French City Short Break Ideas
BORDEAUX (for the Stylish city Weekender)
Bordeaux is a small city with big city ambitions, which means you have the best of both worlds. It’s an easy three-hour train ride from Paris, but feels a world away. When in Bordeaux, have stroll around its flea markets and vintage stores, a favourite is Backstage Vintage Store (backstagevintagestore.com) it stocks a really great curated selection of vintage, designer vintage and also second-hand contemporary clothing. Then, on balmy summer nights, hop on a V3 public city bike (Bordeaux has been named the fourth most bike-friendly city in the world) for a ride along the Garonne River on the Quai des Chartrons, up to the outlet stores and boutiques at Quai des Marques.
Aside from the shopping, this is a great spot to enjoy an obstructed view of Garonne with a glass of wine in hand. Ride back into the city at dusk and take in the majestic Haussmann-inspired facades of Bordeaux’s grand mansion houses, then head to La Cagette (lacagette.com) for an ever-changing menu of fresh local produce. Follow it up with another drink al fresco at quirky Cafe Utopia (cafe.utopia.free.fr) and now you’ll really feel like a local. In the morning, skip breakfast at your hotel and enjoy a healthy Bordeaux brunch at Plume Small Kitchen (plume.coffee) where for under 12 euro, you’ll dine like a royal.
Stay at the Grand Hotel de Bordeaux (ghbordeaux.com), which is grand in every way, from the classically decorated rooms by Jacques Garcia to the impeccable service at their rooftop bar, Night Beach. And a Nuxe spa treatment in the striking decor of the hotel’s spa, Les Bains de Lea, is the perfect way to wind up a Bordeaux weekend.
CHAMPAGNE (The Gastronomic Getaway)
Think the region of Champagne is nothing but bubbles and bling? While champagne visits are the abiding attraction for international visitors, the French make a beeline for the region’s array of cultural and gastronomic gifts. Reims, the largest city, boasts the country’s most Michelin-starred Le Parc Les Crayeres (lescrayeres.com) and triple-starred L’Assiette Champenoise (assiettechampenoise.com). At the more accessible end, Halles du Booulingrin is an impressive art deco covered market where you can pick up local specialities like Chauroce cheese, jambon de reims, and rose biscuits. Nearby, a divine selection of pastries and pralines from Pascal Caffet’s namesake patisserie (he’s earned the covetable accolade of Meilleur Ouvrier de France, celebrating the nation’s finest artisans) await.
A 45-minute drive from Reims, in the heart of the Cote des Blancs, is the hilltop village of Avize, where three Michelin-starred chef Anne-Sophie Pic’s former protégé Stephane Rossillon cooks market-driven dishes that rotate daily at Les Avises (selosselesavises.com), a charming restaurant with rooms.
Come December, thousands of French gourmands descend on Epernay (a 40-minute drive south from Reims) for the annual Habits des Saveurs food festival, where Champagne’s leading chefs join forces with a champagne house or producer for an unforgettable pairing of gastronomic bites and top cuvees. No matter where you land among the region’s 34,000 hectares of vineyards, there are choice tables and markets waiting to be discovered in Champagne.
For a splurge, stay in the sumptuous five-star chateau retreat Domaine Les Crayeres in Reims (lescrayeres.com). It’s the best spot in the region to eat, drink and sleep the Champagne lifestyle – the wine list features more than 600 champagne labels alone. Santé to that!
MARSEILLE (The Inspirational Creative Break)
Located between the Alps and the Mediterranean, you’d have to make a lot of effort not to find Marseille inspiring, as artists and writers have done for centuries. There are many reasons I love Marseille, not least the 2,858 hours of sunshine a year, which have earned the country’s second-largest city the label ‘sun capital of France.’
Some call it the Berlin of France, but Marseille is more than a hipster enclave; a wonderfully unpredictable, vibrant, colourful, versatile and exciting destination, it’s the country’s oldest city and is brimming with art galleries, historical building and beautiful public parks.
Cours Julien is the favourite neighbourhood of the ‘bobos’ (aka ‘bourgeois-bohemes’, French for hipster). This is where I’ve spent happy weekends discovering cafes and restaurants like La Cartinetta (restaurantlacantinetta.fr), with its beautiful outside terrace dotted with plants and flowers, plus design stores, galleries, bookshops and markets – the square is filled with an antique book market at the weekends. Studio Fotokino (fotokino.org/Le-Studio), a short stroll away, is a lovely gallery that also sells prints and books from local illustrators and graphic artists.
Seafood lovers from all over the country come to Marseille for bouillabaisse (typical fish stew) at the Vieux Port. And nobody leaves the city without bringing home a little cube of traditional hard soap known as ‘Savon de Marseille’, so that the scent can bring you back to the city, even after you leave.
Stay pension Edelweiss (pensionedelweiss.fr) is a stylish, quirky B&B designed and run by local Veronique, who’ll give you great local tips the guidebooks won’t tell you about. With vintage furniture and retro lighting, this oozes Mediterranean style.