No matter how long you’ve been in France, there’s always something new to discover. Whether it’s wandering the cobblestone streets of an idyllic countryside village, vacationing in a beachfront town surrounded by the emerald-green waters of the Mediterranean, or sipping a cocktail on a terrace surrounded by the magnificent architecture of Paris, it’s hard to find another country with so much to offer.
To give our incoming HEC Paris MBA cohort a head start on their off-campus adventures, we asked nine current students to share their best tips for exploring France. From gazing at the priceless treasures in the Louvre – the world’s most visited art museum – to picnicking on the craggy outcroppings at the Côte D’Azur, this guide will be your starting point to making your own incredible discoveries.
Cultural Sites and Museums
by Linse Kelbe, MBA ’22
“There are so many amazing cultural sites and activities in and around Paris – by visiting them, you will have the opportunity to experience France outside of the MBA and practice your French at the same time. One of my first stops was the Château de Versailles, just a short train ride from Jouy-en-Josas. You can even rent a rowboat or bike while you are there to further explore the gardens. The extra walk to the Grand Trianon and Petit Trianon are definitely worth it, as is le Hameau de la Reine, a farm built for Marie Antoinette.
“Within Paris, I recommend (of course) the Louvre, the Musée d’Orsay (early modern/impressionist art), the Musée de l’Orangerie (known for Monet’s water lily paintings), the Musée Rodin, and many others!
“One of my favorite lesser-known places is the Cathédrale Sainte-Chapelle, covered entirely with incredible stained-glass windows. You can also take easy day trips from Paris, or by car from Jouy-en-Josas, to Reims (Champagne), Chartres, and Saint-Denis to see some of the most beautiful cathedrals in Europe.
“In addition, most of the kings and queens of France were buried in the Cathédrale de Saint-Denis, and most of the kings of France were crowned in the Cathédrale de Reims. Of course, visit one (or more) of the many Champagne vineyards or caves in and around Reims while you are there.
“One last tip, if you are going to go to the Château de Versailles or the Louvre more than twice, I recommend the “1 An à Versailles” and “Amis du Louvre” card (both of which have student rates) for unlimited entry for a year. Enjoy!”
The French Riveria
by Cecila Bouri, MBA ’22
“As an incoming MBA student in France, my personal number one “must-do” would be to go to La Côte D’Azur. The French Riveria is one of the most beautiful places I have visited.
“My suggestion is to take a flight from Paris to Nice, rent a car and drive the whole Riviera. There are several cities and sights that are not to be missed. Nice has the Promenade des Anglais and the Marc Chagall Museum, which you can follow with a lunch or dinner in one of the restaurants located in the heart of its old town. At Eze village, definitely walk to the top for the beautiful view overlooking the Mediterranean. At Juan les Pins, consider a picnic on the rocks on the beach. There’s also the incredible towns of Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat (a beautiful city), Cannes, Saint-Tropez and Monaco.
“One other trip that is worth doing is driving along the northern coast of France, passing by the famous Mont-Saint-Michel. A four-hour drive from Paris, Mont-Saint-Michel was initially built in the 8th century. Once there, I recommend you drive along the coast to reach the beautiful coastal town of Saint-Malo. Spectacular!”
Château of Versailles
by Katrina Brooke (Lam) Guidon, MBA ’22
“If there’s one thing that should be on every HEC student’s to-do list, it’s the Château de Versailles. The Château (French for castle) was France’s royal residence from 1682 until the start of the French Revolution, in 1789. Today, it is a museum, a palace, and a historical landmark, to say the least.
“As the Château is home to over 60,000 works of art, you wouldn’t be blamed for not managing to see everything. Absolutely not to be missed, however, is the famous Hall of Mirrors, located on the ground floor of the Château. Even if you don’t know the historical significance of this location, its appearance alone will blow you away.
“Besides the interior of the Château, the magnificent gardens themselves are a sight to behold. If you’re visiting in the late summer (which you should as an introduction to your MBA!), go on a Saturday –a night-time fountain show takes place every Saturday evening from June to September. Without giving away too much, let’s just say there are lights, fountains, music, and at the end, a special fiery surprise!
“All in all, with all the photo-ops, be prepared to spend an entire day at the Château alone – never mind the rest of the charming city of Versailles. You can save that for another day – you have 16 months, after all.”
by Tarek Mezher, MBA ’22
“Situated on a Parisian hilltop, Montmartre offers you views of the City of Light from an entirely different angle. Home to the Sacre Coeur basilica and the Place du Tertre, this Parisian neighborhood with its 18th century buildings and cobblestone streets is incredibly charming. If you see a postcard of Paris, there’s a good chance it depicts Montmartre. Indeed, sales of postcards are widespread here, as are souvenirs and canvases painted by French artists, especially in the neighborhood’s open-air market.
“Depending on the weather, a cold drink in one of the cafés at Place de Tertre would be a very good idea. There is also a restaurant called ‘Le Tire Bouchon,’ which is worth a visit for its yummy crepes. The environment is also very friendly – in fact, the owner himself took care of us, making us feel as if we were part of his family.
“Perhaps the most memorable aspect of this crêperie is that the owner insists on having a souvenir from his customers before you leave – be it a banknote, a business card, or just a plain message written on a piece of paper. It’s a bit touristy, but it definitely makes it a must-visit spot.”
by Yuki Nakayama, MBA ’22
“Out of countless Parisian sites and activities, sampling French patisseries is one of my absolute must-dos: the French simply serve the best sweets in the world.
“Here’s two of my favorite pastry chefs and another suggestion:
“Cédric Grolet creates desserts that look like an actual fruit and taste like a masterpiece. He is the executive pastry chef at Le Meurice, the highly fashionable 5-starred hotel and three-starred Michelin restaurant located in the heart of Paris. The picture is a gâteau called ‘pêche plate’. It really does look like a peach straight from the tree (or from the market)! There are two stores in Paris where you can buy this award-winning pastry chef’s incredible creations, one in Opéra and one in Tuileries.
“If Cédric Grolet is leading the innovative road, Pierre Hermé takes the royal road. Named the fourth most influential French person in the world by Vanity Fair in 2016, Pierre Hermé is the star chef behind some of most famous –and delicious!– patisseries in France, creating traditional gâteaux with modern twists. For example, his Saint-Honoré is a fusion tasting of citron. The pink gâteau is his signature “Ispahan” which is a type of red fruit dessert styled like a macaron. Find his boutiques in the 7th, 8th and the 15th arrondissements.
3. Another tip: Café Gourmand in any restaurant
“Last but not least, a café gourmand is something that you will encounter in most restaurants in Paris. If you don’t know what to pick for dessert and want to eat the patisserie at the venue, you can always try the ‘Café Gourmand’. This is simply a coffee (or tea, if you request it) with a few tasty mini gâteaux. The one pictured was from an Italian restaurant called ‘Del Papa’ and it includes tiramisu, panna cotta and fresh fruits.
I have also uploaded several patisseries and restaurants on my Instagram account. It would be great if you would check my account also at @petite_yuki!”
Crêpes on Rue du Montparnasse
by Alayne Kane, MBA ’22
“While in Paris, I would recommend having crêpes on Rue du Montparnasse. Savory crêpes or galettes are made with buckwheat (sarrasin) and are traditionally from Brittany, with history dating back to the 13th century. Trains connecting Brittany and Paris have always arrived and departed from the Montparnasse train station, so when Bretons came to Paris, they first stepped foot in Montparnasse.
“Today, there are many crêperies located on Rue du Montparnasse, the most famous and being Crêperie Josselin at 67 Rue du Montparnasse. The interior is cozy and covered with traditional decorations.
“My favorite crêpe is with egg, ham, cheese, and mushrooms. Although not necessary, crêpes are traditionally enjoyed with cider. And there are plenty of delicious sweet crêpes for dessert. Crêperie Josselin does not take credit cards, so don’t forget to bring cash and be prepared to wait a bit, but service is fast and it’s well worth the wait!”
by Chee Hao Lum, MBA ’22
“Your HEC experience is incomplete without visiting Mont-Saint-Michel, one of the most fascinating UNESCO-recognized World Heritage Sites. This little island has a population of less than 50, but hosts more than 2.5-million visitors every year.
“The long history of Mont-Saint-Michel is thought to date back to 708, when Aubert, the Bishop of Avranches, had a sanctuary built on Mont Tombe in honor of the Archangel. It soon became a major pilgrimage site.
“The abbey of Mont-Saint-Michel is unique, with a layout different from any other monastery in the world. Climbing up is kind of challenging: the pathway that leads to the top of Mont-Saint-Michel is narrow, steep, and cobble-stoned. Definitely don’t forget your walking shoes when you are visiting this masterpiece. For adventure seekers, you can take advantage of the low tide – dipping your feet into firm sand and walking around the island to see the Abbey and its walls from unusual vantage points.
“Before you leave, don’t forget to try the famous Omelette de la Mère Poulard, touted as ‘the most famous omelette in the world’.”
Football, Biking and more
by Carlos Cachero, MBA ’22
“The French absolutely love their sports, and as a student, you can easily catch their enthusiasm. Nothing quite beats the feeling of waiting at the top of a hill for the riders to race by during the annual Tour de France, which traditionally finishes with several laps on the Champs Elysées. If you get into position along the route near one of the France’s bigger cities, there’s a good chance you’ll be able to grab some of the goodies tossed out to spectators by the Tour’s corporate sponsors. The 2022 tour is July 1 to July 24.
“As the reigning World Cup Champions, France will be defending their title in the 2022 FIFA World Cup, slated for November 21 – December 18, 2022. Even if you can’t make it to Qatar to see the action in person, you can bet that every neighborhood bar and restaurant from Jouy-en-Josas to Paris will find a way to hook up a TV so that customers can watch the action and show their support of ‘les bleus’.
“One of tennis’ four Grand Slam tournaments, the French Open (also called Roland Garros), takes place annually in Paris. Tickets are inexpensive for the outside courts and for the first few days of the tournament, and the laid-back, festive atmosphere definitely is worth experiencing.”