France is the largest country in the European Union and covers from the North Sea down to the Mediterranean. It features high mountains — including Mont Blanc, which is Western Europe’s highest point — and the lowlands with rivers, farms and villages and towns.
It has a representative government with the President as its head. The capital city is Paris.
France has an advanced industrial economy and a robust farm sector. Main activities include automobile manufacture, aerospace, information technology, electronics, chemicals and pharmaceuticals and fashion.
France has produced some of the continent’s most influential writers, thinkers, artists and musicians — Renoir, Monet, Cezanne, Gauguin and Matisse to name a few.
France’s cuisine is known the world over and some would say cooking and eating are part of the French culture and lifestyle.
France’s late 19th century Universal World Expositions made Paris an increasingly important center of technology, trade and tourism. One example is the Eiffel Tower, a structure that remained the world’s tallest building until 1930. The first metro line opened in 1900.
Paris is located in the north-bending arc of the river Seine and includes two islands, the Ile Saint-Louis and the larger Ile de la Cite, which form the oldest part of the city. The city is pretty much flat and the highest level of Paris is 113 feet. The city has several prominent hills, of which the highest is Montmartre at 427 feet.
The city’s weather is the typical western European oceanic climate, which is affected by the North Atlantic Current. Over a year, Paris’ climate can be described as mild and moderately wet. Summer days are usually warm and pleasant with average temperatures hovering around 75 to 80 degrees.
Paris’ population is around 2,211,000 people, but the metropolitan population is now more than 12,000,000 making it one of the most populated cites in Europe. Paris was the largest city in the Western world for about 1,000 years, prior to the 19th century and the largest in the entire world between the 16th and 19th centuries.
More than 42 million tourists visit Paris each year making it the most visited city in the world. The city and its region contain 3,800 historical monuments and four UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
Paris has many nicknames, but its most famous is The City of Light. The residents are known in English as Parisians.
At the beginning of World War II the Germans marched into Paris and took it over. Therefore, it did not incur the bombing damage that so many other European cities experienced.
Much of contemporary Paris is the result of the vast mid-19th century urban remodeling. For centuries, the city had been a mass of narrow streets and half-timber houses, but beginning with Haussman’s advent, entire quarters were leveled to make way for wide avenues lined with neo-classical stone buildings. Most of this new Paris is the Paris we see today.
Some of the more famous and important locations around the city include Place de la Concorde, on the Right Bank at the foot of the Champs-Elysees, built as the Place Louis XV, site of the infamous guillotine. The Egyptian oblelisk is Paris’ oldest monument. Nearby is the famed Hotel del Crillon.
The Champs-Elysees on the Right Bank is a 17th Century garden-promenade-turned-avenue connecting Place de la Concorde and the Arc de Triomphe. It is one of the many tourist attractions and a major shopping street of Paris.
Les Halles, on the Right Bank, was formerly Paris’ central meat and produce market, and, since the late 1970s is a major shopping center around an important metro connection station, Les Halles, the biggest in the world.
The food market has now been moved to another southern suburb. When I was a student in 1953, I spent the summer studying international law at the Cite Universatare in Paris and one summer night we took the metro to Les Halles after 11 p.m. when you could order onion soup. I can still taste it — it was that great!
Le Marais is a trendy Right Bank district and has some of the oldest houses and buildings of Paris. It is a very culturally open place and also known for its Chinese, Jewish and gay communities.
Avenue Montaigne, next to the Champs-Elysees, is home to luxury brand labels such as Chanel, Louis Vuitton, Dior and Givenchy.
Montmartre, on the Right Bank, is a historic area on the Butte, home to the Basilique du Sacre-Coeur. It has always had a history with artists and has many studios and cafes in the area.
Avenue de l’Opera is the area around the Opera Garnier and the location of the capital’s densest concentration of both department stores and offices. A few examples are the Printemps and Galeries Lafayette and the Paris headquarters of financial giants.
Quartier Latin, on the Left Bank, is known for the Sorbonne campus and claims a lively atmosphere and many bistros.
Faubourg Saint-Honore, on the Right Bank, is one of Paris high-fashion districts and home to labels such as Hermes and Christan Lacroix.
On a tour of the city, visitors must include such famous structures and Paris landmarks as Cathedral Notre Dame de Paris on the ile de las Cite; the Eiffel Tower is a must on the first visit to the city, as is the grand Paris Opera Garnier. There are tours given at certain times of day and who knows, you may even see the Phantom of the Opera.
Another must is time spent in the famed Louvre Museum, once a palace. Inside are such pieces as the Mona Lisa and the Venus de Milo. And one day take a tour out to Versallis to walk through grandure of a different time. The grounds alone are worth the time and distance.
During your days in Paris you will have plenty of opportunities to sample French cuisine. To me, it’s all wonderful. It’s a lot of fun to drop into a corner café and try items on the menu you have never experienced.
Entertainment is all over the city. You’ll find more than 300 movie theatres and many are small. Most of the films showing are from the U.S., but you will find a good selection of French and other foreign films being shown. Tourists usually enjoy a big night out attending the Le Lido and Moulin Rouge cabaret. These are for the tourists, but have fun anyway.
After a week or so in the Paris area, where else might you visit in France?
How about a trip down south to Nice on the Mediterranean? Next door is Monte Carlo, the little two-mile square principality known the world over. You can tour French vineyards for wine tasting, visit villages where the food is simply delicious and stay in hotels and spas in the countryside. Again, for your first visit, I suggest booking a tour, your itinerary will be planned for you and all the details of travel out of Paris will be handled. In Paris, your hotel concierge can book day tours for you.
You might even prefer to take the TGV high speed train south to Lyon and board a boat cruising on the River Rhone and cruise south to Avignon. You’ll pass by Vienne, Tain Hermitage, Tournon, Valence, Viviers, to Avignon sampling wines of the area and other delicacies.
For your return home, catch the TGV back to Paris or take a flight from Nice to New York.
France and Paris rarely disappoint. When you go —pack me in the suitcase to join you.