Paris, France © Benh Lieu Song
Wherever you choose to begin or end a sojourn in Europe's largest country, and however long you spend exploring, you'll simply be scratching the surface of this vast and varied land. France's geography stretches from rugged coastline to seemingly infinite beaches, from bustling cities to quaint rural villages and from a sun-drenched isles to luxury mountain ski resorts.
A civilisation dating back to 50,000 BC and spanning Roman and Frankish invasion, wars of power and religion, a wealthy and powerful monarchy ultimately crushed by revolution, the rise of Napoleon and a new battle between monarchy and republic, and two world wars, has left the country brimming with historical and cultural sites. Cave paintings, castles, cathedrals and battle scars are scattered across the land, yet much of the French countryside remains untouched, and traditional rural life still flourishes.
This is the country that inspired Monet's reinvention of colour, Toulouse Lautrec's portrayal of the dark underbelly of Paris society, and the haunting harmonies of Debussy. It has tantalised our taste buds with foie gras and frogs' legs, and captured the imagination of the world's jet-set with the resorts of St Tropez and Port Grimaud. Millions discover its wonders each year with a holiday in France, and rediscover the meaning of joie de vivre.