Welcome to Europe’s fabled land; home of great food and wine, art and romance. France is studded with world renowned landmarks and stunning hidden landscapes. Mountains and waters hug 3 sides of this great country, while 5 major rivers rage through it. Whether you love the majesty of white chalk cliffs, sprawling sand and pebble beaches, or towering mountains capped with snow, there is something on offer here to take your breath away.
With 64 million people spread out over the country, France is not densely populated, although Paris is home to almost 20% of the national population.
The official language is French, and particularly in smaller towns and rural areas, communicating can be a challenge, so learning a few key phrases is recommended. That said, France has a multicultural society, with a strong presence of Algerian, Moroccan and Portuguese nationals.
Foodies can be transported straight to gastronomic heaven by indulging in one of the multitude of restaurants around the country offering the best of French Cuisine. It stands apart for its great variety; delicious meals crafted from beef, pork, lamb, poultry and seafood. Add to that the availability of top quality farm fresh fruits and vegetables, paired with a full-bodied glass of red wine and you definitely have a winner.
Paris is famous for its artists, love of living, and for being the city of love. Romantics and dreamers the world over celebrate its breath-taking architecture and bohemian culture. Grand boulevards and wide promenades encourage spirits to rise and roam free, while endless museums, incredible galleries and jaw-dropping monuments add to the wonders of this sprawling city.
The capital is made up of 20 districts, which all have something unique to offer the intrepid traveler. The Seine River flows through the city and around 2 islands, of which one is lie de la Cite, from where the city was born. The metro is wonderfully efficient for getting around, although rental bikes are available everywhere and walking is also easy.
02. Mont Saint-Michel
Mont Saint-Michel is an island in the area of Normandy, and one of France’s most recognizable landmarks. This quaint little island is only 100 hectares in size, with a permanent population of barely 50, yet it still manages to attract around 3 million visitors per year.
This small island was designed much in the style of the time, at the top the representation of God; the monastery and the abbey. Below that were the great halls, then stores and housing. In a class divide, at the bottom and outside of the walls, were the houses of the fishermen and the farmers.
Bordeaux is a port city in the south-western part of France, famous for the excellent wines produced in the region. That said, this wonderful place has so much more to offer, it even won the award for Best European Destination in 2015. With pedestrianized boulevards, neoclassical architecture and a host of contemporary art museums, beauty can be found inside the city as well as on the outskirts amongst the vineyards. Public gardens line the winding Garonne River, while history lovers can stand in awe at the Cathédrale St André, which is another one of France’s UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
04. Loire Valley
The Loire valley occupies a 280 km stretch along the center of France, so named because of the Loire River that runs through it. Fondly known as the Garden of France, the Loire valley has long been a notable destination, with many kings and notaries moving to the region between the 10th and 15th centuries. This influx resulted in a collection of over 300 grand chateaux’s being built, each with immaculate gardens and many with wonderfully detailed churches on their grounds.
The Loire valley is also famous for its fertile lands, vineyards spread as far as the eye can see, and fields of fruit ripen in the sun. Cherries, artichoke and asparagus are especially prevalent, and wine lovers will recognize the regions of Sancerre and Pouilly-Fume.
Versailles is nowadays the abbreviated name for the Palace of Versailles, which is a royal chateau in the lie de France region. Although it was previously a small village, with the expansion of the capital city, Versailles has now become a wealthy suburb of Paris, with its borders blurred as the areas melded together. The Palace of Versailles has now been on the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites for over 30 years, and tourists continue to flock to its grounds in order to learn more about the grand chateau.
Strasbourg is a city not only with historical significance, but also with modern day importance. Situated on the eastern side of France, near to the German border, the early beginnings see the historical city center built on the Grand lie. This island is sandwiched between the ebbs and flows of the lie River, just before it joins the Rhine. In 1988, for the first time in history, Grand He became a whole city center given World Heritage Site status.
Today, Strasbourg is the official seat of the European Parliament, as well as a host of other European institutions, such as the Council of Europe, the European Ombudsman for the EU, and the International Institute of Human Rights.
Lyon is a city in the center of France known for its historical and architectural landmarks. The city is sliced by 2 rivers, lending it plenty of pretty stretches to walk along, and bridges to cross. Since the 20th century, Lyon has been famous as the Gastronomic Capital of France, and indeed the world. Lyon is also known as the Capital of Lights, due to its annual Fete des Lumiéres, which lights up the city on the 8th of December and lasts for 4 days.
Chamonix, also sometimes known as Chamonix- Mont-Blanc, is happily situated in the south-east of France. Considered to be the Gateway to the European Cascades, Chamonix is one of the oldest ski resorts in France and delights mountain enthusiasts year round with the massive peaks of Aiguilles Rouges and Aiguille du Midi. Via the cable car lift to the Aiguille du Midi, it is possible to access the world famous off-piste ski-run; the Vallée Blanche. The north side of the summit of Mont Blanc, and therefore the summit itself are also part of the village of Chamonix.
The valley was first mentioned in 1091, but it was not a place of pleasure visits. It wasn’t until the early 19th century that Chamonix became a tourist destination, and in 1821 the Compagnie des Guides de Chamonix was set up to regulate access to the mountain slopes.
Bayeux is a commune which is based just a few miles from the English Channel, in Normandy. Famous for the Bayeux Tapestry, Bayeux is also the home of a memorial to all of the journalists who lost their lives between 1944 and 2007 while reporting. Bayeux War Cemetery with its memorial is the largest British cemetery dating from WWII in France. Most of those buried there were killed in the invasion of Normandy.
Dating back to the 1st century BC, with evidence of Celtic settlements, Bayeux was a place in high demand throughout the ages. Multiple raids by the Vikings throughout the 9th century destroyed the city repeatedly.
Montpellier is a university town, now the fastest growing city in France. Boasting prime position on the south coast, almost a third of this city’s residents are university students. They have been drawn by the variety of high quality educational establishments, one of which is the University of Montpellier, which, dating back to 1160 is one of the oldest in the world. No doubt the proximity of the Mediterranean Sea and the wonderful climate is another major attraction.
Avignon is a commune in the region of Provence, on the left bank of the Rhine River. Although very small in size, this gem has a multitude of secrets which is making it increasingly popular among tourists. Prior to the 14th century, Avignon was a place of no great importance. However, between 1309 and 1377, during the Avignon Papacy, seven successive popes lived in Avignon. The walls that were built by the popes in the years immediately following their settlement are well preserved.
Lille is a major city in northern France, very close to the border with Belgium. Recent times have seen it blossom into a significant, glittering cultural and commercial hub. An attractive old town with a strong Flemish influence, Lille boasts three renowned art museums as well as stylish shopping centers, excellent restaurants and a pulsating nightlife scene.
Aix-en-Provence, better known just as Aix, is positioned in the south of France in the region of the Cote d’Azur, near to Marseille. Blessed with a warm climate and an average of 300 days of sunshine a year, Aix has wide tree-lined avenues bursting with every shade of green and fresh air in abundance.
Carcassonne is a fortified town, located centrally towards the south of France. It is sandwiched half way between the Atlantic and the Mediterranean, also linking the Massif Central and the Pyrénése Mountains. The city is famous for the Cite de Carcassonne, a medieval fortress restored in 1853 and added to the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites in 1997. Consequently, Carcassonne benefits from tourism but also counts manufacture and wine-making as some of its other key economic contributors.
Roman treasures, stone squares and a festive atmosphere makes Arles a seductive stop along the Mediterranean coast. Arles has a rich history dating back a couple of millennia, as well as a cultural past that includes the presence of the Dutch Impressionist painter Vincent van Gogh. Add to that the controversial yet incredibly popular bullfighting, and you’ll find that Arles has something for everyone.