first-class restaurants and fantastic museums, Paris is a world capital of culture
and epicurean delights, but the nearby regions have their own charm and
culinary surprises worth exploring. Thanks to France’s high-speed trains,
well-marked motorways and international airport hubs, Paris has a number of
easy ways – many in less than two hours – to escape the City of Light and find
a French adventure of your own.
Before writing off the former royal residence of Versailles as
another tourist trap, bear in mind that most visitors stick to the Royal Palace and Chateau
and never venture to the grounds beyond. The comparatively less-crowded outer
gardens and paths along the 1,670m-long Grand Canal were once traversed on
horseback, so a bicycle makes the perfect modern substitute for exploring the great
outdoor expanse. The gardens and parks also open an hour earlier and stay open
two hours later than the palace from April to October, making it even easier to
beat the tourist rush.
spectacular formal gardens were first developed in the 1630s, but in the 1660s,
Louis XIV expanded them significantly to include the canal (where boat parties
were often held) and added the garden’s numerous fountains, many relying on
images of Greek god Apollo to reinforce the king’s image as a god on Earth.
underwent another expansion in 1773, when Marie Antoinette’s makeshift farm
house Hameau de la Reine was built, about 3km northwest of the
Grand Palace. Here, the queen would often dress in simple clothes and pretend
to live as a peasant (a fact that did not endear her to the local population). To
get there, cycle from the palace down the Avenue de Trianon until hitting Avenue Petit Trianon to enter near
the Petit Trianon, a small chateau also frequently used by the queen.
refuel at the covered Marché Notre Dame outdoor
market, located just 1km northeast of the palace,
where fresh fruit, cheese and pastries can be purchased from local farmers and
artisans on Tuesday, Friday, and Sunday from 7 am to 2 pm. If you visit during
an off-day, the indoor Halles
Notre Dame is open daily from 7 am to 7:30 pm.
Versailles is a 20km ride from Paris, but groups like Fat Tire Bike Tours and Bike About Tours begin in downtown Paris with a 10-minute metro ride before
embarking on the bike part of the tour. The 75 to 80 euros trip includes bike
rental, tour guide, train tickets and admission to the chateau and hamlet; the
gardens and grounds are free, except during fountain shows.
Normandy’s coastal retreat of Le Havre, the largest city in the region, can be
reached in less than two hours thanks to France’s high speed trains. Since the
city is lesser known than many of its Normandy neighbours, the museums and
beaches can be enjoyed without competing with hordes of other tourists. Explore the city’s 2km-long sand-and- pebble
beach or stroll along the 4km promenade that includes France’s largest open-air
skate park along with volleyball courts and playgrounds. The city has also
recently expanded its marina, and visitors can book a 90-minute boat tour with TLM
Beateau Ville de Fécamp to view La Havre from the sea.
See the English
Channel from a different perspective at the Musée Malraux (MuMa for short), a glass
and steel building that faces the sea and is home to the largest collection of Impressionist
art in France after the Musee
d’Orsee in Paris. The museum houses
the world’s largest collection of works by Eugène Boudin, a marine landscape
painter from nearby Honfleur who was one of the first to paint outdoors in the
mid-1800s, and coastal paintings by Claude Monet, including Fécamp,
bord de mer.
SNCF offers frequent direct trips from Paris to
La Havre for 33.50 euros one-way. The city is easily covered on foot, but buses
also frequent the train stations and major roads.
Learn the difference between La Champagne (the
region) and le Champagne (the bubbly) by driving 140km northeast of Paris. The
famous Champagne tourist
routes cover more than 500km of twisting roads, but one of the main arteries
runs for 70km between the cities of Reims in the north and Epernay in the south
around the Montagne
de Reims regional park, taking drivers past wineries large and small, as
well as ancient churches and pastoral landscapes.
name, the Champagne region also has its fair share of red wine, particular
pinot noir (one of the grapes used to produce traditional Champagne). Stop in
the village of Bouzy, 28km south of Reims, for a visit to the Pierre Paillard cellars.
Enjoy a glass of the Bouzy Rouge, a pinor noir aged for 18 months in oak
getaway in grand style with a visit to Moët and Chandon in
Epernay, the largest cellar in the region, stretching for 28km through
subterranean tunnels. Daily hour-long tours are available for 16 euros, including
a flute of bubbly, but book in advance as tours can sell out quickly.
Take the A4 out of Paris to Reims. From there, follow
the signs for the Champagne Trail, also known as the Montagne de Reims, and stop at wineries along the way. The
trail ends in Epernay, the capital of Champagne.
Copenhagen often gets missed in tours of continental Europe, but the
cosmopolitan capital of Denmark can be reached from Paris in less than two
hours by air and offers a taste of Scandinavian culture, quite literally.
waiting list for a table can be months-long, Noma makes
the wait worth it with its modern take on Nordic cuisine. Chef Rene Redzepi
brings in fish and produce from Iceland, Greenland and Denmark, and forages for
local herbs that take centre stage in dishes such as pike perch and cabbage
with verbena and dill, and wild duck and pear with kale and beech leaves. The
restaurant, housed in a harbourfront warehouse across from the Royal Danish Playhouse, has been named the best
restaurant in the world three years running by the UK’s Restaurant magazine annual San
at Noma remain elusive, check out Geranium,
the country’s newest two-star Michelin restaurant serving completely organic
cuisine and housed on the eighth-storey of a building in the Østerbro neighbourhood. Or,
try Kadeau, which focuses its dishes
around Danish ingredients and stays true to the flavours of its first
restaurant on the sandy dunes of Bornholm, an eastern island of Denmark,
serving entrees like monkfish, pickled squid and lamb tongue.
For a sweet end
to your trip, bring home pastries like the Carl
Nielsen cake with an orange buttercream and almond base and the Tree Trunk
rum-soaked cake dipped in chocolate from La Glace,
Copenhagen’s oldest bakery, opened in 1870.
AirFrance, easyJet, and SAS offer nonstop service
between Paris’ Charles De Gaulle Aiport and Copenhagen daily. After landing, take
the metro to the downtown Christianshavn stop for easy access to the city’s restaurants