Philippe Dupeyrat/getty images
By Laura Itzkowitz on April 27, 2020
Departures is published by Meredith Corp. and owned by American Express. While American Express Card Member benefits are highlighted in this publication, including through the links indicated below, the content of this article was independently written by the editorial staff at Meredith. Other Departures content paid for by American Express is explicitly marked as such.
With the third highest rate of coronavirus infections in Europe, France remains under lockdown until at least May 11. Though some of the harshest restrictions will be lifted then, it’s likely to take months before things return to normal and tourism is able to resume. Until then, Francophiles can immerse themselves in French culture from the comfort of home. From virtual visits of the Loire Valley’s Renaissance castles to Instagram live tours of luxe hotels on the Côte d’Azur, these are the best ways to take a virtual trip to France now.
France’s museums and cultural sites may be closed, but plenty of them are available to tour online. The Louvre offers virtual visits through its website. Google Arts & Culture has posted tours of museums and cultural sites like the Musée d’Orsay, the Musée de l’Orangerie, the Eiffel Tower, and the Palace of Versailles. You can explore online exhibits on science, fashion, and more and get an up-close look at the palace’s famous Hall of Mirrors without the crowds. There’s even a dedicated page on the Castles of the Loire Valley that links to virtual tours of Renaissance castles like the Château de Chenonceau, the Château de Chambord, and the Clos Lucé, where Leonardo Da Vinci spent the last years of his life. The Château du Rivau is also offering Instagram live tours of its gardens.
Tours by Locals is now offering live private virtual tours that will connect you directly with a guide. So before visiting for real, you can take a virtual trip to places like Mont Saint Michel, the famous abbey on an island in Normandy. In response to the coronavirus pandemic, Airbnb Experiences—which has paused in-person tours until the end of April—has launched a series of online experiences to help hosts who have lost income from bookings. You can Zoom around Paris with a local host who will show you his favorite spots, learn how to saber a bottle of Champagne with a tour guide in Épernay, and master the art of mime with the Educational and Artistic Co-Director of the International School of Dramatic Corporal Mime in Paris.
Listen to French Music
From Claude Debussy to Serge Gainsbourg, French musicians are known the world over and their music will become a soothing soundtrack to your days at home. Pop on some Édith Piaf, Françoise Hardy, or France Gall or pick a playlist on Spotify, which have themes like French Café Music and ‘60s Summer in St. Tropez. The Opéra de Paris is also streaming operas and ballets like Cinderella and Manon.
Watch Films Set in France
Since the advent of movies, France has shone brightly on the silver screen. Why not take a deep dive into French film history? Exercise your intellect and get to know the Nouvelle Vague by watching classics like Breathless by Jean-Luc Godard, The 400 Blows by François Truffaut, and Cléo from 5 to 7 by Agnès Varda. In the mood for something a bit lighter? Contemporary classics like Amélie, Before Sunset, Julie & Julia, Chocolat, and Midnight in Paris capture that je ne sais quoi that makes France live on in our hearts and imaginations.
Cook French Food at Home
You don’t necessarily need to tackle all 524 recipes in Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking, but if you’re looking for inspiration, you’ll find plenty of it there. Serious chefs should keep a copy of the Larousse Gastronomique and the Escoffier Cookbook and Guide to the Fine Art of Cookery on hand. My Paris Kitchen by David Liebovitz is a more approachable option for home cooks. So is The Provence Cookbook by Patricia Wells, which will transport you to the sunny south of France with recipes like asparagus flan and cod braised in spicy tomato sauce.
French chefs have also taken to Instagram to share recipes and cooking lessons. Michelin-starred chef Anne Sophie Pic has been sharing weekly menus and recipes on her Instagram account. Rémy Giraud, the Michelin-starred chef at Les Hauts de Loire, an intimate Relais & Châteaux property in the Loire Valley, regularly posts recipes and videos showing how to make grilled salmon, chocolate soufflé, tarte tatin, and other French classics on his Instagram account.
Ask any French woman and she’ll tell you that just because you’re at home, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t look chic. Spruce up your spring wardrobe with items from brands that are giving back. LVMH, the parent company of Louis Vuitton and Dior, stepped up to donate masks, medical gowns, and hand sanitizer to hospitals in France. Chanel is contributing €1.2 million to French emergency service and has pledged to produce over 50,000 face masks for doctors, nurses, police, and other essential workers in France. French cool girl brand Maje is donating masks, reusable hair caps made using fabric scraps, and more than 1,000 pieces of clothing to hospitals and charitable organizations. L’Occitane en Provence has donated 70,000 liters of hand sanitizer and 25,000 soaps and hand creams to healthcare workers in France. Other beauty brands like Caudalie and Fekkai are fundraising and donating products to healthcare workers fighting the pandemic.
Support French Hotels
By government decree, hotels in France are currently closed, but you can still support them by booking a future stay. Hôtel Providence in Paris’s trendy 10tharrondissement is participating in a “Buy Now, Stay Later” hotel bonds program, so if you purchase a $100 gift card, it will mature to $150 after 60 days. One of Paris’s most luxurious hotels, American Express Fine Hotel & Resort property Le Meurice is livestreaming the view from its recently renovated Belle Étoile suite. For more aesthetic inspiration, head over to the Hotel Château du Grand Lucé’s Instagram account. Opened last year, the intimate boutique hotel inside a renovated 18thcentury castle in the Loire Valley is giving a peek inside its gorgeous suites. And several members of Leading Hotels of the World, such as the American Express Fine Hotels & Resorts properties Ritz Paris,Terre Blanche Hotel Spa Golf Resort in Provence and the Champagne region’s Royal Champagne Hotel & Spa, plus, the Lily of the Valley in the French Riviera, are sharing wellness tips, recipes, and property tours on their Instagram accounts.