The Stunning Dozen: France’s Most Beautiful Locations

by Jessica Tiare Bowen

A recent United Nations World Tourism Organization study revealed that France is the world’s most popular tourist destination, with the number of visitors totaling 83 million in 2012, 17 million more than its own population. Part of France’s allure is that it has everything from picturesque beaches and Mediterranean resorts, to charming villages that are nestled in the magnificent French Alps.

Look up to the famous Palace of Versailles while teaching in France.
Look up to the famous Palace of Versailles while teaching in France. Photo provided by Troy Peden

While Paris is a fascinating city everyone should visit at least once, if you’ll be in France for a teacher’s position, you should really take some time to explore the many other beautiful places the nation has to offer. Here is a look at some of the most beautiful destinations that should be on your not-to-be-missed-list while teaching in France.


This idyllic riverside village, located just an hour Northwest of Paris, is best known as the home of Monet’s Gardens. You can see the artist’s water lilies on canvas at the Musee d’Orsay and Musee Marmottan, but viewing them in person truly brings these amazing works to life.

Just like the paintings, the gardens burst with the myriad of colors found on the impressionist painter’s palette. The walled water garden, built by Monet himself, is what inspired many of his paintings and featured water lillies, weeping willows, purple and white wisterias, bamboo, and, of course, his famous green Japanese bridge.

The Loire Valley

The Loire Valley is frequently referred to as the garden of France. Spanning more than 170 miles, this peaceful valley is also home to one of the most striking rivers in all of Europe, the Loire. This region is home to fairytale-like castles and stunning chateaus, including Chateau de Chenonceau, considered a masterpiece of 16th century Renaissance architecture.

You’ll find a number of shops selling fresh produce and local cheese, as well as enticing picnic spots along the river banks. The Loire Valley is also known as a wine-lover’s paradise, with its temperate climate drawing travelers from around the world to taste its wide variety of fine wines.

Côte d’Azur

The sexy scene along the Mediterranean coastline offers a spectacular sun-drenched area that has called to celebrities, royalty, renowned artists, and writers for many years. The Côte d’Azur is famed for its stylish cities that include Cannes, St-Tropez and Nice, all exclusive holiday resorts.

You’ll want to bring your best swimwear for lying on the soft white sand beaches that sit at the edge of deep blue, alluring waters. Here, you’ll be among chic French women, and perhaps a few Hollywood stars too.


Besançon is a hidden gem, mostly unknown to travelers outside of France and tucked into the foothills of the Alps at the Swiss border. Here, you’ll find plenty of historic charm, including classic buildings that date back to the Spanish Renaissance and the Middle Ages. Discover one of the most gorgeous historic centers in the nation, home to the remains of what is thought to have been a theater in Castan Square, with its eight Roman Corinthian columns. Walk narrow, winding cobbled roads to discover museums and galleries around nearly every corner, including what the locals call, “Little Louvre,” Musee des Beaux Arts.


This picturesque city is renowned for its riverfront half-timbered houses. Sitting at the border of France and Germany, it seems to have magically appeared out of a children’s fairytale book. It offers characteristics of both countries, drawing travelers with its old world charms, as well as those who are seeking to explore the adjacent Black Forest.

An ornate 15th century Gothic cathedral dominates its city center. Climb up the 332 steps to the top to enjoy awe-inspiring views of the Black Forest and Vosges Mountains on a clear day.


The breathtaking Pyrenees city of Pau is home to beautiful parks, gardens and museums, as well as Pau Castle, a royal residence that was the birthplace of Henry IV, King of France and Navarre. Take a stroll along the Boulevard des Pyrenees, stretching from one end of Pau to the castle, for panoramic views and picture-perfect photo opportunities of the Pyrenean Mountains.


Champagne-Ardenne is, not surprisingly, the birthplace of champagne, in addition to being one of the prettiest regions of France. Situated in the northeast bordering Belgium, you’ll find a tranquil countryside, along with medieval chateaus and a landscape dotted with vineyards. Visit the city of Reims to try some of the best champagne in the world, or tour the chalk caves at Celliers Ruinart.

The Palace of Versailles

Just 30 minutes north of Paris, the Palace of Versailles is a must-see. This former center of political power is famed for its highly ornate chateau, as well as its exquisitely manicured gardens. Once the home of the kings and queens of France, including Louis XVI and his wife Marie Antoinette, it has been transformed over the years, but still retains some political functions.


This village sits among rugged mountains and the incredible scenery of the largest nature reserve in Haute Savoie. It’s been recognized as one of “Les Plus Beaux Villages de France,” or “The Most Beautiful Villages of France.” With as many as 30 waterfalls that can be seen cascading down limestone cliffs that are nearly 1,700 to over 2,300 feet in height, it’s arguably one of the most scenic towns in all of Europe.

Mont Saint-Michel

Mont St-Michel and its Gothic-style Benedictine abbey is the fourth-most visited national monument in all of France, with about 1.3 million visitors each year, and for good reason. It is an imposing sight set atop a rocky island among powerful tides, connected by a causeway to northwest France. Below the abbey is a medieval village complete with lively pedestrian streets and shops.


This medieval village referred to as the “Pearl of Geneva” sits on the shores of Lake Geneva, transporting visitors back to the 14th century with two fortified gateways and a majestic lakeside castle. Walk the cobbled streets to view stone houses with wooden balconies covered with wisteria and geranium, as well as other brilliant flower displays, and visit artisanal workshops tucked into the buildings.


If you have a little extra time on your hands, visiting the French island of Corsica will bring you to some of France’s most beautiful, wild beaches as well as impressive waterfalls, spectacular canyons, and crystal-clear aquamarine pools. From Nice, you can be there via ferry in less than four hours.