Two Weeks in France
One fact that surprises a lot of people is that as of my third trip to France, I had never traveled outside of Paris. If you’ve ever been to Paris of course, this won’t surprise you – you could spend a whole lifetime and still miss out on something! Nonetheless, after spending about a week in Paris during my fourth visit to France last summer, I finally set out to explore some of the rest of the country.
Two weeks in France isn’t enough to see everything there is or really even to get a good overview of the country’s culture, scenery, history and architecture. With this being said, two weeks is a great amount of time to get a delicious taste of French flavor, whetting your appetite enough for several trips in the future.
When to Visit France
France, perhaps more than any other country in Europe, shines in all four seasons, whether you ski the Alps in winter, sun yourself on the Côte d’Azur in summer, enjoy the flowers in the Fenouillèdes or the fall colors in Paris. There’s literally not a bad day of the year to visit France.
How to Get Around
France is home to the TGV, one of the world’s first high-speed trains, which is both the fastest and most enjoyable way to travel within the country. It’s also the most expensive, however, being relatively on-par with renting your own car on a per-mile basis. For cheaper transport, buy a Eurail pass or take local trains or buses if you plan to buy tickets à la carte.
Where to Stay
Like much of the rest of Europe, France’s accommodation runs the whole spectrum. But while big cities offer just as many hostels as luxury hotels, they’re not always cheap (I remember paying 70 euros for a dorm bed in Nice one time) or good. France (and, specifically, Paris), perhaps more than anywhere else in the world, is the place to enjoy luxury, if you can afford it.
Money, Costs and Communication
That’s a big “if”: France is uniformly expensive, even for budget travelers, who can expect to spend no less than 50-75 euros per day, between accommodation, food and transport. The good news is that fast WiFi is plentiful, and SIM cards are relatively cheap to buy and refill, which means that you can always use your phone or computer to find fun, free things to do online (both here and elsewhere).
What can I say about Paris that hasn’t already been said? One thing I’ll express is that no matter how many times I visit the City of Lights, I always crave the opportunity to see tourist attractions like the Eiffel Tower, Cathedral de Nôtre Dame, Basilica de Sacre Coeur, Pont des Arts bridge, River Seine and well, you get the idea – first time, third time or (I assume) fifth time, nothing about ever gets old to me, not even typical tourist attractions.
Of course, there plenty of non-touristy things to do in Paris, whether you fall in love with a Frenchman and stay in his home for a while, watch an eccentric friend of yours dance through the sketchy Bois de Boulogne park in a flamboyant costume or explore La Défense, France’s answer to Manhattan. Regardless of how many times you’ve been to Paris or what you plan to do there, spend between 3-7 days of your two weeks in France in Paris.
I’m not embarrassed to admit that the number one reason I wanted to visit Provence was ads by cosmetics company L’Occitâne en Provence, which depicted rolling fields of lavender and sunflowers covering the French countryside. I am ashamed (or, at least, disappointed) to admit that I wasn’t able to see the lavender – rural Provence is the one place France’s usually amazing public transit fails, where I crashed the motorcycle I rented to circumvent this transport deficiency almost immediately upon renting it. Whoops!
With this being said, there are plenty of other things to see and do in Provence, whether you explore the large city of Aix-en-Provence, pray at the former seat of the Papacy in Avignon or bask in the famous sunlight of Arles, which inspired Vincent Van Gogh during his career. Even if you are more successful than me in seeing lavender (I’m happy to announce that I did end up seeing some sunflowers), spend between 3-5 days of your two weeks in France in Provence.
Officially, the Côte d’Azur is part of the same French region as Provence – Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur, which was the subject of a post I did on backpacking in bougey southern France last year. In spite of this, Côte d’Azur couldn’t be further from bucolic Provence in its ambiance, scenery or price point, to say nothing of how different the Alps region is from both. Several amazing cities lie along the Côte d’Azur, from Nice, to St. Tropez, to Cannes, home to the world’s most ubiquitous film festival.
Of these three, I prefer Nice, which perfectly blends charming-cum-snobby Frenchness with Italian architecture and cuisine, and whose rock-lined beaches are some of the most beautiful I’ve ever seen. Nice is also great in that its location makes day trips, whether to the medieval city of Èze or the tiny principality of Monaco, a breeze. Even if you spend your entire time here cozied up on the coast with a bottle of bubbly, spend no less than 3-5 days of your two weeks in France along the Côte d’Azur.
Other Destinations in France
As I mentioned above, two weeks in France is barely enough to get you started – two months, two years or two centuries is a better amount of time to allocate! No matter where in this range of durations your trip to France falls, there are hundreds of places other than those I’ve mentioned to see. From Paris, you could heard north to the coast Normandy and Mont Saint Michel, or west to the Bay of Biscay, where you’ll find cities like Nantes and La Rochelle. The southwest of France is home to the Bordeaux wine country and the southeast home to the French Alps and some Europe’s tallest mountains, while cosmopolitan cities like Marseille and Montpellier cap off its Mediterranean coast.