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France is a proud nation that reveres all things French; most notably liberty, the Arts, fine food and tradition. The French are fiercely protective of their heritage and the integrity of French culture, oftentimes rejecting foreign influences – which may explain their love/hate relationship towards the 82 million people who visit each year! French pride is warranted when one considers that France presents travellers with a near-perfect package of chic cities, timeless villages, glamorous beaches, grand Alps, storybook castles and panoramic valleys.

Bordered by Belgium, Luxembourg, Germany, Switzerland, Italy and Monaco; with Spain and Andorra to the south, and linked to the United Kingdom by the Channel Tunnel, France is also an ideal starting point for a grand European odyssey.

Paris, France's capital, is one of the greatest cities in the world. Expansive avenues and boulevards reveal landmark statues, historical tributes, manicured gardens, and homages to the Arts. It is a city that exudes style and grandeur, and whose poetry is found in the details. The Arc de Triomphe, inscribed with lists of Napoleonic victories and impressive stonework, and the Eiffel Tower's metal petticoat are obvious stand-out icons, but Paris's true magic is found in its narrow streets far from the tourist trail. Inconspicuous markets, vintage stores, pokey cafes, home-style bistros, sweet-smelling bakeries, creperies, and charming locals place an indelible impression on the memories of those who seek the unexpected. The Luxembourg Gardens is a favourite chill-out for visitors and locals alike. There is no better place in Paris to people watch, as everyone basks in the sun having picnics and listening to music.

France's second city, Lyon, was once the capital of Roman-occupied Gaul. Today, it is France's culinary capital and is the place for travellers to indulge the senses – especially taste! Food, and in particular local produce, are honoured in this region and feature heavily on restaurant menus and bar wine lists. A stroll along the banks of Lyon's two rivers, the Saone and the Rhone, offers dramatic views across the old town and the Notre Dame de Fourviere basilica with its golden statue of the Virgin Mary. A unique feature of the old town is its traboules (underground passageways that run through and under buildings) that date back to the Renaissance, and were used by the French Resistance in World War 2. Lyon's cycle-hire is an excellent alternative to walking. Peddle the narrow streets and river banks to check out Lyon's artistic and cultural hotspots including the Opera, Musee des Beaux Arts, Theatre de la Criox-Rousse, ancient roman theatres, cathedrals and museums.

Brittany and Normandy in the country's north are characterised by enchanting coastlines and pretty seaside resorts, fishing boats, cheese and cider, but they are also steeped in history and tradition. Visitors can relax in Cameret-Sur-Mer, an artists' haven in Finistère (Land's End); explore the medieval city of Dinan and revel in the language, music and mythology of Brittany's Celtic culture. Normandy, Picardy and Nord Pas-de-Calais (also known as the Somme area) hosted battles and invasions over many wars. A number of memorials throughout the three regions provide visitors with an opportunity to retrace history and pay tribute to the fallen.

The Loire Valley is referred to as France's 'Playground of Kings' due to its many magnificent chateaux, medieval fortresses and Renaissance palaces dating from the 15th to 17th centuries. But there is more to the Loire Valley than castles: fascinating historical towns, villages, farmhouses and cathedrals are well worth exploring, as is the countryside and scenery along the Loire River and its tributaries. Another highlight of a visit to this part of France is the chance to stroll through French food markets, meet local farmers and savour the locally grown food and wine. Though not as famous as the wine grown in the neighbouring regions of Burgundy and Champagne, the Loire Valley produces some of France's most internationally-revered wines.

The picturesque city of Lyon is the ideal gateway the Rhone Valley (more great good and wine!) and French Alps – one of the most stunning mountain ranges in Europe. The snowy peaks and ice-capped spires of this region draw skiers and boarders to their downhill runs, fresh powder, and rock formations. The Alps are also a summer playground for tourists and locals offering paths to walk, cliffs to climb, tracks to cycle, and some fascinating towns to explore.

France's southern coast, east of Marseilles, is known as the Côte d'Azur (French Riviera). The rocky, jagged coastline of small inlets, stone or sand beaches, and beautiful landscapes is home to some of France's most famous seaside resorts. In addition to lazing on a sunny beach, visitors can walk the wildflower-lined coastal walking paths of St-Tropez; search for film stars within the palatial hotels, chic boutiques and festivals of Cannes; and place a dollar (or two!) on the tables of Monaco's glamorous Monte Carlo casino.

The Atlantic coast boasts some of Europe's best waves in the stylish coastal resort town of Biarritz, while the arch covered streets of La Rochelle provide a charming stay for lovers of quaint French towns, fresh lobster and sailing (it is also starting point for the Vendee Globe around-the-world solo sailing competition).

The best time to ski in France is from mid-December through to the end of March with temperatures of around 1C. Beach visits are favoured during the summer months of June to September, with temperatures averaging 25 C in July.

Click here for our suggestions on events and places to go at various times of year.