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Lingering over pain au chocolat in a sidewalk café, relaxing after a day of strolling along the Seine and marveling at icons like the Eiffel Tower and the Arc de Triomphe… the perfect Paris experience combines leisure and liveliness with enough time to savor both an exquisite meal and exhibits at the Louvre. Awaken your spirit at Notre Dame, bargain hunt at the Marché aux Puces de Montreuil or for goodies at the Marché Biologique Raspail, then cap it all off with a risqué show at the Moulin Rouge.
Corsica is a laid-back French island, with a breezy vibe that’s part European weekend and part tropical honeymoon. The port city of Bastia flings its arms wide open to weary travelers disembarking from a long ferry trip. For a truly charming Corsican experience, catch a train through the mountains to the beach, passing by rustic villages and grazing cows along the way. Take a few hours or even a few weeks to explore the island’s famous walking trails, including the varsity-level GR 20.
The deep blue waters of the Cote d’Azur are the dramatic backdrop for elegant Nice. Breathe in the fresh Mediterranean air as you stroll the waterfront promenade, or get an eagle eye of the whole city from atop Castle Hill. The pedestrians-only Place Rossetti is the heart of the city, with a grand fountain, vibrant buildings, and the beautiful Sainte-Réparate cathedral giving it a provincial French feel.
A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Lyon has 2,000 years of history imprinted on its streets (yes, the cobblestone kind). Explore this history in Vieux Lyon (one of Europe's most extensive Renaissance neighborhoods) and Lyon's two Roman amphitheatres, which still stage rock concerts today. It's no wonder Lyon is a popular area for travelers, with its dynamic university, first-class shopping, antique markets, vibrant theatre and music festivals, and a range of interesting museums, such as the International Puppet Museum and the Museum of Miniatures and Film Sets. (When we say "interesting," we mean it.)
After many years of hard work, the "Sleeping Beauty" has awoken from its slumber. The city is beautifully restored and has an ultra-modern public transport system. The “Port of the Moon” is also now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Stone Bridge, with its 17 arches, crosses the Garonne, offering pedestrians a lovely view over the docks and harbor. Take a stroll through old Bordeaux in the Triangle d'Or and stop at Place des Quinconces, France’s largest public square. The city of Bordeaux is an ideal base for exploring the greater wine region’s unforgettable sights and tastes.
You view great wine as the essence of a good vacation. Your travel companion, however, is a beer aficionado. Will it be Paris or Munich? Stop arguing and go to Strasbourg, where you can have the best of French and German cuisine, including the booze. The entire central island is a World Heritage Site. Don’t miss the 12th-century cathedral or the storybook "la Petite France" neighborhood.
Travelers visit the port city of Marseille, the third largest city in France, for the meeting of style and history. The bay, flanked by Fort Saint-Nicolas, and Fort Saint-Jean shelters the Castle of If, from Count of Monte Cristo fame. Watched over by the basilica Notre-Dame-de-la-Garde, the city's pedestrian zones and shopping areas (including the colorful French-African quarter) mix with historical sites.Travelers looking for a fun time go to the OK Corral, a cowboy theme amusement park.
Step back several centuries and imagine yourself in medieval times. Designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site, La Cite at Carcassonne is a painstakingly restored medieval walled city on a hill by the Aude River. You'll half-expect to see armed lookouts manning the fortified city's towers. Cross the river to La Bastide neighborhood for all the charms of a French country town.
Galas, regattas, the Film Festival and an outrageously attractive and affluent set characterize Cannes. Vast yachts obscure the view and the town lives up to its motto, "Life is a festival." People-watching is the activity that brings most visitors to Cannes, and hotel-lined La Croisette provides a fine promenade. First popularized by Coco Chanel, Cannes beaches are a huge draw. Get expensive seaside food and drinks service on hotel sand or opt for the free public beaches, Plages du Midi and de la Boca.
As host of the first Winter Olympics in 1924, Chamonix will always have a place in the history books. Its main attractions are Mont-Blanc (Western Europe's tallest mountain) and the many ski areas that face the Chamonix Valley. Steep slopes and extreme weather conditions suit advanced skiers best, but there are also runs for beginners. Just make sure everyone in your party knows a green circle from a black diamond. Oh, and another note for the history books—Pierce Brosnan was here (filming a James Bond movie, The World Is Not Enough).