Canal Saint-Martin – a trendy hotspot filled with some of the city’s best boutiques, concept stores, galleries, pavement cafés and brightly coloured boulangeries. Climb the
Arc de Triomphe’s 234 steps to catch a spectacular sunset from its viewing deck, and see the
eternal flame and
Tomb of the Unknown Soldier beneath the iconic arch. Enter a world of knights, seigneurs and their liegeman at
Musée de Cluny: home to one of the world’s largest collections of medieval artefacts and artwork, and the ruins of Paris’ 3rd-century Roman bath beneath. Built in 1670 by Louis XIV as a home for injured war veterans, the
Hôtel des Invalides is a grandiose complex of museums and monuments related to the country’s long military history, including the richly-ornate
Tomb of Napoléon, set beneath the shimmering
Dôme des Invalide.
One of the bastions of French gastronomy, three Michelin-starred
Alain Ducasse au Plaza Athénée’s haute-cuisine is all about sustainably caught seafood, French-grown grains, and organic produce sourced from a secret garden in Versailles.
Stay: Ritz, Paris (3 nights)
||Paris to Loire Valley
Drive Time: 2 hours, 35 minutes | Distance: 132 miles
Masterpiece of the French Renaissance, magnificent
Château de Chenonceau is a treasure trove of over 500 years of French history, famous for its beautiful gallery of arches on the River Cher, priceless art collections, immaculately preserved rooms, and enchanting gardens. Illuminated night walks in the summer make it even more magical. Explore Leonardo da Vinci’s living quarters and detailed recreations of his epic inventions and giant creations, set amongst the fascinating
Château du Clos Lucé’s underground rooms and extensive landscaped gardens in Amboise. The lively little lanes, hidden courtyards and paved squares of
Blois’ medieval old town – stretching out from the château and the Place St-Louis – all well worth exploring on foot or at the gentle pace of a Percheron horse-drawn carriage. Inhabited by the same family for over six centuries,
Château de Cheverny’s gardens, labyrinth, kennels (home to over 100 tricolour Anglo-French hunting dogs that you can visit all day long) and 3D Tintin exhibition all guarantee an unforgettable experience.
Innovation is the name of the game when it comes to chef Jacques Guillamat’s creations at
L'Aubere de Cheval Rouge in Chisseaux – one of the area’s best-value restaurants for modern French cuisine.
Stay: Domaine des Hauts de Loire (3 nights)
||Loire Valley to the Dordogne
Drive Time: 4 hours | Distance: 220 miles
Paradise for foodies, a thrill for history buffs and a godsend for anyone who likes all the highlights in one place... Sarlat-la-Canéda’s astonishing line-up of treasures to see, activities to do and goodies to eat have crowned this marvellous medieval town most-visited town in the Dordogne (meaning it gets very busy come summer). It may be small, but the hilltop, bastide village of Domme has a lot going for it: like Sarlat, it’s one of France’s most beautiful villages, and as well as lovely honey-coloured cottages, the 180-degree views from the terraced belvedere atop the village are super-special, and an extensive cave system with almost a third of a mile of galleries containing carefully lit rock formations sits right beneath the main square. Take off from the magnificent medieval cliff top picture-postcard village of La Roque-Gageac and float soundlessly above the region’s most remarkable landscapes, crossing the sparkling river and following its course over lush hills, authentic villages, medieval towns and more. Stretching along a rocky bluff above the Dordogne River are the stunning fairytale-esque topiary gardens and woodland of the Jardins de Marqueyssac. Great for all ages… go on a Thursday evening in July and August, when over 1000 candles light up the entire place.
Reservations are essential for the diminutive Cabanoix et Chataîgnes, a chic, bistro-style restaurant tucked away in the heart of Domme specialising in foie gras and tasty cooking that mixes the traditional with the modern.
Stay: Château de la Treyne (2 nights)
||Dordogne to Bordeaux
Drive Time: 2 hours, 40 minutes | Distance: 154 miles
Being the wine capital of the world, Bordeaux’s most-famous produce plays a big part in its must-sees, which include the world-beating, decanter-shaped wine museum – La Cité du Vin – a unique cultural centre dedicated to the universal, living heritage of wine. Hail a Wine Cab where one of three London black cabs (complete with tasting bar) takes you out of town on a tour of some of the world’s most prestigious vineyards and wine chateaux. Soak up the drivers’ brilliant inside tips on which bottles to indulge in at each stop, then quaff away, to your heart’s content! Climb the flamboyantly Gothic Pey-Berland Tower’s 229 stairs for spectacular views over Bordeaux and its monuments, including an aerial view of Saint-André Cathedral. Both the Bordelais and visitors alike adore oh-so-elegant Place de la Bourse, Bordeaux’s most recognisable location on the edge of the Garonne River. Marvel at the perfect symmetry of the square and its surrounding buildings, dip your toes in the Miroir d'Eau – the world’s largest reflecting p0ol – or run through the plumes of mist it throws up every 23 minutes. Once an area of abandoned warehouses and former wine aristocrats' houses, just a short tram ride north from the city centre, Chartrons is now Bordeaux's trendiest neighbourhood, with artfully cool boutiques and plenty of awesome eateries.
An exceptionally unique dining experience, two-Michelin-starred Le Pressoir d’Argent Gordon Ramsay (at the InterContinental Bordeaux – Le Grand Hotel), pays homage to the region’s world-renowned local produce and wines, and heralds outstanding British Isles produce, too.
Stay: Intercontinental Bordeaux - Le Grand Hotel (2 nights)
||Bordeaux to Biarritz
Drive Time: 2 hours, 30 minutes | Distance: 129 miles
Ultra-chic Biarritz is a great place to slow down, or live life to the fullest thanks to the plethora of activities for all ages to partake in. Head to the Casino Municipal directly in front of the Grand Plage for a vivid and not-so-subtle reminder of Biarritz’s status in days gone by; explore the Cité de l’Océan, shaped like a cresting wave and dedicated to the story of the sea; and pay a visit to the private chapel of Napoleon III and his wife, the Empress Eugenia de Montijo, the Imperial Chapel. Head over the border to San Sebastián (or as it’s known in the Basque language, Donostia). Forty-five minutes away by car, there’s unique scenery, intriguing activities, and more Michelin stars per capita than anywhere else on the planet. Head to the old town’s famed tapas bar, La Viña for pintxos (Basque tapas) and its cheesecake– believed to be the world’s best.
Proudly Basque specialities at the tiny Le Clos Basque on Biarritz’s Avenue Louis Barthou – one of the hottest tickets in town, as popular with lingering locals as it is with visitors. Booking is essential.
Stay: Hotel du Palais (3 nights)
||13 nights from £3395 per person, including accommodation, round-trip economy class flights, breakfast and car hire.