We all have an image of France holidays in our heads, perhaps involving elegant cafes, fresh baguettes or stylish clothes. For many of us it was the first country we visited, perhaps on a school trip or a camping holiday, and most of us have probably been there more than anywhere else. But despite being familiar, our nearest neighbour continues to hold a special place in the heart of Brits. There’s always the possibility of finding a beautiful village you’ve never seen before, coupled with the comfort of knowing that the things you love most will never change.
The starting point of holidays in France has to be Paris, the city of romance. First on every first-timer’s list is the iconic Eiffel Tower, although when it was built in 1889 Parisians hated it. Writer Guy de Montparnasse ate there every day, insisting it was the one venue where he wouldn’t have to see the Tower. But the French and the rest of the world have more than come around to the 1,065-foot iron tower, with more than 200 million people thought to have visited. There’s even a Michelin-starred restaurant at the top now, which might have put a smile on Montparnasse’s face. Other highlights are numerous, but the best-known are perhaps the Arc d’Triomphe, Notre Dame, the artists’ district of Montmartre and the Moulin Rouge.
Venture beyond the capital on France tours and you’ll find many regions with their own traditions, though all share a fundamental Frenchness. There’s the bright and breezy west coast; the rustic charm of Brittany; Alsace in the east, semi-German in character after a centuries-old tug of war; the Cote d’Azur, beloved of the rich and famous; and slow-paced Provence, where nothing seems to have changed for generations.
Wherever you go on France holidays, you’ll find a real commitment to the finer things in life. Wine-lovers will know Burgundy for Chablis and Cotes de Beaune; Bordeaux for Medoc, Sauternes and Margaux; Alsace for its Riesling and Gewurztraminer of; and, of course, Champagne for its Champagne! You could easily spend a lifetime exploring each and every vineyard and still not sample every wine. For many food-lovers, French food remains the gold standard, and you’ll find more Michelin-starred restaurants here than anywhere in the world - although the system is French-run and they can be more than a little partisan. In art, too, the French have made a major contribution, thanks to artists including Monet, Manet, Toulouse-Lautrec, Renoir and Pissarro.
But traditional French culture is changing. As their empire crumbled, many former colonial citizens came to live in France, adding their own cultural influences to the national life. Indeed, France’s win in the 1998 football World Cup was attributed in no small part to France’s new ethnic mix, with French-Algerian star Zinedine Zidane, who grew up in Marseille, leading the way.