France is one of the world's top tourist destinations. There's plenty to get your teeth stuck into, from great cities like Paris, Bordeaux and Marseille to the prehistoric sites of the Vézère valley and Brittany's beautiful coastline. But how well do you really know the country? Embrace the French "joie de vivre" with these fun facts about France.
There are a number of different origin stories linked to this French superstition, but the most likely dates back to medieval times. When an execution was scheduled in town, legend has it the executioner himself would not have time to pop to the bakery before work. The baker would therefore reserve his loaf by turning the bread upside down. Thus, turning a baguette on its head came to be associated with death and misfortune – and the superstition lives on. If you'd like to learn more kitchen secrets, take a 'behind-the-scenes' bakery tour in Paris.
France might be the spiritual home of the croissant, but the pastry actually began its days in Austria. The kipferl – ancestor of the croissant, born in the coffee shops of Vienna in the 13th century – was the original crescent-shaped morning sweet. Made of a denser and less flaky dough, the kipferl later crossed the border to France and became the famous croissant.
The French affectionately refer to their country as “L’Hexagone” ("the hexagon"), due to its geometrical shape - check for yourself on the map of France. Of course, the hexagon only covers the mainland – let’s not forget Corsica and France’s overseas territories!
That’s right, the camera phone was invented in France in 1997 by an enterprising Parisian called Philippe Kahn. The first photo he took was of his new-born daughter, Sophie, which he sent to his family and friends.
Following the Norman Conquest, French was the language of the King and Court from 1066 to 1362 (that's about three hundred years). Though English regained prominence in the 14th century, the English language today is still peppered with French-derived words and phrases.
Yep, some stories suggest that French toast doesn’t actually come from France – instead, it was invented a world away by a man called Joseph French. A humble inn keeper in New York, Joseph French forgot the apostrophe when penning his creation, and “French’s toast” became simply “French toast”. And the seeds of uncertainty were sown…
The country’s national motto Liberte, Egalite, Franernite ("Liberty, Equality and Fratenity") has its roots in the French Revolution, but wasn’t popularized until the end of the 19th century. The famous trio of words were first vocalized in 1790 in a speech given by Maximilien Robespierre. Interestingly, the phrase is also the national motto of the Republic of Haiti (a former French colony).
France is famed around the globe for its mouthwatering cuisine, so the fact that two new cookbooks are published every day here might not come as a total surprise. Still, it’s no mean feat.
That’s quite a figure, roughly equating to the distance from Paris to Petra. From bustling ports to sandy bays and rocky coves, you’ll find beaches of every shape and size along the French coast.
While kilts are synonymous with Scotland, similar garments were in fact worn in a number of different countries across the globe, including in early France. Most were worn below the knee, stretching to the ground. However, tartan kilts as we know them today do indeed herald from Gaelic lands, originating in the first quarter of the 18th century.
The world’s most prestigious cycling race was first held in 1903. It has run every year since, save for the two world wars. In 2020, the race was delayed due to the coronavirus pandemic – but it still went ahead!
In 2019, a record 10.2 million people visited Paris’ Louvre Museum – it’s been suggested that a Beyonce and Jay-Z video filmed in the museum helped boost visitor numbers. The accolade stands. All the more important it is, to book your ticket ahead of time. Stop wasting time standing in line and book your Louvre skip-the-lines ticket here.
It seems fitting that a country that loves food as much as France should be the first to pass a law making throwing away good food illegal. As of 2016, any unsold but edible food must be donated rather than thrown away, or you could come up against the long arm of the law.
France has a land area of 547,000 square kilometres, making it the largest country in the EU. If you extend the parameters to include all European nations – rather than just those in the EU – then France follows up in third place, behind Ukraine and Russia, which dwarfs the rest.
France welcomes some 89 million visitors annually; Spain comes in second place with some 82 million visitors, while the USA comes in third with 78 million. Though 2020 has been a tough one for the travel industry, let’s hope visitors return to their number-one spot as soon as it’s safe to do so.
Since French writer Sully Prudhomme won the first ever Nobel Prize for Literature in 1903, the country has taken the accolade a further fourteen times (the USA and Great Britain come in second with twelve prizes apiece). The winning writers include Jean-Paul Sartre, who won the prize in 1967 but declined it. He described his reasons for declining the prize as being both “personal and objective”.
It’s true: in 1910, a French law confined couples kissing on train platforms to romantic scenes on the silver screen. The ban was intended to avoid overcrowded stations and service delays – how much difference it made is anyone’s guess. Today there’s no penalty for a cheeky train-station smooch, which is good news for lovers heading for Paris, the unchallenged romance capital of the world.
Snails – or escargots – are a popular French delicacy, traditionally served as an hors-d’oeuvre with garlic butter. If you’ve mastered snails, move on to frog’s legs!
Move over, snails. The French are the highest consumers of cheese on the planet, with almost half the population eating the stuff on a daily basis. And that means hundreds of different types of cheese produced on home soil, with some seriously good produce. Tuck in and discover it yourself, like on this wine and cheese tasting tour from Bordeaux.
Wine is the tipple of choice in France, accounting for almost sixty percent of the country’s total alcohol consumption. The population’s penchant for a glass (or two) of wine might have something to do with the fact that France is one of the world’s biggest wine producers, creating some of the best varieties on Earth. Champagne, Burgundy and Chablis, for instance, are all home-grown. If you want to visit one of the most famous champagne houses, take a look at this tour from Reims, visiting the Taittinger Champagne House with a small group.