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    Composed of 26 regions, France is a vast country of varied cultures waiting to be discovered. From the north to the south, the east to the west, the differences are so great that France is impossible to define. Within the space of just a few miles, it isn't only the landscape that changes. Passing from one region to another means discovering new tastes, smells, sights and sounds.

    Before leaving

    A five-minute tour
    The North

    In the north, even if the weather is not always great, the area's natural, cultural and human treasures will be enough to warm your heart. One only has to visit the centre of Lille, the capital of Flanders, to witness the creativity and richness of this Northern culture, or travel to Dunkirk to see the city's wild carnival traditions.

    The West

    If you head west, be sure to visit Normandy, with its woodlands, beaches and seaside towns, such as Deauville, Honfleur or Barfleur. Be sure not to miss the famous ports of Havre or Cherbourg either, nor the extraordinary natural landscapes of the Etretat, or the world-famous Mont-Saint-Michel. You'll no doubt soon see why Normandy has such a powerful hold on so many tourists from around the world, despite its reputation as a place where it always rains.

    Just as attractive, Britanny is brimming full of natural gems: its coast is a mix of beaches in some places and rocks in others, giving it varied and diverse characters from land to sea.
    Rennes, Brest, Saint Malo, Vannes or Concarneau all have a different character which captures a different piece of Britanny. Neither one exactly the same, neither one totally different: they are all bound by the strength of their regional identity.

    The Atlantic coast

    On the Atlantic coast, tourists can explore the history of cities such as Nantes and Aquitaine. Bordeaux is part of the obligatory route for foreigners, whose local wines of the same name leave them dreamy. Meanwhile, the coast from Lacanau to Biarritz is the kingdom of surfers, with long beaches of fine sand extending all the way to the Spanish border.

    The South

    Next, this tour of France, the countryside and its flavours will lead us to Toulouse, so much for the city's beauty and ambiance as for its famous culinary speciality, the cassoulet. This sturdy dish will give you all of the energy you need to make your way to the Mediterranean coast.

    Perpignan, Marseille's Notre Dame de la Garde, Montpellier - the city of a hundred fountains - Nice, Cannes and Antibes are synonyms for parties, sun, cinema, jazz and holidays around the world.
    With its Papal Palace, bridge and summer theatre festival, Avignon is an obligatory stop on our journey around France, before heading north again.

    Central France

    In going back up the map, one cannot miss taking a stop in the ancient Gallic capital, a high point of France's cultural heritage, Lyon. It is also the perfect place from which to head to another world-famous wine-growing region, Bourgogne.

    Germanic France

    Even though its monuments, countryside, art and culture are enough to draw you in, we head to another region celebrated for its vineyards to finish our tour around France's most beautiful spots: Alsace. Don't miss the magnificent city of Strasbourg, the European capital, with its Christmas market, its beautiful Little France neighbourhood, and the many buildings which house the institutions of the European community.

    In pictures

    • Marseille : Notre-Dame de la Garde - France
    • Marseille : The entrance to Marseille's Old Port - France
    • Marseille : Pleasure crafts in Marseille - France
    • Marseille : The Old Port - France
    • Marseille : Porte de l'Orient - France
    • Marseille : Saint-Charles train station - France

    Our Editorial team's advice

    France prides itself on being the world's most popular holiday destination, and the French lifestyle is known the world over for its sophistication and elegance.

    Across diverse landscapes and a history rich in patrimony, art and culture, France is also home to a large number of different religions.
    Amongst the many must-visits are Paris, the French Rivera, the Palace at Versailles, the Chateaus of the Loire Valley and the Bourgogne wine route.

    It's not just the cities in France that are worth visiting; the countryside and small villages are equally striking.

    If you're looking for a Francophone holiday destination, don't restrict yourself to just the mainland. France's oversea territories are perfect for tourists, with their spectacular landscapes and diverse cultures.

    You can go on holiday in France at any time of year. Overall it has a temperate climate, but this will vary from region to region.
    In winter, the ski resorts up in the Pyrenees and the Alps open their doors, welcoming thousands of tourists every year. In terms of summer time, the seaside towns on each of France's coastlines are the perfect choice for a holiday.
    Spring is the best time to take a trip to the French countryside, with new life everywhere and the return of warmer weather.
    This said, autumn is also a good time to visit - just keep in mind that the weather will be that bit colder, even along the Mediterranean Coast.

    Getting around France is perfectly easy, with high-quality road and rail networks. In the bigger cities, the bus, tram and underground rail services make getting around even quicker and easier.

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    Traditions

    French culture, long a synonym for refinement and elegance, unites tradition, art and cuisine.

    French history is long and complex, and carries with numerous rich, varied and ancient traditions which link past with present, region with region.
    The mosaic of French cultures is evidence of the local cultural riches, deeply rooted in the residents of its lands.
    Local languages and culture, long threatened with extinction, are once again growing and being revived thanks to the work of numerous local groups and associations.

    It is not uncommon, for example, for the town signs to be written in both French and the local dialect - particularly in Brittany, Alsace, and the French Basque Country.

    Many French traditions are inspired by Christian celebrations and practices, such as eating the galette des rois at Epiphany, giving Christmas presents, or making crêpes for Candlemas in early February.

    Other traditions don't have a religious origin, such as doing pranks on April Fools' Day, or getting dressed up for Mardi Gras.

    Bear in mind that in France, much like in many other parts of the world, it is customary to kiss people when you meet them, even if you don't know them very well.

    What to see

    France : Explore

    Food

    France is undoubtedly most famous for its food and wine, thanks to an unrivalled reputation and a great number of Michelin-starred chefs. However, it's difficult to define French cuisine into one thing, as it varies significantly from region to region, so much so that it would be impossible to fit all French dishes onto one table.

    Be it pickled cabbage, cheese fondue from Haute-Savoie, crêpes from Brittany, hotpot from Auvergne or bouillabaisse, each region has its own special dish.
    Saying that the French like cheese is an understatement.
    With over 500 different varieties, it's the cheese capital of the world. Each has its own particular taste, size and shape and is made according to ancient production methods to ensure the highest quality.

    Wine is an integral part of the French lifestyle and unsurprisingly France is the world's biggest producer and exporter of wine. You will find different grapes in each region, but one thing is certain: wherever you decide to go in France, you'll never be far from a bottle.
    Bourgogne and Bordeaux are the most famous producing regions, along with Alsace and the Loire Valley.

    Souvenirs

    What to bring back from your holiday in France? The obvious choices are cheese, wine, pate, spirits (cognac or armagnac) or champagne. But there is a variety of other non-edible gifts that also make for good souvenirs, like the traditional beret or a pair or espadrilles. Each region will have something different to offer in terms of keepsakes. For shopping addicts, a trip to Paris, one of the great fashion capitals of the world, is the best choice. Its designer boutiques, chain department stores and one-off vintage shops are all in easy reach in the capital. Choose between the Fairtrade boutiques in the eleventh district, the elaborate window displays of the avenue Montaigne or the international chains along the rue de Rivoli or at the Forum des Halles shopping centre, just make sure you remember your credit card!

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