FranceGuide for the Gay Traveler - Southeastern France
Home to the world's largest ski region and heavenly cuisine, the RHÔNE-ALPS offers a vast array of sights and activities for gay and lesbian travelers. In the capital of Lyon, famous for its silk production, visit a workshop to learn how silk is woven and dyed. While there, be sure to visit the Saint-Jean district in the Lyon's Old Town, one of the oldest and largest Renaissance districts in Europe and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. A large gay and lesbian population with many establishments is located near the Quais de Saône, Bellecour Square, and the Croix Rousse Quarter. While in Evian, don't miss the nearby medieval village of Yvoire, noted as one of France's prettiest. If you want a beautiful lake, breathtaking snowcapped peaks, and an active gay community, Annecy is the place to be. The water of Lake Annecy is among Europe's clearest. To test your luck of a different sort, stroll through the Jardins de l'Europe, a popular spot for local gay men who just want to linger for a spell. Once you've played your hand, stroll along the lakefront to the old city, graced by a lovely cathedral, crisscrossed by cobblestone streets, and studded with canals, water mills, half-timbered houses and a medieval jail.If you like excitement, go to Chamonix and take the suspended cable car to the top of l'Aiguille du Midi, where you will climb almost 8,421 feet in a matter of minutes to an altitude of about 14,430 feet. Once there, you'll have a magnificent view of Mont Blanc, the "rooftop of Europe." Stay a while in Courchevel or Méribel and take the time to learn to plant your ski pole comme il faut with one of the many handsome, young ski instructors of your choosing. If you don't want to ski but like to drop names, you might want to stop through Megève, a small, quaint village with a ski resort created by the famous noble family, the Rothschilds. Ski enthusiasts will also appreciate Val d'Isère, yet another winter wonderland option. On your way back down, stop in Grenoble, a university town that also boasts a complete menu of gay leisure activities. You won't want to miss what, in the 20th century, became the mythical center of modern art-the RIVIERA. Its natural beauty, dazzling light, and sublime way of life inspired great artists such as Renoir, Bonnard, Matisse, Picasso, Chagall-and later the likes of César, Klein, and Arman. Snow-capped peaks provide backdrop to this storied coast, lined with palm trees, sandy beaches, beautiful architecture, and some of the world's premiere hotels. You too will be seduced by the region that inspired so many artists. With 25 museums and 500 exhibitions, you'll have plenty of opportunities to contemplate their works firsthand. Jazz up your visit with a stop in Antibes-Juan-les-Pins for the annual Jazz Festival in July. The Riviera is best known for its Mediterranean climate and its biggest cities, Nice and Cannes. But if you want to get away from the main hubs, take the time to visit one of the many medieval villages perchés (perched hilltop villages) in the region, including Saint-Paul de Vence, Eze, Gourdon, La Turbie, and Mougins. Try to visit the exquisite gardens of Menton, and don't miss the Greenhouse of Madonna, classified as a historical monument. Bathed in brilliant Mediterranean light, CORSICA promises a memorable vacation with its unique history, culture, landscape, and beauty. Dramatic cliffs rise above turquoise waters and fine sand beaches along 1,047 kilometers (628 miles) of coastline. The mountainous island interior beckons hikers to well-maintained trails running the whole length of the island. The sun-kissed playground of the rich and famous, the dramatically beautiful, lavender-scented region of PROVENCE seems as much a state of mind as an actual place. As welcome as any other visitors, gays and lesbians come to enjoy the languid pace, sexy vibe, and countless charms of the south of France. Rich in 28,000 years of human history, ranging from prehistoric times to the era of the Greeks, Romans and even pirates, Marseille is one of France's oldest gay meccas. Not too far from this busy seaport lies the mid-sized city of Aix-en-Provence, known as the "Ville d'Eaux, Ville d'Art." The ancient capital of Provence, it was founded in 122 B.C. Today it is home to about 35,000 students who infuse a youthfully energetic vibe. For shopping, just stroll down the Cours Mirabeau with its countless sidewalk cafés or browse the open markets, where you're likely to find a few good bargains. If it's art you're into, visit Cézanne's studio. If you like to picnic, pack your lunch and hike to the top of Mont Sainte-Victoire for a spectacular view. North of Aix and newly connected to Paris by TGV lies the charming town of Avignon with its famously truncated bridge, le Pont d'Avignon. From 1309-1377, Avignon was home to seven popes, who printed their own money and fortified their defenses against the French. Today, the papal legacy consists of dazzling architecture and massive ramparts. The soaring spires of the Palais des Papes belie the notion of priestly vows of humility and poverty. Although Paris may be the place to fall in love, the Vaucluse and nearby Luberon are the places to be in love. Describing an area in the northern reaches of Provence, the name Vaucluse comes from the Latin, Vallis Clausa, meaning "closed valley"-a reference to the fountain of Vaucluse and not the prevailing attitude towards gays and lesbians. If you want proof, just saunter through many of the charming, welcoming towns popular with gay visitors in the area, including Isle-sur-Sorgue, Ménerbes, and Roussillon. Take in an opera at the Roman amphitheatre in Orange, and explore a rich trove of Gallo-Roman ruins in Vaison-la-Romaine. Also within easy reach is Arles, where visitors can follow in the footsteps of Van Gogh or attend a bullfight in the Roman Coliseum. For more Van Gogh, be sure to visit Saint-Rémy as well. The romantic Canal du Midi runs through LANGUEDOC-ROUSSILLON, connecting the Atlantic coast to the Mediterranean. Home to wild bulls and hunky cowboys (yep, France has cowboys!) as well as roughly 100,000 pink flamingos, this natural, protected setting is the perfect place for observing nature, listening to the song of the Cicada, or trying your hand at taming the wild white horses of the Camargue. Be prepared for a stunning diversity of cities and villages, drenched in history and romance: Montpellier, the dynamic; Narbonne, the mosaic; Carcassonne the Medieval; Sète, the Mediterranean; Perpignan, the Catalan; Nîmes, the Roman, famous for its ruins; and Béziers, the Occitan, known for its bullfights and rugby matches. Amazingly, it is all easily accessible thanks to five TGV train stations, five international airports, and three motorways. Muslims, Jews, and <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 />Christians founded the regional capital of Montpellier in the Middle Ages. Its values of tolerance and fraternity have endured through the centuries, offering a shining example in our troubled times. Considered the youngest capital in the south-thanks to the presence of 65,000 students-Montpellier radiates energy and creativity. With such illustrious alumni as Rabelais and Nostradamus, it's no wonder a rich academic tradition continues to this day.
If you're looking for a knight in shining armor, gallop on over to Carcassonne, the largest medieval town in Europe and a UNESCO World Heritage site, popular with gay and lesbian tourists. In August, head to the Fête de la Saint Louis in Aigues-Mortes, a medieval town known for its chivalry, tournaments, and spectacular displays of horsemanship.
Cézanne's studio 9, avenue Paul Cézanne - Aix-en-ProvenceTel. 04.42.21.06.53 - www.atelier-cezanne.comCopyright: CRT Rhône-Alpes / Jean Luc Rigaux
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