France: Be a culture vulture

Culture, heritage and history are must-dos on a visit to France, but there's far more to see and do than you might imagine
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The Independent Travel

Discovering a historic country like France, one stepped in heritage, history and culture, invariably involves visits to churches, palaces, châteaux and other historic buildings, but it doesn't end there. Take a lead from Unesco, whose World Heritage Committee is dedicated to identifying treasures of the past and preserving them for future generations. The 34 sites they've chosen to protect in France include four cathedrals - Chartres, Amiens, Bourges and Reims, all 12th and 13th century Gothic masterpieces - and stunning palaces such as Fontainebleau.

Many Romanesque architectural treasures are protected by Unesco, including the hill and basilica at Vézelay in Burgundy, Fontenay Abbey near Dijon and Saint-Savin-en-Gartempe Church in Poitou, which is famed for its beautiful 11th and 12th century murals.

More surprisingly, Unesco has also singled out the Canal du Midi, which links the Atlantic and the Mediterranean, the walled city of Carcassonne and the Loire Valley between Sully-sur-Loire and Chalonnes-sur-Loire, including the riverbanks and several famous châteaux, such as Angers, Chaumont and Clos Luce, the last home of Leonardo da Vinci and now a memorial to his life and work.

That's the thing about France - its history, heritage, tradition and culture are all so rich that it never fails to surprise visitors.

CULTURAL ORGANISATIONS

Centre des Monuments Nationaux

This is a collection of nearly 250 important monuments, many of them cathedrals, castles and museums. The collection includes famous names such as Mont-Saint-Michel, Notre Dame, the Arc de Triomphe and the Panthéon, as well as things like the ramparts around the medieval town of Aigues-Mortes. www.monum.fr

Culture Espaces

This is umbrella organisation manages a small collection of monuments and museums, including the Roman Theatre and Museum in Orange, the Schlumpf Collection, a motor museum in Mulhouse, and Ephrussi de Rothschild villa and gardens in Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat on the lovely Côte d'Azur.

www.culture-espaces.com

Musée et Compagnie

This ticket agency offers preferential rates for 34 of the most important museums and special exhibitions in venues across France. Deals apply to a minimum of 20 tickets, which can be ordered by phone, post or online. Season tickets are also available, such as the two, four or six-day Paris Museum Pass. www.rmn.fr

WHAT'S ON WHERE

LA CINÉMATHÉQUE FRANÇAISE

Four screens and an exhibition of costumes, film memorabilia

and sets are housed here. www.cinematheque.fr On from 3.1.07 till 18.2.07: The films of Benoît Jacquot

MUSÉE DU QUAI BRANLY

This spectacular building showcases an innovative collection of non-European art and ethnographic exhibits, and has performance space for plays and dance. www.quaibranly.fr On till 21.1.07: Multicultural exhibition

MUSÉE DU LOUVRE

The Mona Lisa and Venus de Milo are among more than 35,000 works on display in this world-famous museum. www.louvre.fr

MUSÉE D'ORSAY

A magnificent turn-of-the-century railway station that now contains the world's largest collection of impressionist paintings. www.musée-orsay.fr

INSTITUT DU MONDE ARABE

Treasures from the Muslim world are displayed in an amazing building that combines modern technology with traditional Arabic features. www.imarabe.org

On till 18.2.07: Venice and the Orient exhibition

OPERA NATIONAL DE PARIS

Tour the opulent interior of the Palais Garnier - don't miss Chagall's stunning ceiling - then take your seat for a night at the opera. www.operadeparis.fr On from 26.1.07 till 16.2.07: Le Journal d'un Disparu and Le Château de Barbe Bleu

MUSÉE MAXIMS

The apartment of a 19th century courtesan has been recreated to show off an exquisite collection of Art Nouveau treasures. www.maxims-musée-artnouveau.com

TOUR MONTPARNASSE

Europe's fastest lift takes you up 56 flights for the best view of Paris. www.tourmontparnasse56.com. On St Valentine's Day: Champagne and jazz.

CENTRE GEORGE POMPIDOU

Renzo Piano and Richard Rogers's architectural gem houses an important modern art collection.

www.centrepompidou.fr

On till 5.2.07: Works of Yves Klein

WIN A WEEKEND BREAK IN YOUR FAVOURITE FRENCH CITY

For your chance to win a weekend break in Amiens, Le Havre, Marseilles, Montpellier, Mulhouse, Nantes, Rouen or Toulouse, plus first class travel with Rail Europe or club class tickets on an LD Lines’ ferry, click here.

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