Now we’re carrying on from the last post here, looking at all manner of groovy things to be getting up to in the wonderful land of France. Before, we looked at the north west and mid west. Now, let’s move on in a circular view, carrying on anti-clockwise, as you look at a map of France.
The Dordogne region is a fantastic place to be for an extended period of time – or a short period. To such an extent that together with the Poitou Charente region, it has the highest numbers of English expats living there.
There are some wonderful places to go, gites to stay at, people to meet, wines to taste and food to gorge on. Bergerac has a lovely sleepy country feel to it, while you soak yourself in the local wine. The same inevitably goes for Saint Emilion, which is worth a visit. It has become a little touristy as the wines have gotten a bigger and bigger name for themselves, but the village itself is stunning. Catch it on a sunny day and roast yourself in the square, sitting out, drinking the wines. Mmmm… I’m almost there myself…
Heading into Dordogne a bit more, Brantome is a great place to visit – known as the Venice of the Dordogne. Nice architecture, nice food.
Give yourself a bigger world view picture of yourself in time, panning out across history, by visiting the Lascaux caves.
The cave paintings there are estimated to be 17,000 years old (yes, that is the right number). It is well worth paying for a tour guide to show you around and explain it. You will feel a sense of wonder and probably feel a little bit smaller but part of something much biger, by the end of your tour.
Heading further south, you have the big mountainous divider that is the Pyrenees, separating France from Spain. The Gascon region is where the fabled D’Artagnan is from. There is some seriously good pate Foi Gras down here. And a whole lot of other gastronomic delights too.
The Gascon region is a fascinating melting pot of English and French heritage. Henry II married Eleanor of Aquitane, thereby gaining her possessions of Aquitane and Gascony. And so bubbled up the English-French issue of ownership and dominance that boiled for over a hundred years, with England claiming right and possession over Gascony, Poitou Charente, Aquitane and Normandy, ending only in full French ownership.
One thing worth noting about Gascony and most of the Pyrenees region; it is incredibly rural.
If you want a retreat away from it all, or even want to go and live in a beautiful and remote area, Gascony might just be for you – especially if you love wonderful and diverse Gascon foods. The rolling hills and higher mountains and breath-taking to walk or drive through.
And so we get down to the south coast, by way of Perpignan, in the Languedoc Roussillon region, overlooking the sea and (sometimes) snow capped mountains.
One fascinating theme that runs through much of this region, and to differing extents, throughout the south coast is the historical mix of influence (and control) from Arab, African, Roman and more local forces.
There is a whole heap of other cool places to visit in Perpignan. It is probably worth getting a tour guide unless you want to just wander and soak it up.
The Camargue is the famous French cowboy area along the salt marshes of the Languedoc Rousillion area. If you are remotely into horse riding, you will want to hire a beast and go out for a hack here.
Narbonne, Bezier and Sete are worth a visit for different reasons. The Millau Bridge viaduct is a phenomenal feat of engineering and worth a detour just to see it.
If you look closely at that photo above of the bridge, can you see the parked cars? Then you start to get an idea of the scale of it. Big. And amazing.
Further east, into Marseilles, you enter the big melting cultural hotpot of the south coast. Parts of it are very nice, but much of it has suffered from ineffective multiculturalism due to lack of integration of different races and cultures, which is why there is high levels of disatisfaction and a swing to the political right. The Front National is strong here, as is an undercurrent of islamic fundamentalism. Much of this stems from the failure to integrate and the unemployment, leading to poverty, frustration and unhappiness. Which is a huge shame.
Further east we head into the French Riviera – the Côte d’Azur. You need a LOT of money to be able to eat and drink here, let alone stay or even live here. If you happen to be a A-lister celebrity you are welcome. Otherwise consider visiting only for a bref period.
It is beautiful and the weather is fabulous, darling! Dont forget your multi-million pound Bling.
The city of Nice is quite nice. St Tropez is amazing. Just dont expect to walk away with much money left.
So let’s leave this tour around the delights of France right here and we’ll revisit this tour to travel up the east side of France in teh next episode at some point in the future. Next though, I want to tell you about some amazing places to stay – the best Gites and other shelters – in France.