Abby Reudelsterz, European Union Studies, 2013
Over the past three months, I’ve been lucky enough to call Paris my home as well as my home base for exploring Europe. This program provides ample time for weekend trips, and we also have two longer breaks, a weeklong one at the end of October and another for Thanksgiving. By the time I’m on my way back to the United States in a few short weeks, I’ll have travelled to six European countries. While it has been an amazing experience seeing all that Europe has to offer, I think it’s also important to explore other places in France outside of Paris. I have taken several day trips in France, some just outside of Paris and others a longer train ride away, and these trips have given me the opportunity to learn more about French society and culture, which is one of the reasons that I chose to study in France in the first place. I would highly recommend future students in this program to visit the various regions of France, each is distinct and many have a lot of fun things to offer.
France has a long history of royalty, and no trip to France is complete without a visit to one of its
many chateaus. The most popular one is the Château of Versailles, which is only a 40-minute trip from Paris on a suburban train. Most people come to Versailles to take a tour of the château’s interior, but what makes Versailles one of my favorite tourist attractions is located on the grounds. The gardens are definitely worth seeing, especially in the summer and early fall when the plants are in bloom, and they also offer a shortcut to the Grand Canal and the other sites throughout the park. The Grand Canal is massive, so I recommend renting a bike and riding around it and the rest of the park. Although it’s a trek from the château and the train station, it’s worth the visit to the Petit and Grand Trianons as well as the Hamlets of Marie Antoinette. The Trianons were the residences of important aristocrats and provide the opportunity to see the extravagance of Versailles without the crowds at the château. One of the most magical places I’ve ever seen is Marie Antoinette’s Hamlets, which is a fairytale-like village where she spent a lot of time, and it even has a small farm with live goats, sheep, and other animals. If you have a whole day to spend at Versailles, I would recommend exploring its extensive grounds, they give you a step back in time and are a nice oasis from the bustling city of Paris.
If you want to see more châteaux, there are a few others within a short distance of Paris, and others scattered throughout France, most notably in the Loire Valley. A couple weeks ago, I visited Château Vaux le Vicomte, which is a bit harder to get to than Versailles, but still accessible by public transport, and it has a fraction of the crowds of Versailles. This château has an important history, as it was the inspiration for the one at Versailles and is also the home to the first formal French gardens. I would recommend going here during one of their special events: in November, they host a chocolate festival, and in December they have a large Christmas program. Most of the visitors here are French, so this is a good place to practice your French language skills.
On another adventure in France, I visited Lyon, one of the biggest cities in France that is also known as the French capital of gastronomy. It’s a cool city to explore and its Basilique Notre Dame de Fourvière is the most beautiful church I’ve ever seen. Also, last Saturday I took a daytrip to Strasbourg, the capital of the famous Alsace region that is on the border of France and Germany. Its historical center is very picturesque, and its canals are lined with half-timbered houses. Strasbourg is known for having the largest Christmas markets in France, so I would recommend going here during December or in the beginning fall when the weather is still nice. The high-speed trains in France are generally really expensive, but you can get good deals for being a young person and for travelling on Saturdays, so keep an eye out for cheap fares.
After all of my travels throughout France and Europe, Paris is still my favorite city in the world and is beginning to feel like my home, but it’s definitely a valuable experience to see what lies outside the city – Paris is not all that France has to offer!