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France: Ten Things To Do

France: Ten Things To Do main image

We drew up a list of 10 things we think you ought to do if you study abroad in France. (But then, do you really need our help with this?)

After all, there’s Paris, with its urbane sophistication; the glittering beaches of the Côte d’Azur; the idyllic vineyards of Aquitaine, Burgundy and Champagne; the verdant scenery of the Ardennes; the glacial immensity of Mont Blanc and the French Alps; the medieval history of Brittany.

If that’s not enough, think of a dynamic, multicultural society, a laidback way of life, an intellectual heritage that has shaped Western culture, and a history whose artefacts can be seen on every street - not to mention a legendary culinary tradition.

Amidst all of these attractions, there are some of the world’s top universities, which means as an undergraduate student studying abroad in France you will be spoilt for choice.

1. Visit Paris, the most romantic city in the world

Nearest universities: American University of Paris (AUP); École Normale Supérieure de CACHAN ; Université de Cergy-Pontoise ; École des Ponts, ParisTech ; EPITA École d'Ingénieurs en Informatique ; SKEMA, DOUBLE ENTRY (CERAM) ; ESCP Europe; École Supérieure de Gestion (ESG); ESIEE Paris ; ESSEC Business School, Paris ; TELECOM École de Management ; HEC Paris ; ESPCI, ParisTech ; INSEAD (France) ; American Graduate School in Paris ; Institut Supérieur d'Électronique de Paris (ISEP) ; Université Pierre et Marie Curie (UPMC); Mod'Art International; Mines, PARISTech; École Centrale de PARIS; École Normale Supérieure, PARIS ;Sciences Po PARIS ;Université PARIS 13, Nord ;Université Paris-Sud 11 ;Université Paris Diderot - PARIS 7; Université PARIS DESCARTES; Université Paris 1, Panthéon-Sorbonne; Université Paris 2, Panthéon-Assas; Université Paris Ouest Nanterre La Défense ; Université Paris Dauphine; Université Paris Sorbonne, Paris IV

Throughout history, novelists and poets have tried to do justice to the beauty and romance of Paris – from natives such as Baudelaire, Rimbaud, and Proust to expats such as Henry Miller, Ernest Hemmingway and Henry James. All concurred in one respect – words can scarcely convey the architectural, culinary, social, artistic and cultural splendour of France’s ‘City of Lights’.

As an undergraduate student visiting or studying abroad in this sprawling cultural mecca, where do you start? With the iconic sights of course: the Champs Élysées , the Eiffel Tower, Cathédral Notre Dame, the Pantheon, and Bastille. Stroll around the Latin Quarter, home to the Sorbonne and École Normale Supérieure and the heart of French academe. Top up your cultural sensibilities at the Louvre, arguably the world’s most important and architecturally breathtaking art gallery. Sample Parisian cafe culture, made famous by Jean-Paul Sartre. And if you’re tired of sightseeing, head to one of Paris’ hundreds of bars, gig venues, clubs or restaurants.

2. Hit the beaches of France’s most glamorous coastline, the Côte d’Azur

Nearest universities: AMERICAN University Center of Provence; IAE Aix-en-Provence Graduate School of Management; Euromed Management; Université de la Méditerranée, Aix-MARSEILLE II ; Université de PROVENCE, Aix-Marseille I

How best to describe the glamour of the Côte d’Azur? Well, imagine being trapped in a Duran Duran video.  If that sounds like a dream come true, then put on your most ridiculously oversized pair of aviators and head on down to the beach. If it sounds like hell on earth, give the Côte d’Azur a miss.

However, before you decide to go completely out of your way to avoid the Côte d’Azur, if you’re a celebrity spotter or a film buff you may want to pay a visit to the tranquil beachside resort town of Cannes. In May of each year, a constellation of designer-clad movie-stars and bespectacled auteurs, pursued by a pack of frenzied paparazzi, arrive for the Cannes Film Festival.

While accommodation in Cannes at this time will be all but impossible to come by and exorbitantly expensive, if you’re studying abroad at a nearby university in the Provence-Alpes-Azur region, you could have the perfect opportunity to take a day-trip and be a ‘fly on the wall’ at this surreal extravaganza.

The official film screenings are for industry insiders only, but there are free screenings every evening at the Cinema de la Plage (on the beach). During the day, go celeb-spotting at the Ritz Carlton Hotel, or just hang out and bask in the atmosphere along the glamorous Boulevard de la Croisette.

3. Do the Vendanges (picking grapes to make wine)

Location: There are 27 wine regions across France – some of the best-known are Alsace, Bordeaux, Burgundy, Champagne, Languedoc-Roussillon, Loire, Provence, Rhone, Savoy and South West France

Wine is one of France’s most famous exports, and for traditional French wine-producers, making the stuff isn’t just a job – it’s an ancient art form dating back as far as the 6th Century BC.

If you’re in France over the summer holidays, working at Les Vendanges  is a popular student job. It could be a great way to replenish your finances, spend some time in the beautiful French countryside and meet other undergraduate students.

Better still, why not organize to go with a group of friends or course-mates? Work in the vineyards for a few weeks, learn all about French wine-making – and a few French phrases, get fit, top up your tan and earn yourself a nice bit of spending money. That beats the usual telemarketing summer job!

Did you know? Each year, France produces more bottles of wine than there are people in the world. That’s a whole lot of wine!

4. Lyon, the gastronomic capital of France

Nearest universities: EMLYON Business School; École Normale Supérieure Lettres et Sciences Humaines ; Grenoble DOUBLE ENTRY (GGSB) ; GRENOBLE École de Management; Université Grenoble, Joseph Fourier ; Université Pierre-Mendès-France (UPMF) ; Université Grenoble 3, Stendhal ; École Normale Supérieure de LYON ; Université Claude Bernard Lyon 1 ; Université Lyon 2, Louis Lumière ; Université Lyon 3, Jean Moulin

With a population of over three million, Lyon is France’s second largest city. Positioned at the picturesque confluence of the Rhône and Saône rivers, with a charming medieval centre that is illuminated beautifully after dark, Lyon is also known as the gastronomic capital of France – which is saying something. If you’re an undergraduate student studying abroad at one of Lyon’s many top universities, get ready to seriously increase your consumption of recklessly rare steak and alarmingly pungent cheese.

With an array of fascinating museums and an impressively well-preserved Old Town that is a UNESCO World Heritage site, Lyon is a city steeped in history. Cinema buffs should be sure to check out to check out the Musée Lumière, dedicated to former Lyon residents the Lumiere brothers, arguably the most important innovators in early film.

However, Lyon is also a bustling modern city living very much in the here and now, with a happening nightlife and a well-established underground jazz movement. What’s more, with six universities Lyon has a thriving student scene. While Paris may grab most of the attention, Lyon also provides an idyllic environment for those looking to study abroad in France – and for those who are studying elsewhere in the country, a visit to Lyon is an essential addition to your time in France.

5. Sun, sand and surf at Biarritz

Nearest universities: (Aquitaine) BEM Bordeaux Management School; (Languedoc-Roussillon) Université MONTPELLIER 2, Sciences et Techniques; Université Montpellier 1; Université Montpellier 3, Paul-Valery ; (Midi-Pyrenees) École Nationale de l'Aviation Civile (ENAC); École Supérieure de Commerce, ESC Toulouse ; Université Toulouse 1, Capitole; Université TOULOUSE II, Le Mirail; Université TOULOUSE III, Paul Sabatier

Situated on France’s south-west coast along the Bay of Biscay, Biarritz is popular not only for its picturesque town centre, sun, sand and world-class surfing – but also for its intriguingly hybrid culture. Just a short drive from the Spanish border, Biarritz lies at the crossroads between three different cultures: French, Spanish and Basque.

Paella, Basque flags and Basque pelota coexist with a French pace of life and ambience. Also more traditionally French is the city’s famous rugby union team, Biarritz Olympique, one of the best club teams in Europe. If you’re new to the sport, a visit to the Parc des Sports Aguiléra could be the perfect introduction.

6. Pay your respects at the battlefields of the Somme

Location: Former major battlefields are located throughout Normandy, Brittany, the French Ardennes and Picardie.

Nearest universities: Université de CAEN Basse-Normandie; (North-Calais) EDHEC Business School; SKEMA, DOUBLE ENTRY (CERAM); Université Lille 1, Sciences et Technologie; Université Lille 2; Université Lille 3, Charles-de-Gaulle

With all of the visual, cultural and social attractions of studying abroad in Europe, it’s easy to forget that this now largely thriving and harmonious continent was the setting for the two most destructive conflicts in mankind’s history: World War One and World War Two. The poppy plantations and seas of white headstones that cover the battlefields of northern France and Belgium (the former ‘western front’ in World War One) ensure that the area retains a sombre atmosphere, years after the last shots were fired.

Most visitors to the battlefields head for Somme in Picardy, the scene of the Battle of the Somme in World War One. It contains several major monuments commemorating the estimated 1.5 million people who died there. While it won’t be the most ‘fun’ of activities you partake in while studying abroad in France, make sure you visit these historically significant areas, if only to get a sense of the sheer scale of the conflicts and the loss of life they caused. 

Did you know? Between them, World War One and World War Two were directly responsible for up to 85 million deaths. That’s considerably greater than the current population of France, (62 million).

7. Bask in the opulence of the Château de Versailles

Nearest universities: American University of Paris (AUP); École Normale Supérieure de CACHAN ; Université de Cergy-Pontoise ; École des Ponts, ParisTech ; EPITA École d'Ingénieurs en Informatique ; SKEMA, DOUBLE ENTRY (CERAM) ; ESCP Europe; École Supérieure de Gestion (ESG); ESIEE Paris ; ESSEC Business School, Paris ; TELECOM École de Management ; HEC Paris ; ESPCI, ParisTech ; INSEAD (France) ; American Graduate School in Paris ; Institut Supérieur d'Électronique de Paris (ISEP) ; Université Pierre et Marie Curie (UPMC); Mod'Art International; Mines, PARISTech; École Centrale de PARIS; École Normale Supérieure, PARIS ;Sciences Po PARIS ;Université PARIS 13, Nord ;Université Paris-Sud 11 ;Université Paris Diderot - PARIS 7; Université PARIS DESCARTES; Université Paris 1, Panthéon-Sorbonne; Université Paris 2, Panthéon-Assas; Université Paris Ouest Nanterre La Défense ; Université Paris Dauphine; Université Paris Sorbonne, Paris IV

Located just 20 kilometres south-west of Paris, The Château de Versailles is an opulent reminder of the pomp and grandeur of France’s royal past. The centre of the royal court from 1682 until 1789, the palace is a mind-boggling succession of immaculate gardens, gold encrusted ornamentation and imposing, symmetrical architecture.

As well as the breathtaking palace, with its collection of fine art and royal relics, the extensive palace gardens are well worth a visit alone. Three million visitors flock to Versailles every year, and a trip back in time to the scene of the lavish decadence of the court of Louis IX and Marie Antoinette is a vital addition to your study abroad period in France.

8. Indulge in France’s legendary food and drink – from haute cuisine to rustic bread and cheese

The French make no secret of the high regard in which they hold their culinary prowess - former president Jacques Chirac caused a stir a few years back with his somewhat disdainful comments regarding gastronomic standards over the channel in the UK.

Though he may have been doing UK (and Finnish) cuisine something of a disservice, there’s no doubt that when it comes to eating and drinking well, the French can teach most nations a thing or two.

No matter what your gastronomic persuasion, the French food obsession is highly contagious – any undergraduate student studying abroad in France is sure to return home either a raging carnivore, a cheese-freak or a connoisseur of fine wines (most likely all three).

The only issue for some will be that the French have traditionally found the notion of being a vegetarian somewhat difficult to comprehend. In Paris you will find an array of vegetarian restaurants, but in more rural areas in particular, vegetarians may have to be prepared to improvise.

9. Marvel at Mont Blanc  - or ski on it

Nearest universities: Université de CAEN Basse-Normandie; (North-Calais) EDHEC Business School; SKEMA, DOUBLE ENTRY (CERAM); Université Lille 1, Sciences et Technologie; Université Lille 2; Université Lille 3, Charles-de-Gaulle

Mont Blanc is Western Europe’s largest mountain, the jewel in the crown of the famous Alps, and a snowy-peaked behemoth whose angular beauty famously floated English Romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley’s boat. Towering over the French-Swiss border, Mont Blanc rises to 4,810 metres above sea-level. The mountain is not just a photo opportunity or inspiration for poetic reverie, however – it is also a major sports and leisure destination, with hiking, skiing, snowboarding and mountaineering all popular activities.

For those wanting to visit Mont Blanc and its surrounding entourage of similarly lofty peaks, nearby outposts of human civilization include Chamonix (host of the first Winter Olympics in 1924), and Courmayer in neighbouring Italy.

For those who don’t fancy the daunting task of scaling the mountain by hand and foot (you’ll need to seriously know what you’re doing, and be part of an organized expedition before you even begin to think about doing so), taking  the Aiguille du Midi cable car from Chamonix could be a far safer, warmer and less exerting way of taking in the most dramatic alpine views Europe has to offer.

Did you know? The first recorded ascent of Mont Blanc was on 8 August 1786 by Jacques Balmat and the doctor Michel Paccard. This climb traditionally marks the start of modern mountaineering.

10. Take in the Tour De France – and if you’re feeling inspired, why not have a tour of your own?

Every summer since 1903, the French countryside has provided the scenic backdrop to the most famous bicycle race on earth – the Tour De France. The exact route of the tour changes every year, but in 2010, 16 teams of lycra-clad competitors will start off in Rotterdam in the Netherlands, before peddling south and finishing at the Champs Elyssee in Paris three weeks and more than 3,500 km later.

En route, the ‘peloton’ makes its way through the rolling hills and verdant scenery of the Ardennes and the vineyards of the Loire, before getting down to the real nitty gritty – the gruelling mountain stages in the Alps and the Pyrenees.

If you are already a cycling enthusiast, or if you just feel inspired by watching the tour, why not have a mini tour of your own? There is a reason why France is the setting for the most prestigious bicycle race on earth – with some of the most beautiful and varied landscape and countryside in Europe, it’s a wonderful country to explore by pedal.

If you go on a two-wheeled adventure over the summer, you could combine watching a couple of stages of the Tour De France with seeing some of the South of France’s many treasures: Avignon, the Camargue, St Remy (birthplace of Nostradamus and the inspiration for Vincent Van Gogh’s ‘The Starry Night’) and Les Baux – a spectacular hillside town nestled in the Alpilles Mountains in Provencal.

Once you’ve finished those:

- Guffaw at the Angouelme comedy festival
- Chill out at Jazz in Marciac
- Get rustic in the Ardennes
- Eat camembert and quaff cider in Normandy
- Navigate your way through the locks of France’s canals

France's top universities by region

1. North-West France Université de CAEN Basse-Normandie; (North-Calais) EDHEC Business School; SKEMA, DOUBLE ENTRY (CERAM); Université Lille 1, Sciences et Technologie; Université Lille 2; Université Lille 3, Charles-de-Gaulle ;

2. West France (Brittany) École Supérieure de Commerce, ESC Bretagne, Brest ; École Supérieure de Commerce, ESC Rennes; Université de RENNES 1 ; (Pays-de-la-Loire) Audencia Nantes École de Management ;

3. East France (Alsace) Université de Strasbourg ; (Lorraine) Université Henri Poincaré Nancy 1; Université Nancy 2;

4. South-West France (Aquitaine) BEM Bordeaux Management School; (Languedoc-Roussillon) Université MONTPELLIER 2, Sciences et Techniques; Université Montpellier 1; Université Montpellier 3, Paul-Valery ; (Midi-Pyrenees) École Nationale de l'Aviation Civile (ENAC); École Supérieure de Commerce, ESC Toulouse ; Université Toulouse 1, Capitole; Université TOULOUSE II, Le Mirail; Université TOULOUSE III, Paul Sabatier

5. South-East France (Provence-Alpes-Azur) AMERICAN University Center of Provence; IAE Aix-en-Provence Graduate School of Management; Euromed Management; Université de la Méditerranée, Aix-MARSEILLE II ; Université de PROVENCE, Aix-Marseille I ; (Rhone-Alps) EMLYON Business School; École Normale Supérieure Lettres et Sciences Humaines ; Grenoble DOUBLE ENTRY (GGSB) ; GRENOBLE École de Management; Université Grenoble, Joseph Fourier ; Université Pierre-Mendès-France (UPMF) ; Université Grenoble 3, Stendhal ; École Normale Supérieure de LYON ; Université Claude Bernard Lyon 1 ; Université Lyon 2, Louis Lumière ; Université Lyon 3, Jean Moulin ;

6. Loire, Massif Central

7. Ile-de-France American University of Paris (AUP); École Normale Supérieure de CACHAN ; Université de Cergy-Pontoise ; École des Ponts, ParisTech ; EPITA École d'Ingénieurs en Informatique ; SKEMA, DOUBLE ENTRY (CERAM) ; ESCP Europe; École Supérieure de Gestion (ESG); ESIEE Paris ; ESSEC Business School, Paris ; TELECOM École de Management ; HEC Paris ; ESPCI, ParisTech ; INSEAD (France) ; American Graduate School in Paris ; Institut Supérieur d'Électronique de Paris (ISEP) ; Université Pierre et Marie Curie (UPMC); Mod'Art International; Mines, PARISTech; École Centrale de PARIS; École Normale Supérieure, PARIS ;Sciences Po PARIS ;Université PARIS 13, Nord ;Université Paris-Sud 11 ;Université Paris Diderot - PARIS 7; Université PARIS DESCARTES; Université Paris 1, Panthéon-Sorbonne; Université Paris 2, Panthéon-Assas; Université Paris Ouest Nanterre La Défense ; Université Paris Dauphine; Université Paris Sorbonne, Paris IV

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3 Comments

NOT "Cote d’Azure" BUT "Côte d’Azur"
Thx!

"Finland's top universities by region"
France or Finland???

Oops! Thanks for letting us know - I've now corrected these mistakes. :)