Sunday, May 23, 2010

Visiting France, sans Paris

French friends used to be incredulous when I told them I had never been to New York City.  Quoi?!?  How can you live in the United States and never have visited NYC?  Cue me telling them that there is so much more to the U.S. than our most populous city, and, hey!, I’ve been to legions of interesting places all over my country, from the very bottom tip of Texas, to the Hawaiian Islands, to the shores of Lake Superior.  Cue them staring at me with that French look that says, “you poor, sad American.”  

But I stand by my reasoning for not rushing out to see NYC and I’d like to make the same argument for France:  There’s so much more to see than Paris!  If you’re looking to branch out, here are a few suggestions.  They’re by no means hugely off the beaten path – a couple are large cities by French standards – but they might not be the first places you think of when planning a transatlantic trip.

Toulouse – France’ fourth largest city has pink buildings, denizens brandishing a funny accent, good year-round weather, and easy access to nearby medieval sites.   Just remember that in Toulouse, “vin” is pronounced “veng.”  Forget that bit of regional accent trivia and you’ll have a hard time tracking down a glass of rouge.  Been there.

The Mediterranean, West of Toulon – If you’re looking for flashy discotheques and gaudy glamour, stick to Cannes and Nice.  But if you want family-friendly fun in the sun, head west.  Toulon is rough around the edges, but the nearby coastal cities have beautiful beaches, quaint old towns, exceptional markets, and come-as-you-are attitudes

Nîmes – While not as famous as its neighbors, Arles, Avignon, and Aix-en-Provence, Nîmes, with its impressive examples of Roman-era ruins, is certainly worth a visit.  The city’s Roman temple (called the Maison Carée) sticks out like a beautiful sore thumb, and the amphitheater is still in use for events like bullfights and concerts. You can climb what remains of a Roman tower, and the famous Pont du Gard aqueduct is not far from town.

Lille – Lille has what is quite possibly the ugliest French cathedral in history, but it also has a surprisingly good shopping scene.  The local beers are a nice change of pace from other French regions’ local wines, and it’s only a short Eurostar ride away from London, Paris, and Brussels.


Zhu said...

I've never been to NY either, which a lot of people consider strange since we have traveled all over the world and that NY is so close to Ottawa. Mostly, it's because I haven't had the chance, but it is also because I'm more fascinated by the rest of the US than the big cities. I'm a city person though, but what I find interesting in the USA are these little traditional towns, the endless roads etc. NY can wait!

And yes, I feel the same about France. I'm always surprised that few tourists consider visiting my hometown, Nantes. It's still a big city and honestly, it's lovely to visit.

Erin and Lou said...

Great shot of Toulon!

Tanya said...

@Zhu, I like the little towns in the U.S. as well. Visiting them makes me feel like I've stepped back in time. I've never been to Nantes, maybe you'd like to write a guest post all about your city?

Melina said...

Not to mention how incredibly nice and welcoming people from Lille are, its really amazing, and the city is beautiful.

Nomadic Matt said...

where in nyc are u moving too? will u be at tbex? i'm moving into manhattan on july 1!!!!

Zhu said...

I could indeed write a guest post about it, whenever you feel it's appropriate!

Tanya said...

@Zhu, Anytime! Why don't you email me at and we can talk about it. Maybe something like 5 Reasons to Visit Nantes?