Top 10 reasons we love France

By Budget Travel
January 27, 2022
Courtesy <a href=" " target="_blank">blake/myBudgetTravel</a>

Happy Bastille Day! Or as the French say, Bonne La Fête Nationale! It's the French equivalent of the Fourth of July, with parades and parties to celebrate the anniversary of the birth of modern France.

Launch our slide show: 29 Stunning Photos of France.

We, too, would like to celebrate the red, white, and blue of a different flag, so we present our Top 10 reasons we love France:

1. Crepes at every corner in Paris

2. It gave the world Nutella

3. The music of Edith Piaf

4. Wine is appropriate with every meal

5. The word boulangerie (it means bread shop)

6. The smell boulangeries emit, which permeates every street corner in the morning

7. It inspired Woody Allen's whimsical Midnight in Paris

8. Lavender fields in July

9. Rosé from the Côte du Rhône region

10. The French kiss

What do you love about France?


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Best Wine Destinations (and Wines!) for Spring

The balmy breezes of spring make us want to get out there and see the world more than ever, and some of our favorite destinations for relaxing, romantic weekend getaways happen to be beautiful wine regions. It got us thinking: What are the ideal spring wine country destinations? And, just as importantly if you share our taste for affordable reds and whites, what are some of spring's best bottlings and food-wine pairings? I had an inspiring conversation with Ian Broome, a member of the Court of Master Sommeliers, certified Level ll with the Wine and Spirits Education Trust, and beverage manager at JW Marriot Starr Pass Resort &amp; Spa in Tucson, Arizona, to get his expert tips about the best wines, and wine destinations, for spring. Q: What U.S. wine regions are especially suited to spring travel?A: They are all great in the spring! The scenery is beautiful as things green up, and it's an especially good time to meet the winemakers because there is not nearly as much work going on at the wineries as there will be later in the summer and especially the fall. The warmer regions, like Napa, Paso Robles, Arizona, and eastern Washington have lovely weather in the spring (in summer, the heat in those regions can be a bit oppressive). Cooler coastal climates, like Anderson Valley and the Sonoma Coast, on the other hand, are great summer destinations to get away from the summer heat. Q: Are there wines you feel are particularly well-suited to spring weather?A: Vinho Verde has a lower alcohol content and a slight effervescence, which make it a great wine to sip outside as you enjoy the return of warmer weather. Q: Are there new bottlings in spring that should be enjoyed right away?A: Affordable Spanish and Portuguese white wines, such as Rias Baixas, Rueda, and the Vinho Verdes from last vintage, should all be hitting the shelves and are best to drink when they are "young." These wines are all values and display good, crisp acidity, light fruit characteristics, and versatility in pairing with lighter fare, perfect for spring. Q: What wine pairings are you especially fond of for spring produce like strawberries, ramps, asparagus, artichokes?A: I lean toward Sauvignon Blanc this time of year; the fresh, sometimes vegetal characteristics pair well with the tangy, lively flavors that fresh spring produce brings to the table.  


U.S. Government says travel to Cuba is not "unrestricted"

The U.S. Department of Treasury issued a statement last week that it "is aware of misstatements in the media suggesting that U.S. foreign policy now allows for virtually unrestricted group travel to Cuba." Indeed, Budget Travel was among those media outlets that reported that "all Americans can now travel to Cuba, so long as they go with a licensed tour operator performing 'people-to-people' trips." In January, the Treasury Department expanded its licensing of travel to Cuba to include organizations that sponsor educational exchange programs that promote contact with the Cuban people. Following the news, several tour operators announced their intent to launch Cuba "people-to-people" travel programs in 2012, including Globus, Insight Vacations and Abercrombie &amp; Kent. But after a flood of media coverage about the opening up of Cuba as a travel destination, the Treasury Department last week advised travelers to review its regulations regarding travel to Cuba "to determine whether his or her proposed travel-related transactions are or could be authorized under this or any other travel license category." The Treasury Department said that it will only license people-to-people groups in which all participants have a full-time schedule of educational exchange activities. "Authorized activities by people-to-people groups are not 'tourist activities' under the Trade Sanctions Reform and Export Enhancement Act of 2000, which prohibits [the U.S. Department of Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control] from licensing travel-related transactions for tourist activities," the Treasury Department stated. Furthermore, travelers to Cuba will have daily spending limits and are prohibited from bringing any Cuban souvenirs or any other Cuban goods back to the States. Following the Treasury Department's updated warning, A&K; put its Cuba program on hold "until such a time as we gain clarity on the regulations for travel to Cuba," according to an A&K; spokesperson. More from Budget Travel: Should the government ease all restrictions on Cuba travel? Cuba prepares for an end to the travel ban Inside Cuba


See the Windy City For Free! Explore Chicago With This Exclusive DIY Walking Tour

Often the best way to explore a new city is on your own two feet. Jeff Mikos, founder of Free Chicago Walking Tours, is no stranger to that idea—the inspiration for his business came from a meaningful international trip. “My wife and I took a year off to travel the world in 2015,” he says. “While in South America we stumbled upon free walking tours in almost all the major cities, including Santiago, Cusco, Quito, Cartagena, and La Paz. After the first few, I began to think that there was an opportunity to bring this style of tour to the USA. Having grown up in here, launching the business in Chicago made perfect sense.” Free Chicago Walking Tours offers guided strolls seven days a week, and covers two miles over two hours, including iconic areas like the Loop, Chicago River, the Magnificent Mile, and Lincoln Park. “This makes the city accessible to anyone, regardless of their budget,” Mikos says. “Chicago can be quite expensive, and our tours give guests the opportunity to experience the city like they never have before, while saving a few bucks too.” To give Budget Travel readers a taste of the company, Mikos shared a special stroll just for us. Print it out, then, get ready...get set...get walking! The Budget DIY Magnificent Mile Walking Tour: Michigan Avenue—a.k.a. the Magnificent Mile—is Chicago’s largest shopping district and second in the USA only to New York City’s Fifth Avenue in Manhattan. But you don't need to spend money to enjoy yourself on this famous strip. In fact, we think the best way to experience the splendor that is Magnificent Mile isn’t by shopping at all of the stores along the way, but hitting lesser-known destinations, such as a rotating gallery, a gorgeous church, and being face-to-face with artifacts from the world’s most famous and historically significant sites. The best part? It’s all free.  Starting Point: The awning of the Drake Hotel on Lake Shore Drive just east of the corner of Michigan Avenue. We like starting here for a variety of reasons. The Drake Hotel was essentially the city's first “resort." In the 1920s, this was an escape for Chicagoans as it sat on the shores of Lake Michigan. Today you can still live like a 1920s socialite by visiting their Palm Court for afternoon teatime (not really budget-friendly, but quite nice for $45 per adult, open daily from 1 to 5 p.m.). The road you’re on, Lake Shore Drive, is home to some of Chicago’s most expensive real estate, and for good reason: those unobstructed views of Lake Michigan and access to Oak Street Beach. The road changes name west of Michigan Avenue to Oak Street, which is home to some of Chicago’s most exclusive boutiques and high-end shopping. Stop No. 2: The corner of Delaware Place and Michigan Avenue. Sitting on the corner is the Fourth Presbyterian Church. The church is a product of combining two other churches on October 8, 1871. Unfortunately, the next day was the start of the Great Chicago Fire, and the church was destroyed. It was rebuilt and relocated to its current spot in 1940. The best place to snap a breathtaking Instagram is across the street (on the east side of Michigan Avenue) or from inside. The church is open daily at 7:30 a.m. Please respect the congregation with your noise level. Stop No. 3: The John Hancock Center, 875 N. Michigan Avenue. You'll be right across the street from the John Hancock (or right in front of it). It’s officially called the John Hancock Center because the original plan was to have multiple buildings. However, the builders couldn't convince the owners of the Casino Club (located directly behind the JHC on Delaware) to sell their property, and thus we have only one building. The John Hancock Center is home to the 360-degree Chicago Observation Deck, located on the 94th floor. Some say it has the best views of Chicago. We don't disagree with that, but we do disagree a little with the $20 price tag to get there. Instead go up two more floors to the 96th floor and visit the John Hancock Signature Lounge. The views are free and incredible as well, plus you'll get to enjoy a tasty cocktail too. Stop No. 4: Water Works Cultural Center, 163 E. Pearson Street (corner of Michigan and Pearson). This spot is often overlooked because many don't know a.) what's in the building and b.) that it’s open to the public. The visit will be quick and cool. This is the new and functioning home to Chicago’s water pumps (well, four of them). Inside, along with water pumps, you will find a variety of helpful guides to answer questions. Stop No. 5: The Famous Chicago Water Tower, 806 N Michigan Avenue. This is the famous Chicago Water Tower that survived the Great Chicago Fire of 1871 (one of only a handful of buildings north of the Chicago River that remain today). The gorgeous building is a symbol of Chicago’s recovery from the fire. It has undergone a couple of renovations since the 1870s and is now home to a rotating—and free—gallery. Make sure you stop in to see what's showing when you visit. Stop No. 6: A leisurely stroll south down Michigan Avenue. Your final destination will be the Tribune Tower near the south end of the street by the river. This is by far the biggest stretch (1/2 mile) of walking that you will do on this DIY Magnificent Mile Walking Tour. Soak in the sights and the sounds. You’re in the thick of what Michigan Avenue is known for: shopping. The rents here for stores are incredible, at more than $500 per square foot per year. Many stores on this strip don't make money; they are there for branding and marketing purposes. Chicago’s Peninsula Hotel, the largest Disney store in America, and the Warwick Allerton Hotel all call the Magnificent Mile home. The Warwick was home to the Tip Tap Room, a lounge on the 23rd floor of the hotel that made a name for itself with its signature drink: the Moscow Mule. Final Destination: The Tribune Tower, 435 N. Michigan Avenue. This is one of our favorite buildings in the city. The Tribune Tower is beautiful. It has a storied history and is home to many real artifacts from sites all around the globe. The building is the result of when the Chicago Tribune (the largest Chicago newspaper) hosted a contest in 1922 to design the most beautiful office building in the world. $100,000 of prize money was available, and the winner would receive $50,000 of that. Over 50 entries were received, and the neo-Gothic design you’re looking at today was the winner, from a small architecture firm from New York City called Howells &amp; Hood. When the winner was selected, there were many “experts” that believed other entries should have won. To this day, there are rumors that the contest was fixed, but thus far there is no solid evidence to support that theory. Prior to the construction of the tower, the owner of the Tribune Company, Colonel McCormick, instructed his employees to bring back artifacts from historically important sites from around the world. These artifacts were collected and then incorporated into the building’s exterior. Make sure to take a walk around and see all the pieces the company collected that are now on full display.  Where to go from here? Great question. Before you go just anywhere, look across the street. The glazed terra-cotta structure in front of you is the Wrigley Building—one of our favorites. The clock on the south tower is almost 20 feet in diameter! Just another 0.7 miles south along Michigan Avenue is the entrance to Millennium Park and Cloud Gate, a.k.a. the Bean, artist Anish Kapoor's first public outdoor work. Have your camera out to capture your reflection in its surface. Another half mile south from the Bean is Buckingham Fountain. If you need a break from walking, you’re just a few steps from the most photographed bridge in Chicago: the Du Sable Bridge, named after the first known settler of the region. The American flag, Illinois State flag, and Chicago flag blowing in the wind alongside the buildings on the Mag Mile are a popular photograph. With the money you have saved on this DIY walking tour, you can afford to purchase a ticket to the Chicago Big Bus hop-on, hop-off bus, which departs just north of the bridge on the east side of Michigan Avenue. Or take an architectural boat tour that boards right at the bridge as well. All of the companies will have representatives vying for your business and should cost $30 to $45 per person.


Charleston: A Walking—and Eating!—Tour

Come hungry. Charleston, S.C., is a town that likes to eat well. The downtown has a variety of options—Mexican, sushi, Korean, Mediterranean, Thai, Italian, delis, burgers—and range from pizza joints catering to the student crowd to fine dining. But when I'm in Charleston, I like to explore local twists on standards of South Carolina Low Country cuisine. Like fried green tomatoes. At Jestine's Kitchen, a casual eatery reproducing the recipes of Jestine Matthews, who lived to 112 and worked for 70 years with the restaurant owner's family, the lightly battered fried-green tomatoes ($5.25) are served piping hot and have a lemony flavor. Don't leave Jestine's without trying the melts-in-your-mouth, sticky sweet Coca Cola Cake, $5.95 (251 Meeting Street, no website, no reservations). Nick's Barbecue—along with huge portions of good pulled pork, brisket, and chicken, topped either with a vinegary barbecue sauce or a smoky hot habanera sauce—serves fried green tomatoes with a thick cornmeal crust heavily seasoned with salt and pepper. Delicious. My husband's favorite, though, was Nick's sweet potato pecan pudding, a side dish that could easily be dessert (, lunch for two about $25). Shrimp grits are another staple of Low Country cuisine and are perfectly seasoned at Anson, an upscale splurge. Prepared with shrimp stock, tidbits of bacon and bacon drippings, sprinkled with scallions and roasted tomato, every bite was heavenly. A diner at the next table so enjoyed tasting her daughter's shrimp grits, she persuaded her daughter to swap entrees (, dinner for two, with wine &amp; dessert, about $120). No surprise that grits are widely available, and even at a no-nonsense diner like Sweetwater Café, the cheesy grits are a bowlful of comfort food at $5.99 (but skip Sweetwater's biscuits, which seemed straight from a supermarket). Great fresh seafood is a Charleston tradition. The culinary emphasis of Fish is no secret. While it offers a variety of French/Asian fusion, a popular dish is the Naked Fish, the catch-of-the-day prepared simply with olive oil, salt, and pepper, to showcase its freshness ( Or go early for the Fish happy hour specials, beginning at 4:30 pm. Fortunately for those of us who love to burn calories almost as much as we love to eat, Charleston is also a walking city. On three visits, I've never rented a car, since the airport is an easy taxi ride ($14 to share a van, about $38 for a taxi) and downtown Charleston is pedestrian-friendly. Pack comfortable walking shoes to fully appreciate the architectural splendor of the area South of Broad Street. It is a neighborhood of 18th- and 19th-century mansions located close to one another, close to the waterfront, and within walking distance of the downtown shopping and dining area. Many houses have two story open-air porches, called "piazzas," situated to capture the prevailing breezes. Many houses have carefully cultivated gardens that can be glimpsed behind elaborate wrought iron gates. A handful, such as the Edmondston-Alston House (, are open for tours by local docents, who can tell you about the family, the furnishings, and the architecture. Downtown Charleston is also home to the lovely historic campus of the College of Charleston, where you can stroll the brick walkways and admire the architecture and trees draped in Spanish moss. The campus welcomes visitors and offers student-guided tours, a map for a self-guided tour, and even a downloadable app for a self-guided tour ( The Charleston City Market is four blocks of covered, open-air buildings, where local artisans sell pottery, wood carvings, soaps, wearable art, and other crafts. At the Market or on the sidewalk in front of the federal courthouse, you might see weavers turning sweet grass into baskets, and selling them on the spot. You can window shop at the many art galleries, upscale retailers like Jill St. John, or mid-price chains such as Urban Outfitters, or visit Butterfly (, a consignment shop filled with deals on fashion-forward women's clothing. For a free rest stop for tired feet, try people-watching from a plush chair in the lobby of the Embassy Suites hotel, the pink fortress-like structure that formerly housed the Citadel Military College and where some guest rooms feature gun ports ( Or cross Marion Square, a welcoming public park that hosts a farmers market on Saturday mornings, and find a comfy chair in the grand lobby of the Francis Marion hotel, built in 1924 and extensively renovated in 1996. If you stay at the Francis Marion, a weekend getaway package offered until December 2014 includes $50 per night of certificates for the hotel restaurant, The Swamp Fox, or for any participating restaurant on Upper King Street, most located within easy walking distance of the hotel ( Nightlife on upper King Street has picked up in recent years, and now features lively upscale lounges with dress codes and lines that spill out onto the sidewalk. The bars' success has caused some tension with their neighbors over limited parking and the noise of patrons leaving at the 2 a.m. closing time. On every visit to Charleston, I am again struck by the friendly service. And that unpretentious hospitality is another draw for a lovely walkable city with great food. Sarah Ricks is a Clinical Professor at Rutgers Law School—Camden and a lifelong travel junkie.