Chateaux of the Loire Valley, baguettes, the Eiffel Tower - all classic symbols of France that we know and love. However, why not take this time of quarantine to discover the sites, activities and foods of France that you may not think of as typically French.
Check out this list for ideas and inspiration:
Sipping rose beach-side is something we’re all familiar with but the Southwest city of Biarritz is actually home to numerous surf spots including La Cote Basque which is fantastic for longboarders. Situated with the foothills of the Pyrnees framing it, this beach has great waves for both beginners and more experienced riders.
When you think of surfing admittedly Martinique is not the first place to come to mind. However the French Caribbean island is actually a premiere destination –the water is warm all year long and the surf spots are not overcrowded. In fact, surfing is part of the island’s DNA. Along the coasts of Grands-Rivieres and Basse Pointe, the Amerindians practiced the ‘bwa flo’. This early form of surfing consists of riding the waves on a tree trunk. Slaves would practice ‘bwa flo’ to help ship goods from sea to land. Today the long and powerful swells of the Basse-Pointe (Martinique’s Northeast coast) are a favorite of surfers for the ability to execute multiple maneuvers. Anse Bonville is the most popular spot on the island but Anse Couleuvre on the northern tip of the Caribbean coast has some of the best waves on the island.
In 2018 France hosted the Ryder Cup on the Albatross course of Le Golf National, outside of Paris. In 2024, the Olympics are scheduled to take place there as well. Plus Provence’s Terre Blanche Hotel is home to two renowned courses (voted Best Golf Resort in Continental Europe by Golf World UK) that take inspiration from nature; they’re filled with valleys, lakes and waterfalls.
Believe it or not but the Auvergne-Rhones-Alpes region is home to the UNESCO Chaine des Puys, a chain of more than 80 volcanoes from north to south. The first eruption took place 96,000 years ago with the most recent one 8,600 years ago. Le Puy de Dome is the highest point at 1465 meters/4800 feet tall. Climb to the top for a 360 degree view of the surrounding countryside.
In Martinique, Mont Pelee erupted in 1902 destroying the vibrant community of Saint-Pierre. Last year the completely renovated Franck A Perret Museum also known as the Memorial de la Catastrophe opened with artifacts recovered from the eruption. In addition to the 432 artifacts, the museum also has an exhibit dedicated to the 7,000 plus victims of the disaster. Despite the tragic history, the volcano has been dormant since then and is a popular hiking spot full of dense rain forest and spectacular views over the Caribbean from the summit.
Actually it’s known as a Bretzel in the Alsace region. That’s where you’ll find these treats. The dough is precooked in boiling water then sprinkled with sea salt and caraway seeds and baked in the oven. Bretzels are typically washed down with beer. Some boulangeries even make a sweet version.
5. ROMAN RUINS
The Romans ruled what is now France for more than 500 years and you can still find impressive vestiges of that period -no need to travel to Italy or Greece. The most famous is Pont Du Gard, one of the best preserved aqueducts in southern France.
Nearby Nimes was an important Roman city and the Arena (home to gladiator contests) and Maison Carrée (temple) are stunningly intact. Next year the city of Narbonne will open the Musée NarboVia dedicated to Roman history in the area.
Lastly, the town of Orange is home to the UNESCO Roman Theater, the first of its kind in France and the most well preserved of its kind in all of Europe. The intricate carvings and designs of the enormous stage and wall are still intact.
Forget lavender fields, Provence has another colorful natural beauty. Known as the second biggest canyon after the Grand Canyon the Verdon Gorge is a river canyon in the Provence-Côte d’Azur region. Visitors can hike or rent kayaks or rock climb.
France’s version of Maine, the Brittany region, is known for le petit bleu. This lobster with a black shell with blue highlights, is known for its extremely fine taste.
8. NATIONAL PARKS
Of the 11 National Parks in France, highlights include Mercantour near the Italy border where you can find thousands of ancient rock carvings dating from the Bronze Age or Les Calanques just outside of Marseille where you can rent a boat to explore the limescale crevices and coves.
Everyone is familiar with crepes but there are several savory pancakes that are distinctly regional. In Amiens try the ficelle picarde filled with ham, cheese and mushrooms. Galette-saucisse is a Breton food truck fave consisting of a cold buckwheat crepe wrapped around a warm grilled pork sausage. Every February 2nd break out the pancakes for the Fete de la Chandeleur. Marking 40 days after Christmas, the holiday is an occasion to use up all the butter and eggs before Lent and a way to ensure a plentiful crop according to legend.
More than half of the world’s roundabouts are in France--there are 30,000 of them!