Top 5 Must Do's in France

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1. Roman Gaul

The Romans conquered the tribal Gauls in 51BC, but they had established themselves as force to be reckoned with at least a century before. Today, from the baths and the arena on Paris' Left Bank to multiple sites in Provence, visitors to France can get a rich representation of the glory that was ancient Rome.

2. Medieval France

The Gothic cathedrals that visitors now flock to see throughout Europe were first built in France, starting in 1120 at the Abbey of Saint-Denis in a northern suburb of Paris. St. Denis contains an unrivaled collection of royal tomb effigies though the actual remains were plundered and scattered during the French Revolution. Other notable cathedrals to visit include Chartres with its remarkable stained glass windows and Amiens, the largest in France, which reportedly contains the head of John the Baptist.

3. Kings, Queens and Emperors

The French monarchy has a history nearly as old as the country itself. Even the 18th century revolutionaries who demanded that Louis XVI and his wife, Marie Antoinette, be guillotined on what is today the Place de la Concorde in Paris, did not end despotic rule. The kings and queens that ruled France moved throughout the countryside setting up court in myriad castles along the Loire Valley. Even the Louvre, a national museum since the Revolution, was at one time on the courtly circuit. At the height of French dynastic power, Louis XIV, calling himself the Sun King turned a small hunting lodge into one of the world's most famous palaces - Versailles. Napoleon, arguably the most well-known Frenchman of all, made his mark with the palace of Fontainebleau on the outskirts of Paris and the Arc de Triomphe at the end of the Champs-Elysées - a monument to his military exploits which he did not live to see completed.

4. Modern France

The Impressionists of the late 19th and early 20th centuries did indeed make an impression worldwide. Their unique contribution to art can be traced at the Museée d'Orsay and, especially for garden lovers, at Monet's Giverny. Later in the 20th century, the beaches of Normandy saw some of the heaviest fighting of World War II. Visitors today can not help but be moved by the quiet cemeteries overlooking the seaside cliffs that have seen such destruction.

5. Geographic Diversity

For a country the size of Texas, France has an amazing diversity of landscapes. From world-class metropolitan areas like Paris to the tiniest villages, visitors can easily get a sense of urban and rural living. Nearly 2000 miles of coastline, on the Atlantic to the west and the Mediterranean to the south, offer numerous sun and beach escapes. And, rising to the highest elevations in Europe, France also boasts two mountain ranges, the Alps on the east bordering Italy and Switzerland, the Pyrenees in the south bordering Spain.

November 12, 2009 new by kimerly

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