Welcome to the third installment of the monthly France Blogging Roundtable, a project organized by Christine Cantera of WhyGo France. The group includes Christine and four others of us who blog about France: Jennifer of Chez Lou Lou, Jamie of Life's a Feast, EuroCheapo, and me. Each month we'll share our unique perspectives on a predetermined topic about France. So pull up a chair to our Roundtable, have a croissant or an eclair, and join in on the conversation. We'd love to hear your take on each month's topic and your comments. This month's topic: Romance in France
What makes a place romantic? I think the criteria is somewhat subjective. What's important to me is to be surrounded by water, preferably the sea. A river, lake, canal or pretty fountains will do, too. Some might want cold and snow to cuddle, but I want warmer ambiance; green vineyards, hills, rugged cliffs, quaint little villages, maybe a castle or two, sidewalk cafes with wicker chairs, lush gardens and parks with ideal spots for picnics. Promenades that invite walking arm-in-arm are necesary, too. Basically, I want my idea of a picturesque setting, one that encourages amorous feelings.
Right now you might be thinking that I want WAY too much. Not true, because when it comes to romantic settings, France really has all this and more.
Today I'm suggesting 9 spots in France for romantic vacations. For the 10th, I want to hear your opinion and am leaving it up to you to decide. My 9 choices may seem completely random, but they do have several common threads; the first being water. They each also live up to my above-mentioned list of criteria. That and, except for the last city on my list, on all my visits to these places I've been without a date! Each time I've been to one of these romantic spots its been with groups of friends, my parents, or with nobody else except my camera to keep me company. Really, Cupid, you need to get better aim with that arrow. So these cities are on what you might call my "bucket list for romantic vacations." (Hey Cupid, are you listening?)
Vineyards and majestic wine houses sprawl out along both sides of the Gironde river. An ideal lovers' vacation includes a cozy room surrounded by grapevines. Visits to wine houses and wine tastings include scenic drives through the various wine regions of Bordeaux. Wines in this region are not only for wine snobs and the elite. No, there is a wine chateau and wine for everyone to enjoy. Make an appointment for a tour beforehand and you should have no problems. The Bordeaux tourist office, one of the most efficient and informative I've seen, also provides tours and they help with setting up independent visits. A great time to visit is during the Fete le Vin held bi-annually on the banks of the Gironde River in the city of Bordeaux. This year, 2012, the wine festival will be held June 28 to July 1.
A few years ago, I spent a month in the Dordogne region getting to know its food and its photographic villages. Cahors was extra special. I love the way the Lot River wraps itself like a horseshoe around three quarters of the city center to give you the feeling you're on an island. Lively Boulevard Gambetta, the main street of the town, reminded me of a mini Cours Mirabeau. Like the famous street in Aix-en-Provence, sidewalk cafes, shops and trees filled both sides of the street. Take a boat ride around Cahors or a balloon ride over it. There is a mostly shaded walking path along the river bank. Like the river, the path curves around the town. The green grass invites you to stop and have a picnic along the trail. Cahors is known for its "black wine" and there are around 200 wines with the label. The Malbec grape makes the strong dark wine of the region. Drives surrouned by vineyards, winery visits and tastings can easily be part of a trip here, too.
Also in the Dordogne, the medieval village of Sarlat makes for a nice base to explore the region. Cobblestone streets, turreted buildings and small winding alleyways allow for hand-in-hand strolls, especially at night. Market days are Wednesday and Saturdays. Then you can pick up picnic fare for your drive along the Dordogne river. Majestic castles span the hilltops that flank both sides of the river. Boat rides in the historic gabares (17th & 18th century boats of the region) are my choice for seeing the Dordogne. Or take a dreamy drive through the valley where tiny medieval villages pop up along the countryside. It seems each village has its own castle, too. The pristinely pruned Gardens of Marqueyssac are nearby and also a good choice for a lovers' stroll.
Aix-en-Provence just might be my favorite Provencal town. Fountains and flowing water are everywhere. The tree-lined Cours Mirabeau has one sidewalk cafe after another. The place to sit under the plane trees and enjoy the scenery. Take a walk along one of the pedestrian streets that splinter off from Cours Mirabeau. Or enjoy a couples' cooking class or spa day. Aix has many spas fed by the natural themal springs that flow under the city. These springs have been soothing aches and pains all the way back to Roman times. During the summer months, you can see lavender fields forever with a ride along the Lavender Trail of Provence - Les Routes de la Lavande.
This sleepy seaside town in the southeast of Provence is far off the tourist radar, but that only makes a more enjoyable to hideaway with the one you love. With a daily provencal market right at the port and cafes that look out into the Mediterrenean, I instantly fell in love with this village during my visit with Tuula and her husband. The lively market is open daily. The water is a deep blue. The cafes are perfectly placed to look out on the harbor and the sea. There is a small beach nearby and the village has several pastry and other shops to make it an ideal spot for an amorous and relaxing seaside vacation.
Cassis is another cozy seaside village of Provence. It too has cafes that follow the curve of the harbor. In them you can enjoy the views of the sea and the bounty of this fishing village, generous seafood platters especially made for two. The main attraction are the Calanques (the steep limestone walled inlets). Take a boat ride to the Calanques and then a moonlit walk around the harbor.
Named an Unesco World Heritage Site, the main island (Grande Ile) is arguably the most beautiful part of Strasbourg. Half-timbered houses with flower box windows, canals, and cafes that border the canals all add to the special ambiance in Strasbourg. As the city is very near the German border, the German influences are evident, especially in the food. Pretzels sit stacked on tables. Sausae & choucroute (French for the Alsatian name for saurkraut- surkrut) and foie gras sit side-by-side on restaurant menus. Enjoy any or all of these dishes at one of the cafes along the canal. In the evening when the moon and the street lights dance on the water's surface, the romantic mood is even stronger.
If the blue Mediterrenean, seaside strolls, and awe-inspiring hilltop views are part of your requirements for a romantic setting, Nice should be on your list, too. The Promenade des Anglais that curves with Nice's Bay of Angels is lovely for a stroll day or night. As is the pedestrian only Old Nice (Vieux Nice). A picnic, with food from the Cours Saleya, atop Castle Hill will give you a view just like that in the photo above. From Nice, the other cities and villages of the French Riviera (Cannes, Monaco, Antibes, Eze and more) are easily accesible by train. Cuddle together while enjoying a train ride along the coast. If your more adventurous, take a drive along the one of the three corniches along the Riviera coast. Old Nice, one of my favorite areas in the city day or night, is full of sidewalk cafes and cozy bars.
Although I have had a date or two in the city I once called home, I would never leave the city of love and lights off the list. Paris has everything required for a romantic setting: the Seine River, the lights, bridges, canals, sidewalk cafes, an endless number of parks and outdoor markets to pick up picnic fare, tree-lined grand boulevards and cozy alleys.
Along the Seine and the Canal St. Martin would be my top two picks for a stroll, especially at dusk, but an evening walk anywhere in Paris is tres romantique. A picnic for two is a must. What's in my picnic basket? A baguette, cheese, wine and, of course, Parisian pastries. You'll find a park on almost every rue, but I would choose the banks of the Seine or under the Eiffel Tower at the Champs de Mars as places to lay my picnic blanket.
For number 10, I want to hear from you! Where would you go in France for a romantic getaway. What criteria do you use to decide what makes a place "romantic?"
Check out what the others have to say about romance in France:
- Romance in France from WhyGo France
December's Roundtable Topic - Favorite French Art: Art and Chateau Vaux le Vicomte
January's Rountable Topic - French Comfort Food: Favorite French Comfort Food