Against a backdrop of cultural and historical masterpieces, enlivened by a pervasive joie de vivre, France is an enchanting destination with a certain je ne sais quoi.
France clocked in just under 79 million international tourist arrivals in 2010, impressive figures for a country with a population of 65 million. With a gamut of offerings ranging from ornate gothic cathedrals to cutting edge fashion, snow capped Alps and a sun drenched riviera, France has held the distinction of being the most popular destination in the world for the last two decades.
Interesting Facts about France:
- Every 7 years, the Eiffel Tower has to be painted, using up to 60 tonnes of paint per time for the 3 shades of colours used.
- The first Nobel Prize for Literature was bestowed upon a Frenchmen in 1901, and to date, the country has the most laureates in this field. Timeless fairy tales such as Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, and Little Red Riding Hood, were penned by French author Charles Perrault.
- Whether it's Monsieur Boulanger in 1765 or Monsieur Chantoiseau in 1773, the first modern restaurant to serve a choice of dishes was located in Paris.
- Grasse in the French Riviera is known as the world's capital of perfume. The best-selling scent in modern history - Chanel N°5 - harvests their rose and jasmine flowers here.
- The label for Château Mouton Rothschild 1945 - recognisable for the 'V' signifying victory and the end of WWII - was designed by French illustrator Philippe Jullian, who designed the winery's first artist's label. A jeroboam for this coveted vintage fetched US$ 310,700 in 2007, the most expensive bottle of wine ever auctioned.
Whether you know it as the City of Lights or the Capital of Romance, Paris is a destination itself and every shutterbug's dream. With close to 4,000 historical monuments, the most famous Parisian structures have become icons for the country, including the Arc de Triomphe, Notre Dame Cathedral, and of course, the Eiffel Tower.
The Louvre may house the attentive Mona Lisa, but the capital also boasts several other captivating museums showcasing centuries of French savoir faire through priceless art and cultural collections. As one of the centres of the design universe, it shouldn't be surprising that the first ever fashion house was set up in Paris, with the glitzy Faubourg Saint-Honoré, Avenue Montaigne, and the Champs-Élysées now many a shopper's delight.
The French word for window shopping - lèche-vitrine - literally means 'window licking', providing a clue as to the buy-me appeal of the threads on display, which ranges from haute couture to prêt-à-porter. Retro fashionistas and collectors also revel in the city's flea markets, treasure troves with antique gems and unique objets d'art.
Two main bodies of water wash up against France's shores - the Atlantic Ocean along the west, and the legendary Mediterranean Sea along the southern coast. The carefully named beaches at Vendée ('Coast of Love', 'Coast of Light') and the peninsular region of Brittany - famed for their mysterious megalithic monuments - are popular seaside destinations with sunbathers, seafarers, and surfers alike.
Normandy boasts over 300 kilometres of coastline in Manche, many of which are awarded with the Blue Flag status acknowledgment for exceptional water quality and facilities.
Sun worshippers and yachties who seek to live it up should look south towards the Côte d'Azur, wit their Monaco and St. Tropez sophistication. A seaside getaway for 19th century noblemen, the French Riviera is now considered a playground for the fabulous, famous, and filthily wealthy.
Though the mêlée of tourist hoards can be maddening at times - such as when the Cannes Film Festival is in town - there are several other hill-perched and seaside towns worth checking out on this sunny coastline.
French Alps & Wine Country
Rising 4,810 metres above the azure seas is the mother of all western European mountains, Mont Blanc. The French Alps hosted the Winter Olympics twice in the past, and continues to attract skiers and mountaineers looking to challenge awe inspiring topography. Alpine lakes tucked within the terrain offer less strenuous water activities.
Back down to earth with a drink close to the celestial beings, many of the country's wine regions also offer scenic countryside. From Champagne to Rhône, Burgundy to Bordeaux, lush vineyards and estate mansions offer visitors fresh air and a glimpse at how the drink of the gods is produced. Another major attraction in the interiors of the country are the imposing châteaux, dotted around rolling hills. Vallée de la Loire, also a major producer of wine, has numerous historical castles in addition to heritage town centres.
From sauté to flambé, à la carte to mise en place, the permeation of français in everyday culinary lingo bears testament of France's gastronomic prowess on the global stage.
Respected by restauranteurs and revered by foodies, two of the the world's most renowned restaurant guides - Michelin Red Guide and Gault Millau - have their origins in this delicious country. Developed at the end of the 19th century as a driver's handbook for road trippers, the Red Book France edition now guides diners to the finest food ever to grace tables.
For those who don't want to go through the intimidation of multiple cutlery sets, salon de thé's and bistros offer a casual eating experience with front row seats on passing street life, plus a taste of regional cuisine and mouthwatering cakes and pastries.
An integral component to any French meal is of course a selection of cheese and wine, of which France boasts a type to suit every time of day, palate and occasion.
Villa Holidays in France
With world renowned attractions of significant historical, cultural, culinary, and artistic importance, it's no wonder that for the last two decades, France has continuously topped the most popular destination in the world list. From rolling countryside, glamorous seaside towns, and ski resort areas, the ooh là la's are continued indoors in the country's spectacular private residences.
Travel & Transport
Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris is the main air hub in the country, with Nice Côte d'Azur Airport a popular gateway to visit southern France. With over 470 airports and multiple rail links - some running the TGV - that branch nationwide, getting around is a breeze.
A handful of cities have tram networks, and most are pleasant enough to walk or bicycle around to see the sights.
France Top 5 Travel Tips [Bucket List]
1. From Paris With Love
For first timers to the country, not visiting the capital is a bit like like ordering pasta with Périgord truffles and not bothering to eat the fungal delicacies. Invest in a Paris Museum Pass or the ParisPass, which allows you transportation privileges in addition to entry into the capital's must-see spots, inclusive of license to jump queues.
2. Voulez-vous Coucher Avec Mickey?
Is it a mouse? Is it a duck? Yes, it's all that and more at Disneyland Paris. Seven hotels support the two theme parks that take centre stage at this mini city just half an hour's drive from downtown Paris. As the most visited attraction in all of Europe, be prepared for long queues and large crowds, but your children will owe you for life.
3. Goodness Gracious Grapes
The locals are proud of it, snobs swear by it, the gods probably only drank French wine too. There are at least seven distinct wine producing regions in France to visit, but Bordeaux is arguably the most famous, squeezing out some of the most astronomical priced bottles of wine in history from estates such as Château Mouton Rothschild, Château Lafite Rothschild, and Château d'Yquem.
4. Chât(eau) Me Up
Though they have to reputation to make their visitor feel insignificant, fortified castles and châteaux are architectural grandeurs that must be experienced. Also known as the 'Valley of the Kings', Loire Valley is home to over a staggering 300 residences of nobility past, including Châteaux de Chenonceau and Château de Villandry both boasting perfectly manicured botanical expanses.
5. Island hopping? Of Corsica!
Though islands aren't necessarily the first thing to pop into mind, there are a few gems speckled in the Atlantic and Mediterranean waters. The island of Corsica is best known for being the birthplace of Napoléon Bonaparte and has stunning coastlines at the base of a mountainous interior. The distinct Corsican language and culture here is a cross between French and heavy Italian traces.
- Head for the hills
4 picturesque villages in the Alpes-Maritimes department, southeastern France
- The Riviera Revisited
For an inquisitive soul, Nice stands out a cultural gem surrounded by sea and sand.
- The Gracious Grape
Six top wine destinations to discover and explore in Europe.
- Romantic St Paul De Vence
In St Paul de Vence art and history come alive in the Chapelle du Rosaire.