Here's the next chapter in our Why We Love It series. Each week we'll feature a blog written by a different Peregrine team member, about a place in the world that holds a special meaning for them. Today's focus is on France:
France is the place for me. It’s where European culture has attained a kind of perfection, where progress means maintenance of the best the world has to offer, where ugliness, flavourlessness and boredom are anathema to the discerning cultural traveller.
With the preservation of its own language and identity a national priority, and a long established love for the best of high culture, France is a cultural capital like no other and it always has been. Throughout much of its grand history the country has adored everything from artists and thinkers, high fashion, haute cuisine and impenetrable philosophy to unrestrained film, down-at-heel literature, fanatical football and parkour. France has been hailed the traditional home for the best of European thought and activity.
The beautiful people
France's attitude is reflected in its people; from the most stunning Parisian beauties and perfectly-coiffed café goers to the swaggering youths and most wrinkled and jovial of hamlet bakers and stonemasons. There is a sense the French have a distinct hold on the finer things in life, that they have got to the nut of what is most important and know how best to enjoy it.
I love France for this, and the brilliance of its capital, the cinematic, romantic, artistic and otherwise cultural splendour of Paris, and the great institutions present that keep some of the world’s most renowned treasures. A wander through the Louvre and through the Left Bank, or for that matter anywhere else in central Paris with some fresh bread and pungent cheese in your belly, makes you feel like you’ve died and arrived in some cobbled and fascinating heaven. Getting to a boulangerie for pastries or a simple baguette is better than the best sandwich prepared with the utmost love nearly anywhere else.
The great outdoors
But I guess my favourite thing about France is its true treasure, the French countryside. Particularly Provence. A slow wander around the city of lights might flick your switch; but an amble, ramble, dawdle, stroll, cycle or exploration through regional villages and verdant folds dotted with chateaus, lavender, vines, family run restaurants and truffle oak copses really lets that sense of sublime life seep in.
The country is where the best of simple pleasures has reached perfection; fine food and wine friendly folk and postcard-perfect scenery coalesce like a balm for the burnished soul. I always feel like I’ve reacquainted myself with how I should be living when I visit the countryside in France.
I like cycling around the Provencal villages. There are plenty of locals on bikes too, like septuagenarians off to the market or to visit a neighbour’s with their truffle dog trotting alongside - international cyclists on Le Tour are just part, albeit an elaborate and significant part, of the national fascination with bikes. It’s great taking a leisurely ride through spectacular scenery then arriving in some beautiful village for a lunch that tastes like it should be your last – sometimes you gorge on the most delicious food but having done a bit of mild exercise beforehand I never feel like I’m indulging too much. Besides, if I’m in France I like to indulge.
I love taking a walk around Beaune in Burgundy, too. Here are wines that will make you close your eyes and hum in appreciation, and there are plenty of great little bars in which to imbibe and relax and chat. The vineyards and wineries of Bordeaux are straight from your dreams in appearance and pleasure, and I can see why the French want to keep things just the way they are.
And if you’re not on your bike, just walk. Every town in the French country side is a slow wanderer’s paradise. Though my favourite one to amble is Aix-en-Provence, with its tree-lined and sun-dappled streets, elegant and elaborate homes and cafes that’ll have you sitting, sipping and eating all afternoon. An unplanned walk by its squares, languid boulles matches and down the Cours Mirabeau, the best street in Europe, makes for an idyllic afternoon. My ideal really. I can’t think of a place I’d rather be.
If you're feeling inspired to visit this part of the world for the first, second or maybe even third time, why not take a look through all our trips? You can choose to join a small group or take a self-guided tour. Whatever it is you're looking for, we'll show you the best of France.