The most popular tourism destination in the world for several years running, France may see its position fall in the coming year as a result of the shocking events of November 2015. In this context, it’s important to remind ourselves of some of the reasons why France attracts…
1. The Variety:Within Europe, there is no country with the variety of landscape, people and culture that France possess. We’re not talking about its multi-layered multi-multiculturalism either. Compare a Breton with a Corsican or a Toulouse rugby man with a chips-and-battered-fish man from Lille. It’s a collection of countries within the biggest country in the EU.
2. Euro 2016:
This is a big year for France, make no mistake. Although many of the areas most commonly frequented by Irish tourists (i.e. the West Coast) will not be hosting matches, the atmosphere of the great soccer championships (last held in France in 1984 when they won) is sure to permeate every region, every village, every PMU bar, every man and every woman in this country that is often ambivalent to sport but which knows how to get behind its national soccer team. For the first time ever, we have soccer representation from the entire island of Ireland at a major football tournament. The Republic of Ireland will be playing in Paris, Bordeaux and Lille and Northern Ireland will be playing in Paris, Lyon and Nice.
3. Cultural Heritage:
There are so few countries in the world that look after their monuments with such care and devotion as the French do. France had a Ministry of Culture long before everyone else stopped thinking that it was silly. There are 41 UNESCO World Heritage sites in the country. Sure, it might lag behind Italy with its 51, but the condition and splendour of their places of historical fascination is unparalleled. Also, the cost involved in accessing them is kept mercifully low.
4. The Women:
One has to be careful here but there are few Irish people – men and women alike – who will deny that French ladies effuse a certain je-ne-sais-quoi in the way they carry themselves. A scan through a photographic list of French film stars quickly confirms that there is no shortage of beauty in France (consider Emmanuelle Beart, Audrey Tautou, Sophie Marceau or even Catherine Deneuve).
5. Skiing:Not only does France have the highest mountain in the EU (Mont Blanc), it also has the highest number of ski resorts and the greatest number of kilometres of pistes of any country in the world. The massive investment that has been pumped into the resort infrastructure means that everywhere you go, you will find superb modern facilities, expertly maintained and signposted pistes and ski-in-ski-out accommodation.
While one might crib at the cost of using the motorway system (and it’s one that gets more expensive as you go further south), you can’t complain of its quality. It’s the area of public transport, however, where the French have always been ahead of the game. The trains generally run on time and are comfortable and efficient. The national rail network was hacked away somewhat during the 1960s but unlike our own version, it still extends well into the rural parts of the country. All the cities have superb local transport that is deliberately affordable for the common man. Oh, and they also have a network of TGV trains – the fastest ones on earth.
7. Bike-friendliness:Whether you’re just planning to potter about from a campsite base with the family or going full-on for a Tour de France- style all-bike holiday, you’ll find France one of the most bicycle-friendly countries in the world. Over the last decade, the country has gone from being not too bothered with bike lanes to certifiably bike-lane crazy. In 2010, they embarked on a national programme to have over 26,000km of quality bike lanes in the country. They’re already more than half way there and cities such as Nantes or Bordeaux have already set standards that leave the Dutch slack-jawed with envy.
8. More English Speakers:
While it’s always advisable to speak something of the language of any country you visit (you generally get treated well if you treat people with respect), for the average Irish visitor, English will be the main language spoken in navigating around France. Nowadays, the average Frenchman is ten times more likely to at least attempt to converse with you in English than his counterpart from a couple of decades back. Tourism authorities everywhere have long recognised the importance of English as an international communication language and you’ll find that English is fast becoming the country’s second language.
9. Eating and Drinking:
It’s hard to know just where the notion that “France has had it” came from. It’s probably just jealousy because there is no other country where basic culinary skills are such common currency. If you look around and ask around (without relying on the often-unreliable Tripadvisor), you’ll find quality at great value – something that will be particularly appreciated by Irish visitors. The economy is growing in France right now but at a very slow rate and this will mean that price inflation is set to remain very low, so the good value will continue in 2016. And as for the wine? Forget your New World imitations… France is still where it’s at. Bring the car and fill it to the brim.
10. The Weather:
We almost forgot to mention it. What is there to say about the weather in France? It certainly has plenty of variety but if you examine the skin tones of even the people who live in the cooler, more northerly regions, you’ll notice that they’re a lot more tanned than the average Irish person. Whether you dream of the bracing Atlantic down in Biarritz, the Mediterranean coastline or the mysterious blue of the Lac de Sainte-Croix (see main photo), the weather is generally good and it can make all the difference in a holiday.