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CULTURE

12 places to visit on France’s Heritage Days

The Journées du patrimoine (heritage days) are when thousands of France's historic buildings, cultural centres and museums throw open their doors - many of them free of charge. Here's our pick of some places to visit.

12 places to visit on France's Heritage Days
Marseille's Fort Saint-Nicholas (Photo: Anne-Christine Poujoulat / AFP)

Over the weekend of September 16th to 18th, more than 22,000 fascinating sites and events will be open across France – many of which are not normally available to the public – so planning how to make the most of the Journées du patrimoine can be pretty overwhelming. 

Here are some of our suggestions for this year;

Palais de l’Elysée

If you’re a politics fan you can’t get closer to the heart of government than the Elysée – it’s where the French president lives and it’s also the location of meetings of government ministers and receptions for foreign dignitaries.

You usually need an invitation to enter, but every year over the heritage weekend it’s thrown open to to general public.

There are a couple of caveats to this – you only have access to the public rooms (so you won’t get to rifle through the Macrons’ bathroom cabinet or check out what boxset Brigitte is currently watching) and it’s very popular, so the (free) tickets sell out fast.

Keep an eye on the Elysée website until ticket details are posted.

Ministries and parliament

Many of the French ministries including the Prime Minister’s home/office and the finance ministry also hold tours for members of the public over heritage weekend, while you can also visit the Assemblée nationale (the French parliament) or the Senate.

Ghost Metro stations

The Paris transport network RATP is offering guided tours that take in the history of public transport in Paris, take you behind the scenes of the ongoing works to extend the Metro line and includes one of Paris’ ‘ghost’ Metro stations.

The exact times of the tours are still TBC, but you can find full details here.

Guided tour of the Transilien operational centre of the H&K lines

French national rail operator SNCF is also getting in on the act, with a guided tour of the operational centre that controls the Transilien lines, the suburban trains in the Paris region.

Groups of up to six people at a time can go behind the scenes of the management of daily rail services on the Transilien suburban trains. Find out how SNCF operators deal with normal or disrupted situations, passenger information, etc. Book here

Outside Paris

But this isn’t just about Paris, of course, there are sites open all around France.

Fort Saint-Nicholas / Citadelle de Marseille 

Marseille’s emblematic citadel has been closed to the public since it was built in 1660. But, it will open for the European Heritage Days this year.

On the programme are guided tours, demonstration workshops in the art of restoring old buildings, photographic exhibitions and (according to their website) many other surprises.

Information: www.lacitadelledemarseille.org

Manor of Sauvagnat

This is a first for the manor house of Sauvagnat, Puy-de-Dôme (Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes), which is not normally open to the public. It was built in 1841, during the reign of France’s last king, on the remains of a 16th-century farmhouse – the bakehouse (bread oven) and the well in the inner courtyard remain. 

Still in its original condition, and fully furnished with period furniture, the highlight of the visit is the beautiful cellars and an extraordinary oak frame, made by master carpenters in 1841.

Open on September 17th and 18th from 2pm to 7pm. Last admission for a guided tour 6pm. Price 5€ for adults, free for under-12s. Information: +33(0)6 42 77 56 27.

Villa Lauquié

Lest we forget. During WWII, the building in Foix, Ariège (Occitanie), was the headquarters of the Gestapo. Between November 1942 and August 1944, many local resistance fighters were interrogated and tortured here before being transferred to Saint-Michel prison in Toulouse or to concentration camps. 

The building will open to the public for the Journées du patrimoine and visitors will be able to see a presentation of photos of inscriptions on the walls by prisoners and testimonies of arrested resistance fighters.

La Métairie washhouse

If you fancy spending the day doing something a little more than simply walking round, looking at things, head to Locmaria, Morbihan (Brittany) to help with the restoration of stone walls around the La Métairie washhouse.

The worksite will be open for volunteer work from 9am to 12noon, and from 2pm to 5pm on September 17th.

Volunteers are asked to wear safety shoes and appropriate clothing, and bring, if possible, a trowel and a float. Information: 02 99 53 53 03, or email: [email protected]

Chapel of the Hospital of Alise-Sainte-Reine

Between 2pm and 6pm on Saturday, September 17th, the chapel at the hospital of Alise-Sainte-Reine, Côte-d’Or (Bourgogne-Franche-Comté), which dates back to 1659, will be open to the public.

Visitors get to enjoy its 13 paintings of the cycle of Sainte Reine, which were painted in Paris between 1625 and 1650, to serve as models for a series of tapestries intended for the Église Saint-Eustache in the capital.

The Saussy water tower

Staying in Côte-d’Or, the 143-year-old water tower at Saussy, Côte-d’Or (Bourgogne-Franche-Comté), is unique in France. Work started in 2018 to restore the tower – whose lift pump was driven by a wind turbine.

The interior of the tower will open to the public for free between 10am and 7pm on September 17th, especially for the Journées du patrimoine. 

Masonic temple

The Masonic temple in Langon, Gironde (Nouvelle-Aquitaine) opens its doors to the public to mark the 250th anniversary of freemasonry in the region.

Church of Saint Cyr and Saint Julitte

Guided tours of the church in the tiny commune of Chemillé sur Dême, Indre-et-Loire (Centre-Val de Loire), which dates back to the 11th century, are offered on the Saturday of the patrimoine weekend, from 10am to 5pm

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CULTURE

A guide for how to survive fall in France for homesick Americans

Looking to recreate American autumn festivities while living in France? Here are some of The Local's tips for how to avoid the seasonal homesickness this year.

A guide for how to survive fall in France for homesick Americans

For many, fall or autumn is a sacred time in the United States, marked by spooky cobwebs, weekends filled with visits to pumpkin patches, jugs of apple cider, and searching for the perfect Halloween costume. 

It is an easy time of year to feel homesick for Americans living in France, especially when it feels like you are missing out on holidays like Halloween and Thanksgiving with friends and family at home.

READ MORE: Readers’ tips: How to create an authentic Thanksgiving in France

While it might never be the same as a New England fall, here are some tips on how to make autumn in France feel a bit more like home:

For when you miss pumpkin patches:

Yes this is possible in France! Pumpkins grow in fields across central France, and they are available in most supermarkets once the fall season has begun. However, if you are looking for a traditional pumpkin patch experience, that might be a bit trickier to find. If you devote yourself to a bit of research, then you will likely be able to find a ‘Fête de la Citrouille‘ or ‘Foire à la citrouille‘ (Pumpkin festivals) near you. These are more like fall fairs, complete with ‘heaviest pumpkin’ competitions and food stands.

While these might be a bit different from what you are used to, they are a great way to enjoy pumpkins (in a French way).

Many of these events will be announced on Facebook, so you can start by searching there. 

If you live in the Paris region there are a few pumpkin patches not too far outside of the city. The ‘Fermes de Gally‘ host a yearly pumpkin picking and carving festival. You could also visit “Ferme du Logis” or the “Vergers de Champlain.”

For when you want to celebrate Halloween:

You have a few options for trick-or-treating, if that’s your thing. You can always organise a private event with some other Halloween enthusiasts. Though, keep in mind that in France people say “des bonbons ou un sort” instead of ‘trick-or-treat’ in English. The other option is to see whether your local mairie is hosting an event. While Halloween is definitely not as popular in France as it is in the United States, it is becoming more common. 

If you are looking for a more official, organised event, you might consider going to the “Disney Halloween Festival.” During the festivities, the ‘villains’ take over the park, which is fully decorated for Halloween. When you enter the park, you’ll be greeted by smiling scarecrows with pumpkins on their heads, lanterns lighting up the park, and characters in ‘scary’ (kid-friendly) costumes.

During the actual Halloween weekend, the park hosts dedicated soirées. Tickets usually go for 79€ to 89€ per person.

Another option, particularly if you have older kids looking for a scarier Halloween, might be Parc Asterix. Each year, usually for the entirety of the month of October, the park is decked out in autumn colours with pumpkins, corn, and even straw bales. If you want to take younger children, you can go to the ‘Petit frisson’ (small scare) section. 

For when you miss pumpkin flavoured everything:

You do not have to give up pumpkin spice if you stay in France this fall! Starbucks (with locations across the country) sells pumpkin spice lattes.

If you want to make your own PSL, you can find ‘pumpkin spice’ in France (with a bit of effort). Carrefour reportedly sells the seasoning (see HERE). For the truly determined, you can find pumpkin spice on French Amazon too. 

The best bet for finding pumpkin spice – for all your baking and coffee needs – is to see if there is a local American épicerie or store near you. You might try the “Brooklyn Fizz” store in Lyon; “The Great McCoy” market in Paris; or the “Épicerie Americaine” in Bordeaux.

If there are not any, you can always try the online store “My American Market.”

For pumpkin scented candles, you can either replace with another fall scent (search: “bougie parfumées automne“) or you can order a Bath and Body Works candle online – see HERE

Finally, if you are looking to make a homemade pumpkin pie, consider doing so with an actual pumpkin. Pumpkin purée is hard to come by in France, but chopping up the pumpkin yourself is certainly one way to satisfy the craving.

For when you miss apple picking and cider:

In France, Normandy and Brittany are known for apple production, with their own apple cider traditions. Take a trip to Normandy and enjoy apple and cider festivals – learn more HERE.  

READ MORE: French figures: The drink that sparked a regional crockery battle

While the festivals might be lacking in apple cider donuts, you can always try your hand in making some homemade. Most of the ingredients should be accessible, though you might struggle a bit early in the season with locating nutmeg (muscade en français). As the fall season goes on, most large grocery store chains ought to stock up.

For apple pie cravings, consider trying the French equivalent: tarte aux pommes. Though it might be exactly the same as American apple pie with vanilla ice cream on top, it is still delicious and available in most boulangeries. 

If you live in the Paris area, or you are visiting, you can check out Boneshaker Donuts. The owners combine French and American traditions, and always have a full fall assortment. 

For when you miss American football:

Another source of homesickness for many Americans is the lack of American football on television in France. 

If you have a VPN on your computer, you might not run into this issue as much, but for those looking to simply watch football on cable TV, you have some options as well.

Comparitech recommends France’s two official NFL broadcasters: L’Equipe and beIN Sports. L’Equipe reportedly airs every Sunday game and playoff live, including the Super Bowl. It is free to use, so you do not need to purchase a premium subscription to view NFL games. 

Another tip might be to visit Irish, British or Scottish pubs in your area. Oftentimes, they will have access to sports channels that air NFL games too. 

For college football, Hulu’s live TV option should allow you to stream most games. 

Unfortunately, the ESPN + subscription will locate your IP address, so this is not possible without a VPN. However, you can purchase the NFL Game Pass and use it from France. You can choose between watching the Redzone or simply a single, specific game. This also allows you to split your screen, so you can watch multiple games at once.

For when you are just generally homesick:

While this might not be the perfect antidote, it might be an opportunity to make the most out of France’s fall traditions. You can start creating new hobbies and pastimes that might just become your craving this time next year. Visit a spooky French cemetery, go to your local market and buy fresh squash and Brussels sprouts, sip mulled wine, or even go out foraging for mushrooms.

The Local put together a full guide to autumn in France HERE.

READ MORE: 11 ways to make the most of autumn in France

If you are missing the foliage, consider going for a hike or weekend trip to any of these French locations that are known for stunning fall views. 

At the end of the day, if you really cannot handle being far from home during autumn, consider simply visiting the US. While flights to the US are always going to be pricey, the trip is usually cheaper in autumn than during peak times, such as summer vacation or Christmas. This off-season trip might be what you (and your wallet) needs.

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