The big and boisterous French cities tend to get all the press, while some of the quieter regions are left alone. That’s good news for travelers who want to see the other sides to this fascinating nation; you’ll be treated to a more authentic experience, with open roads, smaller crowds, and astounding history. Nowhere is this more obvious than in the north:  the castles, abbeys and charming villages strewn through the Picardy, Normandy and Champagne regions can capture all the elegance and indulgence of their neighbours to the south, but the strong traditions and weighty history will round out the tour very well. For a taste of France’s seaside culture, early medieval roots, and most astounding Gothic architecture, head north of Paris to these nine noteworthy sites and experiences.

1. World War sites tour

A trip into the Vallée de la Somme offers a serene and sobering glimpse into the transformation of this rural French countryside in WWI. The meadows of poppies and white crosses that commemorate the Battle of the Somme are punctuated with stoic war memorials, and some battlefields remain as they were left in the early 20th century (Hamel and Vimy Ridge are two well-preserved sites, with some trenches still intact). You can continue your tour by heading north to Normandy for a look at the D-Day landing sites of WWII, and the spectacular monuments and museums to match.  A tour of the war sites is difficult but rewarding; you can count on a touching and informative experience.

world war