France might be the largest country in Western Europe, and many believe that it's a country with just as large an attitude. They have the right to have one, since it's hard to find a place with so much to see and do all in one place.
Not much else is as famous as Paris' Eiffel Tower, a symbol of the capital city. Yet, this is the city where you'll find the Père Lachaise Cemetery--final resting place of the likes of Chopin (the famous Polish composer), Napoleon's mistress, writer Oscar Wilde, and Jim Morisson of the rock band The Doors.
Paris is but a small part of France's 543,000 square kilometers, and cities like Reims in the Champagne region often take second (or third) fiddle. Reims' Notre Dame Cathedral is one of the best in France, filled with all sorts of priceless artwork--not to mention a feat of medieval engineering.
However, it is Chartes' Cathedral that steals the show, one of the finest examples of Gothic architecture in Europe; and boasts 176 stained glass windows.
Lovers of Mont St. Michel Abbey, built on an island back in 1023, might say this is one of France's most beloved buildings. It took a whopping 400 years to finish this architectural masterpiece.
In the Loire Valley you'll find a bunch of chateaux, while places like Lyon and Avignon are full of history and museums.
France is more than just its medieval buildings, it's a country of the jet-set, rich and famous. They flock to the sun-kissed beaches of St. Tropez and Cannes, on the French Riviera.
Wherever you go in France you're going to eat exceptionally well. It isn't all escargot (snails) on the menu--try some Ratatouille, even though it's a "peasant" dish.
Wine is the drink of choice in France, and places like Burgundy produce some of the best. This is also a cafe culture, so a nice cup of coffee (with a croissant, of course) is never a bad idea.
If you're seeking nightlife, Paris and other cities in France can accommodate, since Nightclubs and discos are found all over the place.
Despite France's size, getting around is quite easy. Domestic flights to/from Paris are available, and the rail system is fast, safe, and efficient. Within Paris, the public transportation system brings you to just about anywhere you want to go. Some of France's smaller towns are best explored on foot, but driving from place to place is easy in part thanks to its excellent road system.
For the most part you'll need a Passport or European Union Identity Card for admission into France. If you're driving across the border from places like Belgium, you might not be asked for it (thanks to the open borders within the EU), but you must carry it with you.
Charles De Gaulle said once, "how do you describe a country with 365 kinds of cheese", and for the most part he was right. How do you describe a country with excellent food, historical sites, islands like Corsica, and where skiing the French Alps can be the highlight of your life?
No wonder some say the French are persnickety...they've earned the right with how wonderful their country is.
Photo by Chris Karidis