When you get back home from a big adventure abroad, everyone always asks you, “What was your favorite place?” As a traveler, you and I both know this is an unanswerable question. I’d always say things like, “I like this place best for this… this one for this…” Or, “This place was most beautiful… this place was most fun,” to deflect questions like this. I almost feel guilty saying one spot is better than another, so before I dive in, let me say that all of Europe (my most recent trip) is exquisite. The food, culture, architecture, and history make it a unique and special continent. However, one country in particular that stood out to me was France, and this is because of many reasons.
I was lucky. I got to experience the fast-paced, city-life of France, and the slow countryside, both as a tourist and as a local. I went to Paris when I was backpacking; I stayed in an outdoor community of artists and actors and slept in a tent in the dead center of the city. I got breakfast in a café, and watched people working and bustling to their destinations, Although Paris is a city; it’s different from an American city. People still take their time, are extremely friendly and respectful, and every building is so architecturally unique and detailed that you think it must be a palace before you look closer and find out it’s a McDonald’s. I loved Paris. I could picture myself working there and grabbing a morning coffee and pastry while on the job. There is no shortage of things to do in Paris, whether you like the arts, history, sports, fashion, entertainment, or natural outdoor beauty. This city has it all.
On the flipside, I was also extremely lucky to spend a weekend with some family in the rural commune of Touffailles in Southern France. If you are ever in Southern France or want to experience the slow, countryside-feel of France, I cannot recommend this place enough. I grocery shopped at a market with local vendors selling their fresh catches of seafood and homegrown melons and vegetables. I went to small cafes sprinkled alongside cobblestone paths. I hiked up tall hills that overlooked neighboring towns and communes. The unique thing about this area is that it was occupied centuries ago, so almost all of the towns are built on tops of hills because in ancient times they needed to be built high in order to ward off and better defend against attacking intruders. History is everywhere here. My first day there I got a coffee and scone at a café, that was placed casually in the same plaza as an 11th century abbey. Wow. Drinking my coffee I got to go into the abbey and see antiquated stained-glass windows and gold decorations. I remember thinking; I could totally live like this. Walk down the hill to the town’s bakery every morning, say hello to neighbors in the close knit community where everyone knows everyone, go to the market at noon, spend my Tuesday evenings eating snails and duck, drinking local sweet white wine, and dancing at the Marché Gourmands in the Lauzerte square.
Many people in France have an apartment in Paris, where they spend Monday through Friday, working and living in the real life. And then they also have a family home in the countryside where they spend leisurely weekends basking in the sun and dining out. Well, that’s pretty much my dream! I loved every city I went to in Europe, but I’ve got to say, the French really know what they’re doing.