There's something -- should we say a certain je ne sais quoi -- about getting away to a spot that's completely different. A different culture, different food, different people, a different language -- all of these things can make you feel worlds away from home (in a good way, of course). And when we're choosing a destination, we often can't help but be drawn to French-speaking locales. After all, French is the language of love, and we feel pretty glam when we're casually searching through our translator conversing with locals in francais. But Paris is sooo last year. (Okay, so that's a lie -- Paris is always fabulous. But work with us here.) So why not visit a French-speaking spot that has, say, a beach as well? Or skip away to a European lakeside locale where French is the official language. If you want to immerse yourself in the French culture, France is certainly not your only option. Check out some of our favorite French-speaking destinations not in France.
Destination: St. Barts
Nicknamed St. Barts, St. Barthelemy in the French West Indies has been a playground to the rich and famous for several decades. Nestled among the Leeward Islands in the Caribbean Sea, it was a French colony until 2007 when St. Barts officially became a “separate overseas collectivity.” French is spoken by many locals (although almost everyone on the island can speak some English) and much of the cuisine has a French flair. This, paired with the fact that almost all food products are imported from France, means meals can be pricey. Seafood, however, including conch — an island specialty — is caught locally. The well-heeled venture out to St. Barts not only for its gourmet restaurants, but also for its high-end designer shops, secluded beaches, and exclusive location. Celebs such as Jimmy Buffet, David Letterman, and Steve Martin own property on the island and are frequent visitors.
Where to Stay: Hotel La Banane
This retro-chic boutique hotel, located just a skip away from Lorient Bay, makes up for a lack of amenities with a hipper-than-thou scene. It’s a Parisian escape on St. Barts, with rooms inspired by 1950s Paris — white and pastel blues and tile, open bathrooms, art books, wall murals, and vintage minimalist furnishings. The nine freestanding bungalows all have indoor/outdoor showers and private terraces, and two small pools are surrounded by palm trees and white lounge chairs. This place is tres chic — not to mention sexy. It’s a good choice for couples looking for a getaway with ambiance.
Destination: Geneva, Switzerland
Geneva is a picturesque city, divided into two banks by Lake Geneva, and surrounded by mountains. During the winters, visitors and locals head to the mountains to ski; ski resorts such as Verbier and Crans-Montana are conveniently only about an hour away. And in the summertime, the lake — and nearby beaches — become popular spots for swimming. But all year long, tourists can enjoy the city’s cafe culture (reminiscent of Paris), beautiful gardens, specialty shops (the city is known for its gorgeous jewelry and watches), fabulous restaurants, and many sights. It’s located in Romandy, the western French-speaking portion of Switzerland, and has excellent French-influenced cuisine, gorgeous architecture, and views of Mont Blanc.
Where to Stay: Hotel Les Armures
Hotel Les Amures is a quaint luxury boutique with a fabulous location in Old Town. The 32 rooms in this 17th century mansion are charming and high-end, with details such as wood-beamed ceilings, faux-fur throws, and stone walls that create a French chalet vibe. The style extends into the restaurant, breakfast room, and common spaces — beamed ceilings are present throughout, and there’s even a suit of armor in the lobby. The hotel attracts well-heeled couples and even the occasional celebrity — George Clooney stayed here — but amenities are few: There is no spa, fitness center, or pool. Rates are a bit steep considering the lack of features, but at least breakfast and Wi-Fi are free.
Destination: St. Martin
St. Martin, the French side of the Caribbean island split between the Dutch and the French, takes up the northern two-thirds of the island. The native language is French, the area is subject to French law, and it has a very European vibe. Less developed than the Dutch side, St. Martin offers plenty of natural attractions, including the beautiful (and clothing-optional) Orient Beach and Loterie Farm’s tree-to-tree zip-line. Visitors seeking a more relaxed pace might want to check out Marigot, the French capital, which offers a European feel and a laid-back vibe with secluded, intimate accommodations.
Where to Stay: Esmeralda Resort
Located within an upscale community featuring several resorts, restaurants, and one of the island’s best beaches, the Esmeralda Resort offers seclusion and elegance with semi-private pools (shared among four units), stylish tropical rooms, and a well-respected restaurant — all within a two-minute walk of the beach. The rooms stand out for quality furnishings — you won’t find the tacky wicker furnishings so common in St. Maarten/St. Martin here. Rather, dark wood chairs and tables with a French Colonial style accent terracotta floor tiles and dramatic whitewashed vaulted ceilings. Plus, the hotel’s L’Astrolabe bistro is an island highlight thanks to its acclaimed classic French-Caribbean cuisine with a modern twist. Additional features are few, but for self-sufficient couples and families looking for a lush retreat with a great location, Esmeralda delivers the goods.
Destination: Montreal, Canada
Montreal is the place where Europe and North America meet. The rich French culture, with its historic architecture and joie de vivre, blends perfectly with the modern, urban elements of the New World, making this one of the most vibrant towns in Canada. There’s always a lot to do and see, especially in the warmer months: Beautiful parks, wonderful historic and modern architecture, great museums (you can’t miss the Museum of Fine Arts), lovely tree-lined streets, stunning cathedrals, a vibrant nightlife, great shopping and dining…The list is long. However, the underground city — full of shopping centers, movie theaters, restaurants and cafes — makes life easier when the winter comes. Visitors can spend a whole day underground without having so much as to wear a coat, even when it’s freezing outside.
Where to Stay: LHotel Montreal
This 59-room boutique hotel is located in the heart of historic Old Montreal, within walking distance of shops, restaurants, major tourist sites, and the lively downtown area. Big, homey rooms have iPod docks, flat-screen TVs, and free Wi-Fi, as well as 19th-century-French-style decor. Notable features include the eclectic wine bar and an extensive pop and contemporary art collection.
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