Why France has been my favorite travel destination for more than 20 years

France was not always my favorite travel destination. First there was Spain, for a couple of weeks every summer. It was a family tradition. I always had fun there, on la Costa Brava, with my parents, my brother and our relatives. When that was over, we spent the rest of the summer with our grand-parents, in Southern France, and at home (wherever home was, because we moved every few years.) Then, as a middle school student, I started learning English and became enamored with Great Britain, visiting with my family – Ah, that first ferry crossing on the English Channel, the tall white cliffs of Dover appearing in the distance! – then on school trips, and later as a tour director for a European company, leader in educational travel. Finally, when I started studying the United States during my senior year in high school, I *fell* into American culture, an experience that would take me across the pond, over and over again, until I settled in the Seattle area many years ago. So many trips, so many adventures, so many happy memories!

France, I am almost embarrassed to admit, was never at the top of my list. I smiled when I heard that most French people spend their summer vacation in France, often staying with relatives and friends. “Why?” I wondered, looking longingly at the big wide world, waiting to be explored.

Photo credit: Unknown

Fast forward 30 or 40 years. I have led the expatriate life for more than 20 years now. I know I’ve been lucky to fly back home often. When I arrived in Seattle, I decided that seeing my parents or my brother was a prerequisite, a necessity, an unalienable right.  My American-born son would know his French roots, speak French, and be able to function in Europe. For me, at least, there was never any question. And so we flew to France, to Paris, (since they all live in Paris,) with the occasional side trip to Spain, or England, when we could spare a few days. After a few years, a funny thing started to happen. I wanted more. Paris, and the family were not enough. I wanted to see France, to go back to those cities where we had lived and explore new areas. And so, during each trip, I started stealing a few precious days away from family time, and traveled around la Belle France, cherishing moments when I could be a tourist, looking at my homeland with a renewed sense of wonder, as first time visitors do. How much fun I have had, falling in love with France all over again! Every summer, my American friends travel to exotic locations, or take long trips across the United States. I enjoy listening to their travel stories, but I do not envy them. If you gave me an extra week off, and enough money to cover my airfare today, France is where I would go, in a heartbeat.

Enjoying a French breakfast in Nice last summer

It seems I am not the only one enjoying la Belle France. This summer, (FGIS note: story written in 2014,) the French government announced that with over 84 million foreign visitors in 2013 alone, my homeland remains the most visited country in the world, and by a pretty large margin. The international media enthusiastically embraced the story and tried to analyze the reasons for France’s enduring popularity. I shared this article with the French Girl in Seattle Facebook community, and many attempted to answer the question: Why is France so popular? Opinions included: romance, art, gastronomy, history, cultureOthers gushed about “France’s allure,” and “the ephemeral feeling of Frenchness,” palpable all over the country. Matt Long, the story’s author, concluded: “France {Paris} fulfills the promise of Europe, even for Europeans.”

Fabulous French food: Le Café gourmand

I agreed with most of these comments. How could I not? So I went back to my favorite photo library, the place where I keep all these snapshots of favorite French trips. And I came up with The Top Ten Reasons why France is my favorite travel destination.

1. Food, glorious French food

Yes, it can be that good. I am not a foodie, but there are classics I crave all year, and happily indulge in as soon as I set a foot in my homeland. This won’t come as a surprise if you read this story.

Escargots de Bourgogne… et baguette
(you need bread to soak up the delicious,  fragrant sauce.) 
Galette bretonne (savory crêpe) Cidre brut de Normandie 
Salade périgourdine 

2. France is a modern country, where one can get lost in time

In the land of the T.G.V. (high speed train,) the soaring Millau Viaduct, and credit card chip technology, there is also a healthy respect for tradition. Often, the past re-appears in the blink of an eye.

Gardeners, Versailles gardens Orangerie
Looking at life through the roof of an iconic Deuche (2CV) 
A rose named after a beloved author
Jardins de Bagatelle, Paris


3. Hanging out in a Renoir painting (just another day at the office.)

La Maison Fournaise, Presqu’Ile de Chatou
(My office was in one of these buildings across the Seine river.) 
Maison Fournaise:
The terrace, as pictured in Renoir’s Luncheon of the Boating Party


4. It’s all in the presentation

The French love of aesthetics is legendary. Everything in French life has to look/taste/sound just so, including the French language. An enduring (endearing?) quest for excellence, and elegance.

Jardin à la Française: Château de Bagatelle, Paris
Summer lunch, Gorbio, Côte d’Azur
Pâtisserie as art: Fraisier
Window displays in the nation of “lèche vitrine” (window shopping) 


5. France: Touristy yet real

Chers Français : How I love observing you as you go about your business, ignoring the crowds and commotion around you.

Vieux Nice  (Nice’s Old Town) 
Menton, le marché
Pétanque, Parc des Buttes Chaumont, Paris

6. Les Français : The people the world loves to emulate, but claims to hate, until they meet them

Argumentative. Critical. Feisty. Soulful. Educated. Direct. Culture proud. Welcoming.

Don’t change too much. You have your priorities right.

Shop window:
“I am close by. Call if you need help.” 
Spotted in a popular park:
“This area is reserved for strolling.
Joggers are tolerated as long as they don’t bother strollers.” 
Les Congés (summer vacation)
“In the summer, we take off.
We will re-open on Tuesday September 9”

7. Glorious outdoor markets

Every large neighborhood, every town has one. Food looks, smells, and tastes better when purchased at an outdoor French market. Don’t buy your picnic supplies anywhere else!


8. The French pace 

Taking the time to smell the roses without feeling guilty, ignoring those who criticize you (Les pauvres, they don’t understand,) feeling sorry for those who don’t know how to slow down (that includes les Parisiens!)

Reading…
Strolling… 
Eating; drinking; socializing…


9. French space: Small is beautiful

The French do grandeur like nobody else (Versailles? Loire valley castle anyone?) They also embrace the small, simple pleasures, and the quiet, reflective moments.

A small room with a [gorgeous] view in Toulouse.
A visit to the local market, a small table, and a picnic…
Lingering at a café terrace and watching the world go by
(for the price of a cup of espresso)
Sipping refreshing, affordable wine.
Realizing how happy you are at that precise moment


10. Things I know I will always find in France

A chair, a table, and a terrace, even on a small sidewalk.

A warm croissant and a chausson aux pommes wrapped in a small paper bag.

fragrant baguette, with a delicious quignon I will chew off on my way home



Wherever I travel – cities, villages, countryside – there will be beauty at every turn
Baie des Anges, Nice


La Belle France, the world’s favorite travel destination for more than 30 years — and mine.

A bientôt.

All photos unless otherwise noted by French Girl in Seattle

Do not reprint, use, or Pin without permission.

Thank you.


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What did you think about this article? Let me know in the comment section below, (I love reading your messages and reply to most.) Don’t be selfish and share with a friend! Merci. Véronique (French Girl in Seattle)

27 Comments

  • I finally fulfilled my dream of visiting France two years ago ( after studying the French language for six years). It was everything I dreamed it would be… And more! I am sure I sounded like a caveman, but it was fun to “try” to speak French while I was there. Everyone I met was kind and patient with me (even if I was butchering their lovely language). From Normandy, to Paris, to Provence – I LOVED it all. I cannot wait to return someday (hopefully soon).

    • Bonjour Michelle. Thank you for stopping by. You did things in the right order: Learning about the culture and the language before visiting the country. As a result, you had a wonderful experience in France. You “hit” some classics on that first trip. Next time, venture out a bit and explore other areas. You will love it just as much, I promise.

  • I recently discovered your blog and enjoy your insights ‘re French life. It’s a coincidence that I just returned from a trip to Nice which reminded me how nice France can be. I’ve tended to visit Italy more in recent years for all the reasons you cite but will definitely be back to France soon. Also enjoyed speaking french again.
    .Loved your photos Merci beaucoup.

    • Dear Anon. Thank you for your kind comment. I can see how many of the points I raised could apply to Italy and France. I need to spend more time in Italy myself, but la Belle France is forever tugging at my sleeve, pulling me in when I attempt to leave. Come back soon!

  • This was the most tender of love letters to your homeland and ,I as so many others, could not agree more with each and every point! WELL SAI DEAR V and as ALWAYS well written well presented.

    • Dear g. How wonderful to hear from you again. You have been quiet lately, but I was hoping you were still visiting the blog or the Facebook page to check on me, as always. Thank you for the kind comments. A love letter to France. I guess that is what this story is. 🙂

    • yes I read and re-read- including comments- I can never get enough… just has been a busy and not in the good way, not bad either- just business errands etc barely time to breath and after sept it should calm down I AM HERE always love your postings-YOU ARE THE BEST!!

  • Beautifully written – you really capture why I love it here so much!! Especially the enjoy every moment and savor the delicious fresh wonderful food!! It’s really such a wonderful life and even though the French have “their ways” and often tons of bureaucracy – one can overlook so much of that for all the reasons you state! Have a great week!

    • Merci beaucoup Jennifer. I am so happy you enjoy your life in France– granted you live in a beautiful area. I always appreciate your positive outlook on things. You and I know that, as an expat, it is easy to go to the “dark side” — maybe because criticism makes for better copy? 😉 Good for you for keeping a positive – and open-minded – outlook. Bonne semaine à Bordeaux.

  • Hello Veronique

    It is curious how absence makes us appreciate the land of our birth. I can see how you would return to France in a heart beat. There is so much to see and do and even in one lifetime once cannot do it.
    Have a glorious week

    Helen x

    • My dear Helen: Thank you for stopping by today. I always enjoy your visits. You are right: It would take a lifetime to see all the beauty France has to offer – and all the quirks too – Darn. I am going to plan to spend a lot more time there over the next few years. 😉

  • Dearest Véronique,
    Having just come home on a flight from Phoenix, AZ, where we made several trips throughout the state, this looooooooooooong post did make my eyes very tired.
    Lovely yes, I agree with all of it and mainly my online boutique clients mainly buy things made in France. Most of my things are purely French as the fabrics and everything is so unique. Sure there is a lot of fake French out there, made in China but the true connaisseur can easily tell the difference!
    Sending you hugs and you do look great by the way.
    Mariette

    • Merci beaucoup Mariette. Sorry the long post made your eyes tired. At least it did not put you to sleep. I would have felt bad otherwise 😉 Your store does offer a beautiful selection of fine French items. That is why you are so successful. A bientôt.

  • Salut ma grande fille:je viens de lire tes reportages sur ton voyage en France et je comprends que toutes les personnes qui y sont allées soient d’accord avec toi car entre les photos et les commentaires on ait envie d’y aller!!! bravo ,ma grande et bisous de mom!!!!!!!!!

  • Just loved this article and your beautiful photos. It truly captured everything I love about your glorious homeland and it is with utter joy in my heart that I look forward to spending 7 weeks there next year! Thank you, once again, for sharing your love of France with us!

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