It is a fabled land of unmatched food and delicious wine that has inspired many private jet charter to France travelers to gasp in contentment—"We all have two countries—our own and France!" But it is not just a country for those who worship at the altar of cuisine. The sheer beauty of the rose-color rooftops, the immaculately restored farm houses, its architecture, cultivated scenery, and historic hearts give justice to the sentiment. Not to mention those glorious hidden landscapes that only those lucky few ever discover.
Must See: Similar to most other Western European countries, trying to find just one or two individual must-sees in a land as expansive, rich in history and culture such as France is folly. As with any destination, looking at each alternative and making decisions as to what your priorities are is the only way to plan. Any list of the biggest standouts however will almost always include the Louvre, in Paris. Home to art's most photogenic beauties - the Mona Lisa, Venus de Milo, and the Winged Victory - this is not only the largest palace in France but also the most important museum in the world. There are a large number of guides written to assist visitors in planning their trips to the Louvre, not surprising considering the museum is absolutely massive-with 35,000 works of art and 380,000 museum objects to see. It would take an entire day simply to walk the entire museum, never mind seeing any of the art! A game plan before you go is an absolute must. Another quick tip: Of course, no trip to the Louvre is complete without seeing the Mona Lisa and the Venus de Milo. However the Louvre have a habit of moving these masterpieces around the building at short notice, so if you want to avoid wandering endless galleries needlessly, then take a quick look at their website before you visit www.louvre.fr.
Lodging: There are many spectacular hotel options throughout France, but perhaps none better than the Four Seasons Hotel George V, Paris. The Four Seasons is an eight-story landmark built in 1928, offering 244 luxury hotel guest rooms, an exquisite art collection and decadent fine dining just steps from the Champs-Elysées. With private terraces that command all of Paris, lovingly restored 18th-century tapestries, and a defining spirit of elegance and charm, Four Seasons Hotel George V, Paris redefines luxury in the City of Light.
Ground Transportation: The French transportation system is one of the best in Western Europe. French railways, which were nationalized just before World War II, carry a somewhat greater ton-mileage load of freight than do those of Germany, and French passenger mileage is also slightly greater than that of its Eastern neighbor. The government has used low freight rates to stimulate economic activity, and passenger rates have been kept artificially low to make traveling easier for the lower income groups.
In addition, the state has electrified the busiest lines. It has also developed Europe's fastest passenger train, the high-speed Train Ã Grande Vitesse (TGV); it began operation in 1981 on a specially built Paris-Lyon track, where it cruises at up to 185 miles per hour.
Completed in 1994 by a joint partnership between French and British companies, the English Channel Tunnel or "Chunnel" established the first direct rail link between France and Great Britain. Average travel time between Paris and London via the Chunnel is about 3 hours. Highways in France are not as developed as one would possibly assume for a modern European nation, due to the relatively thinly populated countryside, though it has improved greatly as of late.
Recommended Books: The Secret Life of France, Lucy Wadham (2009). A candid and funny account of the author's long and tumultuous love affair with France, her adoptive home. Wadham shares her discoveries on the varied differences between Anglo-Saxon and French worldviews, beginning with her own romantic relationship in France, where both sexes are required to act out the sort of seduction games that disappeared from English society centuries ago. French attitudes towards sex, marriage, adultery, money, work, happiness, war and race are all explored, and in so doing she reveals much about our own priorities and the nature of our identity.
Currency: The Euro is the local currency
Calling Code France: 011 + 33 + phone number (may begin with 0; all are 9 digits)
Best Travel Dates and Packing Tips: The best time for visitors to come to Paris is spring or fall, when things are easier to come by, from Métro seats to good-tempered waiters. The weather is temperate year-round. July and August are the worst for crowds, and Parisians desert their city, leaving it to the tourists during this time.
Hotels used to charge off-season rates during the cold, rainy period from November to February; now, they're often packed with business travelers, trade fairs, and winter tour groups, and hoteliers have less incentive to offer discounts. In even-numbered years, don't come to Paris during the first 2 weeks of October without a confirmed hotel room. The weather's fine, but the city is jammed for the auto show.
France's weather varies from region to region and even from town to town. Despite its latitude, Paris never gets very cold; snow is rare. The hands-down winner for wetness is Brittany, which receives a staggering amount of rain between October and December. Rain usually falls in a steady, foggy drizzle and rarely lasts more than a day. Summers are comfortably dry in most parts of the country in summer, May is the driest month. The Mediterranean coast in the south has the driest climate. When it does rain, it's heaviest in spring and autumn.
One of the single most important things you will need in France is the ability to speak French. You are bound to need to ask directions or read a sign or a menu that is only in French, and the citizens (some of them) are notorious for refusing to speak English simply on principal, unlike most other countries throughout the world. If you don't have a translator, you could truly regret it! The Lingo Voyager Talking Translator is one of the most highly rated.