For your next vacation, why not cruise canals, follow the steps of famous artists, play golf or savor a cooking schoolÑall in France. Tour the provinces on your own or, this summer, follow soccer's exciting World Cup, with competition shared by 10 French cities.
Area: 211,208 square miles (almost the size of Texas). Population:
58,040,000 (Paris, 2,150,000; Marseille, 868,000; Lyon, 410,000; Nice, 331,000).
Paris, the "grande dame" of French art and heritage, has restored and added many jewels to her cultural crown. The Louvre's reorganization will be completed in 1998; reopened is the Sully wing with 11 new rooms dedicated to Oriental Antiquities. New museums include the Musée de la Musique featuring more than 4,500 musical instruments from the 16th century to today, the Cartier Foundation for Contemporary Art and the Maillol Museum-Dina Vieray Foundation. To open in 1998 is the Museum of Jewish Art and History in the heart of the Marais district.
The Île-de-France region surrounding Paris has a dozen castles, including Vaux-le-Vicomte, and the stately châteaux of Versailles and Fontainebleau. Explore the small towns and villages once home to famed artists, from Sisley's Milly-la-Forêt to Van Gogh's Auvers-sur-Oise.
The Loire Valley sparkles with famous châteaux, including the stately Chambord and 16th-century Chenonceau, bridging the Cher river. Medieval Loches, birthplace of poet Alfred de Vigny, boasts a 13th- to 16th-century castle; while Bourges is famed for its cathedral, old quarter and Gothic Palais Jacques Coeur.
Brittany has 800 miles of rocky coastline, scores of fishing villages and a Celtic heritage. The July Festival de Cornouaille in Quimper (famous for its faïence) draws thousands of music and dance groups from Ireland, Scotland and other Celtic communities.
Burgundy is known for its dukes, prestigious wines and distinctive cuisine. Many vineyards and wineries can be visited by tour or by appointment. The countryside and magnificent estates can be admired from a hot-air balloon; the network of rivers and canals is ideal for barge excursions. Among the towns celebrated for remarkable architecture are Beaune, also noted for its wine market and the Three Days of Glory in November; Dijon, of mustard fame; and medieval Vézelay.
Normandy and its beaches drew veterans and visitors during the D-Day anniversary year, with its moving memorials, museums and famous landing sites from the beaches named Omaha and Utah to Pointe-du-Hoc.
Provence abounds with Roman ruins and cities of art and history from Vaison-la-Romaine to Orange, Arles, St-Rémy and Nîmes, as well as Avignon with its Palace of the Popes and Pont-du-Gard and its Roman aqueduct. Marseille, the second-largest city, is the oldest of the great French ports. Aix-en-Provence, home of a popular summer festival, has elegant mansions, inviting squares, graceful fountains and the atelier of Paul Cézanne. Art patrons are drawn to Arles, where Van Gogh created some 300 paintings and drawings among the Roman ruins.
The Riviera is known for its fabled beach resorts and azure sea and sky. Nice has Matisse and Chagall museums, and a fragrant flower market at Cours Saleya. The famous film festival at Cannes celebrated its 50th year in 1997. At Antibes, the 15th-century Grimaldi Castle houses a Picasso museum. Vence has a magnificent Matisse chapel.
A connoisseur's Riviera includes the must-see medieval and cultural hill towns of Eze, Hauts-de-Cagnes, Vallauris, St-Paul-de-Vence and Peillon.
Lyon, where the Saône meets the Rhône, is famed for its outstanding restaurants and vast collection of artifacts at the Musée de la Civilisation Gallo-Romaine. The Beaux-Arts Museum has been restored and expanded, and the new opera house is popular with performers and audiences alike. Nearby are the celebrated vineyards of Beaujolais.
The French Alps soar from Lake Geneva to the Mediterranean, and boast the highest peak in Western Europe, Mont Blanc (15,781 feet). The 1992 Winter Olympics were held at Albertville in the Savoie region, with improved facilities and easier access to the 10 Olympic venues. A former Olympic site, Grenoble is the chief city, and Courchevel enters its 52nd year as one of France's premier resorts.
Alsace is a land of great vineyards; fortified villages like Riquewihr; and medieval towns like Colmar, overflowing with history and folklore. The parliament of the European Union meets in Strasbourg, also the site of one of France's finest cathedrals.