The joke ‘If it’s baroque, don’t fix it’ is a perfect maxim for Salzburg: the story-book Altstadt (old town) burrowed below steep hills looks much as it did when Mozart lived here 250 years ago. Beside the fast-flowing Salzach River, your gaze is raised inch by inch to graceful domes and spires, the formidable clifftop fortress and the mountains beyond. It’s a backdrop that did the lordly prince-archbishops and Maria proud.
Mountains loom large almost everywhere you look in Chamonix. Skiers and sightseers are launched by cable car to heights of 3842m on the Mont Blanc massif, while the glacial void of La Vallée Blanche – one of Europe’s most fêted off-piste adventures – beckons to the brave. Skiers and boarders have a choice of pistes along the valley, while in summer the same lifts access hiking and biking trails.
Graceful and easy-going, Montpellier is a stylish metropolis with elegant buildings, grand hôtels particuliers (private mansions), stately boulevards and shady backstreets, and gorgeous white-sand beaches on its doorstep.
Grit and grandeur coexist seamlessly in Marseille, an exuberantly multicultural port city with a pedigree stretching back to classical Greece and a fair claim to the mantle of France’s second city. Once seen as somewhat dirty and dangerous, and lacking the glamour of Cannes or St-Tropez, this black sheep of the Provençal coastline has blossomed in cultural confidence since its 2013 stint as the European Capital of Culture. The addition of a brace of swanky new museums is just the outward sign of an optimism and self-belief that’s almost palpable.
Commanding a strategic spot at the confluence of the Rhône and the Saône Rivers, Lyon has been luring people ever since the Romans named it Lugdunum in 43 BC. Commercial, industrial and banking powerhouse for the past 500 years, Lyon is France’s third-largest city, and offers today’s urban explorers a wealth of enticing experiences.
Glamorous Cannes sets camera flashes popping at its film festival in May, when stars pose in tuxes and full-length gowns on the red carpet. But the glitz doesn’t end there. Throughout the year, as you walk among the designer bars, couture shops and palaces of La Croisette, the wealth and glamour of this city cannot fail to impress. Admiring Ferraris and Porsches and celebrity-spotting on the chic sunlounger-striped beaches and liner-sized yachts moored at the port are perennial Cannes pastimes.