France seduces travelers with its unfalteringly familiar culture, woven around cafe terraces, village-square markets, and lace-curtained bistros with their plat du jour (dish of the day) chalked on the board.
Culture & History
France is about world-class art and architecture. It seduces with iconic landmarks known the world over and rising stars yet to be discovered. This country's cultural repertoire is staggering – in volume and diversity. And this is where the beauty of la belle France lies: when superstars such as Mademoiselle Eiffel, royal Versailles, and the celebrity-ridden French Riviera have been ticked off, there’s ample more to thrill. France is, after all, the world's top tourism destination with some 89 million visitors each year who flock to the land of the Gauls to feast on its extraordinary wealth of museums, galleries, ateliers (artist workshops) and hands-on cultural experiences.
Family values form a major part of culture in France, and responsibility to your namesake comes before all others in providing financial and emotional support. Romantic though they are, the French have a practical view of marriage and its survival as an institution in the modern world. Parents take their roles seriously, and there are fewer working mothers than in the rest of Europe. Cultural events such as opera, ballet, classical concerts, theater performances, and other traditional events are valued highly, as is the French natural ability for art.
Politeness and a degree of formality are customary in France, as the French are private people by nature. Etiquette plays a strong part in French lives, although they may relax standards to save embarrassment with foreign friends and acquaintances. When invited to a French home for a meal, guests should always arrive on time and bring a gift of flowers, wine (and a good one), or chocolates and dress to the nines as style is everything. When invited to a Paris dinner party, flowers should be sent the same morning as they will be displayed during the evening.
The dress code tends to be formal and elegant, especially when dining at good restaurants or visiting ancient churches and cathedrals. On the beaches, of course, it’s business as usual for designer bikinis and sunglasses. Visiting the country in July or August may cause problems as the entire country goes on holiday and many stores and restaurants not crammed with tourists may be closed. It’s best to wait until you’re invited to do so before you call a Frenchman by his first name, and handshakes are the most common form of greeting. When shopping, ‘bonjour’ (good morning) or ‘bonsoir’ (good evening), Monsieur (or Madame) is polite, as is ‘au revoir’ upon leaving the shop. France takes great pride in their language and appreciates you not just expecting them to speak English.
Food is of enormous importance to the French and the daily culinary agenda takes no prisoners: breakfasting on warm croissants from the boulangerie (bakery), stopping off at Parisian bistros, and market shopping is second nature to the French – and it would be rude to refuse. But French gastronomy goes far deeper than just eating exceedingly well. Its experiential nature means there is always something tasty to observe, learn, and try. Be it flipping crêpes in Brittany or clinking champagne flutes in ancient Reims cellars, the culinary opportunities are endless.
Come dinner, start with appetizers—les entrées, en français. Steak tartare, frogs’ legs, and escargots are bistro staples that’ll make you feel like you’re dining in Paris. If, however, you’re after something lighter, a vegetarian Provençal soup or salade Lyonnaise will leave your guests ready for a hearty main course.
As for the pièce de résistance, France offers endless entree options. On cooler nights, consider hearty Gascon cassoulet, Alsatian choucroute garnie, or Burgundian coq au vin. Warmer weather calls for trout, lobster, or an epic bowl of bouillabaisse. Side dishes such as tender poached leeks vinaigrettes and ratatouille are delicious, but it's harder still to resist the comfort-food classic bistro fries cooked in duck fat.
The rhythm of daily life – dictated by the seasons in the depths of la France profonde (rural France) – exudes an intimacy that gets under your skin. Don’t resist. Rather, live the French lifestyle. Embrace the luxury of simple, everyday rituals being transformed into unforgettable moments, be it a coffee and croissant in the Parisian cafe where Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir met to philosophize, a stroll through the lily-clad gardens Monet painted, or a walk on a beach in Brittany scented with the subtle infusion of language, music, and mythology brought by 5th-century Celtic invaders.
Not only shopping brings them happiness and joy but stopping for a coffee with a friend as well. You will often see French people having a coffee and sometimes pastries, and chat with a friend. French cafes are also full of locals who come to relax, read a book, do some work on the computer, or just people-watch. They also enjoy eating delicious meals and you will often see them in restaurants or bistros at lunchtime or in the evening. If you are a tourist then you should also do the same in order to understand better their culture and enjoy to the fullest your vacation in France.
During weekends, French people like to walk a lot. If the weather is nice you will see people walking everywhere. Furthermore, they also like cycling very much. All in all, they love spending time outdoors and doing exercise. In the evening the bars are full, not to talk about the clubs where you will see lots of party-people, especially teenagers. No matter what city in France you choose to visit we are sure that you will have a great time.
The terroir (land) of France weaves a varied journey from northern France's cliffs and sand dunes to the piercing blue sea of the French Riviera and Corsica's green oak forests. Outdoor action is what France's lyrical landscape demands – and there's something for everybody. Whether you end up walking barefoot across wave-rippled sand to Mont St-Michel, riding a cable car to glacial panoramas above Chamonix or cartwheeling down Europe's highest sand dune, France does not disappoint. Its great outdoors is thrilling, with endless opportunities and the next adventure begging to be had. Allez!
There are around 60,000km of marked cycle paths (pistes cyclables) in France. Many towns and cities have established cycle lanes, while in the countryside there are an increasing number of specially designated long-distance cycle routes (véloroutes and voies vertes). Burgundy is particularly well served, with an 800km circuit, while the Loire à Vélo cycle route runs the length of the Loire valley from Nevers to St Nazaire. The Fédération Française de Cyclisme website has useful information in French on mountain-biking sites and tourist offices can provide details of local cycle ways; the Fédération Française de Cyclotourisme website provides links to local cycling clubs, and lists local trips by region. IGN sells various cycling guides through its website; their France-wide 1:100,000 maps are the best option for cyclists.
Millions of visitors come to France to go skiing and snowboarding, whether it's downhill, cross-country or ski-mountaineering. It can be an expensive sport to arrange independently, however, and the best deals are often from package operators. These can be arranged in France or before you leave (most travel agents sell all-in packages). Though it’s possible to ski from early November through to the end of April at high altitudes, peak season is February and March.
The best skiing and boarding is generally in the Alps. The higher the resort the longer the season, and the fewer the anxieties you’ll have about there being enough snow. The foothills of the Alps in Provence offer skiing on a smaller scale; snow may be not as reliable. The Pyrenees are a friendlier range of mountains, less developed (though that can be a drawback if you want to get in as many different runs as possible per day) and warmer, which means a shorter season and – again – less reliable snow.
Horseriding is an excellent way to explore the French countryside. The most famous and romantic region for riding is the flat and windswept Camargue at the Rhône Delta, but practically every town has an equestrian centre (centre équestre) where you can ride with a guide or unaccompanied. Mule- and donkey-trekking are also popular, particularly along the trails of the Pyrenees and Alps.
France’s extensive coastline has been well developed for recreational activities, especially in the south. In the towns and resorts of the Mediterranean coast, you’ll find every conceivable sort of beachside activity, including boating, sea-fishing and diving, and if you don’t mind high prices and crowds, the clear-blue waters and sandy coves are unbeatable. The wind-licked western Mediterranean is where windsurfers head to enjoy the calm saltwater inlets (étangs) that typify the area. The Atlantic coast is good for sailing, particularly around Brittany, while the best surfing (Fédération Française de Surf) is in Biarritz; further north, Anglet, Hossegor and Lacanau regularly host international competitions. Corsica and the Côte d’Azur – which has a number of World War II-era wrecks – are popular for diving.
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