The world’s favourite tourist destination wears its crown lightly. The French are only too aware of their own country’s peculiar appeal but ask them what it is that makes their country special and they’ll probably pass it off with a typical Gallic shrug.
Long before the invasion of the second-homes brigade from the UK, long before the newly-rich rock stars of the sixties came, saw and caroused on the beaches of the Cote d’Azur, even before the country began to make a lasting impression on Impressionist painters such as Van Gogh, Gauguin and Renoir, France knew she had considerable kerb appeal. She knew she could woo incomers with effortless ease.
The miles of fabulous beaches, the towering snow-capped peaks, the bottomless gorges, meandering rivers and acres and acre upon acre of undulating vineyards, the fairytale castles and enchanting medieval towns, the unrivalled culinary heritage, the legendary viniculture – these are all apparent on a first or second viewing. Scratch beneath that insouciant surface and France really begins to reveal her charms: the easy conviviality and relaxed manner, the passion for the good things in life. Joie de vivre they call it.
The main attractions are tangible enough: the chateaux of the Loire Valley, the rugged appeal of Brittany’s storm-lashed coastline, the chic resorts of Provence’s Cote d’Azur, the ancient Cathar towns and villages of Languedoc , the serene beauty of rural Dordogne. The list goes on. But there’s something else. A certain je ne sais quoi. France somehow manages to be more than the sum of its parts.