The Top French Cities for Strolling, Sipping and Snacking
Although hopping the next flight to France isn’t feasible just yet, dreaming up your next food and wine-soaked escape across the pond is a great way to mentally escape. As much as we love Paris, looking beyond the City of Lights is key to discovering France’s many regional food and wine delights. We’ve rounded up five of France’s best cities for strolling, sipping, and snacking. Getting your fill of French wanderlust never tasted so good.
This German-influenced capital of Alsace is nothing short of breathtaking. Stroll along the Rhine River and take in all of the city’s colorful cottages, bright-colored flowers, and delicious smells along the way. Be sure to pop into the famous Cathédrale Notre-Dame and climb its epic spire for some seriously beautiful views. Strasbourg’s most famous dishes include tangy choucroute (cabbage), tarte flambées, and salty pretzels. Wash ‘em down with a pour of one of the region’s renowned varietal white wines (Riesling, Gewurztraminer, or Pinot Gris) and get ready to have your thirst quenched.
For long days spent by the sea followed by wine-soaked strolls in the city, Montpellier is the place to be. This southern French city is known for its rich history, bustling wine bar scene, and warm, saline-tinged sea breezes. To experience all of the best that this city has to offer, hop the tram to Plage Carnon or La Grande Motte for a beach by day, hit the Musée Fabre for a late-afternoon dose of culture, and stroll through the city’s quaint natural wine bars in the Antigone district. Whether beach towns or urban ambiances are more your thing, this city is truly the best of both worlds.
For an alternative séjour that sparkles, look no further than Reims. Located just 145 kilometers (90 miles) east of Paris, this ‘Champagne capital’ is the perfect getaway for those looking to escape the City of Lights for a few days. Be sure to visit the Cathédrale Notre-Dame (known for its stained-glass windows ‘Smiling Angel’), followed by a jaunt through the city’s 17th century palace, Palais du Tau. Snack on local cheeses and produce at Au Bon Manger or Racine, book a visit at one of the city’s many Champagne Houses (Taittinger or Ruinart are two of our favorites), and be sure to get your late-night booze fix at The Glue Pot -- and don’t be surprised if you run into some young local vignerons along the way.
If you love Paris, this southerly ‘City of Lights’ is definitely worth the trip. Lyon is home to some of France’s richest gastronomical delights -- think coq au vin, andouillette, or salade lyonnaise, which are served up in the city’s unassuming local bouchons. Spend the days exploring the city’s Old Quarter (Vieux Lyon), discovering the 2,000-year-old Roman Amphiteatre, and shopping in the second arrondissement. Art buffs can get their fix at the Beaux-Arts museum, as well as the equally exciting Musée d'art contemporain. For those looking for some vino-laden wine country escapes, day tours through Beaujolais are waiting just around the corner.
For old Alpine charm in its best form, look no further than a trip to Annecy. This small southeastern town is known for its cobblestone streets, pastel-colored houses, and turquoise-hued lake that’s perfect for swimming, water sports, and summer sipping. Hit the medieval Chateau d’Annecy to check out historical artifacts from the region, then hit one of the town’s small restaurants for a taste of something delicious. This Alpine village is best known for its hearty cheese-based dishes, such as raclette, fondue, and potato-heavy tartiflette. Wash your meal down with a pour of local wine (Altesse for whites, Mondeuse for reds) or an equally refreshing local beer.
Although many Paris-based city escapers look east to Champagne, pivoting west to Tours and checking out the Loire Valley Always promises a good time. This central university town is known for its famous Gothic cathedral, Renaissance-inspired architecture, and countless corner bistros perfect for sipping and snacking. Explore the region’s famed chateaux during the day, take a wine-soaked tour through the area’s many wineries, and return to Place Plumereau in the city for a taste of local café culture. Be sure to enjoy the region’s local delicacies, including the eponymous rillettes de Tours, poached eggs au Chinon, or a hearty dose of local chevre.
Located in the Languedoc’s Aude department, this hilltop fortified city is ideal for discovering medieval France. Carcassonne is entirely contained within double-walled fortifications, which were built during Gallo-Roman times and refurbished in the 1200s. Although a handful of shops and snack spots are a bit on the touristy side, hitting La Barbacane or Restaurant La Marquiere are great places for an authentic taste of robust Languedocienne cuisine. Snack on robust local delicacies like cassoulet, bourride (fish stew), or a simple dish of briny olives. Whatever you choose, refreshing your palate with a local glass of picpoul de pinet or heartier red blends is a must.
Love savory reds, crisp whites, or succulently sweet dessert wines? Then Bordeaux is just the place for you. This southwestern port city is located on the Garonne River and is best known for its art museums, urban mansions, and nearby bustling wine scene. Wine buffs, be sure to carve out some time to visit the newly opened Cité du Vin museum, or if art’s more your thing, the Beaux-Arts de Bordeaux is a great place to get your fix. Stroll the city's side streets, pop into a plethora of tasting rooms, and don’t miss a beat at the city’s breathtaking Miroir d’Eau (reflecting pool). Snack on local bordelais delicacies like entrecôte à la bordelaise or fresh salty oysters from Cap Ferret, all washed down with a few rum-soaked cannelés for dessert.
Similar to Bordeaux, wine-focused city escapes can be found in Beaune, situated in the heart of Burgundy’s Côte d'Or. This centrally-located walled city is surrounded by lush vineyard sites and quaint wine bars as far as the eye can see. During the day, hit the city’s many tasting rooms -- or better yet, venture out to a handful of local wineries -- though fair warning, many will require a reservation in advance. Visit the local Hospices de Beaune (Hotel-Dieu) where the city’s annual wine auction takes place, scope out its classic artwork, and snag an excellent meal at Caves Madeleines, La Dilettante, or Ma Cuisine, all beloved by locals and tourists alike. Get your fix of beef bourguignon, gougères, and pungent cheeses, all balanced by delectable pours of Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, or local crémant. Foodies, you’re going to love this town.