'Sure Value' places to visit in France: UNESCO Sites
France offers so many tourist attractions, it is difficult to know which ones are 'really good'. Tourism is big business in France, and every city, town or village will vie for your attention. At times, uninteresting sites are touted as 'encroyable!' when in fact they are just average or completely unworthy of your time. If you've ever been enticed by a glossy brochure that did not live up to its promise, you know what we mean. We offer the following list of locations (put together by UNESCO, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, whose focus is on the preservation of cultural sites and the conservation of nature) as 'sure values' meaning, you will not be disappointed. If traveling in a France region near a UNESCO site, it will be worth the detour.
Amiens Cathedral (Picardy): Located in center of Picardy, Amiens Cathedral is one of the largest Gothic churches of the 13th century.
Belfries of France (Nord Pas de Calais+Picardy): Built between the 11th and 17th centuries, twenty-three belfries in the north of France highlight the Roman, Gothic, Renaissance, and Baroque styles of architecture.
Bourges Cathedral (Loire Valley): Built between the late 12th and late 13th centuries, the Cathedral of St Etienne of Bourges is one of the great masterpieces of Gothic art. It is admired for its proportions and the unity of its design.
Canal du Midi (Languedoc-Roussillon & Midi-Pyrénées): This 360-km network of navigable waterways (Midi-Pyrénées and the Languedoc-Roussillon regions) linking the Mediterranean and the Atlantic through 328 structures (locks, aqueducts, bridges, tunnels, etc.) is one of the most remarkable feats of civil engineering in modern times.
Cathedral of Notre-Dame, Former Abbey of Saint-Remi and Palace of Tau, Reims (Champagne-Ardenne): The Notre-Dame in Reims is a masterpieces of Gothic art. The former abbey (a 9th-century nave) houses the remains of Archbishop St Rémi (440–533), who instituted the Holy Anointing of the kings of France.
Chartres Cathedral (Loire Valley): The Chartres Cathedral marks the high point of French Gothic art. It is famous for its 12th and 13th century stained glass windows, from which the color 'chartreuse' was named.
Church of Saint-Savin sur Gartempe (Poitou-Charentes): Also known as the 'Romanesque Sistine Chapel', the Abbey-Church of Saint-Savin in the Département of Vienne, Poitou-Charentes region, contains many beautiful 11th- and 12th-century murals.
Cistercian Abbey of Fontenay (Burgundy): Located in the Département of Côte d'Or, Bourgogne Region, this Abbey is an excellent illustration of the ideal of self-sufficiency as practiced by the earliest communities of Cistercian monks.
Decorated Grottoes of the Vézère Valley (Aquitaine): Located in the Department of the Dordogne, the Vézère valley contains 147 prehistoric sites dating from the Palaeolithic and 25 decorated caves.
Historic Centre of Avignon (Provence): Located in the South of France region, this city was the seat of the papacy in the 14th century. Although there is much to see, the main attraction is 'The Palais des Papes'.
Historic Fortified City of Carcassonne (Languedoc-Roussillon): Example of a medieval fortified town, with its massive defences encircling the castle and the surrounding buildings, its streets and its fine Gothic cathedral.
Historic Site of Lyons (Rhone-Alps): Founded by the Romans in the 1st century B.C. as the capital of the Three Gauls and has continued to play a major role in Europe's political, cultural and economic development.
Jurisdiction of Saint-Emilion (Aquitaine): Pilgrimage route to Santiago de Compostela and many churches, monasteries and hospices.
Le Havre (Normandy): The city of Le Havre, on the English Channel in Normandy, is an outstanding post-war example of urban planning and architecture based on the unity of methodology and the use of prefabrication.
Mont-Saint-Michel and its Bay (Normandy): A Gothic-style Benedictine abbey dedicated to the archangel St Michael, located on a rocky islet in the midst of vast sandbanks exposed to powerful tides between Normandy and Brittany.
Palace and Park of Fontainebleau (Ile-de-France): The medieval royal hunting lodge of Fontainebleau, used by the kings of France from the 12th century.
Palace and Park of Versailles (Ile-de-France): The principal residence of the French kings from the time of Louis XIV to Louis XVI.
Paris, Banks of the Seine: The evolution of Paris and its history can be seen from the River Seine, from the Louvre to the Eiffel Tower, from the Place de la Concorde to the Grand and Petit Palais.
Place Stanislas, Place de la Carrière and Place d'Alliance in Nancy (Lorraine): The oldest and most typical example of a modern capital where an enlightened monarch, Stanislas Leszczynski, proved to be sensitive to the needs of the public.
Pont du Gard (Roman Aqueduct) (Languedoc-Roussillon): Technical and artistic masterpiece designed by Roman architects and hydraulic engineers shortly before the Christian era.
Provins, Town of Medieval Fairs (Ile-de-France): Fortified medieval town situated in the former territory of the powerful Counts of Champagne.
Roman and Romanesque Monuments of Arles (Provence): Impressive Roman monuments, of which the earliest – the arena, the Roman theatre and the cryptoporticus (subterranean galleries) – date back to the 1st century B.C.
Roman Theatre and its Surroundings and the "Triumphal Arch" of Orange (Provence): Built between A.D. 10 and 25, the Roman arch is one of the most beautiful and interesting surviving examples of a provincial triumphal arch from the reign of Augustus.
Routes of Santiago de Compostela in France (many locations in south of France): To reach Spain pilgrims had to pass through France, and the group of important historical monuments included in this inscription marks out the four routes by which they did so.
Royal Saltworks of Arc-et-Senans (Franche-Comté): Located near Besançon, with construction started in 1775, this vast, semicircular complex was designed to permit a rational and hierarchical organization of work and was to have been followed by the building of an ideal city, a project that was never realized.
Strasbourg – Grande île (Alsace): The historic centre of the Alsatian capital. It has an outstanding complex of monuments within a fairly small area.
The Loire Valley between Sully-sur-Loire and Chalonnes (Loire Valley): An outstanding cultural landscape of great beauty, containing historic towns and villages, great architectural monuments.
Vézelay, Church and Hill (Burgundy): With its sculpted capitals and portal, the Madeleine of Vézelay – a 12th-century monastic church – is a masterpiece of Burgundian Romanesque art and architecture - houses the relics of St Mary Magdalene.
Other "special" UNESCO sites:
Pyrénées (France Midi-Pyrénées & Spain): Mont Perdu
Natural Cape Girolata, Cape Porto, Scandola Nature Reserve and the Piana Calanches in Corsica
If you have visited any of these sites, please leave a comment and share your experience with us! For more information, and a full list of recommended sites, please visit UNESCO.