constructed between the Louvre and Tuileries Palaces between 1806 and 1808, the Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel commemorates Napoleon’s military victories of 1807. Today the arch has a statue that was installed in 1828, which represents Peace riding a triumphal chariot that was created to celebrate the restoration of the Bourbons after the downfall of Napoleon. This Quadriga replaced a much more the famous quadriga from Saint Mark’s Cathedral in Venice – looted by Napoleon when he captured the Italian city in 1798. Following Napoleon’s defeat at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815 and the return of the Bourbons to the French Monarchy, France immediately gave the Venetian quadriga back.

Looking to the east, the Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel is aligned with the statue of Louis XIV on a horse placed in the Napoleon courtyard of the Louvre. And on a clear day, visitors to Paris get a clear view from this arch up the axis to the Luxor Obelisk and the larger Arc de Triomphe at the other end of the Champs Elysées.

The axe historique through the Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel.
The Luxor Obelisk and Arc de Triomphe viewed through the Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel. © Simdaperce

Looking towards the Grande Arche in La Defense.
The Avenue de la Grande Armée from the Arc de Triomphe looking out beyond the city boundary to the Grande Arche in La Défense. © Hadouin

From beyond the Arc de Triomphe the axis is made up of the Avenue de la Grande Armée, so named in 1864 to honour French military who fought the Napoleonic Wars, and the Avenue Charles-de-Gaulle. Here the axis extends from the centre of Paris out towards the business district of La Défense, and the most recent monument to be added to the axe historiquela Grande Arche. The brainchild President Mitterrand, and designed by the Danish architect Johann Otto von Spreckelsen, this modern interpretation of the Arc de Triomphe was inaugurated in 1989 during the bicentennial celebrations of the French Revolution. Today the Grande Arche houses various government offices, unfortunately the viewing gallery and restaurant has been closed to the public.

Looking towards the Arc de Triomphe from the Grande Arche in La Defense.
A view east from the Grande Arche in La Défense towards the Arc de Triomphe. © ZacharyS

So what might at first seem to be nothing more than random accumulation of monuments along a straight road (they do exist!) through Paris, is in fact a very significant focus for the commemoration of cultural and historical events in the story of the capital city. Over the years, successive French leaders have added monuments to the axis, at various political junctures in France’s history. And this shows no sign of having ended. There are now plans to extend the axis further west through the city of Nanterre.

I’m sure that you could spend weeks exploring Paris;here are our tips for things to do in Paris.



Normandy is well known for fresh seafood.

Exploring Normandy in Northern France

Normandy is one of the most popular tourist destinations in France. There is the Medieval abbey of Mont Saint Michel and Claude Monet’s gardens with the water lily ponds he created – with strong, initial objections from the local residents of Giverny. And then there are also the ruins of Jumièges Abbey, said by many to be the most beautiful ruins in France, and the amazing Bayeux Tapestry. Normandy’s beaches have also played host to numerous armies over the last two thousand or so years, from the Romans who invaded Britain in the first century AD, and more recently the Allied forces who invaded Nazi occupied France in June of 1944.

The American Cemetry at Omaha Beach

The American WW2 Cemetery above Omaha Beach.

It’s not surprising with this concentration of historically and culturally significant sites – many of which have been added to the UNESCO list of World Heritage sites – that Normandy attracts a lot of visitors each year. Monet’s garden in Giverny and Mont Saint Michel, are the most visited attractions outside of Paris.

Unless you are only interested in exploring the big cities, and why not – Rouen, Caen and Le Havre have much to offer, a car is essential in Normandy, enabling you to get off the beaten track and away from the popular sites. Public transport to cities and larger towns can be very good, but having your own transport allows you to see and do so much more, going from village to village exploring at leisure.

Beautifully restored Medieval streets of Rouen


If you bring your own car from the UK, you can cross the Channel through the Tunnel or by one of many ferry routes. You can bring as much luggage as you can fit in your car, instead of trying to cram everything into a couple of cases.. Check that your motor insurance is valid in France. Make sure that you take your driving licence and have a GB sticker, a warning triangle, a fluorescent vest and a couple of breathalysers in your car. It’s a good idea to make sure you’re covered for a breakdown to save hassle and expense if you have car problems.

I’d recommend avoiding being on the main roads in Normandy on a Saturday. This is the day that most self-catering gîtes and vacation rentals have their change-over, where the previous week’s guests depart and new guests arrive. As many routes from further south in France to the ferry ports of the north pass through Normandy, major roads and auto-routes are very busy, particularly during the peak summer months of July and August. A great excuse then to get off the main roads and explore the largely unvisited treasures of Normandy.

The Normandy we all know and love is made up of two different administrative regions: originally enough, Upper and Lower Normandy. It is Lower Normandy that is the more popular of the two, but do not overlook Upper Normandy. Upper Normandy may not have the well known places people visit, but for those searching for a less crowded destination that retains the Norman rural and cultural charm will not be disappointed here. The coastline from Dieppe to Le Havre with its stunning chalky cliffs attracted the Impressionists, and Monet produced more canvases of this coastline than of any other single theme. It was in the small town of Eu that William the conqueror married Mathilda, and centuries later in the Château d’Eu that King Louis Philippe welcomed Queen Victoria to his summer palace for the first Entente Cordiale between the French and English.

The chalk cliffs at Varengeville-sur-Mer
The chalky cliffs at Varengeville-sur-Mer, along the Normandy coast.

Just a few days ago I was driving from Jumièges Abbey towards Le Havre along the northern banks of the Seine River. Coming into the town of Caudebec-en-Caux I could not help but notice the church. Something made me stop and explore, and given my penchant for archaeology (prehistory to the Middle Ages), I am glad I did. Here on the front portal of the church I found some of the most exquisite stone carvings I have ever seen on a church. As Normandy has been a relatively prosperous region since early on the Middle Ages, there is a vast architectural and religious heritage across the region.

Carvings on the church in Caudebec-en-Caux
These detailed stone carvings on the church in Caudebec-en-Caux are only about 8 cm in height.

Besides churches and castles, Normandy is also well known for cheese and cider. Although there is considerable industry in the region, the vast, rolling green countryside supports numerous cattle farms and apple orchards.. We all know of Camembert, but there are many others that are older, and just as delicious Рsuch as a Coeur du Neufch̢tel. At the market, you will find one near you every day of the week, get yourself some fresh cheese, a bottle of cider and you are all set for a picnic Рall you need is a crusty baguette from the boulangerie.

A village market in the town of Aumale.
Morning market in Aumale, Upper Normandy.

Given Normandy’s extensive coastline, a number of the quaint, seaside towns and villages are fishing ports. Normandy is the place to have one of those mouth watering plateau de fruits de mer (seafood platter). Two picturesque, seaside towns I recommend for their great restaurants, to suit all budgets, are Le Treport and Honfleur.

Normandy is well known for fresh seafood.

All the seafood you can eat in Normandy

Have a great time exploring Normandy.

Musée des Beaux-Arts et d’archéologie de Besançon: France’s Oldest Public Museum

It is generally thought that the precursors to the modern museums were the so-called ‘cabinets of curiosities’. Wealthy individuals, established families or institutions collected a variety of objects ranging from fine art and sculpture, archaeological and historical objects to rare or curious natural objects and specimens. These collections would be private, and only open to ‘respectable’ individuals. The British Museum in London has in a sense re-created the feel of these early museums in their enlightenment galleries.

The oldest public museum in France, Musée des Beaux-Arts et d’archéologie (Museum of Fine Arts and Archaeology) in Besançon, started out as the private collection of Jean-Baptiste Boisot, an abbot. He bequeathed his personal collection to the Benedictines of the city of Besançon on condition that the collection was open to the public two days every week. This was in 1694, nearly a century before the Louvre became a public museum in August 1793.

There are three aspects to this museum: archaeology, paintings and drawings.

The archaeology collection of the museum has some striking pieces, including the entire sarcophagus of an ancient Egyptian (21 Dynasty) royal scribe named Seramon, (above) and a few mosaic pavements from Roman villas. The mosaic below is the central motif of what is called the ‘Neptune Mosaic’ that dates to the second century BC. The archaeology collection also has a number of artefacts from various sites in the area.

The painting collection has some well known pieces of European art from the 14th to 20th centuries. Including some well known artists, such as Titian, Brueghel the Elder, Rubens, Goya, Renoir and Matisse. But the museum is particularly known for its collection of drawings. With over 5,500 Italian, Dutch and French drawings, this is one of the largest collections in France ranging from the end of the 15th century to the middle of the 20th century.

Henri Matisse, Nature morte au lierre, 1916.

So if you are visiting the France-Comte area of eastern France, and crave some high culture, this museum is a must.

The photographs I have used in this post have been taken from Magika42000’s photostream for this museum on Flickr.

More on European Museums

Find out about more museums in Europe on Europe a la Carte.

Coeur du Neufchâtel: Cheese for Valentines

With Valentine’s day coming up next week, I thought I would post about about my favourite cheese – which just so happens to be heart shaped.

France is well known for the overwhelming variety of cheeses. I once heard that there was a different cheese for everyday of the year. In truth, there are more than 365 different cheeses and some of the lessor known cheeses, made using very traditional methods by only a small number of artisans, are in danger of disappearing from the list altogether. But each cheese is associated with a specific region, and named after that region.

If you think you know your French cheeses – take this quiz, and post your scores!

My favourite cheese, however, is made in the area where I live РNeufch̢tel-en-Bray, which is in the pays de Bray region of Normandy. Neufch̢tel cheese is said to be one of the oldest cheeses in France, and certainly in Normandy Рwhere it is older than the better known camembert and brie.

The earliest record of Neufchâtel cheese is 1050, where it is mentioned as a tithe payment. But from the end of the 18th century onwards this cheese becomes well-known and much liked, it was sent to Rouen and Paris, as well as being exported to the United kingdom. The cheese comes in a variety of shapes, but the most popular shape nowadays is heart-shaped, or the coeur du Neufchâtel.

There is very little known for certain why it is made in this shape, but legend has it that this originates from the end of the 100 Years War. It is said that the women who made the cheese did so in the shape of the heart to express their love to the non-French speaking English soldiers. Who knows if this is true, but it makes a nice story, certainly for this time of the year.

The cheeses come in three different sizes, the small ones are not much bigger than a golf ball. I bake the small cheeses until the inside is runny, and then serve them on lettuce with a red-currant jelly.

If you have not yet planned anything special for your loved one – it is not too late to book a city break in Paris, or even a quiet, rural break somewhere in the country.

France’s only Concentration Camp: Natzweiler-Struthof

A couple weeks ago I wrote about mainland France’s region of Alsace. All my own experiences from visiting Alsace and anything I have read about the region comes back to one thing, the beauty of the mountainous landscape. But, in researching my post last week about the new and as yet still proposed memorial to French victims of Nazi concentration camps, I discovered information about a concentration camp in Alsace – Natzweiler-Struthof.

I have never heard about this camp, I did not know there had been a concentration camp in France. Interestingly, no one I know has heard about this camp either. Natzweiler-Struthof was in fact the only Nazi built concentration camp in what is today France. During World War II the Alsace-Lorraine region was annexed by Germany and was an integral part of what was the German Reich. I wonder then how many Europe A La Carte readers knew about this site.

Photograph by penwren on Flickr

Natzweiler-Struthof was in use from 21 May 1941 until the beginning of September in 1944, when the camp was evacuated to another camp Dachau. Over the next three years some 52 000 prisoners were brought to this camp from France, Germany, the Netherlands, Norway and the Soviet Union. On November 23 1944 this was the first concentration camp in Western Europe camp to have been liberated by American troops.

Today there is a memorial site at Natzweiler-Struthof, closed from Christmas to the end of February. But the memorial’s website has a rather poignant virtual tour, as well as all sorts of other interesting information, in French, English, Dutch and Italian, for anyone who has the remotest interest in this part of Europe’s history. The website has all the practical information anyone might need to visit the memorial when they are in the Vosges mountains.

When enjoying some of the most beautiful areas of France, of Europe – such as the Vosges mountains in the Alsace region, I think it is important that we are least mindful of some of the darker aspects of the continent’s history.

One of the buildings that housed a crematorium when the camp was in operation during World War II. Photograph by Lybil Ber on Wikipedia

A New Holocaust Memorial For Paris

Tomorrow, 27 January, is International Holocaust Remembrance Day – the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz concentration camp by the Soviet troops in 1945. This anniversary had been variously observed by different groups and nationalities for some time, but it was only in November 2005 that the United Nations General Assembly passed Resolution 60/7 designated 27 January an international day of remembrance.

The abandoned railway station at Bobigny, Paris. Photograph by Jérémy Saint-Peyre on Flickr.

This week the national French railway company, SNCF, handed over to local officials the former railway station in the Paris suburb of Bobigny for the creation of a new memorial to the French victims of the Nazi concentration camps. Not only was the state-owned SNCF’s equipment and staff used to transport some 76,000 French and other European Jews to Germany, and on to various concentration camps, it was from the station in Bobigny that these final journeys began. Fewer than 3000 people are thought to have returned to France.

For the first time, SNCF last year expressed its “sorrow and regret” for the role the company played in the deportation of Jews during World War II.

There is no timetable for the construction of this new memorial. But when it is complete it will join the Mémorial de la Déportation on the ÃŽle de la Cité behind the Notre Dame Cathedral – looking out onto the waters of the Seine River.

Photograph by paspog on Flickr

The Île de la Cité is generally perceived to be the sacred center of France, and built on the site of a former mortuary, this is an appropriate place to remember the 200,000 people who were deported by the Nazis to their death in the concentration camps. This memorial is one of the most poignant memorials I have ever visited.

Photograph by beccabrian on Flickr

Standing behind the Notre Dame Cathedral you are abundantly aware of the hustle and bustle of a busy city all around you. You then descend a set of steps down on the very tip of the Île de la Cité, where you become surrounded by walls and the city all but disappears. You can still hear the sounds of the city, but you can only see the sky above and the river through the bars of window.

Photograph by Airships on Flickr

Another evocative part of the monument is a narrow chamber on which the walls have been covered by 200,000 crystals – each with light shining through them. Each one intended to represent the life of a French citizen who died in the concentration camps.

And, as with many other Holocaust memorial monuments, the exit of the chamber bears the words; Forgive but never forget.

More Paris Tips

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Alsace: France’s Smallest Region, not to be Overlooked

The French region of Alsace, yes it is French, may be smallest region in Metropolitan France (i.e. excluding overseas territories) – but it is rarely out of the news. In the last 20 centuries this region has changed hands seventeen times. And today even the gaff-prone French President showed he could not quite keep up with historical events. While addressing farmers Mr Sarkozy let slip that he was ‘in Germany’. Needless to say the farmers, who often feel a hard done by bunch at the best of times, were not amused – some going so far as booing their monsieur Le President.

Strasbourg, a very European city, by French Moments on Flickr

Poor man; Alsace has in fact been French since the Second World War. All this changing of hands has not been all bad – Alsace is a very attractive tourist destination with much to see and do. For a number of reasons the region is often thought of as the heart of Europe. Alsace lies on the French border with Germany and Switzerland, and not that far from Luxembourg. And Strasbourg, the capital and principal city of Alsace, is often thought of as the capital of Europe.

Choucroute, by Andrew Howe on Flickr

Despite this, Alsace still has a strong, local identity and culture – the area is staunchly French, but in many respects it is very German in its tastes and appetites. Traditional cuisine includes baeckeoffe, flammeküeche and choucroute. If it is fine dining you like while on holiday this is definitely the best region in France to visit, after Paris Alsace has more Michelin starred restaurants than any of the other regions of France.

Château St Ulrich, by a.laruelle on Flickr

Alsace’s chequered history may have caught Sarkozy out, but it has resulted in an amazing architectural heritage. Besides some very picturesque medieval villages – which often feature window boxes and red geraniums – there are numerous churches, chapels, châteaux and fortresses from every period of the regions past.

Château de Haut-Eguisheim by Philippe_28 on Flickr

This amazing architectural heritage, evidence of which goes back to Roman times, is made all the more picturesque by the Vosges mountains. Alsace is often said to have some of the most beautiful mountainous scenes in France; waterways meandering through rolling countryside and medieval villages provide the perfect holiday setting for all tastes and interests.

If you’re planning a  visit to this lovely region, you can find the some great deals on Strasbourg hotels using the LateRooms search box below.

Snap Up Some Bargains at the Paris January Sales

There are always many reasons to visit Paris, at any time of the year. Besides being well known for all that great food and culture Paris is also a shopper’s paradise, and even more so during January.

Photograph by Jack from Paris

January 2011 is the fifth year that the city hosts “Soldes by Paris“. Or, ‘Sales by Paris’ – the city’s sale event of the year, which lasts throughout the month, and in some areas even into February. As an indication of how seriously the planning and marketing of this event has been, the city has produced ‘shopping itineraries’ – five of them in fact. As the Shopping By Paris strap-line goes: 5 different itineraries for 5 different styles – and they are Select, Trendy, Creative, Bobo-Chic and Ethic-Ethnic. The organisers have even thought of the ‘Savvy itinerary’ for those people who favour stock clearance stores and cut-price designer labels. Voilà! There truly is something for everyone!

For the ultimate shopping experience in Paris, you want to be heading for the Faubourg Saint-Honor̩ district, located in the vicinity of the found in the Louvre-Tuileries area. But, if it is the grand magasins, or the Department stores, you are looking for then it is Boulevard Haussmann you want. Perhaps the most famous of these department stores is Galeries Lafayette Рwhich occupies four different buildings. The Marais district is where you will find the more trendy shops.

But, no shopping tips for Paris would be complete without mentioning the Saint-Ouen flea market; the city’s largest, dating back to the nineteenth century. Here you will find everything from antique furniture to vintage clothes. Urban legend has it that one lucky shopper found a a grand master’s painting. That may not happen again, but you will find something quirky and interesting. Given the weekend crowds, its advisable to avoid this area during the weekend. Unless, of course it is crowds you are after. Certain shops in Paris still close on Sundays, for religious reasons. Increasingly, however, many shops open on Sundays – particularly for the tourist trade.

Photograph by David Salas

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