When I was twelve years old I asked my mother to enroll me in after school French lessons. Already at that age I was in love with the idea of exploring the world but knew the best way to do that from small town America was through language. I continued my education in all things French throughout high school and college and even spent a month in Paris living with a family. Still today Paris is my favorite city in the world and I have been there several times, each time falling deeper in love. For as long as I’ve loved all things French and for as many times I’ve been to Paris, I have never been further outside of the city than Versailles. That’s all going to change next week when I finally get to explore France on my own when I travel throughout the Southwest of the country on a great French escape.
The trip is a solo blog trip, sponsored by several tourist boards and cities in France. I’ll be there for a week, during which time I’ll travel from La Rochelle along the coast all the way down to Provence in the south. I’m excited not just to see this gorgeous part of the country for myself, but I’m extremely excited to share it all with you. I suspect that these areas of France are perfect and easy escapes and am looking forward to hearing what you all think.
I’ll be exploring three main regions and several small towns throughout the adventure.
The adventure starts as I fly into Paris and promptly take the train to La Rochelle, located in the Poitou-Charentes region of France. La Rochelle is an important seaport that has played an key role throughout history, especially during the Medieval era. Today it remains a vital maritime city and the Old Harbor is one of the top sights in town. I’ll be exploring the town on my own as well as by boat, one of my favorite ways to see a new city.
I’m excited because the next day I get to drive from Rochefort to Cognac, stopping at small wine producers along the way. I love trains, but I always love the opportunity to drive and explore new areas on my own. I can’t think of a better place to do this than in the heartland of France. The rest of my time in the region will be spent exploring its important culinary side and I even get to mix my own Cognac.
When I leave Angouleme for Cahors I will leave Poitou-Charentes and enter the Midi-Pyrenees region, best known for its capital city Toulouse. While in Cahors though I will delve into the city’s past and explore medieval streets with their secret gardens and fortified bridges.
Toulouse will be a good balance of activities including grandiose mansions, churches and ancient fortifications all teaching me about the history of this mighty city. I may be most excited though by a promised visit to the Victor Hugo marketplace, which is celebrating its 120th anniversary this year. The covered market is one of the most prestigious in France and the idea of strolling along stalls featuring fresh food and wine makes me salivate at the mere mention. A must stop is apparently the Philippe Four ice cream shop famous for their salt ice creams made with foie gras, truffle and even Roquefort cheese. I’m pretty sure that will deserve a separate post in its own right.
After I leave Toulouse I journey next to nearby Albi, as famous for its ancient past as it is its more recent history. A World Heritage Site, Albi was built around the original cathedral, although people have been living in the area for much longer. It’s also well known as the final stand for the Cathars who were essentially wiped out by the Pope in the 13th century. On a lighter note, Albi is home to the recently renovated Toulouse-Lautrec Museum. After more than ten years of work, the museum has been completely transformed and is now a cutting edge museum designed specifically to showcase the work of the great artist Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec.
The stuff of daydreams and thousands of calendars, Provence is the final leg on my brief tour through France. One of the first songs I learned as a young French pupil was ‘Sur Le Pont d’Avignon’– On the Bridge in Avignon and finally – FINALLY – I will get to see this damned bridge for myself.
In addition to the famed bridge of my youth, I’ll explore the rest of this picturesque town as well as nearby Arles, another key city in the beautiful southern region. The final two stops on my whirlwind trip are Marseilles and Aix-en-Provence.
In Marseilles I will be guided around town in a unique way, not by a professional tour guide but by a local. Sure, I’ll see all the famous sights, but I’ll also learn more about the town through the honest eyes of someone who lives in, and loves, Marseilles. Why don’t more cities do this? Finally, Aix-en-Provence is the perfect spot to finish my tour.
The city was founded by the Romans a century before the birth of Christ, although it wasn’t until much later in the 12th century, when, under the houses of Aragon and Anjou, it became an artistic center and seat of learning. I’ve seen enough beautiful travel photos of the town to know that I love it already. Meeting it is just a formality.
So that’s a brief sketch of my travels through France, discovering what makes it a great place to explore. I will be sharing my adventures as much as possible, as technology allows, through social media and of course this site. Be sure to follow the hashtag #FrenchEscape on Twitter and check back here everyday for new photos of some of the most beautiful areas of France.
Is there anything you want to know about these areas of France or think I should do?
Very special thanks to:
Poitou-Charentes Tourist Board: www.holidays-france-atlantic.com
Midi-Pyrenees Tourist Board – www.tourism-midi-pyrenees.co.uk
Toulouse Tourist Office – www.uk.toulouse-tourisme.com
Lot Tourist Board – www.tourisme-lot.com
Tarn Tourist Board – www.tourisme-tarn.com
Provence-Alpes Côte d’Azur Tourism Board – www.52sunsations.com
Vaucluse Tourism Board – www.provenceguide.com
Arles Tourist Office – www.arlestourisme.com
Aix-en-Provence Tourist Board – www.aixenprovencetourism.com