Paris? Everybody goes to Paris. Go to Paris, and you'll come back with some great photos for Facebook and Flickr, stories about Notre Dame and the Louvre, and an Eiffel Tower fridge magnet.
But there's so much more to France than Paris.
If you're planning a trip to France, you should think about visiting the five villages listed below. You've probably never heard of any of them, but that's exactly why you should go. It's often when you get off the beaten path and away from the big tourist destinations that you discover the best little nooks and crannies that a country has to offer.
With a population of fewer than 2,500 people, La Gacilly is a small commune hugging the banks of the Aff River in Brittany. Despite its small size, La Gacilly is the home of the cosmetics company Yves Rocher. The company can be credited for the fragrant Jardin Botanique de La Gacilly, a botanical garden in town that contains a variety of flowering plants especially useful in cosmetics. Inside the garden, which is free to visit, guests will find 92 species of plants used for perfume and cosmetics, 38 species of medicinal and aromatic plants, 19 species of plants used for dyes, 150 species of tropical plants, and 250 species of desert plants.
In 1962, Sauternes was home to only 524. Since then, the little village has seen a "population boom" and now has about 700 people. This quiet spot in the Southwest of France is a part of Bordeaux, France's "wine country." Most people who visit Sauternes go for that reason: to taste the wine. The region where Sauternes is located is especially well-known for its dessert wines.
People may talk about the South of France, and they may talk about Brittany or Normandy, but rarely do you hear much about Central France. However, the center of France is filled with lush green valleys, magnificent chateaus, and historical places of interest. In Montbazon, which is located in the Loire Valley, visitors will find a fortress built by Fulk III, or Fulk the Black, a wild character who was the Count of Anjou from 972 to 1040. His fortress in Montbazon is one of the very oldest fortresses in all of France.
For the last 20 years, the twin coastal towns of Barneville-Carteret and the surrounding area in Normandy have gained recognition as a seaside resort destination. Today, Barneville-Carteret remains one of France's best-undiscovered gems. Caring for the local environment, Barneville-Carteret officials have turned the coastline into a Blue Flag Beach, or a seaside area that adheres to strict environmental standards.
The whole of Normandy, of course, also holds an important place in modern history. Barneville-Carteret was occupied by the German army during World War II, and the remaining German bunkers are popular tourist sites today.
High in the French Alps is Le Bourget-du-Lac, a town best-known for its nearby lake, Lac du Bourget. The glacial lake, which is 11 miles long and more than two miles in diameter at its widest point, is located at the southernmost tip of the Jura Mountains. Besides being a picturesque spot, Lac du Bourget and its surrounding mountains is the kind of area that people visit for skiing in the winter and windsurfing in the summer.
These five villages and towns in France are five of many of the country's hidden gems. Of course, you should visit Paris at least once in your life, but don't miss a chance to get out into the rest of this beautiful country.