The ideal summer destination is sitting on Ireland's doorstep. So here's ten great reasons to visit France in 2012.
Cote d’Azur: The playground of the rich and famous, France’s Mediterranean coast is one of the top European holiday resorts year on year. Nice, Cannes, St Tropez, Antibes, Villefranche, the list of top class destinations is endless. Sailing trips or cruise ships will take you out on the Med along the Cote D'Azur or over to either of the islands just off the coast of Cannes, Ste Honorat or Ste Marguerite. Or venture inland to some of the old Roman towns that are no more than an hour's drive from the coast. And take a day to explore the principality of Monaco and enjoy a night out in Monte Carlo, but bring the credit card.
Brittany: The rugged coast of northwest France is rooted in Celtic tradition. The region boasts the longest coastline in France and it offers a wide variety of landscapes, from the exotic rocks on the Granite Rose coast, to the idyllic beaches of Morbihan. The fortified city of Saint-Malo is worth visiting where you can stroll the ramparts of the spectacular old town offering excellent coastal views. Elsewhere in Brittany, the Carnac stones are one of the most renowned megalithic sites in Europe, while a trip to the region cannot be completed without taking a boat trip out to one of the many islands located just off the coast. Belle Île is the largest island and one of the most popular, and proved a great source of inspiration to many writers and artists including impressionist painter Claude Monet.
Rhone Alps: In winter the region boasts some of the best ski resorts in the world, however, the change of seasons sees the Rhone Alps area transform into an adventure playground for anyone looking for outdoor pursuits and high octane activities. The region is also blessed with a plethora of beautiful spa towns and lakeside villages. Aix les Bains in the heart of the Savoie is situated on the edge of Lake Bourget, the largest natural lake in France, while Annecy boasts beautiful lake and mountain scenery. Evian sits on the bank of Lake Geneva and is surrounded by the inspiring Alps, Lyon is the French capital of gastronomy and listed as a UNESCO world heritage city, while Grenoble, Vienne and Romans are also great holiday destinations.
Alsace: The medieval town of Strasbourg is the capital of the Alsace region and is over 2,000 years old. The pedestrianised town centre is a tourist’s paradise as you can wander the markets and marvel at the wooden-beamed buildings that bind the picturesque streets into a breathtaking city. The cathedral will be omnipresent during your trip as you'll pass it several times every day wandering about the old town. But do go in and marvel at the majestic building and try to get up the tower to experience the view. It is definitely worth the traipse up the 300 steps. Around the Alsace region the monastery of St Odile, complete with fantastic panoramas of the area and the quaint old town of Obernai are worth visiting, while the region is also famous for its beer and white wine.
The Basque Country: Spilling over the border, a small chunk of the Basque Country resides in southwest France. Biarritz is the main town of the region and a long-time tourist hotspot for wealthy Parisians.The charming coastal town boasts a fantastic beach, amazing eateries and a lively nightlife. Biarritz is also one of the top surfing destinations in Europe and the thriving surf scene adds another interesting dimension to the town. Neighbouring Bayonne is a historical town that sits on the confluence of the Nive and Ardour rivers, while you can escape the crowded beaches of Biarritz and head south towards the Spanish border to one of the many seaside towns within 20 minutes of Biarritz. St Jean de Luz is one of the more popular destinations, with a great beach and plenty to keep you occupied in the town centre.
Corsica: Located approximately 170 kilometres from Nice, Corsica is often described as a mountain in the sea and as a result is covered in pine forests and mountain lakes with 120 peaks above 2000m. Corsica is also home to the famous GR20 walking trail, which is amongst the toughest and most spectacular walks in Europe. Nature is one of Corsica's biggest attractions, with the Corsican Regional Natural Park stretching over 3500km². The Calanche de Piana and the Réserve Naturelle de Scandola are both UNESCO World Heritage Sites, while the Sanguinaires Islands, the Bavella Needles and the small fishing village of Centuri are just some of the many attractions in this very unique and pretty emerald green island.
Lourdes: The town of Lourdes is located at the base of the Pyrenees and attracts millions of tourists every year, being one of the most visited religious destinations in the world. Between 11 February and 16 July 1858, the Virgin Mary appeared 18 times to Bernadette Soubirous. With 200 listed hotels, Lourdes has the second largest number of hotels in France after Paris. The high season starts around Easter and finishes at the end of October. Lourdes is also a town with a rich cultural and natural heritage and it offers outdoors enthusiasts a first-class tourist destination and an ideal spot from which to explore the Pyrenees. Located on the banks of the Loire River, Nevers is another spiritually important place in France as St Bernadette’s body rests in the chapel, in a glass reliquary. Stroll along the banks of the majestic river and discover the history of porcelain of which Nevers has been the capital since the 17th century.
Avignon, Provence: The majestic Rhone River bends around the old town of Avignon and the remains of the great arched Pont d’Avignon bridge reaches about halfway across the water. Avignon is famous for the Avignon Papacy, which lasted from 1305 to 1377 when seven consecutive popes ruled from the French city. The cobblestoned courtyard of the Palais des Papes takes you into the giant gothic palace that dominates the old town. And apart from the main landmarks, the city is a joy to stroll around with interesting squares and walkways around every corner. Around Avignon you can explore the wonderful Provence region. Chateauneuf du Pape, about 20 kilometres from Avignon is one of the most famous wine regions in the world, while the old town of Orange complete with its well-preserved Roman theatre is also worth a visit. If you travel west you can explore Nimes and its famous Roman Coliseum or go south to the interesting city of Aix-en-Provence.
Joan of Arc Celebrations: In 2012, the legendary Joan of Arc is being celebrated throughout France to honour the 600th anniversary of her birth. A wide range of events are taking place, particularly in the Lorraine region, Orléans in the Loire Valley and Rouen in Normandy, due to her strong historical ties to these areas. The Siege of Orléans in 1429 was the historic battle that made Joan of Arc famous, for she ended the long siege just nine days after she arrived, tipping the 100 years war in France’s favour. Orléans hosts an annual festival dedicated to her called the Fête de Jeanne d'Arc and a new virtual exhibition has been launched, illustrating 600 portraits from all different types of artists around the world, featuring drawings, sculptures and photographs.
Le Mont Saint-Michel Located just off the coast of Normandy in northern France at the mouth of the Couesnon River, Le Mont Saint Michel has been a strategic fortification since ancient times. Listed as a World Heritage site in 1979, this eighth century gothic-style Benedictine abbey, which was dedicated to the archangel St Michael, has long been a place of pilgrimage. The site proved a stronghold throughout France's military history and played a significant part in the 100 Years War and as a result became a symbol of French national identity, while it was used as a prison for half a century after the French Revolution. The views from the mainland are spectacular, especially at night when illuminated. The grand-scale project to restore the Mont-St-Michel’s maritime setting is well underway with a new visitor centre and shuttle access to the site.
For more information about visiting France, go to www.FranceGuide.com.