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By Marcia DeSanctis
November 2014
ISBN 978-1-609520-82-3 440 pages
100pfrance_sA necessary indulgence for even the most jaded Francophile.”
—Kate Betts, author of Everyday Icon: Michele Obama and the Power of Style

With intelligence, style, and depth, Marcia DeSanctis offers insight and advice to every France-obsessed woman, whether she’s a first-time traveler to Paris or the most sophisticated Francophile. In 100 luminous vignettes on the country’s most alluring places, DeSanctis leads us through vineyards, markets, architectural treasures, beach idylls, and contemplates hikes from Biarritz to Normandy, Antibes to Chamonix. Along the way, she tells of fascinating women who have changed the destiny of France—from Marie Curie, Empress Josephine, and Joan of Arc to Audrey Hepburn and Édith Piaf. From sexy to literary, spiritual to gorgeous, 100 Places in France Every Woman Should Go is for the smart and curious traveler who wants to see France, her way.

“In this elegant book, Marcia DeSanctis becomes your smartest, most glamorous, generous and insightful friend—your sage, and your guide. 100 Places in France is a treasure for any woman who wishes to know the country intimately, from it’s most delectable and stylish surfaces (lingerie! parfum!) to its nuanced and profound depths. Whether traveling by jet, or simply by imagination, you will savor this ride, perhaps along with a glass of fine champagne or the perfect demitasse. I loved it.”
—Dani Shapiro, author of Devotion and Still Writing

When I was a girl in suburban Boston, I loved to unfurl a certain brand of canned dough and re-furl it into crescent rolls, which I would bake on a cookie sheet. I adored these flaky biscuits, even more so when I learned that they were really called “croissants” and in France, they were eaten at breakfast rather than at dinner alongside beef stew. What eight year-old girl would not become infatuated by a country whose morning tradition was a chunk of melted butter held together with wispy strands of pastry? Sure beat a jelly donut. The food, or the fantasy of it, got me curious about France. But it was the women who held my attention.

For the “Profile in History” I had to write in sixth grade, I chose Marie Antoinette and tried to imagine my 14-year-old sister as the next queen of France. I was transfixed by my junior high French teacher, Mrs. Zack, who tossed a shawl around one shoulder as one might throw a wrap over a lamé gown. Tacked to the wall of another French class was an album cover of the ’60s pop singer, Françoise Hardy, whom I believed was, bar none, the most gorgeous woman who had ever existed. I raced through the slim novel Bonjour Tristesse, which had two reasons to enthrall me. The author Françoise Sagan was all of eighteen when she wrote it, and the book’s main character Cécile, though troubled, was seventeen—same as I was—and steeped in a life of shameless sensuality on the French Riviera. New England, I concluded, could not produce such a worldly creature (although Jean Seberg, a pixie-haired actress from Iowa, played her in the film version).

Above all, there was Audrey Hepburn, who was not even French, but British and Dutch, and yet her spirit, grace and demeanor came to define Paris for me. I devoured her films on the Boston UHF station, even if I had to fiddle with the antennas. From Charade to Love in the Afternoon, How to Steal a Million, to most of all Funny Face and Sabrina, with each role Audrey made Paris more enticing and somehow more accessible. The allure was, only partially, a matter of style, although it was hard not to yearn for something besides the rolled-up turtlenecks and worn Levi’s cords of my teens. No one had ever accessorized a cherry-red suit with an ice cream cone, but Audrey did, walking the banks of the Seine with Cary Grant.

Paris widened her eyes—she said so in Sabrina—and then she opened mine. “I have learned so many things, father,” she whispers in voice-over in the film, as she prepares to return to Long Island after two years of culinary school in Paris. It is nighttime, and she is writing a letter at her desk before a window opened to the incomparable vision of Sacré-Coeur on its hill. “Not just how to make vichyssoise and calf’s head with sauce vinaigrette. But a much more important recipe. I have learned how to live.”

And then I did, too. I arrived in Paris in the summer of 1979 via Italy and the Côte d’Azur. At dawn, I saw the Mediterranean for the first time from the train, and the coming morning was reflected on the silvery sea. At the station in Nice, I waded through the aromas of tabac brunand strong coffee, and outdoors was greeted by wide avenues that sizzled in dry, crackling heat, the scent of jasmine and lemon, and glimmering villas with wrought iron balconies overlooking the Baie des Anges.

I spent mornings torched by the sun at the market on the Cours Saleya, where I pressed the rough hides of sweet melons to determine their ripeness, and swooned at the profusion of pastel yellows and corals in the baskets of peaches. I had eaten many strawberries in my life, but in Nice, I tasted one—a real one—for the first time. As for croissants, there was no comparison between what I had baked at home in Boston and what I tasted in France, especially when served with chocolat chaud and fresh apricot jam. Afternoons I stretched out on the beach by the Promenade des Anglais, or took the train to another Riviera sunspot—Èze, Villefranche, Saint Tropez. Eventually, I dared to untie my bikini top.

I knew I could never be French, but I also knew that I belonged in France. I came to realize that most of all when I finally got to Paris that summer, when I counted centimes for a bottle of Badoit at the grocer near my hotel, or ambled through the Jardins des Tuileries in the evening. I was at ease, comfortable, bien dans ma peau. I was at home there. That fall, Marianne Faithfull released an album called “Broken English,” with her haunting rendition of “The Ballad of Lucy Jordan” in which she sings these devastating words: At the age of thirty-seven/She realized she’d never ride/Through Paris in a sports car/With the warm wind in her hair. I listened to it again and again. Its message resonated: Not just me, but every woman belonged in Paris, and to miss out meant missing out on life itself. France was not just my ideal; it was a universal one, a rite of passage, the place we were where we could both escape ourselves and find the power and grace to be ourselves. It was one piffling ocean away, and returning there as soon as possible was the best reason I could think of to squirrel away my paycheck from my job at the faculty club.

Those heightened, instantaneous emotions we feel in the city of Paris hold true for the rest of France. The country opens its arms to us, understands what women love, takes us in and bathes us in starlight that seems to burn brighter over Mont Ventoux or the Pont du Gard than it does at home. It cultivates our sophisticated and sensuous sensibilities and insists we accompany them with champagne. We love the carnal sway of the Eiffel Tower and the stories of France’s great queens and mistresses held in the châteaux of Versailles and Chenonceau. Of course, we love the perfume, to scan the market for the best deal on fresh figs, the hollow clack of cobblestones under our heels, the citrusy scent of gorse blowing across a field in Normandy. We love the safety and ease of the Paris Métro and marvel at the sweep of almond blossoms in Haute- Provence. We gasp at the beauty of the bridges over the Seine and always feel at home when we stop in the middle of one to gaze down at the cottony wake of the Bateaux Mouches. We love the mountain air that refreshes us in the Alps, and the nighttime clouds that eat the stars over the Breton coast. We love to slow down, and France requires us to do so.

In France, we find what we are missing. This book contains 100 of those missing things. It was a nearly impossible task to choose just 100, which is why, in some entries, I have included not just one suggestion but two or ten—hikes, gardens, places to shop or landmarks to follow in the path of Joan of Arc. How could I curate France? In my first crack at a list of 100 places, I was barely out of the Marais neighborhood of Paris and already had 50 must-sees. France is diverse, sprawling, magnificent, flush with architecture, culture, style, royalty and religion, soaked in sauce Béarnaise and Bordeaux reds. There are coasts to swim along, mountain ravines to wander, town squares where one can sip coffee all day alone and no one will ever ask you to leave. There are thousands of years of history— from the Celts to the Romans to World War II—all of which are still relevant and resonant. There are dozens of distinct cultures— Normans, Lyonnais and Niçois—and they all exist proudly under the same tricolor banner. There are fashion, gastronomy, and museums full of masterpieces so familiar that they risk cliché. Most importantly—at least for this collection—there are women, and in these pages, I will tell many of their stories. I am in awe of Eleanor of Aquitaine, George Sand, Catherine de’ Medici, Léa Feldblum, Simone de Beauvoir and others, and I hope that like me, you might be inspired to delve deeper into each of them. On the landscape of world history, they are giants, and France keeps their memories vibrantly alive.

This list is for women, but most of us know who men love France just as much as we do. After my first trip to Paris, I returned often, and when I was twenty-nine, my boyfriend convinced me to move there with him. I left my job at ABC News in New York, applied for and received a press fellowship from what is now the European Union, and after a year, returned to my work as a TV producer in Paris. My husband is a sculptor, and he rented a skylit studio near Père Lachaise cemetery. We got married in the mairie of the 3rd arrondissement, bought a 7th-floor apartment, and started to build a life together. On some mornings en route to the Métro, or at Christmastime, or when I passed the Eiffel Tower which seemed to be posing for me in the fog, I would say to myself: “I live in Paris. I live in Paris.

Mark and I returned to the United States after four years and regretted it for four years afterwards. Eventually, we relocated from New York City to rural Connecticut. Now, we find Paris to be surprisingly near, once you cross the pond. Shortly after we moved here I switched from television to print journalism, and as the pay was fairly non-existent, a nearby prep school hired me as a French teacher, sort of a permanent substitute for a couple of years. At first, I wanted to refuse the textbooks and teacher’s companions that had been handed to me in two towering stacks—and opt to teach the students something more compelling and alive. It seems I’ve always been on a mission to let people know how France can change you. I wanted to toss them academic bouquets, and give tutorials about Camembert and Brigitte Bardot, in between screenings of Les Parapluies de Cherbourg andAmélie. We would read Marie Antoinette’s last letter from prison and hope they could get to Versailles one day to visit her tragic, transcendent realm. In April, I would assign them Colette’s essay, “Farewell to the Snow,” tell them about the sweet blueberries that grow in the mountains, the waves that smash off Biarritz, the sound of gulls at Étretat. We would translate “Tous les Garçons et les Filles,” a lilting chanson from 1962 sung by my idol, Françoise Hardy. I would omit the part about champagne buzzing through my veins, but describe the thrill of driving through Paris on a summer evening with a handsome young man named Baudouin at the wheel, which I did long before I was thirty-seven, with the warm wind in my hair.

But they had AP exams to pass and colleges to get accepted to, so I had to restrict my alternative lesson to convey just one kernel of truth. I would tell them what Audrey told me. In France, I learned how to live. I wanted them to have that experience. If you haven’t already, I wish that for you too.

Marcia DeSanctis
Bethlehem, Connecticut

Introduction

1. A Pink House and a Rose Garden 1
The Bagatelle, Paris

2. The Artist’s Artist 4
Musée Rodin and Camille Claudel, Paris

3. Homage to La M.me 8
The Museum of Édith Piaf, Paris

4. Bring a Big Shopping Bag 12
La Grande Épicerie at Le Bon Marché, Paris

5. The Patroness of Paris 14
Sainte Geneviève and l’Église Saint-Étienne-du-Mont, Paris

6. Always Pack a Bathing Suit 17
Pools, the Seine Beaches, Aquabiking and Hammam, Paris

7. Unmentionables Never More 20
The Perfect Lingerie, Paris

8. You Can Hear Heaven 24
Church Music and Concerts, Including at Sainte-Chapelle, Paris

9. A Food Itinerary 27
My Restaurants, Pâtisseries and Tea Salons, Paris

10. Peace in the City 32
The Canal Saint-Martin, Paris

11. Slip into the Shadows 35
Arthouse Cinemas, Paris

12. Fragrant City 39
Find Your Scent, Paris

13. Homage to Lovers 43
Héloïse and Abélard, Paris

14. The View from Elsewhere 47
Places to View the Eiffel Tower (Including the Eiffel Tower), Paris

15. Shop Well 52
Stores for Buying and Browsing, Paris

16. The First Lady of Science 57
Institut Curie, Paris

17. The Walls of Memory 61
Mémorial des Martyrs de la Déportation, Shoah Memorial and the Drancy Shoah Memorial, Paris and Drancy

18. More than Sunday Strolls 65
Luxembourg Gardens and Tuileries Gardens, Paris

19. A Portfolio of 12+1 69
Just for Women: Highlights of the Louvre, Paris

20. A Portfolio of 12+1 76
Just for Women: Highlights of the Musée d’Orsay, Paris

21. Day of Glory 84
Bastille Day, Paris

22. Colonnades and Colette 87
The Palais-Royal, Paris

23. The Hidden Places 92
Unique Museums, Paris

24. All Around the Pompidou 96
Brancusi’s Studio and Niki de Saint Phalle’s Fountain, Paris

25. The New French Revolution 100
La Jeune Rue, Paris

26. Follow the Philosopher 103
The Nietzsche Path, Èze-sur-Mer

27. Detox and Retox 107
Les Sources de Caudalie and Château Smith Haut Lafitte, Martillac, Aquitaine

28. The Green Muse 110
Absinthe Bar, Antibes

29. The Red City of Toulouse-Lautrec 114
Albi, Midi-Pyrénées

30. White Horses, Pink Flamingoes and the Black Madonna 118
The Camargue, Languedoc-Roussillon

31. On the Street of Dreams 122
La Croisette, Cannes

32. Walk the Walk 126
Hikes in the Calanques, the Massif de l’Estérel and the Gorges du Verdon, Provence

33. Napoleon Slept Here 131
Malmaison, Rueil-Malmaison

34. The France of Our Desires 136
The Luberon, Provence

35. A Country of Green 141
Some of France’s Most Spectacular Gardens

36. In the Shadow of Rome (Plus Two Romantic Hotels) 146
Nîmes and Arles

37. The Turquoise Waters of the Haute-Savoie 151
Lake Annecy

38. Eileen Gray’s Masterpiece (and Le Corbusier’s Little Gem) 154
E-1027 and Le Cabanon, Roquebrune-Cap-Martin

39. From Market to Table 158
Cooking Classes in Normandy, Nice, Lyon, and Bouliac

40. Sweeter than Wine 162
The Canelé, Bordeaux

41. The Simplest Fantasy 166
Abbaye de Lérins, Île Saint-Honorat

42. Stories the River Tells 169
The Dordogne and Josephine Baker’s Château

43. Oysters and Sand 173
The Dune du Pilat and the Bassin d’Arcachon, Aquitaine

44. Millions of Flowers 177
Make Your Own Perfume, Grasse

45. The End and the Beginning of the World 181
Carnac, Brittany

46. La Vie en Lavande 184
The Lavender Route, Provence

47. A Sisterhood of Wine 187
Women Winegrowers of Burgundy

48. You Are Never Too Old 191
French Language Immersion Courses

49. Tender Was the Night 194
Plage de la Garoupe, Cap d’Antibes, and Hôtel Belles Rives, Juan-les-Pins

50. Beautiful in Any Language 197
Villages of the Pays Basque

51. Eat—You Are in France 201
An Unforgettable Meal, Anywhere

52. Yards of Luxury 205
The History of Silk, Lyon

53. Nowhere in the World More Lavish 208
Marie Antoinette and the Palace of Versailles, Versailles

54. Celebrate 213
The Christmas Market, Strasbourg

55. The First Liberated Woman 217
George Sand’s house, Nohant

56. Step into a Painting 221
Monet’s Gardens, Giverny

57. Rock of Ages 224
Le Mont-Saint-Michel, Normandy

58. The Most Powerful Woman, Ever 228
The Trail of Eleanor of Aquitaine

59. Who Was Madame de S.vign.? 232
Château de Grignan, Drôme

60. Forty-Four Children 236
Memorial Museum of the Children of Izieu, Izieu

61. The Most Beautiful Lines 240
Statue of the Poet Louise Labé, Lyon

62. Where the Poor Were Loved 243
Hospices de Beaune, Beaune

63. The First City of Chocolate 247
Bayonne, Pays Basque

64. Queen for a While 252
The French General Getaway, Midi-Pyrénées

65. The Greatest Flea on Earth 255
Braderie de Lille, Lille

66. Clear Water 258
Snorkel on the Îles d’Or, Provence

67. Picasso, with a Bonus 261
Musée Picasso and Germaine Richier, Antibes

68. The Dreamscape of Genius 265
Désert de Retz, Chambourcy

69. The Walls Are Alive with Color 269
Saint Pierre Chapel, Villefranche-sur-Mer and Villa Santo Sospir, Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat

70. The Salt Water Cure 274
Thalassotherapy, Saint Malo

71. Remember the Fallen 277
Beaches and Memorials of the Battle of Normandy, Normandy

72. Sex on the Beach 282
La Plage des Jumeaux and Brigitte Bardot, Saint Tropez

73. The Ancient Place of Pilgrimage 286
Vézelay

74. The Most Beautiful Garden in France 291
Vaux-le-Vicomte, Maincy

75. When Pictures Tell the Story 294
Museum of the Tapestries of Bayeux, Bayeux

76. Ros. Vines 298
Domaine de Terrebrune, Bandol

77. The Virgin Warrior Saint 301
In the Footsteps of Joan of Arc

78. Trailblazer on the Route du Champagne 306
Maison Veuve Clicquot, Reims

79. For All the Ships at Sea 309
The Lighthouses of Finistère, Brittany

80. Ch.teaux and Fresh Air 313
The Loire Valley of Catherine de’ Medici by Bike

81. The Master’s Beginnings 318
The Childhood Home of Christian Dior, Granville

82. The Gem of the Sky 322
The Millau Viaduct, Midi-Pyrénées

83. Chasing Waterfalls 325
The Jura and the Queyras

84. Hike the Beautiful Border 329
The Route des Vins, Alsace

85. The Shining White Mountain 333
The Mer de Glace, Mont Blanc and Frankenstein, Chamonix

86. The Waves Out the Empress’s Window 337
Surf Biarritz and the Côte Basque

87. Town from another Time 341
Aix-en-Provence

88. Savory Beauty 345
The Pays d’Auge, Normandy

89. Little Paris 351
Nancy

90. The City that Won’t Let You Go 355
Nice

91. The Elegant Enclave 359
Dinard

92. Blue Water, White Cliffs 362
Étretat

93. The Strange and Wonderful Land 366
Volcanoes and Cheese, the Auvergne

94. Les Plus Beaux Villages 371
The 157 Most Beautiful Villages in France

95. Jewel of Picardie 374
The Floating Gardens and Cathedral of Amiens

96. The Little Dairy 378
The Laiterie and Shell Cottage, Rambouillet

97. And Offshore 382
Île de Ré, Île d’Oléron, Île d’Yeu, and Belle-Île-en-Mer

98. Eat, Drink, Swashbuckle 386
Gascony

99. The Food Center of the Universe 390
Les Halles de Lyon – Paul Bocuse, Lyon

100. Everything You Dream of 394
Corsica

Books for Further Reading 399
Websites of Note 403
Index 405
Acknowledgments 417
About the Author 420

1. A Pink House and a Rose Garden

THE BAGATELLE, PARIS

American expats in France, and those of us who visit frequently, can sometimes be reluctant to divulge their—okay, our—secret haunts. Next thing you know, it’s busloads of tourists in baggy shorts and ungainly white sneakers, and soon recherché is an emphatic démodé. There is a touch of stinginess in that logic, of course, but mercifully, Parisians themselves do not tend to be quite so turfy about the places they hold dear in their very own city. It was this kind of openness that led me to the Parc de Bagatelle, a place so abundant and airy it should be no secret at all. But to me that day, it was.

I moved to Paris one September, landing with too many duffel bags and a box of blank reporter’s notebooks my colleagues at ABC News had given me as a going away present. It was a Winesap-crisp Sunday morning, and I recall the dainty rustle of chestnut trees when I unclasped and threw open the window onto a Paris street for the first time. I was alone; my then-boyfriend (now husband) would be arriving in November. Someone in the building was playing a cello—or maybe it was a recording—and the notes drifted into my new living room. Through a friend’s aunt’s cousin’s brother-in-law or some such, we had secured a one-bedroom sixth-floor rental apartment in a cushy building in the 16th arrondissement. I hadn’t yet discovered the buzzy street life on nearby rue de l’Annonciation, or the Marché Couvert de Passy that was right around the corner and is still one of my favorite food markets in Paris. As far as I could tell, everything was closed. I was starving and thirsty, desperate for a liter of Badoit and a two-pack of yogurt or a couple of apples so I could have a nibble and a nap. So I stopped an elderly madame in the foyer, as stately as her neighborhood of mansions and old money dictated, and asked where I could chercher à manger.

“The Stella on Avenue Victor Hugo is open and very good, and afterwards of course it’s a lovely day for the Jardins de Bagatelle.” So much for a chilly Parisian welcome. “It’s where we like to go on Sundays.”

I thanked her, made sure my trusty red Plan de Paris par Arrondissement booklet—left over from my former life as a tourist here—was in my purse, and I walked and walked and walked and in some ways, never looked back.

The park—not to be confused with the Parc Bagatelle amusement park way up in Nord-Pas-de-Calais—is embedded deep within the Bois de Boulogne. It’s possible to walk there, as I did, but the Métro stops at Pont de Neuilly nearby. Upon entering, you are struck by the refined grandeur and splendid isolation here on the periphery of Paris. It was built in 1775 on the site of a former lieu de libertinage—kind of a grown-up playground—as the result of a wager between Queen Marie Antoinette and her brother-in-law, the Count d’Artois (who, in 1824 would become the reactionary King Charles X of France). The Count had demolished the old hunting lodge and desired a bagatelle, from the Italian word for “decorative little trifle,” on the property. The Queen bet it would not be ready in the three months the Court was away for the season at Fontainebleau, and she lost. 100,000 pounds worth of lost.

Because he enlisted the expertise of neoclassical architect François-Joseph Bélanger and one of the queen’s favorite gardeners, the Scotsman Thomas Blaikie, the château and gardens were completed in a jaw-dropping 63 days using 800 workers with an expenditure topping 5 million pounds. Later, an orangerie was added to the compound, the centerpiece of which is the main château: symmetrical, pink and flawless. The Latin inscription above the doorway reads Parva sed Apta—“small but convenient”—which given the luxury and expense, seems the very definition of the humblebrag. The buildings are lovely, but it is the park to which I devoted myself that Sunday morning long ago.

The gardens were designed in the Anglo-Chinese landscape style and contain grottoes and waterfalls, silent pathways, a water lily pond, and a soft blue pagoda that seems to spring straight from the earth. There are fountains and walkways lined with the benches I grew to know and love. Mostly, there are lawns where peacocks mince around making a charming racket and flowers whose blossoms and fragrance change with the seasons. Daffodils and crocus push out in early spring and give way to peonies, irises, wisteria, and a renowned collection of clematis, and the perfume drifts through the park like sighs. And most spectacularly, there is a rose garden with over 10,000 bushes from around 1,200 varieties, where an international competition for new roses takes place every June.

By spring, my boyfriend and I had moved to funkier digs in the Marais and eventually bought the only apartment we could afford, in the Belleville section of the 20th about a decade before it was chic, far from the Bois and the Bagatelle. But I returned to the staid 16th often and I still do, because more than any other park, café, bridge or boulevard, the Bagatelle is my own secret haunt. I’ll make my way there on a Sunday, join the dowagers, hipsters and mothers chasing toddlers. There, I seek the memory of the day I arrived to begin a new chapter in France. Only a few hours later, thanks to a kindly neighbor, I already felt like a Parisian.

Marcia DeSanctis is a former television news producer who has worked for Barbara Walters, ABC, CBS, and NBC News. She is an award-winning essayist whose work has appeared in numerous publications including Vogue, Marie Claire, Town & Country, O the Oprah Magazine, More, Tin House, and The New York Times. Her travel essays have been widely anthologized and she is the recipient of three Lowell Thomas Awards for excellence in travel journalism, as well as a Solas Award for best travel writing. She holds a degree from Princeton University in Slavic Languages and Literature and a Masters in International Relations from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy. She worked for several years in Paris, and today lives in northwest Connecticut with her husband and two children.