Mulling over a trip to France? Let us tempt you in, with the top reasons to visit a country brimming with restaurants, art and the chicest cities around
Ah, France. Since time began, this land of plenty has dazzled us with its superior taste in food, art and all things refined. From beautiful beaches to charming cafés, the French just know how to live life right – and with a casual indifference that makes the whole thing even more impressive.
France is a canvas of different influences, too; it shifts character, depending on where you visit. You might, for instance, find yourself soaking up the bohemian spirit of Montmartre, a long-time haven for artists and writers. Or you may choose to let loose in a tapestry of bucolic markets and vineyards in the lush greens of the countryside South-West. And let’s not forget the French Riviera, with its white sand beaches and aura of undiluted glamour.
Want to know more, in line with our best of France trip? Grab a croissant and get involved, as we delve into why you should visit one of the most cultured countries on earth:
1 – The world’s best café culture
No-one does cafés like the French. Wherever you travel here, you’re bound to find one that matches your mood: whether that’s a chic Parisian bistro with gilded mirrors or a sprawling alfresco spot in a leafy square somewhere. These places are all about appreciating life’s small pleasures. French café culture is rarely rushed. Instead, you’ll find folks catching up with their friends over a carafe of red wine, or watching the world go by from a prime pavement spot. If you’re in the mood for an aperitif, midday is perfectly acceptable – but on the flip side, the coffee is excellent too. This is France, after all.
2 – Montmartre by night
Tucked away in a warren of hillside snickets over Paris, Montmartre is every inch as charming as the hype will have you believe. Sure, there are touristy parts. You might want to avoid the kitsch train that transports visitors up and down the hill, along with souvenir shops that line the main squares at the summit. But for every snow globe of the Eiffel Tower, you’ll find quite magical views – snapshots of the city below caught in the frame of a forgotten doorway, or the gabled turn of a stairwell. The effect turns up a notch at dusk, when a series of Sherlock Holmes-style street lamps cast a glow on the cobbled streets, and the cafés and houses light up from within.
Read more: Get lost in the world’s most walkable cities
3 – All the cheese
Brie, Comté, Camembert: France is home to some of the most delicious and moreish cheeses known to mankind. There’s nothing bashful about their appreciation of it, either. In France, you’ll find cheese is consumed at full throttle; whether in large hunks of Port Salut brought from a market truck or creamy vats of Vacherin large enough to plant your entire face in. The type of cheese you’ll come across varies from region from region, so it’s always worth checking out nearby markets to see what local producers have up their sleeves. A generous helping of wine is only polite, too, in ode to all things fromage.
4 – Charm-a-minute châteaus
The French château is like catnip for anyone who adores interiors. Scattered across France, they tend to be large, rambling playgrounds of escapism. Wandering around, you get to submerge yourself in a world of ivy-covered turrets and ballrooms etched with faded grandeur. Some of these enclaves have been converted into opulent hotels, like the Château de Fonscolombe in Provence (where we stay on our France trip). Still others are available to buy, pouring fuel on that fantasy of renovating your very own fairytale château.
5 – The glamour of Côte d’Azur
Part of the appeal of France lies in diversity of landscapes. You have the bohemian appeal of the Paris Left Bank next to Burgundy’s rustic vineyards and the jewel in the crown; the spectacular Côte d’Azur. In its 1950s heyday, stars such as Audrey Hepburn, Grace Kelly and Elizabeth Taylor flocked to the French Riviera, sealing its reputation as one of the most glamorous places on earth. Fast-forward to present day, and cities such as Nice, Cannes and Saint-Tropez are still bywords for an ultra-luxe lifestyle. You don’t have to have your own private yacht, however, to appreciate the turquoise coastline dotted with chic hillside towns.
6 – A rich artistic spirit
France has long been a magnet for the world’s finest creators: Ernest Hemingway drank, loved and wrote his way through the bars of Paris in the 1920s, as did Gertrude Stein, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Pablo Picasso. The country counts Claude Monet, Paul Cézanne and Pierre Bonnard among its own vast repertoire of luminaries. This rich legacy is reflected in a world-class offering of exhibitions, theatre, street art and cinema. But its presence is felt more widely, too. Whether you’re an aspiring actor or a writer in the making, France does not belittle creative expression: instead it fosters it, and takes the process seriously.
7 – Wondrous markets (and supermarkets)
If you haven’t been to a French market yet: where have you been all your life? This lively tradition is the lifeblood of both provincial and urban France. Whatever neighbourhood you happen to be in – however remote – you’ll find a thriving market nearby; one that’s overflowing with seasonal fruit/veg, fresh baguettes, honey and the aroma of rotisserie chicken. Walking around and loading up on supplies (in a woven basket, naturally) is true soup for the soul. French supermarkets like E.Leclerc or Monoprix are also havens for the uninitiated; these vast wonderlands sell everything from fruit syrups to rubber dinghies and fancy lace underwear.
8 – Treasure-filled brocantes
An offshoot of the great French market, the brocante is filled with delights of a non-edible variety. You’ll stumble upon these pop-up flea markets everywhere in the country, including makeshift garages, village playing fields and boulevards by the Seine. The time-honoured art of shopping here lies in patience, having a good eye – and being willing to bargain. Rifle through the maze of stalls on a lazy Sunday afternoon, and you might stumble across an antique coffee press, a pair of vintage shoes or a scuffed but beautiful painting, in need of a loving home. The pleasure is all in the unexpected, so dive right in to see what you might find.
9 – The best ever snacks
Somehow the French just know what makes a truly great snacks. Even the most incidental of foods is approached with respect/reverence, and there’s none of this messing around with sugar-free brownies nonsense (well OK, there may be, but it’s less prominent than in other countries). In France’s markets, you’ll find freshly griddled crêpes loaded with egg, ham and, of course, cheese. On street corners, you’ll chance across golden beignets laced with sugar and all things nice. Patisseries – of which there are many – speak to a glutton of freshly-baked pain au chocolat and exquisitely created mille-feuille. Even the drinks on offer come with a dash of decadence; whether that’s a kir royale apéritif or a vin chaud on a chilly winter’s day.
10 – A sweeter pace of life
With its leisurely lunch-times and generous holiday allowance, France’s work-life balance has long been the envy of its neighbours to the north (the UK) and across the pond (the US). And, while measures such as a 35-hour working week and a ban on out-of-hour emails may be overhyped, there’s still a sense that people here work to live; not vice-versa. Visit a Parisian restaurant come lunchtime and you’ll find it full of people from all walks of life, including business colleagues – none of whom seem to be in a huge rush. This is a place where you’ll still find groups of men playing boule on a midday afternoon, or families gathered around for leisurely picnics and a bottle of wine by a swimming lake; without a MacBook in sight. That’s not to say that outside pressures don’t exist. Just that, for the most part, the minutiae of life is still held dear above all else. And that is a beautiful thing.
Want to taste more of France’s many pleasures? Join us on our group adventure through Paris, Provence and the Côte d’Azur, starting next spring