France Tours and Travel Guide
France Attractions & Landmarks Guide
France is one of the most visited countries in the world. And that’s no surprise -- when you have Paris, the Riviera, Provence, Burgundy, the Loire Valley, Normandy, the Pyrenees, the Seine, the Rhone, and some of the world’s best food and wine, you’re going to draw crowds. Whether you tour France by river cruise, culinary tour, or bike tour you’re sure to agree: Viva La France!
A tour of Paris, of course, is on most everyone’s France tour itinerary, with sights like the Louvre (so huge it could easily take a month to cover beyond the Mona Lisa), Notre Dame Cathedral, the Eiffel Tower, Montmartre, the Latin Quarter, the Marais, and the Seine with its Bateaux Mouches boats and dozens of bridges offering a walkway or river ride through the center of it all.
Popular France River Cruises
Cruise travel continues to be on the rise for all budgets and one of the top trends is river cruising, particularly for baby boomers. Seniors, and even millennials are also stepping aboard in larger numbers but no matter the budget, a big attraction of river cruising is its intimacy.
Ocean liners can tower in size and accommodate thousands of passengers. River cruise ships on the other hand are designed to navigate narrow waterways, locks and low bridges which gives passengers a quite different experience. You can delight in exploring from the decks of a sleek ship joined by only about 100-150 other passengers.
If you are thinking of exploring France by river, it’s helpful to know the regions and cities of France that can be accessed by a river cruise vessel. This will help you decide the best French river cruise for you.
There are four major rivers in France with the Seine, Rhone and Garonne/Dordogne rivers being the most popular for river cruises. The Loire is the longest river and starts high in the southeastern mountains. It flows north, then west into the Atlantic.
Seine - sourced from the mountains of southeastern France and flows to the northwest. From the capital city of light and love to the World War II beachheads including Omaha Beach, Paris to Normandy is a popular Seine river cruise, with some tour operators including excursions to London. River cruising in Northern France may also take you along the Seine’s eastern tributary, the Marne, where you can savor brie from a master cheesemaker in the heart of the Brie region.
Rhone - sourced from the Alps of Switzerland, directly east of France. The Rhone “kisses” its northern tributary, the Saone, at the city of Lyon, the second largest urban area of France, a part of which is a registered UNESCO World Heritage site. There are both Northbound and Southbound Rhone river cruises; a southbound cruise will take you straight south through the Rhone Valley, known for the intensely fragrant lavender fields of Provence, olive groves that produce some of the highest quality olive oil on earth and of course, the vineyards. Most notable is the Burgundy region, one of the classic French wine regions. The river meets the Mediterranean Sea near Marseilles, northwest of the French Riviera. Marseilles is the largest port and second largest city in France.
The Rhine river, from its source in Switzerland, makes its way north not only through France but also, Germany, Austria, Liechtenstein and the Netherlands. Rhine and Rhone river cruises allow you to see the sites of France, Germany and beyond. Use Stride’s search tools to help you zero in on the trip that speaks to you!
Garonne/Dordogne rivers and Gironde estuary - sourced from the Spanish pyrenees that lie on the border between Spain and France, a Garonne river cruise will take you north into France then west towards Bordeaux, yet another famed wine region and Unesco World Heritage site. Bordeaux is second to Paris for its plethora of preserved historic buildings. Just after Bordeaux, the Garonne flows into the Dordogne river, forming the Gironde estuary before it empties into the Atlantic. France river cruises in this region are newer to the European river cruise offerings and perhaps not yet as popular as cruising the Seine and Rhone. Some focus only on the city of Bordeaux and the surrounding communes of Cadillac, Pauillac and Libourne while others include regions beyond.
Top Regions in France
The extraordinary diversity of mainland France can be better appreciated with some knowledge of its geography, all of it packed into an area just under the size of two states of Colorado.
France is bordered not only by the Atlantic on its western coast but also the Ligurian and Meditteranean Seas on its southeastern coast. It boasts eight mountain ranges. The Alps and Pyrennes are the most impressive in size with Mont Blanc in the Alps rising over 15,000 feet above sea level, the 11th highest in the world.
France has a number of overseas departments and regions, most of which are relics from its colonial empire but the mainland and Meditteranean island of Corsica are divided into 13 regions, each with its own wonder.
Use Stride’s filter features to choose everything from traveler’s age preference to travel theme. Below are the regions and their highlights, listed by cardinal direction which will help you to more easily visualize and book your French tour.
1. Northern France
Normandy - Just east of Paris. Discover the historic D-Day landing beaches and the majestic cliffs of the Alabaster Coast that inspired so many of the French Impressionist painters. See the water lily ponds of Claude Monet’s famous painting come to life in the village of Giverny, where he lived from 1833 to 1926. You can also visit the gardens on his property. There are over a thousand sites and attractions listed on the Normandy tourism site, making it one of the top regions to visit in France. Normandy Tours »
Ile de France - The city of Paris makes this another top region in France. Be awestruck by the Eiffel tower and encaptivated by the art at the world’s largest art museum, the Louvre. Less than 20 miles from Paris, visit the Chateau Versailles, Disneyland and Euro Disney. Paris tours with or without other stops in France and beyond will help you get started.
Hauts de France - The Opal coast, so named for its opalescent light sits on the English channel. Visit the floating gardens and gothic cathedral of Amiens or Lille, the old capital of the Flemish region.
2. Southern France
Provence-Alpes-Cote d’ Azur - One of the top regions in France for tourists whether for the beaches and resorts of the French Riviera, including Monaco, Nice and Cannes, the lavender fields of Provence or the gothic and renaissance buildings of Avignon.
For outdoors enthusiasts, Calanques National Park is a top destination in Southern France, greeting visitors with inlets of turquoise waters bordered by steep walls of rock.
Corsica - The French military leader and emperor, Napoleon Bonaparte, came from Corsica. The island is located about 145miles from the southern coast. Many of the tours to Corsica include hiking.
Occitanie - Explore Toulouse, the pink city, known for the variety of bricks used in its buildings. In Nimes you’ll find the best preserved Roman amphitheater in the world and in Cathar County, the fortified city of Carcassonne with its imposing wall further fortified by 52 towers.
3. Central France
Centre-Val-De-Loire - A top region of France known for its vineyards and chateaux (castles), homes to French kings of the Renaissance. The area is seen by many, many tourists from their bikes.
Loire Valley Tours
4. Eastern France
Grand Est - Includes the regions of Alsace-Champagne-Ardennes-Lorainne. Tours to Alsace often take you to the bordering countries of Germany, Luxembourg, Belgium and Switzerland.
You may have guessed that visits to the tasting cellars of the champagne vineyards will be on your itinerary and perhaps the Route des Vins - the Alsace wine road. In its capital, Strasbourg, you’ll find the oldest Christmas market in Europe and for those inclined to military history, the Grand Est has plenty to tell from both World Wars. There are also several forests and parks to explore.
Auvergne-Rhone Alpes - Glide down the slopes of world class ski resorts like Chamonix and Val D’Isere. See Mont Blanc, the highest mountain in Europe and aptly called the “roof of Europe.” Auvergne, one of the largest protected natural reserves in Europe has more than 100 hot springs and nearly as many volcanoes.
Activities for both the summer or winter visitor may leave you with a shortage of energy but easily replenished by a visit to the spa and then perhaps some sustenance in the form of cheese, both of which the area is also known for. Tours to the French Alps »
Bourgogne-Franche Comté - A top region in France known for its Burgundy vineyards, river tourism, medieval and renaissance castles. Dijon, one of the best preserved town centres in France is in the Burgundy region.
In France Comte which borders Switzerland the Jura Mountains and Vosges massif create a beautiful landscape varying in elevation and filled with lakes and forests. And if you haven’t tried Comte cheese, now’s the time. It’s one of the most highly produced in France. Tours to Burgundy »
5. Western France
Bretagne - Brittany is known for its Celtic history among other things. The Bretons, who speak Breton, not French, are a Celtic ethnic group native to the area. The names given to different areas of the coast speak to its diversity: Jade, Emerald, Wild and Pink Granite. A land of myths, legends, moorland and medieval towns. Tours to Brittany often include Paris, Normandy and the Loire Valley.
Pays de la Loire - South of Brittany is the western Loire. It, too, has its castles and vineyards although not as well known as the central Loire valley. You’ll find more of the dramatic Atlantic coastline, a masterpiece of religious architecture and the largest monastic site in Europe: the Abbey of Fontevraud. The second most visited theme park in France after Disneyland Paris is also in the western Loire, Puy Du Fou.
Nouvelle Aquitaine - Located south of Pays de la Loire, Nouvelle Aquitaine was the first spa region in France. Dax is the most well known - since Roman times - but is just one of a whopping 30 spa towns. Not a spa-goer? Stay and enjoy fine sandy beaches and Bordeaux wine paired with food from one of the many Michelin starred restaurants.
Food & Wine in France
France is not only the birthplace of the Michelin hotel and restaurant reference guide, now more than a century old, but its cuisine of “intangible cultural heritage” was designated a UNESCO cultural object in 2010. Accordingly, French cuisine - including its cheese and wine - is a source of great national pride. Indeed, the French way of life is inseparable from its gastronomy.
The Michelin guide publishes annual guides for hotels and restaurants in many countries these days but in France when the guide is published each year it sparks such a media frenzy that it has been compared to that of the Academy Awards. The loss or gain of a star can have significant consequences and as such, a chef can fall or rise from his or her celebrity level status in just one day.
Quiche, bouillabaisse, cassoulets, souffles, coq a vin, crepes and creme brulee are some of the traditional French foods with which you are probably familiar. Generally known for its heavy sauces, meat-centric dishes and decadent desserts, one of the secrets to staying relatively trim is that the French eat for pleasure - and they don’t eat that way every day.
Whether over lingering lunches, 3 hour dinners or even longer sojourns to the cafe they’ve generally walked to, travel writer and author Rick Steves claims that the French have a legislated 35 hour work week and a self imposed 36 hour eat week.
The physical diversity of France lends itself to a tremendously diverse production of cheese. There are 41 traditional regional cheeses designated AOP or “Appellation d'Origine Protégée” meaning that they cannot be produced, processed or developed outside of the region from which they came due to the recognized expertise and terroir.
The designation protects against fraud and is a guarantee of quality. Other varieties number up to 400 by some estimates, although with sub varieties included, the number jumps to 1000. Cheese maps show the unique varieties produced in each region. But alas, what is food in France without its wine? Top culinary and wine tours in France »
France disputes the title of largest producer with Italy and Spain but if ranked by area planted in vines, did you know that title belongs to China, then Spain? There are over 400 AOPs (AOPs replace the earlier AOC designations). Other classification systems are not as strict as those of the AOP; for example, IGPs (Indication Géographique Protégée).
Rather than get lost in the complexity of the classification system, just start tasting! Generally, you’ll find lighter wines in the north and fuller bodied wines in the south where it is sunnier.
Below are the top wine regions in France and their main varietals, in order of highest to lowest acreage of vines. “Sante!” (To Your Health)
Languedoc-Roussillon Main Varietals:
White Wines: Chardonnay, Grenache Blanc, Marsanne, Roussanne
Red Wines: Grenache, Syrah, Carignane, Cinsaut
Bordeaux Main Varietals:
White Wines: Sauvignon Blanc, Sémillon, Muscadelle
Red Wines: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, Malbec
Rhône Valley Main Varietals:
White Wines: Marsanne, Roussanne, Viognier
Red Wines: Syrah, Grenache, Mourvèdre
Loire ValleyMain Varietals:
White Wines: Sauvignon Blanc, Chenin Blanc, Melon de Bourgogne
Red Wines: Cabernet Franc, Cot (Malbec)
Burgundy Main Varietals:
White Wines: Chardonnay
Red Wines: Pinot Noir, Gamay (in Beaujolais)
Champagne Main Varietals:
White Wines: Chardonnay
Red Wines: Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier
Alsace Main Varietals:
White Wines: Riesling, Gewürztraminer, Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc
Red Wines: Pinot Noir
Cycling Tour Packages in France
There’s something about using your legs to propel you over terrain, especially terrain as beautiful as that of France. Cycling tours in France range from easy to extreme with the majority of them being moderate.
On the extreme end, hop in your saddle to tackle easier climbs at the start of your Pyrenees trip but find your legs pumping hard over Col du Tourmaletm, one of the most popular mountain passes in the Tour de France at just under 7,000’.
But have no fear, there are more moderate Cols to climb on Tour de France cycling tours or for an easier ride, cycle the backroads of Provence. For moderate riding, cycle the Loire Valley and there’s even a number of self-guided cycling tours in France.
The Riviera and Provence
A visit to France may include a tour along the Mediterranean Sea. The glamorous and sometimes ostentatious French Riviera beach resorts include Cannes (site of the film festival), Nice (the largest city), Cap Ferrat, and St. Tropez.
The Riviera is just part of sunny Provence in southeastern France, which is tucked between the Rhone River, Italy, the Alps and the Mediterranean. It’s a land where sea air, mountain gorges, vineyards, medieval villages, Roman ruins, olive groves and lavender fields combine to create a sensuous medley of sights, scents and tastes.
The light in Provence is so striking that painters such as Van Gogh, Cezanne, Matisse, and Picasso were all drawn here, immortalizing the landscapes, architecture, and people.
Provence is home as well to France’s second largest city and major port, Marseilles, which displays North African influences and is known for bouillabaisse, the local fish stew. All this has helped make Provence France’s number one tourist destination beyond Paris.
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