France is the undisputed leader in international visitors (view it now), totaling upwards of 84 million annually. This surpasses the US, with approximately 75 million, and far outpaces Britain with approximately 32 million. What are a few of the reasons France is on so many travelers’ bucket lists? And which of those reasons might motivate you to follow suit? As a start, consider these three motivations for taking a trip to France.
Reason #1: Cultural Discovery
A trip to France is endlessly entertaining and fascinating. France is proud of its heritage and celebrates its history. Everywhere you go you will find atmosphere and old-world charm and historic buildings with tales to tell. You will constantly be reminded that you are walking in the footsteps of kings and artists, conquerors and queens. Every day will be full of discoveries.
A trip round the Loire Valley to see Châteaux will take you along the travel route of the extravagant 16th century King Françoise I, who mounted up astonishing national debts so as to live large also. There are the large round turrets, with wide spiral roadways inside to allow horse-drawn carriages to ride up into the castle grounds to provide its passengers-especially convenient when one of the queens was pregnant. Here on the expansive lawns, firework and festival shows were performed, designed for Françoise by his cherished friend Leonardo da Vinci. Da Vinci himself lived out the final years of his life across the street from the king, in a fascinating mansion that is now filled with models of his many revolutionary inventions. A secret tunnel connects the abodes of these two close friends, used for late-night visits between the king and his brilliant friend.
In Blois, Françoise added an elegant wing into the impressive palace, obtained via an exquisite outside stone staircase. Here you will see the analysis of Catherine de Medici, wife to Françoise’s son and successor, Henri. The wood paneled walls provided her with secret hiding places for her acclaimed group of toxins, the political”solutions” of those perilous times.
Then there’s the magnificent Chenonceau, with its glorious gardens and the vast ballrooms that extend out over the river. Initially this gem was home to King Henri’s mistress, Diane de Poitiers. But when Henri was killed by a large splinter in the eye in a joust, his wife, Catherine de Medici, threw Diane from her Château and took it over for herself. Not to be outdone by the mistress, Catherine then proceeded to construct an even more splendid garden on the other side of the chateau from Diane’s, and an even grander balcony than Diane’s to overlook it. And she had the initials on the tiles reengraved, replacing the”D” for”Diane,” intertwined with an”H” for”Henri,” with a”C” for”Catherine.” This was a woman decided to make her point.
And on it goes. You will be intrigued and awed, captivated and enthralled. Every day of your trip will be intensely interesting, in addition to surrounded by carefully orchestrated beauty.
Reason #2: A Feast for the Senses
Your senses will be stunned for the entire time you’re in France. The sights are beautiful beyond description. The Eiffel Tower at Paris rises up like a giant erector set, with an elevator to take you to the top for views out over the Seine and the city. At night the tower is set aglow, best to be viewed from a boat as it drifts along the Seine, passing under one lovely bridge after another.
The Orsay, after an elegant turn-of-the-century train station which was built to welcome visitors into the 1900 Paris Exposition Universelle, now houses a startling collection of impressionist art – Monet, Renoir, van Gogh, Dégas, Gauguin, Cézanne, Seurat – inside a building that is itself an historical, architectural treasure. Here you will have the ability to lunch in the grand ballroom of the former grand hotel connected to the train station, and look through the glass of this giant clock that faces the river and leaves this building distinctively easy to spot.
There’s more and more to come… The glories of Notre Dame. The remarkable stained-glass windows of Saint Chapelle Chapel… The gorgeous flowers and statuary of Tuileries Gardens… The onslaught of visual sensations of this Champs-Élysées… The towering Arch de Triomphe, facing the smaller Arch in front of the Louvre in the other end of the five-mile grand boulevard where Napoleon pictured himself directing a march of his victorious armies.
There will be the glorious tastes of the wine and food. You may hear marvelous music of all sorts, from the Vivaldi at Saint Chapelle, to the lively piano bars and boat bars along the left bank of the Seine in Paris and atop Mont St. Michel, to the mighty organ of Notre Dame. You may walk through flower markets, vibrant with colours and scents, and store at weekly markets, living with people and all manner of tempting offerings.
This assault to the senses will remain with you in memory long after your travels are over.
Reason #3: Intro to the Fantastic Life
The last, but certainly not the least, reason to see France is that it will introduce you to another, and a better, way of life. You may experience a different way of social interaction in France – more engaged, curious, outgoing, and revived. The French genuinely recognize the value of enjoying the best of life.
Here dining is a delightful experience, not just a stop to refuel. Food is an art form, combined always with the perfect wines to enhance the meal. Waiters take pride in their work, trying to make dining a memorable occasion by offering up their expertise, and carefully guarding your best to take all the time you need to enjoy your meal without feeling hurried.
People in France are carefully polite with each other, and will be with you. You always will be treated as ma’am or sir, and asked with a please, followed by a thank you. Cordiality is not only suggested in France, it is expected and omnipresent. You will soon grow to expect and appreciate this.
From the very first moment you walk down a street passing all the umbrella-shielded outdoor tables of the cafés, you’ll discover that this is a culture where people gather together to enjoy each other’s company. Old, young, families, singles, rich, modest, fashionable, artistic, intellectual – everyone is out in the squares and along the paths, drinking in cafés and eating in restaurants. It becomes simple to join in and be stimulated by the lively, friendly atmosphere. Musicians wander the streets, from old guys playing accordions outside the restaurants, to full jazz bands playing in city squares. And because the house wine is so inexpensive, stopping off for a glass or a carafe is a habitual, not an exceptional, event.
At the tables that surround you at these cafés, you will notice couples engaged in animated conversation, looking intently into each other’s eyes. France is a culture of art and philosophy, science and technology, literature and style, and of love. As you take all this in, you might begin to find it has an impact on you and how you relate to others. You’ll notice yourself listening more actively, expressing yourself more earnestly and obviously, paying closer attention, behaving more considerately, demonstrating more interest and curiosity.
The luxury of time for all this collecting together is in part because of the French commitment to maintaining an optimal balance between life and work. Shops close for lunch so employees can focus their attention on enjoying a good meal and the company of friends and coworkers. Employees who operate 39 or more hours per week must get more than the legally-required five weeks of vacation annually.
As you are traveling in France, you will come to enjoy and to expect this higher level of connection, this enhanced appreciation of wine and food, this better balance between work and life. You will never forget what you’ve learned about a different, and better, way of living life.
The Sum of these 3 Parts
Taken together, the cultural discovery in addition to the feast for the senses in addition to the introduction to the good life, create a travel opportunity that’s second to none. You will have a great visit to France, particularly if you travel independently and avoid the bus, possibly by using a preplanned trip-in-a-book to guide your explorations and adventures, and to ensure that you have the full experience while you are there.
Your trip will enrich you. And it’ll change you. When you return home, you will end up incorporating elements from your travels into your lifestyle, and plotting to return to France.