France, originally known as Gaul, was conquered by Julius Caesar,attacked by marauding Vikings, and later ransacked by Franks from nearby Germany. In the 14th century, they waged the difficult Hundred Years War with England in a fight over French land. Due in large part to the efforts of Joan of Arc, France emerged victorious and started to come into her own by the time of the Renaissance.
In fact, influenced by the art and culture of both Italy and the Netherlands, France flourished and became a center of art, culture, philosophy and learning during the Age of Enlightenment and beyond. Noted writers Voltaire and Rousseau were both French.
The bloody French Revolution officially ended the monarchy in 1789 and led to the years of unrest and the deaths of many French citizens. By 1800, the socio-political environment had settled slightly and Napoleon became Emperor. His abuse of power and ill-advised actions led to his exile by the year 1814. He did oversee a massive expansion of the French Empire, which still continues to this day.
In 1914, France was invaded by Germany and dragged into WWI and, again, in 1940, another German invasion of France led to the occupation of France that lasted until 1944 when Allied troops came to her aid. Not until the early to mid-1950’s, did France recover economically.
Now a thoroughly modern nation, France has been home to such feats of engineering as the Concorde and the Channel Tunnel, nicknamed the “Chunnel”.
The country of France is divided into 22 regions, similar to states or provinces. Each has their own elected governing body; a few of the more well-known regions are Lorraine, Normandy, Brittany, Burgundy and Champagne.
Speaking of the Champagne region, this area is one of France’s renowned wine growing regions. In fact, only products fermented with grapes from this region have the right to be called champagne. Everything else can only wear the title of sparkling white wine.
Mont Blanc, part of the Alps, is the highest point in France and the 11th highest point in the world. It is located along the border of France and Italy.
- When people refer to Paris as the City of Lights, it actually has nothing to do with lightbulbs. The city earned its nickname during the Age of Enlightenment due to the number of intellectuals that resided in the city.
- France is home to countless culinary innovations. French fries and French toast are not, however, on the list. Oh, and that croissant? Austria.
- Oddly enough, the name of the oldest bridge in Paris is Pont Neuf, which translates to “New Bridge”.
- You will never see a Frenchman cross his glass with another person while toasting. The rumor is that it leads to seven years of bad sex.
- Speaking of sex, the French have the most of it in any given year. They also have one of the longest life expectancy rates in the world. Go figure.
- Everyone knows that the French like their wine, but they really like their cheese, too. In fact, over 400 different types of cheese are produced in France each year.
- French is the 2nd most popular foreign language taught around the world. Did you know that anyone can type French characters on their keyboard using the control key? Just use press the CTRL key and its handy partner, release and type the vowel of choice. Presto.
Ctrl &‘ = é (l’accentaigu)
Ctrl & ` = è(l’accent grave)
Ctrl, Shift & 6 = ô (l’accent circonflexe)
Ctrl, Shift & : = ë (le tréma)
Ctrl & , = ç (la cédille)
France has the honor of being the most traveled-to country in the world. Here are a few reasons why:
- Paris – From the vast art collection at the Louvre to the jaw-dropping engineering feat that is the Eiffel Tower, there is something for everyone in Paris. Be sure to see the Arc de Triomphe, walk along the Seine and people watch from a café.
- Mont St. Michael – This tiny island just off the coast of Normandy has been home to everything from a monastery, a prison and, now, nightclubs, in its 1300 year history.
- The Alps – Whether you go for the slopes or just to enjoy the view, plan a detour to the Alps when you visit France.
- Avignon – When traveling to France, be sure to include a stop at this legendary city. Once the center of the papacy, this medieval city is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
- Nice – For a decidedly more modern and cosmopolitan vacation, travel south to the town of Nice and the Côte d’Azur. Nicknamed the French Riviera, visitors can expect to enjoy sun-soaked beaches, upscale shopping and fine dining.
- Reims – History buffs know that during the Hundred Years War, Joan of Arc foresaw the need to have Charles VII crowned king of France with the Sainte Ampoule’s sacred oil in Reims. Re-enactments of the events leading up to his coronation are held each year.
- Brittany- Situated in the north of France, Brittany is the spit of land that juts out into the Celtic Sea. The area has a rich local history of fishing as well as a shaky trade relationship with the United Kingdom going back centuries.
- Cannes – Made famous by the annual Cannes Film Festival that swarms with both celebrities and paparazzi each year, Cannes is another popular spot along the French Riviera.
How to Get Cash
Getting additional cash in France is relatively easy but, if you don’t pay attention, it can be costly. As a reminder, they have used the Euro since 2001, not francs.
- ATMs: Unfortunately, ATMs have notoriously high fees in France, reaching as high as $10 USD per transaction. Avoid taking out $20 here and there in favor of one large withdrawal. Another tip: Make sure your pin number is only 4 digits. The new, longer five and six digits pins do not always work in French machines.
- Credit card: Although widely used for purchases, it is not recommended to use your credit card for cash advances in France. The funds are associated with higher fees and are often treated as a cash advance, which incurs a higher interest rate.
- Debit cards: Debit cards are accepted at many ATMs and most banks.
- Traveler’s Checks: Widely used in France; be sure to have them issued in Euros, not U.S. dollars, for the best rate.
- Currency Exchange: Most major airports have currency exchange centers located inside.
- Banks: You can get additional cash at any French bank however the exchange rate is traditionally higher for foreigners than it is for native Frenchmen.