France seduces travellers with its unfalteringly familiar culture, woven around cafe terraces, village-square markets and lace-curtained bistros with their plat du jour chalked on the board.
And then there is the terroir (land) and the varied journey it weaves from northern France's cliffs and sand dunes to the piercing blue sea of the French Riviera and Corsica's green oak forests. Outdoor action is what France's lyrical landscape demands – and there's something for everybody. Whether you end up walking barefoot across wave-rippled sand to Mont St-Michel, riding a cable car to glacial panoramas above Chamonix, or cartwheeling down Europe's highest sand dune, France does not disappoint. Its great outdoors is thrilling, with endless endless and the next adventure begging to be had. Allez!
Why I Love France
By Nicola Williams
I moved to France in 1996 and have no intention of moving elsewhere – French art de vivre is just too good. Arriving in Lyon in winter, I whittled away endless blue-sky days devouring the city's ravishing art museums and street markets, delving into backstreet alleys and traboules, and gorging on oysters and white Côtes de Rhône every Sunday morning on my favourite cafe terrace in front of the mairie. Road trips to Beaujolais, Burgundy and the French Alps formed perfect weekends away, punctuated with feasts so fabulous – some very simple, some gastronomic – that I vowed to eat my way around the rest of France.
France is about world-class art and architecture, outstanding museums, Roman temples and Renaissance châteaux. It seduces with both iconic landmarks known the world over and rising stars yet to be discovered. This country's cultural repertoire is staggering – in volume and diversity. And this is where the beauty of la belle France lies: when super stars like Mademoiselle Eiffel, royal Versailles and the celebrity-ridden French Riviera have been ticked off, there’s still plenty more to thrill. (France is, after all, the world's top tourist destination, with more than 80 million visitors a year.)
Gastronomic Art de Vivre
Food is of enormous importance to the French, and each region has its own specialities alongside French classics. The daily culinary agenda takes no prisoners: breakfasting on warm croissants from the boulangerie, stopping off at Parisian bistros, and shopping at the market are all second nature to the French – and it really would rude to refuse. But French gastronomy goes far deeper than just eating exceedingly well. Its experiential nature means there is always something tasty to observe, learn and try, wherever you are – be it flipping crepes in Brittany or chinking Champagne flutes in ancient Reims cellars, the culinary opportunities are endless.
The rhythm of daily life – dictated by the seasons in the depths of la France profonde (rural France) – exudes an intimacy that gets under your skin. Don’t resist. Rather, live the French lifestyle. Embrace the luxury of simple, everyday rituals being transformed into unforgettable moments, be it a coffee and croissant in the Parisian cafe where Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir met to philosophise, a stroll through the lily-clad gardens Monet painted, or a walk on a beach in Brittany scented with the subtle infusion of language, music and mythology brought by 5th-century Celtic invaders.
Need to know
Whether you’re taking day trips from Paris or continuing further afield, a trove of treasures awaits in the areas around the French capital. The Île de France région – the 12,000-sq-km ‘Island of France’ shaped by five rivers – and surrounding areas count some of the most extravagant châteaux in the land.
Paris has a timeless familiarity for first-time and frequent visitors, with instantly recognisable architectural icons, along with exquisite cuisine, chic boutiques and priceless artistic treasures. Why I love Paris By Catherine Le Nevez, Author Paris’ grandeur is inspiring but what I love most about the city is its intimacy.