France is the most visited country in the world, welcoming more than 90 million tourists in a typical year.
In this far from typical year, those numbers will be rather different but if you can’t get to France this summer — or you’re considering a more permanent relocation and are in need of some planning tips — a newly published book full of real Gallic flourish will bring France to you.
New Map France: Unforgettable Experiences for the Discerning Traveller is a big, glossy beauty, 345 pages of inspiration and suggestions of where to go, where to stay and how to experience the real France.
New Map France is written and photographed by Herbert Ypma, the well-travelled creator of HiP hotel guides and someone with a flawless eye for detail and style. His extensive research focused on finding authentic experiences that reflect the true spirit of France.
So while everyone knows about Paris’s magnificent Louvre, where two-hour queues are not (usually) uncommon, he suggests trying instead the far quieter Musée Rodin, describing it as “more intimate and rewarding than any conventional museum”.
How about a game of boules in St Tropez? Or a vineyard tour in Provence, oysters in Brittany, or a restaurant where Picasso and Matisse ate? A chateau in Beaujolais might take your fancy, or the most comfortable “camp site” on Cap Ferret in the south west – not to be confused with its flashier southeastern counterpart, Cap Ferrat.
New Map France is packed with fabulous suggestions and swoony pictures for where to stay, what to eat and how to make the most of France.
There are quirky experiences to seek out, frissons of history and artfully hand-drawn maps. Altogether, and especially in 2020, New Map France is the next best thing to being there yourself.
Where to stay
Notable suggestions include a camp site in Paris on the edge of the Bois de Boulogne, an eco-lodge in the Auvergne and, back in the capital, dark, dramatic L’Hotel in La Rue des Beaux-Arts, where Oscar Wilde spent his final weeks.
There’s also the oldest Alpine farmhouse in Morzine and a cardinal’s mansion next to the former pope’s palace in Avignon.
Two examples on Ile de Ré demonstrate France’s tremendous variety. This small and delightful island off the west coast is a miniature French version of Cape Cod, laid-back and low-level with a gentle life revolving around bicycles, beaches and long lunches.
Informal Le Sénéchal offers hotel rooms and apartments or a windmill to rent, showcasing perfect, pared-back luxury with a rustic sophistication.
Or else stay at La Baronnie, a deliciously private and aristocratic chateau once bought by Louis XVI as a present for his ill-fated queen, Marie Antoinette.
Where to eat
France and food go together like oysters and champagne — and New Map France includes some famous gastronomic locations. Parisian Left Bank favourites Les Deux Magots and Café de Flore are both there, of course, but there are plenty of off-grid choices, too.
There’s L’Océan 2, a funky beach restaurant among the high dunes of the Silver Coast in Gironde.
In Normandy, sample local specialities moules-frites and tarte tatin at Les Vapeurs on the quayside in Trouville-sur-Mer.
L’O Beach in the golden bay of Toulon serves food sourced from the local farmers’ market, the legendary Cours Lafayette, while further west in Marseille, eat at Les Arcenaulx in the Vieux Port, where warehouses have been repurposed as bookshops and dining rooms.
Le 75 is the “best-kept secret in Avignon”, a brilliant restaurant serving food in the courtyard garden of the Pernod family townhouse. The Pernods built their fortune on absinthe, the green, strongly alcoholic spirit beloved in 19th- and 20th-century France.
What to do
The list of inspirational experiences in New Map France includes galloping white horses across the Camargue, spearfishing in a calanque (a Mediterranean version of a Norwegian fjord) on the Côte d’Azur and fly fishing in the Auvergne.
Perhaps you’d enjoy a picnic under the Roman Pont du Gard, a cycle around the Roman ruins in Arles, or hiking in Cap Corse, the wild north of the French Mediterranean island of Corsica?
In Paris you can swim in Tarzan’s pool: Piscine Molitor was opened in 1929 by Johnny Weissmuller, the Olympic Gold medallist swimmer-turned-actor who remains Hollywood’s best-known Tarzan.
Ypma tells you where to find the finest traditional Parisian brasseries and what to order once you are there.
His itinerary on how to spend the perfect two days in Paris is worth the book price alone. He based this handsome and stirring book on “fewer but better options, more quality, less choice.” Bravo Herbert!
New Map France: Unforgettable Experiences for the Discerning Traveller by Herbert Ypma. Published by Thames & Hudson, £29.95.