France: The hottest tickets, the coolest ideas

World-class museums, chic restaurants, special places to stay ... there's plenty that's new to see and do in France this year. Natasha Edwards gives 10 good reasons to cross the Channel
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The Independent Travel

1 Get the abbaye habit

Set in the green Ouche valley near Dijon, the Abbaye de la Bussiére was once a Cistercian abbey. Now its rambling Gothic halls, ancient refectories, chapel and turreted dovecote are being turned into a sophisticated country-house hotel, opening in early March, courtesy of Martin and Joy Cummings. Joy is responsible for the decoration: nine bedrooms (more to follow) and bathrooms, all with whirlpool baths, overlooking the park and its private lake. There will be two restaurants, a formal one for the evenings and a bistro for lunch, in the hands of Olivier Elzer from the Elysées Vernet in Paris. Wine courses and vineyard visits will also be on offer.

Contact: Abbayé de la Bussiere, la Bussiere-sur-Ouche, Dijon (00 33 3 80 49 02 29; abbaye-dela-bussiere.com). Doubles start at €220 (£157).

2 Apicius arrives in Paris

Chef Jean-Pierre Vigato returned to the Parisian scene a year ago, when he moved his restaurant Apicius into the 19th-century hôtel particulier (a former private townhouse) of the Comte d'Artois, now owned by the actor-director Luc Besson. Vigato mixes classics with more personal updates in dishes such as turbot, boned stuffed pigeon, sautéed sweet-and-sour foie gras with black radish and a rich chocolate souffle.

Contact: Apicius, 20 rue d'Artois, 75008 Paris (00 33 1 43 80 19 66; relaischateaux.com/apicius). Expect to pay €140 (£100) per head with wine.

3 African art and a French master

Opening at the end of May, the Musée du Quai Branly will be home to the tribal art and ethnographic collections of the Louvre, the Musée de l'Homme and the Musée d'Arts d'Afrique et d'Océanie. An equally big draw will be Jean Nouvel's Seine-side building, a long, low glass and steel construction. In June, comes the long-awaited reopening of the Musée de l'Orangerie in the Tuilleries, home to Monet's superb large, late waterlily canvases in the curved room designed for them, as well as the Guillaume collection, with works by Cézanne, Soutine and Rousseau.

Contact: Musée du Quai Branly, Hôtel Industriel Le Berlier, 15 rue Jean-Baptiste Berlier, 75103 Paris (00 33 1 56 61 70 00; quaibranly.fr).

Musée de l'Orangerie, 00 33 1 40 13 48 00; rmn.fr)

4 World Heritage at Le Havre

The town centre of Le Havre has been made a Unesco World Heritage site. Rebuilt in the 1950s by Auguste Perret after blanket bombing, the listing recognises the way the master of reinforced concrete used its warm tinted finish to enhance human-scale arcades and garden squares. The tourist office has created a walk. Other events include the first Omnivore Food Festival on 21 and 22 February, run by hip gourmet magazine Omnivor. A new contemporary art biennale will be held at the Musée du Havre in June, and a Centre de la Mer and Centre Aquatique, designed by Jean Nouvel, are being built.

Contact: Le Havre Tourisme (00 33 2 32 74 04 04; lehavretourisme.com).

5 Learn to cook in half an hour

In a gleaming stainless-steel kitchen in a converted printworks just off the Champs-Elysées, get set for a convivial, 30-minute cookery lesson. That's just enough time to prepare a main course at Atelier des Chefs, which you eat with the chef and fellow pupils, followed by cheese, dessert and wine. At only €15 (£10) it's amazing value. Booking is advised. Brothers Nicolas and Francois Bergerault have also opened two smaller Ateliers inside Galeries Lafayette and Printemps Nation department stores and plan more in Lyon, Bordeaux and Lille.

Contact: Atelier des Chefs (00 33 1 53 30 05 82; atelierdeschefs.com).

6 Where to flop in St-Trop

St-Tropez is all about being seen. This season's hotspot is the Pearl Beach on the Plage de St-Tropez. Opened by the team from Key West on the Baie de Pampelonne, its style is Bali in the Med. Think teak, palm trees, basket seats, pools, fountains, thatch roofs and Buddha statues. Jérôme Rosler serves up modish Med food, with lots of fish.There's a jetty to moor your dinghy at, or a shuttle to fetch you from your yacht - so much better than sitting intraffic.

Contact: Pearl Beach, St-Tropez (00 33 4 98 12 70 70; thepearlbeach.com).

7 Fitness glitz at Biarritz

The Hôtel du Palais in Biarritz is opening a lavish spa and fitness centre in July. There will be a Guerlain spa, gym, Moorish-style hammam and sauna and an arcaded indoor pool to add to the outdoor one on the cliffs above the beach.

Contact: Hôtel du Palais, 1 Avenue de l'impératrice, Biarritz (00 33 5 59 41 64 00; hotel-du-palais.com).

8 Casadelmar Corsica

Corsica's latest beachside hotel, casadelmar, is the height of seaside chic. Its 20 rooms and suites each have a private cedarwood terrace overlooking an infinity pool, with sweeping views of the gulf of Porto Vecchio.

Contact: Hotel casadelmar (00 33 4 957 23434; casadelmar.fr). Doubles start at €330 (£235) per night with breakfast.

9 Munch in the mountains

Some restaurants merit a pilgrimage. The one to Auberge de Chavannes will take you to the peaceful cow-filled Jura mountains. There you can sample the creations of Nicolas Pourcheresse, a rising star of French cuisine. After stints at L'Arpege and Georges Blanc, Pourcheresse won his first Michelin star in 2005. Favourites include red mullet with snails, scallops and Chalosse beef. Pourcheresse has added a garden terrace, conservatory and 11 bedrooms.

Contact: Auberge de Chavannes, 1890 Route de Châlon, 39570 Courlans (00 33 3 84 47 05 52; auberge-de-chavannes. com). Double rooms start at €100 (£70). Menus are €28 (£20) to €45 (£32).

10 Contemporary dance in Aix

The opening in June this year of the Centre Chorégraphique National, which is home to the choreographer, Angelin Preljocaj, will prove that Aix-en-Provence can do contemporary. The building, designed by Rudi Ricciotti in black concrete and glass, has been described as both a spider's web and a skeleton. Passers-by will be able to see into the studios and rehearsal rooms on the upper floors, which will be cleverly lit at night from outside, enabling people to "gaze upon the genesis of dance" says Preljocaj.

Contact: Preljocaj (00 33 4 42 93 48 00; preljocaj.org).

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