France needs little introduction. It’s got the lot! 75 million tourists each year go to see it for themselves. It’s the most-visited country in the world, renowned for its stylish cities, quiet villages, snow-topped mountains, sandy beaches, lavender fields and, of course, its wine and cuisine.
Its capital, Paris, is the last word in romance. The City of Light seduces everyone who visits – that’s the most visited city in the world. Its landmarks are iconic – the Eiffel Tower, the Arc de Triomphe, Notre Dame de Paris, the Louvre – its streets are fabled – Avenue des Champs-Elysees, the Left Bank, the Latin Quarter and Montparnasse. It acquired another tourist magnet a couple of decades ago too – Disneyland Paris, the most-visited theme park in Europe.
Outside of Paris, travellers are spoiled for choice! Mountains or beaches, oceans or rivers, cities or villages. The only certainty is that you’ll be planning return flights to France before you leave.
The French Overseas Departments and Territories in the South Pacific, Indian Ocean and Caribbean are French Guiana, French Polynesia, Guadeloupe, Martinique, Mayotte, New Caledonia, Réunion, Saint Barthélemy, Saint Martin, Saint Pierre and Miquelon and Wallis and Futuna.
France can be divided loosely into five regions. The north and northwest have a maritime climate. Winters are mild and summers are warm and rain falls year- round. In the southwest, winters are mild and summers are hot. Around the Pyrenees and along the border with Spain rainfall can be heavy. In the centre of the country, Paris for example, winters are cool and summers are hot. Along the Mediterranean Coast, the winters are mild and summers are very hot. Rain is scarce. The Mistral, a northerly wind, blows in the spring time bringing very cold weather. Corsica has a Mediterranean climate too, along the coast, that is. In the mountains, there’s plenty of snow in the winter. The Vosges in Alsace and Lorraine, the Jura and Alps along the borders with Switzerland and Italy, the Pyrenees in the extreme south, and the higher parts of the Massif Central get a lot of snow.
Mid-May to September (July and August in particular), the second half of October, Christmas and New Year’s, February, and Easter are the high season times in France. These follow the school holidays when French families and European tourists take to the cities and the resorts.
November–February is the low season in the cities and at the beaches, but this is high season for skiers and snowboarders.
The major cities – Paris, Bordeaux, Lyon, Nice and Strasbourg – have excellent public transport networks. Trains, buses and trams, in some cities, make it easy to get around.
Air France, the flag-carrying airline, connects Paris with most of the big French cities. There are plenty of low-cost airlines operating in France too. EasyJet and Ryanair, to name just two well-known European no-frillers, both offer cheap flights around France.
France’s rail network is best in class. The TGV trains, which travel at speeds in excess of 550kph, make getting between some cities faster than taking flights. The railway network runs to every corner of the country, but several routes radiate from Paris and cross-country routes and services are fewer and, sometimes, less frequent.
Bus services augment the rail services especially in more rural areas.
Hiring a car is a great idea, especially if you are travelling outside the major cities. In the bigger cities, traffic can be very heavy and parking can be difficult.