France is much more than Paris. It’s a beautiful country full of distinctive regions and charming provincial cities. Sam always thinks that if you’re staying Paris longer than two weeks, you ought to get out of the city and do some exploring. You will not regret it.
Probably the easiest way for Parisians to get out of the city is via train. In addition to being able to bring all the liquids you want onboard, the train allows you to avoid searching for parking places, and is much safer than hitchhiking. Plus, if you’re eligible for any one of the numerous train passes, then the prices go down considerably.
One thing that is great about taking the train in Paris are the railway stations. As EM Forster said: “Railway stations are our gates to the glorious and the unknown. Through them, we pass out into adventure and sunshine, and to them, we return.” There is always a wonderful feeling of hustle and bustle in train stations, with each major station in Paris associated with a particular region in France. If you’re heading south, then you’ll be going to Gare de Lyon, if you’re going to the East, then you’ll be going to the Gare de l’Est, if you’re going West, then it’s Gare Montparnasse, and if you’re off to the North, then it’s La Gare du Nord. Anything more specific, then consult this helpful graphic.
The easiest way to get a ticket is by going online to the SNCF website. Otherwise, you can go to the train station or to an SNCF store, where you can wait in line and buy a ticket. Another option is also to call the SNCF hot-line at 3635 or to download the SNCF application on your smart phone.
Going by plane in France is pretty fast considering that you’ll be at your destination in about an hour (excluding of course the DOM-TOMs). Most major cities have an airport and very often low-cost plane companies like EasyJet compete directly with low cost TGV fares. A word to the wise: sometimes an hour long flight can take longer than a 3 hour long train ride once you take into account transport to and from the airport as well as early check-in times. Forewarned is forearmed!
If you love the thrill of the open road, then get out there. A mere hour outside of Paris are castles, vineyards, and mice! So go and explore, but please note that most major highways in France involve many tolls as they are run by private companies. Although scenic, sometimes a French road trip may cost more than plane or train once you combine gas and tolls. If you wish to rent a car, the usual suspects (Hertz, Avis, Europcar) all have competing rates.
In the French imagination, the north of France is associated with crummy weather, fried food, and excessive beer drinking. If you need any confirmation of this, look no further than the hit film Bienvenue Chez les Ch’tis, which made hay with these clichés. The truth is that despite all the stereotypes, the North of France is a special, wonderful and very different region than the rest of the country. Lille is a beautiful city with a radically different style of architecture than anything you would see in Paris, and the people are friendly to a fault. Just one hour outside of Paris by TGV, it’s a great way to get outside the city and see something different.
Who doesn’t love the South of France? It’s sunny, sexy and synonymous with “vacation”. Generally, the south is divided by latitude. The South East (Nice, Cannes, St-Tropez) and South West (Marseille, Montpellier, Toulouse) are for the region’s inhabitants very distinctive areas. Although for us foreigners, both South East and South West equal blue skies, sunny beaches and chilled rosé, there are some differences: the south east tends to be a bit more chi-chi, with many wealthy people from around the world owning property along the Riviera; the South West, although plenty expensive doesn’t have this reputation– industrial cities like Marseille are very different from Nice in both attitude and politics. If you go South, try heading to both areas, as they are equally beautiful and very distinctive.
The East of France is sadly unknown to both Brenna and Sam. Sam only spent one short weekend in the countryside in the Meuse area, and worked at an event in Evian for a short three days, many years ago. Nevertheless, this is a beautiful area, distinctive for its Franco-German heritage (witness cities like Strasbourg and Nancy) and for its beautiful landscapes. Oftentimes, Parisians who wish to get into the Christmas spirit will spend a weekend in Strasbourg at the various Christmas Markets, likewise, areas like Chamonix, Thonon, and Annecy are known for skiing and other winter sports.
The Atlantic coast of France is rugged and beautiful. From the surfer’s paradise of Biarritz to the Bordeaux vineyards, to the beach cities of La Rochelle and further north to Britanny, France’s west coast is beautiful and diverse.
As you can see, these four little paragraphs do not do the French provinces the justice they deserve. The best way to learn more is to go and visit!