You could spend a lifetime's worth of holidays in France and still not feel you'd done the country justice. It remains the planet's most visited tourist destination, meriting its standing with an almost overwhelming mass of historical treasures, storybook landscapes and cultural idiosyncrasies.
The teeming glam of Paris makes for one hell of a centrepiece, matching any city on the planet for ambiance, individuality and set-piece sights. But the real beauty of France, in many ways, lies elsewhere. The country's natural gifts are striking, with white sands, hulking mountains and swathes of rolling countryside. It's a land that has inspired dreamers and drinkers, revolutionaries and artists. Little wonder that Francophiles (and it's telling that even the country's devotees have a given word to describe them) are found the world over.
You can soak up the A-list beaches of the Cote d'Azur, drowse in the timeless greenery of the Loire Valley or gaze up at the monumental peaks of the Alps. Wander the lavender fields of Provence, eat your way round the legendary bistros of Lyon or sample the rugged charm of Corsica. France's cities, coastline and countryside all have their own ooh-la-la rewards, and when taken as a whole, they present a near-perfect visitor package.
That's not to say that it's somewhere easily bracketed. When you're walking the moody portside backstreets of Marseille or delving among the sprawling flea markets of Paris, it can be a job to remember that they're a part of the same country as the vineyards of Alsace or the sand dunes of the Atlantic coast.
This diversity, in many ways, is the magic of France. It's why it has endless magazines, books and texts dedicated to the joys of its lifestyle. It's why the national spirit remains such a bold, many-hued thing. And it's one reason why, in a continent full of historical wonder and natural beauty, France still draws more tourist attention than anywhere else.
“How can one describe a country which has 365 kinds of cheese?” once asked former French president Charles De Gaulle. Even today, it's a very good question.
When to Go
The best months to explore France depend on what you want to do there.
For winter sports, December to the end of March give great conditions on the snow-covered Alps.
For beach-based activities, the summer months from June through September are reliably sunny and warm. However, the school holidays mean busy roads, crowded resorts and higher prices. The South of France has mild winters so it is a pleasant year-round destination.
Visiting the cities is good at any time of year, although the north west of France has high humidity in the summer and rain and cold winds in mid-winter.
- Hire a local guide if your plan to hike, climb or ski.
- Always leave your travel itinerary with the hotel desk if you are planning to hike, climb or ski. Make sure to tell them when you arrive back though!
- If you want to take photographs whilst riding, canoeing or other active sports, take a simple instant shot camera that only needs one hand to operate.
- Don't forget the insect repellent when you are out in the countryside, especially if you are near water.
- In France motorized craft with an engine of more than 6CV needs a license, so check this out before water skiing or jet skiing.
UNESCO World Heritage Sites in France
There are 38 cultural and historical UNESCO World Heritage Sites across France;
– Chartres Cathedral
– Versailles Palace and Park
– Mont-Saint-Michel and Bay
– Prehistoric Sites and Decorated Caves of the Vézère Valley
– Amiens Cathedral
– Vézelay, Church and Hill
– Roman and Romanesque Monuments of Arles
– Cistercian Abbey of Fontenay
– Fontainebleau Palace and Park of
– Roman Theatre and its Surroundings and the “Triumphal Arch” of Orange
– Great Saltworks of Salins-les-Bains
– Abbey Church of Saint-Savin sur Gartempe
– Gulf of Porto: Calanche of Piana, Gulf of Girolata, Scandola Reserve
– Strasbourg – Grande île
– Place Stanislas, Place de la Carrière and Place d'Alliance in Nancy
– Roman Aqueduct at Pont du Gard
– Reims: Notre-Dame Cathedral/Former Abbey of Saint-Rémi/Palace of Tau
– Paris, Banks of the Seine
– Bourges Cathedral
– Canal du Midi
– Historic Centre of Avignon: Papal Palace, Episcopal Ensemble and Avignon Bridge
– Pyrénées – Mont Perdu
– Historic Fortified City of Carcassonne
– Routes of Santiago de Compostela in France
– Belfries of Belgium and France
– Loire Valley (Sully-sur-Loire and Chalonnes)
– Provins – the Town of Medieval Fairs
– Le Havre
– Bordeaux, aka Port of the Moon
– Fortifications of Vauban
– Lagoons of New Caledonia (overseas)
– Episcopal City of Albi
– Pitons, cirques and remparts of Reunion Island (overseas)
– French Alps: prehistoric Pile dwellings
– Causses and Cévennes, Mediterranean
– Nord-Pas de Calais Mining Basin