5 Things You Don't Know About France

The island of Mont-St-Michel at sunset in France. Photo by Oscar Pinal
By Caroline Sieg

Classic, yet ever-changing, here's the latest news from France, including new hotels and a tropical retreat.

Photo caption: The island of Mont-St-Michel at sunset in France.

The home of Jean Prouvé in the garden of the Musée des Beaux-Arts in Nancy, France. Photo by dalbera
The Musée des Beaux-Arts in Nancy, closed for renovations at the time of research, has reopened. While the museum has retained much of its previous collection, it added a new gallery space dedicated to Jean Prouvé (1901-1984), a Nancy-born architect and designer. The gallery looks out over Place Stanislas and showcases a mix of furniture, architectural pieces, graphic art and ironwork. Admission is now ¬6 for adults, ¬4 for students and free for children under 12 years old. The museum is open every day except Tuesday between 10am and 6pm.

Photo caption: The home of Jean Prouvé in the garden of the Musée des Beaux-Arts in Nancy, France.

One of the rooms at the Annecy Hostel in Annecy, France. Photo by Annecy Hostel
Annecy finally has a solid budget option option -- a rarity in this area. The brand-spanking new Annecy Hostel, opened in 2012 is run by two travel-obsessed brothers who go out of their way to make you feel at home. Offering both dorms (4 beds each) and private rooms with double beds, the hostel is painted fun, cheerful colors throughout and offers free WiFi, lockers, a TV lounge to hang out and mingle in and a common kitchen for guest use. The lovely garden contains a barbeque and a spot to play boules (otherwise known as petanque or bocce) and packs them in during the summer. The hostel is a 5-minute walk from the center of town, but if you are a keen cyclist you can rent bikes right at the hostel. Dorm beds are priced from €22 per person (some with shared bathroom in the hall, others with private bathroom direct from dorm room) and double rooms (all with private bathrooms) start at €55 per room.

Photo caption: One of the rooms at the Annecy Hostel in Annecy, France.

The island of Mont-St-Michel at sunset in France. Photo by Oscar Pinal
The slim causeway linking the mainland to the tidal island containing Mont-St-Michel is officially closed to public traffic. The 3 million annual visitors now arrive at a new visitor center and parking area containing spaces for 4150 vehicles (including 74 dedicated disabled spaces and 228 spots for campervans). Parking charges are €8.50 for cars, €55 for campervans and €3.50 for motorcycles.

The parking area is roughly half a mile (800m) from Place des Navettes, where you hop on shiny silver shuttles busses (called passeurs) that whisk you to the Mont in 6 minutes. (Note: disabled spaces are adjacent to the Place). The free shuttles run every 3 to 4 minutes between June and September and every 15 minutes the rest of the year. Alternatively, you can walk across the 1.5-mile (2.5km) causeway along special walkways. In fact, some visitors have reported they prefer to hoof it: the views of the Mont are exceptional, there are oodles of photo ops and it gives you a chance to work off the meal from the night before.

The changes are part of a larger project that will result in the narrow causeway being replaced by a bridge by 2014; see www.projetmontsaintmichel.fr for the latest updates.

Photo caption: The island of Mont-St-Michel at sunset in France.

The Villa Lara in Bayeux, France. Photo by Villa Lara
A spiffy new boutique hotel opened in Bayeux. The Villa Lara (www.hotel-villalara.com) is all luxury and elegance with hip, bright colors, smooth lines and high thread count sheets: think cozy minimalism. Rooms all contain flat-screen TVs, free Wi-Fi, air conditioning, safes and minibars. The property contains a bistro and a gym and some rooms boast views of the cathedral. Tip: the hotel can arrange day trips to Mont-St-Michel for €58. Double room rates range between €150 and €220 and suites costs €250-€350.

Photo caption: The Villa Lara in Bayeux, France.

A colorful loriquet bird at Biotropica in Rouen, France. Photo by _Tophee_
Biotropica, a brand new zoo and giant greenhouse, has opened in Val de Reuil 20 miles (32km) southeast of Rouen. The property includes a tropical rain forest housed in a 6000m2 greenhouse, which sets out to give a realistic experience of tropical habitats. Otters and piranhas make an appearance in the mangrove swamps and parrots peek out from mango and papaya trees. Outside is more of like a traditional zoo with kangaroos and alpacas and a petting zoo with chickens, goats, ducks and pigs.

Photo caption: A colorful loriquet bird at Biotropica in Rouen, France.

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