France receives more foreign visitors than any other country in the world. It is not hard to see why; aside from its spectacular capital city, it offers tracts of exquisite countryside, Europe’s highest mountain and, of course, some of the world’s finest cuisine ...
France receives more foreign visitors than any other country in the world. It is not hard to see why; aside from its spectacular capital city, it offers tracts of exquisite countryside, Europe’s highest mountain and, of course, some of the world’s finest cuisine (even though some travelers grumble that the general standard of food is not as high as it used to be). Perhaps the most remarkable thing about France is its astonishing variety within a relatively small area. European countries tend to be either northern or southern in character, with the Alps and Pyrenees being the principal dividing lines. France is both: The coast of Pas-de-Calais is just 29 miles from Kent in southern England, while the shores of Provence are part of the warm, classical world of the Mediterranean.
The enduring charms of France are manifest. A typical visit generally includes a stay in Paris (perhaps in a grande dame hotel as well as an intimate Left Bank alternative), followed by a jaunt down into the Loire Valley, Provence or the Riviera. But the options are nearly endless: a historical pilgrimage to the bleak coastline of Normandy; a stirring drive along the serpentine Alsace wine road; a sunny idyll in Corsica, one of the most pristine and wildly scenic islands in the Mediterranean. Barge cruises, which travel along a network of linked canals through medieval villages and rolling vineyards, are a particularly appealing and hassle-free way of exploring the French countryside. Other novel approaches to this classic destination include culinary courses, ballooning trips, grape harvest tours and biking vacations. Then again, one could also spend several weeks happily sequestered in a sleepy provincial village.
Northern and central France are typified by Paris. The south of France, exemplified by Marseille, has hot, dry summers and cool, rainy winters. In August, the Parisians all leave on vacation. The Côte d’Azur is also best avoided in August, when it is impossibly overcrowded. Visitors to Paris should check the dates of the spring and fall fashion collections, when many of the best hotels (and restaurants) are full.