Book unique things to do offered by locals in paris.

About paris

The Author
Harvard PhD and Columbia Journalism School grad living with h...

Forget "la vie en rose." France is in the grips of "la vie morose." Economic crisis; immigration and shifting demographics; tight labor laws and high taxes. Ask a young French person about their career dreams, and without skipping a beat they’ll say: New York! London! But should you put your own French rêveries on hold? Au contraire! Most people here still benefit from long holidays and know how to enjoy the country’s treasure trove of cultural monuments, museums, festivals, picturesque and stunning nature. And in the leisure sphere, with a tourism industry sponsoring close to one million jobs, intriguing new venues are springing up all the time. Expect some knowledge of English, especially among the younger crowd; and many British and Dutch retirees run charming bed-and-breakfasts in rural areas. But we’ll also try to ferret out franco-français adventures where you may have to improvize as you go along.

When you think about France as a whole, remember that it’s really quite small: a universe in a nutshell. Regional dialects were erased in the 19th century, but that didn’t alter the huge variety of landscapes and cultural traits–such as architecture, accents, food, wines–still cherished to this day. At present, the French government is helping different regions and cities preserve and celebrate their heritage, and you’ll wander through several centuries just by strolling through many pristine historic city centers. The recently cleaned-up Lille, for example. Decentralization is also a big ongoing project: cities such as Lyon, Marseille, Toulouse, Nice, Nantes, Strasbourg and Montpellier are taking on socio-economic lives of their own. It certainly helps that the growing network of high-speed trains TGV (très grande vitesse) lets you zip from Paris to Marseille in 3 hours; to Strasbourg–near Germany–in just over 2 hours; or to Perpignan–Barcelona’s to the south–in 5 hours. That’s fast. Driving is also an option, but it’s incredibly important to avoid the French holiday and week-end stampedes, which jam certain key highways. (We’ll post the schedules of the nationalized school vacations.)

To construct your own whirlwind tour of French culture, history, fine dining, natural beauty and sports you’ll need to know what’s out there, and what might be worth your while. River cruises on uncrowded canals; prehistoric caves with real drawings (not just the Lascaux reproductions); a Loire castle that somehow never made it to the top tier, despite its infinite delicacy, and easy biking along the river; "vide-greniers," or garage-sales where entire villages turn out for a day to sell off their old stuff (it means “empty the attic”); the nicest hiking paths for experienced athletes, or for families with toddlers; gorgeous stained-glass cathedral windows followed by a real (not tourist-trap) meal; “memory tourism” (such as the shores of the Normandy invasion); or lodgings with riding-stables so you can gallop from place to place on a noble steed. Just a few ideas to get you started. A très bientôt.

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