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France Overview

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France, whose official name is Republique Francaise (the French Republic), is the most visited country in the world, and during a cruise to France you will see why. Aside from its beautiful landscapes, the country has spectacular cities. France itself is the largest west European country at 220,668 square miles, and a population of 62.4 million. The city of Paris is the capital of France and other major cities include Marseille, Nice, Lyon, Toulouse and Bordeaux. Close to ninety percent of the population is Roman Catholic, 5-10% Muslim, 2% Protestant and 1% Jewish. The official language is French. The national anthem is “La Marseillaise” and the national motto of the country is “Liberte, Egalite, Fraternite” (Liberty, Equality, Brotherhood). The flag of France has been in use since the French Revolution and is known as the tricolor. The letters 'RF' in the combination with the tricolor and a rooster often appear on official documents. Visitors enjoying a France cruise will also frequently see the fleur-de-lis, lily flower, which is another commonly used symbol and is the ancient symbol of the French monarchy.

France is divided into 22 regions and 105 departments (similar to the 50 U.S. states). Additionally included as French territory are 9 overseas territories, the DOM-TOM, consisting of Guadeloupe and Martinique, Reunion and Mayotte, New Caledonia, French Polynesia, Wallace and Futuna Islands, French Guiana and St. Pierre and Miquelon. People living in these territories have the same political rights as those living in mainland France.

France travel: A Historic Look

Enhance your France travel experience by learning a little more about the ancient history of the country. Beginning in 843, during the Middle Ages, the Carolingian Empire was divided by the Treaty of Verdun. Charles the Bald ruled over the approximate territory of modern day France. Throughout the Middle Ages, the crumbling of the Carolingian Empire continued and invasions by Vikings were prevalent. Latter centuries, the 12th to the early 14th were flourishing times for art and literature. Charles VII and Louis XI, both of France, gained control of France in the 15th century. With this expansion came an increasing sense of French identity. France's emergence as a powerful national monarchy was solidified after victory over England and the addition of the Duchy of Burgundy (1477) and Brittany (1532), which had previously been independent European states.

The early 16th century marked the beginning of the Renaissance. Of great influence in this period were various Italian artists, such as Leonardo Da Vinci. Following an increase in Protestantism between 1562 and 1598 were the Wars of Religion. Catherine de Medici ordered the St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre of hundreds of Protestants. In 1589, Henry IV became the first Bourbon king of France. Henry IV, previously a protestant, converted to Catholicism to salvage his life, and went on to end the Wars of Religion with the Edict of Nantes. This Edict guaranteed religious and political rights of Protestants.

The 17th century was a period of power and excessive lavishness for the French Monarchy. France’s feudal monarchy was changed to an absolute monarchy by King Louis XIII and Cardinal Richelieu. Most associated with this time period though, is Louis XIV, also known as the Sun King. France travel allows a glimpse into the remnants of a lavish world left by these famous kings. Louis XIV maintained a luxurious existence at his palace at Versailles for not only himself but also the local princes and lords. This strengthened his power by keeping the local princes and lords occupied with the elaborate court life, with customs and clothes, rather than undermining his power. Also during this period writers, architects and musicians were promoted by the royal court. Following Louis XIV’s reign much of France was left in financial peril.

The 18th century is known as the Age of Enlightenment and denotes the period of time between the death of Louis XIV of France and the start of the French Revolution. The Enlightenment was a movement that provided a framework for the American and French Revolutions, the Latin American independence movement, and the Polish Constitution of May 3, and also led to the rise of liberalism and the birth of socialism and communism. The French Revolution began in 1789 with the storming of the Bastille on July 14, 1789. The day after the first great victory of the French revolutionary troops at the battle of Valmy on September 20, 1792 the French First Republic was proclaimed.

Bonaparte to Blitzkrieg: Modern History of France

The French Revolution came to an end in 1799 when Napoleon Bonaparte entered Paris and was crowned First Consul. The start of the 19th century was marked by a struggle between France and Britain and their allies for control of Europe and the world. In 1804, Napoleon took the title of Emperor Napoleon I by taking the crown from the Pope and placing it on his own head. This was a direct challenge to the authority of the church. The Napoleonic Wars greatly expanded the empire from 1802-1814. Napoleon was finally defeated in Russia in 1812 and then in Waterloo in 1815. After Napoleon Bonaparte was ousted in 1814, the Allies restored the Bourbon Dynasty to the French throne. The bourgeoisie dominated during Louis-Philippe's "July Monarchy" (1830-1848). France was ruled by Emperor Napoleon III from 1852 to 1870. It was Napoleon III who commissioned Baron Haussman to redesign Paris and started the French Industrial Revolution. With the crushing defeat of Franco-Prussian War of 1870 and the fall of the second Empire, the Third Republic was established by the French legislature and lasted until the military defeat of 1940.

The 19th century in France was one of great industrial expansion. The Eiffel Tower, one of the most frequently visited attractions on a France tour was constructed during the Universal Exhibition of 1889 to commemorate the centennial of the French Revolution. French cultural contributions were significant in the nineteenth century, including the paintings of the Impressionists, the Art Nouveau style, the novelist Gustav Flaubert and the satirist Zola.

In 1914, WWI began in northeast France. Although the war was fought primarily on French soil, Germans initially won many battles. Eventually though, the United States entered the war in 1917 and helped France defeat the Germans. The war left approximately 1.4 million French dead including civilians, and four times as many casualties as the Germans. Stipulations of the Treaty of Versailles (1919) were severe, and the Allies demanded extensive payments and restitution from the Germans. Alsace and Lorraine were returned to France, and Germany was required to take full responsibility for the war and to pay war reparations. This stirred great resentment among the Germans and was one of the contributing factors of the start of WWII.

In the 1920s, France established an elaborate system of border defenses and alliances to offset resurgent German strength. Also during this time in between wars, France played a leading role in the avant garde movement, attracting artists, musicians and filmmakers from around the world. Even today, travelers enjoying a France tour will find remaining influence of the avant garde movement.

In May 1940, The German Blitzkrieg attacked Paris, and the French lost 130,000 in just six weeks of brutal battle. France surrendered to Nazi Germany on June 24, 1940, and the northern and western parts of the country were occupied until 1944. The Allied Forces invaded Normandy on June 6, 1944, and de Gaulle entered Paris as the head of the new government of the Fourth Republic.

The postwar period of the 1950’s and 60’s were marked by consumerism and technological advancements. Also in this period, France's African and Asian colonies were struggling to gain independence, which led to wars in Algeria and Indochina, as well as strikes and the student revolts of 1968. In May 1968 students revolted for various reasons, including educational, labor and governmental reforms, sexual and artistic freedom, and the end of the Vietnam War.
While not forgetting the importance of its history and independence, the French increasingly correlate the future of France to the continued development of the European Union. 

The Cultural Experience on a France Tour

France travel is known for its cultural appeal. The culture of France has been built from a diverse history and represents various regional differences as well as influences of recent immigration. For centuries France has been a leading cultural center and in order to maintain the country as a cultural hub, the French government has established a number of programs to promote French culture and language. A France cruise allows a chance to experience the country’s widely recognized cosmopolitan, refined approach to life, as well as for the value it places on fashion and style.

An extremely key component of French culture is the French language itself. The preservation of the authentic original use of the mother tongue is of particular importance for many citizens. The French Academy sets an official standard of language purity. In an attempt to preserve French cultural identity and resist “Americanization,” the French government recently implemented laws to restrict the broadcast of English-speaking movies and songs, and English vocabulary in general.

The arts are tremendously important in everyday French life. France is home to one of the most popular cultural sites in the world, the Georges Pompidou Center. During a France cruise, spend time at the center where visitors can expect to experience a wide variety of art; all forms of contemporary artistic theory and practice, painting and sculpture, and photography, to name a few. Perhaps one of the most well known tourist attractions located in France, home to Leonardo Da Vinci’s infamous Mona Lisa painting, is the Louvre. Formerly a royal palace, the Louvre was converted to a museum beginning in 1793 during the French Revolution.

In current times, religion to the people of France is considered to be an extremely personal and private matter; a great separation between civilian life and religion is maintained. Throughout history Catholicism has been predominant in the country, thus the calendar of holidays is largely based upon this religion. These holidays are still celebrated today despite the decline of public religious practice as a whole.

Sports most prevalent throughout France include soccer, cycling, tennis, rugby and basketball. Soccer is known as the “national” sport of the country and is the most popular, although rugby reigns in the southwestern region, particularly in the city of Toulouse. France held the World Cup in 1998, and holds annually the tennis French Open and the Tour de France. Just as the arts, sports are encouraged throughout the country, specifically by local governments via financial means.

Mass transportation is used widely in France, particularly in Paris and other major cities. In the bigger cities it is common for households to use mass transportation as their only means of transportation, as they likely do not own a vehicle. It is the norm, however, for families who live in more rural areas to own one or more vehicles.

The Celebrated French Cuisine

Undeniably, one of modern France's greatest treasures is its rich cuisine. Cooking is viewed as a major art form in France, and French cuisine attracts travelers from all over the world.

On a France cruise you will find that meals are typically eaten in France at times of day similar to those in the United States. Breakfast, a fairly small meal consisting usually of a hot beverage (coffee, tea or cocoa) and a baguette with butter or jam. Lunch is often the largest meal of the day and is eaten around 12:00 or 1:00pm, and dinner is eaten at around 8:00pm. Lunch and dinner might begin with a hot hors d'oeuvre (or for luncheon, a cold hors d'oeuvre) followed by soup, main course (meat or fish with vegetables), salad, cheese, and dessert (fruit, pastry, ice-cream, etc.). Dishes are characteristically rich and portions tend to be small.

The French drink a large quantity of bottled water despite the fact that tap water throughout the country is drinkable. France produces the most wine in the world and is one of the oldest wine producing regions of Europe. Champagne, Bordeaux, and Burgundy wine are major agricultural products of the country. It is logical that some of the best cooking in France happens in some of its finest wine-growing regions. Each region of France has its own regional specialties, including distinct dishes, cheeses and wines. For example, visit Normandy during an adventure cruise, whose lush green fields help produce the rich milk so essential for the area's delicious Camembert. Or to enjoy excellent seafood cuisine travel to Marseille, the second most populous city of France.

In addition to typical French food, cuisines for all over the world are also found in France. Most commonly are Asian, Italian, Indian and Mexican restaurants. Also gaining in popularity, particularly among younger people is U.S.-style food such as hamburgers, ketchup, and soft drinks.

People do the majority of their grocery shopping in supermarkets. The cheapest supermarkets are usually found on the outskirts of towns. There are also many small specialty shops such as charcuteries (pork butchers), boulangeries/patisseries (bakeries/cake-shops) and alimentations (small local grocery shops) and fresh produce markets.

Varied and Inviting France Geography

The country of France is the largest Western European nation and covers an area of 550,000 square kilometers. France shares northern borders with Belgium, Luxembourg and Germany, eastern borders with Switzerland, Italy, and Monaco, and its southern border with Spain and Andorra. In addition to its 2,889 km of land boundaries, France is also bordered by the Bay of Biscay and English Channel to the west as well as the Mediterranean Sea in the south. A France cruise offers over 3,427 km of coastline to explore.

Flat plains and rolling hills in the north and the west make up two-thirds of the country’s area, the remainder is mountainous. Major mountain ranges of the territory include the Alps, Pyrenees, Jura, Ardennes, the Massif Central, and Vosges. The French Alps are glorious not only in winter but summer as well. On a cruise of France spend time trekking the region or take one of the many ski lifts that operate year-round. Twenty-six percent of the land is covered in forest. Extremes in elevation are such that the lowest point is the Rhone River delta, at -2 meters, and the highest point is Mont Blanc at 4,807 meters. A visit to Reims will enable travelers to explore caves, including the famous Veuve Cliquot-Ponsardin.

Throughout France’s history, rivers have played an important role by fertilizing the land and supporting growth of flourishing centers of population. The river system also allows for travel by boat throughout the country. Some of the most important rivers include the Loire, the Seine, the Rhone, the Rhine, the Garonne, and the Saone. At 1,018 km, the Loire is the longest river in France.

Train services and the road network, particularly the toll-paying autoroutes, are highly efficient. Cyclists are very much encouraged, and information is extremely organized and available from tourist offices across the country.

An Introduction to French Politics

Visitors enjoying travel in France can enhance their experiences by learning a little more about the country’s political system. The French constitution was established on September 28, 1958. France has a Republic style of government that includes an Executive, Legislative and Judicial branch.

The Executive branch is an original system with an executive headed by two officials: the President and the Prime Minister. The authority of the presidency (chief of state) was greatly strengthened by the constitution. The president appoints the prime minister (head of government), presides over the cabinet, commands the armed forces, and concludes treaties. Originally under the constitution, presidents were elected for 7-year terms. The term of office, however, was changed to 5 years in 2002.

A part of the legislative branch, the parliament meets for one 9-month session each year; under special circumstances the president can call an additional session. Although parliamentary powers have diminished since the establishment of the constitution in 1958, the National Assembly, the principal legislative body, still has the ability to censure a government if voted on by the absolute majority. The Senate's legislative powers are limited; on most matters of legislation, the National Assembly has the last word in the event of a disagreement between the two houses.

The most distinctive feature of the French judicial system is its division into the Constitutional Council and the Council of State. The Council of State has a separate function from the Constitutional Council and provides recourse to individual citizens who have claims against the administration. The Ordinary Courts--including specialized bodies such as the police court, the criminal court, the correctional tribunal, the commercial court, and the industrial court--settle disputes that arise between citizens, as well as disputes that arise between citizens and corporations. The Court of Appeals reviews cases judged by the Ordinary Courts.

Local Government
Traditionally, decision-making in France was highly centralized. In 1982, the national government passed legislation to decentralize authority by giving a wide range of administrative and fiscal powers to local elected officials. In March 1986, regional councils were directly elected for the first time, and the process of decentralization continues, although at a slow pace.
If you travel France today, the current President is Emmanuel Macron.

French Climate: Something for Everyone

There are three prevailing climates found in France: oceanic, continental and Mediterranean. Dominating the western part of the country is the oceanic, represented by small range in temperature, substantial rainfall, cool summers and mild winters. The continental type of climate, found over much of eastern and central France generally consists of warmer summers and colder winters than areas farther west. The amount of rainfall is similar to that of the west, and winters tend to be snowy, particularly at the higher elevations. Lastly, dominating the southern region of the country is the Mediterranean climate. The temperature averages between 50 and 60 degrees F. In central and southern France, annual rainfall is light to moderate. Rainfall is heavy in the northern coastal and mountainous areas.

Unless one is visiting France in hopes of skiing the Alps or basking in the Mediterranean sun, climate is not necessarily a major consideration in planning a cruise to France. However, one of the most important things to consider when deciding when to travel France is tourism itself and high travel seasons. It is highly recommended that tourists avoid the main French holiday periods, particularly that of mid-July to the end of August, with August being particularly bad because of overcrowding.

Wildlife Discovery on a France Tour

France’s wide range of climates and terrain result in a rich variety of plant and wildlife. A France tour offers visitors a number of national parks to explore. Parks are important in protecting the country’s endangered species. Contributing to the endangerment of species is extensive farming, development and increasing levels of pollution.

Agriculture is a major industry for France and more than one-third of the country is planted for this cause. The three biggest crops produced are wheat, barley, and corn. Other substantial crops include lavender, thyme, truffles, and mushrooms.

Various types of forests are prevalent throughout the country. In the northern and central regions the forests are typically of oak and beech trees. In the western region of the country, what were once swamps are now precisely planted pine forests. In the Alps the landscapes flourish with evergreens. In other parts of France there are thick groves and forests of ash trees, cypress and Spanish chestnut. In the Provencal region the land decorated with ancient olive trees, grapevines and fruit trees.

While on a tour of France travelers have a chance to spot a variety of unique wildlife. These include marmot, lynx, brown bear, chamois and endangered birds such as the golden eagle and bearded vulture. Many of these species are protected by the Pyrénées National Park. The park was created in 1967 and is 460 square km of forest, lakes, rivers and streams. It runs along the border with Spain for approximately 100 km. Found on the lakes of nature preserves of Lorraine are flamingos, herons, and storks. On the marshy nature reserves in the Provencal region are wild horses and bulls. Smaller animals commonly seen in the French countryside are badgers, bats, beavers, foxes, hares, hedgehogs, moles, rabbits, squirrels, and weasels.

Sea-life of the Atlantic and Mediterranean include a variety of colorful shellfish. Particular to the Normandy and Brittany coasts are oysters and lobsters, as are the trout and salmon in the waters of the Pyrenees.

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