France, officially the French Republic, is the largest country in Western Europe and the third-largest in Europe. Over the past 500 years, France has been a major power with strong cultural, economic, military and political influence in Europe and around the world. During the 17th and 18th centuries, France colonised great parts of North America and Southeast Asia; during the 19th and early 20th centuries, France built the second largest colonial empire of the time, including large portions of North, West and Central Africa, Southeast Asia, and many Caribbean and Pacific Islands.
Paris, the capital city, is the most visited city in the world. The city and its region contain 3,800 historical monuments and four UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
|Eiffel Tower (La Tour Eiffel) Paris, France||photo by © wiki|
France has its main ideals expressed in the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen. The country enjoys a high standard of living as well as a high public education level, and has also one of the world's longest life expectancies.
With 81.9 million foreign tourists in 2007, France is ranked as the first tourist destination in the world, ahead of Spain (58.5 million in 2006) and the United States (51.1 million in 2006).
France has 37 sites inscribed in UNESCO's World Heritage List and features cities of high cultural interest (Paris being the foremost, but also Toulouse, Strasbourg, Bordeaux, Lyon, and others), beaches and seaside resorts, ski resorts, and rural regions that many enjoy for their beauty and tranquillity (green tourism). Small and picturesque French villages of quality heritage (such as Collonges-la-Rouge or Locronan) are promoted through the association Les Plus Beaux Villages de France (litt. "The Most Beautiful Villages of France"). The "Remarkable Gardens" label is a list of the over two hundred gardens classified by the French Ministry of Culture. This label is intended to protect and promote remarkable gardens and parks. France also attracts many religious pilgrims on their way to St. James, or to Lourdes, a town in the Hautes-Pyrénées that hosts a few million visitors a year.
France, and especially Paris, have some of the world's largest and renowned museums, including the Louvre, which is the most visited art museum in the world, but also the Musée d'Orsay, mostly devoted to impressionism, and Beaubourg, dedicated to Contemporary art.
Disneyland Paris is France's and indeed Europe's most popular theme park, with 15,405,000 combined visitors to the resort's Disneyland Park and Walt Disney Studios Park in 2009. The historical theme park Puy du Fou in Vendée is the second most visited park of France. Other popular theme parks are the Futuroscope of Poitiers and the Parc Astérix.
With more than 10 millions tourists a year, the French Riviera (or Cote d'Azur), in south-eastern France, is the second leading tourist destination in the country, after the Parisian region. According to the Cote d'Azur Economic Development Agency, it benefits from 300 days of sunshine per year, 115 kilometres (71 mi) of coastline and beaches, 18 golf courses, 14 ski resorts and 3,000 restaurants. Each year the Cote d'Azur hosts 50% of the world's superyacht fleet, with 90% of all superyachts visiting the region's coast at least once in their lifetime.
The most popular tourist sites include: Eiffel Tower , Louvre Museum, Palace of Versailles, Musée d'Orsay , Arc de Triomphe, Centre Pompidou, Mont Saint-Michel, Château de Chambord, Sainte-Chapelle, Château du Haut-Kœnigsbourg, Musée Picasso, Carcassonne.
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