While Paris is a major draw for tourists the real beauty of France, in my opinion, is its countryside.  The beautiful villages and their vines serve as gorgeous backdrops to the incredible food and wine of the regions of Champagne, Alsace, Burgundy, Bordeaux, Rhone Valley, and Provence (to name a few).   

France is approximately 20% smaller than the state of Texas with a population of 65 million people as compared to Texas’ 30 million residents.  The high density population areas include Paris and its surroundings (with nearly ⅓ of the entire population), the city of Lorraine, and Toulouse.  The remainder is home to the dairy cows from which triple cream brie is produced, vineyards that produce revered wines, and gardens that cultivate the finest of epicurean delights. 

The growth of grapes extends back 2,600 years.  The prevailing belief is that the Romans brought the practice of viticulture to France where it flourished through the rise of Catholicism.  Much of the wine during that time was produced by the monks, including the famous Dom Perignon who perfected Champagne.   

In 1863 the phylloxera outbreak began in the southern Rhone region and quickly spread throughout France (and Italy).   The vine louse nearly decimated the French wine industry but thanks to American root stock, that was immune to the bug, the vineyards were grafted and eventually recovered. 

Today, there are 11 major French wine regions.  French wines are associated with their terroir (the location (also known as appellation)) in which the wine is produced which is controlled by the AOC (Appellation d’origine contrôlée) system. The AOC rules define grape varieties and winemaking (as well as food production) practices culminating in 307 official wine label names.  

Burgundy is the home of what can be the confusing designations of cru.  The cru classifications are based on a system developed in the 12th-century in the Cote d’Or (the Dijon area) by the Cistercian and Benedictine monks to categorize their best wines (Grand Cru), the second tier wine (Premier Cru), followed by the generic Bourgogne categorized wines.   

France has experienced falling demands for its wine due to increased competition from new world wines as well as the AOC system that allows for very little flexibility to modify the wine in ways that adjust to meet consumers changing tastes.  However, France is still the home to the only wine that may be called Champagne as well as many other superior and highly valued (and priced) wines.

Wine World Ranking

France is the largest producer of wine, producing 7-8 billion bottles of wine each year.

The most prestigious wines from France are produced in Champagne, Burgundy, and Bordeaux. But France has many wine regions that are worthy of exploration and tasting.

Most Common Varietals

Merlot , Grenache, Trebbiano Toscano, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Carignan, Chardonnay, Cabernet Franc, Pinot Noir, Gamay, Sauvignon Blanc.

Check out this introduction to French wines.

Time of Year To Go

The best time to visit France is between April to June and September to October. During these months, the temperatures tend to be mild, the tourists are fewer, prices tend to be lower, and the Spring and Fall colors are at their peak. France typically enjoys mild temperatures but due to the size of the country it is possible to enjoy a wide variety from the mediterranean climate in the south to the wetter and cooler weather of the English Channel (e.g., Normandy).

If you only have an option to travel during the summer months early June would be optimal. Most of France closes down in August to chase the sun along the Mediterranean. This can result in restaurant, shop, and family-run hotel closures.

If you plan on visiting villages and wineries from late October to Easter you will need to carefully check the operating hours as many small hotels, wineries, and restaurants are closed for a portion of this time.

Traveling to France

France has several international airports. Depending upon your home airport and your itinerary while you are visiting France will largely determine which airport you utilize for your arrival and departure. We typically fly into Charles de Gaulle (due to it being a nonstop from the US). The airport is located slightly north of Paris making it ideal, upon arrival, to travel from there to Champagne, Alsace, or Normandy.

If you are arriving on a work day (typical arrivals are early morning from the US) be prepared for delays due to commuter traffic into Paris. For this reason you may want to consider taking the train from Charles de Gaulle into Paris as it will be much quicker than a cab or car service.

Where to Stay

There are countless hotels, inns, apartments, and chateaus to select from while traveling in France. Rick Steves does a great job of finding centrally located hotel and inn accommodations of all price ranges. Check out VRBO or Airbnb if you are going to be in one location longer than two nights and would enjoy living like a local.

Getting Around France

Once you have defined your itinerary in France you can use the app, Rome2Rio , to help you in planning your transportation from place to place.

The following are some general guidelines:

If you will be visiting a number of larger cities and/or villages on the French train lines, you can easily use the train. France has a good network of high speed trains (including the Eurostar to/from London) and its TGV network. You may want to even consider getting a rail pass.

Rather than a central train terminal, Paris has six different stations which means you have to be very careful when booking train travel because you could be arriving in Gare du Nord but departing for the remainder of your trip via Gare de Lyon. This will require a taxi trip to move from one train station to another. For assistance in booking consider using Rome2Rio to assist you in figuring out your logistics.

If you would prefer to avoid the stress of finding the correct train departure platform followed by the correct train car all the while getting the luggage aboard and settled before pulling out of the station (while French people are critically observing every move) then a rental car, bus, or private driver may be your best alternative.

If you will be visiting a number of smaller villages, located on and off of a train line, a rental car or private driver may be required.

On those days when you will be touring the vineyards and participating in tastings I would recommend that you hire a driver or join a small group tour. The roads are narrow and can be poorly marked. And besides, it’s no fun to have to sit out a tasting if you are the designated driver!

Notable Places to Eat

France has thousands of outstanding restaurants. I would recommend that you utilize tools such as OpenTable and TripAdvisor to narrow the list or select from the over 30 Michelin-starred restaurants.

Getting Inspired

Movies filmed in France include (there are many others):
The 100 Foot Journey (shot in St.-Antonin-Noble-Val in the Midi-Pyrénées)
The Intouchables(shot in Paris and French Alps)

Chocolat (shot in Burgundy)
Back to Burgundy (shot in Burgundy)
A Good Year (shot in Provence)

Priceless (shot on the Côte d’Azur and in Venice)
You Will Be My Son (shot in St.-Émilion in Bordeaux)
To Catch a Thief (shot on the French Riviera)
Paris Can Wait (shot in the French countryside between Cannes and Paris)
French Kiss(shot in Paris, Provence, and Cannes)

La Vie En Rose (shot in Paris)
An American in Paris(shot in Paris)
Amelie (shot in Paris – Montmartre)
Funny Face (shot in Paris)
Le Divorce (shot in Paris)

Ratatouille(charming animated movies set in Paris)

Music from France:
Edith Piaf – Platinum Collection
French Music from the 30s and 40s
Classical – Maurice Ravel and Claude Debussy
Opera – Georges Bizet
Breton Folk Music – Harps, bagpipes, accordions, violins, and organs
Corsican Folk Music – polyphony in which several melodies are sung at the same time
Cabaret – Combines music, dance, and theatrics
Chanson – Lyrical music with orchestration

Food from France:
My Paris Kitchenby David Lebovitz
Around My French Tableby Dorie Greenspan
Mastering the Art of French Cookingby Julia Childs

Jacques Pepin: Quick & Simple
French Country Cooking: Meals and Moments from a Village in the Vineyards: A Cookbook by Mimi Thorisson
French Cooking for Beginnersby Francois de Melogue

Some of my favorite authors and books set in France:
Martin Walker’s Bruno Chief of Policemystery series (Dordogne region)

Peter Mayle’s Sam Levittmystery series (Bordeaux, Provenance, and stops in between)
Patricia Sands’ Love in Provence Series (Provence)

Ernest Hemingway – “A Moveable Feast”(Paris)
Pam Jenoff – “The Lost Girls of Paris”WWII historical fiction (Paris)
Tilar J. Mazzeo – “The Widow Clicquot”historical fiction (Champagne)
Don Wallace – “The French House”memoir (Brittany)
Lisa Anselmo – “My (Part-time) Paris Life”memoir (Paris)
Alan Furst – “A Hero of France”WWII thriller (Paris)

Jeanne Mackin – “The Last Collection”Coco Chanel historical fiction (Paris)
Michelle Gable – “A Paris Apartment”WWII and present fiction (Paris)
Michelle Gable – “I’ll See You in Paris”historic fiction (Paris)
Patricia Sands – “Drawing Lessons”(Southern France)

Kermit Lynch – “Adventures on the Wine Route”(A wine buyer’s guide of France)

Planning Resources

For planning ideas refer to:
Wine Folly’s French Wine Map and Exploration Guide
Michelin Map of France
Maps of the World: France
Travel & Leisure France Travel Guide
TripAdvisor France 2020: Best of France
Rome2Riofor ideas on how to get around
Epicurious Burgundy Guide
Epicurious Provence Guide
SNCF Train System Map
Eurostar Train Reservations
OpenTablefor dining reservations

Places to Stay

The West End Hotel – Paris


21-Day Itinerary Paris, Normandy, Champagne, Loire & Paris

Mary Beth I have a passion for creating and experiencing unforgettable moments and sharing those with others. I hope that this story has helped you experience one of those moments.

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