A country that is a prime tourism destination for many reasons (scenery, culinary delights, architecture, art, beaches, festivals, etc., etc.), and it also has its share of dark destinations.
Given the country's location in central Europe, it's easily reached from most parts of that continent, but intercontinental traffic too makes it quite accessible. OK, most international flights will use the main airport of France, Paris Charles de Gaulle (which is a real pain in the a*** – possibly the worst airport of a western capital city of them all), but it does provide the most convenient way in if you do have to fly. From Great Britain
, on the other hand, you can these days get a fast train from London
through the Channel Tunnel, which provides an excellent alternative to flying.
Within France, the same is true as the country has a very good rail network, including the classic TGV high-speed trains.
Visiting some of the places listed above will require a car, however. France's roads are fine. Remember, though, that motorways charge toll at frequent booths – and the costs can pile up. Using smaller roads, on the other hand, can be very scenic (if much slower). French drivers love overtaking, so be aware of that too.
The most annoying thing about driving (or any navigating) in France is the sign-posting. It sometimes seems like no-one has ever enlightened the French about the purpose of it. Rather than consistently frustrating drivers it should aid navigation, one would think. Not so in France. It was here that I've encountered more crazily flawed sign-posting than anywhere else in the Western world. For instance, I've been puzzled by signs that inform you about a turn-off you should have taken after you've just past it. In contrast, sometimes no signs are there at all until you're right in front of what you were looking for (and thus no longer need the sign). Yet other signs were so complex that you'd need to stop and park by the sign in order to decipher it, such was the overload of info on it, making it look more like the circuit diagram for a computer than a road sign. Other things have left me scratching my head too and I wonder whether I've just been excessively unlucky or whether my impression that this is something quintessentially French is indeed correct.
Of course, if you use a sat-nav system, then this won't affect you as much. Or so you would assume. Last time I drove in France I did come equipped with a sat nav, but that machine didn't particularly like French roads either. Especially in Strasbourg it sent me on miles and miles of unwanted random detours, which strained my nerves to breaking point. Maybe driving in France is simply not supposed to be anything but stressful.
Accommodation in France can be really quirky, including many an old chateau in the countryside which offer rooms that needn't even be expensive. The range overall is vast and preparatory research really pays off.
Food & drink
in France are fabled – although in my opinion often disproportionately so. The county's reputation as a foodie heaven is quite lopsided. The luxury haute cuisine temples may be of top quality, OK, but who will have that on a regular basis? The "normal" French regional cuisines are often a lot more humdrum and bland. Not bad, just not as wonderful as international reputation has it. And especially away from the coast with its plentiful seafood, non-meat eaters can have a hard time finding anything edible. Ovo-lacto vegetarians at least can enjoy the wonderful range of French cheeses, which are indeed often superb, or cheese-based dishes such as quiche. But vegans will struggle a lot.
The gourmet reputation of France is no longer contemporary anyway, as recent statistics reveal that the French are now the biggest fast-food consumers in the world after the Americans. So if a burger is your thing, then things have improved in France. Otherwise, weeell …
All that said, it is of course possible to make cool culinary discoveries in France too, just not necessarily on every corner or at levels notably better than in neighbouring countries. The gastronomic gulf that may once have existed between France and, say, Great Britain
, has long been closed.
As for drinks, France is of course reputed as a top wine country – but again I find that exaggerated. No doubt, there are good qualities, but French wines are hardly so necessarily the pinnacle of everything as the French (and many others) automatically seem to believe. I could name at least half a dozen other countries on a par or exceeding France on this front. And with regard to spirits, don't get me started on that Cognac stuff. I've never understood what the fuss is about with that. Come on, at least Spain
can both make this better than France. And when it comes to genuine top-quality spirits, the gulf between a top malt whisky and Cognac is in direct comparison nothing short of a disastrous Waterloo for the French efforts.
- France 01 - Vive la France
- France 02 - iconic gallic poultry
- France 03 - classic
- France 04 - onions and garlic
- France 05 - patisserie
- France 06 - fruits de mer
- France 07 - fromage
- France 07b - gourmet food
- France 08 - vin blanc
- France 09 - oh la la
- France 10 - Cannes
- France 11 - Alps
- France 12 - coast
- France 13 - Brittany
- France 14 - idyllic ruralness
- France 15 - small town picturesqueness
- France 16 - more than half-timbered house
- France 17 - Alsace
- France 18 - Petit France, Strasbourg
- France 19 - Strasbourg
- France 20 - catholic cruelty
- France 21 - gallic catholicism
- France 22 - church and viaduct
- France 23 - chateau
- France 24 - chateau and garden
- France 25 - formal garden
- France 26 - garden in Williers
- France 27 - chateau of one of the big champagne makers, Reims
- France 28 - prison in Amiens
- France 29 - Amiens cathedral
- France 30 - Amiens cathedral detail
- France 31 - Amiens street
- France 32 - Tricolore galore
Brittany images courtesy of Andreas Ries