France, the largest country in the European Union and more than twice the size of the United Kingdom, has it all which is probably why it boasts 82 million visitors a year. No other country can match that. The landscape and climate is so varied that there is something on offer to the visitor at any time during the year. Historically, France has a total of 35 World Heritage sites; 32 are cultural and three are natural.
The picture book châteaux dotted about the countryside are magnificent. There are several that have been converted into up-market guesthouses. The culinary fare throughout France is of a very high standard. Why not go overboard and have a sumptuous meal at one of the gourmet restaurants in Lyon. The town of Tours, capital of the Loire valley, is another favourite. Further south, there is Provence.
For the wine lover, visits to the attractive world heritage site, Strasbourg or the ancient city of Bergerac, as well as the regions of Bordeux, Burgundy and Champagne is an experience.
For the first time traveller, a visit to, or through, France should not be missed. France borders on nine countries and also the Atlantic Ocean to the west, English Channel to the north (la Manche to the French) and the Mediterranean Sea to the south.
French is the official language and, by far, the dominant language spoken. Regional languages and dialects such as Alsatian, Basque, Breton, Catalan, Corsican and Flemish are still in use, and some are taught in regional schools. The surly French waiters, in the main, speak English well enough to insult you in your own language should the tip you leave be inadequate!
France, generally, enjoys a temperate climate; it rains/snows mostly in winter (November to March) and is divided into four sub climatic zones:
- Oceanic (Atlantic) – Average precipitation with cool summers,
- Continental (central and eastern) – Harsh winters and hot summers,
- Mountain (above 600-800 meters in altitude) – High precipitation (snow 3 – 6 months out of the year), and
- Mediterranean (southeastern) – Mild winters and very hot summers; the majority of precipitation from October to April.
When to go
May through to September is the most popular time to visit due to very pleasant weather conditions and school holidays. August sees an exodus from the cities of resident French heading to the coast for their annual pilgrimage. The number of French making this trip, however, is not as significant as it used to be.
Paris during spring and autumn is lovely.
isiting the Côte d’Azur in the shoulder season (see below) is normally very good with fewer crowds and only the occasional rainy day. Wear a sweater in the evenings.
- high season: May to September
- low season: December to March (high season in the mountains)
- shoulder season: April, October to November
A must see is the visually stunning tidal island of Mont Saint-Michel (UNESCO World Heritage Site) about a kilometer from the Normandy coastline and the beaches of such historical importance. Also Nîmes, which is one of the oldest cities in Europe and another UNESCO World Heritage Site is Carcassone, with its mediaeval fortified Cité.
Winter sports are catered for at some of the finest resorts in the world. In the Alps, from ultra chic Courchevel 1850, traditional Chamonix and Val d’Isere to the purpose built resorts of Val Thorens, Tignes and Alpe d’Huez. To the south west of the country lies the much older mountain range of the Pyrenees, where winter activities are also popular (and cheaper). Located there are the ski villages of Barèges and La Mongie to name just two.
Paris, the capital of France, situated on the banks of the river Seine, could be considered the polyglot of Europe, certainly of France.
For the visitor, there is so much to see and do. Paris is home to two of the most visited places on Earth, namely the theme park of Disneyland Resort and the cathedral of Notre Dame. Other notable places in Paris include the Louvre art gallery and the tallest building in Paris, the Eiffel Tower. See the Arc de Triomphe war memorial followed by a stroll down the nearby Avenue des Champs-Elysées as it is probably the most famous avenue in the world. For lovers and romantics alike, Paris, especially in the springtime, is gorgeous.
If you are in the mood for retail therapy, you’re in the right place! Paris is the home of haute couture with houses such as Chanel, Christian Dior and Givenchy based there. Also, the Saint-Honoré fashion district is occupied by classic designers such as Versace, Hermes, and Yves Saint Laurent.
For art lovers, apart from viewing the priceless masterpieces in the various museums, watching artists ply their trade in Montparnasse is also very pleasant. Between April and the end of October, perhaps take a day trip to visit the museum at Auvers-sur-Oise, the town where Vincent Van Gogh lived and died in 1890. Then it is on to Giverny to view Claude Monet’s house and gardens.
Bucket & Spade
In the north, there are the sandy beaches of Normandy and Brittany which are very popular with English visitors.
The seaside towns on the Côte d’Azur (French Riviera) are some of the finest to be found on the Mediterranean, if not the world, with prices to match. Antibes, Cannes, St. Tropez, take your pick. If you prefer, why not pop across the ‘border’ into Monaco (Monte Carlo).