Jackie DesForges is a lifelong dedicated travel lover and a Rail Europe Travel Consultant from our Chicago office. On her off time, Jackie goes on exciting travel adventures. We were lucky to have Jackie approach us to write about using our products in exchange for passes and city cards. We are thrilled to contribute to Jackie’s love of travel and to read about her experiences. In this blog series, Jackie used the Global Pass, 15 days in 2 months flexi, Barcelona Card, Lisbon Card, Malaga Hop On, Hop Off Sightseeing Tour and Sevilla Card. If you happen to call our contact center and get Jackie, make sure to mention that you read her blog series!
France was the first stamp on my passport. I’ve been to Paris three times, I’ve spent two weeks in Normandy, and I studied for just under two months on the Riviera. I have yet to visit the east or west, but I assume it’s only a matter of time.
Although each of these regions will give you a solid dose of the picturesque storefronts, cheese-heavy gastronomy, and je ne sais quoi that make France so, you know, French, I found that the north, south, and Paris each had their own distinct vibe.
The North: Normandy
I spent most of my time in Normandy feeling as though I was an extra on the set of Pride and Prejudice. I realize that this story took place in England, not France, but I was staying with my boyfriend’s family in a giant chateau in the middle of nowhere (courtesy of a house swap with a French family), surrounded only by miles of green fields, the chateau’s personal apple orchard and horse ranch, and the town’s tiny church. I think Elizabeth Bennett would have felt right at home.
We took several day trips to the little towns along the northern coast: Dieppe, Honfleur, Etretat, and Fecamp. Each of these towns had an ample supply of corner cafes, quiet antique shops, and legitimately some of the happiest, friendliest people I have ever met in my life; I half expected everyone to break into song and re-create the opening scene of Beauty and the Beast. The people living in these towns seemed to have adopted a very quiet, laid back lifestyle, almost as if every day were a Sunday afternoon.
The South: The French Riviera
The geography of the French Riviera resembles that of the northern region: lots of ocean and lots of small towns. The energy of the region, however, is what sets it apart. Although there are plenty of people who live there year-round, it constantly felt to me as though everyone I saw was on vacation. Movies, literature, and history have given the region a reputation for hedonistic behavior – and even without that reputation, it’s hard not to fall into the rhythms of vacation when you have gorgeous beaches at your disposal at any time of day.
The Riviera still gave me the feeling of a small town setting, but everything seemed to move at a slightly faster pace than it had in the north. The docks were lined with yachts rather than sailboats, the restaurants were buzzing with louder and more animated conversations, and there were always people running from one shop or beach to the next, bouncing from adventure to adventure. While the north felt like a stroll through a farmer’s market, the south felt like a Saturday at a street festival.
The Middle: Paris City
I think Paris should count as its own region of France, or maybe as its own country, because there’s enough happening there to make it seem like its own little world. Paris was the first place in France I visited, as it probably has been or will be for most people who visit France, and it was everything I had imagined my first foray into the world of European adventures to be.
The city fulfilled my need for streets that were made of actual cobblestones, people that actually carried baguettes in their bike baskets, and meals that encouraged the consumption of as much cheese as possible. A lot of people seem to dismiss Paris for being too touristy or commercialized, and while I do agree that isn’t the end-all, be-all of quintessential European towns, I still think it deserves some credit.
There is something about Paris that has inspired artists, writers, historians, musicians, and backpackers in a way that other major European cities haven’t. Rome might come close – it has more ruins to back it up. The fact that Paris has maintained that kind of consistency for so many years means that it must be doing something right. Having Woody Allen on your side can’t really hurt, either.
With that said, I think a lot of people – myself included – tend to romanticize Paris to an extent that probably isn’t fair to the rest of France. You can catch a train from Paris to all other major regions of France – for Normandy, I’d recommend a train up to Caen or Bayeux, and from there you can catch smaller regional trains or buses to the tiny seaside towns. For the Riviera, I’d recommend a train down to Nice or Cannes, and I’ve heard Marseilles is really something to see, too.
As for me – I think there are several bottles of wine calling my name in the Bordeaux region, or maybe a ski lesson somewhere along the eastern border near Switzerland.