Things to do:
- Spend time on the lake: Annecy is a gorgeous city situated on a lake in the Alps just before the Swiss border. You can easily rent a boat and spend the day on the water swimming, paddle boating, boarding around, and doing water sports!
- Spend time in the mountains: With the Alps so close at hand, you can go hiking, mountain biking, climbing, caving, and skiing/snowboarding all in a relatively short drive.
- Château d'Annecy: Massive, modern castle on a hill with art exhibits and displays on the first movies ever made.
- Walk, boat, eat, shop along the Thiou River: The river runs right through the city, and you can find some incredible food and shops as you either walk along or boat down it.
- Gorges du Fier: These caves are about an hour outside of Annecy, but they're beautiful, fun to explore, and well worth the trip
- All in all, this was my favorite hidden gem of France. I highly recommend going for at least a day or two!
Things to do:
- This is one of the absolute best beaches I've ever been to. The water is crystal clear, and a deep, beautiful blue. As much as I love the beach, I'm not a big sand person, so the large, round pebbly sand was ideal. We spent almost all of our time just laying in the sun, reading, and talking and it was perfect.
- You can wander through the center of town and get lots of delicious bites to eat from restaurants and street vendors.
- Parc de la Colline du Château: Hill top park with an incredible view of the city and the beach. It also features a waterfall, and a small restaurant.
- There are several museums, parks, and cathedrals to see, and I'm sure they are all lovely. To be honest, I could not have motivated myself further than from the beach to food and back if I tried.
- FYI: the beaches are topless...there is no pressure to drop top, but you should be careful not to stare at those who do!
Things to do:
- Le Tête d'Or: A big, beautiful park with a zoo, walking paths, lake, botanical gardens, and great areas to hangout or picnic.
- Les Petites: You can see a Petit Notre Dame (aka: Basilica of Notre-Dame de Fourvière) and a Petit Eiffel Tower (aka: Tour Métallique de Fourvière) in Lyon. Both are very cool to see and share a striking resemblance to their larger, Parisian counter-parts. The best part by far, however, is the view from the hill they sit on! I highly recommend going for sun down or sun up.
- Musée Lumière: The Lumière brothers were two of the pioneers of photography and cinematography. Some of the first movies ever made were shot at their house, which is now the home of the Musée Lumière. It is incredibly cool to take a walk through their world, learn more about the evolution of photography and cinematography, and see some of the earliest examples of modern film.
- Movie Miniatures museum: Features props from some of the most famous movies ever shot.
- Place des Terreaux: Big, open plaza with great views at sunset
- Check out the street art: Lyon has a very vibrant street art scene, and it covers just about every surface of every building. Take a walk through town and treat it as a street-style museum tour!
Where to go for food and drink:
- Along the river there are a whole host of boats that turn into restaurants and bars in the evening, and they are all incredibly cool. One of my personal favorites was Ayers Rock, but you really can't go wrong!
Where I stayed:
- La Maison Villemanzy: I stayed here for almost a month, and felt completely at home. The rooms were beautiful, as was the dining area. The staff made me feel like family, and provided great recommendations for where to go and what to eat, and offered a fantastic intro to French wine and cheese at the property. It was located in a very central part of town, and I will definitely stay here again when I go back!
Things to do:
- Eiffel Tower: The quintessential Paris attraction! I recommend going during the day and trying to get a tour up to the top, then going back at night with a bottle of wine to sit on the grass and watch it light up.
- Notre-Dame Cathedral: Another essential Paris visit. This Gothic-style cathedral is one of the largest and most well-known churches in the world. Go for a tour, or just go walk around the outside -- the entire thing is breathtaking!
- La Louvre: A massive museum featuring the famous Mona Lisa, the Venus de Milo, and Seated Scribe, as well as artists such as Caravaggio, Bosch, Botticelli, da Vinci, Géricault, Raphael, Ruben, Vermeer, and so, so much more
- La Pont d'Arts: AKA the Lover's Bridge. It's rumored that if you sign you and your partner's name on a lock and hook it onto the bridge your love will last as long as the lock stays on!
- Bastille Plaza: Where the Bastille Prison used to stand, and where the famous "storming the Bastille" during the French Revolution took place.
- Victor Hugo's House: This is one of two of the primary residences of Victor Hugo, the author of "Les Misérables." You can take a tour to hear more about Hugo's life and works.
Foods to Try:
It is very hard to go wrong with food in France. Pretty much everything I put in my mouth (with the exception of a very unfortunate street-vendor beef tartar) was incredible. Some of my favorites are below, but I would encourage you to try as much as possible!
Coq au vin: This is a staple French dish made up of chicken slow cooked in red wine with mushroom, onion, and garlic.
Boef bourguignon is a very similar dish, but made with beef instead of chicken
Crepes: Thin pancakes rolled up with chocolate, cheeses, fruits, or meats
Escargot: This is the quintessential French dish in my mind. Boiled snails with a delicious garlic and butter.
Beef tartar: Raw beef, often served with potato and vegetables. It sounds a little strange, but is quite tasty. Be sure to only get this from a decent restaurant, or you can end up with food poisoning!
Bread (pain), cheese (fromage), and wine (vin) are essential, and you really can't go wrong with any. My favorites are baguettes, brie, and Champagne!
Paris can be a brutal place to practice your French language skills, but people in smaller cities and more rural areas are often glad to help you practice!
French men can be...brazen. Ladies, be prepared to put some firm boundaries up and note that it is completely normal and expected of you to do so.
From personal experience, I found France to be largely safe, but you can tell when things are about to go down. The city will start to buzz, and you'll know it's time to get the heck out of dodge. Be particularly wary after major soccer matches -- people can get really worked up! We tried to metro home after a France loss in the World Cup only to find it shut down due to safety precautions. We then tried to walk home and found ourselves caught in the middle of a riot. Not a lot to do about that, but keep your wits about you so you aren't caught off guard.
Keep a very close eye on your phone, wallet, purse, and passport. I cannot begin to tell you how many of my friends "lost" one or all of those items while we were in France.
Be sure to ask your hotel/hostel/Airbnb host which areas are safe and unsafe to wander around at night.
Transportation in France:
France has a great public transportation system of metros and buses, so you shouldn't have a problem getting where you need to go.
Taxis and Ubers are readily available, though traffic can often hold you up for awhile. Plan ahead!
Most major cities have bike-share or bike rental programs with stations around every corner. Bike and walking lanes are easily found and traversed.
It is unbelievably easy to get around European countries. I bought an unlimited Eurail Pass and was able to take as many trips, to as many countries as I liked for one flat rate. I bought the one month pass, but you can buy them for almost any length of time and travel to cities throughout France, or throughout the whole region.
You can also easy fly between cities and countries. There are lots of discount flight websites, but I particularly like Ryanair, Rome2Rio, and Google Flights.