Avignon is like that, a kind of casual party where there always seems to be a celebration of art or film or music - Avignon's music festival is a major event on the French cultural scene - about to happen a stroll away. Tiny streets off the Place de l'Horloge offer a selection of some of the oldest antiques and the newest fashions co-existing side by side.

Beyond Avignon's walls by local train or an easy, meandering drive is all of Provence - think Van Gogh and Cézanne - and the lively Roman centers of Nîmes and Arles. Or the dramatically crumbled Les Baux-de-Provence, victim of the religious wars that plagued this now peaceful corner of the world.

Another TGV destination, less traveled than Tours or Avignon, is Montpellier. This charming university city, flavored with that irresistible slow south-of-France pace, is just under four hours - a lunch and a nap - from CDG. One of the oldest medical schools in Europe was founded here a millennium ago, and the university 289 years later. Both are still contributing to la culture Française and give a certain exuberance to the atmosphere. Like many communities in the south, Montpellier has a large pedestrian-only center. Winding streets filled with strolling students and townsfolk suddenly meet every few blocks in little squares carpeted with restaurants and cafes of every taste. Squeezed in among Montpellier's photogenic 17th- and 18th-century buildings are some of France's trendiest shops and boutiques.