Americans have long loved to travel to France, most notably to Paris. Millions visit there every year. Many of those who visit once, make plans to return. Some revisit many times. Why? Paris is fascinating. Elegant. Historic. Sophisticated. Stylish. Memorable. Cultural. Artistic. To quote Henry Miller, “When spring comes to Paris, the humblest mortal alive must feel that he dwells in paradise.” Citing Thomas Jefferson, “a walk about Paris will provide lessons in history, beauty, and in the point of life.”
Many of the reasons for visiting France in general, and Paris in particular, are ones that you already know. Friends and family who have traveled to France may have brought home stories that kindled your curiosity and your desire to visit for yourself. You have seen the pictures, and the movies. You have heard about the marvels of the Eiffel Tower, rising up like a giant erector set, with an elevator to take you to the top for views out over the Seine and the city. You know about the exceptional art museums, the Louvre and the Orsay, that house stunning collections within buildings that are themselves historic, architectural treasures, one a former palace and the other an elegant turn-of-the-century train station, built for the 1900 Paris Exposition Universelle.
Likely you also have heard about the food and the wine, and the supreme pleasures of dining well, optimally at an outdoor table, at charming restaurants that carefully attend to every detail of your experience. Perhaps you have heard about the beauty of the countryside, with drifts of lavender and towns on hillsides, immaculate farms and spectacular mountains and coasts. Certainly you’ve heard about the history and the architecture, the fashion and the style.
So what more can be said that would add to these and other motivations you already have in mind for making a visit to France? These five reasons are ones you may not have thought about, yet. Possibly they could tip the balance in favor of your taking your own trip, and hasten you on your way.
The French Are People You Will Love to Experience and Get to Know
Put aside what you may have heard about the French being unfriendly. This is simply not the case. However, the French are extremely polite, and have stricter and more formal social codes than Americans. This can make them come across as a bit aloof and distant. But it is possible to move past this apparent social wariness by knowing just a bit about how French communication and interaction works. When travelers approach them with equal courtesy, the French respond in kind with friendliness, warmth, curiosity and charm.
Even a minimal effort to speak the basics in French–hello and goodbye, please and thank you, excuse me and how are you–yields high levels of returns. And, yes, the French will attempt to speak English with you once you have broken the ice by attempting to speak even a little French with them. Experiences of connecting with the French can become lasting and treasured memories.
French Towns and Cities Are Themselves Living Museums and Living Art
A visit to France offers many opportunities to wander through outstanding museums. But notable remnants of French history are by no means limited to the museums. As you explore the streets of old town, walk through a park, visit a town market, or pass through the vast stone gates of a walled city, you will be surrounded by the life, history, architecture, and art of days gone by.
And what a vivid history it is. In Avignon, you will sit on a bench in the courtyard before the Pope’s Palace, where seven successive popes resided, beginning with a French Pope who declined to move to Rome, preferring to continue to live in France. In Arles you will walk in the footsteps of Van Gogh, and visit the actual spots, now marked by easels and depicted on a walking tour map, where the unbalanced genius stood to create his celebrated Starry Night and Café Terrace at Night.
In Amboise you will visit the elegant palace of Françoise I, and then walk across the street and up the hill to the lovely villa Françoise gave to his beloved friend, inventor and artist Leonardo da Vinci, with a secret tunnel connecting the palace and the villa so the two of them could visit back and forth at will.
In Paris you will stand in the courtyard of the Louvre, under the small triumphal arch built by Napoleon, and look out along his grand boulevard, over five miles in length, to the much larger Arc de Triomphe at the other end. You will walk the Grande Allée through the splendid Tuileries Gardens, created by Catherine de Medici, modeled after the palace gardens in her native Florence that she so sorely missed.
Exiting the gardens, you will arrive in the historic public square where the guillotine was erected during the French Revolution to behead the king, queen and other French nobility. In this square now stands the ancient obelisk from the entrance to Luxor Temple in Egypt, given by the self-appointed Khedive of the Ottoman Empire in exchange for France’s latest technological marvel, a clock touted to be highly accurate, but that never worked.
Living museums and living art.
The French Lifestyle of Walking Everywhere Will Make You a Healthier, Livelier Person
During your visit to France, you will walk more than you could imagine, but you will barely notice the effort. Walking in France is not the least bit dull, so you will find yourself doing it happily. Goodbye treadmill.
Whereas the American lifestyle is based on automobiles, the French are oriented around walking. When you arrive in each town or city, your explorations will begin with a walkabout of your neighborhood. Here you will discover what will become your regularly-frequented shops – wine shop, delicatessen, bakery, fresh market. You will be walking back to these shops regularly, possibly daily.
You will walk down to the river to catch the boat, to look out from the bridges, to watch the sunset, to sit on a bench. You will walk to the outdoor markets, then browse them for goodies, and from there walk to the park for a delightful picnic made up of your purchases–delectable strawberries, fresh-baked baguettes, sausages and paté, cheeses and olives, and, of course, a glorious bottle of wine.
You will wander along the pedestrian streets, browsing in shops, then selecting an outdoor table at a café from which you can people-watch to your heart’s content. In the afternoons you will walk to the Cathedral to hear a concert on the mighty organ or to attend a service. Later that evening, you will be back out to stroll to dinner at a charming nearby restaurant, followed by a visit to a piano bar for an evening of jazz. And then back to the river, aglow in lights, to watch the boats drift by.
From the subway stop in Montmartre, you will walk to the funicular and take it to the top of the Basilica steps, then over to Place Tetre to watch the sidewalk artists. Later you will walk back past the Basilica and down steep steps for lunch under one of the colorful umbrellas at the charming l’Eté en Pente Douce.
As your trip continues, you will feel progressively healthier and livelier. Your energy levels will soar. Over time, walking everywhere will begin to seem normal. And what you are walking by will be continuously enthralling.
The French Manner of Engaging Will Bring Out a More Captivating Version of You
You will find a different manner of interpersonal interaction in France. As Americans, many of us barely notice how insular and driven we have become. We work too much. We connect too little. We take ourselves too seriously, and we can be self-interested. Most unfortunately, we take too little notice, and devote too little time, to the people in our lives.
Not so in France. The French culture of interaction will be apparent from the moment you set foot in the country. This is a culture that takes two-hour lunches, and spends that time in animated conversation with friends and colleagues. When the workday ends, sooner than you might expect, they all flock back to the cafés, to sit at tables and discuss philosophy and life. At the table beside you, you will notice a couple sharing a carafe of wine, each attending to what the other is saying, looking intently into each other’s eyes as though their companion were the center of the universe.
When you shop in the outdoor market, the vegetable seller will listen attentively to understand what you want, then carefully select just the right items for you to enjoy. At the clothing stalls in the market, the stylish matrons will gain an immediate and intuitive sense of your style and personality, with amazing perceptiveness, then make an earnest effort to ensure that your selections are designs and colors that will best suit you and enhance your look.
In restaurants, you will experience the rapt attention of your waiter, ever ready to offer his expert recommendations for your dining pleasure. When you enter a shop in search of a gift for your much-loved mother-in-law, the proprietors will assist you with excellent suggestions, then offer, eagerly, to wrap that perfect present beautifully in paper and bows.
While you are in France, you will experience very few sterile transactions, but many engaging interactions. Over time, the gratification of this difference will begin to have an impact on you and how you yourself relate to others. If you allow yourself to take it all in, you will find yourself listening more intently, contributing your ideas more earnestly, and considering the people around you with more attention and curiosity. And after a few visits to the vibrant French outdoor markets and intriguing shops, your views of shopping will be changed forever.
You Will Bring Home an Altered View of How to Live the Good Life
Much of what you experience during your travels in France will likely continue to impact you long after you come home. You will return with a different, more vivid, view of how life can be lived. And this new view can lead you to significant improvements to your quality of life on the home front.
You now will know how enriching it can be to reach out and communicate with people who do things differently from you, understanding fully that you can relate to them, learn from them, and enjoy them.
You will understand how healthy you will feel when you walk more. This may encourage you to find opportunities to do this at home, hopefully to destinations as interesting as the ones you experienced in France, even if you first need to drive to an area where walking around can be its own pleasure.
And you will know the satisfactions of interacting more intently and attentively with the people in your life. You will understand the benefits and value of taking time to dine together and talk, eye to eye and mind to mind. Instead of a café on a corner, you may need to set up a café on your front porch. But, with some creativity, you will be able to carry forward this more engaged style of relating- sharing your thoughts and observations and philosophies and musings.
The sum total of these unexpected reasons to visit France comes down to the effect your travels will have on you, as well as on your travel partner. Your travel in France will enrich you. It will refresh you. And it will change you. And all of this will be to the good. Bon voyage!