Think of France and images of the sultry South come to mind, or else beautiful beaches, rolling hills and fields of sunflowers, but there's lots to interest and entertain in winter too

So many of us enjoy visiting France in summer that it's easy to forget that the country is a year-round destination. It's an ideal place for a winter break - and not just for winter-sports enthusiasts. Down in the South, in cities such as Aix-en-Provence and Marseilles, the climate could almost be described as perpetual summer. Whenever the sun shines - and that's most of the year - café tables appear on the pavements, the atmosphere is relaxed and everyone seems to be out having fun.

One of the delights of France is its regional variations. The cities in the North-east, such as Mulhouse, Metz and Nancy, are as different from Nîmes or Avignon in the South as Germany is from, say, Spain. But they are all part of the France we know, with its historic châteaux and museums, stylish shops and delicious regional food and fine wines.

There's always something to celebrate and enjoy during a visit to France. It could be the chance to experience a cultural highlight, such as From Cézanne to Picasso, an exhibition devoted to the art dealer Ambroise Vollard, which opens at the Musée d'Orsay in Paris in June 2007. Or it could be the long-awaited reopening of the Musée Fabre in Montpellier next spring, which means that more of the museum's impressive collection will be on permanent display.

There are plenty of internationally-renowned festivities that attract visitors, too, including the Christmas markets in cities such as Strasbourg and Lille. Some cities hold cultural celebrations, such as La Folle Journée, a festival of classical music that takes place in Nantes during the last weekend in January. And there's always something going on in France's 17 wine regions and 5,000 wine cellars, whether it's a harvest festival or the uncorking of the latest vintage. All these events are the perfect occasion to try the local food and drink, whatever your age and tastes. How many more reasons do you need to take a winter break in France?


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