France

Walking in Paris under the moonlight is almost like floating on the moon. Everything is viewed from a different perspective. The lights have a special glow that reflects the cobblestone streets until the Eiffel Tower illuminates the city with its incandescent, spectacular lightshow. A walk along the Seine on a Friday night can be full of pleasant surprises like tango dancers swaying to the rhythm of the “bandoleon”. And while this gem is, without a doubt, an important stop on any trip to France, it's not by any means all that the country has to offer. After visiting the voluminous Versailles, the Gothic Notre Dame Cathedral on the Ile de la Cite, the elevated Montmartre and other fascinating destinations in or around Paris, many tourists pack their newly purchased chic shoes and scarves and hop a train heading south to more desirable weather. A different French lifestyle is offered at the glamorous Cote d’Azur, or blue coast, where the clear water has heavy traffic of yachts that belong to the rich and often famous. But it’s not all caviar dreams for everyone. With a high population of North African expats, the city of Marseilles has a more “real life” feeling than its often superficial neighbors. The city also has tourist attractions like boat rides from Vieux Port, the ornate basilica Notre Dame de la Garde and a fortress-turned-prison, Chateau D’If. This is a dynamic, diverse city with a wide selection of ethnic restaurants, though many crave the rich French cuisine that includes Julia Child’s favorite sole meuniere, French potato salad and crepes a la carte. Leaving the glorious south is always challenging, especially when heading to climb the frigid Alps. The areas near the Alps are generally not as culturally intriguing and the weather not as pleasant, but the mountains are breathtaking and the skiing among the best in the world. ~ Jason Trinidad Pucheu


The Alsace: All Around Satisfying

The town of Colmar in AlsaceThe Alsace in France is a delightful little treat, a lush fertile patch of land that runs along-side the Rhine, hovering along the French-German border. With a long history of being overtaken by Germans and then reclaimed back by the French, the culture and language is a mixture of the two, though it's the even longer tradition of wine making that makes the region famous. The Alsace can be visited at any time of year, with many historical villages to see between the larger towns of Strasbourg and Colmar. Autumn is the peak time for visiting, though, when the plump grapes are bursting with ripeness and there is just no choice but to stop to taste the wines that are on offer.

The towns of Strasbourg and Colmar are easily accessible by train from surrounding regions and are both worth a visit for their historical old-town centres and grand Cathedrals. Colmar in particular is charming, with canals running through the main streets and many side-streets to explore and stumble across some shopping bargains. It is a manageable size to visit by foot, although there are sight-seeing trams that can take you around and point out the highlights. Accommodation in the area is relatively easy to find, although it is worth booking ahead on weekends or in peak season. You will be able to find a double room from €50-60 upwards, depending on the season.

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 Full name: French Republic

 Population: 65.63 million (CIA, 2012)

 Capital: Paris

 Largest city: Paris

 Area: 643,801 sq.km. (248,573 sq. mi.)

 Major languages: French

 Major religions: Roman Catholic, Protestant,  Jewish, Muslim, Other 

 Monetary unit: Euro

 GDP per capita: US $35,000

 Internet domain: .re

 International dialling code: +33

 Source: CIA World Factbook