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Masses of rose bushes were planted in front of Monet’s house.

I am often asked by friends and colleagues for suggestions for day trips out of Paris.  There are so many destinations and great things to see and do, it’s a case of, “well, what are you interested in” or “how many trips do you want to do?”  One destination that comes up more than most is Monet’s house and garden at Giverny.  Even for those who aren’t necessarily keen gardeners, Giverny has the well-deserved reputation of being one of the loveliest experiences of a trip to France.  Although many people take an organised tour from Paris, it is very doable under your own steam.  The upside of doing it yourself is that you can spend as much time as you wish, sitting quietly on a seat in the garden or strolling at your own pace, which feels like taking a walk through a Monet painting.

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The St Nicolas Tower and the Tour de la Chaine at the mouth of the old port of La Rochelle

Less than 2 hours by car up the coast from Bordeaux will take you to the beautiful port city of La Rochelle.  One of the country’s most important seaports from the 14th to 17th centuries, the city’s luminous limestone façades glow in the bright coastal sunlight.  Although its old commercial harbour, the Vieux Port, isn’t deep enough for the modern ships of today, it’s now one of the largest yachting harbours along the French Atlantic coast.  With its straight streets, arcaded walkways, half-timbered houses adorned with fearsome gargoyles and slate tile roofs, shady promenades on the site of the city’s ancient fortifications, and some fabulous lighthouses, it’s one of our favourite places in France, and a very rewarding destination for visitors to discover.

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The Ville d’Ete in Arcachon.

Our initial idea was to make our way straight from Bordeaux up the coast, and although we had intended to stop off briefly along the way at various points of interest, our main aim was simply to get to La Rochelle.  We had been to La Rochelle some years ago, and remembered it as being a very attractive port town with lots to see and do.  However, we hadn’t realised just how much there is to see en route, and so what was supposed to be a less than two hr. car trip, with some quick diversions on the way, instead turned out to take several days!

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Porte Cailhou on Place du Palais. Photo, Shutterstock

The city of Bordeaux is now such a pleasure to visit and explore, with a rich historic heritage of elegant historic stone buildings, impressive monuments that invite the visitor to stroll along its pedestrian streets, into any number of bistros, Michelin-starred restaurants, wine bars and enticing shops that draw you in.  The city today bears little resemblance to the first time we saw it, decades ago now, when the fine stone buildings were grimy, blackened from soot and dirt, shabby and unloved.  Seeing the beautiful, creamy stone of the fine city buildings today, it’s hard to imagine its recent past.  After many years of hard work, the ‘Sleeping Beauty’ has awoken from its slumber.  It’s now a World Heritage Site, and one France’s greatest treasures.

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The pretty medieval town of Saint-Emilion is surrounded by its famous vineyards

Saint-Émilion is a charming medieval village, perched on a promontory, located in the heart of the famous Bordeaux wine area.  It is a unique site where world famous wineries produce fine wine, and together with beautiful architecture and great monuments, are a perfect match.  We had visited this lovely village very briefly many years ago, and as we were based in Bordeaux for some days, it was the ideal opportunity to head to Saint-Émilion on the convenient local bus for the day.

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