Although the weather in this region rarely leaves you with the choice, with the sun shining almost all year round, for everything else you would have to be hard pushed not to love the region of Provence-Alps-Côte-d'Azur.
With protected sites where nature reigns, such as Écrins National Park, Mercantour National Park and the Gorges du Verdon (Verdon Gorges), the north of the region is popular both in the winter for its skiing resorts, like Serre-Chevalier, but also in the summer for its many hiking and outdoor sports activities.
If the words rucksack, flask and walking are, for you, in no way synonymous with the word 'holiday', come to Provence-Alps-Côte-d'Azur to discover some of the great places along the coast that thrive here in the summer.
These are, of course, Nice 'La Bella', Cannes 'Perle de la Côte d'Azur'('Pearl of the Côte d'Azur') and the Antibes 'La Phocéenne ('The Phocaean'); names which evoke outings in a convertible with your headscarf blowing in the wind as you wind along the roads of the sunshine coast.
With this backdrop as you approach Marseille, images from film scenes mingle with the brushstrokes of painters (Cézanne, Van Gogh) who discovered a whole new palette of colours in the special light that the Côte d'Azur offers. As soon as the Canebière (the historic French high street) comes into view, the dialogues of the French writer Pagnol come to mind, together with the scent of bouillabaisse (traditional fish soup) and pastis (an alcoholic aniseed-flavoured drink).
The monuments of the Palais des Papes (Papal Palace), Notre-Dame de la Garde and Arènes d'Arles (Arles Amphitheatre) are well-known symbols of the region, but only make up a small part of its historical buildings. They stand as if to mark the passing time, highlighting the different influences which have coloured the region.
From the wild nature of the Camargue to the liveliness of Avignon Festival, the sunrise of Cannes Festival to the sunset on the Lérins Islands, Provence-Alps-Côte-d'Azur is a place full of light which awakens all your senses, but particularly your sense of smell, with the subtle mingling in the air of lavender, olives and the garrigue scrubland.
Comprising 26 regions, France is a vast country of varied cultures to discover. From the north to the south, the east to the west, the differences are so great that it is impossible to define the make-up of the country. 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. France's history comes to the surface through world-renowned monuments such as the Eiffel Tower, the Châteaux of the Loire Valley and Mont St. Michel. That's not to forget the country's charming beaches in Brittany and Normandy, the fierce waves off the south coast, which are a surfer's Eden, and the snow--apped Alpian mountains, where some of the best skiing in Europe can be enjoyed.
France's past is rich in developments, creations and innovations, all of which we can follow in the museums of the Louvre, le Musée d'Orsay and the Pompidou Centre. Today too, France has a rich conviviality thanks to the spirit by which food and wine have been promoted to a form of art. The morning air is tinted with the wafting smell of freshly baked baguette and croissant and lunch is spent grouped around a table in a bistro tasting the plat du jour (dish of the day) which is chalked on a board on the wall in winding handwriting. Wine plays a central role, not because the French are heavy drinkers, but because wine is deep set in the country's history; production began in France in Roman times and today seven to eight billion bottles of wine are made annually. You can rightly say France has just about everything, the je ne sais quoi. It is top of its game, whether you are after a romantic break, a family holiday, sports trip or cultural immersion. Given all this, it is hardly surprising that it is officially ranked the most visited tourist destination in the world, meaning if you haven't already, you should definitely consider travelling to France at some point.
France prides itself on being the world's most popular holiday destination. 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. The first holiday that many think of when you say the word France is, of course, Paris. The home of several 'world's biggest', 'world's most famous', the City of Light boasts several famous landmarks: Notre-Dame, the Louvre, the Arc de Triomphe, the Eiffel Tower, the Sacre-Coeur up in Montmartre and several luxurious department stores like Galeries Lafayette to name a few. But Paris can also be a bit too overwhelming and can prove very tiring for those looking to cover all the tourist sites in just a short space of time. In the north of France, the sun doesn't always shine, but the culture, human, natural and architectural history are all sure to impress. The Normandy seaside towns Deauville and Honfleur for example, have a reputation which goes far beyond the French border. Equally Mont-Saint-Michel is another world-famous holiday destination. Brittany is rich in nature and boasts a diverse coastline which quickly changes from sandy beaches to rocky mountains. The Loire Valley is home to countless castles, the most famous of which is the Chateau du Chambord which was designed by Leonardo de Vinci. The Bordeaux region is another must-visit for tourists travelling to France, with its world-famous wines. A surfer's heaven, the coastline between Lacanau and Biarritz boasts long sandy beaches that stretch all the way to the Spanish border. The French Rivera is debatably the top beach destination in the world, with glamorous spots like Cannes and Saint-Tropez, or for those who prefer the peace and quiet, the picturesque seaside resort of Var. With its famous bridge, the Palais de Papes and theatre festival, Avignon is an important stop off point for anyone travelling to the south of the country. Lyon, France's former capital is well-known for its cuisine, best experienced in the traditional restaurants of the old town. Another world-famous wine region is Bourgogne known for its beautiful countryside, abbey, castle and wine route. Alsace is equally as popular amongst visitors with its buzzing capital Strasbourg, where in the winter you will find its famous Christmas markets as well as the picturesque Petite-France district. But it's not just the cities in France that are worth visiting; the countryside and small villages are equally as impressive. Among the most famous are Locronan in Brittany, Vézelay in Bourgogne and Eguisheim in Alsace; all perfect for a peaceful getaway. If you're looking for a Francophone holiday destination, don't restrict yourself to just the metropole. 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 its high-quality road and rail networks. In the bigger cities, the bus, tram and underground rail services make getting around even quicker and easier.
France is undoubtedly most famous for its food and wine, thanks to its unrivalled reputation and great number of Michelin starred chefs and restaurants. However it was only in the twentieth century that French cuisine was officially reputed for being the base of every chef's repertoire by Auguste Escoffier. That said it's difficult to define French cuisine as one particular thing, as it varies massively from region to region, so much so that it would be impossible to fit all the main dishes on one table. Whether it be pickled cabbage, cheese fondue from Haute-Savoie, crepes from Brittany, hotpot made in 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.
In 2010 UNESCO gave French gastronomy a place on the list of Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity.
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!