Romantic FranceFamous landmarks, romantic hotels, top restaurants and Champagne -- what more could a lover want? France is, without doubt one of the world's most romantic places. First of all, it’s beautiful and intriguing, with historic towns and cities where you can wander through secluded courtyards, along narrow winding medieval streets and past mellow-stone, centuries-old buildings. For mountain lovers, there are the Alps; for those who love the sea, small bays abound along rocky coasts and long stretches of golden sand invite you to sunbathe, stroll, swim, surf or strip off. If you're after romantic hotels, you're spoilt for choice. The hotels are amongst the best in the world, ranging from chateaus to small, beautifully decorated bed and breakfasts. And the food? Well, you have everything from aphrodisiac oysters to the ripest, most luscious peaches, pears and apricots. Check out this guide to romantic France.
Romantic CitiesParis is first choice when planning a trip. The City of Light has always held the top place for love. It’s a magical city with the river Seine snaking through its heart, and as soon as you step onto the streets you feel a lift in your step. Make sure you book into a romantic hotel or boutique hotel before visiting the famous landmarks that make Paris such a draw. Check out the article on romantic places in Paris.
There are many other wonderful towns and cities throughout France, several of them mentioned in Romantic Cities. The hilltop village of St. Paul de Vence in Provence is a favorite and with the grave of Marc Chagall in the village cemetery, it gets a fair share of art lovers as well. Stay at the St Paul de Vence hotel for a perfect break looking out over the hillside down to the sparkling Mediterranean sea.
In Languedoc-Roussillon, anyone with a sense of history must visit Carcassone. The old fortified city seems untouched by time, still in the Middle Ages when Kings and Dukes fought over the strategically important ancient site. But Carcassone has a turbulent history, and in the early 13th century, peace and prosperity came to an end with the Crusade against the ‘Albigensians’, or Cathars, regarded as arch heretics by the catholic establishment.
Carcassone is one of France's famous landmarks, but its popularity has recently been boosted by the million-selling novels by Kate Mosse. The third in the Languedoc trilogy, Citadel, was published in 2012. Keep your eyes open as you walk the streets; Kate Mosse lives here so you might come across her in a pavement café.
My Favorite Romantic Places
If you’re in the south west of Provence, you must stop at Aigues-Mortes. Known as the ‘City of Dead Waters’, this extraordinary fortified town surrounded by its huge medieval stone walls and towers, conjures up visions of knights of the past and more than their fair share of damsels in distress. Close to the Mediterranean cities of Arles, Nimes and Montpellier, this is perfect for a short stay. And for romantic hotels, try Villa Mazarin, an old Renaissance building with rooms full of antiques.
St. Valentin and his village
The French cannot claim that the original St. Valentin was French (in fact it was so long ago the whole story is shrouded in a deeply satisfying mystery). He was probably a Roman, not French at all. And the French cannot even claim the first recorded mention, as Geoffrey Chaucer wrote in Parlement of Foules (1382) "For this was Saint Valentine’s Day, when every bird cometh there to choose his mate". However, Chaucer was probably referring to May, so the English can’t claim him either. But ther French win as they first recognized the feast day officially. In 1400 a High Court of Love was established in Paris to deal with affairs of the heart, and rather more serious breaches of contracts.
- More about the origins of St. Valentin
- More about the little village called St. Valentin. It’s in Indre, in the central Val de Loire region and was established as the ‘Village of Love’ in the 1960s.
It may not seem proper to include religious places in an article about human love. But these places are an inspiration, buildings which give you an immense feeling of peace and happiness. And they are very romantic.
- The Abbey Ruins of Jumieges
Start in the north at Jumieges in Normandy. The former vastly rich Benedictine Abbey was founded in 645, but today the once powerful and influential set of buildings is now a thoroughly romantic ruin. There are never many people there so you hear birdsong and the wind in the trees rather than chatter. You can walk around the ruined walls and gaping windows and get a very real sense of the past. Just the place to forge the future with your intended. This is romantic France at its most secret and remote.
Vezelay is my second place for inspiration. Once one of the great centers of Christendom, the vast, impressive, mysterious former Abbey stands high on a hill in Burgundy. It’s near Auxerre, Avallon and Beaune. It's another of France's famous landmarks but is not on major routes, so in the off season it takes on its own, slightly melancholy life with empty streets and an echoing abbey.
If you choose to go at midsummer, you have to book a hotel way in advance. For this place has an extraordinary, unique feature only discovered in 1976. At midday when the sun is highest in the sky, nine pools of sunlight flood through the windows. They fall in the exact center of the nave and create a light path that takes you right to the altar.
- More about Beaune
- Getting to Beaune
And so to my third religious, romantic destination, which has to be one of France's most famous landmarks -- Chartres and its cathedral. The Cathedral stands at the heart of the old city, surrounded by attractive old half-timbered buildings and cobbled streets. The marvel of the place is the stained glass that both tells wonderful stories and bathes the interior with a rich mixture of glorious colors. Bring a pair of binoculars to get the full effect. Otherwise wander through the great Gothic building looking up at the jewel-like glass. There are always chairs in the main nave which is a shame as you miss the superb labrynth.
If you feel tired, stop as the medieval pilgrims and visitors did at the small recesses in the walls and look up from here. ("Going to the wall" is an expression that has several meanings. The medieval sense is when the weakest went to the wall to sit down.)
- Getting to Chartres