Living in France part time has its many obvious perks, and being able to jet back and forth to Europe during the pandemic was one of them. Although international travel recently reopened to foreigners, expats with EU resident cards have been permitted to enter the Schengen Zone since last summer. After five months of being shut out (March 2020 through July 2020), August couldn’t have come soon enough.
However, the joys were short-lived. After a seemingly normal summer and early fall season, France went under severe lockdown from late October through mid-May. I was lucky enough to indulge in some long-awaited travel opportunities during the month of September, then expand upon them since May. From Paris to Burgundy to the south of France and beyond, I’ve certainly definitely had some great adventures – and with borders now open, you can too.
There are many obvious places to eat, drink, and visit in France. However, the country holds so many more hidden gems than what meets the eye. Whether headed to Paris, séjouring in Burgundy, or simply escaping to the south for some much-needed sun, there are a plethora of places to discover. Here are some of my personal favorite discoveries from the past six months.
My apartment in Paris is based in the 11th, just a hop, skip, and a jump away from the Charonne metro stop. I could spend a whole article simply talking about places within walking distance from my front door, though the rest of the city – particularly my Left Bank-based friends – would likely roll their eyes. I’ll start with a few of my favorite local joints, then branch out from there.
The 11th is truly a mecca for those who love to eat and drink. Within a 10 minute walking radius of my front door, there are a handful of incredible coffee shops that are perfect for kicking off your day. Comets is an adorable music-focused café located on rue Léon Frot, best known for their milk-based beverages and array of vinyl records. On the busier Boulevard de Charonne, there’s Café Moco, and just down the rue Paul Bert, there’s Nomad. For the best pain au chocolat of your life, head to the newly opened Terre d’Avenir bakery nearby.
For dinner, the usual haunts are still as classic as they are delicious: Vantre, Le Saint-Sébastien, and Le Bon Georges, to name a few (all of which are must-visits for wine lovers). This past trip, I checked out the Italian-inspired favorites of Bambino, as well as the pizza at Grazie. While the latter’s wine list errs heavily natural, Bambino’s strikes a good balance between well-made classics and natural favorites. On the Left Bank, a friend of mine stumbled upon an adorable wine bar called Le Vin en Bouche; for a neighborhood that I had dubbed rather dead for wine, this quaint little spot in the Saint-Germain area proved me wrong.
Outside of food and wine, there are so many activities worth exploring beyond going to the Louvre. For those who are looking for a good workout, dynamo is France’s equivalent of SoulCycle. Although they classes are in French, if you grab a seat in the back, you’ll be able to follow along pretty easily – simply follow the row in front of you and you’re good. It’s rare that I find myself in a museum in Paris, though when I do, I tend to avoid the big ones and look to the plethora of small gems. The Orangerie, Musée Rodin, and Musée Picasso are a few of my favorites, though if you’ve never been to the Victor Hugo Museum, Musée de la Vie Romantique, or Musée de la Chasse et de la Nature, check those out.
For simple strolls, the Marais, Saint-Germain, and walks along the Seine are the obvious choices. Despite their beauty, venturing off the beaten path always promises a good time. Check out the up-and-coming Batignolles neighborhood (and hit up ex-Racines’ Frédéric Duca’s restaurant Rooster, while there), Belleville, or the southerly part of the 14th for equally charming strolls. If you’re craving a pint of something cold, Belleville’s Liquiderie has over 15 beers on tap.
Ironically, one of the best parts of visiting Paris is actually leaving it – for exciting day / weekend trips within France, of course. I’ve been lucky enough to spend quite a bit of time in Burgundy, particularly in and around Beaune. Although small, Beaune has a handful of great places to check out. For an epically long wine list, Maison du Colombier is where it’s at, though the food is nothing to write home about. For an excellent meal, and an equally impressive wine list, Caves Madeleines is the go-to (vegetarians, they can accommodate you no problem). A visit to the Hospices is definitely worth doing, though I’d recommend skipping the tourist-driven tasting rooms and making some appointments on your own. For one of the best coffees I’ve ever had, L’Imprimerie is an absolute must – don’t skimp on the cookies, either.
As wonderful as wine is, sometimes getting a break away from it is a good thing (industry friends, you know exactly what I mean). Thanks to the TGV, jetting down to a quaint Mediterranean beach town is as easy as buying a 50 dollar ticket, heading to Paris’ Gare de Lyon, and taking a quick 3 to 3.5 hour nap. For my birthday, a few friends and I headed down to Bandol via Aix-en-Provence for a quick weekend away. Although known for wine, we actually did zero wine-related activities. While I will say the village is a bit bizarre, and certainly nothing to marvel over in terms of food, the beaches are accessible by foot, the Air BnBs are extremely cheap, and renting a boat with a skipper for a private 3-hour cruise costs just 50 euros per person (and yes, you can also bring your own booze). I was able to score some cheap ‘Gros Noré and Terrebrune at the Oenothèque de Bandol, though unsurprisingly, no luck on the Tempier front.
For those looking for a beach getaway with a bit more action, grab a train to Montpelier’s Gare Saint-Roch for a perfect 2-day escape. Upon arriving at Saint-Roch, I took the Tram 3 to the last stop, Etang de l’Or. From there, you can grab a free bus (included with your 1,90 euro tram ticket) to Plage Carnon, Montpellier’s public beach. However, for a more relaxing experience, France has this amazing plage privée (private beach) concept; basically, it’s a public restaurant and bar located right on the beach, with tons of lounge chairs and umbrellas available to rent. To access, you reserve (calling advance and making a reservation is basically imperative in the summer) a chair for about 20-25 euros and have it for the day. That’s it! Should you care to order food, alcoholic drinks, coffee, or anything else, the servers take care of you all day. I reserved a chair and umbrella, stayed for six hours, and ordered a margarita and a coffee for a grand total of 38 euros. Best money ever spent – and the umbrellas really are clutch after a few hours beneath the Mediterranean heat.
To access the plages privées at La Grande Motte, there is allegedly a bus from the last tram stop that goes there, but I couldn’t find it. Instead, I paid 15 euro for a direct Uber (it was a Tesla, too, which was awesome).
After a long day at the beach, heading back to Montpellier and immediately grabbing a refreshing beer is key. I stopped at a touristy place on Place de la Comedie, charged my phone while people watching, and hydrated. I ended up staying with friends who took me to dinner outside of the city, but I promise you there is no shortage of wonderful options in Montpellier. Think of the city as the urbanness of Paris meets the beauty (and weather) of the Mediterranean, with a whisper of wine region culture in the air. Americans seemingly can’t get enough of Saint-Tropez and Nice, but I’d choose the underrated charm of the Languedoc any day.
Note: These are just a few of my many discoveries from the past six months. I currently split my time between NYC and Paris and have plenty of more recs to share! Feel free to DM me (@vickidenig) or shoot me an email (firstname.lastname@example.org) for further recommendations, questions, or detailed itineraries. Santé!