The friendship between the United States and France is both historic and profound. One common joke is that the relationship is a bit like a stormy, passionate but faithful marriage: while the two countries have frequently disagreed and have had their low moments, the bond and mutual fascination endures. Read on for 4 key places where Americans in France have left indelible marks. Whether brave soldiers, artists, writers, actors or political thinkers, these American figures are now as much a part of French history and culture as they are their own country’s. Why not retrace their steps and influences yourself on a private tour?
Americans in France: 4 Key Places to Visit on a Private Tour
..From Normandy Beaches to Parisian Cafes
Paris: Follow Generations of American Thinkers & Artists
Most Franco-American history tours will start in Paris, where generations of great thinkers, writers and artists spent important and formative years of their lives.
Your private tour may start at the legendary Procope, which was founded in 1686 and claims to be the capital’s oldest café. This was an important spot for some of the greatest minds of the American and French revolutionary periods: Alongside the likes of Voltaire and Diderot, Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin frequented the cafe. Rumour has it that impassioned political and philosophical debates were fuelled here by inhuman amounts of coffee, a strange new beverage that had taken Europe by storm.
Moving into the modern period, your private guide might take you to renowned cafes where American writers from the likes of Ernest Hemingway, James Baldwin, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Richard Wright penned novels and essays, engaged in debates and brawls and left their enduring legacy on the city. A trip to the Hemingway Bar at the recently remodelled Ritz Hotel is also very much in order as part of your luxury getaway to the capital.
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You might visit the performance halls where iconic dancer, civil rights activisits and volunteer for the French Resistance fighter Josephine Baker dazzled audiences with her unique talent. Or pay a visit to some of the sites, some now closed, where African-American jazz greats such as Luck Thompson, Bud Powell and Kenny Clarke brought the sounds of a bold new modernity to Paris following the Second World War. A stop at Pere-Lachaise Cemetery to visit the tomb of legendary Doors frontman Jim Morrison, meanwhile, will be in order for those interested in rock history.
American artists and photographers also left behind a rich legacy in Paris. Montparnasse was home to the studios and residences of artists from Man Ray to Beauford Delaney and writer Henry Miller. Meanwhile, visit the Musée d’Orsay to witness sublime paintings from the likes of John Singer Sargent and Mary Cassatt; the latter was born in Philadelphia but spent a great deal of her life in France, becoming the only American artist to exhibit with fellow Impressionists there.
Finally, a quiet suburb to the west of the city is home to the Suresnes American Cemetery, a little-known site that holds the remains of soldiers from both World War I and World War II. Some 1,540 American soldiers who lost their lives in World War I are buried here, and the cemetery is also the resting place of 14 unknown soldiers who perished during World War II.
Normandy: Visit the D-Day Beaches and Monuments
For many visitors in search of Franco-American history, there’s no pilgrimage more emotional and profound than a trip to the D-Day beaches and World War II monuments in Normandy. The June 1944 Allied invasion of beaches in Northern France marked a turning point in the battle against Nazi forces; between June 6th and the end of August, more than 200,000 Allied troops from the US, Canada, the UK and other nations perished in the fight to liberate France from fascism. Of those, over 125,000 were American soldiers.
The beaches of Omaha– with its moving American Cemetery, onsite Museum and visitor’s center– Juno, Utah (featuring a Museum of the Landings), and many others are all stirring places where you can commemorate the soldiers who sacrificed their lives to liberate Europe from Nazi barbarism.
Read related: Private & Fascinating Ways to See Normandy
Other sites in Normandy that can be made a central part of a private Franco-American history tour include the key landing site of Pegasus Bridge, the Caen Memorial Center, the Sainte-Mere Eglise and Airborne Centre where American troops liberated the first village in Normandy, and the Pointe du Hoc, a a clifftop now ragged with bomb craters that were once scaled by US rangers to better attack the beaches of Utah and Omaha. Gravesites still mark where some of them fell.
Exploring these solemn sites will help you to fully appreciate the ties of friendship and sacrifice that bond Americans to their French allies, and bring you back to the crucial moments in U.S. and European history that would change the tide of the 20th century.
Giverny: The Legacy of American Painting
Nestled at the edge of Normandy and and ideal day trip from Paris, Giverny is most strongly associated with Impressionist painter Claude Monet. His famed, sublime gardens and house lie at the heart of this peaceful town. But what many visitors don’t know is that its onsite Impressionism Museum has deep ties to American art history.
Formerly called The American Art Museum, the Musée des Impressionismes was opened in 2009 by the Terra Foundation for American Art, founded by the Chicago-based businessman, scientist and art collector Daniel J. Terra. The objective was to expand the scope of the American-themed exhibits to include Impressionism and Post-Impressionist artists from France and around the world.
The American legacy of this remarkable collection endures both through the continued financing by the Terra Foundation, and through temporary exhibits dedicated to American artists and movements. Recent shows have focused on the Impressionism of U.S. artists such as Mary Cassatt, John Singer Sargent and James Abbott McNeil Whistler, as well as other key American painters. In addition, the Terra Foundation recently donated two landscapes from the artist John Leslie Breck to the permanent collection, produced between 1887 and 1891. Breck was a pivotal American figure in the Impressionist movement, and was one of the first artists to stay at Giverny alongside Monet, in what has been called “the American artist’s colony”.
If you’re interested in adding Giverny to your private itinerary, we can arrange for an unforgettable stay, complete with accommodations in rustic, luxurious places and dining in fine local restaurants.
Provence: The Glamour of Cannes & the Cote d’Azur
Last but certainly not least, a trip to Provence and the French Riviera offers a more glamorous encounter with American figures that have left a lasting influence in France.
One key stop will be Cannes, home to the legendary film festival and the ever-present legacy of American Hollywood actors, past and present. See where superstars from Grace Kelly and Jean Seberg to Clark Gable, Katherine Hepburn, Angelina Jolie, Natalie Portman and George Clooney walked the red carpet and attended yacht parties.
Read related: The Most Luxurious Things to Do on the Cote d’Azur
Next, you may want to stop off in the principality of Monaco, where former actress Grace Kelly spent her days as Princess Grace, having married Prince Rainier II of Monaco in 1956. While there, stop off in prestigious, opulent Monté-Carlo for a drink at the Bar Américain, nestled in a corner of the Hotel de Paris Monté-Carlo. Here, jazz performances and American-inspired signature cocktails bring you back to the glamorous days of Princess Grace.
Finally, several American writers, filmmakers and performers made their mark on Provence. F Scott Fitzgerald wrote his most-famous novel, The Great Gatsby, while living on the French Riviera during the 1920s. It’s said that he was inspired by the hedonism and the excesses he observed there to imagine his own “Jazz Age” communities of wealth and overindulgence in the US. His lesser-known novel, Tender is the Night, is set on the Cote d’Azur, further demonstrating how profoundly Provence marked his literary imagination. Filmmaker George Lucas has recently set up a second home in Provence, having purchased vineyards near Barjols at the Chateau Marjui in 2017. Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt bought a home in the region before separating, while Johnny Depp has been the owner of a vast Provencal villa near St-Tropez. The American presence in this iconic and wealthy region remains strong.
Book a Private “Americans in France” Tour With Us
Have we inspired you to come experience some of these historic places and sites yourself? If so, get in touch with us. We’ll design an entirely original private tour for you that brings back to life some of the monumental figures in French and American history.