• France

    • France, officially French Republic, French France or République Française, country of northwestern Europe.
    • Historically and culturally among the most important nations in the Western world, France has also played a highly significant role in international affairs, with former colonies in every corner of the globe.
    • Bounded by the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea, the Alps and the Pyrenees, France has long provided a geographic, economic, and linguistic bridge joining northern and southern Europe.
    • It is Europe’s most important agricultural producer and one of the world’s leading industrial powers.

    France has so much to offer, here are some of the things France is known for.

    Eiffel Tower

    More than six million people visit the Eiffel Tower: annually – and from an evening ascent amid twinkling lights over a flute of Champagne to a lazy lunch in one of its restaurants, every visit is magical. Gustave Eiffel only designed the graceful tower as a temporary exhibit for the 1889 Exposition Universelle, yet its distinctive art nouveau–laced silhouette is an icon of Paris' skyline. Best are the special occasions when all 324m of the iconic tower glows a different colour.

    Mont St-Michel

    The dramatic play of tides on this abbey-island in Normandy is magical and mysterious. Said by Celtic mythology to be a sea tomb to which souls of the dead were sent, Mont St-Michel: is rich in legend and history, keenly felt as you make your way across the bridge – or barefoot across rippled sand – to this stunning architectural ensemble. Walk around it alone or, better still, hook up with a guide in nearby Genêts for a dramatic day hike across the bay.

    Champagne

    Known-brand Champagne houses in the main towns of Reims and Épernay are famed the world over. But – our tip – much of Champagne's finest liquid gold is created by passionate, small-scale vignerons (winegrowers) in drop-dead-gorgeous villages, rendering the region's scenic driving routes the loveliest way of tasting fine bubbly amid rolling vineyards. Our favourite: exploring the region’s best Champagne museum, the Musée de la Vigne et du Vin:, in Le Mesnil-sur-Oger, followed by a tasting and lunch in the village at Le Mesnil.

    Loire Valley Châteaux

    If it's aristocratic pomp and architectural splendour you're after, this regal valley is the place to linger. Flowing for more than 1000km into the Atlantic Ocean, the Loire is one of France's last fleuves sauvages (untamed rivers) and its banks provide a 1000-year snapshot of French high society. The valley is riddled with beautiful châteaux sporting glittering turrets and ballrooms, lavish cupolas and chapels. If you're a hopeless romantic seeking the perfect fairy-tale castle, head for moat-ringed Azay-le-Rideau:, Villandry and its gardens, and less-visited Château de Beauregard.

    Chamonix Action

    The birthplace of mountaineering and winter playground to the rich, famous and not-so-famous, this iconic ski resort in the French Alps has something for everyone. Snow-sports fiends fly down slopes on skis or boards in order to savour the breathtaking views of Mont Blanc and surrounding mountains. But there's absolutely no obligation to do so: nonskiers can hop aboard the Aiguille du Midi: cable car – and onwards to Italy aboard the Télécabine Panoramique Mont Blanc – for the ride of a lifetime above 3800m.

    Dune du Pilat

    The Dune du Pilat: is a 'mountain' that has to be climbed – and gleefully romped down at speed. Not only is the coastal panorama from the top of Europe's largest sand dune a stunner – ogle at the Banc d'Arguin bird reserve and Cap Ferret across the bay – but nearby beaches have some of the Atlantic Coast's best surf. Cycle here from Arcachon and feast afterwards on locally farmed oysters and crepinettes (local sausages) at a 1930s hunting lodge redesigned by Philippe Starck, aka the-place-to-be-seen La Co(o)rniche.

    Nice's Three Corniches

    It's impossible to drive this dramatic trio of coastal roads:, each one higher and with more hairpin bends than the next, without conjuring up cinematic images of Grace Kelly, Alfred Hitchcock, the glitz of Riviera high life, and the glamour of the Monaco royal family – all while absorbing views of the sweeping blue sea fringing Europe's most mythical coastline. To make a perfect day out of it, shop for a picnic at the cours Saleya morning market before leaving Nice.

    Carcassonne at Dusk

    That first glimpse of La Cité's sturdy, stone, witch's-hat turrets above Carcassonne: in the Languedoc is enough to make your hair stand on end. To properly savour this fairy-tale walled city, linger at dusk after the crowds have left, when the old town belongs to its 100 or so inhabitants and the few visitors staying at the handful of lovely hotels within its ramparts. Don't forget to look back when you leave to view the old city, beautifully illuminated, glowing in the warm night.

    D-Day Beaches

    A trip to these peaceful, broad stretches of fine sand and breeze-blown bluffs is one of France's most emotional journeys. On 6 June 1944 (the 75th anniversary is in 2019), beaches here became a cacophony of gunfire and explosions, the bodies of Allied soldiers lying in the sand as their comrades-in-arms charged inland. Just up the hill from Omaha Beach, the long rows of symmetrical gravestones at the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial: bear solemn, silent testimony to the profound price paid for France's liberation from Nazi tyranny.

    Pont du Gard

    This Unesco World Heritage Site: near Nîmes in southern France is gargantuan: 35 arches straddle the Roman aqueduct's 275m-long upper tier, containing a watercourse that was designed to carry 20,000 cu metres of water per day. View it from afloat a canoe on the River Gard or jig across the top. Oh, and don't forget your swimming gear for some post-Pont daredevil diving and high jumping from the rocks nearby. Flop afterwards on a floating deck a little way downstream.

    Provençal Markets

    No region is such a market-must. Be it fresh fish by the port in seafaring Marseille, early summer's strings of pink garlic, Cavaillon melons and cherries all summer long or wintertime's earthy 'black diamond' truffles, Provence thrives on a bounty of local produce – piled high each morning at the market. Every town and village has one, but those in Aix-en-Provence: and Antibes are particularly atmospheric. Take your own bag to stock up on dried herbs, green and black olives marinated a dozen different ways, courgette flowers and tangy olive oils.

    Hilltop Villages

    Impossibly perched on a rocky peak above the Mediterranean, gloriously lost in back country, fortified or château-topped… Southern France's portfolio of villages perchés is vast and impressive, and calls for go-slow touring – on foot, by bicycle or car. Most villages are medieval, built from golden stone and riddled with cobbled lanes, flower-filled alleys and hidden squares silent but for the glug of a fountain. Combine a village visit with lunch alfresco – La Table de Ventabren: near Aix-en-Provence is one such dreamy address that you'll never want to leave.

    Lyonnais Bouchons

    The red-and-white checked tablecloths, closely packed tables and decades-old bistro decor could be anywhere in France. It's the local cuisine that makes Lyon's bouchons (small bistros) unique, plus the quaint culinary customs, such as totting up the bill on the paper tablecloth, or serving wine in a glass bottle wrapped with an elastic band to stop drips, or the 'shut weekends' opening hours. Various piggy parts drive Lyonnais cuisine:, but have faith – this French city is said to be the gastronomic capital of France. Dine and decide.

    Carnac Megaliths

    Pedalling past open fields dotted with the world's greatest concentration of mysterious megaliths: gives a poignant reminder of Brittany's ancient human inhabitants. No one knows for sure what inspired these gigantic menhirs, dolmens, cromlechs, tumuli and cairns to be built. A sun god? Some phallic fertility cult? Post-ride, try to unravel the mystery from the soft-sand comfort of La Grande Plage, Carnac’s longest and most popular beach, with a 2km-long stretch of pearly white sand.

    Alsatian Wine Route

    It is one of France's most popular drives – and for good reason. Motoring in this far northeast corner of France takes you through a kaleidoscope of lush green vines, perched castles and gentle mist-covered mountains. The only pit stops en route are half-timbered villages and roadside wine cellars, where fruity Alsace vintages can be swirled, tasted and bought. To be truly wooed, drive the Route des Vins d'Alsace: in autumn, when vines are heavy with grapes waiting to be harvested and colours are at their vibrant best.

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