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The French Republic consists of Metropolitan France in Western Europe and a number of overseas islands and territories located in other continents. Metropolitan France extends from the Mediterranean Sea to the English Channel and the North Sea, and from the Rhine to the Atlantic Ocean. It is bordered by Belgium to its north east, Germany and Luxembourg to its east, Switzerland and Italy to its south east, Monaco to its south, and Andorra and Spain to its south west. France is also linked to the United Kingdom via the Channel Tunnel, which passes underneath the English Channel. The name 'France' originates from the Franks, a Germanic tribe that occupied the region after the fall of the Western Roman Empire.

Accessible, varied and vast, France offers a long list of holiday options, from a city break to the sophisticated capital of Paris to a cooking holiday in Provence. This is a country that warrants many return visits - every time you come to France, you'll discover something new, whether you're looking for a relaxing break in the sun on the Riviera or you want to explore undiscovered France with a cottage break in its most tranquil regions.

As a starting point, Paris makes for a good introduction to the French take on life. All those Parisian clichés exist - impossibly chic women flit in and out of designer shops on tree-flanked boulevards, lovers stroll hand in hand along the Seine and tuxedo clad waiters weave their way through pavement cafes. Climb the Eiffel Tower or wander through the evocative streets of the fashionable Left Bank. Gaze at the Mona Lisa at the Louvre or the Impressionist paintings at the Musée d'Orsay, or wander through the imposing, gargoyle clad Notre-Dame and the Conciergerie, the site of many a beheading during the Revolution. All this and more makes Paris a truly intoxicating city.

While Paris gave the world high fashion, France's regional countryside gave it some of the best food and wine. Visit Champagne and taste some superlative bubbly, or head south to Bordeaux whose vineyards nurture some of the best reds to be had in the world. Burgundy completes the threesome - if you're a wine buff, you'll be in heaven on a visit to any of these places. But there's more to the French countryside than just wine. There are countless fairytale castles in the Loire Valley, peaceful valleys in the Dordogne, dramatic plains and Roman remains in Languedoc and stunning mountain ranges in both the Pyrenees and the French Alps, justifiably one of the best places in the world to indulge in a number of winter sports.

Head south, and France's Mediterranean side comes to the fore, in the medieval hill villages and inviting olive groves of Provence to the glitz and glamour of the Côte d'Azur, where the wide sandy beaches of St Tropez, Nice and Cannes have been drawing the rich and famous for decades.

Map of France