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Whether it’s the nature or the culture you come for, France is certain to astound. From the rugged coast of Brittany to the dramatic Pyrenees and glaciered Alps, there is much to please the eye, while the French with their fashion, food and fine wine are a unique bunch – and pleasingly proud of their regional identities.
France’s cities are well connected by the speedy TGV train network, while there are also local trains servicing smaller places. Train stations in Paris provide direct links to many major European cities. If you prefer to drive, the autoroutes are excellent, while bus options can be cheaper, if less popular with tourists.
France has so much to offer visitors of all persuasions. Many come for the varied cities, with Paris long standing out as one of the most glamorous, coolest capitals in the globe; it has world-beating chefs, jaw-dropping architecture and a rich creative scene. Then there’s cosmopolitan Strasbourg and pretty Lyon near the eastern border, as well as sun-soaked Nice and edgy Marseille on the Mediterranean.
The French often see their country as a rural one, however, and huge swathes of France are given over to protected woodland and national parks, making it feel at times sparsely populated. The Loire valley is wondrously serene despite being a favourite with tourists for centuries; its slopes harbour many historic villages and fortifications, as well as the fabled chateaux. If you fancy something more dramatic, you can hit the Alps bordering Switzerland and Italy for a spot of skiing, or the Pyrenees bordering Spain for hiking and climbing.
For museums with some of the best collections in the world, head to Paris, home to the immortal Louvre and Musée d'Orsay, while Marseille's stunning new Musée des civilisations de l'Europe at de la Méditerranée by acclaimed architect Rudi Ricciotti proves there are plenty of top museums beyond the capital.
It’s hardly unknown, but the Brittany region in the northwest is one of France's most enthralling regions, and often overlooked. The Bretons are probably the most proudly distinct group in the country, with traditions and architecture that still treasure Celtic roots. Savoury lace-thin pancakes and cider are also famous in this part of France.
Visitors to the French Riviera tend to stick to Nice and Cannes, but Antibes also deserves a pit stop. Dating back to the Ancient Greeks, its historic centre is one of the finest on this stretch of Mediterranean coast, while the sandy beaches are splendid.
Every region in France boasts its own distinct cuisine and lively restaurant circuit. Specialities such as frogs' legs, snails and foie gras are synonymous with French cooking, but there's much more to it than that. The Parisians sure know how to cook a steak, or should we say entrecote, while Brittany is terrific for seafood, and the Dordogne is known for its black truffles and game. Oh, and you can always justify a plate of French fries here, or pommes frites.
Of course, a visit to France wouldn’t be complete without getting to know the wine – a glance down a list of French towns and region’s is like perusing a particularly good wine list. Refine your palette with a wine tour in one of the historic producer-regions.