France is the worlds number one tourist destination, and its not hard to understand why. France has it all - or more or less. It has tourist sights for all tastes.
France has some of the greatest beaches in Europe, as well as the highest mountains and the finest historic monuments, the most beautiful cities, the most idyllic countryside, the most magnificent castles, the finest rivers, and plenty more, not to mention some of the best restaurants and the finest wines and more hotels than any other country in Europe.
France has something for everyone, which is one of the reasons why it remains the world's number one tourist destination. It has magnificent holiday opportunities for everything from a short weekend city break, in places such as Paris, Nice or Bordeaux, to a relaxed family holiday in a gite in the countryside, a week or two's relaxation by the seaside, or an energetic break hiking, climbing, kayaking or cycling in France's great outdoors.
Area: 551 602 sq km
Population: 64 million
Currency: Euro (€, EUR)
Electricity: 220 V, 50 Hz
Time Zone: Central European Time
Telephone Area Code: +33
Location & Climate
France is a country located in Western Europe. Clockwise from the north, France borders Belgium and Luxembourg to the northeast, Germany and Switzerland to the east, Italy to the south-east and Spain to the south-west, across the Pyrenees mountain range (the small country of Andorra lies in between the two countries). The Mediterranean Sea lies to the south of France, with the Principality of Monaco forming a small enclave. To the west, France has a long Atlantic Ocean coastline, while to the north lies the English Channel, across which lies the last of France's neighbours, England (part of the United Kingdom).
Three types of climate may be found within France: oceanic, continental, and Mediterranean. The oceanic climate, prevailing in the western parts of the country, is one of small temperature range, ample rainfall, cool summers, and cool but seldom very cold winters. The continental type of climate, found over much of eastern and central France, adjoining its long common boundary with west-central Europe, is characterized by warmer summers and colder winters than areas farther west; rainfall is ample, and winters tend to be snowy, especially in the higher areas. The Mediterranean climate, widespread throughout the south of France (except in the mountainous southwest), is one of cool winters, hot summers, and limited rainfall. The mean temperature is about 11° C at Paris and 15° C at Nice. In central and southern France, annual rainfall is light to moderate, ranging from about 68 cm at Paris to 100 cm at Bordeaux. Rainfall is heavy in Brittany, the northern coastal areas, and the mountainous areas, where it reaches more than 112 cm.
Since prehistoric times, France has been a crossroads of trade, travel, and invasion. Three basic European ethnic stocks - Celtic, Latin, and Teutonic (Frankish) - have blended over the centuries to make up its present population. France's birth rate was among the highest in Europe from 1945 until the late 1960s. Since then, its birth rate has fallen but remains higher than that of most other west European countries. Traditionally, France has had a high level of immigration.
France was one of the earliest countries to progress from feudalism to the nation-state. Its monarchs surrounded themselves with capable ministers, and French armies were among the most innovative, disciplined, and professional of their day. During the reign of Louis XIV (1643-1715), France was the dominant power in Europe. But overly ambitious projects and military campaigns of Louis and his successors led to chronic financial problems in the 18th century. Deteriorating economic conditions and popular resentment against the complicated system of privileges granted the nobility and clerics were among the principal causes of the French Revolution (1789-94). Although the revolutionaries advocated republican and egalitarian principles of government, France reverted to forms of absolute rule or constitutional monarchy four times--the Empire of Napoleon, the Restoration of Louis XVIII, the reign of Louis-Philippe, and the Second Empire of Napoleon III. After the Franco-Prussian War (1870), the Third Republic was established and lasted until the military defeat of 1940.
Education is free, beginning at age 2, and mandatory between ages 6 and 16. The public education system is highly centralized. Private education is primarily Roman Catholic. Higher education in France began with the founding of the University of Paris in 1150. It now consists of 91 public universities and 175 professional schools, including the post-graduate Grandes Ecoles. Private, college-level institutions focusing on business and management with curriculums structured on the American system of credits and semesters have been growing in recent years.
The French language derives from the vernacular Latin spoken by the Romans in Gaul, although it includes many Celtic and Germanic words. Historically, French has been used as the international language of diplomacy and commerce. Today it remains one of six official languages at the United Nations and has been a unifying factor in Africa, Asia, the Pacific, and the Caribbean.
The government does not keep statistics on religious affiliation; according to a January 2007 poll, 51% of respondents describe themselves as Catholic, and another 31% describe themselves as having no religious affiliation. There also are Muslim, Protestant, and Jewish minorities. France is home to both the largest Muslim and Jewish populations in Europe. More than 1 million Muslims immigrated to France in the 1960s and early 1970s from North Africa, especially Algeria. In 2004, there were over 6 million Muslims, largely of North African descent, living in France.
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