I remember the first approach into most cities I visit, particularly for the first time. My face becomes glued to the window, as I try to soak in that first bird’s eye view. Almost exactly a year ago, I flew into Nice, France, and it was no different. The turquoise blue waters of the Mediterranean, lapping against a shore of colourful houses that were all nestled together in that perfect niche between mountains and ocean – the view took my breath away.
I remember speaking French to the cab driver on the way to the hotel, my eyes sparkling as I took in the sight of the Promenade des Anglais and the bright lights of the casinos facing it. That evening, I grossly overpaid for a meal in the tourist centre, but this city had cast it’s spell on me, and I didn’t care. I was about to have one of the best months of my life, studying journalism, perfecting my French, and spending countless hours on the pebble beaches at the end of each day, with a bottle of rosé and a fantastic group of friends.
Nice was the perfect combination of bourgeois and artistic, with just enough edge. And the sparkling blue ocean doesn’t hurt, either.
I’ve visited France three times now, and each time it has sucked me in just as much as it did the time before. Paris, Provence, and a little village called Peine Haute have all stolen a piece of my heart, and I’m not sure that the feeling of wanting to go back will ever really pass. So, in honour of Bastille Day, the francophile in me would like to share with you ten reasons why you should probably be in France right now, as opposed to wherever else you are.
1. The food
Let me first say one word: cheese. I live for French cheese. Brie, camembert, ripened goats cheese. It all tastes ten times better when you’re eating it in France. And it certainly doesn’t stop there. The French are culinary masters, though that’s sort of a given. Though I’ve never been, the gastronomy capital of France is Lyon, of which I’ve heard amazing things and intend to visit one day. Wherever you are in France though, I would advise that you broaden your food budget a smidgen, because it will very likely be worth it. (That said, you can totally get by cheaply on a baguette and some cheese for lunch and it will still be divine. See point number 2).
2. The bakeries
Yes I know bakeries are food. But it had to be it’s own separate point altogether. Last summer, many a day after our morning French class, my friend Sara and I would stop at the grocery store and buy a hunk of goat cheese, then take it to the bakery on the corner, where we would pair it with an olive baguette. As previously stated, it was divine. After tasting a french croissant, or a warm pain au chocolat straight from the oven, you will find yourself looking down your nose at other pastries for the rest of your life.
3. The fashion
There’s something about French style that makes it so recognizable. It’s easy. The girls there don’t spend hours upon hours getting ready in the morning, and most of them wear a minimal amount of make-up. They look gorgeous and alluring in a simple way that is purely French. I have always aspired to be able to blend in with French women.
4. The art
The Louvre. The Palace of Versailles. Picasso, Matisse and Chagall. Even if you don’t know who those people are, going to their museums will be worth it. There’s so much history in those paintings, it’s surreal just to be near them!
5. The parties
The French like to party. The people who go to France also like to party. What ends up happening are huge fantastic parties with people from all over the world just trying to have a good time. The first time I was in Paris four years ago, my exchange partner took me into the city one night, and we sat drinking on the riverbank, just across from Notre-Dame, with literally hundreds of other young people who had all gathered there to do the same. When in France, anything is possible, from cool chic pubs and bar/cafés, to salsa bars, to your classic discothèque, to the Moulin Rouge itself. There’s no shortage of different combinations of dancing and alcohol here.
6. The love
Paris is the city of love. It is cliche. It is also true. It’s one of the most romantic cities I’ve ever visited, and the sentiment seems to extend across the entire country. The architecture of the buildings, the flowers blooming everywhere, the view of La Seine, all to the tune of some romantic string music in the background.
7. The fireworks
Today is Bastille Day. And if you happen to be in France on Bastille Day, you had better not be calling it an early night. I’ve now spent two Bastille Days in France, and while watching the fireworks over the Côte d’Azur was beautiful, Paris does fireworks like I’ve never seen before in my life. (They blew NYE fireworks in London out of the water). They’re set off right behind the Eiffel tower, which intermittently glitters throughout the show. All along La Seine, a huge line of choreographed fireworks are set off to music. The crowds that gather there are insane, but dancing fireworks are totally worth it.
8. The beaches
I think when most people picture France, they picture Paris. Sitting outside at a café, intricate architecture all around. But there’s simply nothing quite like the coast of the South of France. Spending a hot day in July lying on a sandy beach in Monaco, with the Casino from the James Bond movie right beside you, is a really great opportunity to make yourself feel glamourous and important, even if you’re a very broke student, like I was!
9. The language
Even if you only learn five words while you’re there, travelling to a country where you don’t know the language is a pretty big feat. If you’re new at this, France is a great place to start. It’s where I first put years of French class to use in the real world, and I received nothing but patience and kindness from the majority of French people while I stammered out my order at a restaurant or asked a question in the store. There’s enough tourists there that by this time, the locals are used to English speakers, and in fact, almost all French students learn English in school.
10. The wine
I saved the best for last. France is obviously known for it’s wine, but the best part about being there, is that you can get a half-decent bottle for 5 euros from a convenience store. But, there’s more to it than cheap wine. If you’re ever in Provence, be sure to do a winery tour. The wineries are picture perfect, the wine is simply delightful, and the smaller, local wineries, are likely not selling their product worldwide. It’s your chance to try something truly French. Plus, the drive through Provence, with rolling green hills, is an experience in itself.
Vive la France!