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The Best Of France: An Offbeat View

This is where you'll find the best of France: the best of everything, from food to destinations to culture.

But you'll find it differently.

That's right: I'll still provide the lists and highlights, but I'm going to provide offbeat, unusual and sometimes mysterious backstory, details that will pique your curiosity or make you want to revisit a much-loved site. Like these, for example...

France's Most Beautiful Villages

France is known for its beautiful villages, its gorgeous rural scenery and its picturesque cobblestoned streets. But there's a story behind the most beautiful villages: just because a village is drop-dead gorgeous doesn't mean it qualifies as one of the most beautiful French villages.

France's Most Intriguing Abandoned Villages

Not all our villages are beautiful. Some are ruins, abandoned for whatever reason in the past. Rather than drive by without even knowing where they are, have a look. It's a bit of a thrill, a slightly haunted feeling that emanates from the history left behind. You can even visit a few!

The Untold Secrets of the Eiffel Tower

The Eiffel Tower doesn't leave many people indifferent - you either love it or you hate it. These days, it tends to be an item of awe. But when it was first built, it was reviled, called a monstrosity, an aberration, and much worse. Barcelona even turned it down: an eyesore, it said. But now...

France's Best Flea Markets

Say 'flea market' and Paris tends to spring to mind because yes, it does have the enormously delightful Puces de St Ouen, which I adore. But there are others across the country that can give it a run for its money. Picture this: a giant flea market on the lawns of Chambord Castle. Perfect, right?

The 'best of France' is such a subjective concept... we can all agree that your best and my best will often be different. My best cheese will be Comté and yours Roquefort; or my best city Lyon and yours Paris... and on and on.

We'll have to agree there are many bests. France being the rich country it is — and I mean rich in culture, history and diversity — makes it almost impossible to filter out the best, or even to compare. How do you compare Chenonceau and Chambord? Or Dior and Chanel? Brie and Roquefort?

You can't. You simply accept the superlatives, dive into them, and look for another side, another story. And that's what I'm trying to do here. Yes, the Eiffel Tower may be the best-known attraction in Paris, and of course we'll talk about it. But rather than tell you how to get there (there are zillions of other blogs for that), I'll tell you facts you may not know, and stories that might amuse you. So without further ado...