Andrew Harper's Paris: A Personal Guide to the Best of the City, a free app for the iPad and iPhone.
France receives more foreign visitors — 82 million annually — than any other country. It is not hard to see why. As well as the most beautiful capital city on earth, it offers tracts of exquisite countryside, Europe’s highest mountain and, of course, some of the world’s finest cuisine (even though many travelers grumble that the general standard of food is not as high as it used to be). Perhaps the most remarkable thing about France is its astonishing variety within a relatively small area. European countries tend to be either northern or southern in character, with the Alps and Pyrenees being the principal dividing lines. France is both: The coast of Pas-de-Calais is just 29 miles from Kent in southern England, while the shores of Provence are part of the warm, classical world of the Mediterranean.
The enduring charms of France are manifest. A typical visit generally includes a stay in Paris (perhaps in a grande dame hotel as well as an intimate Left Bank alternative), followed by a jaunt down into the Loire Valley, Provence or the Riviera. But the options are near endless: a historical pilgrimage to the bleak coastline of Normandy; a stirring drive along the serpentine Alsace wine road; a sunny idyll in Corsica, one of the most pristine and wildly scenic islands in the Mediterranean.
Barge cruises, which travel along a network of linked canals through medieval villages and rolling vineyards, are a particularly appealing and hassle-free way of exploring the French countryside. Other novel approaches to this classic destination include culinary courses, ballooning trips, grape harvest tours and biking vacations. Then again, one could also spend several weeks happily sequestered in a sleepy provincial village.
CLIMATE: Northern and central France are typified by Paris. Monaco is representative of the Côte d’Azur, which enjoys hot, dry summers and cool, rainy winters.
TIME: Six hours ahead of New York (EST).
CURRENCY: Euro (€). Fluctuating rate valued at €1.00 = US$1.20 as of July 2012.
U.S. EMBASSY: Paris, Tel. (1) 43-12-22-22. There are also consulates in Marseille, Tel. (4) 91-54-92-00, and Strasbourg, Tel. (3) 88-35-31-04.
DIRECT DIAL CODES: To phone hotels and restaurants in France or Monaco, dial 011 (international access) + 33 (France code) or 377 (Monaco code) + city code and local numbers in listings.
ENTRY REQUIREMENTS: Passport (valid at least three months beyond end of stay). Visit www.travel.state.gov, and for travelers’ health information, www.cdc.gov
GENERAL INFORMATION: Visit www.franceguide.com or www.visitmonaco.com before your trip.