Discover new delights in France

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Whether you’re a leading-edge baby boomer or on the back end, maybe you’ve got some disposable income and would love to explore the charms and attractions of France. While Paris and Versailles are undeniably magical and magnificent, alone, they do not a country make.

In case you’d like a few more reasons to start booking your trip from Chicago on Air France ($1100+ depending on dates) and then riding RailEurope within France to your destination, ask yourself a few questions: a) Crazy about watching elegant horses in majestic surroundings? b) Wish you could visit the scene of the D-Day landings in WWII? c) Love to see where they invented and still produce one of France’s most famous soft, runny, white-rind cheeses? d) Like to make a pilgrimage to a world-famous holy spot in France?

Open your guide book and check out Normandy on the northwest coast of France. Following are the landmarks relating to the questions above:

In case you’d like a few more reasons to start booking your trip from Chicago on Air France ($1100+ depending on dates) and then riding RailEurope within France to your destination, ask yourself a few questions: a) Crazy about watching elegant horses in majestic surroundings? b) Wish you could visit the scene of the D-Day landings in WWII? c) Love to see where they invented and still produce one of France’s most famous soft, runny, white-rind cheeses? d) Like to make a pilgrimage to a world-famous holy spot in France?

Open your guide book and check out Normandy on the northwest coast of France. Following are the landmarks relating to the questions above:

a) Le Haras du Pin is known as the “Versailles of Horses” and is the oldest and most prestigious national stud in France.

b) The beaches on the Channel Coast of Normandy is where the Allied troops broke through Nazi defenses to change the course of World War II.

c) The enchanting Norman village of Camembert has timber-frame farms built on lush green slopes typical of Norman countryside.

d) The basilica at Lisieux, dedicated to St. Therese, is the second most-visited pilgrimage site in France after Lourdes and the largest church built in France during the 20th century.

Another section of France known as Midi-Pyrénées was recently imagined into existence in accord with the trend toward regionalization in that country—a trend designed perhaps to help potential tourists more readily perceive the many and varied far-flung attractions of each area as a unified destination. Like the Pays de la Loire region further north, Midi-Pyrénées is now an area surrounding and affiliated with a regional metropolis, in this case the city of Toulouse. Just a few of the high points of the area:

a) Lourdes (now part of the Hautes-Pyrénées) offers a universal message of spirituality, peace and friendship that permeates the tiny village at the foot of the Pyrénées mountains—and welcomes the six million pilgrims who visit each year.

b) Marciac (part of the new Gers) is the scene of a giant party for jazz lovers from the around the world each August. The rest of the year visitors find quiet peace in this 13th century fortified town known as part of D’Artagnan and the musketeers’ Gascony.

c) Rocamadour (in Lot) is a sacred city suspended on a cliff that glows in the light of the setting sun. This extraordinary village transports you to a time when people from far and wide to worship the Black Virgin.

d) The capital city of the new region Midi-Pyrénées is Toulouse (in an area now known as Haute-Garonne). The fourth largest city in France (pop. 716,000), Toulouse is young, modern and dynamic and vibrates with a Latin heat that inspires both its temperament and its architecture.

Now, in case you’d like to feel like you’re in France but actually prefer the weather in the Caribbean, consider Martinique. This French-speaking island is part of France and yet is truly a tropical island paradise with events and festivals all year long. Dine year-round on sophisticated cuisine amid safe, lush green surroundings near crystal clear waters and enjoy the island’s rich history and architectural masterpieces. Stay in budget or luxury hotels or rent a villa. Top Martinique attractions range from a slave memorial to a fabulously ornate library—originally built for the 1889 Paris exhibition, then transported and rebuilt on the island—and include beaches, mountains, parks and gardens. It might cost you ~$800 to fly there from Chicago in February, but you’d sure be in a different—French and tropical—part of the world for a while.

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