Have you ever considered traveling with the sole purpose of visiting places with dark and chilling histories? Dark tourism is nothing new but has recently seen a resurgence. In this article, we will explore the growing interest in macabre travel sites, as well as recommend some of the most fascinating dark tourism sites to consider for your next trip to France.
What Is Dark Tourism?
Today’s traveler wants more than a luxurious holiday or a break from the daily grind–they also want to educate themselves while traveling. This is one of the key reasons cited for travelers’ interest in dark tourism destinations.
You could argue that this trend is fueled by the immortal words of American philosopher George Santayana, “those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
Learning is a keyword in this instance because statistics show that the educational aspect is the one that encourages travelers the most. In fact, 82% of Americans have been to at least one dark tourism site. People want to learn about past atrocities such as wars; both natural and manmade disasters, like Chernobyl; and to pay respect to the lives lost.
Besides the educational aspect, travelers wish to:
- pay tribute to those affected by the horrible events,
- immerse themselves in the places of tragedy to evoke an emotional response
- discover meaningful places that aren’t popular tourist attractions.
Best Dark Tourism Sites In France
The argument that dark tourism is about visiting less popular attractions doesn’t mean that dark tourism sites cannot be attractive tourist destinations. France, with its long and rich history, grabs one of the top spots for dark tourism-friendly destinations. In fact, there are so many fascinating dark tourism sites in France, from museums to cemeteries, we had a hard time choosing only six.
The National Necropolis, Sigolsheim Heights, Alsace
Some of the fiercest battles of World War II took place in what is known as the Colmar Pocket, overlooking the bucolic Alsace wine country. German forces named the heights Bloody Mountain. 1601 French army are buried in the cemetery here. Overlooking the cemetery is a monument to the American troops who fought under French command. If you’re visiting Alsace wine country, be sure to stop here and take a moment to honor the many soldiers who fought and died. Once you see it, you’ll understand why it was so important to defend this land.
The small city of Verdun, in north-eastern France, will forever be associated with one of the deadliest battles in human history. The battle that took place here in 1916 lasted for nine months, and hundreds of thousands of lives were lost. If you’re a dark tourist looking for places to fill you with melancholy and wistfulness, you’ve found the right spot.
Verdun has dozens of places to explore–– you will find it easy to locate numerous memorials, forts, and remnants of the events of WW1. The Victory Memorial, inaugurated in 1929, is set into the town walls. If you like to walk there are trails in the forests where you can still see the remains of trenches, pillboxes, and the scars of the battlefield. Book a guided tour or discover the city on your own. Should you choose the latter, be certain to visit the Verdun Memorial Museum.
The Parisian Catacombs
The seemingly endless catacombs under the beautiful city of Paris are perhaps one of the city’s most famous attractions, certainly a crown jewel of dark French tourism. Venture deep into the catacombs and stand in awe of the sheer number of people buried in these halls since the late eighteenth century. The best way to visit the catacombs is with a guided tour as there are strict limitations on the number of people allowed at one time. Also, be mindful that it is not an accessible site for wheelchairs or anyone who can not walk up and down the 243 steps.
Pére Lachaise Cemetery in Paris
Pére Lachaise, Widely regarded as one of the most famous cemeteries in the world, houses the graves of many prominent figures such as the legendary composer Frederic Chopin, Oscar Wilde, and The Doors frontman, Jim Morrison. It’s also a lovely place to stroll on a nice day. Located not far from Place de la Nation, another dark tourism site where the remains of the many Frenchmen guillotined during the revolution are remembered.
The Dunkirk 1940 Museum
Dunkirk is a name that requires little introduction, as it was one of the early battles of World War II, where British and French forces clashed with the Third Reich military. Visiting this small, albeit still amazing museum, will open your eyes to the events surrounding the largest military naval evacuation in history.
The Surrender Museum in Reims
One of many museums situated in this ancient town, the Museum of Surrender is a crucial stop on your journey through the most significant sites related to World War II. Reims is where the second world war officially ended. Visit the beautifully preserved room where the surrender documents were signed and explore the massive collection of memorabilia.
Dark Tourism Is On The Rise
As you can see, France has a high percentage of dark tourism attractions. Paris alone will wow you with the grandeur of the famous catacombs, and the beauty of the Pére Lachaise cemetery.
If want to learn more about dark tourism, and love statistics, check out this interesting article by Photo Aid Online that explores the growing interest in macabre sites; some of the more popular places to visit, as well as some less-known sites.