Superbly intact as a medieval port, thanks to the efforts of a past communist mayor whose legacy includes the free bicycles you can ride around town, La Rochelle offers beautiful beaches, delicious seafood, and boat trips to surrounding islands.
The French Alps
The French Alps are glorious in summer. To go walking, take one of the many ski lifts that operate year-round. Pretty towns to visit include Annecy, on its turquoise lake, set against the peaks of La Tourette.
There is so much life on the streets of Paris, plus a tremendous amount of public art and wonderful architecture, that just wandering the streets is a delight and doesn’t cost you any money. The city centre is very compact so there’s little chance of getting lost.
If you like drinking bubbly, there’s no greater experience than quaffing the stuff in the region where it’s made. A visit to Reims will enable you to catch one of France’s most impressive Gothic cathedrals, as well as take in several caves, including the famous Veuve Cliquot-Ponsardin.
Go to Chartres and see the Cathédral Notre-Dame, whose greatest asset is its magnificent rose window. Situated on the hilltop, the enormous building has plenty of other enthralling visible wonders, such as the geometry of the building and the 130 other stained glass windows.
From its Medieval hilltop villages, through a rich agricultural countryside of vineyards, olive groves and fields of sunflowers, to the fascinating cities of Arles and Aix en Provence, this is perhaps the most irrestistible area of France.
For cheese, head for Normandy, particularly the area known as the Pays d’Auge, whose lush green fields help produce the rich milk so essential for the area’s delicious Camembert.
The country which runs the world’s most famous bike race (the Tour de France) is a rewarding place to cycle, and you may even get bigger servings in local restos if you indicate your means of transport. You don’t have to rely entirely on pedal power, however – you can take bikes on certain trains for free.
The Camargue is a flat, marshy delta area, with flamingo-filled lagoons. Its long stretches of coastline include the popular resort of Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer, which offers plenty of facilities, and less commercialized areas, such as the plage de Piemancon.
Marseille, the second most populous city of France, though undeniably deprived, is a wonderful place to visit. It’s a down-to-earth yet cosmopolitan city which spirals out from the old port. To check out its excellent seafood cuisine try the cours Julien behind the Vieux Port’s southern quay.