Depending on you and your interests, you will fill your Parisian weekends by lounging uninterrupted and reading newspapers in a corner café, squeezing in museum trips and theatre at night, or a nice balance of the two. You will find your routine, but here are some ideas to get you started.
Two weekend activites within Paris worth mentioning are:
- Les Berges de Seine (http://lesberges.paris.fr/en) where a section of the Seine has been closed off to motor traffic and an adult (and children’s) play area has been established. There are restaurants, workshops, free sporting opportunities like yoga and boxing, exhibitions and the ability to rent a Zzz, which is a container with windows in the midst of it all! Check the website for the constantly changing agenda.
- Paris Plages takes place each summer from about the 3rd week of July to the 3rd week of August. Sand is brought in and a temporary beach is set up along a stretch of the Seine. There is music, children’s activies, food stands and more. Start to check in June for information about the upcoming summer plans. (http://www.paris.fr/parisplages)
Get out of Paris for the day
One of the lovely advantages of Paris, is its location. Centrally located in the middle of France, a sightseeing adventure is literally within an hour drive or so. The following is a list of some wonderful places to visit within a short drive of Paris. Take the car or take the train and explore the surroundings.
- Château de Versailles, http://www.chateauversailles.fr/en/, is Louis XIV’s famous imperial château, the grandest in the world. Visit the Grands Appartmenets and Petits Appartements, the bedchambers of the King and the Queen, the famous Hall of Mirrors, and the Musee de l’Histoire de France. Outside, there are 250 acres of gardens. RER C5 Versailles-Rive Gauche
- Jardins et Maison de Claude Monet, http://www.fondation-monet.com, is now a museum dedicated to the artist with an extensive garden near the Seine. Seasonal changes in the garden make visits enjoyable time after time. Take the SNCF from Gare St-Lazare to Gare de Verson. From the station take a local bus, taxi, rent a bike or car to Giverny.
- Palais de Fontainebleau, http://www.musee-chateau-fontainebleau.fr, Sixty-five kilometers (40 miles) southeast of Paris, Fountainebleau was a refuge and hunting preserve for the Kings of France. Visit the château, which was first built as a Renaissance palace and garden. The Forest of Fountainebleau is wonderful for long walks, hiking, rock climbing, or a picnic. Access via SNCF from Gare de Lyon or by car, A6.
- Provins, http://www.provins.net/english-version.html, is a UNESCO-listed medieval city, dating back to the 9th century, in the heart of Brie country 80 kilometers (50 miles) south east of Paris. Discover the most beautiful collection of monuments of the Middle Ages in Ile-de-France. Its dungeons, towers, gates, walls, and sublime churches will make you feel as though you have journeyed back in time. It is particularly enjoyable for kids as there are three live medieval shows including jousting knights and falconry. A colorful medieval festival takes place in the Ville Haute each June.
- Chantilly, http://www.chantilly-tourisme.com/_UK-chantilly.php, is located 41 kilometers (25 miles) north of Paris and boasts the wonderful Château Musee Conde and a living horse museum, Musee Vivant du Cheval.
- Gerberoy, http://www.gerberoy.fr, is a charming spot 100 kilometers north of Paris. It is classified as one of the most beautiful villages in France with its roses, cobbled streets and time-honored architecture. Wander the ramparts, stroll the streets and have lunch in one of the two restaurants.
- Epernay, http://www.ot-epernay.fr/, is the capital of the Champagne region 130 km east of Paris. A visit for the day with Champagne tasting with romantic countryside views will make you sigh with contentment.
Weekends outside Paris
It is true that you could live in Paris and never venture beyond the peripherique, but remember there is a wealth of France to see just a few hours drive, or train ride, away. Each region has its own character and charm, products and cuisine, landscape and architecture. Take a weekend, here and there, to discover what else, besides its beautiful capital, France has to offer.
Champagne and the Ardennes
Champagne is a festive and joyful region in France, made most famous for its champagne vineyards, which start just 94 kilometers (59 miles) northeast of Paris, beyond Chateau – Thierry. Spend a weekend exploring the Roman roads dotted with cheerful towns and lush vineyards that crisscross the region. Taste Champagne and toast the French countryside.
Reims is a wonderful place to stay for a weekend in Champagne. Besides the cellars of Taittinger, which may be the most spectacular of the champagne producers, there is the awesome Cathedrale Notre-Dame where kings were crowned until 1825, an outstanding collections of paintings in the Musee des Beaux-Arts, and various venues for sipping some of the bubbly, anytime of the day.
Visit http://www.francetourism.com/practicalinfo/regionseasternchampagne.htm for practical information and http://www.champagne.com to learn all about Champagne before you go.
Normandy is a vast region, more in terms of variety than in area. You could take a leisurely beach weekend during the summer in the French seaside town of Deauville, explore the D-Day beaches in Upper Normandy, or spend a weekend drinking Calvados in the market town of Lisieux.
One of the regions musts, however, is the unforgettable and always impressive Mont St. Michel. It is a sea-surrounded mass of granite, partially created by nature and then finished by centuries of raw human strength, adorned with the abbey of Mont St. Michel. The abbey is perched on a 264-foot rock a few hundred yards off the coast, surrounded by water during the highest tides and by desolate sand flats the rest. Because it is such an incredible site, it can be crowded. Take advantage of the fact that you live just 325 kilometers (202 miles) east in Paris, and visit off-season, between September and June.
The Loire Valley
If you feel like a weekend of chateaux and wine, the Loire Valley is your destination. With almost 400 chateaux that range in style from the mighty turreted Chateau de Saumur to the fairy-tale-like Chateau Azay-le-Rideau, you could spend weeks being seduced by the charms of this region. And since it is also known as the Garden of France, what could be better after a day of sight-seeing than sitting down to a meal filled with fresh produce from the surrounding fields and local wine from the prolific vineyards?
For a long weekend get-away, do not try to see too much, it will only be exhausting. Instead select an area and concentrate on one or two chateaux each day. For example, start in Blois, high above the Loire and home to one of France’s most historic chateaux. Taste their famous Poulain chocolates while you stroll through the Vieille Ville (old town), a romantic maze of twisting alleys, cobblestone streets, and half-timber houses. The next day, take in Chambord and Cheverny and study the contrast between one gigantic and extravagant structure and the other, Cheverny, restrained and classical. Spend a half a day wandering the eternally pretty and most unusual Chateau de Chenonceau, before heading north to Paris 170 kilometers (105 miles) away.
Parisians themselves happily drive 3 hours to eat in some of the picturesque and quaint villages found in this gastronomic region next to Paris. There are abbeys and a beautiful natural park to break up the meals and satisfy any need you have for culture and beauty. And, there are vineyards and wines of worldwide fame. This is another region that deserves to be explored, absorbed and thoroughly enjoyed.
Worth a visit all by itself and a great base for a weekend away is Beaune (315 kilometers, 197 miles southeast of Paris), the wine capital of Burgundy. You could go in late November for the famous wine action at the Hospices de Beaune, which pulls in connoisseurs and amateurs alike. Or, go anytime and just visit the Hospices with its tiled roofs and Flemish architecture that is iconic of Burgundy. The Marche aux Vins, http://www.marcheauxvins.com, has candlelit cellars and regional wine tastings within its Romanesque and slightly Gothic interior. Of course, you can visit most of the Burgundian vineyards and get free tastings…choose your favorites and take a few cases back to Paris to enjoy later.
If you have had enough culture, castles and civilization, then head south to the rugged beauty of central France. Unknown and unvisited by most tourists because of its lack of museums and chateaux, this area of France offers something else, and that something is an extraordinary landscape. Filled with windswept plains, volcanic cones and zig-zagging ravines cutting through vast canyons, the Massif Central begs to be hiked and climbed. Fine dining should be forgotten in favor of down-to-earth regional specialties like aligot (puree of potatoes with Tomme de Cantal cheese and garlic), cousinat (chestnut soup), and sanflorin (fried pork and herbs in pastry).
The Parc National des Volcans (National Park of Volcanoes) contains 80 or so dormant volcanoes, with all kinds of craters, domes, lava flows and caldera cones. When you think of France, this is certainly not the countryside that pops into mind, which makes it just that much more spectacular. The park itself stretches about 150 kilometers (90 miles) from north to south. The most famous puy (peak) is at the tip of the highest volcano at 4,800 feet and provides magnificent panoramas as well as hiking trails all over the top. It is 411 kilometers (255 miles) south of Paris, but feels as if you are in another world.
Only two years ago in keeping with the region’s under-the-radar identity, there were no dedicated websites that gave specific information on the National Park of Volcanoes or the area itself. Now, however, the internet has won and there are quite a few. Check out http://france-for-visitors.com/massif-central, http://www.parcdesvolcans.fr, and http://www.auvergne-tourism.com/-1-2.html.