GETTING THE MOST OUT OF YOUR VISIT TO FRANCE
So, you’re heading for France. Do you know what it is you
want to experience, what it is about France and the French that you want to learn
about? This is, after all, an amazing country of culture, heritage, learning,
adventure, and a whole lot more. What aspects interest you?
Be sure you know, before you go, or you may miss the point.
Here’s a few pointers:
1: Paris is not France. Paris is Paris, a capital city in
every sense of the word, a unique place, and somewhere everyone should
experience…for a while. But if you want to experience the real France, you need
to move on.
Sure, make the most of the museums, the fabulous
architecture, the luxurious restaurants and hotels; indulge yourself, see the principal
sites…but then move on. Three days is plenty.
2: You can’t see France in just a couple of weeks; it’s far
too large and diverse a country for that. So, focus. Pick a region, and get to
know France region by region. More to the point, choose regions that are
neighbours, so you don’t spend too much time just travelling. And, come to
think of it, there’s no better way of grouping regions than to use the new,
larger regions that came into force on 1 January 2016.
You’ll get so much more for your money if you focus…not only
the distinct characteristics of each region, but its cuisine, its wine, its
culture. These elements really do differ from region to region. When you think
Somme and Picardie, you’re thinking battlefields, war associations, military cemeteries.
When you think Pays de la Loire, you’re thinking wine, chateaux, gardens, architecture.
When you think Pyrenees, you’re thinking mountains, adventure, marvellous
scenery and the history of the Cathars.
3: If you are fascinated by the French cities, then get to
them by rail, and explore on foot or local transport after that. There’s no
better way of getting to know Strasbourg (the best Christmas markets in
France), Lyon (great museums and restaurants), or Marseille (for that
Mediterranean tang). Let the train take the strain; the TGV service is
outstanding, and very fast…and you can book all your tickets before you go by
4: Slow down; relax. Ditch the hurry. You can see and learn
a huge amount about France and the French by the simple expedient of taking
coffee – or whatever – sitting at one of the street cafés. If necessary, have
two coffees, and just watch the world go by. If you find someone playing
boules, stop and watch them for a while; they won’t mind.
5: Challenge yourself. Determine in advance to try at least
one French delicacy – snails, frog’s legs, foie gras, truffle, riz de veau – or
something more calorific, like macarons, Far Bretonne, Iles Flottantes, crème
brulée, Madeleines, or alcoholic, like pastis, Pineau des Charentes, marc,
calvados, Armagnac…but not all at once! The last three of those are great for
settling the stomach after a large meal…a digestif.