Guide To France

The French wrote the book on la vie en rose and gave the world champagne and camembert, de Beauvoir and Debussy, the Tour de France and the Tour Eiffel. There's a term for their seductive lifestyle - Douce France (Sweet France) and you'll find yourself using it often.

Although the ubiquity of Levi's and Le Big Mac flusters the country's cultural purists, anything from a year in Provence to a weekend in Paris will explain why half the world grows dreamy over stalking Cyrano's streets or picnicking Manet-style sur l'herbe.

This country has been synonymous with romance for longer than your grandmother cares to remember, so whether you visit Paris or the Pyrenees, the Côte d'Azur or the auberge de jeunesse, be sure to keep your fantasies in check, your expectations in line and your joie in your vivre.

Full country name: French Republic
Area: 547,030 sq km
Population: 60.18 million
Capital City: Paris
People: 92% French, 3% North African, 2% German, 1% Breton, 2% other (including Provençal, Catalan & Basque)
Language: French, Catalan, Basque, Breton, Corsican
Religion: 88% Roman Catholic, 8% Muslim, 2% Protestant 1% Jewish, 3% unaffiliated
Government: republic
Head of State: President Jacques Chirac
Head of Government: Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin

GDP: US$1.58 trillion
GDP per capita: US$26,000
Annual Growth: 4%
Inflation: 2%
Major Industries: Oil refining, steel, cement, aluminium, agricultural products & foodstuffs (wheat, barley, maize, cheese), luxury goods, chemicals, motor manufacturing, energy products
Major Trading Partners: EU (especially Germany, Italy, UK), USA
Member of EU: Yes