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Five UNESCO recognised sites in France you should visit

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Five UNESCO recognised sites in France you should visit
The Cathedrale Sainte-Cecile in Albi. (Photo by Marco Bertorello / AFP)

France is now home to 51 UNESCO World Heritage sites, all of which would make for a lovely visit. If you are feeling spoiled for choice, here are five of The Local's favourites.

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Maison Carrée

Located in Nîmes in southern France, Maison Carrée was added to the UNESCO World Heritage List in September 2023, bringing the total number of French UNESCO sites up to 51.

Built at the start of the previous millennium, between 1 AD and 10 AD, the Maison Carée is one of the best preserved Roman Temples in the world. 

The "Maison Carree" ("square house" in French) in 2022 (Photo by Pascal GUYOT / AFP)

The Museum de la Romanité attributes Maison Carrée's 'excellent state of preservation' to its "continuous use since the 11th century."

The temple has been used as a private residence, namely during the Middle Ages, and then later it became the property of the Augustinian monks. 

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It has also been used as a stable, government office and even the headquarters of the archives of Nîmes before it became a museum and designated historic site.

The Episcopal city of Albi

Also located in the south of France, the town of Albi sits along the Tarn river. The Old City, or the Episcopal city of Albi, was first recognised as a UNESCO site in 2010. 

The cathedral  of Sainte Cécile is made from brick, not stone and it also stands out for its fortifications. It was constructed in the 13th century, shortly after the brutal religious conflict between Catholics and the dissident Cathar sect.

Cathedrale Sainte-Cecile (Also known as the Albi Cathedral) in Albi (Photo by Marco Bertorello / AFP)

The Bishop involved in constructing it hoped that the monument would show his power and unity with the king, as well as his disdain for heresy and resistance against religious enemies. 

The interior is decorated with frescos and stained glass.

While in the area, you can also visit the Pont-Vieux, which is one of the oldest bridges along the Tarn and gives a lovely view of the Old City, while the town also boasts an impressive museum dedicated to the painter Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, who was born in the area. 

Canal du Midi

Measuring 240km in length, the Canal du Midi gained UNESCO status in 1996 for its ‘outstanding engineering and artistic design’. 

It was built in the 17th century, with the original goal of linking the Atlantic Ocean with the Mediterranean Sea.

A lock on the Canal du Midi, near Mas-Saintes-Puelles, southern France (Photo by ERIC CABANIS / AFP)

The Canal runs from Toulouse to the Étang de Thau in Sète, near Montpellier, and it is one of the oldest canals still in use.

A feat of engineering and great technical achievement, its creator, Pierre-Paul Riquet, inspired many of the canals to follow. In fact, Thomas Jefferson, the third US president and minister to France at the time, visited the Canal du Midi in 1787 to get inspiration for future canal projects in the nascent United States.

READ MORE: Ten of the best day trips out of Paris

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Cathedral of Notre-Dame in Reims 

France is home to many 'Notre-Dame' (Our Lady) cathedrals, but the one in Reims, the unofficial capital of France's Champagne region, stands out.

It was named as a UNESCO site in 1991, but it has been a very important French landmark for centuries. During the Ancien Régime, many French kings were crowned at the Reims Cathedral. 

The Notre-Dame de Reims cathedral in Reims (Photo by FRANCOIS NASCIMBENI / AFP)

Known as one of the great masterpieces of Gothic art, construction on the cathedral began in the 13th century. It was heavily bombed during World War I, and the resulting repairs took almost two decades.

Provins 

The fortified medieval town of Provins is located a little over an hour's drive outside of Paris.

Named a UNESCO site in 2001 for its beautifully preserved medieval architecture and 11th century city walls, it was once a trade hub during the Middle Ages. If you happen to visit during the month of June, you can also enjoy their famous Medieval Festival. 

 

The site is especially known for having hosted trade fairs, where merchants would transport goods between Europe and the East.

Do you have a French UNESCO recommendation? Share your tips in the comments below

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Anonymous 2024/01/23 18:32
how can you omit le mont st michel?

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