The symbol of Paris, the Eiffel Tower is one of the world's most famous landmarks. This feat of ingenuity is a structure of 8,000 metallic parts, designed by Gustave Eiffel as a temporary exhibit for the World Fair of 1889. Originally loathed by critics, the 320-meter-high tower is now a beloved and irreplaceable fixture of the Paris skyline. The structure's unique gracefulness has earned it the nickname of "Iron Lady." Visitors are impressed by the tower's monumental size and the breathtaking panoramas at each of the three levels. Tourists can dine with a view at the first level or indulge at the Michelin-starred Jules Vernes restaurant on the second level. At the exhilarating height of 276 meters, the top level offers a sweeping outlook over the city of Paris and beyond-extending as far as 70 kilometers on a clear day.
In the former royal palace of French Kings, the Louvre is an incomparable museum that ranks among the top European collections of fine arts. Many of Western Civilization's most famous works are found here including the Mona Lisa by Leonardo DaVinci, the Wedding Feast at Cana by Veronese, and the 1st-century-BC Venus de Milo sculpture. The collection owes its wealth to the contributions of various kings who lived in the Louvre. Other pieces were added as a result of France's treaties with the Vatican and the Republic of Venice, and from the spoils of Napoléon I. The Louvre has an astounding collection of 30,000 artworks, including countless masterpieces. It's impossible to see it all in a day or even in a week. Focus on a shortlist of key artworks for the most rewarding experience.
More than just a royal residence, Versailles was designed to show off the glory of the French monarchy. "Sun King" Louis XIV transformed his father's small hunting lodge into an opulent palace with a sumptuous Baroque interior. The palace became Louis XIV's symbol of absolute power and set the standard for princely courts in Europe. Architect Jules Hardouin-Mansart created the elegant Baroque facade and lavish interior. The famous Hall of Mirrors is where courtiers waited for an audience with the king. This dazzling hall sparkles with sunlight that enters through the windows and is reflected off massive ornamental mirrors. Versailles is equally renowned for its formal French gardens featuring decorative pools, perfectly trimmed shrubbery, and charming fountains. Beyond the formal gardens is Marie-Antoinette's hamlet, a make-believe pastoral village where the queen came to dress up as a peasant and escape court life.
The most fashionable stretch of coastline in France, the Côte d'Azur is synonymous with glamour. The Côte d'Azur translates to "Coast of Blue," named after the mesmerizing deep blue color of the Mediterranean Sea. Also known as the French Riviera, the Côte d'Azur extends from Saint-Tropez to Menton near the border with Italy. During summer, the seaside resorts are packed with beach lovers and sun-worshippers. The rich and famous are also found here in their lavish villas and luxury yachts. The town of Nice has panoramic sea views and stellar art museums. Cannes is famous for its celebrity film festival and legendary hotels. The best sandy beaches are found in Antibes. Saint-Tropez offers great beaches along with the charm of a Provençal fishing village, while Monaco seduces with its exclusive ambience and stunning scenery.
Rising dramatically out of the sea on the coast of Normandy, Mont Saint-Michel is one of France's most striking landmarks. This "Pyramid of the Seas" is a mystical sight, perched on a rocky islet and surrounded by walls and bastions. At high tide, Mont-Saint-Michel is an island. At low tide, it is possible to walk across the sand to the Mont. The main tourist attraction, the Abbaye de Saint-Michel was founded in 708 by the Archbishop Aubert of Avranches after the Archangel Michael appeared to him in a vision. The Abbey is a marvel of medieval architecture with Gothic spires soaring 155 meters above the sea, a sublime sanctuary, and splendid views. Since it was built in the 11th century, the Abbey Church has been an important pilgrimage destination. Because of its soul-inspiring serenity, Mont Saint-Michel is known as "The Heavenly Jerusalem."