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France

As the late French president Charles de Gaulle once remarked, ‘How could one describe a country which has 365 kinds of cheese?’ There are myriad attractions in this deeply compelling and multifaceted land that draw millions of visitors back year after year. France’s charms are manifest, whether it is the chic boulevards of Paris, the sparkling ski slopes of the Alps, sunlit vineyards and sun-baked beaches, a dusty game of boules, or coffee and croissants in an undiscovered village. Or perhaps a tour of the majestic chateaux of the Loire, the glamorous jet-set lifestyle of the Mediterranean, or a relaxing picnic in Provence, where the air is fragrant with wild herbs and lavender? Consider also the delights of other lesser-known regions such as Franche-Comté, Gascony or Berry, deep in the green heart of France - regions firmly rooted to the land, whose sleepy villages offer visitors a chance to sample life in provincial France, and the unspoilt and rugged atmosphere of the island of Corsica, described as ‘a mountain in the sea’.

Practical Information

Area: 545 630 km² (339 054 miles²)

Capital: Paris. Population: 12.7 million

Population: 60.9 million

Currency: Euro (EUR symbol Eur) = 100 cents

Government: Republic since 1792.

Tipping: A 12 to 15% service charge is normally added to the bill in hotels, restaurants and bars, but it is customary to leave small change with the payment.

Legal drinking age: 18 Minors are allowed to go into bars if accompanied by an adult but they will not be served alcohol

Time zone: GMT + 1 (GMT + 2 from last Sunday in March to last Sunday in October)

Languages: French

Additional descriptions

France: Social customs

Shaking hands and, more familiarly, kissing both cheeks, are the usual forms of greeting. The form of personal address is simply Monsieur or Madame without a surname and it may take time to get on first-nameRead more terms. At more formal dinners, it is the most important guest or host who gives the signal to start eating. Mealtimes are often a long, leisurely experience. Casual wear is common. Social functions, some clubs, casinos and exclusive restaurants warrant more formal attire. Evening wear is normally specified where required. Topless sunbathing is tolerated on most beaches but naturism is restricted to certain beaches - local tourist offices will advise where these are. A ban on smoking in workplaces (including airports, railway stations, shops and offices etc) came into force in February 2007. Bars and restaurants have been given until December 2007 to comply with the new law.

France: Food and local specialties

With the exception of China, France has a more varied and developed cuisine than any other country. Things to know: Almost all restaurants offer two types of meal: à la carte (extensive choice for eachRead more course and more expensive) and le menu (a set meal at a fixed price with dishes selected from the full à la carte menu). The national specialties are: Ratatouille niçoise (stew of courgettes, tomatoes and aubergines), in the north of France fish and shellfish are the star features in menus, Alsace and Lorraine are the lands of choucroute (sauerkraut) and kugelhof (a special cake), quiche lorraine and tarte flambée (onion tart), Lyon is the heartland of French cuisine, though the food is often more rich than elaborate. A speciality of this area is quenelles de brochet (pounded pike formed into sausage shapes and usually served with a rich crayfish sauce). Desserts include: soufflé grand-marnier, oeufs à la neige (meringues floating on custard), mille feuilles (layers of flaky pastry and custard cream), ganache (chocolate cream biscuit), and fruit tarts and flans. Wine is the most popular alcoholic drink in France, and the choice varies according to region. Typically French apéritifs are Pastis, Ricard or Pernod. The region of Nord Pas de Calais and Picardy brews beer and cider. Alsace is said to brew the best beer in France. Coffee is always served after the meal, and will always be black, in small cups, unless a café au lait (or café crème) is requested. Brandies such as Armagnac and Cognac and liqueurs such as Chartreuse and Genepi are available.

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