More than any other country, it seems, France was created with the Instagram-ready shot in mind. Consider the figures: There are more than 2,000 miles of shoreline on the Atlantic, Mediterranean, and English Channel coasts — rugged, sandy, rocky, woodsy, and lined with astonishing vistas of sweeping seas, cottony waves, or dramatic cliffs. There are seven major mountain ranges containing some 361 ski areas, and most of them turn into hikeable sloping ravines carpeted with wildflowers in summertime. There are 74,500 miles of local trails, and along the way, most have views that will make you gasp in reverence and awe. And then there are the urban vistas, and a city’s river ways and rooftops are often one short but steep climb away, and visible from on high. There are sighworthy panoramas from perched villages, former fortress towns that roost on the edge of cliffs and overlook expanses of valleys and plains.
So reach for your camera — here are our picks for 10 of France’s most jaw-dropping views.
The Eiffel Tower reflected in the Seine (Photo: Thinkstock)
The Eiffel Tower
The Eiffel Tower is one of the most photogenic icons in the world: perfect from every angle. Illuminated in the evening, it is particularly gorgeous when it sparkles for five minutes every hour. Nowhere is the view more beautiful than from a boat on the Seine, when the tower shimmers both above Paris and in its reflection in the river.
Le Mont Saint-Michel, in Normandy (Photo: Denis Cappellin/Flickr)
Le Mont Saint-Michel one of the Best Views in France
As beautiful as Le Mont Saint-Michel is to visit, like many iconic buildings, the Norman abbey on a granite rock in the Channel is almost more beautiful from a distance. At the turn of the 20th century, a French politician called the seaside route by Champeaux, between Avranches and Granville, the “most beautiful kilometer in France,” and the name stuck. From this vantage point on the northeastern coast of the Mont Saint-Michel Bay is one of the most ethereal views of the abbey, looking like a castle adrift in the sea.
The view from Nice’s Colline du Château (Photo: David Baron/Flickr)
Nice’s Colline du Château
Of all the heart-stopping views of the Mediterranean on the Côte d’Azur — and there are many — nothing quite prepares you for the shock when the elevator doors open atop Nice’s Colline du Château, which dominates the town from the end of the Quai des États Unis. A stretch of sapphire sea appears below you; to the right is the Baie des Anges and to the left, the old port. Palm trees and promenades: It is quintessential Riviera.
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The panorama from Aiguille du Midi (Photo: Thinkstock)
Aiguille du Midi
Chamonix has two stellar attractions: the Mer de Glace glacier and, in the distance, Mont Blanc, the highest mountain in Europe. A cable car from town takes you to the 12,605-foot summit of Aiguille du Midi, where, even if you dare not step into the glass room suspended above the chasm, you can still savor the vista of the great Mont Blanc and the rest of the French, Swiss, and Italian Alps.
Inside Vézelay’s Abbey of la Madeleine (Photo: David Sidoux/Flickr)
Abbey of la Madeleine
Pilgrims have been climbing the hill to the Abbey of la Madeleine in Vézelay for centuries, but even those of scant faith will be moved when they see the green, blue, and gray hills of Burgundy, with its vineyards, rivers, and forests sprawling in the infinite horizon.
Île Vierge (Photo: Yann Caradec/Flickr)
There are many climbable lighthouses in the Finistère department of Brittany, but if your philosophy is to go big — and if you can handle a 397-step spiral staircase — then Île Vierge is the one to ascend. Located on an island in the Channel waters, cursed with some of the most treacherous tides on earth, the view from the breezy summit is of the sea, sky, and rocky Breton coast.
Dune du Pilat, on Arcachon Bay (Photo: Thinkstock)
Dune du Pilat
On the southern point of Arcachon Bay on the Atlantic coast of Aquitaine is the Dune du Pilat. At 360-feet high, it is the largest sand dune in Europe, a triumph of shifting winds off the rough Atlantic. From the top is a stunning view of the deep shoreline forest and the bright blue ocean carved by currents into sandbars.
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The village of Ménerbes (Photo: Ib Aarmo/Flickr)
Provence is a wonderland of 360-degree views. From the perched villages of Gordes, Roussillon, and Ménerbes, you can sip rosé at a table in the sun and look forever over the green hills and tiled roofs. But summer here is another dimension entirely, when the Vaucluse, the Luberon, and the meadows near Avignon burst with lavender, and in August, those fabled sunflowers. Among the most beautiful vistas for lavender: the area around Sault, beside the purple figure of Mont Ventoux.
The white cliffs of the Calanques (Photo: joh.sh/Flickr)
Calanques National Park
Calanques National Park extends for about 12 walkable miles on the coast between Marseille and Cassis. It is a series of steep-walled inlets containing narrow pools of sparkling sea that extend between blinding white limestone cliffs and sandy beaches. In summer months many of the beaches themselves close because of fire hazards, but the lookout from the trail is of luminous rocks and pale, almost Caribbean water.
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The Millau Viaduct (Photo: Andy Wasley/Flickr)
The Millau Viaduct
Of all the manmade wonders in France — all the chateaus and cathedrals that stud the landscape in varying degrees of splendor — there is little more awe-inspiring than the sight of the Millau Viaduct on the A75 reaching its way with soaring grace across the Tarn River. With spans reaching a height of 1,125 feet, it sometimes seems to float in the clouds.
Marcia DeSanctis is the author of the forthcoming book “100 Places in France Every Woman Should Go” (Travelers’ Tales). She is a former television news producer who has written essays and articles for numerous publications, including Vogue, Marie Claire, Town & Country, O the Oprah Magazine, Departures, and the New York Times Magazine. She is the recipient of three Lowell Thomas Awards for excellence in travel journalism.