We have traveled to France many times. I just love it, and it is one of the countries we always want to revisit.
This year, we had two French experiences: one adults-only escape to Paris (you can have a look to my photos of Paris in this post) and the other was a family trip to Paris and the central region of France. Both journeys were fantastic and very different.
Like all travels, these were full of unique experiences and eye-opening discoveries. Some of them were marvelous, some a bit disappointing, but traveling and trying to live in another country on your own even for a period as short as a week gives you a more realistic understanding of a place. Perfect photoshopped pictures and travel guides do not necessarily give you a realistic view.
France was beautiful as always, with its rich architecture, fresh baguette smells in the streets, beautiful gardens, romantic countryside landscapes, and lavender scent. This time, during our stay in this splendid country, I had some eye-opening discoveries. I have thought about them a lot, as these discoveries broke my stereotypes.
French discovery No. 1—Puy du Fou
Puy du Fou is a provincial historic theme park without any rides. It is a park for open-air theatre and performances, where thousands of actors and animals create high drama and productions with mind-blowing special effects. It is hard to describe as it is one of a kind, and you just must see it.
We spent two days there and managed to see eight shows. There were many more left for the next time. We saw breathtaking “Mousquetaire de Richelieu” with sword fights, flamenco dancing and capering horses, “Le Signe du Triomphe” with prisoners fighting for their freedom in the Roman Circus, “Les Vikings” with ferocious Viking warriors launching their attack and emerging from their longships surrounded by gigantic flames, just to name a few.
Our big disappointment was that we were not able to get tickets for the Cinéscénie, which is the main show that takes place in the evening on the world’s largest outdoor stage behind the ruined castle, with 1,200 actors, hundreds of horses, and about 800 fireworks per performance! Apparently, the park operates only from April to the beginning of November, and the main evening show, which requires a separate ticket, is on only on Friday and Saturday nights from June to the beginning of September. In order to have tickets to the grand show, Cinéscénie, you should buy them almost one year in advance. This shows how unique and popular it is.
After visiting this spectacular place, we realized we knew nothing about contemporary theatre. It was an exceptional discovery for us. This experience exceeded all our expectations. It was a real gem hidden in the center of France.
French discovery No. 2—The fashionable French woman stereotype is erroneous
Everyone knows the look of elegant and refined French women that could be described in one single word as chic. They have tasteful, good-quality outfits, beautiful posture, the no-makeup makeup look, and red lips. This is how we imagine a French woman.
If you spend time in Paris or on the French Riviera, you will definitely see those classy and fabulous ladies, but the vibrant and fashionable Paris or the French Riviera is different from the rest of France. The majority of the ladies we saw in France didn’t look chic or refined. They looked like any other lady across the world. They did not have finely groomed hair or nails, elegant makeup, stylish outfits, or red lips. The majority of French women are just simple women who work hard, take care of the family, and have little time for themselves. The stereotype about chic French ladies is based on a small percentage of Parisiens and the wealthy women of France.
French discovery No. 3—French dining and fine French dining are two very different things
In 2010, France was the first nation to have its gastronomy recognized by UNESCO as “intangible cultural heritage”. Haute cuisine in France is stunning. No one can argue with this. You pay big money, and you get the best quality as well as the best experience – sumptuous surroundings, elaborately choreographed service, and spectacular dishes. However, I found that regular dining in France is very blank in many ways. Servers are not attentive enough, and the food is just food prepared without passion or love. You can get the most delicious food served in a simple, cheap eatery with 5 tables in Italy, but this was not the case during our trip to France.
We had amazing dinners at Cristal Room Baccarat on the first floor of the Maison Baccarat…
and at a super trendy restaurant Kong on the rooftop of the LVMH building with the beautiful view…
All French haute cuisine restaurants we tried were incredible experiences, but affordable everyday options for a family with kids were just OK without anything to remember.
French discovery No. 4 – The country with the best café culture has no coffee culture
Café culture in France goes back centuries. The look of a French café with outdoor sidewalk seating with small round tables and straw chairs is so appealing, while people-watching and sipping coffee is such a relaxing activity. The problem is that it doesn’t matter what coffee you have ordered; you are going to get an overly bitter drink made from mediocre beans. From all the different places we tried out, the only good coffee we got was in the Starbucks on the 3rd floor of the Galerie Lafayette Dome.
Coffee is just simply not a strong French suit.
French discovery No. 5 – Beautiful Loire Valley
It’s ancient cities, chateaux and beautiful nature that makes Loire Valley so special. In 2000, UNESCO added this territory of France to its list of World Heritage Sites because of this area’s exceptional cultural landscape, great beauty, architectural monuments, and châteaux. There are 22 major sites of the Loire Valley, but there are around 300 less well-known châteaux worth visiting too. This fertile river valley is sprinkled with hundreds of France’s most opulent aristocratic estates. When the French kings began constructing their huge châteaux here, the nobility, not wanting or even daring to be far from the seat of power, followed suit.
Beautiful and detailed architecture, breathtaking gardens and stories about eager to create something exceptional châteaux owners makes it an unforgettable experience.
We will definitely come back to visit more of the châteaux
France has some charm and magic. Therefore, it is the place we always want to go. It is again on our must-visit places list because there are so many more discoveries waiting for us there.
What do you think about my discoveries? Do you agree or disagree with them?