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8 Brittany

Rynn, Margie FrommerMedia ePub

Ramparts at St-Malo

“Little Britain,” as it was called by the 4th- and 5th-century Celts who came to settle this northwestern peninsula, always seems apart from the rest of France. While this was once politically true (the region resisted conquer and incorporation into Charlemagne’s Frankish empire, remaining an independent duchy until 1532), even today’s Bretons hold fast to their traditions, and their independent spirit is undeniable. The original Breton language, with its roots in Welsh and Cornish, though once suppressed, has experienced a revival. The Gwenn-ha-du—the black-and-white Breton flag—still flies proudly in every town. This unique cultural identity, along with its wild coast, succulent seafood, rustic hamlets, and medieval fortresses make it one of the most authentic areas of France.

Brittany is home to some of the nicest towns in the country. You can’t help but be charmed strolling the streets of the former fortress town of St-Malo or medieval Dinan. Quimper is the bastion of Breton culture and Nantes is becoming a cool outpost for Parisians.

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1 The Best of France

Rynn, Margie FrommerMedia ePub

Eiffel Tower, Paris

France presents visitors with an embarrassment of riches—you may find yourself overwhelmed by all the choices. We’ve tried to make the task easier by compiling a list of our favorite experiences and discoveries. In the following pages, you’ll find the kind of candid travel advice we’d give our closest friends.

FRANCE’S best AUTHENTIC EXPERIENCES

Wine Tastings at a Burgundy Vineyard: Where better to taste a Burgundy wine than in the vineyard where it was made? The average producer in this region manages just 20 acres of vines and many offer the opportunity to sample their nectar on site. Ask at the tourist office for details of visits for individuals—otherwise we recommend booking a trip with a specialist tour guide. See chapter 9.

Whiling Away an Afternoon in a Parisian Cafe: There is something quintessentially Parisian about doing nothing in a public space, especially when that space is a cafe. You can read a book, look out the window, chat with a friend, sip some wine, or simply ponder the mysteries of life. Better still, no one will attempt to dislodge you from your cafe chair, even if you sit there for hours.

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10 THE BEST DAY TRIPS & EXCURSIONS

Brooke, Anna E. FrommerMedia ePub

The Fountain of Apollo at Versailles.

Decadent Versailles

Yes, it’s touristy, and yes, it will be crowded in the summer, but come anyway. Versailles must be seen to be believed, and it is well worth the 35-minute journey. It took 40,000 workers 50 years to convert Louis XIII’s hunting lodge into this extravagant palace. The major work was started in 1678 by Jules Hardouin Mansart under Louis XIV, and before it was finished, entire forests had been moved to make way for its extensive gardens. It was here in the 18th century that French royalty lived a life of such excess in a time of widespread poverty that it spurred a revolution.

❶ ★★★ Palace of Versailles. One of the first things you’ll notice when you arrive is that this vast palace of 2,300 rooms is dwarfed by the grounds, which stretch for miles. Inside the palace, it’s all over-the-top, all the time. The king and his family lived in the Petits Appartements much of the time. One room, the Cabinet of the Meridian, was where Marie Antoinette finally gave birth to an heir in 1781, after 11 years of marriage. The King’s Grand Appartement contains the Hercules Salon, where the ceiling is painted with the Apotheosis of Hercules. The elaborate Mercury Salon is where the body of Louis XIV lay in state after his death. But the apartments pale in comparison to the 71m-long (233-ft.) Hall of Mirrors designed by Mansart. The Hall of Mirrors was designed to reflect sunlight back into the garden and remind people that the “Sun King” lived here. On June 28, 1919, the treaty ending World War I was signed in this hall. Elsewhere in the palace there’s an impressive Clock Room, designed in 1753 by architect Jacques-Ange Gabriel, with a gilded-bronze astronomical clock that is supposed to keep perfect time until 9999. N 2 hr.

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HISTORY

Michelin Michelin ePub

History

Events in italics indicate milestones in history.

BC

1500 Engravings in the Vallée des Merveilles.

900 The Ligurians occupy the Mediterranean seaboard.

600 Founding of Massalia (Marseille) by the Phocaeans. They bring olive, fig, nut, cherry trees, the cultivated vine; they substitute money for barter.

5–4C The Greek settlers in Marseille introduce trading posts: Hyères, St-Tropez, Antibes, Nice and Monaco. The Celts invade Provence, mingling with the Ligurians.

GALLO-ROMAN PROVENCE

122 The Romans intervene to protect Marseille from the Celts, whom they defeat in 124.

102 Marius defeats the Teutons from Germania, near Aix.

58–51 Conquest of Gaul by Julius Caesar.

49 Julius Caesar founds Fréjus.

6 Building of the Alpine Trophy at La Turbie.

AD

1, 2 and 3C Roman civilisation in evidence in some coastal towns (Fréjus, Cimiez, Antibes); the Via Aurelia (Ventimiglia-Brignoles-Aix) is the country’s main highway.

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3 THE BEST NEIGHBORHOOD WALKS; The Latin Quarter, Saint Germain-des-Pres, The Islands, The Marais, Montmarte & the Sacre Coeur, Canal Saint-Marten & Villette, Montparnasse

Brooke, Anna E. FrommerMedia ePub

Luxembourg Palace and Gardens, in Saint-Germain-des-Prés.The Latin QuarterIn the 1920s, this Left Bank neighborhood was the heart of Parisian cafe society. You’ll still find plenty of cafes, plus universities and shops, all constantly buzzing with activity. Traditionally arty, intellectual, and bohemian, the area also has a history of political unrest. Today, it is still one of Paris’s most interesting, not to mention picturesque, quarters to explore. START: Métro to St-Michel.❶ Place Saint-Michel. An elaborate 1860 fountain of Saint Michael presides over this bustling cafe- and shop-lined square, where skirmishes between occupying Germans and French Resistance fighters once took place. This is the beginning of busy Boulevard Saint-Michel, which was trendy long ago but is now a disappointing line of fast-food chains and down-market stores. It is, however, the main student quarters, and a young, lively atmosphere pervades.The Fontaine Saint-Michel, at the center of Place Saint-Michel.

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