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.
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.