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Did you know … ?

  • Some 5 million people make the pilgrimage to Lourdes each year.
  • Modern soft luggage originated in France, as did the hot-air balloon.
  • The “Mona Lisa” was delivered to France by the painter himself, Leonardo da Vinci.
  • Fleur-de-lis, in literal translation, means flower of the lily, but it refers to the iris.
  • Carcassonne is the largest still-inhabited medieval fortified citadel in Europe.

S’il vous plait

France produces many images in the minds of prospective visitors: wine and cheese, the Riviera, Impressionists, Chartres and Notre-Dame cathedrals, Loire Valley chateaux, Edith Piaf, haute cuisine, the Normandy beaches, alpine skiing, the Eiffel Tower, haute couture, Mont-Saint-Michel, the fleur-de-lis, the Louvre, Champagne, the high-speed TGV rail service and beautiful villages.

It is embarrassingly easy to compile this list because there are so many different ways that France appeals to North Americans — and hence reasons enough for individuals of all personality types to pack their French phrase books and head on over.  Indeed, North Americans fall for the charms of a country with beautiful landscapes, compelling architecture, high culture and a sense of style that bespeak a long and fascinating history. Throw in the fine food and wine, and we are hooked.

The countryside draws praise for its beauty, and the south of France especially inspires complimentary remarks. But, whether one visits Provence, the historic beaches of Normandy, the castles along the Loire or the Burgundy vineyards, France won’t disappoint.

It offers practical conveniences, too, particularly the train services, whether the high-speed variety or the standard options, that make it easy to get around. The Paris Metro does the same thing for the nation’s capital; other cities have metros, too.

The only potential downside is a sometimes-strong euro that makes things pricey, but anyone who really wants to see France regards that as part of the deal.

Formerly, visitors to France leaned toward the adventurous side of the personality scale, but, over time, others have found foreign languages and cultures more interesting and less intimidating.

Unless skiing is in the plans, visitors can’t go wrong in spring, summer or fall. If Paris is on the agenda, it is good to remember most residents escape the city’s heat for the countryside in August so some shops are closed and many places lack service. Note that what the French regard as hot is not necessarily all that hot by the standards of many North Americans; on the other hand, there is less air conditioning.

Things to do for Venturers

  • Go mountain biking in the Giffre Valley in the Alps. Also, go whitewater rafting or kayaking on the Giffre River.
  • Take a tour of three days or longer by horse-drawn caravan on the Jura Massif in eastern France.
  • Join a guided backcountry ski tour in the Alps or Pyrenees. This may mean crossing glaciers and, when traversing difficult passages over steep slopes, becomes ski mountaineering.
  • Cycle along some part of the Tour de France route.
  • Tour Cathar Country, the area in the south known for the 13th century Albigensian Crusade during which the Catholic church wiped out the Cathars, whose take on Christianity it regarded as heretical.  The area is characterized by steep promontories (where Cathars holed up to the bitter end), which make for dramatic scenery appealing to any visitor and a promising playground for the adventurous. Tackle this terrain with a multiday trekking trip.
  • Lyon is a foodie’s town with good reason. But, try the lardons, described as bacon pieces, better described as the fatty bacon pieces — not to everyone’s taste.

Things to do for Centrics

  • Go to Giverny to see Monet’s home and studio. Take the train from Paris to Vernon, then rent a bicycle to get to the property from the station. If the Vernon-Giverny bus is full, you may have no choice but bike it — or you’ll take a three-mile walk.
  • Research your French roots, then plan an itinerary around your ancestral home.
  • Use Carcassonne as a base for touring that focuses on the area’s history and the area’s food and wine.
  • Sign on for an immersion French language course.
  • Take a wine-tasting tour. The French tourist office lists 17 regions to choose from, including Armagnac, Cognac and Champagne. Try the local wines everywhere.
  • Tour the most gorgeous chateaux in the Loire Valley.

Things to do for Authentics

  • Gamble on the Riviera or in Atlantic coast cities. This is not Las Vegas. The casinos usually impose a dress code and they impose a quieter and more formal atmosphere than that seen in the U.S.
  • Climb Mont-Saint-Michel in Brittany. The stunning abbey, and views along the way, are well worth the effort.
  • Get out the Michelin guide and plan a trip around three-star restaurants. Even in no-star restaurants, sample local specialties.
  • Take a D-Day tour, see the Normandy beaches and the cemeteries.
  • If traveling with children, check out the French take on a Disney theme park, at Disneyland Paris.
  • Visit one of France’s many Christmas markets. Make that Chartres and see one of the world’s finest old cathedrals, as well; ditto for Strasbourg.

Additional Resources

For more information, consult Atout France-France Tourism Development Agency at  and, to find France Certified Travel Agents, click on