There may only be one ancient wonder of the world left – the Pyramids of Giza in Egypt – and France does not feature among the modern wonders of the world. However, for those who are interested in discovering the most wonderful places in France, we have compiled this list, and we're calling it 'The Seven Wonders of France'.
Marqueyssac Gardens in Dordogne
As a nod to one of the ancient wonders of the world, the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, we are starting our French Wonders list with one of the most beautiful gardens in France. The Marqueyssac Gardens in Dordogne are one of France's most beautiful landscaped gardens. They offer sweeping views overlooking the Dordogne Valley and are the most visited gardens in the Perigord. The winding paths lead visitors to the beautiful belvedere, a balcony that juts out more than 400 feet above the Dordogne River. The boxwoods, dating back to the 19th century, reflect gentle, flowing, asymmetrical shapes, in contrast to the symmetry of many of the other gardens in France.
There are some beautiful guesthouses in the vicinity of the gardens, so plan to stay at least a night. You'll be able to enjoy the beauty of this region at all times of the day, and may even be able to attend one of the candlelit evenings in the gardens.
Marqueyssac Gardens (Pixabay)
Maison Carrée & Pont du Gard Roman Bridge, Provence
The Maison Carrée ('Square House' in English) in Provence is a Roman structure dating back to the 5th century AD. Celebrated for its harmonic proportions, we might draw comparisons with the spectacular Greek Temple of Artemis, one of the ancient wonders of the world. It is among the best-preserved Roman temple façades of the former Roman Empire, due to being in constant use from the 11th century AD onwards. It has served as a home (it is possible to see where there were once doors and windows), stables, and as an Augustine church. Following the French Revolution at the end of the 18th century, it became a government office for the first prefecture of the Gard region. Following that, it was used to house the departmental archives.
The Maison Carrée was [re]dedicated to Gaius and Lucius Caesar, grandsons and adopted heirs of the first Roman Emperor Augustus (63 BC – 14 AD), both of whom died young. It has undergone extensive restoration over the last century, most recently from 2006-2011. It represents a near textbook example of a Tuscan-style Roman Temple, described by the Roman author, architect, and civil engineer Vitruvius in his book On Architecture. The structure has a single principle chamber (known as a cella), a deep porch, a frontal, axial orientation, and sits upon a high podium, measuring 2.85m (over 9ft) in height — the base of the temple measures 26.42m by 13.54m (86.68ft by 44.42ft).
Half an hour from the Maison Carrée in Nimes, you'll find the stunningly majestic Pont du Gard (this appears in the header at the top of this article). At three stories high, it is the tallest and best-preserved Roman aqueduct in the world, and a UNESCO world heritage site. The bridge dates back earlier than the Maison Carrée, having been built in the year 19 BC under Roman ruler Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa, son-in-law of Augustus. Together, the Maison Carrée and the Pont du Gard bridge may be described as the ancient wonders of Provence.
Maison Carée in Nîmes, France (Danichou, Wikipedia)
The Louvre Museum Pyramid, Paris
We couldn't resist including one of our very own pyramids in this article! While not exactly on the scale of the Pyramids of Giza, the metal and glass pyramid outside the Louvre Museum has become one of Paris's icons. It sits in the main courtyard of the Louvre Palace and was designed by Chinese-American architect I. M. Pei, completed in 1989. Today, it serves as the main entrance to the Louvre, which contains some of the world's most wondrous artworks. These include the Mona Lisa (Leonardo Da Vinci); the Winged Victory of Samothrace (a legacy of ancient Greek sculpture); Venus de Milo (Ancient Greek statue), and Liberty Leading the People (a painting by Eugene Delacroix).
The glass pyramid of the Louvre Museum (Pixabay)
Palace of Versailles, Near Paris
Not only is the Palace of Versailles one of the wonders of France, it also received global recognition when it was named a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1979.
This year is a particularly pertinent year for the Palace of Versailles. It has been 100 years since the leaders of Germany and the Allies powers signed the Treaty of Versailles, which officially ended the First World War.
Today, it is one of the greatest wonders of France, if not the world. Before being converted into a palace under the instruction of King Louis XIII in the 17th century, it served as his hunting lodge. It was later home to successive Kings, Louis XIV, XV and XVI until the French Revolution in 1789.
A picture of the excess and extravagance enjoyed by French royalty at that time, the pièce de résistance is the Hall of Mirrors, the most famous and stunning room in the palace. Formerly an open terrace connecting the King and the Queen's apartments, work to turn it into a gallery was completed in 1684. The hall contains 357 floor-to-ceiling mirrors (a very rare and expensive luxury at that time), is 240 feet long, 34 feet wide and 40-foot in height.
The Palace of Versailles also has extensive gardens that stretch over 1,976 acres. You may need a couple of days to appreciate the palace and gardens in their entirety.
Hall of Mirrors at the Palace of Versailles
(Myrabella / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0)
Carrieres des Lumieres, Provence
This modern marvel uses technology to bring to life an old quarry in rural Provence, not far from Les Baux. This digital exhibition projects enormous images of famous works of art onto the quarry walls, accompanied by gentle music. It has become very popular with tourists visiting Provence, and we highly recommend a visit.
We think it's one of the great modern and artistic wonders of the 21st century. In 2019, you'll be able to see some of Vincent van Gogh's incredible masterpieces, many of which he produced during his time spent living in Provence. If you are driving through Provence, we highly recommend a stop at the Carrieres de Lumieres digital art exhibition.
'Spirit of American Youth Rising from the Waves' statue at the American Cemetery in Colleville, Normandy
We include this as one of the wonders of France due to its symbolic and historical significance. In memory of the soldiers who perished during World War II, American sculptor Donald Harcourt de Lue was commissioned to produce a series of monuments. The statue of 'The Spirit of American Youth Rising from the Waves' is the most celebrated and poignant of these monuments.
The bronze statue stands as the centerpiece of the American Cemetery at Colleville, Normandy. It is close to Omaha Beach, which suffered the highest number of casualties on D-Day, mostly US soldiers. At 22 feet high, the naked symbol of American Youth stands with his arms outstretched toward the sky. Many soldiers died as they waded through the sea on the approach to Omaha Beach, and this is symbolized through the statue's curved lower body emerging from the waves.
On the ground beneath the pedestal appears the following inscription in bronze letters: "MINE EYES HAVE SEEN THE GLORY OF THE COMING OF THE LORD."
(Pascal Radigue, Wikimedia Commons CC by SA 4.0)
Mont Saint Michel, Normandy
This islet just off the Normandy coast is one of France's most popular and mystical attractions. The Romanesque abbey that sits atop the rock of Mont St Michel was built around 1,000 years ago in response to an increased number pilgrims arriving at the site. Over time, the village grew around it, and in 2015 there were 33 permanent residents still living on the rock, down from 114 in 1975. There are various myths and legends associated with the history of Mont Saint Michel, some involving dragons and demons.
To discover the most curious aspects of the islet, its hidden nooks and alleys, and its fascinating history, we recommend doing a tour with a local guide who lives on the islet.
Mont St Michel (Zoltán Vörös, Wikimedia Commons CC by SA 3.0)
If you would like to include any of these French Wonders in your self-drive itinerary, do not hesitate to let us know!