France, strategically located in the middle of Western Europe, is on the bucket list of many first-time visitors to Europe. The figures speak for themselves: more than 80 million tourists visit France annually, which makes it the world’s most visited country. No wonder: apart from the City of Light – as Paris is often called – the country boasts great diversity, from sandy beaches, to snow-covered mountains and vast expanses of countryside, not to mention superb food and excellent wines: every year, around 24 million foreign tourists visit Bordeaux, Burgundy and the other wine regions of France. Then there is another important factor, which is the country’s history. France is extremely proud of its long and often tumultuous history, from the French Revolution to Napoleon and the two world wars, and historical sites are often on the itinerary for visitors. There are the famous battle sites of the Somme and the D-Day landings, as well as the stunning chateaux, churches and cathedrals that adorn the landscape.
France has some 307 appellation wines, with many more in other categories. It has between 350 and 1,600 different cheeses, depending on how you consider the term “different”. French cuisine is astonishingly diverse and considered one of the best in the world, which explains why the French gastronomic meal has now been recognized by UNESCO as part of our world heritage. So food and wine tours in France are very popular, with the top destinations being Burgundy, Provence, the Loire Valley and, of course, Paris.
France is more than just glamorous cities, scenic villages and the occasional countryside in the southern regions. Take a break from the cultural attractions that France offers its visitors and discover the wild side of the country. France hides some magnificent natural wonders, such as the cliffs of Étretat, Aven Armand, which is one of the most visited caves in France, and Vanoise Natural Park, which is the oldest in France, or Annecy Lake, famous for its extremely clear water: actually it’s considered the cleanest lake in Europe.
There are approximately 40,000 châteaux in France. Although every castle is a château, not every château is a castle. The French word describes thousands of castles, palaces and stately homes scattered around the country. The majority of France’s most well-known castles are nestled in the verdant Loire Valley, but there are great examples of medieval fortresses and fairytale castles in every part of the country. From the romantic ruins of Château de Loches to the nearly fully restored Cité de Carcassonne, no visit to France is complete without exploring at least one of these remarkable buildings.
France is a paradise for shoppers. Even outside Paris, most main towns have excellent department stores – usually a Galeries Lafayette – as well as independent shops which are perfect at least for window-shopping if not for actual shopping. Apart from a wide selection of fashion boutiques, food is a particular joy to shop for; every French town holds at least one market a week. These tend to be vibrant, mostly morning affairs, when local producers gather to sell specialty goods such as honey, cheese and alcohol, alongside excellent quality vegetable, meat and fish stalls. Other items to look out for include lace in the north, pottery in Brittany and ceramics in Limoges. The northeast, especially Lorraine, is renowned for its crystal production, while Provence, particularly the town of Grasse on the Côte d’Azur, is the place in France to buy perfume.
The City of Light – as Paris is often referred to – attracts over 30 million of tourists annually, which is more than any other city in the world. What makes it so popular? There are numerous reasons, but let’s start with the city’s romantic image, which makes it the top destination for romantic getaways, the stunning architecture, including the Louvre museum and the iconic Eifel Tower, and the charming Parisian cafés. Apart from this, Paris has been the fashion capital of the Western world since the 17th century. The clothes we wear today owe a great deal to Paris. A half-hour drive southwest of Paris lies Louis XIV’s extraordinary Château de Versailles. With 700 rooms, 67 staircases and 352 fireplaces, it is, without doubt, the apotheosis of French regal indulgence.
The Côte d’Azur (French Riviera) is the most glamorous of all Mediterranean areas. Remarkably beautiful hills in the hinterland, steep coastline and the blue water after which the coast is named still captivate visitors. The Riviera boasts numerous hotels and secluded villas, while giant yachts are anchored at the marines and harbors. The ancient city of Marseille, today a vibrant city, was once France’s most important port, while the hedonistic St. Tropez, once a fishing village, has become the summer playground of the rich and wealthy and one of the hotspots in the Mediterranean. Cannes is the venue of the famous film festival, which attracts numerous movie stars, while Nice, the capital of the French Riviera and the fifth biggest town in France, boasts superb culture, shopping and nightlife. A short drive away lies Monaco, a tax-haven which attracts the rich and famous and is a place to be for anyone who is anyone. Luxury cars, high-end brands, excellent but pricey restaurants represent the basic ingredients of life in Monaco. To taste the life of glamor, the French Riviera is the place to visit.
The scenic region in the southeast of France is filled with lavender fields, Roman ruins, sleepy villages, storied second cities, salt marshes and countless breathtaking views, which will make you want to stop constantly to take photos. The beauty of the region has inspired a number of artists, including Van Gogh and Picasso. Provence is a paradise on earth for history buffs as well as sun worshippers. The region also boasts some of the country’s best antique shopping, wine tasting, and dining, whether in a family-run farmhouse or a Michelin-starred restaurant. When you visit the region, be sure to visit the historical Mareseille’s Vieux Port, the Gothic-style Palais des Papes in Avignon, (the countryside that inspired Impressionist Paul Cézanne), Henri Matisse’s stained glass masterpiece in the Chapelle du Rosaire in Vence, the ancient Catholic monastery in Verne and Mercantour National Park. Provence is also a large wine-producing area, best-known for its rosé wines.
France is an ideal destination for wine-lovers. There are ten major wine regions, plus a number of smaller areas, but let us present the most remarkable ones. The Champagne region is located just north of Paris. The cold winters and chalky soils produce the world’s most famous sparkling wine, which is the beverage of choice at fashion shows, Grand Prix races, and New Year’s Eve parties. You can learn about the history behind big labels like Moët et Chandon and G.H. Mumm with guided tours of their cellars and vineyards. Burgundy boasts some of the most valued? Pinot Noir grapes in the world, which go perfectly with some local cheese and a fresh baguette. If you continue south past Lyon, you will reach one of France’s most productive wine regions, the Rhône Valley. The most famous local appellation is the Châteauneuf-du-Pape, an AOC with a rich history dating back to the early 14th century, when the Pope was based in nearby Avignon. Bordeaux to the west is one of Europe’s most popular red-wine regions, with the grape of choice being the Cabernet-Sauvignon. Last, but not least is the Loire, which offers more refreshing white wines. Apart from wines, the Loire Valley is a hotspot for romantics or architecture buffs, as it is also home to some of Europe’s most magnificent castles.
Fancy tasting waffles on the canals of the city of Brugges? Or maybe exploring the statue of the little boy in Bruxelles, the seat of the European Union? Or what if we tell you of belgium chocolate or beer or maybe even the diamonds in Antwerp?
A tourism super-power, Spain has everything: from sunny beaches to beautiful cities, culture, museums and arts, festivals, food and wine, football and more. And not to forget the paella, flamenco, spanish language and siesta, of course.