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France is the world’s most popular tourist destination. A gob-smacking 82 million visitors touch down in the EU’s largest country every year, and more than 10% of them are British, such is our long-standing love affair with the home of Gallic charm, great cheese and reliable summer weather.
For motorhome travellers, France has an added attraction — it’s one of the most motorhome-friendly countries in Europe, and is home to an excellent network of aires de service, where you can service your motorhome’s needs and stay overnight for a nominal free, sometimes for free.
What’s this got to do with the Rough Guide?
All of this helps to explain why I was so pleased to receive a review copy of the latest edition of The Rough Guide to France recently.
The Rough Guide to France is currently in its thirteenth edition, which was published in March 2013 — so the current copy is about as up-to-date as anything you can find in print.
It’s also one of the chunkier guides, at 1056 pages long. This length provides some clue as to the size and diversity of France, and the main section of the guide is divided into no fewer than 18 regions, including one devoted to Corsica, a place I knew nothing about, but would now like to visit.
Although this book is a bit of a doorstop for anyone who is travelling light, I think it’s probably worth the space in your bag, not least because you probably won’t need any other guide books (unless you are a motorhomer, in which case I’d also recommend a copy of All The Aires France).
For us, the main attractions in France are the Alps and the Pyrenees. In this case, we were particularly interested in the Pyrenees, as we are planning a wildlife and walking holiday in the area.
The Rough Guide devotes about 50 pages to these southern mountains, which form a formidable natural boundary between Spain and France. Visitors who haven’t visited this area before (we have) will find that the guide provides a good introduction to the region, which stretches from the famous Atlantic beaches of Biarritz in the west, across to the city of Perpignan in the east.
The Spanish — or rather Basque — influence is strong close to the border, and another reminder that southern Europe’s population is predominantly Catholic comes when you visit Lourdes, which is also in this region.
Seven million Catholic pilgrims flock to Lourdes every year, and while we found it to be a pretty depressing place last time we visited, there’s no doubt that it’s an unusual and fascinating place to visit.
Leaving the towns and cities behind, the Pyreneean mountains rise up to more than 3,000m before tumbling away down into Spain.
The Rough Guide provided us with a good introduction to the National Parks and main walking attractions of the area, as well as some of the wildlife highlights, which include Golden Eagles, brown bears, griffon vultures and chamois.
For such a specialist trip, we did some further research, but for many people, the information in the Rough Guide would be ample.
A well-balanced guide
Like other Rough Guides we’ve used, The Rough Guide to France is well-written, informative and reliable. There are enough pictures to provide a good flavour of the attractions, but most of the book is dedicated to useful information, and as I’ve mentioned before, we’ve found that Rough Guides are better-suited to driving holidays than Lonely Planet guides.
Although I haven’t mentioned it much, food, drink and accommodation are also covered amply (for most purposes) in The Rough Guide to France. We don’t tend to use these parts of the book when travelling in our motorhome, but the information provided should be ample for most purposes, as long as you aren’t planning un voyage gastronomique!
Perhaps the biggest compliment I can pay to this guide is that our copy is likely to become dog-eared and creased with use — always the sign of a useful book.
Title: The Rough Guide to France
Format: Paperback, 1064 pages (also available as an ebook)
Publisher: Rough Guides (13th edition, March 2013)