France: There's a great place I know ...

Superb restaurants, charming hotels, glorious landscapes, magical hideaways, markets to make the mouth water. Francophiles know what they love about the country, and where to find it. So we asked a selection for their top tips
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The Independent Travel

Sir Terence Conran, designer, retailer and restaurateur

Sir Terence Conran, designer, retailer and restaurateur

I have a house in France, near Arles and I am particularly fond of the countryside around there such as the Petit Alpilles - an extraordinary range of mountains that look like they have been carved by Henry Moore. It is a wonderful place to walk, covered in wild herbs, thyme and rosemary. The market in the centre of Arles on Saturday is quite one of the most wonderful things to behold.

My favourite restaurant in France is in Paris, called Aux Lyonnais, 32 rue St-Marc, 75002 (00 33 1 42 96 65 04). It's bistro food that's been updated. I find the quality of the food and the atmosphere absolutely lovely. It is everything everyone dreams of in a traditional French way. For cooking equipment, I like E Dehillerin, 18-20 rue Coquilliere, 75001 (00 33 1 42 36 53 13; www.e-dehillerin.fr) in Les Halles. I love French cooking equipment and when I started Habitat this shop was the inspiration for our first collection.

Peter Mayle, author

They don't take reservations at my favourite restaurant - Chez Etienne, 43 rue Lorette, Quartier Le Panier, Marseille - and if you want to get in at lunchtime you'd better be there, like the locals, by 12.15pm. Simple, good food, reasonable prices and a great atmosphere. The proprietor prefers cash to plastic. The Musée de Tire-Bouchons, Domaine de la Citadélle Menerbes (00 33 4 90 72 41 58) has a fascinating collection of 1,000 corkscrews, elegantly presented. It has a tasting room where the wines made on the property can be sampled.

Every Saturday morning from November to February, trufficulteurs come to Richerenches in Provence to sell what they've managed to dig up. It's smaller than the other truffle market at Carpentras on Friday mornings, but prices, alas, are just as high.

For walking, the Route des Cèdres, Bonnieux, follows the crest of the Luberon. You can see Mont Ventoux to the north and Mont Sainte-Victoire to the south.

'A Good Year' by Peter Mayle, is published by Time Warner Paperbacks, £5.99.

Patricia Wells, author

Provence is my area, and my favourite places include Chez Serge 99 rue Cottier, 84200 Carpentras (00 33 4 90 63 21 24). It has a great wood oven pizza, chic setting, and friendly animation from Serge himself. I always order the pizza rose, simply tomato sauce and mozzarella. The wine list has some excellent Rhône wines.

Le Bistro de France in Apt (67 place de la Bouquerie, 00 33 4 90 74 22 01) is the chic spot to lunch on Saturdays after the market. Try the fresh, plump oysters. Fresh local black truffles are a winter bonus.

Begin in Malaucène at the foot of Mont Ventoux and drive over the mountain through fields of lavender (in bloom in June and July) to a favourite grand restaurant at Château-Arnoux, La Bonne Etape (Avenue de la Gare, 00 33 4 92 64 00 09). Must tries include ravioli stuffed with mushrooms, Swiss chard and spinach and tuna topped with anchovies.

My favourite baker is Denis Lefèvre in Vaison-la-Romaine (Le Pain des Moissons 36 Place Montfort, 00 33 4 90 36 03 25), who makes extraordinary organic breads. Try the pain au fromage and pain au fruits secs.

In Velleron, farmers begin lining up at 5pm for a lively evening farmers' market. In season, this is where you will find the region's best artichokes, asparagus, fat tomatoes known as Les Russes, fava beans, tender peas, peaches, apricots, and all varieties of strawberries. Daily except Sunday from May to September.

'At Home with Patricia Wells in Provence', is published this month by Kyle Cathie Ltd, £14.99.

Celia Brayfield, author

My favourite place is the village of Ahetze in the Basque country, just off the coastal motorway of the Côte Basque, about 20 minutes from Biarritz. It is the original exquisite picturesque postcard with white walls, red roofs and even a little church with a double bell tower. On the third Sunday of every month, there is an enormous marché aux puces (flea market). It's just like Portobello market used to be before it became so touristy.

'Deep France' by Celia Brayfield is published by Pan, £7.99.

Jancis Robinson, wine writer

The village of Bouilland at the head of a verdant Burgundian valley made me want my own little bit of French countryside. The Canal du Midi truly is a wonder of the world. It was built in the late 17th century by a man who used his daughters' dowries to fund the project. It has hardly changed since.

I also like Ladurée teashops around Paris (75 avenue des Champs Elysees, 75008; 00 33 1 40 75 08 75) for their clever faux-Mozartian interiors and, especially, their miniature macaroons, freshly made every day.

Henry Harris, chef and proprietor of Racine

Paris has unique restaurants, nice shopping and great galleries. The best thing, though, are the neighbourhood bistros, most of which have been run by the same family for generations. One of my favourites is Le Grand Vefour, 17 rue de Beaujolais 75001 (00 33 1 42 96 56 27), housed in an original 18th-century dining room. The building and its interior are simply stunning, and it serves classic food, full of flavour and not over embellished, although it is very expensive.

I also think Lyon is fantastic. It has an excellent indoor market, which specialises in extremely high quality local produce, particularly cheese and meat.

John Lichfield, Paris correspondent of 'The Independent'

Creuse is one of the emptiest départements in France and one of the least visited. Although close to the Dordogne and Corrèze, it tends to be missed by foreign visitors because it has no great monuments and only a couple of kilometres of motorway.

However, what Creuse does have is kilometre upon kilometre of rolling, unspoilt farmland, woodland and hills which could be France in the 1950s, England in the 1930s or, despite the absence of hobbits, The Shire in the time of Middle Earth.

Sir John Holmes, British ambassador to France

In Paris, my favourite museum is the Musée D'Orsay (00 33 1 40 49 48 14; www.musee-orsay.fr), both for the content, particularly the Impressionists, and the building. I also love the Marais. It's great on a Sunday morning as everything is open and it's really buzzy. The bit I like most is the Place des Vosges - a great place to wander round and have lunch under the arcades.

Just outside Paris is Le Parc de Bagatelle on the edge of the Bois du Boulogne, a mixture of British and French garden/park, which is extremely pleasant with wonderful spring bulbs and a rose garden. I'm very fond of traditional seaside towns like Dinard and Le Touquet on the north coast, and in particular St Jean de Luz on the Atlantic. In season, it's probably ghastly but out of season, which is when I've been a couple of times, it's got a relaxed feel with a great beach and wonderful cafés.

Anthony Bourdain, chef and writer

My top tips are all in Paris. For a step back into days past, I love Chez Robert et Louise, 64 rue Vieille-du-Temple, 75003 (00 33 1 42 78 55 89) - a rustic-looking place, hidden behind checked curtains in Le Marais. Inside, middle-aged ladies hack slabs of côte de boeuf on an ancient board, grill them over an open hearth and serve them with goose fat-roasted potatoes. All the hallmarks of an old-school French meal are in evidence - boudin noir (black pudding), fromage de tête (brawn) and a sleeping dog.

At Chez Denise, 5 rue des Prouvaires, 75001 (00 33 1 42 36 21 82) just by Les Halles, they serve original bistro fare, undiminished by the ages. A crowd of regulars dine happily on mammoth portions of blanquette de veau, calves liver Lyonnaise, escargots and the like - still prepared the way they are supposed to be.

At the other end of the spectrum, the chic, modern yet surprisingly fun and democratic L'Atelier de Joel Robuchon, Hotel Pont Royal, 5-7 rue de Montalembert, 75007 (00 33 1 42 22 56 56) represents the future of bullshit-free fine dining. Essentially a Michelin-star quality kitchen with a counter wrapped around it, the restaurant serves a not terribly pricey menu at lunch that'll give you some Robuchon hits without the fuss or the ritual of a hushed dining room. They do not take reservations, so line up early.

I always stay at the fabulously quirky and charming L'Hotel, 13 rue des Beaux Arts, 75006 (00 33 1 44 41 99 00; www.slh.com) in Saint Gérmain des Pres - a discreet love-shack for Parisian transgressors. Oscar Wilde had the good taste to die in Room 16.

'Les Halles Cookbook' by Anthony Bourdain is published by Bloomsbury, £20.

Graham Robb, author and cyclist

I really enjoyed a cycling holiday that my wife and I took along the Tourmalet, the highest road in the Pyrenees. It's often on the Tour de France route and all kinds of legends are associated with it. The way French mountain roads are built, it's quite easy for a moderately fit person to cycle up. In the 18th century, they discovered that a fully laden mule could manage a slope of about 8 per cent, so it's unusual now to find a slope steeper. Once you get into a rhythm, you can get up there without sweating. An old forge in St Marie has a plaque marking the spot where Eugène Christophe, a rider in the 1913 Tour de France, repaired his bike and then continued on. I also like Mont Ventoux, east of Avignon where there is a shrine to Tom Simpson, the British rider who died in the 1967 race.

Amy Lamé, TV presenter

West of Perpignan is a little village called Montner where the restaurant Auberge du Cellier (1 rue de Sainte Eugénie, 00 33 4 68 29 09 78) is really fabulous. It has its own appellation there. It's out of this world. I would also recommend doing a tour of all the Cathar castles in the same region. It's great exercise climbing to the tops, but also probably the best way to see the surrounding countryside because they are all perched on the most remote cliff tops. Climbing Roque Fixade and Mont Segur is absolutely amazing.

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