North or South? Best Vacations in France

If you have not traveled to France before, then you are missing out. It is such a stunning country with so much to see and do. The country itself is quite large, as far as European countries go anyway. So it can be a good idea to divide the country in half and choose some vacation ideas based on what is each half. Have you done any of these before?

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The North of France

You can’t mention going to France without mentioning Paris, which is right in the heart of the north of the country. The city of lights is a must! The history that the city has is just amazing, and there are so many fascinating things to see and do. The Louvre Museum has to be one of the highlights, home to the world famous Mona Lisa painting. A trip up to the top of the Eiffel Tower is one of the top things to do too. You can even book a table at the restaurant at the top of the tower for a quintessentially Parisian experience. Notre Dame is magical to visit too, as well as munching on a macaron or two down the Avenue des Champs-Élysées.

If you are looking for something to do with the family, then Disneyland Paris is only a short train ride out of the city. Paris isn’t the most child-friendly city ever, so many families visit Disneyland instead. It isn’t as large as its American counterparts, but it still makes for an amazing day out for any Disney mad family members.

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The South of France

If you’re planning on a trip to the south of France, then the chances are that you’re looking for something quite romantic and relaxed. The scenery and views in the south are breathtaking, with large mountains and valleys to boot. The great thing is that you can enjoy the south of France all year round. You could enjoy St. Tropez and Cannes in the summer, and areas like Chamonix in the winter. So don’t just dismiss the south as only being a place that will work if you like the beach. The French Riviera is, of course, stunning. But the mountains are just as beautiful. So you could look for luxury ski chalets to luxury beach accommodation. There really is something for everyone.

The south of France is also a great area to explore and take in some of the French culture. You could enjoy the range of bakeries and patisseries that are scattered in the small towns, as well as discovering the many vineyards of France. So hiring a car is a really good idea. In the south, the towns and cities are a bit more sparse than they are in the north. So hiring a car means you’ll be able to see everything without missing anything.

Have you ever been to any of these areas in France? Would love to hear any of your top tips for traveling to France. Knowing some basic French phrases is pretty important, in my opinion.

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A French Alpine Town – Chamonix

CHAMONIX MONT-BLANC, FRANCE: Located at the foothill of majestic Mont Blanc in south-eastern France, Chamonix Mont-Blanc (or just Chamonix in short) is an attractive Alpine village to visit any time of the year. For decades, Chamonix was known to be a winter getaway for the up-scale travelers. It was this city which hosted the first ever Winter Olympics in 1924. Being 1030 meters (3400 ft.) above sea-level, many tourists keep coming back here for winter activities and for its charming and unique location.

Center of Chamonix, at the foothill o Mont-Blanc in the French Alpine region

Center of Chamonix, at the foothill o Mont-Blanc in the French Alpine region

Chamonix is one of the towns that surrounds Mont Blanc from one side and is itself surrounded by the Alps. This is where passionate mountaineers come to fulfill their dreams of climbing the highest peak of Europe…Mont Blanc. Its picturesque squares with the Alps in the backdrop, artistic buildings, countless restaurants, and buzzing crowds make this place a relax getaway for travelers of any age.

TIME of TRAVEL: Visiting Mont Blanc was on our list for a long time when we were living in Belgium. The opportunity finally came right before we left Europe in July of 2014. Our friend Sidfar from Antwerp also joined us in this 5-day long trip. We visited Annecy, Mont Blanc, Chamonix, then Dijon, and Nancy afterwards. It was our last road trip in Europe, that’s why even memorable for all of us.

OUR HOTEL: Our hotel was not in or near Chamonix. We stayed in Annecy, about an hour drive from Mont Blanc. It was “Sejours & Affaires Pont Neuf – Cran Gevrier” somewhat close to Annecy Old Town. The hotel (which was more like a hostel) didn’t have 24-hour reception service. That was not a problem although we reached there really late at night (they left the keys in a safe-box for us). Good part of this place that we had a small kitchen and a balcony. We also had free Wi-Fi and parking. Annecy, situated by Lake Annecy, itself is a stunning town and is known as The Venice of France. Spare a day if you can for this little town and you won’t regret it for a second.

EATING and SHOPPING: Chamonix city center is the probably the best area for tourists to buy souvenirs or winter gears. There were tons of brand name stores where you can buy all the things you need to climb Mont Blanc massif from winter jackets, clothing accessories, to foot gears, and heavy duty sports items. This small town also boasts for gastronomic restaurants. Although we saw an Indian restaurant and did a take-away order from there, you will find tons of other restaurants offering traditional Mont Blanc cuisine right here in the heart of Chamonix.

A souvenir shop in Chamonix, France

A souvenir shop in Chamonix, France

PLACES WE’VE VISITED: Of course the biggest attraction of Chamonix and the reason most of the tourists is to get a glimpse of the highest peak of the Alps…Mont Blanc (check out my page/post on Mont Blanc). Upon arriving in Chamonix in the morning of our visit, we took a cable car to Aiguille du Midi and spent the whole day visiting different summits of French Alps enjoying glaciers, valleys, green meadows, and whitest snow of Mont Blanc massif. After Aiguille du Midi, we came down to the town and spent about little more than an hour in the city center of Chamonix.

1) CITY CENTER: This is the heart and the liveliest spot of Chamonix. It’s a relaxed atmosphere with trendy shopping streets and stunning view. Each block of this area was decorated with colorful fresh flowers bouquets and baskets. River Arve dissects the city center in two parts carrying water from the mountains.

River Arve running thru city center of Chamonix, France

River Arve running thru city center of Chamonix, France

 

Being so close to Mont Blanc, one of the popular destinations for winter sports in the Alps, Chamonix city center has tons of sports stores like North Face, Columbia, and Ice Breaker. The place is crowded with serious and experienced climbers and hikers. Just looking at their heavy gears made me adventurous…they were here for real Alpine wilderness. And then of course, there were tourists like us who were enjoying the atmosphere and the natural beauty from our own comfort zone.

 

If you are there in summer, like us, take your time and go around the town center, enjoy the view of the River Arve, summer blooms, energetic crowds, and outdoor cafes. I am imagining, it’s completely a different scene in the winter time. May be the river freezes, Mont Blanc gets a new facelift with heavier and thicker snow pile, whole city center may look white but be dazzling with Christmas trees, lights, and decoration…not to mention Christmas markets and enthusiastic winter athletes.

2) STATUE of de SAUSSURE: This is a statue of heroism and bravery in the center of Chamonix in front of a casino. It honors Horace Benedict de Saussure who was the first person to climb Mont Blanc. The statue portrays Horace Benedict de Saussure, beside him Jacques Balmat standing, pointing his finger towards Mont Blanc.

Statue of de Saussure in the city center of Chamonix, France

Statue of de Saussure in the city center of Chamonix, France

3) CATHOLIC CHURCH of St. MICHAEL: This church is in the city center near Place d’la Eglise which also houses Chamonix Town Hall. It was impressively decorated with vibrant hanging flower baskets and flags. I didn’t go inside the church but walking along that street was a pleasure no doubt.

Catholic Church of St. Michael and Chamonix Town Hall on the right in Chamonix, France

Catholic Church of St. Michael and Chamonix Town Hall on the right in Chamonix, France

4) PLACE JACQUES BALMAT: This beautiful and little square in the city center was named after Jacque Balmat who was the climbing partner to ascend Mont Blanc in August 8th, 1786 with Dr. Paccard. Again, plenty of flowers adorned this pedestrian zone while many shops and cafes made it a place where I wouldn’t mind going back over and over again.

Rue du Docteur Paccard is, you can say, the main shopping street in city center and got its name from Doctor Paccard who climbed Mont Blanc in 1786 as mentioned above. Their ascension to Mont Blanc was a historic achievement in mountaineering.

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