France

Overview

From Andrew Harper

Andrew Harper's Paris: A Personal Guide to the Best of the City, a free app for the iPad and iPhone. 

France receives more foreign visitors — 82 million annually — than any other country. It is not hard to see why. As well as the most beautiful capital city on earth, it offers tracts of exquisite countryside, Europe’s highest mountain and, of course, some of the world’s finest cuisine (even though many travelers grumble that the general standard of food is not as high as it used to be). Perhaps the most remarkable thing about France is its astonishing variety within a relatively small area. European countries tend to be either northern or southern in character, with the Alps and Pyrenees being the principal dividing lines. France is both: The coast of Pas-de-Calais is just 29 miles from Kent in southern England, while the shores of Provence are part of the warm, classical world of the Mediterranean.

The enduring charms of France are manifest. A typical visit generally includes a stay in Paris (perhaps in a grande dame hotel as well as an intimate Left Bank alternative), followed by a jaunt down into the Loire Valley, Provence or the Riviera. But the options are nearly endless: a historical pilgrimage to the bleak coastline of Normandy; a stirring drive along the serpentine Alsace wine road; a sunny idyll in Corsica, one of the most pristine and wildly scenic islands in the Mediterranean.

Barge cruises, which travel along a network of linked canals through medieval villages and rolling vineyards, are a particularly appealing and hassle-free way of exploring the French countryside. Other novel approaches to this classic destination include culinary courses, ballooning trips, grape harvest tours and biking vacations. Then again, one could also spend several weeks happily sequestered in a sleepy provincial village.

CLIMATE: Northern and central France are typified by Paris. Monaco is representative of the Côte d’Azur, which enjoys hot, dry summers and cool, rainy winters.

TIME: Six hours ahead of New York (EST).

CURRENCY: Euro (€). Fluctuating rate valued at €1.00 = US$1.33 as of August 2013.

U.S. EMBASSY: Paris, Tel. (1) 43-12-22-22. Consulates: Marseille, Tel. (4) 91-54-92-00; and Strasbourg, Tel. (3) 88-35-31-04.

DIRECT DIAL CODES: To phone hotels and restaurants in France or Monaco, dial 011 (international access) + 33 (France code) or 377 (Monaco code) + city code and local numbers in listings.

ENTRY REQUIREMENTS: Passport (valid for at least three months beyond end of stay). Visit travel.state.gov, and for travelers’ health information, cdc.gov.

GENERAL INFORMATION: Visit franceguide.com or visitmonaco.com before your trip.

Hotels

All recommended hotels in France

Alpes-de-Haute-Provence, France
La Bastide de Moustiers
La Bastide de Moustiers

Charming inn housed by a 17th-century stone farmstead in the peaceful countryside just outside of Moustiers-Sainte-Marie, two hours northeast of Aix near the Gorges du Verdon.

Le Couvent des Minimes
Le Couvent des Minimes

Quietly elegant hotel housed within a restored 400-year-old limestone convent amid green hills and lavender fields outside the town of Mane, 60 miles east of Avignon.

Alsace, France
Hotel K
Hotel K

Family-run modern hotel in the northern Vosges Mountains, 40 miutes from downtown Strasbourg, complementing L'Arnsbourg, the three-star restaurant of celebrated chef Jean-Georges Klein. 

Le Chateau d´Isenbourg
Le Chateau d Isenbourg

Hilltop medieval château-hotel overlooking vineyards and the ancient village of Rouffach in a charming corner of the Alsatian wine district.

Amboise, France
Le Manoir Les Minimes
Le Manoir Les Minimes

Gracious traditional hotel with 15 rooms (two suites) in a handsome 18th-century limestone house just below the ramparts of the Château d’Amboise. 

Beaujolais, France
Château de Bagnols
Chateau de Bagnols

Magnificently restored medieval château set among vineyards in the quiet Beaujolais countryside, 45 minutes northwest of Lyon. The spectacular 13th-century structure displays conical towers, dry moats and a drawbridge entrance.

Georges Blanc
Georges Blanc

Chef Georges Blanc’s gastronomic enclave, an hour north of Lyon and 12 miles southeast of Mâcon.

Beaune, France
Hostellerie de Levernois
Hostellerie De Levernois

Gourmet sanctuary in a pretty parkland setting with huge cedar trees, formal French gardens and a rushing creek, 10 minutes outside Beaune.

Biarritz/St. Jean-de-Luz, France
Grand Hôtel de Bordeaux & Spa
Grand Hôtel

Grand Edwardian property with a pink-and-cream art deco façade overlooking the beach in Saint-Jean-de-Luz.

Hôtel du Palais
Hotel du Palais

Seaside mansion-hotel housed within a lavish red-brick villa in Biarritz built in 1854 by Emperor Napoleon III for his wife, Eugénie.

Dining

All recommended restaurants in France

Agape Substance

Despite the facts that it resembles a small, mirrored railroad car and that diners sit at high stools before a communal table, this has become the toughest reservation on the Left Bank because of the superb cooking of young chef David Toutain. Working in a tiny open kitchen, he composes a new tasting menu almost daily, and the dishes reflect his culinary creativity and flawless technical skills. Expect a suite of beautiful edible miniatures such as a slow-cooked egg with new garlic cream and lemon-verbena foam; dressed crab with candied grapefruit and a rich consommé of North Sea shrimp; griddled razor shell clams, squid and zucchini in lavender foam with yuzu cream and dill flowers; and veal in black-olive tapenade with grilled shallots. Service is flawless, and it’s a good idea to order the well-chosen wine pairings.

66 Rue Mazarine (6e)
Paris 75006
France
US$200
Alain Ducasse

Featuring a glamorous dove-gray décor and a ceiling glittering with 10,000 suspended pieces of cut crystal (the work of young French interior designer Patrick Jouin), the Paris restaurant of globe-trotting chef Alain Ducasse offers a grand slam experience of contemporary French haute cuisine, with some of the best service in the world and a remarkable wine list. Ducasse himself is not in the kitchen, but his lieutenant Christophe Saintagne creates delicious dishes such as langoustines napped with crème fraiche and caviar, turbot with shellfish and Swiss chard, and one of my favorite desserts in the world, caillé de brebis, caramel, poivre, or fresh ewe’s milk cheese with caramel and pepper. A real pomp-and-circumstance address with an international clientele, it’s also ideal for a special-occasion meal or a long, leisurely lunch.

Hôtel Plaza-Athénée, 25 avenue Montaigne (8e)
Paris 75008
France
US$250, with fixed menus priced higher
BISTROT DE LA MARINE
Located in a former fisherman’s cottage in Cagnes-sur- Mer just west of Nice, chef Jacques Maximin’s pretty, relaxed bistro serves some of the best and most reasonably priced seafood in the south of France. The menu changes according to the catch of the day, but dishes such as crayfish and artichoke salad, fritto misto of squid and anchovies, and John Dory for two à la Niçoise (cooked with tomatoes, white wine, olive oil, butter and tiny black olives) show why he has long reigned as one of the great chefs of France.
96 boulevard de la Plage
Cagnes-sur-Mer 06800
France
US$70
CAFE COMPTOIR ABEL

Among the bouchons (a local style of bistro), this one stands out for its wonderful atmosphere engendered by beamed ceilings and traditional furniture. It was founded in 1920 as a place for off-duty servants, but quickly grew popular when the local grandees discovered the food. Try dishes such as oxtail terrine and saucisson de Lyon (pork sausage with pistachios) with a side salad of lentils.

25 rue Guynemer
Lyon 69002
France
US$45
Chez Georges

Old-fashioned bistros are rare in Paris these days, especially ones that are conveniently located right in the heart of the city. The excellent traditional cooking at this relaxed and quietly chic spot just off the Place des Victoires makes it one of our favorites, especially for dishes such as chicken liver terrine and grilled turbot with Béarnaise sauce.

1 rue du Mail (2e)
Paris 75002
France
US$60
Chez l'Ami Jean

This is a lively spot with tightly spaced tables, but as soon as your first course arrives, you’ll understand why it’s worth putting up with the raucous atmosphere of this popular Left Bank bistro. Chef Stéphane Jego’s food is delicious, and includes dishes such as baby scallops in their shells with tiny croutons and flat parsley, or fricassee of guinea hen cooked with thyme, rosemary and girolles mushrooms.

27 rue Malar (7e)
Paris 75007
France
US$60
CHRISTIAN TETEDOIE

This glamorous new restaurant with a streamlined modern décor and fine views over Lyon from a hillside location is the most fashionable to open in the city for some time. One of the most famous chefs in Lyon, Tetedoie serves delicious contemporary French dishes such as gnudi with truffled goat cheese, chestnut purée and butternut squash pickles; guinea hen with mushrooms; and passion fruit soufflé.

Montée du Chemin Neuf
Lyon 69005
France
US$140
HOSTELLERIE JEROME

Located in an unspoiled medieval village, Bruno Cirino’s wonderful restaurant has elegant dining rooms spilling out onto a sunny terrace. The Mediterranean cuisine is essentially French, but draws on Italian, Spanish and Greek culinary traditions. Typical dishes include sea bass with baby clams, and rabbit stew with macaroni and truffles. Cirino loves cooking with the zesty lemons from nearby Menton, and his lemon tart with lemon sorbet and candied lemon peel is outstanding. Closed Mondays and Tuesdays, except in July and August.

La Turbie
Alpes Maritimes 06320
France
US$140
Jadis

Like many of the best new Parisian chefs, Guillaume Delage has set up shop in a remote residential neighborhood. It is worth traveling to his simple but attractive corner bistro, however, for outstanding contemporary French food. Expect dishes such as an oyster velouté (soup); roasted shoulder of lamb with white beans, black olives and sun-dried tomatoes; and bittersweet chocolate soufflé.

208 rue de la Croix-Nivert (15e)
Paris 75015
France
US$65
Josephine Chez Dumonet

With aproned waiters, a tile floor and old-fashioned light fixtures, this is the sort of glorious Paris bistro the whole world dreams about. The ultimate meal here begins with the sublime terrine de foie gras, followed by the best boeuf bourguignon in Paris, and homemade mille-feuille for dessert.

117 rue du Cherche-Midi (6e)
Paris 75006
France
US$75

Special Offers

Special Offers

Le Bristol Paris - Family Package
Le Bristol Paris - Family Package

Discover Le Bristol Paris as a family. Confirm a minimum two-night stay in one of the adjoining rooms or suites and receive a 50 percent savings on the children’s room, a VIP welcome package, gifts and a surprise in the children's room and a treasure hunt. During low season all meals are included for children under 6 years old. Rates are from 1725 EUR.