No place on Earth captures travelers’ imaginations quite like France. Perhaps it’s the variety of experiences the country affords—from perusing museums in Paris, to strolling along the palm-tree-lined promenades of the Riviera, to driving through countryside straight out of an Impressionist painting. Or maybe, it’s a fascination with France’s flair for the finer things. (This is, after all, the land that birthed cultural icons like Claude Monet, Edith Piaf, and Coco Chanel.) Bold wine, lyrical chanson music, delicate crepes, lace-curtained cafés—these luxuries are the epitome of French art de vivre (art of living).
For all its chic sophistication, however, France is not without conflict: On July 14, 1789, bloody Bastille Day toppled a monarchy and launched a ten-year revolution that reverberated around the world. From 1804 to 1815, scheming Napoleon Bonaparte went toe to toe with the rest of Europe as he built his empire. And in 1940, the Nazis absorbed France into their axis, dooming some 160,000 civilians and thousands more soldiers. But through it all, France has endured, even thrived—reveling in the prosperity of the Belle Époque and helping to found NATO. In many ways, this interminable grace under pressure adds to the country’s allure. Because at the end of the day, France will always be romantically, stylishly, undeniably French.
Most Popular Films
Films featuring France from international, independent filmmakers
Château de Versailles
We’ve been working with independent international filmmakers to provide you with videos that portray the people, culture, and lifestyles of the countries you're interested in visiting. We believe this video offers a unique perspective on France.Produced by Michael Gisselere
Intersection: Haut Marais, Paris
Travel to Haut Marais to get some tips from locals on how to master the effortless Parisian style.
Produced by Stefania Rousselle
©2014 The New York Times
We’ve been working with independent international filmmakers to provide you with films that portray the people, culture, and lifestyles of the countries you're interested in visiting. We believe this film offers a unique perspective on Paris.Produced by Emeric Livinec
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Immerse yourself in France with this selection of articles, recipes, and more
Not quite French, not quite Italian, Corsica is difficult to categorize—as are its people. Learn why for yourself.
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Small Ship Adventure
Days in France
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Days in France
5 NIGHTS FROM $1,795
PRE-TRIP EXTENSIONSouthern France: Carcassonne & Bayonne
Days in France
- Step back in time during a walking tour of fortified Carcassonne
- Experience the UNESCO World Heritage city of Albi during an optional tour
- Indulge in the culture of Bayonne, home to renowned handmade chocolate
- Enjoy an in-depth tour of the Basque country, including riverside Laressore and fiery Espelette, where red pepper is made
Southern France: Carcassonne & Bayonne
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Activity Level 1:
Travelers should be able to climb 25 stairs consecutively, plus walk at least 1-2 miles over some uneven surfaces without difficulty. Walks typically last at least 1-2 hours at a time. Altitude can range from zero to 5,000 feet.
Activity Level 2:
Travelers should be able to climb 40 stairs consecutively, plus walk at least 2-3 miles over some uneven surfaces without difficulty. Walks typically last for at least 2-3 hours at a time. Altitude can range from zero to 5,000 feet.
Activity Level 3:
Travelers should be able to climb 60 stairs consecutively, plus walk at least 3 miles over some steep slopes and loose or uneven surfaces without difficulty. Walks typically last for 3 or more hours at a time. Altitude can range from 5,000 to 7,000 feet.
Activity Level 4:
Travelers should be able to climb 80 stairs consecutively, plus walk at least 4 miles over some steep slopes and loose or uneven surfaces without difficulty. Walks typically last for 4 or more hours at a time. Altitude can range from 7,000 to 9,000 feet.
Activity Level 5:
Travelers should be able to climb 100 or more stairs consecutively, plus walk at least 8 miles over some steep slopes and loose or uneven surfaces without difficulty. Walks typically last for 4 or more hours at a time. Altitude can range from 10,000 feet or more.
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France Meets Italy in the Ligurian Sea
Corsica: curious mix of language, cuisine, and culture
by John Bregoli
Corsica is a rugged island 100 miles long, formed by a chain of mountains rising out of a northern arm of the Mediterranean in the Ligurian Sea. It boasts an ancient history, and is blessed with a wealth of natural beauty, dramatic coastlines, white-sand beaches, a lush mountainous interior, and charming hilltop hamlets—enough treasures fit for an emperor, you could say.
That emperor, of course, would be Napoleon Bonaparte. The future emperor of France was born in 1769 in the Corsican capital of Ajaccio (pronounced Ajaxxio) in 1769, and by 1810 much of Europe was under his rule. After his forced abdication in 1814, Napoleon was sent into exile—his first of two. He could have gone to Corsica, but he chose the neighboring island of Elba instead. It didn’t matter all that much to Napoleon, for he knew that on clear days he could easily see the beautiful mountains of his homeland, jutting up from the deep blue waters just a few short miles away.
The course of history would send Napoleon’s birthplace on a very unique path—resulting in a curious mix of language, cuisine, and culture.
Italian influences and the French connection
While Corsica is much closer to Italy than the French mainland, it is not an Italian island at all—it is French, and has been for 200 years. But the cultural influence of some five centuries of Genoese rule has left an indelible imprint throughout the island, from its Italianate fortresses and Tuscan-style hilltop villages to hot pizza sliding out of wood-fired ovens. Many people still choose to speak the Italian-influenced Corsican language (Corsu) rather than the official language of French. And in an apparent shun to the haute cuisine typical of mainland France, Corsicans favor heartier fare than their French counterparts. Known as cucina corsa, the food of Corsica evolved from a peasant diet begun when Corsicans fled to the island’s mountainous interior from 18th-century colonizers. In addition to the deliciously ubiquitous white cheese known as brocciu and world-renowned charcuterie, Italian classics like polenta (made from chestnut flour, rather than the usual cornmeal), lasagna, and cannelloni aren’t strangers in a Corsican kitchen.
On a darker note, Italian-style vendettas—honor killings that often lasted for generations—once took place deep in the chestnut forests of the island’s mountainous interior. And it was secretive Corsican gangs who controlled heroin trafficking between France and the U.S. from the 1950s to the early ’70s—a trade American authorities dubbed the French Connection. Even today, the imagination can catch a lingering scent of banditry mixing with the fragrant wild herbs and flowers that cover the island and waft out to sea.
But the French and Genoese are just two of the influences in Corsica’s long and tumultuous history. Corsica has been inhabited since Neolithic times—as evidenced by mystical granite menhirs (large, upright standing stones) that remain scattered in various parts of the island. With the growth of European and Mediterranean powers, Corsica’s strategic location became too tempting to resist. Armies from Carthage, Greece, Rome, Moors from North Africa, Genoa, Pisa (Genoa’s historic rival), France, Spain, and Britain would all fight on Corsican soil. This history greatly shaped the culture and identity—and fiery independent spirit—of contemporary Corsicans, as they have been battling to be free from invaders for more than 2,000 years. Corsica did enjoy one brief period of true independence, however.
By the 1750s, the island had already been controlled by the Italian Republic of Genoa for centuries. But in 1755, the Corsican patriot Pasquale Paoli succeeded in routing most of the Genoese from the island. For the first time in history, he proclaimed Corsica a sovereign nation, independent at last from the Republic of Genoa. But the Genoese, realizing they were about to lose control of the island, “sold” it to the French in a secret treaty in 1764. After Genoa began to surreptitiously replace their own soldiers for French troops, Paoli was forced to wage a guerilla war from mountain hideouts (establishing one of his bases in Corte), and in 1769 he was defeated in the Battle of Ponte Novu by vastly superior French forces—and Corsica officially became a French province in 1770. To this day, Corsicans consider Paoli the “father of the nation,” and he is held in far greater esteem than Napoleon (“He did everything for France, nothing for Corsica,” is a popular sentiment regarding Napoleon from contemporary Corsicans).
Speaking of Napoleon, if the year of Corsica’s Gallic defeat sounds familiar, it is because Bonaparte was born the 15th of August, 1769, just three months after the island succumbed to the French—and he grew up hating the nation he would one day rule. At the outbreak of the French Revolution in 1789, Napoleon would write to Paoli, who was exiled in England following his loss at Ponte Novu, to tell him of his vivid memories of Corsica’s defeat. “As the nation was perishing I was born. Thirty thousand Frenchmen were vomited on to our shores, drowning the throne of liberty in waves of blood. Such was the odious sight which was the first to strike me.” With childhood memories like that, you almost knew Bonaparte was destined for something special.
Not quite French, not quite Italian, Corsica is difficult to categorize—as are its people. Beautiful, wild, rugged, and unspoiled are all accurate, but somehow inadequate, descriptions of a place that Balzac called “a French island basking in the Italian sun.”