Step back in time: A history tour through France

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Visit historic chateaux, battlefields and Roman ruins on a historic tour of France (Photo: Jim Trodel)

Visit historic chateaux, battlefields and Roman ruins on a historic tour of France (Photo: Jim Trodel)

France has a wonderful array of historic attractions to explore, from Roman amphitheatres and prehistoric cave art to Renaissance palaces and medieval fortresses. Step back in time and let history come alive as you explore historic sites in France. Here are just some of the historic treasures you’ll find in France:

Roman treasures

Nimes Arena is one of the best preserved amphitheatres in the world (Photo: Wolfgang Staudt)

Nimes Arena is one of the best preserved amphitheatres in the world (Photo: Wolfgang Staudt)

If you’re interested in Roman architecture and want to be inspired by their engineering feats then the city of Nimes in southern France is a great place to start. The influence of the Roman Empire can be seen in structures like Nimes Arena, which is one of the most well-preserved amphitheatres in the world. Visitors to the Nimes Arena can see exhibits with the assistance of a great audio guide. Nimes is also home to La Maison Carrée, a temple that was built in 16BC by Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa, as well as The Magne Tower, which was built in the 1st century BC by Emperor Augustus and offers beautiful views of the city.

There is a fascinating archaeological site, Alesia, in Alise-Sainte-Reine. Here you can see the ruins of houses, a theatre, a basilica and shops.  The city of Arles also has fine examples of Roman architecture in the form of Théâtre antique d’Arles, and the Arles Amphitheatre. There is also a well-preserved amphitheatre in Lyon, known as the Amphithéâtre des Trois Gaules (Amphitheatre of the Three Gauls). Lyon also has some Roman Baths that date back to around the 2nd century.

Chateaux fit for a princess

CHATEAU DE CHAMBORD (Photo: Panoramas)

Chateau de Chambord (Photo: Panoramas)

You can’t take a historic journey through France without visiting some of the country’s magnificent chateaux to get a little taste of how French royalty lived. The most famous of these is of course the Palace of Versailles, which was originally built as a hunting lodge but expanded to become one of the largest royal residences of the time. It served as the home of three French kings until the French Revolution. You can explore the history of the palace and its colourful characters like Marie Antoinette at the palace museum.

One of my favourite attractions in France is Chateau de Chambord, an impressive palatial estate on the Loire River. Modelled on classical Italian Renaissance architecture, the 440-room chateau has a splendid façade, particularly on the northern side. Entrance to this beautiful chateau is free for EU nationals under 25. Other impressive castles in the Loire Valley include Chenonceau and Amboise.

Another castle worth visiting is Chateau de Pirou in Normandy, which was built to defend the harbour. This fortified castle comes complete with moat, ramparts and turrets.

If you’re not satisfied just visiting these impressive chauteaux, you can always stay in a Loire Valley chateau.

Churches, abbeys and cathedrals

The Abbey perched on top of the hill in Mont Saint Michel is well worth a visit (Photo: afloresm)

The Abbey perched on top of the hill in Mont Saint Michel is well worth a visit (Photo: afloresm)

Visiting historic churches and cathedrals is a wonderful way to get a glimpse into the history of France. Probably the most famous of these is Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, where you can take free guided tours. The Benedictine Abbey at Mont Saint-Michel is also well worth a visit. For beautiful examples of Gothic architecture you should visit Strasbourg Cathedral, Cathedral St-Etienne in Bourges, Tours Cathedral and Reims Cathedral.

In Marseille in the south of France, you’ll find Abbaye Saint-Victor, which has a fascinating history and houses a crypt with tombs and sarcophagi, while Abbaye aux Hommes in Caen is the final resting place of William the Conqueror.

A popular cathedral to visit is the Romanesque-style Basilica of St Sernin in Toulouse, which is one of the stops along the route to Santiago de Compostela. Those with an interest in art may also want to visit the 13th-century Cathedral Notre-Dame de Rouen, which was immortalised by Claude Monet in a series of paintings.

On the battlefields

The Ossuary of Douaumont which commemorates the Battle of Verdun (Photo: Paul Arps)

The Ossuary of Douaumont which commemorates the Battle of Verdun (Photo: Paul Arps)

The turbulent history of France means that there are plenty of battlefields for history buffs to choose from. You may want to follow The Circuit of Remembrance, which is a 40-mile route between Albert and Peronne, which takes you past battlefields, memorials and war museums.

Take a trip back to June 6, 1944 on guided tour of the D-Day beaches of Normandy. The Battle of Normandy Memorial Museum in Bayeux is a great place to learn more about World War II. You may also want to visit the Dunkirk War Museum, and the Dunkirk Cemetery and Memorial. For a bit of history from World War I you can visit Douaumont Ossuary memorial where you can see the graves of soldiers who died during the Battle of Verdun.

If you’re more interested in the Hundred Years’ War than World War I or II visit the Agincourt Battlefield near the town of Azincourt, which was the site of a fierce battle between the English and French on 25 October, 1415. You can also visit the Joan of Arc Memorial Cross located in Rouen.

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KerrynStep back in time: A history tour through France

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