Streets ahead

You don’t need miles of endless countryside to enjoy a great walk in France. We’ve chosen three of the best routes around historic city centres...

ROUEN: BEST FOR HISTORY

The historic capital of Normandy couldn’t be more perfect for anyone on foot. All of the main attractions are within easy reach of Rouen’s famous cathedral, so it’s not hard to spend the day strolling the cobbled streets of the city’s medieval centre.

The jaw-dropping Cath�drale Notre Dame is the obvious place to start any walk. With its gothic spire piercing the sky, it’s no surprise to learn that this was the tallest building in the world until 1880. From here take the narrow Rue Saint- Romain, flanked on either side by tall, medieval buildings, to l’�glise Saint Maclou. An over-the-top gothic showstopper, this church has two towers, five porches and an ornate staircase. Take a small detour just north of the church to the A�tre Saint-Maclou, a medieval charnel house, with fine 16th century wooden galleried buildings around its courtyard.

After Saint Maclou, head down Rue Damiette, another medieval marvel, towards the beautiful Abbaye de Saint- Ouen. Set in its own green gardens, the 14th-century gothic behemoth is as lovely inside as it is outside and definitely worth an inspection. Enjoy a brief sojourn in the pretty Jardins de l’H�tel de Ville, then retrace your steps through the cobbled Place Saint Amand and round to Rue Saint Nicolas. This narrow street is home to one of the best lunch spots in town – Maison Dufour (lunch opening hours; 12noon to 1.45pm; 67 Rue Saint Nicolas. Tel: (Fr) 2 35 71 90 62). One of Normandy’s best-preserved 15th-century inns, this cosy restaurant has flourished under four generations of the Dufour family since 1906. For pudding, try the Calvados-flavoured souffl� or a slice of apple tart. After lunch carry on up Rue Saint Nicolas, across Rue des Carmes and up Rue aux Juifs. The huge Parliament of Normandy is a must-visit, with its Palais de Justice dating from the Middle Ages and more recent gothic additions plus beautiful Renaissance ceilings.

Cross the busy Rue Jeanne d’Arc towards the Place du Vieux March�. Most famous as the place where Joan of Arc was burned at the stake (the reported site of the stake has been marked with a cross), this pretty market square is home to the modern �glise Jean d’Arc. Built in 1979, the geometric shapes of the church contrast sharply with the city’s historic centre, but are no less beautiful in a very different way. From the church, pop into the fascinating Mus�e Jean d’Arc before heading along Rue du Gros Horloge towards the cathedral spire. En-route, stop to enjoy the Gros Horloge, Rouen’s famous 16th-century astrological clock, before heading back to Place de la Cath�drale. Tourist office 25 Place de la Cath�drale 76000 Rouen Tel: (Fr) 2 32 08 32 40 www.rouentourisme.com

LE PUY-ENVELAY: BEST FOR VIEWS

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If you’re looking for a city walk with a dash of adventure thrown in, exploring the old centre of Le Puy-en-Velay could be just the thing. The ancient city in the Auvergne, equally famous as the starting point for pilgrims en route to Santiago de Compostela as it is for its little green lentils, is built on a volcanic range, that makes its most striking attractions really stand out (literally!). It’s a walkers’ paradise, as drivers tend to avoid the steep streets in the old town. From the lively centre of the modern city, Place du Breuil, head along Rue Porte Aigui�re to where the 13th-century town boundary wall once stood.

The pretty, cobbled Place du Martouret is your first port of call. Also known as the square of the martyrs, this was the permanent home of the city’s guillotine. During the French Revolution, 41 executions took place here. Leave the square via Rue Pannesac where on Saturday mornings the bustling street becomes a market selling delicious local produce. Turn right almost immediately and join Rue Rapha�l, the favoured route during the Middle Ages for pilgrims making their way to the city’s cathedral. You can learn all about Le Puy’s world-renowned lace making industry at La Dentelle du Puy (38-44 Rue Rapha�l. Tel: (Fr) 4 71 02 01 68, www.ladentelledupuy.com), with displays of lace, demonstrations and lessons.

At the top of Rue Rapha�l, turn right on to Rue des Tables. This medieval road is named after the merchants’ stalls that used to line each side, and it’s also where the climb towards the cathedral really starts to kick in. At the foot of the cathedral, turn on to Rue S�guret for a delicious lunch at Comme � la Maison (7 Rue S�guret. Tel: (Fr) 4 71 02 94 73), a classy little joint that serves delicious local food with a modern twist.

After lunch, head into the astounding Romanesque Cath�drale Notre-Dame du Puy, with its stripy fa�ade and Moorish detailing. A centre of pilgrimage since the time of Charlemagne, it is now the official starting point for pilgrims heading to Santiago, and they still gather to be blessed there every morning at 7am. The cathedral is full of fascinating gems, but equally as stunning are the views across the city and out over the Auvergne.

Towering over the cathedral is the bronze Notre-Dame de France, perched on one of the city’s two towering volcanic plugs. You can climb up the Rocher Corneille to the statue, but this time head along to the other rocky outcrop, the Rocher d’Aiguilhe.

A short walk from the cathedral along Mont�e Gouteyron and you’re at the foot of what is essentially a volcanic chimney, then it’s a brisk 200-step climb up to the top. There are plenty of benches en route if you find yourself out of puff, but the views from the top are more than worth the effort. The improbable Chapelle Saint Michel, built in 962, sits at the top and marks the end of your upward climb. Tourist office Place du Clauzel, 43000 Le Puy-en-Velay Tel: (Fr) 4 71 09 38 41 www.ot-lepuyenvelay.fr

BORDEAUX: BEST FOR BUZZ

The buzzy city of Bordeaux has it all – history, culture, shopping and, of course, fantastic food and drink. The whole city is too big to cover on foot (there’s a great tram for that), but the elegant city centre, filled with grand architecture, is eminently walkable. Explore during the day and visit the museums, churches and shops en route, or take an evening promenade and see this lovely riverside city at its best.

Start outside the magnificent Grand Th��tre. Built at the end of the 18th century, this is one of Bordeaux’s finest buildings, with its grand portico and enormous columns on which stand 12 statues that represent the nine muses and three goddesses. Standing underneath its stunning fa�ade, it’s easy to see how Bordeaux’s historic city centre was awarded Unesco World Heritage status. From the theatre, head west up Cours de l’Intendance, one of the best shopping streets in the city.

You’ll soon find yourself in busy Place Gambetta, an important hub. In one corner stands the 18th-century arch of the Porte Dijeaux, an old city gate, while in the centre is a small oasis of calm. From the square, dive in to the narrow Rue des Remparts, where quirky little shops are great for a spot of window shopping. The lovely Salon de Th� des Remparts (19 Rue des Remparts. Tel: (Fr) 5 56 90 03 03) is the perfect place for a drink and a bite to eat – try the canel�s – small cinnamon flavoured cakes that are a local speciality. From here it’s a short walk to the huge Cath�drale Saint-Andr�, with its 14th-century twin towers. The cathedral gardens are a lovely place to sit and escape city life. Afterwards, head east, past the grand 18th-century H�tel de Ville, along Cours d’Alsace Lorraine, and stop to view the handsome Porte Cailhau on the bank of the Garonne.

You can also admire Bordeaux’s celebrated Grand Faade, a stretch of identical 18th-century limestone houses along the riverfront. Stroll north along the river to the breathtaking Place de la Bourse. The two long mansion houses which line the quayside – La Ferme G�n�rale and La Bourse du Commerce (the Stock Exchange) are beautiful during the day, but even more so when lit up in the evenings. After marvelling at Bordeaux’s famous architecture, walk a little further up river and enjoy the city’s famous gastronomy at Restaurant Jean Ramet (7 Place Jean- Jaur�s. Tel: (Fr) 5 56 44 12 51). Tourist office 12 Cours du XXX Juillet 33080 Bordeaux Cedex Tel: (Fr) 5 56 00 66 00 www.bordeaux-tourisme.com