When two news sources in two different countries publish an article asking the same question, it tends to catch your eye. Based in Paris, The Local, and across the channel in London, The Telegraph, both wanted to investigate why France consistently attracts more visitors each year than any other country in the world. One story offered 6 reasons while the other almost tripled that with 17 ideas about why this country had a target of 100 million visitors for 2020 following on from a rising trend from several previous years. Obviously Covid had a huge impact on reaching that goal but the signs are good that people are returning. What is it that everyone wants to see?
It will be no surprise to learn that at the top of the list is Paris. When we were vacationing here regularly from Atlanta, there were at least 5 flights each night to The City of Light and twice that many if we wanted to fly out of New York. There is an undeniable romance attached to this capital city that’s only amplified by Hollywood with lines like “We’ll always have Paris” from Casablanca. A photo of the Eiffel Tower is instantly recognizable and everyone seems to know that the painting Mona Lisa can be found at the Louvre. Sidewalk café anyone? A more modern attraction, Disneyland Paris, welcomes 15 million guests each year.
When you go on vacation you want to experience something different from what you have at home and this country offers something for everyone. It might seem clichéd but the Germans really do seek out the warm, sunny beaches while the British love the wide open countryside. Our American friends (and ourselves too) can’t get enough of the history and culture. How many castles have all of us toured?
The physical location of France makes it an easy destination to reach. We have borders with 8 other countries so when the Spanish, Italians, or Swiss want a change of pace they can hop on a train or in their car and be here in a very short time. Crossing the English Channel is 30 minutes on a train or an hour longer by ferry. Being neighbors with so many other countries also means that France can be a stopover point for travelers going on to their final destination.
Villages are a big draw. While Paris is the clear winner as far as the number of people who go there, that romantic image stretches far into the countryside. Thoughts of stone cottages, babbling mill streams, narrow lanes, and market stalls overflowing with just-picked fruits and vegetables ensure that visitors wander away from the big cities. There’s even an aptly-named The Most Beautiful Villages in France association that has what I think must be an easy job of promoting these delightful places.
Wine and food often come to mind for visitors to France. Many of the wine regions here have a tourist route through their territory to ensure that no vineyard gets forgotten. Whether it’s a croissant from the bakery for breakfast, a bowl of hearty onion soup for lunch, or a sumptuous chocolate soufflé for that night’s dessert, there’s always a treat to seek out.
As mentioned above, history and culture bring lots of people here. Iconic landmarks, art known worldwide, and traditions that originated in the shadows of time all contribute to the popularity of France. The Louvre museum receives over 9 million tourists each year making it the busiest in the world.
Oddly, whether it was 6 or 17 reasons (by the way, to achieve that larger number that article’s author just separated items such as art from culture or food from wine) no one addressed what we find vital: people. While it’s true that as a tourist you might not have extensive contact with local residents, when you live someplace you certainly do. Food, wine, culture, landscapes, and history are definitely reasons that we think France is popular but the warm welcome that we’ve received in our new home tops them all. Happy New Year!
Photo note: The featured photo at the top is our kitchen view from the holiday home we rented in Limeuil.