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Michelin Green Guide France

By: Michelin
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This eBook version of the Green Guide France features Michelin’s trusted tips and advice, which make sure you see the best of France. From Normandy beaches to the grand châteaux of the Loire and beyond to Corsica's snow-dusted peaks, the Michelin Green Guide France uncovers gastronomic treats and hidden castles, while exploring rugged coastline, picturesque towns and the City of Love itself, Paris. Divided into 12 geographical regions, the guide offers star-rated attractions, regional introductions, detailed maps and suggested places to eat and stay for a variety of budgets, allowing the traveler to plan a trip carefully, or to be spontaneous.

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History

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INTRODUCTION TO FRANCE

France Today

21ST CENTURY

France has long enjoyed a strong rural tradition, but today there are far fewer people (only 3.8%) employed in agricul ture. Alongside this, France has a very advanced industrial economy (24.3% of the population), but employs the greatest proportion of the population (71.8%, 2010) in the services sector.

LIFESTYLE

For many the concept of the French lifestyle conjures up images of good living with strong emphasis on family values and traditions. And while this remains true for many, there has been a tendency in recent years for busy families to spend less time together and eat less well.

This has led some social commentators to the view that all is not well with French society. That may be the case, but an attempt in 2010 to have the traditional French lunch listed by UNESCO as worthy of cultural World Heritage status shows that the French have not lost their sense of humour.

POPULATION

The total population of France (January 2011) was 65 027 000, an increase of 1.35m over the previous year, and growing at a rate of 0.549%. The estimated birth rate/1 000 population for 2011 is 12.29, a slight but constant decrease that has prevailed throughout much of the 21C. The average age at marriage is just over 30 for men and just under 30 for women, although the rate of marriage is falling with many preferring to cohabit. In 2006, the French government introduced a law raising the age at which a woman can get married from 15 to 18. France continues to have the longest-living citizens in Europe – for men life expectancy is 77 years while for women it is 84.

 

Art and Culture

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Art and Culture

A SURVEY OF FRENCH ART

From Prehistory to the Gallo-Roman Era

Prehistory

While stone and bone tools appeared in the Lower Palaeolithic period, prehistoric art did not make its entrance until the Upper Palaeolithic, (350–100C BCE), and reached its peak in the Magdalenian Period (Tsee Les EYZIES DE-TAYAC).

The art of engraved wood and ivory objects together with votive statuettes developed alongside the art of wall decoration, which is well illustrated in France by caves in the Dordogne, the Pyrenees, the Ardèche and the Gard. Early artists used pigments with a mineral base for their cave paintings and sometimes took advantage of the natural shape of the rock itself to execute their work in low relief.

The Neolithic revolution (6500 BCE), during which populations began to settle, brought with it the advent of pottery as well as a different use of land and a change in burial practices – some megaliths (dolmens and covered passageways) are ancient burial chambers. Menhirs, a type of megalith found in great numbers in Brittany (Carnac and Locmariaquer), are as yet of unknown origin. The discovery of metal brought prehistoric civilisation into the Bronze Age (2300–1800 BCE) and then into the Iron Age (750–450 BCE). Celtic art showed perfect mastery of metalwork, as in the tombs of Gorge-Meillet, Mailly-le-Camp, Bibracte and Vix, in which the treasures consist of gold torques (necklaces) and other items of jewellery, various coins and bronzeware.

 

Nature

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Nature

TOPOGRAPHY

France has a fortunate location in the European continent – not detached from it like the British Isles, nor projecting away like Iberia or Greece, nor set deep in its interior like the countries of Central Europe, yet in touch with the resources and the life of the whole of Western Europe and the seas around it, Atlantic, Channel, Mediterranean and North Sea.

There are four main river systems: in the east is the valley of the Rhône, (813km/505mi), which together with its tributary the Saône (480km/298mi) links the Paris basin with the Mediterranean; in the north, the Seine (776km/482mi) drains into the English Channel; in the west, the longest of all, the Loire (1010km/630mi), rises in central France and flows into the Atlantic, as does its southern cousin the Garonne (575km/357mi) which rises in the Pyrénées and drains into the Gironde estuary. Within this unified and robust framework there flourishes a geographical identity which is unmistakably French yet of an unrivalled local richness and variety.

 

Alsace Lorraine Champagne

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DISCOVERING FRANCE

ALSACE LORRAINE CHAMPAGNE

Alsace forms France’s window onto Central Europe. Its capital, Strasbourg, was part of the Holy Roman Empire. Together with the other towns and villages along this left bank of the Rhine, it has a picturesqueness of decidedly Germanic character. Lorraine owes its name to ancient Lotharingia, central of the three kingdoms into which Charlemagne’s inheritance was divided. The presence of coal, iron-ore and salt led to the development of heavy industry. The Champagne region to the west is renowned for its sparkling wine, and the Ardennes to the north is one of Europe’s most extensive areas of forest, with fine stands of oak, beech and conifers.

Highlights

1 UNESCO World Heritage Site Place Stanislas, Nancy

2 La Petite France, Strasbourg

3 Grünewald’s masterpiece, The Issenheim Altarpiece, Colmar

4 Gothic Cathédrale Notre- Dame, Reims

5 Old timber-framed houses, Vieux Troyes at Troyes

 

Atlantic Coast

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ATLANTIC COAST

The Atlantic Coast region of France stretches from the estuary of the Loire in the north to the mighty natural frontier of the Pyrénées to the south. It is bounded on the west by the apparently endless Atlantic coastline and to the east by the lush countryside of the Limousin, the Périgord and Gascony. It encompasses some of the modern region of the Pays de Loire, the whole of Poitou-Charentes and the western half of the Aquitaine.

Highlights

1 Église Monolithe, a church hollowed out of rock at St Émilion

2 Medieval towers of the Vieux Port at La Rochelle

3 1C Roman arena at Saintes

4 Science-based leisure park near Poitiers: Futuroscope

5 History theme park based round a castle, Le Puy de Fou

Geography – With the exception of the Pyrénées in the south, the region consists for the most part of a flat coastal plain, rising gently to the more undulating countryside in the east. In the north there are great marshy tracts like the Marais Poitevin and dunes bordering sandy beaches. To the south is the Gironde, the name given to the broad estuary of the Garonne, and the Atlantic coast south of here runs in a straight line almost to Spain, interrupted only by the Bay of Arcachon. Behind the vast sandy beaches rise the highest sand dunes in Europe while inland is the Landes, an immense wooded area planted with with pine trees.

 

Auvergne Rhône Valley

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AUVERGNE RHÔNE VALLEY

The Auvergne forms the core of the Massif Central. It is a volcanic landscape unique in France, with mountains, lakes and rivers in deep gorges where the great variety of relief makes for fine upland walking country, while the towns and villages of sombre granite have their own allure heightened by the presence of some of France’s finest Romanesque churches. To the east an escarpment leads down to the sun-drenched Rhône Valley with its mighty river charging down to the Mediterranean, which could not be in greater contrast to the verdant, rugged uplands of the Auvergne.

Highlights

1 The view from La Colline de Fourvière in Lyon

2 The huge Statue of the Virgin Mary at Puy-en-Velay

3 Walk up Puy Mary

4 Viaduc de Garabit at St-Flour

5 Le Quartier Thermal at Vichy

Geography – The volcanoes of the Auvergne vary from the classic cones of the Monts Dômes to the rugged shapes of the much-eroded Monts Dore. Mainly agricultural, the grazing grounds of the higher land complement the rich alluvial soils of the lower ground. The volcanic activity has created an array of lakes and other water bodies; at Aydat a lava flow has blocked a valley trapping its waters, while the same effect has been produced at Chambon by a volcano erupting into the valley itself. Elsewhere the hollows produced by a series of volcanic explosions have filled with water while elsewhere lakes have formed inside a crater. Further east the valley of the Rhône, and its tributary the Saône, seem to divide the ancient uplands to the west from the younger, folded rocks of the Alps to the east. This natural ruggedness has impeded accessibility from the rest of France, and bred generations of people who are proud and austere, whose way of life rests on a vibrant agrarian economy.

 

Brittany

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BRITTANY

Populated by Celts since its birth, Brittany retains many affinities with the other Celtic lands fringing the Atlantic. Its identity, quite distinct from that of the rest of France, is expressed in its language (Breton, akin to Welsh), traditions and landscape. The province’s long and mysterious past makes itself felt in the abundance of prehistoric remains, menhirs, dolmens and megaliths. Granite distinguishes Breton building whether in church or castle, harbour wall or humble house, and is used to great effect.

Highlights

1 Village set in aspic: Locronan

2 Spectacular coastal landscape: Pointe-du-Raz

3 Small inland sea near Vannes: Golfe de Morbihan

4 Medieval town of Josselin

5 Megaliths at Carnac

Geography – Brittany has an extra-ordinarily indented coastline, called “Armor” (country near the sea) by the Gauls. Its cliffs, rocky headlands and offshore islands are battered by Atlantic breakers, while its narrow drowned valleys, abers, and sandy bays are washed by tides of exceptional range. Inland is the “Argoat” (country of the wood), once thickly forested, now a mixture of bocage, heath and moor.

 

Burgundy Jura

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BURGUNDY JURA

Burgundy’s unity is based more on history than on geography. Fortunately located on the trade route linking northern Europe to the Mediterranean, the territory was consolidated by its great Dukes in the 15C. It comprises a number of pays of varying character, though its heartland lies in the limestone plateaux stretching eastwards from the Auxerre area and terminating in escarpments, which drop down to the Saône Valley. To the east the Jura’s limestone uplands run in a great arc for some 240km/150mi from Rhine to Rhône, corresponding roughly to the old province of Franche-Comté.

Highlights

1 17C Ducal Palace at Dijon

2 6C BC grave goods at Trésor de Vix

3 The 1C Abbaye de Fontennay

4 Flemish-Burgundian Hospital, Hôtel Dieu, at Beaune

5 The Benedictine Abbaye de Cluny

Geography – Of the Burgundian escarpments La Côte is the most renowned, with its slopes producing some of the world’s finest wines. To the north is the Morvan, a granite massif of poor soils, with scattered hamlets and extensive forests. Further north and west the Nivernais stretches to the Loire and to the south the lower reaches of the Saône are bordered by the broad Bresse plain. The limestone uplands of the Jura were folded into long parallel ridges and valleys by the pressure exerted on them in the Alpine-building period. This is a verdant landscape with extensive forests and vast upland pastures.

 

Châteaux of the Loire

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CHÂTEAUX OF THE LOIRE

Rising far to the southeast in the Massif Central, France’s longest river, the Loire, was once a busy waterway. Many of the towns along its banks bear traces of this former activity: from Orléans, once the Loire’s foremost port, Blois, Tours, Langeais and Saumur. As with other great rivers, navigation was never easy and, once the railways came, the Loire was left to its caprices. Nowadays the region is famous for its magnificent Renaissance châteaux, which adorn the banks of the Loire’s tributaries, the Indre and the Cher.

Highlights

1 Exceptional tapestry of Angers’ Tenture de l’Apocalypse

2 Château partly built on a bridge: Chenonceau

3 French Gothic style: d’Azay le Rideau

4 Formal gardens (Jardins) at Villandry

5 First of France’s Classical palaces: Chambord

Geography – This “garden of France”, as the Loire Valley has been called, has also been called “a home-spun cloak with golden fringes”, a reference to the contrast between the fertile valleys of the Loire and its tributaries and the low plâteaux that separate them. From Orléans onwards the Loire exercises its greatest attraction, with gentle landscapes and soft light.

 

Corsica

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CORSICA

Kallisté, the name given to Corsica by the ancient Greeks, means ”most beautiful”, and even today the French refer to it as L’Île de Beauté. This mountainous island lies some 170km/105.6mi off the coast of mainland France. With its intense light, its superbly varied and dramatic coast and its wild and rugged interior, it is a place of distinct natural identity, enhanced by the succession of peoples who have been attracted here to settle or to rule; these have included megalith builders and mysterious Torreans, Greeks and Romans, Pisans and Genoese, French and British, though the somewhat absurd interlude of the Anglo-Corsican Viceroyalty of 1794–96 seems to have left little trace.

Highlights

1 Sheer rock walls rising above pines in Aiguilles de Bavella

2 Jagged granite rocks on the coast at Porto and the Calanches de Piana

3 The upper town (Ville Haute) of Bonifacio perched on high cliffs

4 Finger of mountains pointing into the sea: Cap Corse

 

Dordogne Berry Limousin

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DORDOGNE BERRY LIMOUSIN

The Dordogne, with its hills, its mature and varied agricultural landscapes, its deciduous woodlands and its mellow stone buildings, is not unlike parts of southern England, albeit with a more genial climate and a general atmosphere of good living. Little touched by industrialisation or mass tourism, the regions of Berry and Limousin seem to represent the quintessence of rural France. Berry centres on Bourges which, with its great cathedral, was once the seat of the French court. The Limousin is the name of the old province around Limoges forming the northwestern extremity of the Massif Central.

Highlights

1 Palace of wealthy financier, Jacques Coeur, at Bourges

2 Tranquil riverside village and Abbey: Brantôme

3 World famous prehistoric cave painting at Grotte de Lascaux

4 Pilgrimage site clinging to a cliff Rocamadour

3 Medieval bridge with towers at Cahors: Pont Valentré

 

French Alps

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FRENCH ALPS

Stretching from the Mediterranean to Lac Léman (Lake Geneva), the French Alps display all the varieties of mountain scenery, from the tranquility of bare rock and eternal snow to the animation of densely settled valleys. Here, human habitat show close adaptation to natural conditions. Centuries of endurance and ingenuity have overcome formidable obstacles and brought all possible resources into play, not only settling valley floors, but pushing grazing and cultivation to its highest limits and developing widely varied local traditions of living and building.

Highlights

1 Sea of ice above Chamonix: Mer de Glace

2 High road through the Alps: Route des Grandes Alpes

3 Spectacular view of Grenoble from Fort de la Bastille

4 Natural fortress: Massif du Vercors

5 Europe’s most spectacular gorge: Grand Canyon du Verdon

Geography – The north of the French Alps is marked by the great sweep of Lac Léman. To the south rise the Alps of Savoy, first the Chablais and Faucigny country and beyond that the famous peaks and glaciers around Mont Blanc. Westward lie other graceful stretches of water, Lake Annecy and Le Bourget Lake. An important communication route is formed by the Sub-Alpine Furrow, a broad and prosperous valley in which Grenoble sits, and the western rampart of the Alps is formed by a succession of massifs including the Vercors. Briançon is close to the Italian border and further south still the scene is often one of striking severity, bare rock rising from vegetation of Mediterranean character.

 

French Riviera

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FRENCH RIVIERA

The Riviera’s abundant sunshine, exotic vegetation and dramatic combination of sea and mountains have made it a fashionable place of pleasure since its “discovery” in the 19C. The coast is densely built up, the resorts linked by triple corniche roads. Further north are the Maritime Alps, dissected by the upper valleys of the Var, Tinée, Vésubie and Roya. To the west of Nice the coast flattens out, forming wide bays with fine beaches, before again rising beyond Cannes to higher ground.

Highlights

1 The fascinating old quarter of Nice: Le Vieux Nice

2 Exciting drives and fine views: Corniches de la Riviera

3 The capital of the city of Monaco: Le Rocher

4 Ancient village in natural amphitheatre: Saorge

5 Stunning red porphyry outcrop: Massif de L’Estérel

Geography – The bustle of the coast is in contrast to the quieter charm of the interior, with its olive groves, spectacular gorges and hill villages. There is no defined boundary for the Riviera, but it is widely accepted as extending from the border with Italy, west to St-Tropez.

 

Languedoc-Roussillon Tarn Gorges

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LANGUEDOC-ROUSSILLON TARN

Languedoc-Roussillon follows the arc of the coastal plain from the mighty Rhône to the massive barrier of the Pyrénées. Adjoining the Languedoc-Roussillon on its western edge, the Midi-Pyrénées stretches from the mountains of the south to the Massif Central in the north. It is a hugely diverse area, ranging from seaside resorts to mountain villages and rural hamlets, not to mention some large towns and cities in both regions.

Highlights

1 The magnificent meander of the Cirque de Navacelles

2 Fortified Templar settlement on the Causses: La Couvertoirade

3 Restored Medieval walled city of Carcassonne

4 The last stronghold of the Cathars: Château de Montségur

5 Abbey on an eagle’s eyrie: St-Martin-du-Canigou

Geography – Along the southern edge of the Massif Central stretch the Grands Causses, whose corniche roads offer unforgettable views. The Cévennes to the east consist of granite summits and deep, narrow valleys that merge with the scrubby garrigues. The plains of Lower Languedoc and Roussillon are bordered by a chain of brackish lakes, separated from the Mediterranean by sandy bars. The south of the region is dominated by the Pyrénées mountain range. To the west the Garonne flows through the heartland of the Midi-Pyrénées, and, to the north, the Lot meanders through the wine region of Cahors.

 

Normandy

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NORMANDY

Taking its name from the Norsemen or Normans, this old dukedom extends from the edge of the Paris Basin towards the Breton peninsula. To many it is reminiscent of southern England with its shared heritage of glorious Norman architecture and lush, pastoral countryside. There is great diversity in the buildings here; Norman masons fashioned the fine Caen limestone into great churches while humbler structures were built from cob, chalk, pebbles in mortar, brick, timber, shingles and thatch.

Highlights

1 Gothic architecture at Rouen‘s Cathédrale Notre-Dame

2 Castle above the Seine: Château Gaillard

3 The old town and picturesque port: Vieux Honfleur

4 11C masterpiece of tapestry: The Bayeux Tapestry

5 The Romanesque Benedictine abbey of Mont-St-Michel

Lower Normandy (Basse-Normandie) is built of the old rocks from the Primary Era. In the north, the Cotentin Peninsula projects into the English Channel dividing the Bay of the Seine from the Gulf of St-Malo. To the southeast lies the bocage (pasture) – its hedgebanks offered excellent cover to the Germans in 1944. On either side of the Seine Valley extends Upper Normandy (Haute-Normandie), centred on the historic city of Rouen. To the south is the Pays d’Auge, quintessential bocage country, famous for its ciders, cheeses and calvados, while to the north stretches the vast chalk plain of the Pays de Caux, bordered by the Channel coast with its white cliffs and hanging valleys.

 

Northern France and Paris

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NORTHERN FRANCE AND PARIS

Paris is located at the centre of Île-de-France, the wealthiest of the regions of France, and from which the French state has grown due to its location defined by the rivers Seine, Aisne, Oise and Marne. Where its limestone plateaux have been cut into by the rivers, lush valleys have been formed, contrasting with the vast arable tracts of the Beauce, Vexin and Brie. A girdle of greenery surrounds the capital, made up of great forests such as those of Fontainebleau and Rambouillet, into which merge the landscapes of leisure and pleasure. Further north, landscapes are open and high-yielding arable land is broken by a number of valleys, such as that of the Somme.

Highlights

1 Rodin’s bronze figures: Monument des Bourgeois de Calais

2 Grand’Place and Place des Héros at Arras: Les Places

3 French Classicism at its best: Château de Versailles

4 Railway carriage at Compiègne: Clairière de l’Armistice

5 Europe’s only Disney resort: Disneyland Paris

 

Provence

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PROVENCE

The name Provence evokes an image of a magical land in the Midi, or south, of France where the sun always shines and Mediterranean influences are supreme: from the extensive remains of six centuries of Roman occupation to the traditional triumvirate of wheat, vine and olive, alternating with the remnants of the natural forest and the infertile but wonderfully aromatic garrigues (arid scrubland). Among the fertile Provençal plains stand the mas, shallow-roofed pantiled farmsteads protected from the fierce sun by stone walls with few window openings. Crops and buildings are shielded from the effects of the mistral, the strong regional wind, by serried ranks of cypresses.

Highlights

1 Wetland plain of the Rhône Delta: La Camargue

2 Classical Temple with columns at Nîmes: Maison Carrée

3 Palace built for the popes in Avignon: Palais des Papes

4 Roman Aqueduct and road bridge: Le Pont du Gard

5 Natural rock arch created by the river: Pont d’Arc

 

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