Ste-Chapelle & Chartres
This is a top experience reserved strictly for sunny days and those who like looking at the world through rose-coloured glass. Be stunned and inspired by the sublime stained glass in Paris’ Ste-Chapelle, one of Christendom’s most beautiful places of worship. Then head out of town to Chartres, where you can’t get bluer blue than the awesome stained-glass windows of Cathédrale Notre Dame de Chartres. Leave with the true blue of so-called ‘Chartres blue’ ﬁrmly imprinted in your mind.
The Dune du Pilat is a ‘mountain’ that just has to be climbed. Not only is the coastal panorama from the top of Europe’s largest sand dune a stunner – it takes in the Banc d’Arguin bird reserve and Cap Ferret across the bay – but the nearby beaches have some of the Atlantic Coast’s best surf. Cycle here from Arcachon and top off the heady trip with a dozen oysters, shucked before your very eyes and accompanied by crepinettes (local sausages).
The Three Corniches, Nice
It is impossible to drive this dramatic trio of coastal roads, each one higher and more hairpin bend–riddled than the next, without conjuring up cinematic images of Grace Kelly, Hitchcock, the glitz of Monaco high life, and scandalous royals – all to the standing ovation of big view after big view of sweeping blue sea fringing Europe’s most mythical coastline. To make a perfect day out of it, before leaving Nice, shop for a picnic at the morning market on Cours Saleya.
Carcassonne at Dusk
That ﬁrst glimpse of La Cité’s sturdy, stone, witch’s-hat turrets above Carcassonne in the Languedoc is enough to make your hair stand on end. To properly savour this fairy-tale walled city, linger at dusk after the crowds have left, when the old town belongs to its 100 or so inhabitants and the few visitors staying at the handful of lovely hotels within its ramparts. Don’t forget to look back when you leave to view the old city, beautifully illuminated, glowing in the warm night.
This is one of France’s most emotional journeys. The broad stretches of ﬁne sand and breeze-blown bluffs are quiet now, but early on 6 June 1944 the beaches of northern Normandy were a cacophony of gunﬁre and explosions, the bodies of Allied soldiers lying in the sand as their comrades in-arms charged inland. Just up the hill from Omaha Beach, the long rows of symmetrical gravestones at the Normandy American Cemetery & Memorial bear solemn, silent testimony to the horrible price paid for France’s liberation from Nazi tyranny.