|Somewhere in Versailles, France|
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; 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 19 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 almost 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 – the horror! – were not enough. I wanted to see France; go back to those cities where we had lived; 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; cherished 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, the French government announced that with over 84 million foreign visitors in 2013 alone, my homeland, remains, once again, 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,” “Culture.” Others 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 experiences. 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 my last story.
|Escargots de Bourgogne… et baguette
(you need bread to soak up the delicious, fragrant sauce.)
|Galette bretonne (savory crêpe) Cidre brut de Normandie|
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.)
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, and 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.
“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 some Parisiens!)
|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.
|Baie des Anges, Nice|
La Belle France, the world’s favorite travel destination for 20 years — and mine.