AU REVOIR FRANCE – A BIENTOT!
We spent our day watching the French countryside roll past our window as or train sped from Tours to Toulouse, in France’s South-West. After 6 hours in transit we arrived tired and decidedly uninterested in the sights here, which is a pity as Toulouse no doubt has some lovely features. Instead of venturing out for more sightseeing, therefore, we’ve spent the afternoon catching up on “admin stuff” instead and preparing ourselves mentally for tomorrow’s move away from French-speaking lands (we’re catching a bus from Toulouse to Andorra tomorrow, where the lingua franca is Spanish). We’ll be swapping “merci” for “gracias” for a while, which is really exciting! Not that we’re keen to leave – France has been amazing fun and we have absolutely LOVED the scenery, the history, the food, and the people. The best part of today, in fact, was spending some time reviewing the 2,700 photos we’ve accumulated during our time here in France, and remembering all the places we’ve been and sights we’ve seen.
One of the things that first struck us about France was how varied and pretty the scenery is. From the mountains around Chamonix, to the crystal clear waters of the alpine lakes around Annecy – the French Alps are stunning.
In the South of France we were mesmerised by the impossibly blue waters, rugged cliffs, and dramatic scenery of the Côte d’Azur.
Around Bordeaux and in Alsace (near Strasbourg) we learnt the joy of wandering through vineyards and learnt a little about French wines.
And, of course, the rolling hills and fields of Provence are famed for their beauty. Turns out we were not immune to the charms of Provence…
Most of all in Provence we fell in love with the villages. From the rusty red homes of Roussillon, to the hill-top beauty of Gordes, the region of Provence has more than its fair share of beaux villages.
France has a bounty of gorgeous Medieval towns to explore – as we found out. Some of favourites (outside of Provence) were Perouges, St Emilion, and Eze.
Even in the bigger towns and cities we often found ourselves captivated and lost in the streets of the vieux ville (i.e. old town). The narrow streets and alleys of Nice’s old town, the old part of Tours, Annecy’s old town, and, of course, of Strasbourg’s Petit France, were all wonderful places to get lost.
Often in these bigger cities the old Medieval town centre sat alongside much grander palaces and public buildings dating back to the 18th and 19th centuries. The combination of all that history and architecture creates some of the most beautiful cityscapes we’ve ever seen – especially in Bordeaux and Lyons.
And of course, if we’re going to wax lyrical about beautiful cities, Paris has to get a mention. France’s capital is, without a doubt, one of the most charming cities in the world (despite the hordes of tourist, crazy traffic, and business).
Paris’s museums and art galleries are, of course, part of its appeal. For us the Louvre stands out as a highlight – both as a museum and as a building. Just magnificent!
We got to visit many wonderful museums and art galleries, actually. Aside from the Louvre, the Museum of Fine Arts of Lyon (Musée des Beaux Arts de Lyon) was the most memorable.
In almost every city, town, and village we visited there was a church to explore. Some of them were small and touching in their simplicity….
…whereas others were spectacular and extravagant. Like Notre Dame in Paris, Notre Dame in Dijon, the Cathedral of Tours, and the incredible Basilica of Notre Dame de Fourvière in Lyon.
If the churches and cathedrals were extravagant, then the palaces and castles of Frances were magnificent. From the Palace of the Popes in Avignon, to the majesty of the Louvre (which was once a palace), and the extravagance of the chateaux of the Loire Valley, France has more castles than we thought was possible. Our favourites would have to be the enormous Chambord, once the king’s hunting lodge; the “Ladies’ Chateau” of Chenonceau; and the simple beauty of Cheveney.
More about function than form, France’s citadels and fortresses also wowed us. The strength and scale of the fortresses in Villeneuve le Avignon, Carcassonne, Besançon, and Koeningbourg will forever be etched into our memories.
As will the history and wonder of some of France’s most ancient historical sites: L’Arena de Nimes, Pont du Gard, and the great Roman temple in Nimes.
Less grand but no less memorable for us were all the great little markets we stumbled across during our time in France. From the large under cover market in Dijon, to the smaller fresh food markets we wandered through in Lyon, Nice, and Aix-en-Provence. Markets here are wonderful places, even if you don’t have a kitchen to stock. They’re alive with smells, sights, and sounds, and are a wonderful reminder of how much joy good food can bring.
Speaking of good food, that has ABSOLUTELY been one of our favourite things about France. We were worried the food here would be too rich for us – the flavours too intense. Certainly there are lots of foods available if your palette runs to those flavours, but for us we found the best food was often the simplest. Rustic and flavoursome, but wholesome and nourishing – physically, emotionally, and spiritually. We learned to love the fact that everything (and we mean EVERYTHING) stops for lunch, and that everyone takes time to enjoy their food. We will miss the food in France quite a lot…
Last, but most certainly not least, the French people themselves deserve a mention. We were a little concerned that we would find the people here rude, abbrasive, and unhelpful (we’d been warned to expect as much from other travellers). Instead we’ve found people to be friendly, funny, and more than willing to help us out when we needed assistance. Sure, there have been a couple of instances where we’ve had some surly service, or encountered some cranky people; but no more so that we would encounter in Aus (especially in the cities). We’ve found French people to be very proud as well, and very confident, which may be why they get the reputation for being arrogant. But generally we would say that the people of France are amongst its greatest asset!
It’s been an awesome 5 weeks, and we’ve seen so much! There’s so much more to enjoy in France however – we still feel like we have barely scratched the surface of everything there is to see and do here! Ah well, just gives us the perfect excuse to come back again someday soon…