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5 places to find France in North America

By Margaret Loftus, Special to CNN
updated 8:11 AM EST, Wed December 19, 2012
Montreal is the second-largest Francophone city in the world after Paris. Montreal is the second-largest Francophone city in the world after Paris.
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Montreal, Quebec
Montreal, Quebec
Quebec City, Quebec
Quebec City, Quebec
New Orleans, Louisiana
New Orleans, Louisiana
Saint-Pierre and Miquelon
South Louisiana
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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Montreal is the second-largest city of French-speaking natives in the world after Paris
  • The rocky islands of Saint-Pierre and Miquelon off the coast of Canada are still part of France
  • French is the first language of some residents of Cajun country in Louisiana

(CNN) -- With flights to Paris topping $1,000 these days, travel to France can be très cher. But you needn't cross the pond for that Gallic je ne sais quoi.

Here are five enclaves in North America where French culture thrives:

Montreal,Quebec

Settled by French fur traders and later captured by the British, Montreal grew into a bilingual city with dual identities. And while myriad other tonguesare spoken thanks to a thriving immigrant population, it remains the second-largest Francophone city in the world after Paris. You'll hear bonjours and ca vas in every borough, but the most solidly French neighborhoods are east of Boulevard St.-Laurent -- the de facto border that separates it from the largely English-speaking west side.

Linger over an espresso at one of the terrasses (patios) that line Rue St. Denis in the Latin Quarter. Then head to the vaunted L'Express, a classic Parisian bistro in Plateau Mont-Royal, where everything from the zinc bar to the tight quarters to the duck confit will spark flashbacks of Montmartre.

Go for: The FrancoFolies is a festival celebrating Francophone music with some 250 live acts. June 14-22.

Quebec City, Quebec

Founded by French explorer Samuel de Champlain more than 400 years ago, Quebec City, like Montreal, fell to the British crown a century and a half later. Its Gallic culture, however, remained firmly intact. Today, nearly 95% of the residents are native French speakers. The city's gabled roofs, winding streets and ramparts conjure an Old World feel. Vieux-Quebec (Old Town) is the only fortified city in North America north of Mexico.

Get the full scoop on Quebec's French heritage at the Musée de la Civilization, where a new exhibition tells the story of Francophones who pulled up stakes to settle in North America with interactive features such as a hallway meant to evoke a departure dock. Around the corner, the cozy Café Le St. Malo, with its exposed brick walls and roaring hearth fire, serves up the kind of rustic fare you find in the French countryside, such as cassoulet (a one-pot dish of white beans and meat such as pork sausage and duck confit) and boudin noir (blood sausage).

Go for: Quebecois celebrate the arrival of their ancestors in Canada at the Nouvelle France festival. August 7-11.

New Orleans, Louisiana

Claimed by France as part of the Louisiana Territory in 1682, La Nouvelle-Orléans rose from a swamp on the bend of the Mississippi River to become a strategic port city.

Named for the Regent of France, Philippe, Duc d'Orleans, the original town developed around what is now known as Jackson Square. After the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, a mix of nationalities flooded the city, creating the unique French/Creole-infused melting pot that is the Big Easy today.

Nonetheless, remnants of its French heritage are evident throughout. For one, snacking on beignets and café au lait at the venerable Café du Monde in the French Quarter is as de rigueur for tourists as taking home Mardi Gras beads.

History buffs who can't make it to the Louvre to see one of Napoleon Bonaparte's famous marble bathtubs -- he supposedly signed the Louisiana Purchase while in the tub -- can book Suite 730 at the 100-year-old Le Pavillon Hotel, near the French Quarter, to take a plunge in one said to have been owned by Napoleon (there are three total).

A short walk away on Esplanade Avenue, the Degas House, a bed and breakfast and former home of artist Edgar Degas, hosts "Bottles and Brushes" evenings, where amateur artists can drink wine, paint and soak up the atmosphere in the studio of the French Impressionist master.

Go for: In a nod to New Orleans' Gallic roots, French statesman Charles de Gaulle gave the city a Joan of Arc statue, an exact replica of one that stands in Orleans, which today presides over the French Market and is feted annually with a parade. January 6.

Saint-Pierre and Miquelon, French territory

A remnant of France's exploits in Canada, these rocky islands some 15 miles off the coast of Newfoundland were deeded to the republic in 1816 under the second Treaty of Paris after a century-long tussle with England. Settlers eager to work in the islands' rich cod fishery came from Acadie, Brittany and Normandy in France and the Basque country, which includes parts of Spain and France. Another boom came during Prohibition, when smuggling spirits to the U.S. made some islanders rich.

Today, the archipelago -- a "territorial collectivity" of France -- retains much of the character of its mother country.

Most merchants close up shop at midday to lunch with their families at home. The baguettes and croissants are the real deal. The euro is the currency of the land, though many businesses accept Canadian and U.S. dollars.

You'll find the most action on the tiniest and most populated island, Saint-Pierre. With its colorful clapboard houses, narrow streets, classic cafes and Peugeots zipping around, it's Greenland-meets-Normandy. Join the locals as they break for la collation, a light meal, in the late afternoon; duck into Délices de Joséphine on Rue General LeClerc for a spot of Mariage Frères tea and a Paris-worthy pastry.

Go for: Bastille Day, the anniversary of the storming of the infamous prison in Paris in 1789, is celebrated at Place du Général de Gaulle in St. Pierre. July 14.

Cajun Country, Louisiana

Expelled by the British from what are now the Canadian Maritime provinces and northern Maine during the French and Indian War (1754-1763), many Acadians settled in south Louisiana, spawning a rich culture and their own dialect, Cajun French, that is still very much alive today.

In some pockets, such as the small town of Arnaudville, French rules -- on street signs, in radio broadcasts, political ads and even as the sole language of some residents.

At the Vermilionville Living History Museum and Folklife Park in Lafayette Parish, a replica of an Acadian village depicts life circa 1765-1890. For a modern taste of Cajun life, landmark Lafayette restaurants Randol's and Prejean's host live Cajun music and specialize in local favorites such as crawfish étouffée.

Go for: Unlike the glittery spectacle in New Orleans, Mardi Gras in Cajun Country has changed little since its early days. Revelers on horseback dress up in costumes made from flour sacks or burlap, and ride from house to house collecting ingredients -- including live chickens -- for a communal pot of gumbo. February 12.

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