As seen in the film Amelie, Canal St Martin is good for a wander away from the busier, more touristy areas of Paris.
Beautiful in spring when the trees are in leaf, this area provides a welcome retreat any time of the year.
Canal St Martin can be found running parallel-ish to Blvd Magenta (between Place de la Republique and de la Bastille).
Try some Béarnaise cuisine as well as wines from Iroleguy or Béarn, the home region of Fred Vargas’s detective hero Adamsberg. Another local speciality is Ossau Iraty - sheep’s milk cheese eaten with dark cherry jam. If you can genuinely claim to be Welsh, you’ll be even more warmly welcomed here.
Away from the well-known coastal resorts, the already pretty half timbered buildings of Espelette are decorated with strings or bas-reliefs of dried peppers for the Fête du Piment at the end of October, a favourite design is the swirls of the Basque flag. You can buy bottles of jelly or hot dried pimento to remind you of its spiciness.
In Paris with two boys, one our cheerful seven-year-old, the other our stroppy 15-year-old "Little Englander" who was determined to be unimpressed by anything French (it was just a phase - he is now studying international relations at Bradford University's Department of Peace Studies). The Eiffel Tower was "OK", the Pompidou Centre was "torture". Paris in the company of a teenage grump was turning out to have been the trip from hell when we saw the posters for tours of Le Stade de France. Ok, about the last place I would choose out of all the many places and sights in Paris which I may never see, but hey, this was supposed to be a treat for all of us.
We found our way to Le Stade in an uninspiring suburb. It was a comprehensive tour, taking in changing rooms, stands, pitch and presidential box and loads more. It felt like we got to look in every storeroom.
Most of it bored me silly but it was worth every minute to see the transformation in the boy. He was so appreciative that his uplifted mood lasted for the rest of the trip. That afternoon, he sat patiently watching his little brother playing for two hours and more in the childrens' playground in the Luxembourg Gardens. Later on we wandered round the local streets and found a great pizza restaurant. And so home to hotel, all of us content and well fed. It was a special day.
Tarbes’ most attractive feature, the Jardin Massey is a 19th century English-style garden located in the heart of town, replete with resplendent peacocks and a mini train for kids. There's also a complete 14th century cloister, a cactus house, a duck lake and an outside cafe. Beside the cafe you'll find a free horse-driven carriage for sight-seeing trips round Tarbes, from July to mid-September. Tarbes isn't renowned for its saving graces, but this park is one of them.
Accessible from Rue Massey, Rue Achille, Rue Andre Fourcade, near the station (Tarbes).
Organic bar and restaurant. Excellent vegetarian and non vege food. Good if you are a vege and non vege couple. Very reasonable for centre of Paris too. Also organic grocer next door.
47 bd St Germain, 75005, Paris. M. Maubert-Mutualite.
Tel: 01 44 07 36 99
Most people know of Châteauneuf-du-Pape because of its excellent wines, which are known worldwide. However, as well as the wine growing area of the name, there is also an historic village of the same name well worth a visit.
The old village sits on a hillside overshadowed by the ruins of the old chateau (from which the name comes from). Go explore the narrow streets.
Don't forget to taste and buy the local wines. A visit to the weekly market (held on Fridays) is also recommended.
The Dordogne area is one of the most beautiful in France. Sarlat is a well preserved walled town but can be a bit of a tourist trap. It would be preferable to travel west ward along the river and stay in the Beynac area. Lots to see - castles and troglodyte houses. There is a super campsite at Vezac.
There are so many places - just look at a good map. (Michelin)
The south of France is the place of dreams for many, idyllic villages, vineyards, historical sites and access to all the places in south-east France worth visiting - Nimes, Arles, Avignon, Aix', Orange and smaller villages like Gordes, Isle-sur-la-sorgue and of course, Menèrbe.
The best way around the region is by car despite parking restrictions in places like Gordès.
Beaumes-de-Venise is in the region of the Cötes de Rhöne wines and the appellation Cötes de Ventoux wines. It also has it's own appellation, Muscat de Beaumes-de-Venise, one of France's best sweet white wines.
Choose a local farmhouse for a stay.
Beaumes de Venise, Vaucluse, Provence, between Carpentras and Vacqueyras.
Take the TGV from Paris to Avignon and then hire a car.
Where to find it -
Metz lies 175 miles east of Paris. Up to 75 trains per day leave from the Gare d'Est in Paris. The journey time is currently 3 hours (to be reduced to 90 mins when the new TGV line from Paris to Strasbourg opens in June 2007). The train station in Metz is a 15 min walk from the city centre.
We toured the Alsace wine route, the vines bare, of course, after the harvest but the little wine towns of Kaysersburg and Riquewihr were simply ravishing.
For one afternoon we popped over the Rhine to the pretty university city of Freiburg in Baden-Wurtemburg for great shopping and a look at the gorgeous high-Gothic Munster. In the Christmas markets there we sampled hot bratwurst in crusty rolls, currywurst and 'dampfnudel' - a suet pudding with a cherry sauce and custard.
Then we drove north and back over the border for an evening in Strasbourg and dinner in the shadow of its famous cathedral.
Visit Colmar in the region of Alsace for the Christmas markets and pop into Germany for the afternoon! That's what we did with our kids (aged 10 and 8) just before Christmas.
We flew BA to Basel-Mulhouse, hired a car and stayed for 3 nights at the (cheap) Novotel on the edge of Colmar.
The town was breathtakingly decorated and boasted not one but five Christmas markets selling festive produce from decorations to outdoor food and lots of vin chaud. Yes, some of the merchandise was a bit tacky, but the markets were fabulous for families and Christmas lovers like us! The weather was cold but gloriously sunny.
All in all a great little pre-Yuletide trip and a much more cost effective way of getting in the mood than Lapland!
Reims lies 89 miles to the east of Paris. Up to 12 trains per day depart for Reims from the Paris's Gare d'Est station. Be sure to check the train timetables before you go though as there is often a gap of 3 hours between the early morning train and the later trains. Journey time: 1 hr 40 mins. Reims train station is just a 10-15 min walk west of the cathedral and the other main sights.
The Roman citadelle is open from 9.30am-11.30am and 2pm-5.30pm (6pm in July and August). The citadelle is an extremely rare example of Romanesque palatial architecture and is a powerful symbol of the power of the Adhémar de Monteil family.
The views from the towers take in the Alps to the east and the flatter valley of the Rhone river to the north and to the south.
You see the changing scenery of France from north to south with the weather getting better as your journey progress.
Start in Caen, then head to Montpellier. Stay in small hotels and enjoy regional cuisine and meet lots of people. By riding each day you build a good appetite to appreciate the great food and wine.
You can easily complete the journey in 12 days, have a day in Montpellier before returning home on the excellent European Bike Express.
The Pyrenees are full of natural beauty, and Landes as well but the area around Bayonne has been built up a bit as tourist centres, although in a much less unpleasant way than in the Cote d'Azur.
In les Landes you will find quiet areas of exceptional beauty and the dunes du Pilat are also worth a visit. If you go swimming ALWAYS stick to the areas with lifesavers on standby, because currents can be very strong indeed.
In les Landes you can stop by farms and village markets with the most wonderful food produce in France. As well as fresh and safe seafood, unlike mediteranean seafood that is always to be avoided.
In the area around Carcassonne can be found a marvellous region of France, full of history, charm, and amazing landscapes. Much more interesting, authentic and unspoilt than the Cote d'Azur or even Paris. Basicaly the Languedoc and Roussillon areas, although Perpignan and its immediate surroundings are best avoided since industrialised. The whole area turns up surprises and it would be pointless to point out anything in particular.
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