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A Regional Tour of France

In the US regional differences are stretched out for miles and miles. Even though are regions and landscapes can be incredibly diverse, the change from one to another is fairly gradual and you often have to drive a long way before anything changes.

Not the case in France. Just taking the area Lyon, you have to the east flatlands with small lakes and ponds, and if you go further, you run into the Alps. To the northwest, vineyards and rolling hills with naturally ochre colored stone for building constructions, and further west still the Loire river valley and then, the Massif Centrale, dormant volcanoes which make up a small, low, mountain-like range. Not to mention due south, where you can find prehistoric caves, or the north where you eventually leave the Beaujolais vineyards for Burgundy vineyards.

All of these changes are within about a 2 hours drive of Lyon.

But it's not only landscape we're dealing with, it's also regional identity, and of course food. Each region, and each city in many cases, has its own identity, history, and local artistic and culinary traditions. This is one of the elements I love about France: by moving just a little, you can discover a completely new region and local culture.

These local traditions are often protected and celebrated. For example, architecture in many regions is controlled, so that protected historic buildings cannot be architecturally changed and so that new buildings reflect the existing architectural style. 

To illustrate these regional changes, we'll take a visual tour of the East of France, moving from Strasbourg in the North, all the way down to Marseille in the South, a distance of about 800 km or about 500 miles. These are all pictures I've taken over the years as I've had the opportunity to explore many of France's different regions.  

We start our tour with Strasbourg in the North. Strasbourg is on the border with Germany (there's literally a bridge you can take to walk over the Rhine river to Germany).  The German influences are obvious in the architecture and in the food, a local specialty is chouchroute, a dish including different sausages and sauerkraut. You can also see remnants of the Alsatian language in this part of France, very similar looking and sounding to German. 


Kougelhopf pastries, Strasbourg

Moving south we arrive in the Burgundy wine country, the region the city of Dijon is in. Burgundy is known for sophisticated, often 'mineral' tasting wines and colorful roof tiles.   

Beaune, typical Burgundy roof tiling
Further south of Burgundy is the Franche-Comté, a region with spectacular cheese, low rolling mountains in the Jura and beautiful nature.

Baume-les-Messieurs, Franche-Comté

lake in the Jura region, Franche-Comté
Then moving down still we approach the French Alps and their local traditions. 
Annecy canal
I had the opportunity to observe one such local tradition, a festival called the Retour des Alpages in Annecy. It's a common festival in mountain towns to signal the end of summer, as livestock are literally paraded down from the mountain tops to lower ground to prepare for winter. People dress up in traditional clothing and animals are adorned with bells, handkerchiefs and other things. 
Retour des Alpages festival, Annecy
 Retour des Alpages festival, Annecy

After that we pass through the French Alps themselves, bright and white in the winter snow. It's very common for French people to head to the Alps during the February school vacation to ski. 

                        Puy-Saint-Vincent, French Alps

Puy-Saint-Vincent, French Alps
Continuing south and further west we come to the Beaujolais. The Beaujolais is a very beautiful region of vineyards and even though it's best known for the Beaujolais nouveau ('young' wine that is cultivated an released every year) there are also very good, old wine that comes from this region. There is also characteristic yellow/ocher colored stone used for a lot of construction (called pierres dorées).
vineyard, Beaujolais wine country
Jarnioux, Beaujolais wine country
To the east of the Beaujolais is Lyon, France's third largest city after Marseille. Lyon has two major rivers that run through it, the Rhône and the Saône. 
Lyon, view of Rhône river
view of Lyon
In Lyon itself we can see strong Italian influences in the architecture and history.  
Lyon, old town
Heading south from Lyon we enter into the regions that are considered the true south of France, starting with the area around Avignon. As you can see, this part of France is littered with Roman ruins, the theater in Orange and the amphitheater in Nîmes are great examples. 

ancient theater, Orange
amphitheater, Nîmes

Roman Aqueduct, the Pont du Gard

The countryside also changes in this part of the country, becoming arid with lots of cypress trees, olive groves and lavender fields. 
olive grove, St. Rémy de Provence

Abbaye de Sénanque

ochre mine in Roussillon

Montagne Sainte Victoire (represented in and made famous in Cézanne's paintings)

It's no wonder that so many tourists and celebrities flock to this region of France, with its 300 days of sunshine out of the year.

Gordes; American celebrities (John Malkovich, Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie) own homes in this town or in the surrounding area 
Aix-en-Provence, Place Albertas

Aix-en-Provence, Hôtel de Ville

Hôtel de Ville, Aix-en-Provence

Finally, we arrive on the coast in Marseille and its surrounding beaches. Marseille is the oldest city in France, dating back to the Greeks who founded the first port there in around 600 BC. 

Marseille, Ile de Frioul

Marseille, view of Old Port

Notre Dame de la Garde, Marseille
The Mediterranean itself obviously has beautiful scenery, with many small fishing ports and secluded beaches located along the coast. 

Carry-le-Rouet, Mediterranean coast

port, Carry-le-Rouet
Sausset-les-pins, Mediterranean coast

I hope you've enjoyed this short tour through the east of France. 

I love discovering new places in France, with their local traditions and specialities. Even though I feel I've seen quite a bit now, there is still so much more to discover! 


  1. Fantastic overview! The pictures are breath taking. This was a pleasure to read. You should keep traveling and sharing your views.

  2. This post was amazing! Thank you for sharing - I am thoroughly enjoying reading your experiences & hope to plan my own trip soon!

  3. Thank you! Good luck with your possible trip planning, there is so much to see here...


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