Destination France

France is all about world-class art and architecture, Roman temples and Renaissance châteaux, iconic landmarks known the world over, and rising stars few yet know. Stroll the lily-clad gardens Monet painted and savour un café at the Parisian café where Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir met to philosophise. See glorious pasts blaze forth and imagine the life of a French king at bourgeois Versailles. View tomorrow’s art starts in squats secreted in abandoned 19th-century Haussmann mansions in Paris, or at new headline-grabbing museums up north. Drink cocktails in a shabby-chic Nantes warehouse. Listen to Marseille rap and Parisian jazz. Sense the subtle infusion of language, music and mythology in Brittany, brought by 5th-century Celtic invaders. Yes, French culture offers never-ending possibilities to fill any stay in France.

Then there is the terroir (land) and the startlingly varied journey it weaves from northern France’s cliff s and sand dunes to the bright-blue sea of the French Riviera and Corsica’s green oak forests. Outdoor action is what this lyrical landscape calls for, be it fast-paced and pulse-racing, slow and relaxed, solo or en famille. Walk barefoot across wave-rippled sand to Mont St-Michel; ride the cable car to mind-blowing glacial panoramas above mountaineering mecca Chamonix; cartwheel down Europe’s highest sand dune; surf in Biarritz; ski the Alps; hike from one extinct volcano to another in the Massif Central; float between locks or pedal the towpath along the Canal du Midi. The action is endless and the next adventure just begging to be had.

You could spend a lifetime’s worth of holidays in France and still not feel as though you’d done the country justice. It remains the planet’s most visited tourist destination, meriting this lofty standing with an almost overwhelming mass of historical treasures, storybook landscapes and cultural idiosyncrasies.

From the baking aromas wafting from its traditional village boulangeries to the Michelin-starred fussiness of its gourmet restaurants, France has an almost unparalleled world reputation for its food. Crucially, while the archetypal French dish is a fabulously rich thing, the national cuisine is as varied as the country's landscape, and much of its prestige comes from the quality of its regional specialities. It’s not all about the ultra-exclusive eateries either – many of the choicest gastronomic treats are simple, affordable and delicious.

This diversity, in many ways, is the magic of France. It’s why it has endless magazines, books and texts dedicated to the joys of its lifestyle. It’s why the national spirit remains such a bold, many-hued thing. And it’s one reason why, in a continent full of historical wonder and natural beauty, France still draws more tourist attention than anywhere else.

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