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. The south of France, exemplified by Marseille, has 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 September 2014.

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 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-en-Provence 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
Le Chateau d´Isenbourg
Château d'Isenbourg

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

Hotel K
Hôtel K

Family-run modern hotel in the northern Vosges Mountains outside of a quaint Alsatian village, 40 minutes from downtown Strasbourg, complementing L’Arnsbourg, the three-star gastronomic restaurant of celebrated chef Jean-Georges Klein.

Basque Country, France
Grand Hôtel de Bordeaux & Spa
Grand Hôtel

Lavish Edwardian property built in 1909 with a pink-and-cream art deco façade overlooking the beach in Saint-Jean-de-Luz.

Hôtel du Palais
Hôtel du Palais

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

Beaujolais, France
Château de Bagnols
Château de Bagnols

Magnificently restored medieval château set among vineyards in the quiet Beaujolais countryside, 45 minutes northwest of Lyon.

Georges Blanc
Georges Blanc Parc & Spa

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

Bordeaux, France
Château Cordeillan-Bages
Château Cordeillan-Bages

Housed in a 17th-century former monastery surrounded by the vineyards of the Médoc, this handsome property features the innovative cooking of chef Jean-Luc Rocha.

Château de Mirambeau

Housed in a majestic castle overlooking the exquisite town of Mirambeau, on the border between Bordeaux and Cognac, this château-hotel is distinguished by an astonishingly opulent interior décor and outstanding personal service.

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. Closed Sundays and Mondays.

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. Closed Saturdays and Sundays.

Hôtel Plaza-Athénée, 25 avenue Montaigne (8e)
Paris 75008
France
US$250, with fixed menus priced higher
Astrance

Young chef Pascal Barbot is one of the rising stars of French cooking, which is why reservations at this tiny dining room with metallic walls and a handful of comfortably spaced tables are very difficult to obtain. Dishes typical of Barbot’s superbly imaginative cooking include his signature “ravioli” of avocado slices stuffed with crab, a small cake of mushrooms and foie gras, and chocolate biscuit with milk sorbet. Closed Saturdays, Sundays and Mondays.

4 rue Beethoven (16e)
Paris 75016
France
US$150
Auberge du Cheval Rouge

After working at Le Meurice in Paris, chef Jacques Guillaumat took over this auberge outside of chenonceaux and now serves reasonably priced modern French cuisine. Expect dishes such as langoustine-and-crab-stuffed cannelloni with avocado mousseline, and pike-perch in vanilla sauce. Closed Tuesday and Wednesday.

30 Rue Nationale
Chisseaux 37150
France
Auberge Ravoux

I was wary of this auberge in the town 45 minutes north of Paris where Vincent van Gogh spent the last few months of his life, since I expected it to be a tourist trap. Instead, the dining room has been beautifully decorated to approximate what it may have looked like when Van Gogh was a boarder here, and the food — simple, hearty and generously served — is good. Try the pistachio-studded duck terrine, leg of lamb slow-cooked for seven hours, and chocolate mousse. Closed Mondays and Tuesdays.

52 Rue du Général de Gaulle
Auvers-sur-Oise 95430
France
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. Closed Mondays and Tuesdays.

96 boulevard de la Plage
Cagnes-sur-Mer 06800
France
US$70
Bistrot Paul Bert

This cozy bistro in the residential 11th arrondissement is where you’re likely to find Paris food critics eating on their nights off. The blackboard menu changes daily, but runs to dishes such as coddled eggs with wild mushrooms, veal sweetbreads, great steaks and homemade seasonal fruit tarts. The wonderful wine list is especially strong on Côtes du Rhônes. Closed Sundays and Mondays.

18 rue Paul Bert (11e)
Paris 75011
France
US$65
Café 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. Closed on Sunday evenings.

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. Closed Saturdays and Sundays.

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. Closed Sundays.

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

Special Offers

Special Offers

Hostellerie de l'Abbaye de La Celle - Into the Vineyard Package
Hostellerie de l'Abbaye de La Celle - Into the Vineyard Package

Discover a charming little village in the heart of the vineyards of the Var region. This offer includes: one-night in a double room with breakfast; upgrade upon availability at time of check-in; welcome drink; half-bottle of wine upon arrival; gastronomic dinner for two (drinks excluded) with our Menu de Saison; along with visits to vineyards and personalized wine-tastings. Package prices from 230 EUR in low season, and from 255 EUR in high season, including tax and service fees.

La MIrande - Gourmet Stays
La MIrande - Gourmet Stays

Enlighten your tastes during a stay at this storied Provençal palais. The “Upstairs-Downstairs” package pairs two nights in a Double Deluxe room with daily buffet breakfast, one gastronomic dinner featuring Chef Jean-Claude Aubertin’s lauded Mirande Menu and one dinner at the Table d’hôte (chef’s table), where friendly discussion and chef anecdotes complement the meal as charmingly as the wine. Package rates start at 1,135 EUR. Single night and dinner packages are also available.

Le Bristol Paris - Complimentary Fourth Night
Le Bristol Paris - Complimentary Fourth Night

Extend your enjoyment of Parisian charms with an extra night. Confirm any three-night stay and receive a complimentary fourth night.

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.

Le Meurice - Complimentary Night
Le Meurice - Complimentary Night

Enjoy three nights in Paris for the price of two. Book any room or suite at Le Meurice for three or more consecutive nights and receive the third night with our compliments.