It’s not hard to understand why France is one of the most visited countries in the world. It is home to some of the world’s most popular cities, such as Paris, Cannes and Versailles. The country also has so much going for it, including famous museums, extensive art collections, delicious foods, beautiful architecture and luxurious shops. But, it’s not all rainbows and sunshine in France. There are some things in the country that are downright bizarre. From questionable dishes to creepy attractions, here are 15 things in France that you won’t believe actually exist.
15. Catacombes de Paris
We often think of Paris as a beautiful and romantic city. But, there is a dark side to the so-called “city of lights.” Beneath the city’s café-lined streets, there are over 200 miles filled with neatly arranged skulls and bones. Creepy, right?
By the 17th century, Paris’ cemeteries were overflowing, so the solution was to place the bodies in these tunnels (which were from a time limestone quarries were mined). It took the city 12 years to move six million bodies into the catacombs. Today, a small section of the catacombs are open to visitors and it’s quite an attraction—if you’re into that sort of thing. You can take a guided tour or purchase an audio guide.
14. Museum of Vampires and Legendary Creatures
As a society, it seems that we have always been fascinated by vampires and other legendary creatures. This may explain the countless books and movies about them. And now, there’s even a museum in Paris dedicated to the creatures of our imagination. It’s only here that you can find an anti-vampire protection kit (which includes crosses and garlic), antique books, a mummified cat, Dracula toys and the autograph of nearly every actor who’s played Dracula in a movie. Anyone who is a fan of vampires will enjoy learning about the superstitions surrounding legendary creatures and this museum’s mysterious objects and stories of vampiric rituals.
13. Wine Spa
Many people love drinking wine (and perhaps you’re one of them), but have you ever considered bathing in wine? It sounds strange, but nothing seems to be off-limits in terms of spa treatments these days. At Les Sources de Caudalie, located near Bordeaux, you can drink wine, get massaged in wine and have a wine bath. The theory is that resveratrol, a compound found in wine, neutralizes free radicals that cause skin damage. So, bathing in wine should slow your skin’s aging, stimulate new cell growth and tighten your skin. At the very least, it should also promote relaxation.
12. Festival of the Pig
Every country has its festivals, which keep locals and tourists entertained throughout the year. Many festivals are centered on food or music, but there’s one festival in France which is all about pigs. You’re probably wondering what happens at such a festival. Not surprisingly, there are decorative piggy displays, sausage eating contests and black pudding eating contests. But, there are also piglet races and a pig-squealing contest, which involves participants—who may be dressed as pigs— imitating noises that pigs make at various stages in life. In the past, the top prize for this contest has been a butchered pig (of course!). This odd festival is held every August in the town of Trie-sur-Baise.
11. This Store Display
Founded in 1872, Julien & Co. is a pest control shop located in Paris, between Rue de Rivoli and Rue des Halles. While the store itself doesn’t sell anything highly unusual (just the typical gadgets and tools required for pest control), its window display is seriously disturbing—and eye-catching. It consists of several stuffed rats, hanging by traps and just laying around. There is also a slogan above the display promises, “destruction of harmful animals.” This is pure marketing genius, if you ask us.
10. Posthumous Marriages
In most countries, a marriage involves two individuals who are alive. In France, it may involve only one individual who is alive. This type of marriage, called posthumous marriage, requires evidence that the deceased individual actually wanted to get married before their death. Surprisingly, it’s highly requested in France. The practice began in the country during World War I, when a few women were married to soldiers who had died just weeks earlier. In the 1950s, when a dam broke and killed a woman’s fiancé, posthumous marriages were introduced to civilians. The woman, Iréne Jodart, pleaded with the French president to allow her to go along with her marriage plans. He allowed it and the practice goes on to this day.
9. Sewer Museum
Paris is known for its world-class museums, such as the Louvre and the Musée D’Orsay. But, there is a lesser-known museum, which may be equally intriguing. The Paris Sewer Museum is a history museum located near the pont de l’Alma. It aims to educate visitors about Paris’ unique sewer system, which stretches 2,100 kilometers and mirrors the streets above. Each sewer “street” even has its own blue street sign. Up until the 1970s, tourists could explore the sewer system via boat. Today, only a small section is open to the public—and this is the section which makes up the odd museum.
8. Ketchup Ban
A lot of things are banned from school—peanuts, inappropriate books, skimpy clothing and so on. But, who would have thought that ketchup is also banned in primary schools in France? It’s true! While we normally put ketchup on our fries, hot dogs and burgers, the students in France are only allowed to have ketchup once a week with their fries. They are not allowed to use the condiment on traditional French dishes, either. Why the limitations? Well, it may be to preserve French food culture. The chairman of the National Association of Directors of Collective Restaurants says, “We have to ensure children become familiar with French recipes so that they can hand them down to the following generation.”
7. Hamster Hotel
If you’ve ever owned a pet hamster, you’ve likely stared into their cage, wondering what it would be like to run on their wheel all day. Well, you don’t have to use your imagination anymore. At La Villa Hamster, in Nantes, guests have the opportunity to live like a hamster for 99 euros per night. The hotel features a working human-sized hamster wheel, along with a bed accessible by ladder and a crawl space. There are even containers filled with grain and hamster face masks! Who on earth came up with this idea and actually followed through with it? The French architects, Frederic Tabary and Yann Falquerho. While it’s definitely unique, it all seems a bit too obsessive to us!
6. Head of Calf Is A Popular Delicacy
Many of us eat steak and beef patties, but the head of the cow (or calf) is often tossed aside. That’s not the case in France, though. Known in French as Tête de Veau, the head of a cow is a delicacy. The popular dish takes between four and seven hours to prepare. This is because it needs to be cooked well and the skin, fat and hair all need to be removed. It is very tender meat, typically covered in a sauce or vinaigrette and served with vegetables. The cow’s tongue is usually wrapped around the head, too. Sometimes, the head is also served with the cow’s brain. If you’re brave and curious enough, you can try this dish in France for about 18 euros.
5. Escargot Is Very French
Escargot is perhaps one of the most well-known French delicacies. Although you’ve most likely heard about this dish, it makes our list because it’s still weird! You always see snails crawling around on the ground, with their hard shells. So, you may shudder at the thought of those slimy creatures sliding down your throat. Surprisingly, they’re not all that bad (once you get over the fact that it’s a snail, that is).
A lot goes into preparing escargot to eat. First, the snails are fed herbs. Then, they are thoroughly cleaned. Finally, they are seasoned with parsley, shallot and butter. Escargots from good restaurants are quite pricey—they are about $15 for half a dozen.
4. A Snail Hotel
It seems like France really does have an obsession with snails. Not only do they eat snails, but they model hotels after the creatures, too. La Maison Escargot, located about 25 minutes from Poitiers, sits on 50 hectares in the middle of nature. It contains two bedrooms, a living room, bathroom and kitchen. Although that sounds like nothing super special, it’s still pretty cool that this is all inside of a giant snail. How many people can say that they stayed in such a unique hotel? La Maison Escargot is close to restaurants and offers numerous outdoor activities. It’s about 160 euros per night.
3. An All-American Grocery Store
France is known for its fancy cuisine, consisting of escargot, meats soaked in red wine and French onion soup. So, it’s a bit strange to see a grocery store dedicated solely to American foods in Paris. The store—fittingly called Thanksgiving—sells Instant Jell-O, Pop-Tarts, Skippy peanut butter and everything else an American expat would possibly crave while in Paris.
The owner of the store had moved from America to Paris and became interested in local cuisine. But, this made her miss the good ol’ American food she was familiar with. When she tried cooking some beloved meals, she realized the ingredients were hard to find in Paris. That’s how the idea for an all-American grocery store came about.
2. April Fish
Many of us are familiar with April Fools’ Day. After all, it is observed in many countries, including the Ireland, England, India and the United States of America. But, while your friends may put a whoopee cushion on your seat or place a “kick me” sign on your back, we can bet you’ve never had a fish stuck on your back. That’s the tradition in France, though. Not to worry—it’s not a real fish, it’s only a picture of one.
How did this tradition begin? Well, it’s believed that it has its origin in the 16th century, when gifts were given in April. Since it’s at the end of Lent, when meat is prohibited, fish was the most frequent present. When jokes developed, people offered fake fish and eventually, placed pictures of fish on each other.
1. Clogs by the Fire
One weird thing about Christmas in France is that there’s no set date for gift-giving. While people in most countries exchange presents on or around Christmas Eve, the French begin sharing presents on December 5th, which is St. Nicholas Eve. We all know that it’s not uncommon for kids to hang stockings on the fireplace on Christmas Eve, in hopes that Santa will pay a visit and fill them with goodies. In France, children don’t hang stockings. Instead, they leave shoes by the fireplace on St. Nicholas Eve. They put carrots and treats for Santa’s donkey or reindeer in the shoes. In return, these shoes are filled with gifts. Fruits, nuts, candies and toys are also hung on the tree as a surprise to the kids the following morning.
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