France is a diverse nation of many extremes. A continent within a country, from the flatlands of the North, the rugged Atlantic coastlines and splendour of the Alps, to the colour and luxury of the Mediterranean and sophistication of cities such as Paris, Toulouse and Bordeaux. Enjoy the simplicity of French rural life; explore its history as conqueror and conquered: Roman ruins such as the Amphitheatres in Lyons and Nîmes, magnificent cathedrals and churches too numerous to mention, the châteaux of the Loire valley, and the walled fortresses and bastide villages of Gascony and the South-West.
A holiday in France can be as active or relaxing as you want it to be. Sip a kir royale in a Parisian pavement café, flop on a sunny Mediterranean beach as you watch the sun go down, go for a leisurely stroll in the countryside of the Dordogne, Brittany, or the lavender fields of Provence, or tour-and-taste in the famous vineyards of Burgundy, Bordeaux and Champagne. Alternatively, climb the cols of the Tour de France by bicycle, ski in the summer on the glaciers of the Alps, breathe in the clear mountain air on a hiking trip, or choose from a vast range of adventure sports. In winter, curl up next to a log fire after a bracing walk on a deserted Normandy beach, or ski in the mountains under blue skies.
The gastronomy of France is as varied as its countryside. Simple casseroles vie with Michelin-starred creations, each enjoyable in its way. Regional variations include Cassoulet from the Languedoc-Rousillon, Coq au Vin from Burgundy, and the Mediterranean diet of Provence, with fish, tomatoes and olives more dominant along with enormous platters of seafood. Crêpes and galettes from Normandy and Brittany are found all over France, washed down with mugs of cider. Markets and charcuteries provide everything you need for a picnic - cheeses, meats and fruit and vegetables. Local restaurants frequently offer a great value fixed price menu, with a simple salad for starters, a regional dish for the main course, and a typical French dessert such as chocolate mousse, tarte tatin or crème brulée.
Chateau Chambord, Loire Valley
Famed for its wine and feted for its cuisine, France is one of the most visited countries on earth; no wonder so many of its residents choose to vacation in their homeland, as it offers such a wealth of activities and landscapes. It will take you a lifetime to do it all.