One of the most wonderful cities in Western Europe is France. It is a pool of opportunities for the creative profession offering innumerable precedents of art, history, fashion, architecture, housing some of the most iconic buildings which have marked their significance not just in France, but all over the world. France serves a beautiful amalgamation of massive hip roofs with post-modern standouts adding up to the skyline with some of the best croissants and pastries in all of Europe! 

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Apart from the most popular tourist destinations of France, the boulevards of Paris and beautiful gothic cathedrals, you might want to visit some of these not so popular yet breath-taking places to get a taste of real France!

1. Catacombs of Paris

An ancient ossuary was planned along a 1.5 km stretch 20 meters below the surface of the city, which since its establishment in the 18th century is probably one of the most curiosity-generating places one can find in Paris, France! As a result of major public health issues, the cemetery was shifted underground to a network of tunnels which was then made open to public appointments to visit. It is a completely different experience of exploring the city, walking for about an hour with the remains of hundreds and millions of Parisians. It borrows its name ‘Catacombs’ from the ancient Roman catacombs which have fascinated the world since their discovery. Several bones and skulls are piled in a wall along the path in an organized fashion which gives you chills while thinking about the uncountable lives and stories housed in this cave.

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Carefully arranged bones in the Paris Catacombs ©flickr user Andy Delcambre
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Map of the Catacombs created by the IGC, 1857 ©Wikimedia Commons
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Port Mahon in the Paris Catacombs ©flickr user Messiah Divine

2. House of the Facteur Cheval

This one of the most unusual monuments of France, something one would not expect to come across while traveling the country of cobbled stone streets and timber facades.” Palais idéal du Facteur Cheval “ which is a postman’s ideal palace is an unbelievable structure constructed by a postman between 1879 and 1912 in Hauterives. It is an example of naïve architecture explored by a man with no architectural knowledge which has served as an inspiration for my artists for centuries! Wandering around the aptly named PalaisIdéal (Fairytale Palace), you see a Hindu temple guarded by giant statues of Vercingetorix, Jules Cesar, and Archimedes on the east side, a medieval castle juxtaposing a mosque and a swiss chalet on the west side, and multiple references to antediluvian times and the Bible.

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House of Facteur Cheval ©www.facteurcheval.com
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The Vercingetorix statue on the Palais Ideal. ©Kevin Bonnaud
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A sand castle? No, the “Ideal Palace of Postman Ferdinand Cheval”. ©Emmanuel Georges

3. Foundation Le Corbusier

Known as the father of modern architecture, this Swiss-French architect has some of his most extraordinary projects housed in France including his own residential apartment Atelier de le Corbusier where he lived for over thirty years with his wife. You can find the implementation of modern architecture at its best here which is also reflected in his project of a weekend home for the Savoye family in Poissy, a little away from Paris, popularly known as Villa Savoye. If you are taking a tour of his buildings, you might want to also drop by the Convent of Sainte Marie de la Tourette, Éveux, Lyon, and Unitéd’Habitation of Nantes-Reze, Nantes.

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Villa Savoye, Poissy ©Flickr user August Fischer

4. Baccarat and its crystal artworks

Baccarat is a small beautiful town near Strasbourg which is known for its crystal manufacturing. The glasswork company in Baccarat employs the best glass-makers, cutters, and blowers who are recognized globally! Glass and crystal work from here are exported all over the world and the buildings decorated with glass in Baccarat are worth a visit while traveling in France. The Church of St. Remy which belongs to the 20th century is one magnificent example of the stained glass windows, made in wood and concrete with 20,000 pieces of crystal by the talented artists of Baccarat.

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Modern Church Saint- Remy in Baccarat ©www.tourism-lorraine.com
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Glasswork in Baccarat ©www.tourism-lorraine.com
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Interior glasswork in Modern Church Saint- Remy in Baccarat ©www.tourism-lorraine.com

5. Philharmonie de Paris

This is one of the most expensive concert halls in the country designed and then disowned by architect Jean Nouvel. It is an extraordinary structure and a very contemporary take on concert halls which establishes a sense of harmony with the Parc de la Villette and the Paris ring road. This building is a beautiful composition of subtle reflections through its paved patterns on the façade. Its architect, Jean Nouvel, who had won the project through his competition proposal, has now cut all his ties with his creation followed by legal suites about cost overruns and non-compliant execution of his design.

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Fluid exterior of Philharmonie de Paris ©en.wikiarquitectura.com
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Concert hall of Philharmonie de Paris ©en.wikiarquitectura.com
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Philharmonie de Paris ©en.wikiarquitectura.com

6. Cathédrale Notre Dame de Rouen

Cathedral Rouen is a stunning example of traditional Gothic architecture in Rouen, Normandy, France. This church presents a beautiful testimony of the evolution of Gothic art and was constructed over 4 centuries with the recent addition of a cast-iron spire in the 19th century, giving it a total height of 151 meters. This church has even served as an inspiration to artists like Monet who has painted it over time and seasons. You will feel ecstatic by the minute articulations and scriptures constructed to demonstrate an entire era. 

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Cathedral Notre Dame de Rouen ©en.rouentourisme.com
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Plan of Cathedral Notre Dame de Rouen ©www.european-traveler.com
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Beautiful carvings and scriptures of history-Cathedral Notre Dame de Rouen ©www.european-traveler.com

7. Quartier Montmartre

Montmartre is a small charming hilltop district near the Sacre Coeur, Paris which was formerly also known as the “Artist’s village” as it has been inhabited by many masters of art like Pablo Picasso, Vincent Van Gogh, Claude Monet, etc. Even today when you visit it, you might be overwhelmed by the creative spirit embodied in the neighborhood and get inspired by the exhibited art of Dali, come across some vineyards and old railway junctions, making your visit feel like no less than a movie. The district also offers visits to cemeteries and important monuments of French history.

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View of Sacre Coeur from Montmartre, Paris ©en.parisinfo.com
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Art and artists on the streets of Montmartre, Paris ©en.parisinfo.com
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Montmartre, Paris ©www.grandearche.com

8. Palais Garnier Opera House

Palais Garnier, the Opera House in Paris was a design by Charles Garnier, constructed over many years rising above all the construction challenges to be the first theatre to test the phonogram and the theatrophone. The execution of the opera on the chosen site came with a huge challenge of draining the water table, an underground lake was contained by building the cisterns and pumping out water for seven months. Palais Garnier Opera House is constructed in all its glory with several types of marbles, gold, mosaics and, profusions of various statues and paintings which gives the users an unforgettable experience!

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Palais Garnier Opera House, Paris ©en.parisinfo.com
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Monumental painting on the ceiling by the artist Marc Chagall ©en.parisinfo.com

9. Colmar

Colmar is the city you are looking for when you want to experience the joy of looking at beautiful, colorful houses on the streets while boating in a canal, giving an ecstatic experience of cities like Strasbourg and Venice at the same time, but calmer and serene. Colmar is the Alsace region’s wine capital and is known for hosting international Christmas festivals annually. The district of Colmar will serve you with houses built in the traditional French style with hipped roofs and tied facades, with some amazing riverside eateries and bakeries to drop by while exploring the city.  

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Beautiful houses of Colmar ©www.ontheluce.com
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Canals through the houses of Colmar ©www.ontheluce.com
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Eateries on the streets of Colmar ©www.ontheluce.com

10. Arles

Arles is a small city in France known for its Roman roots and inspiring painting of Van Gogh. One of the biggest attractions in Arles is the oval arena, the ancient amphitheater modeled from the Roman Coliseum. The structure is still a big part of the city’s cultural life and events and is carefully designed keeping in mind the pace of spectators going in and out while planning the stairways. Apart from the amphitheater, you might also love to pay a visit to the Van Gogh heritage exhibited in the city, incredible churches, monasteries and parks.

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Arles
Les Arènes, a painting by Vincent van Gogh of the Arles Amphitheatre ©www.atlasobscura.com
Author

Nandni is a recent graduate of architecture who is always lost in her thoughts about the influence of spaces in our everyday lives and finds a platform to express her curiosities through her scribbles and words. One story at a time!

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