There’s a reason that France ends up near the top of lots of travel bucket lists—the country is simply one of the most beautiful places in the world. Although many other places rival France for that title, the sheer variety of views in this western European country, from the heights of the Alps to the lush Loire Valley to the French Riviera, ensure that it maintains a spot near the top year after year. After all, how can you argue with views like these?
8. Aiguille du Midi
Let’s start with the tip-top of views in France. This one takes us high up in the French Alps, near Chamonix and Mont Blanc. Mont Blanc is the highest peak in the Alps. Located near the Italian-French border, Mont Blanc is popular with tourists, skiers and climbers. It’s also the location of the Aiguille du Midi, the “needle” on the Mont Blanc massif. From here, 3,777 meters up, you can experience a wonderful view: a breathtaking panoramic view of Mont Blanc and the Alps. The ascent of the needle is equally breathtaking, as you’ll ride the world’s highest vertical ascent cable car. You’ll climb nearly 3,000 meters during your ascent. If you’re brave, chance a glance beneath you; even if you don’t dare look down, you can still enjoy the stunning views of the mountains as you climb up into the clouds.
7. Eiffel Tower
It’s hard to top the Aiguille du Midi, but even if it’s not as high, the Eiffel Tower is ultimately the most iconic view of France—and for good reason. Whether you’re standing atop the tower, at 324 meters, or viewing it from the Champ de Mars or even at the top of another building to catch that quintessential Parisienne cityscape, the Eiffel Tower is practically symbolic of France. The tower, which was originally built for the 1889 World’s Fair, was supposed to be torn down, but proved so popular that it’s been standing ever since. The tower provides an excellent observation point to see Paris from on high, which is beautiful both day and night. The tower itself is also an iconic part of the cityscape of Paris and is often illuminated at night. There’s a reason the tower remains the most visited paid monument in the world.
6. Mont Saint-Michel
Perhaps less known outside France, Mont Saint-Michel is considered to be the second-most iconic view of France, right after the Eiffel Tower. Located in Normandy, on an island about one kilometer from the coast, the Mont has held strategic fortifications since ancient times. The monastery that stands today was constructed in the 700’s and exemplifies the construction of society: God at the top, followed by the abbey and the men of the church who lived there, the great halls of nobles and finally, the laity, farmers and fishermen. Today, some 3 million people visit the island each year. Surrounded by water and looking out over the ocean, the Mont Sant-Michel has a stunning backdrop that makes its architecture all the more beautiful. The abbey is especially lovely at twilight as the sun sinks, the lights come on and the stars come out.
Provence is part of Provence-Alpes-Cote d’Azur region in France, a large area that encompasses the Alps, the French Riviera and much of the historical province of Provence. Provence didn’t become part of France proper until the late 1400’s and even today, the region retains a distinct cultural and linguistic identity. Much of Provence is still intensely rural and, although the province of Aquitane is renowned for its rich land, Provence’s Mediterranean climate makes it a prime area for growing wine grapes, olive trees for olive oil and lavender. At the height of summer, a trip through rural Provence showcases colorful crops, like these lavender fields in full flower, their rich purple color extending as far as the eye can see, under the warm Provencal sun. In some areas, medieval towns, churches and chateaux form the backdrop for these vibrant displays of color.
4. Dune Pilat
Looking at this image, you might imagine that we were somewhere in the Rub’ al-Khali or the Sahara Desert, where the sand dunes pile high, forming seas of sand that roll on under a bright blue sky. If someone told you that you were looking at southern France, you might not believe them—even though it’s true. This image is of the famous Dune du Pilat, the highest sand dune in all of Europe. About 60 kilometers from Bourdeaux, the currents and winds of the Atlantic have conspired to drop about 60 million cubic meters of sand along the coast, creating a dune that stands 110 meters above sea level. The dune attracts about 1 million visitors each year. Climbing to the top offers panoramic views of the seascape of the Aracachon Bay and La Teste-de-Buch, in the midst of the Landes forest, the largest maritime-pine forest in Europe.
3. Calanques National Park
Calanques are narrow, steep-walled inlets of limestone, dolomite or other carbonite strata, typically found along the Mediterranean coast. The best and most famous examples occur along a 20-kilometer stretch between Marseille and Cassis in France. In 2012, France created a national park to protect the Massif des Calanques in this region. The white limestone cliffs are craggy and drop off steeply into the blue waters of the Mediterranean. Get up to a higher vantage point by hiking through the area, then look down on calm waters, yachts and other pleasure craft traversing the area. If hiking and heights don’t suit your fancy, hop on a tour and cruise through the narrow inlets with the sheer cliffs rising on either side of the boat, blue waters beneath you and bright blue sky above you. It’s quintessential French Riviera—and quintessential Mediterranean.
2. Castle Hill, Nice
Speaking of quintessential views of the French Riviera, you can’t get much more typical than a view of the city of Nice from Castle Hill. Once used for military fortifications, nowadays the citadel is Nice’s most famous public garden and a popular spot for tourists, even considered a “must see” for the city. The citadel provides stunning panoramas of Nice, like this one that shows the Old Harbor; other views show the Promenade des Anglais. The view is spectacular at any time of day, from sunrise to sunset. Here the sea meets the sky, and palm trees line the white sandy beaches. The colorful houses are even brighter in the sunshine, adding to the view’s cheerful tone. This is the kind of picture that gets printed on postcards we send to jealous friends and relatives with a smug “wish you were here.”
Between the lush Loire Valley and the Pyrenees Mountains, the department of Dordogne in southwestern France might seem more fairy tale than reality. Part of the region of Aquitaine, the area lies along the Dordogne River and contains more than 1,500 castles, earning it the title of “the Other Chateau Country.” Pictured here is Chateau Beynac, one of the best-preserved medieval structures in the region. It overlooks the small town below, an imposing figure as you approach on the Dordogne River. On some mornings, the castle will be shrouded in mist, as in this photograph, lending it an aura of mystery and maybe even a bit of magic. The area has served as the location for several films and novels, including the 1998 film Ever After, an adaptation of the Cinderella story. This gorgeous view proves that France truly is a land of beauty and romance.