There are lots of guidebooks that tell you where to go in France. But there aren’t many that will tell you why. That’s what travel author Marcia DeSanctis has tried to do in her book 100 Places in France Every Woman Should Go.
It was clear as soon as I started chatting to Marcia that she has a deep insight into the country. “I lived there for a long time. I was married there,” she told me. “I’ve been back and forth for many, many years. I taught French, so I know the country well.”
Marcia says the market is full of guidebooks on France, but she wanted to take a different approach with her guide. “I’d call it a book of a hundred stories about where to go in France and why. There are amazing writers dedicated to the guidebook format, but I’m not one of them. I wanted to do something a little fresh and surprising. So when I wrote on the Eifel Tower, I wrote on beautiful places where you can see the tower and the best time to go.”
The book has 24 chapters dedicated to Paris, but Marcia says she has tried to steer clear of the usual clichés used when writing about the city. “I avoided the term ‘City of Light’ and a lot of the usual ‘girlie’ tropes – champagne and perfume and chocolate,” she explained. “I wanted it to be more about places that have beautiful stories associated with them and often these stories have to do with women.”
Marcia obviously loves Paris so I asked what it is about the city that has her hooked. “I think Paris is the only place in the world where you can sit and drink coffee all day, yet still think you’ve accomplished something,” she laughed. “It’s a place where you’re incredibly energised. You walk and walk, but you aren’t tired. And every step you take you’re engaged with history and with food. It brings out the best in our sensual selves. All of our senses are firing in Paris!”
And Marcia told me that Paris seems to encourage a more open way of living. “You can have that extra glass of wine, and eat the gluten, and the cheese! None of those things seem to matter as they do in our normal life. We don’t feel those limits in Paris – at least I don’t!” she told me.
I asked Marcia which area of Paris she would recommend to stay in, and was surprised by her answer. “Wherever you land in Paris, you will find your neighbourhood. There’s always a bakery. There’s always a café and somewhere to find your café crème in the morning. Wherever you go in Paris, you’ll be able to make it your home for a couple of days or a week.”
Outside of Paris, Marcia recommended taking a trip to the town of St Malo in Brittany. “St Malo’s one of my most favourite places in the world,” she told me. “I think there’s no more meditative place in France. The light is so magnificent, with the shadows on those old fortresses in the bay.”
And it was in St Malo that Marcia discovered an unusual spa treatment knows as thalassotherapy, which she described in her book. “The spa rooms are very old fashioned. There’s a hose pumping in seawater and they’ll add different agents for whatever your complaint is – whether it’s joints, or stress, or fatigue, or depression. You’re in a large bathtub and the water is warm. The lights are very soothing and I think it works.”
Another of Marcia’s favourite places is to be found at the other end of the country, close to the Spanish border. “I love the Pays Basque, north of the Pyrenees. St Jean de Luz is one of the most beautiful towns in France. It’s a place where I wake up feeling really good. There are things to do, walks to be taken and amazing food to be had.”
You can get a copy of 100 Places in France Every Woman Should Go on Amazon.