At its core, Aix-en-Provence is a small Provençal town brimming with quaint cafes and vibrant markets. But its university students — tens of thousands of them — keep this southern French city young, exciting and cosmopolitan. There may be 18th-century homes flanking the streets, but the French boulevards are filled with chic Paris transplants. The still-popular Aquae Sextiae thermal baths may have been discovered in Roman times, but these therapeutic waters are accompanied by the on-site spa's latest in luxurious treatments.
Antibes, a much beloved vacation spot of everyone from F. Scott Fitzgerald to the Kennedys, is where the glamorous glitterati go to unwind. On the Mediterranean Sea, about halfway between eastern neighbor Nice and western neighbor Cannes, this resort town is one of the Cote d'Azur's more laid-back cities. The flashy yachting crowd enjoys darting around the waves by day and docking their sleek boats at the port by night. Partiers hit the clubs and casinos in nearby Juan-les-Pins; serious sunbathers, gallery hoppers and boutique shoppers swarm this area too. The sandy (or stony, depending on where you are) beaches, which skirt the cerulean Mediterranean, are another draw. And of course, there are those who just want to get away – so they rent a room in a pine tree-shrouded villa like the stunning Hôtel du Cap-Eden Roc and spend their days sunning and snorkeling on the cape, eating fine French fare come evening.
Imagine rolling hills draped in vineyards that gather into quaint villages, magnificently preserved of their medieval charms, and you'll start to picture Burgundy, a glorious region in central-east France. The crown of this fairy-tale region is Dijon, the capital city, which brims with remembrances of the days when the Dukes of Bourgogne used to reside here. Beaune, a walled village surrounded by vineyards, is completely delightful, too – especially since wine tasting is the village's predominant pastime. But enough can't be said for the numerous châteaux and abbeys, the incredible Morvan Regional Natural Park and the gastronomic appeals of the region.
This sun-speckled resort town on the French Riviera is all about relaxing in style: taking leisurely walks on La Croisette promenade, laying out on the beaches, sipping French wines on the patios of en plein air (open-air) cafés, shopping the side streets, hitting the casinos and clubs -- or the pillows at your luxury hotel -- at night. Most pay dearly to experience Cannes culture in full: Its warm, sunny climate and picturesque position between the Estérel hills and the Mediterranean Sea have made it popular among Europe's elite for years. The International Film Festival, which arrives every May, has only increased its allure. But you shouldn't let all this exclusivity scare you from visiting: Cannes is also a truly international destination that can accommodate travelers on a range of budgets, especially if you visit in the off-season.
France's third-largest city, after Paris and Marseille, is in no way third-best. In fact, many say Lyon gives travelers a taste of authentic French culture, not to mention some of the most masterful cooking in the world, which is why the city is often hailed as the gastronomic capital of France.
Founded 2,600 years ago as a port city, Marseille – after some years in decline – remains a dazzling metropolis on the Mediterranean, especially after its turn as the European Capital of Culture in 2013. With some of its rough edges polished and even a smattering of new museums and a handful of Michelin-starred restaurants, France's second-largest city is making a comeback.
As the prime port town of the French Riviera, Nice attracts beachgoers, history buffs and high culture seekers who come to vacation on its Mediterranean shores. There's definitely more to this quirky city than a pebbly waterfront, pastel-colored buildings and palm trees waving in the breeze. Baroque churches surprise you in the maze of the Old Town's twisted streets; modern sculptures dominate the gardens as you stroll in the Place Masséna; ancient Roman ruins provide the backdrop fir summer jazz concerts in Cimiez; and the candy-colored onion-shaped domes of the St. Nicholas Russian Orthodox Cathedral tower overhead as you pass Avenue Nicolas II. But Nice's cultural charms are often interwoven (and sometimes overshadowed) by its reputation for partying. Be sure to leave a little energy for the vibrant nightlife along the Riviera.
Skirting the English Channel and occupying a hefty portion of northern France, Normandy is known for its Camembert cheese, its apple orchards (thus, cider and brandy too) and its cow-peppered landscape, complete with quaint cities and towns like Rouen, Bayeux and Giverny. But it's also revered for its momentous place in history. The site of the 1944 D-Day invasion, Normandy's beaches, saw a death toll in the thousands but also a changing tide in World War II. Its military cemeteries, memorial museums and the D-Day landing sites bring a huge number of visitors to the region.
The City of Light draws millions of visitors every year with its unforgettable ambiance. Of course, the divine cuisine and vast art collections deserve some of the credit as well. The gentle River Seine rambles through the city, flanked by stately museums, centuries-old churches, and blocks of Rococo- and Neoclassic-design architecture, further enhanced by cascading trees and glowing streetlamps. Peppering the Seine's cobbled walks and graceful bridges are impossibly chic Parisians, probably on their way to the market, cafe or cinema.
Best Places to Visit in Europe