Fresh breakfast, picnic on the slopes, dinner in a restaurant and luxury accommodation .... and all at great value. Find a luxury apartment block being opened this year (like Le Centaure in Flaine (ski-in, ski-out, pool (next season) and what looks like fabulous accommodation) and its first season's prices are GREAT value. You won't find places like this is in any of the mainstream package brochures because they're printed too early so go to Ski Independence or Erna Low who are much more 'current' and provide great customer service. Cheapy flights, privately booked transfer and the basics for a luxury family of 4 for £1500 (at Easter!)
Flaine (but maybe somewhere else next year) only 1.5 hours from Geneva.
This is a beautiful village on the Charente river, which Francoise 1st said was the most beautiful river in France. Add to this Le Chateau de la Rochefoucauld which is stunning and dominates one end of the village and at the other end is the 12th century Eglise Saint-Medard which contains a magnificent sculpture by Germain Pilon entitled Mise au Tombeau. Between the two is the rest of the village with a working water mill boutiques and restaurants. There are places to stay, places to eat and its not far from Angouleme or Poitiers.
Beautiful town, with recently updated pedestrian areas. So if the weather is not so hot, you can shop, visit the cathedral, bars and restaurants without getting splashed by passing traffic.
If you are there for more than a day or two also take time to visit Futuroscope. It's better than Disney and suitable for all ages - we've taken our seven year-old daughter and my 80 year-old mum and we all had a great time.
A beautiful castle, village, and forest just 40 minutes from the centre of Paris. There are loop walks around the forest starting from right by the train station, which give you an immediate sense of escape from the intensity of Paris. Then from there you can wander through the formal parkland towards the centre of the town. Plenty of restaurants offer lunch or dinner, or enormous ice creams and crepes. Then the chateau, the former country escape of French royalty, offers fine gardens, a large pond, grand rooms and plenty of history to explore.
Château de Fontainebleau, 77300 Fontainebleau
+33(0)1 60 71 50 70
Google map: bit.ly/QNMMyB
Pere Lachaise Cemetery is a quiet serene affair in the east. Famous graves include Jim Morrison of the Doors, Edith Piaf, Oscar Wilde and Playwright Moliere. It's a tranquil, beautifully manicured setting with graves running along avenues creating a peaceful village of the dead; certainly worthy of a visit. Maps are available so you can best find the gravestones that interest you and best of all entry is entirely free.
Inscribed on the Unesco World Heritage list in 1979, the cathedral is reckoned to be one of the finest pieces of Gothic architecture in the world. Work began in 1145, and although it is still in good condition, restoration is currently being undertaken. The stained-glass windows, for which it is most famous, were added in the 12th and 13th century and are worth the trip alone: jewel-like tones flood the interior during the day, adding colour and warmth to the sepulchral atmosphere. There's a light show in Chartres during the summer, with special attention paid to the cathedral.
If you've viewed the original (or the poster) and would like to see the real thing, then head out of Paris for a day to Claude Monet's house. The "Water Lilies" may not be flowering, but standing in the garden of the father of impressionism is like being inside one of his paintings: the Japanese foot bridge is right there in front of you. Painstakingly re-built, the house and garden have been restored to how they would have looked in Monet's day. A trip here beats watching the paint dry.
Breath some fresh air and shake off the city cynicism for a day. Just a hop and a skip from the middle of Paris there are 49,000 acres of ancient forest waiting to be explored. With numerous trails and paths running through this vast area, you can cycle or walk off the patisserie pounds in no time. If rock climbing and horse riding are more your thing, classes and tours can be arranged in Fontainebleau.
Locals and tourists to the area respect nature and enjoy the animals, but remember to steer clear of the wild boar, they're not always friendly.
Fontainebleau Tourisme, 4, Rue Royale - 77300 Fontainebleau
+33(0)160 749 999
Google map: bit.ly/PCD57Y
Train: From Gare de Lyon, the train journey takes 40 minutes. Trains run all day.
Take the train from the Gare-du-Nord to Auvers-sur-Oise where Van Gogh spent his last three months. Once there - walk up past the church and pretty backstreets to the cemetery where Van Gogh and his brother Theo are burried, taking in fabulous views of the town and familiar countryside. Carry on alongside the iconic cornfields and drop down into the Absinthe Museum (check opening times)before a delicious meal and genuine absinthe at the Auberge Ravoux where Van Gogh lived and worked. A wonderful day out whether into painting or not.
44 rue Callé, 95430 Auvers-sur-Oise
+33(0)1 30 36 83 26
Google map: bit.ly/S6bB9a
Place de la Mairie, 95430 Auvers sur Oise
+33 (0)1 30 36 60 60
Google map: bit.ly/QH1Q10
Rouen in Normandy is just far enough away from Paris on a fast train to escape its day-trippers but not so that it would break your alarm clock or budget.
Apart from the wondrous cathedral, it is one of the homes of impressionism. Visit a gallery or see the interesting old town where you can photograph, shop or people-watch from a cafe to your hearts' content.
Try the fortified medieval town of Provins 1h25 by train (from Gare de l'Est) to the south-east of Paris. Away from the usual foreign tourist route. You tend only to find French visitors. Great with kids as there's a donjon, ramparts, underground passages. In summer there are lots of events such as jousting knights, etc. Plenty of restaurants from the good and cheap crepe (Le Fleur du Sel in the old town) to the fancier place with lovely outdoor dining areas.
With its clean air and tranquil pace, a day in the medieval town of Provins is the perfect antidote to hectic city life. Take in the view from La Tour César, enjoy a reasonable menu 'prix fixe' in the square of this old fair town, and check the website for medieval shows taking place. Lounge on the deck chairs in the intoxicating rose garden before enjoying their café speciality of thé gourmand (rose tea, delicate macarons and rose ice cream) before you feel ready to face the city again.
The hillwalking in the Cantal is blissful. You are unlikely to see many people on your way up or down through wooded hillsides on waymarked paths, until you break out on spectacular ridges rising to 1700m.
If you have dreamt of walking though fields of lavender, then Apt is the perfect base to do this. About 1 ½ hours drive north from Marseille airport, Apt is a market town in the heart of Provence. Although not especially pretty, it is perfectly located to visit other wonderful sights – the perched villages of Roussillon, Menerbes and Gordes, wineries with grand, old chateaus and best of all, vast fields of lavender in every direction. Even my reluctant husband and brother drank in the scent! On a practical note, Apt has three supermarkets to stock up with provisions. We also stumbled upon a fantastic restaurant, Chez Nous and enjoyed sublime food, charming service and great value at 28 Euros for three courses. In the middle of July, we may not have been on the Riviera but there were so few crowds! We hired a villa with a pool, with stunning views of the hills surrounding the town. The market in Apt on Saturdays transformed the town, with its colour and perfumes and enabled us to bring back memories of a special Provencal holiday.
Chez Nous, 87-93 rue de la republique, 84400 Apt, France
Google map: bit.ly/Prob1f
This hill-top village literally juts out as a flash of colour amidst the cultivated Vaucluse - Luberon landscape. Built on soft ochre cliffs, the village is large enough to attract a flow of tourists who pass through for the day to photograph quaint and colourful houses built out of the warm, ochre stone.
To make the most of Roussillon village, stay for a night or pass by later in the evening when the cars have pulled out of its car parks. This way you can peacefully admire its brilliant cliffs as they glow eerily in the sunset.
For further sensory stimulation follow the woodland trail of ‘Le Sentier des Ocres’, choosing either a short or longer trail (45 minutes) through lightly scented ochre paths lined with chestnut, oak and pine trees. Look out for rare plants and orchids among the thyme and rosemary.
The 'Conservatoire des Ocres' on the edge of Roussillon along the D104 is also worth a visit. The friendly staff members provide informative guided tours and workshops (some in English) and even manage a small bicycle hiring service. After a long day cycling around the Luberon, it’s a nice place to return to as you browse around its impressive shop and sit for a while in its small café space outside.
Entry to Sentiers des Ocres is 2.50€ for adults and free for children, open from 9am – 7:30pm during July and August, and 9am – 5pm March – November.
For more information on 'Conservatoire des Ocres et de la Couleur', go to www.okhra.com (in French only).
For bike hire, go to www.luberon-biking.fr, email: firstname.lastname@example.org or call +33 (0)490901462 English spoken). The bike pick-up point is at the Conservatoire des Ocres from 9am – 7pm, in July and August.
Google map: bit.ly/NXkrXX
L'Isle sur la Sorgue is a pretty town built around the river Sorgue, it’s a colourful place filled with flowers. The town is a haven for antique lovers with 300 specialist shops; from gold laden cherubs to rusty horseshoes, there is something for everyone. Irresistible deli’s sell fresh bread and local produce – great for a picnic on the riverside.
Google map: bit.ly/ONuKil
Saint-Paul de Vence is a picturesque village perched on top of a hill, the little streets are filled with quaint shops selling homemade soaps and lavender from the nearby Abbey Senanque. There are fantastic restaurants on every corner, sit outside among the fragrant flowers and enjoy the local cuisine then visit the Fondation Maeght art gallery; striking pieces set in beautiful gardens.
Builders of some of the world's most beautiful bridges, French civic engineering is world renowned. But is Gallic good taste and love of technical design inherited from the Romans? The spectacular Pont du Gard, on the Unesco World Heritage list, combines elegance with practicality. Built around 2000 years ago as an aqueduct, its three tiers are still in excellent condition and open to all. With an activity centre, shops, restaurants and museum it's a fabulous day out for the whole family. And you can even get married there.
Blow your mind away with a trip to the Cathedrale des Images just a few hundred metres north of Les Baux. The huge underground quarries here, left behind after the bauxite mines (the mineral takes its name from the village) were exhausted, have been converted into a spectacular audio-visual show. When we were there in May, paintings by Van Gogh and Gaugin were displayed to dramatic effect on the floors, ceiling and towering walls in a constantly changing kaleidoscope of colour and music. The whole experience was simply breathtaking. An added bonus if you need to escape for a short time from the searing Provencal summer heat is that the cavern is at a constantly cool temperature. Combine the visit with a tour of Les Baux, which was nominated by Provence in the 2012 best village in France competition, and of the magnificent 11th century castle, perched above the village and affording views in all directions across beautiful countryside. Get there early morning or late afternoon to avoid the crowds. All-in-all a memorable day out.
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