It’s Bastille Day in France and the country is celebrating. The UK might still be at work, lamenting the lack of a Bank Holiday, but we’ve come up with a solution: planning a future holiday to France.
On 14th July, 1789, just under a thousand Parisians stormed the Bastille Prison in France, releasing its inmates and marking the beginning of republican democracy and the end of tyrannical rule. Since then, France has celebrated the event and its consequences with a national holiday every year on the same date.
It’s said that rather than commemorating the storming of the Bastille itself, 14th July is a day to celebrate the three tenets of the republican national motto: liberty, equality and fraternity. France celebrates each year with an abundance of fireworks, communal eating and parades across the country.
Highlights include a military parade along the historic Champs-Elysee avenue, where French troops march, ride and drive with world leaders in attendance. It is said to be the oldest military parade in the world, having first taken place on Bastille Day in 1880. The Champ de Mars will fill up with people in the evening for a fireworks display, too.
To mark the occasion, Group Leisure & Travel is celebrating all things French. Here, we’ve put together a list of group-friendly travel ideas together, covering the great places that France has on offer.
The City of Love
Pictured: The Louvre, Paris.
Make a start on France by heading to the capital, where tourist honey traps are in abundance. From the Eiffel Tower to Notre Dame and the Moulin Rouge, you’ll find plenty of places to tick off just by spending a few days in this beautiful city. Make time for the Louvre, where everything from Egyptian mummies to Venus de Milo and Leonardo's Mona Lisa can be swooned over.
Paris is also home to the romantic Buttes-Chaumont park, the Latin Quarter amid Medieval churches and Roman remains, St-Germain with its publishers, cafés and fashion boutiques, and the beautifully preserved historic Marais.
Pictured: Marseille harbour.
France's ‘second city’, Marseille, has kicked on since its stint as the European Capital of Culture in 2013. This great port is France’s oldest city, founded by Greek traders 2,600 years ago, and has plenty to see and do.
Groups can explore the souks (markets) of the Capucin district, Marseille’s emblematic avenue, La Canebière, and climb to Le Panier, claimed to be the oldest urban quartier in France. Don’t forget to make time for a bracing visit to the fortifications on the prison island of If.
Rouen and Lyon
Pictured: Night-time in Lyon.
Rouen, capital of the northern French region of Normandy, is a port city on the River Seine. Snap-happy visitors can enjoy a skyline dominated by the spires of Cathédrale Notre-Dame, much-painted by Impressionist Claude Monet, plus enjoy sights of Gothic churches, such as Saint-Maclou and Saint-Ouen, and a cobblestoned pedestrian centre with Medieval half-timbered houses.
Lyon is the capital city in France’s Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region and reflects 2,000 years of history from the Roman Amphithéâtre des Trois Gaules, Medieval and Renaissance architecture in Old Lyon, to the modern Confluence district on Presqu'île peninsula. Often regarded as France’s culinary capital, Lyon is famed for its hearty home-cooking in local bouchons, great with a few glasses of Beaujolais.
Ideas further afield
Pictured: A castle in the Loire Valley.
Christmas markets are a great bet for groups, easily visited by coach, rail or river, with many northern towns also including some battlefields visits. Holiday operator Shearings, for example, offers tours taking in the likes of Amiens, Arras and Lille.
Some regions are historic sites in themselves. The entire area of the Loire Valley with its Medieval fortresses built on hilltops and surrounded by ramparts is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The ski and adventure resort of Chamonix, meanwhile, is impressive for the spectacle of Mont Blanc, the highest mountain peak in Europe, soaring to 4,810 metres.
Pictured: Grounds of The Palace of Versailles
The big hitters of France such as Palace of Versailles, Chartres Cathedral, Palais des Papes and Chateau de Chambord can form an overwhelming list but many operators like ACE Cultural Tours offer escorted group study tours (e.g. music, history, natural history) such as ‘Art & Architecture Tour in the Loire Valley’ to maximise your time on the ground.
Alternatively, a number of UK operators offer group cycling trips in France with food and drink, accommodation and point to point van support part of the deal.
UK-based tour operators including Success Tours and Leger, plus river cruise companies such as Viking, Avalon Waterways and CroisiEurope all offer different French itineraries for groups, each with a variety of benefits for parties big and small.
For more French inspiration, head to the official tourism website: uk.rendezvousenfrance.com.