Fabulous France

People here have joie de vivre and savoir-faire. They know how to look good and live well. They eat like there is no tomorrow and drink red wine by the barrelful ? with grace and panache. They perfect the art of living. They madden and they inspire.

Their cultural heritage is gargantuan and inexhaustible: savour the multitude of museums, striking architecture and precious works of art packed into the shining capital on the timeless River Seine. See glorious pasts blaze forth at Versailles and in the royal chateaux of the Loire Valley. Travel south for Roman civilisation and the sparkling blue sea. Sense the subtle infusion of language, music and mythology in Brittany brought by 5th-century Celtic invaders. Smell ignominy on the beaches of Normandy and battlefields of Verdun and the Somme. And know that this is but the icing on the cake. How very infuriating.

France?s dizzying landscape ensnares mountain peaks and giddy glaciers, jagged ridges and rivers, lakes, white-water canyons, canals and orchards, vineyards and forests and endless coastline. Biking, boating, ballooning and boarding are four of the zillion and one ways to see it, taste it, feel it, love it, hate it. A love-hate relationship it might be, but that is all part of ?old? Europe?s French charm.

French Kissing
Kissing is an integral part of French life. (The expression ?French kissing?, as in tongues, doesn?t exist in French incidentally.) That said, put a Parisian in Provence and there?s no saying they will know when to stop!

Countrywide, people who know each other reasonably well, really well, a tad, barely at all, greet each other with a glancing peck on each cheek. Southern France aside (where everyone kisses everyone), two men rarely kiss (unless they are related or artists) but always shake hands. Boys and girls start kissing as soon as they?re out of nappies, or so it seems.

Kissing French-style is not completely straightforward, ?how many? and ?which side first? potentially being problematic. In Paris it is definitely two: unless parties are related, very close friends or haven?t seen each other in an age, anything more is deemed affected. That said, in certain trendy 20-something circles friends swap three or four cheek-skimming kisses, as do many young teenagers at school parce qu?ils ont que ?a ? faire?

Travel south and the bisous (kisses) multiply, three or four being the norm in Provence. The bits of France neighbouring Switzerland around Lake Geneva tend to be three-kiss country (in keeping with Swiss habits); and in the Loire Valley it is four. Corsicans, bizarrely, stick to two but kiss left cheek first ? which can lead to locked lips given everyone else in France starts with the right cheek!

From Lonely Planet?s new guide to France

6th edition
ISBN 1 74059 923 3
964 pages, 24 pages colour, 202 maps
A$ 40.90