France — Overview
For the last two decades, fabulous France has been the world’s favorite tourism destination, seeing no less than 81 million visitors on average every year. Foodies, shopaholics, history buffs, culture vultures, beach bunnies, winter sports lovers, families, and eco-tourists all flock to France for their vacation, knowing they won’t be disappointed with something for everyone. The country is one of Europe’s most geographically diverse, with its cities home to unrivalled cultural treasures and superb architecture. The countryside is dotted with ancient castles and chateaux, set in stunning natural beauty, and the French wines and cuisine are among the finest in the world.
A lifetime wouldn’t be long enough to explore all France has to offer. Most visitors to this iconic land choose a region in which to spend their holiday, topped off with a mandatory few days in the alpha world city of Paris with its landmarks, monuments, museums, art galleries, sophisticated nightlife, and fine dining. The country is divided into six regions, each with its own unique charm, activities, and attractions, but Paris is undoubtedly at its heart in north-central surrounded by the historic Ile de France region. Other favorite destinations are the French Alps and the Pyrenees, the glorious Loire Valley, Provence and the Mediterranean coastline, and Brittany with its ancient Celtic heritage.
French cuisine is arguably the best in the world, whether it’s found in Michelin-starred restaurants, roadside auberges (inns), or small-town bistros. The French way with food has spread across the world, and is one of the major attractions of a vacation here. Service in France is friendly and professional across the board, ensuring a warm welcome awaits visitors at lodgings large and small. France is by far not the cheapest European country to visit, but it offers quality and value, especially in the food and wine sectors. Accommodation ranges from world-famous luxury resorts to charming country inns, bed and breakfasts, and self-catering cottages.
Given the vast variety of things to do and see in France, a vacation here can be anything from sightseeing by day and partying until the early hours to walking, trekking, beach life, water sports, skiing, adventure sports, or just lazing in the southern sunshine. Whether by rental car or France’s excellent public transport, daytrips around the chosen region are easily arranged, and visitors basing themselves in the southwest can easily combine it with a visit to Andorra or Spain, while those in the southeast can spend a day in northern Italy or Switzerland. One of the beauties of a French holiday is that, even in remote rural districts, it’s comparatively easy to get around.
France’s modern rail system includes express service linking all major cities. Combined with the comprehensive domestic flight network, the rail service makes it possible for visitors to plan a whistle-stop tour around all the country’s most famous sights during a single vacation. The discount rail card Carte 12-25 gives those under 25 up to 60 percent reductions on train tickets and is valid for a year. Intercity flights are comparatively inexpensive as there’s a lot of competition between the airlines and routes. For a more leisurely and economic view of France’s stunning and varied landscape, slower train services are the answer.
- Paris – for the Louvre, the Eiffel Tower, Disneyland, and Versailles Palace
- The French Riviera and Monaco for upscale beaches and casinos
- The Loire Valley for its chateaux, wine, and sheer beauty
- Lyon for its Roman amphitheater and other 2,000-year old remnants
- The UNESCO-listed Mont St Michel
- Provence, for its lavender fields and the Verdon Gorge
- Cannes Film Festival
- Brittany for its megalith monuments and Celtic heritage
- Chamonix, at the foot of Mont Blanc, Europe’s tallest peak