History & Culture

Walk in the footsteps of legends

Europe is renowned for being home to some of history’s most brilliant minds. Take some inspiration from the greats on your next trip.

Throughout history, Europe has led the way in both the arts and sciences, making ground-breaking discoveries, and composing timeless symphonies. So why not spend your next trip across the Channel visiting the places that inspired some of these important works – you may even find a little inspiration of your own!

Claude Debussy

Where in France: Saint-Germain-en-Laye, Île-de-France
Drive from Calais: 284km / 2h 50m

Achille-Claude Debussy was born on 22 August 1862 in Saint-Germain-en-Laye, a pretty little suburb just outside of Paris. He first began learning the piano at the age of seven, and quickly showed exceptional talent, entering the Conservatoire de Paris at just 10 years old. He went on to become one of the most prominent and influential pianists and composers of his time, and is still regarded as one of the most important figures in Impressionist music.

Debussy spent a great deal of his life in Paris, but if you really want to get to the root of his genius, a visit to his hometown is a must. Sitting on the left bank of the River Seine, next to the Forest of Saint-Germain, Saint-Germain-en-Laye is just how you might imagine a chic French town to be. With its residential streets of houses painted in an array of shades of creams and whites, and laidback café culture and boutique shops, you can easily while away the hours strolling about.

Admire the stunning views of the Château de Saint-Germain-en-Laye
Admire the stunning views of the Château de Saint-Germain-en-Laye.

If you only have time to do one thing during your visit, though, you simply must see the Château de Saint-Germain-en-Laye and its beautiful grounds. It was once a royal palace and is now home to the Musée d'Archéologie Nationale, or the National Archaeological Museum. After you’ve delved into the fascinating history of the exhibits, why not spend the rest of the day exploring the gardens and enjoying the views of Paris in the distance.

Marie Curie

Where in France: Passy, Haute-Savoie
Drive from Calais: 874km / 7h 30m

Born Maria Salomea Skłodowska in Warsaw, Poland, it wasn’t until she married her husband Pierre Curie, a fellow scientist and instructor at the School of Physics and Chemistry, that she became known as Marie Curie. One of the most notable scientists in history, Marie Curie conducted pioneering research on radioactivity, discovered radium and polonium, the latter of which she named after her homeland.

Marie Curie was also the first woman to win a Nobel Prize, the first person to win a second time and is still the only woman to have ever won two Nobel Prizes, and in two different sciences – Physics and Chemistry. She was also the first woman to become a professor at the University of Paris. Quite the résumé, don’t you think!

Lac Vert, Passy, with its scenic mountainous backdrop
Lac Vert, Passy, with its scenic mountainous backdrop.

To follow in her footsteps you could, of course, head to Paris, but for something a little more off the beaten track, set your sat-nav for Passy up in the Alps near the Swiss and Italian borders. This peaceful, picturesque town is where Marie Curie spent her final days. Stroll the little cobbled streets of the town, marvel at the breath-taking views of Mont Blanc, and take a trip down to the stunning Lac Vert, or Green Lake, for an invigorating walk.

Henri Becquerel

Where in France: Le Croisic, Loire-Atlantique
Drive from Calais: 678km / 6h 20m

Marie Curie didn’t achieve her greatness alone. Not only did she work alongside her husband, Pierre Curie, but also the brilliant mind of Henri Becquerel. Born in Paris into a family with a long line of physicists, he was actually the first person to discover evidence of radioactivity.

A fellow Nobel Prize winner, the work that Henri Becquerel and the Curies pioneered the treatments that we use to cure cancer today. Becquerel discovered that radioactivity could be used in medicine in 1901, when a piece of radium that he had left in his pocket burned his skin. This then led to the development of radiotherapy, which has since saved countless lives. So influential was he as a scientist that he’s even had a crater on both the Moon and Mars named after him!

The seaside town of Le Croisic is postcard perfection
The seaside town of Le Croisic is postcard perfection.

If you’d like to walk in his footsteps somewhere a little closer to home, however, head to Le Croisic, a little seaside town on the Atlantic coast of the Pays de la Loire region. Becquerel spent his final days here in 1908, and it’s just as beautiful today as it was then. Le Croisic is a busy fishing town, with some of the finest seafood in all of France available. In fact, Le Croisic is France’s main centre for cockle farming, so you’re definitely in for a culinary treat! And if you’re here with the kids, take them to Océarium, an incredible aquarium where they can learn all about the sea life of the Atlantic.

Has all this talk of genius captured your imagination? If you’re feeling inspired to discover more of France, don’t forget to book your tickets with us in advance to take advantage of the best fares.