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May 18, 2006 01:32 PM

France outside of Paris - where?

  • j

Im going to have the opportunity to travel in France for a week with my daughters (in addition to some time in Paris, which Ive visited before) - This is a first trip, and Id appreciate any suggestions of a region or area that might be particularly rewarding for a vac of this sort - culturally and foodwise. Delicious but not break the bank (not interested in making the three-star circuit). where should we go?

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  1. b
    Bill Strzempek

    Lyon is a fantastic destination both culturally and food wise. You have the great Roman ruins and museum, Old Lyon with the second largest complex of preserved Rennaissance buildings in the world, the silk weavers' traboules and museums, the Beaux Arts museum, the stunning Basillica, and lots of other unique museums like the fabric museum, the museum of the resistance, and the Lumiere household where motion pictures were invented. It's a city full of cheap and astronomically priced eats, also, beginning with a wander through the overwhelming Halles market on to "Mere" bouchons and great relaxing wine bars, brasseries, and one two and three star standout restaurants. The pastries are pretty darn good too. Between the markets and the pastry shops you can easily save money for a bigger splurge on dinner. If you want to wander farther afield you can meander through the beaujolais wine district nearby and do wineries and simple country bistros along the way. I'm actually heading back to Paris and Lyon tomorrow as I can't get enough of them!

    I also found the Dijon area to be similarly impressive, but where one could easily linger in the Lyon area for a good four or five days and still not do everything, Dijon is do-able in fewer days.

    7 Replies
    1. re: Bill Strzempek
      Peter Cherches

      Interesting how individual perspectives can differ. I was composing my response which blew off Lyon probably as you were making a case for Lyon.

      I was also not too thrilled with Dijon & Beaune.

      1. re: Peter Cherches

        Any particular reasons on why you didn't care for Dijon and Beaune? Just those cities in particular or did it extend to Burgundy in general? I'm curious because I have the area on my list.

        1. re: emily
          Peter Cherches

          Dijon is pretty but not much going on. Beaune is one of those cutesy little places with not much to do beyond a day trip. I do have an urban bias in my travel preferences. I didn't get around Burgundy otherwise. I went to Dijon for the Foire Gastronomique, then to Paris. I wrote about the Foire and a bit about Beaune in my blog referenced in my post above.

          1. re: Peter Cherches
            Bill Strzempek

            Peter, not quite sure if your urban bias is for or against urban areas? It's the urban feel of Lyon that I found so appealing, sort of a big town, small feel, besides eating there's opera, theatre, classical and jazz music, film, lots of night life too.

            1. re: Bill Strzempek
              Peter Cherches

              Actually, an affirmative urban bias, which I meant in relation to more bucolic holidays. Being a New Yorker, though, what I often look for are smaller cities that retain a combination of very specific placeness with a certain cosmopolitanism (e.g. Sevilla, Bergen & Strasbourg), but also the cosmopolitan bigger cities with strong personalities and high energy (Paris, Madrid , Hong Kong). For me neither Lyon nor Dijon had the vibe that clicked with me.

      2. re: Bill Strzempek

        Wow, that's exactly the trip I envisioned for my next trip to France: Paris-Dijon-Lyon. After all, Lyon is considered THE food city in France. Looking forward to a report.

        1. re: Bill Strzempek

          I would vote for Lyon too for the combination of history, wine and food. Best doner kebap I've ever eaten was from a small hole-in-the-wall here for something a little different when you tire of French food. It was a good entry and return point for exploring the Rhone Valley.

          I love Beaune, haven't spent enough time in Dijon to comment. But Beaune is close to my heart because I love Burgundy wines and the restaurant cellars are very deep with vintages there. Also, the local cheeses are smelly and excellent, and I adore the small bistros and food purveyors. I've only been to France four times, and three of those trips I squeezed Beaune into my itinerary.

          Alsace is a bit far away, yet the countryside and the little towns are some of the most picturesque. My ideal of what wine villages should look like and great bang for the buck in food and wine.

          Bordeaux offers some great history and culture, though the countryside is not that scenic or interesting except for St. Emilion. This is a place to go for the wine. I didn't have a single piece of cheese here in four days of eating that was properly matured, maybe just my bad luck. No meals that were memorable for the food either, but again, lots of great wines. Can't seem to bring myself to post about it since the food wasn't that good.

          The area around Toulouse and Carcassone has a lot of history and sightseeing to offer, pork-laden food, and deliciously inexpensive country wines. More vegetables served here. I'd return there before Bordeaux, but for the wines of Bordeaux.

          Haven't been to the Loire Valley or Champagne yet myself. If I wanted to stay close to Paris, those would be my picks. Among my friends in the wine trade, touring Champagne or Alsace tend to get the top marks for the combination of wine, food, and economy.


        2. p
          Peter Cherches

          Lyon is great for food, but otherwise not a great holiday destination.

          I love Strasbourg & Alsace, and the food can be great, but really heavy.

          Ultimately, I'd go with Provence as a recommendation. Wonderful food (especially seafood), less likely to give you a coronary than other regional cuisines, and Arles, Aix & Avignon all are close to each other and have very particular characters. I stayed in Arles & Aix, and loved both. In Arles I stayed at the Hotel Calendal, which is a delightful place, a great bargain, and very centrally located.

          I'm hoping to do Britanny & Normandy next year.


          1. I enjoyed Provence very much (we were in the area around Vaison). Seguret is one of the most beautiful villages I have ever seen. A great inexpensive B&B (110 euros) in the area is Vieux de Figuier, set in the vineyards, very comfortable, and serving delicious breakfasts.

            Dordogne, imo, is about just as beautiful as Provence. Not as touristy, though. We didn't see any other Americans there last fall, which is always surprising in Europe. We were stationed in Beynac at Residence Versailles. Another inexpensive B&B, but a little lower in comfort than Vieux de Figuier (probably wouldn't stay there again now that I've given up on trying to save money on hotels). But, very good for 55 euros a night with gracious hosts and tasty breakfasts. We canoed down the Dordogne, ate duck confit for the first time, visited the huge market in Sarlat that's filled with foie gras and walnut products, and saw the prehistoric cave paintings in Font de Gaume.

            1. Have stayed in Provence (apartment in the Luberon) and travelled around the Dordogne twice staying in small B&Bs and farmhouse gites. You can't go wrong with either but I'd go back to the Dordogne first -- fewer tourists, AMAZING food, very friendly people (in part because they are less overrun, probably). Feel free to email me as this is likely to get non-food related rapidly.

              3 Replies
              1. re: GretchenS

                We're off to Paris/Provence/The Ardeche next week so I'll report back if anyone is interested. Gretchen, we'll be in the Luberon region - staying in St. Saturnin Les Apt but plan on seeing many of the villages as we follow market days. Can't wait! If you have any advice for inexpensive bistros or markets we need to visit I'd love to hear them!

                1. re: EMZ

                  We stayed right outside Apt last September. All the markets are fun, but we really enjoyed the large one at L'Isle Sur Sorgue although the parking there is tough at times. There was so much to see and sample. Feel free to email if you have any questions on that area. We traveled around a lot!

                  1. re: zuriga

                    Agree that the market at L'Isle sur la Sorgue (Sunday) is outstanding. We also really liked the one at Gordes (Tuesday, I believe). If you have time you might want to try and get your hands on a book called Markets of Provence by Long/Wakely which lists all the markets and which days they are open.

                    One thing we learned was that if we wanted to get a rotisserie chicken at the market (there's always someone selling them) we had to reserve one fairly early on and then return late in the morning to pick it up. We never had any luck without a chicken reservation.

                    Have a great time and please post a report when you get back!!

              2. I'll toss Languedoc into the ring, you didn't say how old your daughters were or what interests them, but it's a diverse and undervisited region.

                Beaches, mountains, castles, canals, chateaux, wineries, olive oil coops, windy roads, Spain, Andorra (a great been there passport stamp), fishing on the Med., and great people.

                We spent a week and a half there and still missed out on things.

                Alternatively rent a boat from Crown Blue lines and cruise from market to winery to restaraunt to bakery to market...