If you’re an avid traveler, odds are you’ve been to France at least once. It’s annually one of the top destinations for American tourists. But as the country reopens for leisure travel this week, it’s a reminder that even in the most familiar destination, things are constantly changing. Next time you’re roaming the streets of Paris, you’ll notice that the city center is a lot more pedestrian-friendly. A top priority of Mayor Anne Hidalgo has been limiting the number of cars in the central arrondissements around the Seine, reducing pollution and congestion. You might still be dodging bikes — or renting one yourself — but the city center will seem much more welcoming and true to its historical roots.
Cruises on the Seine, Rhone and Saone rivers will resume this summer. A river cruise is a great way to dive into a country, and there’s an option that has existed for years in France but is especially enticing in the COVID era is barge cruising. With a capacity of a dozen or so guests, barges are great for families and small groups looking for some quality time and immersion in the best of France’s countryside and culinary scene.
For treks beyond the City of Light, Normandy has long been a favorite given its history and seaside charm. It still has all those things, but so does the oft-overlooked northwest corner of the country where Brittany preserves a Celtic culture unique to mainland Europe. There you’ll find bilingual signs and some of the world’s oldest standing architecture. Head down the Atlantic coast and you’ll end up in another unique cultural territory, the Basque Country straddling France and Spain with a language and culture unique among its neighbors.
On the way there, you’ll hit Bordeaux, with a city center to rival Paris and excellent food and wine from the bounteous territory surrounding it. Sweeping across the South of France you’ll find the wonders of Provence and the Riviera. Roman ruins, Avignon’s Palace of the Popes, fields of lavender, hill towns and ritzy Mediterranean resorts invite you to rediscover the magic of France.
By now you’ve probably had some incredible meals on your own Tour de France, but your best might come in the gastronomic capital of Lyon, where three-star Michelin chefs elevated the local cuisine to the world stage. The surrounding regions supply world-class wines to pair. On the way back to Paris, you can cut into the heart of France, where the chateaux of the Loire Valley will make you think you got lost in a fairy tale, as will the villages of Alsace-Lorraine along the Rhine and the border with Germany.
Whatever you see, whether it’s a city you’ve visited several times before or a region you’ve yet to explore, France remains full of all the beauty you’ve imagined along with a lot more you haven’t.
COVID entry protocols: Vaccinated visitors from “orange” countries – including the United States – will no longer need to quarantine on arrival and will no longer have to justify the reasons for their trip to France. They will, however, be asked for a negative PCR test no older than 72 hours or a negative antigen test of no more than 48 hours.
Where to stay:
Esprit Saint Germain
This boutique hotel designed to feel like a private residence is ideally situated on the Left Bank in the heart of the ultra chic Saint Germain des Prés. Esprit Saint Germain has been entirely renovated in 2021 with an authentic Parisien ambiance.This is exactly what you imagine a French hotel should be like – very intimate and warm, stunningly designed, with real loving care put into each of its 28 rooms, suites, apartments and lounges. Clients are welcomed as if they were Guests in a Friend’s Home with a personalized and dedicated service enjoying complimentary drinks anytime during their stay sitting in the living room by the fireplace.
Les Sources de Caudalie
Surrounded by the Grand Cru vineyards of Château Smith haut Lafitte, Les Sources de Caudalie has been welcoming guests since 1999. Located between vineyards and forests, just 20 minutes from Bordeaux’s city center, our Palace of the Vineyards offers unique experiences thanks to the two-Michelin-starred restaurant La Grand’Vigne , the bistro-style La Table du Lavoir, the wine bar ROUGE and the Caudalie Spa. A stay in our Palace of the vineyards is the perfect gateway to discover our 62 bedrooms, decorated by Alice Tourbier. You will also discover a vegetable garden, outdoor pool, indoor pool, and Jacuzzi overlooking a peaceful lake.
Pretty as a postcard, Château Eza clings to the side of Èze’s ancient rock walls more than 1,300 feet above the Mediterranean Sea. Such a dramatic setting promises a remarkable experience, and this is one hideaway that definitely won’t disappoint. With just 14 guest rooms – most with fireplaces and private balconies, and all with modern amenities – there’s an enchanting, intimate atmosphere. Automobile traffic isn’t allowed on the surrounding cobblestone streets, so quiet prevails. Dining is a regal experience; spend an evening in the elegant dining room.
Cour des Loges
A remarkable juxtaposition of 21st-century amenities with the traditions and architecture of residences from the 16th and 17th centuries, Cour des Loges is acclaimed by Architectural Digest and Condé Nast Traveler – as well as fans like Henry Kissinger – for its seductive gourmet dining and richly decorated guest rooms housed in four lovingly restored Renaissance mansions. Guest-room decor ranges from stately black-and-white stripes to rich red tones, and all guest rooms feature complimentary Wi-Fi and minibars. The chef and his team are world class, producing refined and imaginative cuisine.