If you're thinking about a European holiday why travel to France? Where do we start? There are so many reasons for visiting this amazing country.
There really is something for everyone in France, something that will delight and enthral each visitor. Whether you come in search of wonderful towns and villages, good food and fine wines, or simply to enjoy a relaxing holiday on golden-sand beaches (with or without your clothes).
There's so many ways to answer the question - why travel to France? The unique culture and heritage is probably one of the most compelling.
Here you can absorb the culture and outstanding architectural heritage, from amazing chateaux to World Heritage Sites, from beautiful villages where a game of boules is about as energetic as it gets, to the vibrant scenes of Paris, Lyon and Strasbourg...and many more.
For those with energy to burn the winters offer excellent skiing and hard mountain climbs, while the warm breezes of summer are perfect for rambling, cycling, horse riding and the tendencies of those who like to launch themselves into the air attached to little more than an over-sized item of ladies' underclothing...they call it parapente.
With such a large country, the geology is diverse, and that means constantly changing countryside as you pass through, from the agricultural plains of the north to the river- and volcano-fashioned landscapes farther south, and the high mountains – the Alps and the Pyrenees – that frame the country east and south.
So now you know why travel to France. But how do you make the most of your trip? Don't worry we've got your back...
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 using Voyages-SNCF.
4: Slow down; relax. Don't be in a 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.
Some things you need to know, others you may never have thought about and some trivia you never realised you needed to know.
New regions from 2016