For all the millions of French people that live in its many vibrant cities, the idea persists that theirs is a rural country. The importance of the land reverberates throughout French culture, something you will truly understand when you travel to France.
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France boasts metropolitan powerhouse cities that represent the countries accumulation of wealth, evident in the astonishing variety of places to visit, from the Dordogne's prehistoric cave paintings and the Roman monuments of the south, to the Gothic cathedrals of the north, the chateaux of the Loire, and the cutting-edge architecture of the grands projets in Paris. This legacy of history and culture - le patrimoine - is so widely dispersed across the land that even the briefest of stays will leave you with a powerful sense of France's past.
Places to visit in France
You could spend a lifetime travelling France and still not come close to exhausting its riches. Landscapes range from the fretted coasts of Brittany and the limestone hills of Provence to the canyons of the Pyrenees and the half-moon bays of Corsica, and from the lushly wooded valleys of the Dordogne and the gentle meadows of the Loire valley to the glaciated peaks of the Alps. Each region looks and feels different, has its own style of architecture, its own characteristic food and often its own dialect. Though the French word pays is the term for a whole country, people frequently refer to their own region as mon pays – my country – and this strong sense of regional identity has persisted despite centuries of centralizing governments, from Louis XIV to de Gaulle.
There are all kinds of pegs on which to hang a holiday in France: a city, a region, a river, a mountain range, gastronomy, cathedrals, châteaux. All that open space means there’s endless scope for outdoor activities, from walking, canoeing and cycling to skiing and sailing, but if you need more urban stimuli – clubs, shops, fashion, movies, music – then the great cities provide them in abundance.
Best time to travel to France
The climate in France can be tricky to navigate when deciding the best time to visit. The north experiences similar weather to the UK, often being wet and moderately unpredictable. The south is significantly warmer, particularly behind the Mediterranean coastline. Briefly speaking, the best time to visit is during late spring to early autumn, when the temperature is warm and crowds are not swarmed with tourists.
Itinerary for when you travel to France
If visiting for the first time, or as a returning traveller, planning an itinerary ensures you experience as much of the country as possible, particularly if driving. The diversity of France's beautiful landscape means there are many routes to choose from, so if you have a particular mission in mind, check out our range of itineraries, or alternatively plan a tailor-made trip with one of our experts. For inspiration, we've created an itinerary below.
Days 1 - 3: Paris
Your travels to France would not be complete without visiting the iconic Eiffel Tower in the heart of Paris. Tick of the main sites on the checklist; the Louvre Museum, the Notre Dame, the Eiffel Tower, and the Arc de Triomphe. Enjoy exploring the charming streets, stopping off for macarons in delightful little cafes.
Days 3 - 5: Epernay, Champagne
Take a trip to Epernay, the birthplace of Champagne. Enjoy a glass of authentic bubbly whilst taking in the beautiful landscape of rolling green hills. Go wine tasting, cycle along the vineyards, take morning walks, and explore the charm of the small town. Simply enjoy the countryside of France.
Days 5 - 7: Loire Valley
The Loire Valley is a place of fairy tales, explore the many Chateaux and immerse yourself into feeling like you have stepped back in time. Chateaux of the Loire Valley is an impressive example of French Renaissance architecture and is a good starting point. Other monumental castles to look out for include those at Ambroise and Nantes. Take part in a tour, also possible along the Loire River, and explore the historical towns and get a real feeling for French history and culture.
Culture in France
The importance of these traditions is felt deeply by the French state, which fights to preserve and develop its culture perhaps harder than any other country in the world. Private companies, which also strive to maintain French traditions in arenas as diverse as haute couture, pottery and, of course, food, are perfect examples of this. The fruits of these efforts are evident in the subsidized arts, notably the film industry, and in the lavishly endowed and innovative museums and galleries. From colonial history to fishing techniques, aeroplane design to textiles, and migrant shepherds to manicure, an array of impressive collections can be found across the nation. Inevitably, however, first place must go to the fabulous displays of fine art in Paris, a city which has nurtured more than its fair share of the finest creative artists of the last century and a half, both French – Monet and Matisse for example – and foreign, such as Picasso and Van Gogh.
Cuisine in France
French cuisine is as varied as it's landscape, as the creator of the Michelin Star, France takes its food reputation seriously. Dive in deep to France's food and drink culture, that will have you eager to travel to France as soon as you can.
From traditional village boulangeries cooking fresh bread and croissants to high-class restaurants, you'll notice the always pleasant aroma of delicious dishes being cooked. Popular recipes to look out for include ratatouille, bourguignon and crepes. Drink-wise, France boasts some of the best wines, and of course, there is Champagne.
Top image: Le Mont Saint-Michel, France © canadastock / Shutterstock