There are numerous tourist classifications used in France, from ‘most beautiful village’ to ‘most beautiful stopover town’ but there is one that stands above the other, because it is government operated – the schedule of French National Monuments.
However the list is not a simple role-call of all the famous places: the Eiffel tower, for example, is NOT a listed historic monument. Rather it is a list that includes a fascinating mix of places, some of which are very well known (eg the Arc de Triomphe or Mont Saint Michel Abbey) while other’s are much less known (eg George Sand’s House or the displays in Tarbes dedicated to Marshall Foch).
Altogether there are 85 of these listed National Monuments, with something for everyone who is visiting France, whichever region they are going to. Here are a few suggestions:
Brittany Prehistoric Sites
Brittany (north-east france) is renowned worldwide for its prehistoric monuments. Chief among these are the standing stones of Carnac; the Megaliths of Locmariaquer (three very important prehistoric structures in close proximity); and the Cairn de Barnenez – probably the oldest building structure in europe, and constructed 2000 years before the Egyptian pyramids
Vezere Valley caves
A remarkable number of ‘decorated caves (ie caves decorated by prehistoric man) are found in the Vezere Valley, in the Dordogne region of south-west France, and several of these are now protected as Historic monuments. These include the carved sculptures in the Abri de Cap Blanc; the multi-coloured paintings in the Cave of Font-de-Gaume; the large sheltered prehistoric dwelling at Laugerie-Haute; and several others as well!
Several important monuments are listed in and around Paris. Visit the Chateau de Vincennes, home to 700 years of royal families; then to the basilica of Saint-Denis to see where many of the French royals were buried, in a very impressive gothic cathedral. In central Paris the Conciergerie, Arc de Triomphe, Pantheon and Notre-Dame cathedral are all included, after which you will deserve a cafe in a quiet Montmartre cafe!
There are too many grand castles to mention here, a sprinkling of abbeys, and a wide range of other great buildings. I’ve saved one in particular for last because it is so different to the others on the list – the Villa Savoye. This white concrete building was designed by the great french architect le Corbusier, built in the 1920″s, and is already listed as a national monument – and rightly so, for the role it played in changing the face of architecture all around the world ever since.