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France

Paris and Provence Perfect

With a week in Paris, you can see the city’s major attractions while leaving plenty of time to explore the tucked-away neighborhoods and offbeat sights that give the city its charm. Your apartment near the kid-friendly Luxembourg Gardens will provide easy access to the classic and quintessential Parisian neighborhood of Saint-Germain-des-Pres and the charming maze of alleyways that makes up the vibrant Latin Quarter.

Enjoy the Paris of picture books with visits to famous sights like the Eiffel Tower, Cathedral de Notre Dame, Musee du Louvre, Champs Elysees, and Sacre Coeur. Explore the Palace of Versailles – but do it by bike so you can better see the expansive castle gardens. Once you’ve seen the classics, start uncovering the hidden secrets of this dynamic city. Take a stroll among the city skyline via an old railway converted into a public park. Visit the final resting spots of French kings and thinkers and world-renowned artists and musicians. Descend below ground for a spooky and fascinating tour through the city catacombs. Visit interactive museums that are fun for both adults and children. I’ll take you through the city’s best street markets and help you find “your” neighborhood patisseries and cafes so you can sample the best of the famous Paris food scene. After a few days of city excitement, head to the countryside; there is no better place to experience rural, French life than in a small, Provencal village. The impressive chateau town of Les Baux-de-Provence offers the perfect position in between the region’s most intriguing cities and sights. You’ll have easy access to the region’s famous lavender fields, the ancient Roman treasures and scenes from Van Gogh canvases in Arles, the papal palace in Avignon, the in-tact aqueduct of the Pont du Guard, and one of the country’s best markets and most beautiful avenues in Aix. A little further afield is the whitewashed fishing town of Cassis, which makes a perfect coastal day trip. Round out your time in the country with tastings at vineyards and hikes through the surrounding hills.

A Road Trip Fit for a History Buff

Pick up your rental car, and make your way to the charming Alsatian town of Bergheim. To break up the five-hour drive, consider stopping for lunch in Reims. This small city in the heart of the Champagne region is home to the Cathedral Notre-Dame de Reims, the church where the vast majority of the French monarchs were crowned. The highlight of this stunning cathedral is the eastern chapel, which features colorful stained-glass windows designed by Marc Chagall.

Another interesting stop along your route is Verdun. History buffs will be intrigued by this town, which was the site for one of the longest combat battles in history. The WWI Battle of Verdun between the French and the Germans lasted 299 days and claimed over 750,000 lives. The bulk of the tourist attractions in this town, including battlefields, trenches, and forts, are related to this important conflict.

Once in Bergheim, settle into your gite, and spend some time exploring your new hometown with a walk along the preserved medieval walls that circle the city. For dinner, visit restaurant La Bacchante, which has a lovely garden where you can enjoy a relaxing meal after a long day of traveling.

Countryside Wanderings

The Alsace region is filled with charming villages, castle ruins, beautiful vineyards, and interesting French-German culinary offerings. You could devote entire days to road tripping along the scenic Route du Vin and stopping whenever an intriguing site catches your eye. Or, you could make mini stops on your way to larger cities like Strasbourg, Basel, and Colmar. However you decide to explore the countryside, here is a list of stops that are worth making.

Villages

– Riquewihr: Though touristy, it’s hard to deny the charms of pastel-painted Riquewihr. To avoid crowds, visit in the evening after the tour buses have cleared out.
– Kaysersberg: This cute town features calming canals, a maze of cobblestone, and easy, scenic hikes through its surrounding vineyards.
– Ribeauville: This village feels less touristy and more authentic than either Riquewihr or Kaysersberg but still could vie for the title of “Alsace’s prettiest town.”
– Obernai: North of the main tourist section, this ring-walled town has loads of Alsatian charm with fewer crowds.
– Mittelbergheim: Searching for a tourist-free town? Look no further.
– Saint-Hippolyte: A sleepy and attractive village in the foothills of the Vosges.

Castles

– Haut-Koenigsbourg: This restored, medieval fortress sits imposingly on a perch in the Vosges Mountains, high above the town of Saint-Hippolyte. Visitors can explore the castle and its grounds at their own pace. The views over the Alsatian plains are unparalleled.
– Chateaux Girsberg and Saint-Ulrich: These 13th-century castles perched in the mountains above Ribeauville seem to still keep watch over the town below. The hike to the ruins is steep and short, offering incredible panoramic views over the region. The path access point is in the old town, next to the Restaurant Aux Trois Chateaux.

Restaurants

– Restaurant D’Baecka Ofa Stub: This cozy Ribeauville restaurant serves up Alsatian comfort food in an intimate and relaxed setting.
– Wistub du Sommelier: This Bergheim winstube is not only the best restaurant in your base town; it’s one of the best eateries in the entire region.
– O’Goutchi: This Italian-French fusion restaurant located just south of Ribeauville has a perfect patio for enjoying your rural surroundings.
– Caveau Morakopf: This winstube in the tiny town of Niedermorschwihr is always full of locals and is worth the 25-minute drive from Bergheim.
– Chocolaterie du Vignoble Daniel Stoffel: Though not exactly a restaurant, this chocolatier outside of Ribeauville is a great dessert spot. Your kids will love watching the chocolate makers at work and exploring the shop’s wonderland of delicious treats.

Sweet Little Strasbourg

Plan to spend a day exploring Strasbourg, Alsace’s urban center. This city is thriving, yet manageable, charming, but not too cutesy, and visitor-friendly, but not overly touristy; exploring it makes for a very pleasant day.

The focal point of Strasbourg is its stately Cathedral Notre Dame, a gothic church that was finished in 1439. Take some time to explore the structure’s interior; it’s truly impressive.

Strasbourg has a great selection of restaurants serving up tarte flambee, orflammekueches, one of Alsace’s signature dishes. L’Ancienne Douane serves up a delicious version of this carmelized onion, cream, and cheese-smothered pizza-like meal. The restaurant also has a terrace with a great view over the main canal. But for the best tasting tarte in the city, wander away from the scenic old town to Lard et Creme, a traditional Alsatian restaurant full of locals.

Aside from the Cathedral, the town’s main attraction is its pleasant city center. Enjoy a stroll through La Petite France, a section of the old town running along the canal. Half-timbered houses leaning precariously over cobblestone characterize this charming series of twisting alleyways.

Head back towards the Cathedral to the Rue des Grandes Arcades. This bustling thoroughfare, combined with the surrounding side streets, make up the main shopping district of the city. Non-shoppers may want to consider going further afield and taking a stroll through the peaceful Parc de l’Orangerie. Enjoy dinner at Chez Yvonne, a traditional Alsatian winstube, or wine room.

A Hidden Swiss Gem

Visitors to Switzerland often opt to explore its famous Alpine mountains or the well-known cities of Zurich, Geneva, and Bern. But just across the border from Alsace is a thriving city that is one of the country’s best-kept secrets.

Basel sits on the Rhine, at the crossroads of Switzerland, France, and Germany. This cosmopolitan city is easy to navigate on foot or tram and boasts eclectic architecture and an exciting contemporary art scene.

A city highlight is the Museum Tinguely, which features the interactive machines of kinetic artist Jean Tinguely. A wander through the museum’s galleries will take you past turning gerbil wheels, blinking light bulbs, and balls rolling down planks; you’ll start to feel like the game piece in a life-sized round of Mousetrap. Kids will view this attraction as an alternative type of playground while adults will appreciate learning about the messages behind the art.

Tired of heavy French food? Try Tibits, a self-serve vegetarian restaurant near the old town. The dining room features two levels of eclectic seating options, including several comfy couches. And you don’t have to be a meat lover to enjoy the creative, healthy dishes.

Round out your time in the city exploring the architecture along the Rhine and within the altstadt, making sure not to miss the Rathaus or theMunster. Before your arrival, download the Swiss City Guide Basel App, which features several walking tours throughout the city, complete with marked routes, descriptive text, and audio commentary.

Candy-Colored Colmar

Consider taking a day to explore the candy-colored, half-timber houses, cobblestone alleyways, and Venetian canals of Colmar. This city is a bigger version of some of the Alsatian villages you’ve been exploring, which means it offers more attractions, shopping, and restaurant options.

One of the city’s primary sites is the Musee d’Unterlinden. Set in a former convent, this museum’s collections contain folk art, military items, and archaeological artifacts from between the 12th and 16th centuries. Its feature piece is the Isenheim Altarpiece, Grunewald’s crowning achievement and widely considered one of the greatest works of Western art.

The rest of your time in this attractive city can be spent ducking into its many churches, window shopping, or taking a boat tour through the canals. Try the traditional Alsatian dishes at La Fleur de Sel… if you can secure four of its 14 seats. Another good restaurant option is Aux Armes de Colmar, which dishes up hearty, local fare in a warm setting.

Burgundian Beauty

Make your way to the Loire Valley by way of the beautiful Burgundy region. Though famous for its high-end wines, this part of France also features beautiful landscapes, impressive abbeys, and stone villages. On your road trip, you’ll find it especially interesting to compare the region’s gothic architectural elements to those of the half-timbered houses that you’ve just left behind in Alsace.

A good place to stop for lunch in this region is beautiful Beaune, with its impressive old town and exceptional selection of restaurants. Try Burgundian specialties like boeuf bourguignon or coq au vin at Ma Cuisine, a local hot spot near the Hotel-Dieu. With time and interest, consider touring this impressive, historic hospital or taking a stroll around the old town.

Back on the road, you could either head straight to your apartment in Bourgueil or make one last stop at Vezelay to see its famous Gothic cathedral.

Picturesque Palaces

Start off your trip through the Loire Valley with visits to two of its most beautiful chateaux. The famous Chateau de Chenonceau and the Chateau d’Azay-le-Rideau are both stunners with watery surroundings and ornate architectural details.

Your first stop is the Chateau d’Azay-le-Rideau, a fanciful castle with beautifully decorated rooms that is set in the middle of an elegant park and almost entirely enclosed by a natural moat. This chateau is also one of the smaller castles in region and provides a relatively intimate experience for visitors.

Your next stop will provide quite the contrast to Azay-le-Rideau. The ostentatious Chateau de Chenonceau is one of the Loire’s most iconic palaces. The castle’s focal point is its arched bridge, which gracefully extends over the River Cher. On the palace tour, you’ll learn about its storied history and famous residents, including the intriguing Diane de Poitiers and Catherine de’Medici.

Chenonceau castle offers a variety of convenient lunch options, including a low-key snack bar where you can purchase picnic items and the elegant Orangerie, which offers a more upscale experience and truly exceptional food.

Open Spaces

If yesterday left you feeling cooped up by dark castles, get some fresh air today by taking in the beautiful towns and gardens of the Loire. Start your day at Chateau Villandry, but don’t bother going inside of the palace. This castle is notable for its meticulously manicured gardens laid out in complex geometric patterns; they are arguably the most beautiful in the region.

Skip the modernized city of Tours in favor of exploring some of the well-preserved medieval towns in the area. The village of Amboise is among the most atmospheric; it lies on the Loire River and its skyline features an imposing castle overlooking a medieval old town.

Off-the-Beaten Chateaux Path

For a more relaxed day, explore the castles near your hometown. You’ll find many hidden surprises by straying from the well-beaten tourist track.

Start in Saumur, a low-key delight that should give you a break from dealing with the masses. If you’re tired of chateaux, consider paying a visit to the Cadre Noir at France’s national equestrian school. You can watch the horses practice at one of the company’s morning demonstrations. For lunch, Bistrot Les Tontons is the best spot in town; it has a great vibe, pleasant patio, and a menu full of regional specialties.

On your way to the next town, consider a stop at the Abbaye Royale deFontevraud, the largest abbey in Europe. Once a monastic city and then a prison city, the site has now been converted into a “contemporary city” that uses a historical backdrop as the scene for a modern-day visual and performing arts center. Visitors can enjoy art exhibits, animated cinema, and musical performances, or they can take historical walks to learn about the city’s past.

Continue on to Chinon, a chateau town with a more authentic feel than the villages that you’ve already seen in the region. Explore its towering fortress and the medieval alleyways over which it stands guard; this town is a true stunner.

Further Afield

Spend your last day in the Loire visiting one of the most prominent chateaux in the region. Though it will require a drive, visiting the Chateau de Chambord is considered worth the effort. Chambord is the second-most-visited chateau in France after the Palace of Versailles; upon viewing its grandeur for the first time, it’s easy to see why. The immense palace, which features unique and iconic architectural elements, is simply awe-inducing. You’ll especially be entranced by its famous double-helix staircase and elevated terraces.

After touring the castle, relax and lunch in the nearby city of Blois. Visit the town’s chateau for spectacular views of the Loire River. Nearby Le Coup de Fourchette is an excellent place to enjoy a meal.

If you can’t get enough of castles, the nearby hunting palace of Chateau de Cheverny can provide you with one last stately experience. Though smaller in size than some of the large estates that you’ve visited in the Loire, Cheverny is one of the most lavishly furnished castles in the valley.

Disneyland Paris

Make your way to Disneyland Paris this morning so you can spend the afternoon with Mickey and his friends. Once you arrive at the theme park, drop off your car at the rental lots by the train station; you won’t need an automobile now that you have access to the exhaustive and efficient Paris transportation system.

Center City

Did the girls miss out on any rides yesterday because of long lines or time constraints? Get up early, and beat the crowds so they can experience all of their Euro Disney favorites!

After everyone has had their fill of amusements and carnival food, take the RER A4 train into the city and check into your apartment on the Ile Saint-Louis near the Saint-Michel Notre Dame stop. Getting there requires a transfer from the RER A to the RER B line at Chatelet-Les Halles station and going one stop south.

After a day of theme-park fun, relax close to home. The Ile Saint-Louisoffers a tranquil respite from the hustle and bustle of central Paris. Explore the charming alleyways, settle into a dinner at the homey and hiddenL’Auberge de la Reine Blanche, and enjoy your first of many sweet scoops at the world-famous Berthillon ice cream parlor.

Lose Yourself in the Left Bank

Start your day with a breakfast of traditional crepes at Le Flore en L’Ile. This charming cafe is located right on your little island and has a patio that offers great views of Notre Dame.

Next, head to Paris’s other famous island, the Ile de la Cite. Here you can take in the iconic architecture of theCathedral de Notre Dame, the Hotel de Ville, andSainte-Chapelle. Touring both of the churches is recommended; Notre Dame is a classic, must-see sight, whereas Sainte-Chapelle’s towering stained-glass windows create a unique and striking Gothic-rainbow room.

Back on the Left Bank, peek into the Pantheon, a grand mausoleum that serves as the final resting place for many of France’s most famous citizens, including Voltaire, Rousseau, Victor Hugo, and Marie Curie. If your girls are into dinosaurs, you might also want to consider a visit to the nearby Museum of Natural History.

Wander through the charming maze of alleyways that makes up the vibrant Latin Quarter, making your way to the bustling street market on Rue Mouffetard. Pick up a baguette, a hunk of cheese, some olives, and fruit – all of the supplies you’ll need for a perfect, French picnic in the nearby Luxembourg Gardens.

After some relaxation and playtime in one of Paris’s most expansive and beautiful parks, check out one of the city’s strangest sights – its subterranean maze of tunnels lined with thousands of skeletons. These catacombs are mass graves created in the 12th century when urban cemeteries became over-crowded, and the churches needed places to bury citizens not wealthy enough to afford formal burials.

Take another walk through the Latin Quarter, which is even more charming in the evening, and then transport yourself to the southwest region of the country by dining on delicious Basque cuisine at Chez Gladines.

The Grandest Avenues of Paris

Today you’ll spend your daylight hours strolling the length of the majesticChamps Elysees and your evening exploring the beautiful Seine River.

Take the pink line from the Pont Marie to the Louvre. Known as one of the world’s best museum, here you can view classic art pieces like the Mona Lisa, the Winged Victory, and the Venus de Milo. A fun way for families to explore this expansive space is by way of a scavenger hunt. THATLouorganizes themed treasure trails through the museum to make the art experience fun and interactive for kids.

The Tuileries Garden, situated on the southeastern end of the Champs Elysees and adjacent to the Louvre, is a beautiful spot for enjoying some fresh air after having battled museum crowds. In the summer, the gardens host a fair, complete with amusement park rides.

The restaurants in this area are generally either pricey or touristy, so take the opportunity to splurge on a fancy lunch. Angelina is known the world over for their desserts and hot chocolate, but they also have a lovely lunch menu.

Cross the Seine in order to access the Orsay Museum, which is home to one of the best impressionist art collections in the world. You’ll enjoy recognizing multiple paintings and sculptures, and your girls will love the vintage train station setting and Degas’s ballerinas.

Back on the Right Bank, continue to the commercial section of the Champs Elysees. Here, haute couture fashion houses line the busiest section of the avenue. Take a shopping break and indulge in macaroons at the ritzyLaduree before continuing on to the nationalistic Arc de Triomphe.

The nearby Le Relais de l’Entrecote is a fun and buzzing family restaurant. After enjoying some fabulous steak frites, head south until you hit the Seine. On your way home, you can enjoy a nice walk along the river at dusk. Or, take the metro to Pont Neuf and charter a twilight boat tour with Vedettes.

The Paris of Picture Books

Today take the RER train toVersailles, where you can soak in the opulence of one of the world’s grandest chateaux. You’ll want to tour the palace and its famous Hall of Mirrors, but the gardens are where the estate really shines. The best way to explore this manicured maze of shrubbery is by bike, so consider renting some at the Versailles-Chantiers train station. Note that bikes are not available for rent at Versailles-Chateau station, which is the more popular of the two palace-access stations.

Once you have your wheels, make the Marie Antoinette annex a priority stop on your tour; it offers an experience fit for a queen. Chez Lazare makes a tasty and affordable lunch stop and is conveniently located on Rue de Satory, between the main train station and the palace gates.

On your way back into the city, jump off the train at the Champ de Mars-Tour Eiffel stop. After a full morning, take your time exploring the world’s most recognizable landmark, the Eiffel Tower. Take the elevator to the top, and take pictures from every angle; you’ll want to savor this memorable experience!

There are two great dinner options close to the Eiffel Tower, and both of them are kid-friendly. La Fontaine de Mars is one of Paris’s oldest bistros and is a popular pilgrimage spot for foodies; its cassoulet is especially delicious. Cafe Constant offers the quintessential Parisian dining experience with classic bistro dishes and a lively atmosphere.

Neighborhood Wanderings

It’s Sunday, which means the Ile de la Cite is hosting itsflower and bird market. Walk through this colorful and melodious bazaar on your way to exploring Le Marais, one of Paris’s oldest neighborhoods.

In this maze of cobblestone you’ll find chic boutiques, trendy art galleries, and buzzing restaurants sets against a medieval backdrop.Strada Cafe is a cozy and tasty breakfast spot in this part of town, and the partially hiddenMarche des Enfants Rouges, which is the oldest open market in Paris, is a great place to pick up picnic supplies.

You’ll want to enjoy your lunch on the Promenade Plantee, one of Paris’s most interesting green spaces. Developed on an abandoned, elevated railway, this park provides a quiet sanctuary and a unique perspective of the city. You can access the western end of the walkway by going to the Bastille Metro stop, walking down Rue de Lyon, and taking the left fork to Avenue Daumesnil; the entrance will be on the left side of the street.

After lunch, make your way by taxi or metro to the Pere Lachaise Cemetery, where you can visit the graves of some of the city’s more unconventional residents, including Doors front man Jim Morrison and eccentric author Oscar Wilde. Beyond the famous graves, the cemetery itself is also an attraction; it beautiful and eclectic, reflecting different eras of Paris’s past.

Take the Metro to the Anvers stop, the best access point for the Montmartre neighborhood. This once seedy, now trendy, artist haven features eclectic boutiques, a variety of great restaurants, and loads of architectural charm. Spend some time exploring, and then try Le Pantruche for dinner. This brasserie dishes up Michelin star quality food, without the price and pretentious atmosphere.

Try to time your afternoon and evening so that you can catch the sunset from the steps of Sacre Coeur basilica, situated high on a hilltop and offering sweeping views over the city.

Museum Mania

Start your day with a brunch of traditional Breton crepes at Little Breizh, one of the city’s best creperies. You’ll find this local favorite in the classic Saint-Germain-des-Pres neighborhood. Explore the neighborhood’s upscale storefronts before heading to the Rodin Museum to check out his famous statue, The Thinker, and to stroll through the building’s beautiful gardens.

History buffs will love the military museum at Les Invalides; it showcases a large collection of artillery, armor, and weapons and features Napoleon’s tomb. Another option is the Orangerie Museum, which has an excellent collection of impressionist paintings. Its crown jewels are the twin oval rooms devoted entirely to displaying series of Monet’s water lily paintings.

Regardless of the combination of museums you choose to visit, make sure to end the day with a trip to the Centre Pompidou. This combination gallery and cultural hub features modern and contemporary art collections in a high-tech building with an exposed skeleton of brightly colored mechanical-systems tubes. This museum is a must for families; it has an engaging, hands-on children’s area called La Galerie des Enfants.

Weeping Willows and Water Lilies

Today you’ll travel to Giverny to visit the home and garden that inspired the beautiful impressionist paintings of Claude Monet. Try to get an early start, as the tourist buses arrive in town during the late morning hours. Take the train from Gare Saint-Lazare to the town of Vernon; from here, you can hail a taxi to the village.

Once in Giverny, you’ll want to take a tour of Monet’s house and gardens; the guides are very informative. Restaurant Baudy is a charming spot for lunch.

After eating, consider a walk through the surrounding countryside, or head back to Paris. There is a beautiful and unique park near the Saint-Lazare station where locals like to lounge. Parc Monceau has manicured gardens, a play area for children, and interesting architectural elements, including a Renaissance colonnade. The nearby Pomze restaurant, which celebrates the apple, is both cozy and elegant – great for families and foodies.

Homeward Bound

Didn’t make it to one of the attractions on your list? Want to get one more view of the Eiffel Tower or explore one last charming neighborhood? You might be able to fit one last excursion in before heading to the airport to catch your evening flight!

Takeaways

Depending on your schedule… it might make more logistical sense to combine Amboise with Chenonceau and Villandry with Azay-le-Rideau.

When the walking in Paris … is getting to be too much for the little ones, just hop on the metro. It goes everywhere.

Did You Know? The Latin Quarter is where they filmed many of the evening stroll shots for the movie Midnight in Paris.

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