A Rewarding Focus while Traveling Through France

places to visit in france
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Travel is like a living, breathing entity that is constantly renewed by its participants.  Always evolving, trends, destinations, and methods are ever changing.  Where you go, what you do and how you do it shifts to match the conditions and preferences of the moment.

One unmistakable trend is concentrating on smaller areas, maybe one country if that, especially in Europe. Venturing beyond the most prominent cities gives the traveler a depth of enjoyment and understanding, a more satisfying experience. Smaller towns and cities can be more authentic, enriching, historic and friendlier.  Careful planning can result in pleasurable discoveries and enjoyable moments.  

My recent trip to France followed this trend, with a return to some fond places and also a few new destinations.  My itinerary began in Nice and ended in Paris, with a week in between.  The half dozen French towns and cities I visited were all different, a wonderful and fun mixture of French history, culture and cuisine.  

I began my trip through France in the elegant southern city of Nice, part of the amazing complex of towns and villages along the Cote d' Azur.  With just one night there, it was a quick refresh of previous visits.  This was my first time staying at the famous Le Negresco Hotel right across the street from the sea.  This is a hotel to be relished by those who despise cookie-cutter chain hotels. It is worth an hour or so to explore the floors to view the art pieces on display.  It is most provocative and thought provoking.  The family-owned property is a reflection of its ownership, and is well worth a stay.

Of course, a walk along The Promenade at sunset, a beautiful view from the spacious accommodations afterwards and a fine traditional seafood meal including Branzino made the stay all the better.

The next day it was a 3 1/2 hour train ride, much along the sea, to the ancient and former Roman town of Arles.  Founded about 123 BC, Arles is much smaller than Nice, but very enriching. It was very important to The Roman Empire in the 4th and 5th centuries.  Today many Roman ruins, including the Roman Circus, theater and other projects still exist. The very large amphitheater holding over 15,000 visitors is still in use today.  

I stayed at the very well located Grand Hotel Nord-Pinus, overlooking Place Du Forum, a charming square in the heart of Arles. It is a good, friendly 4-Star hotel in a supreme area of town.  Walking around and exploring on your own was easy.  One or two days here is well worth it.

Then it was a further 3 hours to the much larger city of Toulouse, a city of two minds, historic and forward-looking.  The later is partly because of it being the headquarters of Airbus, those people partially responsible for getting us on their aircraft to the far corners of the world. The former is the historic town known as the Pink City, for the distinctive brick architecture.  

On this trip I was exploring the history and culture of Toulouse and a weekend of outdoor markets.  My stay was at the Grand Hotel de Opera at 1 Place du Capitale. It was thriving on Saturday with an outdoor market distinctively French.  The sounds and smells of exotic foods cooked outdoors, a gourmet lunch just needing to be assembled for your own taste.  Amazing!  The Old Town, local museums and riverfront were all enticing.  At night the local specialty Cassolet was finely served at Le Colombier right in town.                  

Working my way further north I first stayed in renewed Bordeaux. I then travel further to the magical village of St. Emilion. These are both repeat visits and an earlier report still published here covers them. For my update I stayed once again at The Grand Hotel Bordeaux, now The Inter Continental - Le Grand Hotel.  Service and experience was just as good as before.  My noted addition was an outstanding dinner at L'Oiseau Bleu, one of the best of the trip.  It's location across the river is well worth the drive.  

In St. Emilion, my new stay was at Grand Barrail, a Small Luxury Hotel amidst the local vineyards about 2 miles from town.  I was in a beautiful round room in the historic castle.  it was an impressive setting with a 20 Euro taxi ride each direction into town. It has not changed in the two years, but the discovery of Restaurant Le Tertre and its amazing dinner was new.

The final stop was Paris and my first stay at the newly reopened and iconic Ritz Hotel.  The outstanding Signature amenities we offer our guests included a full meet and greet round trip transfer. I was reassured to see the Ritz greeter meet me right at the rail platform. He escorted me through the rail station to the waiting driver.  Then it was about 20 minutes to the hotel.  The reverse was done to the CDG Airport on departure day, even including taking me right to the Swiss Check-in counter.  

At the hotel, all was very comfortable in my Executive one-bedroom suite and the traditional service to match.  The hotel has been completely redone, but the decor remains formal and the service too.  

I took the opportunity to have lunch and an inspection at the newly re-opened Hotel de Crillon, now a Rosewood property.  I was impressed with the results of the 4 1/2 year effort.  It is still on the traditional side, but with contemporary highlights.  I loved the hotel.  The lunch in the newly created more informal bistro was outstanding in every way.  

This time my flights were all on Swiss with Business Class going and economy class returning.  The new Business Class was outstanding with attractive 5 across seating on their new B 777-300ER aircraft.  The single seats in each row were even more private and available in advance for a small surcharge.  Economy was fine with the bulkhead seat, again with a small surcharge.

Here I took advantage of Swiss custom ordering with upgraded dining and even French Champagne.     

Other utilities used this trip should be noted.  I used Uber for some services with mixed results.  I recommend if you need to be somewhere are a particular time, start early or take a taxi. Also The Fork was used to book some restaurant reservations in advance.  They were very effective, but the reality did not always reflect the ratings. Particularly in smaller towns, dining establishments may not be large and fill up quickly.  Advance reservations are highly recommended.    

Focusing beyond the big cities, if planned correctly, can be fulfilling and memorable. It is an effective and rewarding way to discover more of our world.  Let me show you the way.

Hilton Smith