The imposing Palais des Papes was the "Vatican" of the Roman Catholic Church in the 14th century during the Avignon Papacy, a succession of seven French Popes. One of the largest medieval Gothic buildings in Europe, it is among the top 10 tourist attractions in France and a venue for the Festival d'Avignon. In August and September, an elaborate sound-and-light show (Les Luminessences d'Avignon) recounts its history with some performances in English.
Versailles, Paris, France
Versailles, perhaps the world's largest palace, makes a good day trip from Paris. The most convenient way of getting there by pubic transportation is the suburban RER C train that goes along the Left Bank. Buy a "Paris-Versailles Rive Gauche" ticket for the 20-minute ride. Wear good walking shoes. The palace is about a 10-minute walk from the station (the last on the line) and that's just the beginning. You won't want to miss the Hall of Mirrors where the Treaty of Versailles was signed ending WW I or the gardens designed by André Le Nôtre or Marie Antoinette's Petit Trianon. Various tours can also be arranged from Paris.
Monet's Garden, the subject of some of the artist's most famous paintings, makes a nice day trip from Paris. It is really two gardens: a flower garden in front of the house and a water garden inspired by his Japanese print collection. It's in the water garden that you'll find the Japanese bridge and water lilies so familiar to art lovers. His home with its dramatic yellow dining room accented with blue dishes is also on display. Giverny is 75 miles from Paris.
On June 6, 1944, the Allies launched the largest amphibious invasion in history on five stretches of Normandy beaches. The bloody battle would mark the beginning of the end of WWII in Europe. The beaches are remembered by their code names (Omaha, Utah, Gold, Juno and Sword), vast cemeteries and films like "Saving Private Ryan" and "The Longest Day." The beaches, battlefields, cemeteries, monuments and museums - a few hours from Paris - draw crowds of tourists, particularly around the anniversary of the battle.
François I began building the great Renaissance hunting lodge at Chambord in the early 16th century, but all told he spent only 72 days there and then only a few days at a time. The largest of all the Loire chateaux, it is best known for its unique double spiral staircase, designed or at least inspired by Leonardo da Vinci. The two spirals never meet over three floors, allowing people to come and go without seeing each other.
Beaubourg, Paris, France
The Pompidou Center, commonly known as Beaubourg, changed the face of Paris when it opened in 1977 in a rundown neighborhood that once had been the public market. It houses, among other things, the Musée National d'Art Moderne, the largest modern art museum in Europe, and IRCAM, a center for music and acoustic research. The museum holds block-buster exhibitions and attracts several million visitors a year. Out front the Place Pompidou is a vibrant gathering of street performers, sketch artists and musicians. The high-tech architecture by Renzo Piano, Richard Rogers and Gianfranco Franchini won out in an international competition judged by Oscar Niemeyer, Jean Prouvé and Philip Johnson Museum.