Strange Sights of France: 12 Offbeat Travel Destinations

The Tiniest Antique Shop in Paris
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The tiniest antique shop in Paris clings to the side of a church, bearing a sign that boasts its founding date as the year 1638. Originally selling small religious relics and keepsakes, the shop became private at some point, and became a barber shop for decades in the 20th century. Today, the city of Paris rents it to the shopkeeper for an extra-special rate in exchange for its renovation. Antiques are scattered around the tiny space, which is mostly occupied by a sculptural spiral staircase.

Machines de l’Ile, Isle of Nantes

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La Branche prototype. Les Machines de l'île Nantes. © Jean-Dominique Billaud/LVAN

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Somewhere between steampunk and the drawings of Leonardo da Vinci, this strange little collection of sculptures and “living machines” pays tribute to the industrial heritage of Nantes. Installed within a workspace in former shipyards, the tourist attraction and gallery includes three major automatons: a towering elephant that can take up to 49 passengers for a 45-minute walk, a ‘marine worlds carousel’ and a walkable Heron Tree.

The Skull-Filled Catacombs of Paris
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Beneath the streets of Paris, the skeletal remains of 7 million former Parisians are stacked unceremoniously within a network of tunnels so vast, sections of it were unknown to authorities until just recently. Overcrowded cemeteries led to some unorthodox burial procedures in the 18th century, so the not-so-recently dead were unearthed and arranged in neat displays within former quarries. Many of the tunnels have been deemed unsafe, and some have even been taken over by secret societies, but a section remains open to the public.

Maison de Celle-Qui-Peint, Roquevaire

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Outsider artist Danielle Jacqui began decorating every square inch of her own home in Roquevaire in 1970, painting it in a rainbow of colors and adding all sorts of little ceramics and sculptures. The space is her home-studio, and she also hosts residencies for artists from around the world.