With an amazing combination of fascinating history, rich culture, world famous gastronomy and stunning nature, France is the quintessential European holiday destination. From the seaside to the ski slopes and from tiny countryside villages to the buzz of the capital, find your ideal holiday tempo with our guide below.


Paris & Ile-de-France

Paris is a destination in itself and many visitors come time and again to take in the diverse pleasures of the French capital. World-class museums, incredible dining and a shopper’s paradise, there’s really something for everyone. It’s a great walking city which allows you to stop to admire curiosities you come across in areas like the Marais or Montmartre, where you duck into boutiques and enjoy a drink on a café terrace. The city’s parks are sublime and the perfect place to rest your feet and people watch, local favorites are the Luxembourg Gardens, Les Buttes-Chaumont and the Parc Monceau. As for museums, the Louvre and the Musée d’Orsay are a must for any first time visitors, but try to make time to peruse the collections of some smaller museums like the Jacquemart André, the Gustave Moreau or the Orangerie. End your day with some divine dining, either at an haute gastronomie establishment or a cozy neighborhood bistro.

Beyond the city’s borders, there is a multitude of excellent day trip options. For example, the Ile-de-France region which encircles Paris has dozens of gorgeous castles. The Palace of Versailles usually steals the limelight, however, many others are are much less crowded and highly worth visiting such as Fontainebleau, Vaux-le-Comte, Chantilly and Rueil Malmaison. For a taste of French village life, venture out to nearby medieval towns like Senlis or Provins. Art fans can also walk in the footsteps of artists like Monet in Giverny, Van Gogh in Auvers-sur-Oise or the early 19th-century artist colony at Barbizon.

More on Paris and Where to Stay Here.


Normandy & Brittany

Easily accessible from Paris either by train or car, many visitors travel to Normandy to visit the D-Day landing sites. These are very moving places of commemoration and can be visited in a long day trip or a several day itinerary. The lovely region has deep-rooted cultural heritage and some stunning medieval sites like the Bayeux Cathedral and its amazing 11th-century tapestry. Mont-St-Michel is another regional highlight, the impressive abbey and village crowning an island off the coast. Seaside resorts like chic Deauville and picturesque Honfleur are also key tourist destinations.

Brittany remains slightly removed from the regular tourist track, a factor that has helped it retain its authentic character. Fervently proud of its distinct cultural heritage, the region’s stunning and rugged coastline is marked with sleepy fishing villages, lighthouses, and deserted pristine beaches of the Wild Coast.

Loire Valley & Burgundy

The Valley of the French Kings, dotted with hundreds of enchanting castles, is what French holiday dreams are made of. You can spend your days discovering breathtaking castles such as Chambord, Chenonceau, Amboise and Azay-le-Rideau and your evenings dining on the region’s exquisite gastronomy. To the southeast of the Loire, Burgundy also provides an excellent holiday spot for those seeking to combine culture and gastronomy. It’s abundant in rolling vineyards, charming villages, bustling markets and unique historic sites – all the delights of France in one place. Small barge river and canal cruises are a wonderful way to experience both of these spectacular regions.

More on Where to Stay in the Loire & Burgundy Here.


Champagne & Eastern France

The best known destination in the east of France is certain Reims, where people come the world over to sample its delectable bubbly. It’s an easy day trip from Paris and there are many champagne tasting cellars right in the city. True champagne fans will want to stay longer and visit the houses in the neighboring area, especially Epernay. The beautiful cathedral in Reims is not to be missed and other cities of the regional are also lovely, such as Troyes with its medieval city-center. Further towards Germany, Strasbourg, with its charming canals, narrow streets and awe-inspiring cathedral, is a popular destination. It’s also the starting point of the Alsatian wine route, the oldest in Europe.

The French Alps

The French Alps have something for all levels of skier, or those who want to merely take in the chic après-ski vibe. Base yourself at a cozy luxury ski chalet, perhaps in ultra posh Megeve, and get ready to hit the slopes. Les Trois Vallées (The Three Valleys) features the largest interconnected ski fields in the world. Head to Chamonix for a quintessential Alpine experience with majestic Mont Blanc in the background. The French Alps aren’t only a winter destination, summertime also offers a wide range of activities, particularly for sport and nature enthusiasts.

More on the French Alps and Where to Stay Here.

Provence & the French Riviera

Provence evokes images of lavender fields, hilltop villages and bucolic country estates, it’s the ideal destination for taking in French joie de vivre. While it has grown in popularity over the last few decades, there are still plenty of authentic places to visit. Sip pastis in St Remy, wander the laneways of Les Baux or visit the vibrant markets of Aix. The Riviera is still one of Europe’s most popular beach destinations and the best way to take in the area is on a secluded villa overlooking St Tropez, home to a charming port and picturesque town center. You can also escape the crowds by tracking down some of these hidden beaches across the French Mediterranean coast.

More information and where to stay in Provence here and the French Riviera here.


Bordeaux & The Atlantic Coast

France’s southwest is not to be overlooked. Serious oenophiles can spend their entire holiday tasting some of the country’s best wines around Bordeaux. The city itself is lovely, and its new Cité du Vin wine center is an excellent place to start your wine-themed vacation in the area. Saint Emilion is a desirable stop, the scenic medieval village is surrounded by vines that produce some of the region’s best wines. The nearby Bay of Archon and other coastal resorts have splendid beaches of fine white sand and refreshing Atlantic waters. The whole coastline has some gorgeous islands, little discovered by foreign travelers. Ile de Ré attracts wealthy Parisians whereas Belle Ile and Noumentier are also very delightful. The small coastal city of La Rochelle is your gateway to that coastal area and has a number of nice attractions and good shops and restaurants.

More on Where to Stay in Bordeaux and the Atlantic Coast Here.

Certain things instantly come to mind when France is evoked: heavenly food and wine, picture perfect villages; majestic castles, intriguing historic sites and breathtaking scenery. Most visitors are hoping that their vacation in la Belle France will include most of these, though on what is often a rushed city-hopping trip, this goal can be hard to achieve. For an extraordinarily authentic French experience, escape to the countryside, slow down to a snail’s pace and hop aboard the Luciole hotel-barge, something our editor Lily recently had the chance to do. Here’s what has made her fall in love with the Luciole and experience of a luxury barge holiday.

Luciole Barge group on deck

More Than your Average Boat

Built in 1926 as a mule-drawn freight vessel and subsequently converted into a floating hotel in 1966, the Luciole is one of the oldest hotel-barges in France. The recently refurbished vessel is in the fine repertoire of Barge Lady Cruises, the world’s top experts on canal barge vacations. The 5 x 34 meter boat has eight luxurious double and twin en-suite cabins, a spacious lounge with comfortable seating and dining areas and lastly a large raised sundeck. It has been managed with pride by the Liley family for over 40 years.

John Liley undertook a detailed exploration of Europe waterways in the 1960s, during his time as editor of a British yachting magazine. His travels inspired several books include ‘France – the Quiet Way’, an exploration of the entire French canal and river system which brought him to discovering the gorgeous 200-year-old Nivernais canal. He knew he’d come across the perfect place to establish a hotel-barge business, which he did in 1976. His wife Penny is now at the helm and their sons have also taken up a passion for barging and are involved in the business.

Superbly Stunning Scenery

Only two hours from Paris, this hidden area of Burgundy has remained far removed from the region’s well trodden tourist destinations like Dijon and Beaune. This has allowed this very rural and extremely picturesque area to retain its genuine character and charm. The canal is little traveled by other cruising boats, adding to the sublimely serene atmosphere aboard. One of the pleasures of a barge cruise is being able to truly savour the scenery, something that you can’t really do while driving. As we gently cruised along we could peacefully admire the passing pastures dotted with buttercups and grazing cows, the gentle slopes of cascading vineyards or cluster of village houses in the distance, plus a few stretches of dramatic cliffs and other unique natural wonders. If you’re nice to Captain Francisco, he may even let you steer the boat, but you’ll have to keep more of your eyes on the canal than the pretty landscape!

Immensely Charming Villages

France is known for its lovely villages and the itinerary of the Luciole includes some unquestionable gems. The cruise begins in Auxerre, where the barge is moored in the center of town, in the shado its impressive medieval cathedral. Our first morning our friendly and knowledgeable local guide Andy who accompanied us throughout the week, led through its narrow laneways and charming city-center with it enchanting 15th-century clock tower. The barge also stops close to Noyers-sur-Serein, considered one of the most beautiful villages in France. Stopping in on market day, we had a peek at the colorful stalls of seasonal vegetables, homemade sausages and fresh cheeses before wandering the crooked streets in search of medieval towers, stone walls crawling in wisteria, boutiques displaying artisanal leather goods, pottery and creative gift items. On several nights we were moored in a tiny village found along the way which could be explored early in the morning after breakfast – a moment when we could witness it rising: a villager sleepily venturing out for his morning baguette, the postman calling, the sun twinkling on the canal beneath the lock-keeper’s cute cottage.

Stoic Churches and Striking Castles

Another highlight of France is certainly its attractive and important historic sites, usually in the form of castles and churches and the Luciole’s route included a number of these. This started from day one with Auxerre’s mystifying gothic Cathedral of St Étienne with its beautiful stained glass windows and sculpture work and built up to our much anticipated visit mid-trip to the awe-inspiring Vézelay Abbey. Crowning the hilltop of a splendid town, the 11th-century basilica was the starting point of two French Crusades and is still an important site of pilgrimage. Another day we toured the Château de Bazoche, the former residence of the Marquis de Vauban who was Louis XIV’s innovative fortress designer, thus in essence, helped France become the country (and the size) that it is today.

Divine Gastronomy

A trip to France wouldn’t be complete without enjoying many of the country’s vast culinary pleasures and these are taken very seriously aboard the Luciole. This begins right at breakfast which includes a variety of fresh bread, croissants and other viennoiseries, acquired straight from oven of the best local bakeries along the route.

Then all morning the barge’s talented Scottish chef Jade has been busy preparing a “light” lunch of creative salads, sophisticated sides such as stuffed summer squash or broccoli-chevre quiche and a traditional-themed pièce de résistance of garlicky snails, battered frogs’ legs, mussels or magrets de canard. We are meant to save room for the cheese or dessert course, though it was hard to refuse seconds. With any luck, an afternoon of biking along the canal would prepare us for the exquisite dinners. Here is where Jade’s skills and imagination really shine.

The four-course evening meals featured beautifully presented innovative dishes using seasonal ingredients and contemporary flare – marveling our eyes and our stomachs. The dishes were paired with mainly local wines from Chablis and the Yonne Valley (two of which we visited on excursions) and were followed by a cheese course (accumulating in over 20 varieties by the end of the week) and a to-die-for dessert. Hostess Kimberly and Naomi always made sure the meal ended well with coffee, or a local Marc de Bourgogne or other digestif.

La Joie de Vivre

Perhaps the most important element of the cruise was intangible. Whether it was the personable and professional staff who become our friends by the end or the barge’s owner Penny popping throughout the week for a warm hello, our interactions with a jovial local shoemaker or the laughter and smile of a café owner, the quintessentially French joie de vivre attitude was underlying our whole week. The French take their time, they enjoy the finer things in life from gastronomy to quality goods and these were the force which fuel the experience aboard the Luciole.

The Luciole can be book exclusively or on a single or double occupancy on scheduled small group trips. Learn more about booking your own unique holiday aboard the Luciole by contacting Barge Lady Cruises here.