Category Archives: France

What to do in France; French attractions and the best places to visit in France.

museum of decorative arts marseille - flower pot seats

Photo Tour of the Museum of Decorative Arts in Marseille

I had planned to visit the Museum of Decorative Arts in Marseille prior to our trip to the city. My interest was further piqued by posters and flyers dotted around the city of the ‘Pop Art Design’ exhibition by Hubert Le Gall at the Museum of Decorative Arts, which runs until 6 September 2015.

museum of decorative arts marseille at chateau borely

The museum, which is housed in Chateau Borely, was renovated for Marseille’s 2013 stint as a European Capital of Culture. The adjacent park is beautiful, but we weren’t able to explore it, as it was raining heavily.

museum of decorative arts marseille - view over parc borely

I loved the hare’s ears seat.

museum of decorative arts marseille - hare's ear chair

There appeared to be a bit of a hare theme, as I spotted another in the dining room, sculpted as a candelabra, balanced on a top hat.

museum of decorative arts marseille - dining room

The bedroom contained some of Hubert Le Gall’s trademark flower patterns. Daisies were emblazoned on a sideboard.

museum of decorative arts marseille - bedroom

There was a black multi flower rug sculpture on the floor.

museum of decorative arts marseille - bedroom floor sculpture

The black and gold table on the first floor landing had what looked like a giraffe refection on the floor.

museum of decorative arts marseille - shadow table

Another of my favourite exhibits was the fish dress.

museum of decorative arts marseille - fish dress

There were some lovely glass pieces.

museum of decorative arts marseille - glass display

The Art Nouveau stained glass was beautiful.

museum of decorative arts marseille - art nouveau glass

The  sun and cloud shelf was pretty.

museum of decorative arts marseille - sun and clouds wall shelf

There was a golden teddy bear style sculpture base for a reading light above a table in the drawing room.

museum of decorative arts marseille - sculpture under table

And another similar sculpture in the fireplace.

museum of decorative arts marseille - sculpture in fireplace

I wasn’t quite sure which animal heads decorated the mirror frame, I thought maybe antelopes.

museum of decorative arts marseille - unusually shaped mirror

The spaghetti style chandelier was different to the more standard reflective crystal prism style.

museum of decorative arts marseille - spaghetti chandelier

The red and green flower pot chairs were fun.

museum of decorative arts marseille - flower pot chairs

I’d highly recommend a visit to the Museum of Decorative Arts in Marseille. If you buy a Marseille City Pass the 5 Euro entry fee is waived.

verteuil charente

A Touring Holiday from Poitiers to Bordeaux in France

I’ve been thinking about visiting the Bordeaux area in France for ages.

As Ryanair have direct flights from Edinburgh to Bordeaux and Poitiers (which lies around 160 miles north of Bordeaux), I thought that a 7 day leisurely self-drive touring holiday between the two cities sounded good.



Poiters and Bordeaux are both in the Pitou-Charentes region of west central France. As I’ve previously visited the coastal area of this region, I was keen to explore the interior.

I used the itinerary planner on the website to look at various route options. It’s a really helpful, simple tool;  you use sliders to indicate your interests such as culture, nature, architecture and well-being, the pace of your itinerary and factors such as budget and if you’re travelling with kids or pets.

After looking at various options, I went for the auto-selected trip, travelling at a leisurely pace. I chose an emphasis on architecture, culture and nature. I was willing to travel to see the most beautiful sites, and wanted a trip on a low budget.

You can manually select the route from the travel guide list. However, as I don’t know that area, I was happy to go with the auto select. if something which doesn’t take your fancy appears, you can easily remove it from your itinerary.

As you read through the itinerary, you can do virtual visits of the destination and click through for more information about specific attractions, accommodation options and restaurants in the area.

You can then export the itinerary as a pdf, allowing you to print a mini guide book.

I was impressed by the itinerary generated for me, which you can see on the map below.

route map

My France-Voyage itinerary from Poitiers to Bordeaux 


Explore Poitiers, one of the highlights would be Notre-Dame-la-Grande church, dating from the 11th century. In Summer and during the Christmas holidays, the Polychromies light show is projected onto the facade of the church.


Start with a visit to the village of Nouaille-Aaupertuis, dominated by an Abbey which was established in the 7th century.

nouaille maupertuis abbey

Nouaille-Aaupertuis Abbey

Then a stop for lunch in Civray, located on the banks of the River Charente.



Next a stop in Ruffec, on the River Lien. By the river bank, there’s an old communal laundry, mill and castle ruins.



The final stop of the day is Verteuil-sur-Charente.


After a stop in Tusson, spend the rest of the day in Angouleme, the French capital of the Comic Strip.




A stop to visit the natural springs in Touvre.



Then a visit to the medieval fortress of Villebois-Lavalette.

villebois lavalette



Begin with a visit to Maine-Giraud Manor House, former home of the poet Alfred de Vigny.

maine giraud manor house

Maine-Giraud Manor House

A stop at Bassac in the Charente Vailley, which could include kayaking in the river.

charente valley

Charente Valley

Next a trip to Barbezieux, with its 15th century castle.




After visiting Saint Emilion and buying some of the local wine,  some time to explore Libourne, where the Dordogne and Isle rivers meet.



End the day in Bourg.




A visit to Blaye Citadel, which overlooks the Gironde Estuary.

blaye citadel

Blaye Citadel

End the day in the city of Bordeaux, which has been a world heritage site since 2007. In the evening, I’d head for the Jardin des Lumieres, with its water mirror and illuminated walkways.



I think that the France-Voyage website is a really useful resource for planning your holiday in France. It’s free to use and has half a million pages of information in five languages. The travel itinerary tool is excellent, as it allows you to tailor your trip to your own interests and budget, since it shows accommodation options ranging from camp sites to luxury hotels.

the eclair diaires by le meridien

The Côte d’Azur Éclair: One of the Stars of Le Méridien Éclair Diaries

Pastry chef Johnny Iuzzini took a motorcycle tour around the Côte d’Azur in the south of France as part of the Le Méridien‘s ‘Éclair Diaries‘. Johnny was looking for inspiration for a new éclair that would embody the flavours of the region and bring a new twist to this traditional Parisian pastry.

Johnny visited a candy maker, a baker, a Farmer’s Market, a citrus orchard and a patisserie shop at which he used to work, taking notes in his diary as he went along. He also chatted with the Executive Chef of Le Méridien Beach Plaza in nearby Monaco.

Johnny was keen to devise an éclair with a fusion of sweet and savoury, containing herbal, citrus and floral ingredients. His creation, pictured below, was the ‘Côte d’Azur Éclair.’

lemon verbena + herbes de provence eclair

The herbs are used in the choux pastry. Leaves from the Lemon Verbena shrub are mixed with eggs, sugar, butter and lemons for the creamy filling.  The ‘Côte d’Azur Éclair’ is glazed with orange blossom, vanilla and jasmine, then garnished with candied mandarin and crystallised flowers.

Click here to download Johnny’s recipe.

I also liked the look of the Pistachio Éclair from Le Méridien Budapest. It’s filled with hard pistachio mousse with flaky marzipan and crushed pistachio on top.

le meridien budapest eclair

Brought to you in partnership with Le Méridien hotels.

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Should I Buy a Marseille City Pass?

marseille passI decided to investigate the Marseille City Pass in order to decide if I should purchase one for my forthcoming trip to France.

I’ve found that you can’t generalise about the utility of city passes. You have to work it out for each individual city.  It depends on the individual offering; the price, how many attractions are included and if these attractions offer free or merely reduced admission.

Adult prices for a Marseille City Pass

  • 24 Euro for 24 hours
  • 31 Euro for 48 hours
  • 39 Euro for 72 hours

As I’ll be in Marseille from Friday afternoon to Tuesday morning, and the museums are shut on Mondays, the 48 hours Marseille City Pass looks like the best option for me.

Chateau d'If

Chateau d’If Marseille by Jean-Pierre Dalbera

What’s Included in the Marseille City Pass

Free entry to permanent exhibitions at these museums:

– Museum of African, Oceanic, American-Indian Art
– Museum of Mediterranean Archeology
– Marine Museum
– “Cantini” Museum
– Roman Docks Museum
– Natural History Museum
– Museum of Popular Arts and Traditions of Marseille
– Museum of Decorative arts and Fashion
– History Museum
– MAC (Contemporary Art)
– MuCEM (Closed on Tuesdays)
– Museum of Fine Arts – Palais Longchamp
– Museum “Regards de Provence”

All public transport including bus, metro and tram.

Guided Tours, which must be pre-booked.

Tourist train to Notre-Dame de la Garde or the Old Town.

Boat trip to the If-Castle (includes entry to the castle) or boat trip to the Frioul Islands.

Calculating How Much I’d Spend on Individual Admission Charges

I selected some things I’d like to do in Marseilles

  1. MuCEM – 8 Euro
  2. Chateau d’If –  16 Euro (boat costs 10.5 Euro, castle admission costs 5.5 Euro)
  3. MAC – 5 Euro
  4. Museum of Decorative arts and Fashion- 5 Euro

The total for these four attractions came to 34 Euro, more than the 31 Euro for a 48 hour Marseille City Pass. As I thought that I might also use public transport to explore outside the city centre, I reckoned that it was worth buying the pass.

Update 2 May 2015 – Buying the Marseille City Pass did work out to be a good deal. I also took a tourist train to Notre Dame de la Garde which costs 8 Euro The return bus fare to the two museums outside the city centre costs 3 Euro. Therefore, I got 45 Euro worth of value from paying 31 Euro.

mucem marseille

Planning a Two Centre Trip to Marseille and Nice in France

I’m off on a twin city trip to Marseille and Nice in France in April.


The return flights, outward with Ryanair from Edinburgh to Marseille and returning from Nice to Edinburgh with easyJet cost £95.

vieux port marseille

Vieux Port Marseiille by Franck Vallet


Four nights accommodation in a studio at the Aparthotel Adagio Marseille Vieux Port in Marseille cost £183 plus 1 Euro City Tax per person night. Three nights in a superior room at the Kyriad NIce Centre Gare cost £129 plus plus 1 Euro City Tax per person night.

seafront nice

Nice seafront

Transfer Between Cities

The Journey from Marseille to Nice will cost around £25 per person in second class and take around two and a half hours.

Getting Online

Although both hotels offer free WiFi, I find that I can never depend on getting a decent signal. Fortunately, Three’s ‘Feel at Home’ scheme covers France, so I’ll be able to use my  UK phone contract, with no additional costs.

Even if you don’t have a contract with Three Mobile, you can purchase a Three Mobile ‘All in One’ Add-on for £15, which will give you 25GB of data for overseas use on your phone in countries included in ‘Feel at Home’ scheme.


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.

Brittany Ferries

Ferry Versus Plane for Holidays in France

Brittany Ferries’ infographic highlights some of the advantages of travelling from the UK to France by ferry versus plane.

The comparison is based on a holiday to the Loire Valley for a family of two adults and two kids. The journey by ferry would entail driving your own car to the UK ferry port, the ferry crossing from Portsmouth to Caen and the drive to the Loire Valley. The journey by plane would entail driving to your UK departure airport, flying to Nantes and picking up a hire car at the airport to drive to the final destination.

Check in time for Brittany Ferries is 45 minutes before departure, compared to two hours for flights. Travelling by ferry would avoid the drive to the airport, transfer from the airport car park to the terminal buidling and queueing up to drop off your hold luggage and to get through airport security.

To me, the biggest advantage of travelling with your own car and crossing the Channel by ferry is that there are no luggage restrictions. I’m geting fed up of squeezing all my luggage into one carry on case to avoid hold luggage fees, bag drop off queues and waits at the luggage carousel on arrival at the destination. Never mind the confusion over the differing maximum dimensions and weight of that cary on suitcase between the airlines.

You can fit in loads of luggage in your car, even in a supermini. This is a real boon, especially when travelling with kids. I remember how much gear I needed to take even for a day out, never mind a holiday. If your kids are small, you can use the foot wells at the back seats as extra storage space.

Ferry to France vs Plane

Image source: Brittany Ferries – Ferry VS Plane to France

It’s easier to keep kids entertained on a ferry than a plane. A ferry offers more space to move around.  When you’re on a plane you can be wedged into your seat, with a baby on your knee, unable to even walk up and down the aisle during trolley service. There’s the option to pay for a cabin on the ferry if you want some private space. Click here for information on the various Brittany Ferries routes to France.

I’ve never had a problem getting a seat next to my travelling companian(s) on ferry. With most airlines, you now have to pay an additional fee to select specific seats; the free allocated seats don’t guarantee that everyone in the party will sit together.

Another advantage for me is the free WiFi on board on Brittany Ferries. Although I can get online through Vodafone Euro Traveller, it costs me £3 a day to use my UK allowance, which only includes 1.5GB of data per month.

It can be a real hassle picking up a hire car when you arrive at your destination airport. There’s usually a queue, when all you want to do is get going to your final destination.

Not having to pay for car hire could make your holiday cheaper. You need to watch our for fairly hefty excesses, payable if the rental car is damaged of stotlen,  even on supposedly all inclusive prices with car hire firms.

Diesel is cheaper than unleaded petrol in France. As we have a diesel car, we’d be able to take advantage of this. Whereas, it’s usually more expensive to rent a diesel than a petrol car, so the additional cost of renting a diesel car would negate the savings made on cheaper diesel.

If you’re thinking of taking your car to Europe, check that your car insurance offers EU cover as standard, some insurance companies charge extra for this. Our M&S premier car insurance also includes European breakdown cover.


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.