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The one place you absolutely have to see in each department of France

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The one place you absolutely have to see in each department of France
The stunning Saint Michel d'Aiguilhe in central France. Photo: Bivouacker/WikiCommons
16:06 CEST+02:00
Chateaux, national parks, museums, beaches, and historical sites (plus much more). These are the must-see places in each of France's 96 mainland departments. How many can you tick off?
01. Ain, eastern France
 
The historical village of Pérouges, which has ranked among the most beautiful in France, is even the setting for a handful of French period films. 
 
02. Aisne, northern France
 
You simply cannot go past the Laon cathedral, from the 12th century, which ranks up with Notre Dame in terms of France's top examples of Gothic architecture. 
 
03. Allier, central France
 
Head to the Maison Mantin, a museum in the town of Moulins, that was once a mansion in the late 19th century before being closed off for a century. It was opened to the public in 2010 and offers a really eclectic collection of art.
 
04. Alpes-de-Hautes-Provence, southern France
 
The top spot here is the Gorges du Verdon, of course, France's answer to the Grand Canyon. Rent a kayak and tackle the river at the bottom.
 
 
05. Hautes-Alpes, eastern France
 
The small town of Briançon is also billed as the highest town in France at an altitude of 1,326 metres. Take in the whole town on foot - and don't miss the Unesco recognized city walls. 
 
06. Alpes-Maritimes, south eastern France
 
The tiny hilltop village of Eze is an ideal day trip from Nice and promises some of the best panorama photo opportunities in France. 
 
Photo: MGA73bot2/WikiCommons
 
07. Ardèche, central France
 
It may be in ruins, and you may have to climb a bit to get there, but the Château de Crussol in Saint-Péray is incredible.  Tripadvisor users recommend taking a donkey ride after you've enjoyed the views up top. 
 
 
Photo: Fabrice Gallet/WikiCommons
 
08. Ardennes, north eastern France
 
Head to the fortified village of Rocroi, which is built in a star-shape, and comes with a bloody history of wars through the centuries. 
 
09. Ariège, south western France
 
To the west of the town of Foix there's a pretty awesome chateau - the Chateau de Foix - that promises a good half-day trip if you're in the area, say TripAdvisor reviewers. Just bring good shoes for the cobblestones!
 
10. Aube, north eastern France
 
If you're in Aube, be sure to head to its capital of Troyes for its half-timbred buildings - you'll feel like you're walking through France from yesteryear. 
 
11. Aude, southern France
 
We'd be mad if we didn't recommend the stunning medieval fortress Cité de Carcassonne, which is on the Unesco list of World Heritage Sites and a huge hit with tourists (for good reason). 
 
12. Aveyron, southern France
 
Top site here is the Millau Viaduct - the tallest bridge in the world (the mast goes up to 343 metres). Here are some more pics if you need convincing. And if you're going to drive across it, don't forget your family members on the other side.
 
 
Photo: Stefan Krause/WikiCommons
 
13. Bouches-du-Rhône, southern France
 
This department is where you'll find the coastal city of Marseille. Our top tip there? It has to be the Calanques (kind of like cliffs or canyons on the sealine). Take a boat out in the Parc National des Calanques and thank us later. TripAdvisor reviews here.
 
14. Calvados, northern France
 
As anyone from Normandy will tell you, the coastal town of Honfleur is one of the best half-day trips you'll take all year. Bring a camera - the colourful building frontages are postcard worthy!
 
15. Cantal, central France
 
You can't really go wrong in Cantal, but we recommend the view from the top of the Puy Mary summit. Bring some of the local Cantal cheese with you for the hike to enjoy on top.
 
Photo: Ziegler175/WikiCommons
 
16. Charente, western France
 
Do the Remy Martin tour in Cognac. While you're in this part of the world, you have to have a little tipple, and this is a very good place to begin. 
 
17. Charente-Maritime, western France
 
It has to be the Fort Boyard just off the coastline between the Île-d'Aix and the Île d'Oléron. This is the place that inspired the TV show of the same name. Building started over 200 years ago, and it's loaded with history that stretches well beyond its more recent fame as a TV show.
 
 
Photo: Mpkossen/WikiCommons
 
18. Cher, central France
 
Get your Scottish vibe going at the Chateau des Stuarts in Aubigny-sur-Nère, "France's Scottish town". Its unusual heritage can be traced to John Stewart of Darnley, a Stuart who came to France in 1419 to fight for Charles VII. 
 
19. Corrèze, central France
 
Ever heard of the Vézère Valley? It's home to hundreds of other remarkable prehistoric ruins. Plenty of caves and historical sites along the way, providing a glimpse into long extinct civilizations that have been difficult for researchers to comprehend. The valley became a world heritage site in 1979.
 
 
2A. Corse-du-Sud, Corsica
 
The clifftop village of Bonifacio is an absolute must, right on the southern tip of the island. Enjoy the view, then take those 187 steps down to the sea (see below). Just make sure you leave enough energy to get back up again!
 
Photo: Myrabella/WikiCommons
 
2B. Haute-Corse, Corsica
 
Sunny outside? Of "Corse" it is.. so head to Plage de Palombaggia in Porto-Vecchio, recently ranked as the second best beach in France. Which is the best beach? See point 64 below. 
 
21. Côte-d'Or, central France
 
The charming town of Beaune has original features from the pre-Roman era as well as the medieval and Renaissance periods, making it a fascinating place to wander around for anyone who hasn't over-indulged on the local Burgundy wine.
 
22. Côtes d'Armor, western France
 
The village of Ploumanac'h was ranked as the best village in the entire country in 2015. The isolated coastal village, which is affectionately called Ploum by the locals, can count strange rock formations as a major draw card. 
 
Photo: Patrick Giraud/WikiCommons
 
23. Creuse, central France
 
Ever wanted to hang out with wolves? Why not try the "Wolves of Gueret" experience, where you can see wolves in their almost natural environment. It's the top rated thing to do in Creuse on TripAdvisor, and the reviewers love it
 
24. Dordogne, western France
 
Head along to the life-size replica of the Lascaux cave paintings, which was a mammoth three-year artist effort to create a true-to-life replica of renowned Stone Age cave paintings long hidden away in southwestern France. The original is off access, but is just down the road. 
 
25. Doubs, eastern France
 
The Citadel of Besançon is renowned for being a masterpiece of military architecture, and even Julius Caesar took note (yes, well over 2,000 years ago). Get to the top and admire the structure - and the views. 
 
Photo: Citypeek/WikiCommons
 
26. Drôme, south eastern France
 
Head to Postman Cheval's Palais Idéal, an odd attraction indeed. The story goes that postman Ferdinand Cheval tripped over a stone in 1879 and then dreamed of his "ideal palace". He spent the next 33 years building it with stones he collected on his journeys. 
 
Photo: WikiCommons
 
27. Eure, northern France
 
You simply cannot miss Giverny, where Claude Monet used to live. His old garden is a true gem in France, complete with some seriously recognizable water lilies for any art lovers out there. 
 
28. Eure-et-Loir, central France
 
Some say the Notre-Dame Cathedral in Chartres is even better than the tourist-overloaded one in the capital. Yes, the Chartres Cathedral is often cited as one of the best examples of French Gothic architecture, and is a Unesco World Heritage Site to boot. 
 
29. Finistère, western France
 
Take in the breath-taking granite rocks in Ushant, or "Ouessant" as the island is known in French. Stop in at the Creac'h lighthouse, which is said to be the most powerful on earth. 
 
30. Gard, southern France
 
Hands down, you have to see the Pont du Gard. This fascinating bridge was built to allow the Nimes aqueduct to cross the Gard River. Unesco calls it a "technical as well as an artistic masterpiece" - and it's not hard to see why. 
 
Photo: AFP
 
31. Haute-Garonne, southern France
 
Take a stroll around the pink-tinged old town in the city of Toulouse, which incidentally is THE place to be in France right now, according to us here at The Local France. 
 
32. Gers, south western France
 
Condom's Cathedral is a spectacular example of Gothic architecture and you get to take a picture next to the road sign Condom, which appears to be a must in France.
 
Photo: Benh Lieu Song/WikiCommons
 
33. Gironde, western France
 
It comes at no surprise that the Port de la Lune, the port city in Bordeaux is a Unesco World Heritage Site after you witness its incredible architecture. 
 
34. Hérault, southern France
 
The awe-inspiring Abbaye de Valmagne fuels two great French passions: wine and architecture. Built in the 12th century, it was inhabited first by Benedictine monks who cultivated vines on the estate. Never has wine tasting been so good as here
 
35. Ille-et-Vilaine, western France
 
The capital is Rennes, which was incidentally ranked by The Local as the best city in France to live for foreigners, and we recommend you check out this picturesque old town.
 
Photo: Sokoljan/WikiCommons
 
36. Indre, central France
 
Time for a museum - head to the home of writer George Sand in Nohant (whose real name was Amantine-Lucile-Aurore Dupin - yes, George Sand was a woman). Her charming home and breathtaking gardens will make you want to pick up a pen and write a book of your own. 
 
37. Indre-et-Loire, central France
 
The Chateau de Chenonceau, near the small village of Chenonceau spanning  the River Cher, is 500 years old a real pearl of the Loire Valley. It's a heritage listed site and protected by France's Ministry of Culture. If châteaux are your thing, this late Gothic and early Renaissance castle is for you. 
 
Photo: Ra-smit/WikiCommons
 
38. Isère, eastern France
 
Another chateau, sure, but a good one. The Château de Vizille is popular among French travellers - but you'd be forgiven if you'd never heard of it. Check out the 320 acre garden and the Musée de la Révolution française inside, which focuses on the French revolution.
 
39. Jura, eastern France
 
The Parc Naturel regional du Haut-Jura is one of the best in the country for hiking or skiing, depending on the season. 
 
40. Landes, western France
 
Take a hike in the Landes forest, which is Europe's biggest forest for maritime pine. Bring a compass - it's 10,000km2. 
 
41. Loir-et-Cher, central France
 
Le Château de Chambord is one of the most magnificent in France. Stroll around its enormous grounds of rolling countryside or admire its twisting double stair-case.
 
Photo: WikiCommons
 
42. Loire, central France
 
The charming village of Sainte-Croix-en-Jarez has been voted among the most beautiful in the country and it used to be a Carthusian monastery. Read more here
 
43. Haute-Loire, central France
 
Heard of Saint Michel d'Aiguilhe chapel? If not, welcome to one of the most mind-blowing buildings in the country - built in the year 969 on a volcanic plug, get ready for a steep climb to get up there (and no elevators in sight). 
 
Photo: Bivouacker/WikiCommons
 
44. Loire-Atlantique, western France
 
Stop what you're doing, grab your towel, and head to La Baule beach right now. The seaside town is a popular weekend getaway, and the beach stretches (seemingly) forever.
 
 
45. Loiret, central France
 
Another chateau, yes, but that's what you can expect in this incredible part of France. The Chateau de Sully is an architectural wonder.
 
Photo: Patrick Giraud/WikiCommons
 
46. Lot, south western France
 
The clifftop village of Rocamadour. Located in a gorge above a tributary of the River Dordogne, this entire village is an oft-overlooked gem, and marks a popular spot on pilgrimage routes. Don't forget to taste their one-of-a-kind goat's cheese while you're there.
 
47. Lot-et-Garonne, southwestern France
 
Don't miss the Bonaguil castle, which was a cutting edge fort 700 years ago and was never attacked. It was the last of France's fortified castles. 
 
48. Lozère, southern France
 
The small town of Sainte-Enimie is nestled at the top of the Gorges du Tarn and dates back to the 7th century. Expect limestone houses and cobbled streets descending in tiers from the foot of an ex-Benedictine monastery.
 
49. Maine-et-Loire, eastern France
 
The Saumur skyline. It sounds like something from Lord of the Rings and resembles Bratislava - but you're smack bang in the middle of the Loire Valley and it's incredible. Walk along the river and take it all in. 
 
Photo: Martin Falbisoner/WikiCommons
 
50. Manche, northern France
 
A clear winner for the Manche department is the Mont-Saint-Michel island and its abbey. Just make sure you get the timing right, no point heading there at high tide (and certainly not during the supertide). 
 
Photo: AFP
 
51. Marne, northern France
 
The Porte Mars arch is the only arch on this list - and it's a stunner. You can find it in Reims, and it's from the 3rd Century. 
 
Photo: Vassil/WikiCommons
 
52. Haute-Marne, north eastern France
 
Find former French president Charles de Gaulle's old private residence in Colombey-les-Deux-Églises, then check out his very humble grave in a nearby cemetery. The tombstone reads: "Charles de Gaulle 1890-1970".
 
Photo: Arnaud 25/WikiCommons
 
53. Mayenne, north western France
 
Sometimes you just need to relax, zone out, and take in a view of France's magnificent nature at its best. Do so from the top of the Armorican Massif
 
Photo: Jp.morteveille/WikiCommons
 
54. Meurthe-et-Moselle, eastern France 
 
Even if you were only passing through this department, make the effort to go into central Nancy for the Place Stanislas, a beautiful and historic square that's also a Unesco site. 
 
 
Photo: Arnaud Malon
 
55. Meuse, eastern France
 
Take in a reenactment of the Battle of Verdun, which was the longest battle of World War One and took place in the hills of Verdun. 
 
56. Morbihan, western France
 
The village of Rochefort-en-Terre was named as France's favourite in 2016. The geranium-clad village boasts a 13th castle and half-timbered 16th century buildings, as well as symmetrical stone built renaissance structures. 
 
57. Moselle, eastern France
 
Sure, there are a lot of cathedrals in France, but few are as dazzling as the one in Metz, which was completed in 1550. 
 
Photo: Baal77/WikiCommons
 
58. Nièvre, central France
 
In the small town of Villemoison you can find the residence of the Commander of the Knights Templar, plus the nearby chapel that dates from 1180. Part of it has turned into a gîte if you want to stay overnight. 
 
59. Nord, northern France
 
The 11 belfries in Nord have got the nod from Unesco because they are such fine representations of the eras in which they were built. Built from the 11th to 17th centuries they also demonstrate a shift away from walled cities and towards more open urban planning. Start with the belfry in the town of Douai.
 
60. Oise, northern France
 
Make a day trip for the Parc Astérix theme park. Sure, it may not be historically significant like many other things on this list, but it's a guaranteed hit for tourists and French people alike.
 
61. Orne, northern France
 
Head to the village of Camembert and check out the Cheese museum that is literally in the shape of a Camembert cheese. Cheesy, but delicious. 
 
Photo: Beatrice Louise/WikiCommons
 
62. Pas-de-Calais, northern France
 
A fan of art but want to be outside of Paris? Why not try the Louvre-Lens museum? It features a whole lot of works loaned out from the Louvre in Paris. 
 
63. Puy-de-Dôme, central France
 
Head to the city of Clermont-Ferrand, which a former member of staff at The Local had the audacity to call the best in France. Here are 15 reasons why. Of course the main reason to go there is climb the Puy de Dôme that looks over the city.
 
64. Pyrénées-Atlantiques, south eastern France
 
Time to head to the best beach in France - the Cote des Basques in Biarritz. It's a huge hit with surfers, or even surfer spectators, and was ranked in 2017 among the top 25 beaches in the world.
 
 
Photo: Florian Pépellin/WikiCommons
 
65. Hautes-Pyrénées, south western France
 
A dramatic amphitheatre-like valley surrounded by snow-capped peaks, the Cirque de Gavarnie valley was carved out of the Pyrenees mountains by glacial erosion and includes one of the highest waterfalls in Europe. 
 
66. Pyrénées-Orientales, south western France
 
Take a look at the Orgues de l’ille sur Tet, a striking rock formation that looks like organs from a church. TripAdvisor reviewers lavish praise on the site, suggesting it's an easy walk but a "spectacular" experience. 
 
Photo: Vassil/WikiCommons
 
67. Bas-Rhin, eastern France
 
The Grande Île area is a real attraction, surrounded by two forks of the River Ill in Strasbourg, with a cathedral, four ancient churches and a palace all in one little district. 
 
68. Haut-Rhin, eastern France
 
The colourful Eguisheim village was voted France's favourite in 2013. Expect winding concentric streets, fairytale spires, lively floral decorations and slanted half-timbered buildings.
 
Photo: Tambako The Jaguar/Flickr
 
69. Rhône, central France
 
Head to the Old Town in Lyon and take in the gastronomic delights that put this central city on the world map for food. 
 
 
70. Haute-Saône, eastern France
 
Bet you've not heard of the small town of Pesmes. You'll feel like you've gone back in time in this pretty little village. 
 
Photo: JGS25/WikiCommons
 
71. Saône-et-Loire, eastern France
 
Get up close and personal with the Roman ruins across the town of Autun, inclusing Roman ramparts, the impressive Janus Temple (pictured below), and a relatively intact theatre. 
 
Photo: Alchemia/WikiCommons
 
72. Sarthe, central France
 
It wouldn't be fair to ignore the Le Mans Cathedral. Just seeing it from outside is enough to impress many, but take a closer look at the stained glass windows if you make it inside. 
 
Photo: SelbyMay/WikiCommons
 
73. Savoie, eastern France
 
Skiing in Val-d'Isère should be on everyone's bucket list (and don't rule out a good summer hike in the area either!).
 
74. Haute-Savoie, eastern France
 
Stroll along the waterside in delightful Annecy and take picture-postcard snaps along the way.
 
Photo: Yves/WikiCommons
 
75. Paris
 
Where do we even begin with Paris? Surely, surely it has to be the Eiffel Tower, non? But our real tip would be to take a long stroll along the ten streets you just have to walk down in the City of Light
 
76. Seine-Maritime, northern France
 
A picturesque town on the Normandy coast, Étretat was a much-loved subject of the nineteenth-century Impressionists and is now a popular seaside getaway. The perfect starting place for windswept walks and an ice cream on the beach.

Photo: Benh Lieu Song/Flickr

77. Seine-et-Marne, south east of Paris
 
The Palace of Fontainebleau and its surrounding forests are one of the best day-trips from Paris you could do.
 
78. Yvelines, west of Paris
 
OK, this was perhaps the easiest on the list. Visit the Palace of Versailles for a spectacular look at France's royal history. Simply breathtaking.
 
Photo: Pixabay
 
79. Deux-Sèvres, western France
 
Spend an afternoon in the small town of Niort, including a chateau and an impressive old keep. 
 
80. Somme, northern France
 
Pay your respects at one of the many military cemeteries like Thiepval, the resting place of those who lost their lives at the Battle of the Somme in World War One. But for us the best World War One site to visit is the Lochnagar crater, south of the village of La Boisselle, where the British planted underground explosives on the first day of the battle of the Somme.
 
81. Tarn, south western France
 
The small town of Cordes-sur-Ciel is magical... when the valleys below are shrouded in mist, the hilltop town of appears to be sitting upon the sky.
 
82. Tarn-et-Garonne, south western France
 
Cross the Pont Vieux in Montauban, one of the oldest bridges in the region. It's in remarkable condition considering it was built in the 1300s.
 
Photo: BastienM/WikiCommons
 
83. Var, southern France
 
Drift in a canoe across the turquoise waters of France’s third biggest lake, Le Lac de Sainte Croix. Surrounded by towering cliffs, the lake is well worth visiting for a weekend away. 
 
84. Vaucluse, southern France
 
Why not take a look at the Théâtre antique d'Orange - which was built in the 1st century AD by the Romans. It's been a Unesco World Heritage site since 1981.
 
85. Vendée, eastern France 
 
Check out historical theme park Puy de Fou where guests can enjoy special effects which include a Viking longboat emerging from the water to attack a reconstructed 1000-year-old fortress. 
 
86. Vienne, western France
 
Visit the world famous healing spa waters of La Roche-Posay, a village which is also known for its charming medieval centre and medieval castle. 
 
87. Haute-Vienne, central France 
 
Include the ruins of Oradour-sur-Glane on your list of must-sees in this region. Destroyed in 1944 by the Nazis, the original village has been maintained as a permanent memorial and museum. 
 
Photo: Alex Hudghton/WikiCommons
 
88. Vosges, eastern France
 
Follow in the footsteps of Joan of Arc and pay homage to France's heroine in her birthplace, the stunning village of Domremy-la-Pucelle, where visitors can even visit the house where she was born.  
 
89. Yonne, central France 
 
Don't miss out on Morvan Regional Natural Park, a protected area of woodlands, lakes and traditional farmland in the Burgundy region.   
 
90. Territoire-de-Belfort, eastern France 
 
Be sure not to miss the Lac de Malsaucy where lovers of the outdoors can enjoy watersports, footpaths and mountain biking, or take advantage of the beach. 
 
Photo: Territoire-de-Belfort
 
91. Essonne, south of Paris 
 
Follow in Vladimir Putin's footsteps and visit the stunning Russian Orthodox cemetery in Sainte-Geneviève-des-Bois, the burial place of the White Russians who arrived in Paris after the Bolshevik revolution in Russia. 
 
92. Hauts-de-Seine, west of Paris
 
See how the other half lived at the Chateau de Malmaison, where you can visit the boudoir of Empress Josephine in the home she shared with Napoleon Bonaparte.
 
Photo: Moonik/WikiCommons
 
93. Seine-Saint-Denis, north east of Paris
 
Don't miss out on the world's largest antiques and second-hand goods market. Covering seven hectares which encompass seven markets, Saint-Ouen's flea market is an institution in its own right and the ideal place to ferret out unique treasures.
 
Photo: Parisissharing/Flickr
 
94. Val-de-Marne, to the south east of Paris 
 
Check out the impressive Rungis farmers market, the biggest wholesale food market in the world, which dates back to the 10th century.  
 
95. Val-d'Oise, north of Paris 
 
And lastly, take a walk through the town of Auvers-sur-Oise, which was made famous by the paintbrushes of countless painters, most notably Vincent van Gogh.
 
Wheat Field with Crows, one of Van Gogh's last paintings. Photo: WikiCommons

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