France, commonly referred to by its inhabitants as "the Hexagon," because of its shape, is one of the largest countries in Europe, and undoubtedly one of the most visited in the world. But what are the reasons for so much celebrity? Very probably it is not its inhabitants, that a very debatable common place, but now widespread, wants a bit pretentious, arrogant and parochial. Even less are the costs related to food and lodging, equal to those that can be found in Italy. Yet France (and its inhabitants) is not indifferent. We go and return, bewitched by a certain "je ne sais quoi".
Because, being a fairly large country, it offers an immense landscape diversity: ranging from the enchanted Brocéliande forest in Brittany to the warm and crowded beaches of the Cote d'Azur, from the majestic snow-capped mountains of Savoy to the coast beaten by winds and tides of the Basque Coast
For the ease with which you can get there and move there once: 6 major international airports (including 2 in Paris, Bordeaux, Lille, Lyon, Nice and Toulouse), an efficient TGV line and, locally, a more extensive TER network, guaranteeing rapid connections between the major cities.
Because France is the expression of a culture that knows how to project itself into the future and think about great works without neglecting the joy of small things and at the same time knows how to take care of the past. In no other place, as in France, the patrimony - whether artistic, cultural or landscape - is highlighted, enhanced and made accessible to the visitor.
Because in France there is always something to do or see: festivals, concerts, small village festivals, there is something for everyone. Just jump into what an institution is here: the Office de Tourisme. There is at least one in each city, no matter how small, and there is all sorts of information and often free maps and leaflets.
Because, if you scrupulously avoid ordering pasta or coffee, you eat (and drink) well.
Why children are treated like royalty: In practically every restaurant there is a "special enfant menu", and in most museums or tourist sites there are recreational-educational paths suitable for children.
WHAT TO SEE ABSOLUTELY (BEYOND PARIS)
La vallée des Merveilles, in the heart of the Mercantour National Park, with its rock carvings in summer. Special tip: book the refuge (or hotel) well in advance. The perched villages of the French Riviera in spring and autumn. Les îles d´or of Port Cros and Porquerolles, an immersion in wild nature and a total disorientation at 20 minutes by boat, ideal from spring to late autumn. Special tip: Scuba diving enthusiasts will not be disappointed by the Port Cros underwater trail. The lavender fields of the Plateau of Valensole and Castellane from June to July. Special tip: the period of lavender harvesting may vary slightly from one year to the next, so it is best to inquire in advance at the tourist office to avoid bitter disappointment.
The Colorado Provençal of Rustrel, in the Luberon regional park (beautiful all year round especially at sunset) The Calanques national park near Marseille, accessible both by sea and by land. Special tip: if you go by land, take lots of water with you. The Gorges of the Verdon (best to avoid the hottest months, if you want to follow them on foot), the Camargue and its traditional feast of gypsies in late May. Special tip: don't forget the insect repellent and the binoculars to observe the avifauna. Carcassonne and the Cathar countries rich in ancient history and still full of unsolved mysteries
The Basque Country and their hinterland, to be discovered perhaps by witnessing a game of pelota. The Périgord with its villages and castles that seem to come from a storybook. Special tip: the car is essential here.
Annecy, a romantic city on the shores of the lake and surrounded by mountains. To visit with your better half. Discover the Auvergne volcanoes on foot, by mountain bike, on horseback or (and let's have a treat) in a hot air balloon. Cycling along the Loire to discover its famous castles. Visit the Christmas markets in Alsace. Immerse yourself in the festive and convivial atmosphere of Lille, and eat like a Ch'ti in one of the many local trattorias called "estaminet".
Do not schedule museum visits on Tuesdays because it is closing day. If you enter a shop or ask a passerby for information, remember to recite the magic formula "Bonjour Madame or Bonjour Monsieur, s'il vous plaît ..." and then make your request. The French are more formal than us Italians and they care about these courtesy demonstrations (or ostentations) ...