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Ernest Hemingway described Paris as a ‘moveable feast’: in a couple of words he admirably captured the infectious style and joie de vivre that a visitor to the city will carry with them for the rest of their life.
It’s true, Paris does have a certain cachet that’s hard to find elsewhere, but this uniquely Gallic trait is something found throughout France. Visit that hotbed of rugby passions, Toulouse, and revel in a city that loves the All Blacks, but also knows how to introduce the humble sausage to a delectable cassoulet for a lunch you’ll remember long after you’ve returned to your backyard barbeque banger.
Toulouse is also a convenient gateway to the Cathar region of castles and ancient hilltop towns – hire a villa somewhere here and the big city thrills are available, alongside tiny village squares on forgotten hillsides. The point is, French style can be as ‘dressed up’ or casual as you want. If your idea of the perfect holiday is good surf with full-on nightlife go to Biarritz on the Atlantic Coast. Or if you’ve got a stack of paperbacks to read and an insatiable appetite for fine wine at supermarket prices take a week cruising the canals and waterways.
Building a French holiday around a theme is also a good idea. If you’re fit and want an active holiday how about doing a portion of the Tour de France circuit? You may even want to drive this – some of the landscape is breathtaking. Or book yourself into a guided walking holiday – this is an excellent way to absorb the culture and gastronomy of a region.
There are some excellent wine trails through Bordeaux, Burgundy and Champagne. Maybe a gentle journey in a riverboat through northern France, the Loire Valley or Burgundy is more your style? You could combine such a tour with a visit to the poignant WW1 battlefields where so many Kiwis fought to uphold the difference that is France.
France also offers just as many ways to stay as regions to visit - from B&Bs to palatial villas, there's something to suit every taste and budget.
An independent villa is a popular solution, not only for couples but also for families and larger groups who want a base to explore a particular locality. If this sounds like the option for you consider whether you want the peace and quiet of a secluded location, or the convenience of a village setting; remember a French village could be quiet enough compared to your usual life here in New Zealand, and it's much easier to soak up the lifestyle if you're a regular at the local café.
There are also some spectacular Châteaux and manor houses that serve up the sophisticated ambiance of French aristocracy while providing guests with independent accommodation. These can vary from apartment style configurations in the main house, to stand-alone gites and barn conversions. This is an excellent way to meet with fellow travellers, perhaps around the swimming pool after a day's sightseeing.
If exploring the region surrounding 'basecamp' is your plan, a vehicle is going to be essential. Many car hire companies provide brand new vehicles for just such a holiday and it's easy to arrange pick up and return to the nearest international airport. If you are hiring a vehicle, seriously consider including a GPS navigator in the package - having advanced warning of the route ahead is an invaluable aid to more relaxed driving as well as ensuring fewer wrong turns.
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