cities in france

Cities in the southwest France: history, tourist sites, activities.

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france tours suggestions

Eight suggestions for touring the southwest of France.

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french gastronomy

Traditional dish recipes from southwest part of France.

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french trivia

France in facts and figures! Interesting less known facts about France

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France in Facts 'n Figures

There are 24 official regional languages in France among them: Basque, Breton, Alsacien, Occitan but almost each region has its own dialect - "patois" - and there are even towns situate at several km of each other that speak a different dialect.
To arrange the table "à la Francaise" means to put the forks with the teeth against the table. The reason is that in olden times the forks were bearing the family coat of arms... that the guests were supposed to see!
Paul Bocuse is one of the most prominent French chefs. Since 1977, the Bocuse d'Or has been regarded as the most prestigious award for chefs in the world, and is sometimes seen as the unofficial world championship for chefs.Strangelly enough the Bocuse d'Or for year 2011 went not a french but the danish chef Rasmus Kofoed. In 2012 the "Scandinavian" story repeated itself with Norwegian Orjan JOHANNESSEN winning the award.
All the world - well almost! - knows them as French Fries! That is except France where they are ... called Belgian Fries - "les frites belges"!
And talking about potatoes: France and more specifically the island of Noirmoutier situated on the Atlantic coast, is the home of the most expensive potatoes in the world. At a price that can reach €500 per kilo (US $322 per pound) this variety of "pommes de terre" called "La Bonnotte" is harvested in not more then 100 tons per year and only on this island.
The highways in France, called "les autoroutes", are toll roads. The price is comparable with the price of gas used by a car for the same distance. The only region that makes an exception is the North-West region of Brittany (in French: Bretagne and in Breton: Breizh). The reason can be traced to the great heiress Anne de Bretagne, the duchess of Brittany, who at her marriage with French King Loius XII brought as the dowry the dukedom but under the condition that its roads will remain toll free. Now, after more then 500 years, when visiting Brittany we are still taking advantage!
France produces between 350 and 400 types of cheese. This large number of varieties inspired to General de Gaulle the famous phrase: "How can you govern a country where there are 246 varieties of cheese? ".
It also spawned a phrase designating France: the "land of 300 cheeses" (the number varies).
It is also said that there is a different cheese for each day of the year.
March 29 is the national cheese day!
(Louis' XIV favorite cheese was Saint-Nectaire!).
Did you know that the names Cognac, Cadillac, Champagne come respectively from the name of towns (Cognac in Charente department and Cadillac in Gironde) and the Champagne region of France? How about the town in the Gers department called Condom (there are condoms comercialized in US under the name "Condom from Condom"!).
The Béarnaise sauce (in French: Sauce béarnaise) was given this name by his inventor the chef Collinet who was working for the resturant Henry IV in Paris... Henry IV being born in the province of Bearn. The Bearnaise sauce is one of the 5 basic sauces of the French cuisine.
French Gastronomy is since 2010 part of the UNESCO's “intangible cultural heritage of humanity”. The National Day of Gastronomy - Fête de la gastronomie française - is celebrated starting in 2011 on 23 of September (the first day of fall).
There are more then 550 Michelin "étoilés" restaurants in France, around 70 only in Paris (compared to 150 in Tokyo).
The number varies each year with new restaurants being awarded stars or being excluded from the classification.
Michelin has also a less known classification called Bib Gourmand. Michelin describes it as: " This is the kind of good little table that gives pleasure, with a simple recipe and yet serious: do the best with sometimes the least, and always with professional know-how!"
France has the world's greatest number of Nobel Prize winners for literature (15). The latest winner is Patrick Modiano, Literature Nobel Prize 2014.
"La Marseillaise" is the national anthem of France. The song, originally titled "Chant de guerre pour l'Armée du Rhin" ("War Song for the Army of the Rhine") was written and composed by Claude Joseph Rouget de Lisle in 1792. The French National Convention adopted it as the Republic's anthem in 1795. The song was renamed after the city it was first sung: Marseille.
France competes each year with Italy for the title of the first wine producer in the world.
Each year France produces around 5.000.000.000 litres of wine, making it 155 litres of wine produced per second!*

Source: http://www.planetoscope.com
The rooster is the unofficial emblem of France, and the symbol of many sports teams.
This comes from the fact that in Latin language the word gallus that signifies Gaul, the ancient country that occupied the teritory of the modern France, means also rooster.
On official documents the French Republic is represented by the head of a woman wearing a Phrygian hat.
This woman that symbolizes the Republic is called Marianne.
According to a legend this emblem came up during the French revolution when it was considered that a woman personage should represent the Republic as opposed to the old ways when a man, the king, was representing the country. The name Marianne was simply - according to some historians - the combination of most spread names of the time Marie and Anne.
According to the French web site http://www.assemblee-nationale.fr/histoire/SYMBOLES/sommaire.asp the name was introduced by Baras who took it from the name of his host during one of his dinner parties.
The law of 27 Pluviôse II (February 15, 1794) makes the tricolor the national flag.
From 1814 to 1830 the tricolor was replaced by a white flag.
But in July 1830 Louis-Philippe, recognizing the national character of the revolution declares: "The nation takes its colors. It will not wear other than the tricolor cockade. "
Source: http://www.assemblee-nationale.fr/histoire/SYMBOLES/sommaire.asp
The fact is that, before the Revolution, the aristocracy travelled on the left of the road, forcing the peasantry over to the right, but after the storming of the Bastille and the subsequent events, aristocrats preferred to keep a low profile and joined the peasants on the right. An official keep-right rule was introduced in Paris in 1794, more or less parallel to Denmark, where driving on the right had been made compulsory in 1793.Later, Napoleon's conquests spread the new rightism to the Low Countries (Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg), Switzerland, Germany, Poland, Russia and many parts of Spain and Italy.
According to some studies the champagne was not invented in Champagne region but in the South West of France, in the Languedoc region, where the Benedictine monks of the Saint Hilaire monastery discovered the process of transforming the white wine into sparkling wine as early as the 14th century.
In the late sixteenth century, Pierre Perignon called Dom Perignon a monk from the Hautvillers abbey of Champagne region visited Saint Hilaire and on his return home introduced the process to the wines of his region.
With a clearance of 270 m (890 ft) under its deck the Millau Viaduct, a suspension bridge that spans the Tarn River Valley in southern France, is the highest bridge in the world.
French people cheek kiss to greet each others - gesture called "faire la bise". The number of kisses varies, according to the region, from 1 (e.g. in Brittany) to 4 (in Paris and most of the North), and occasionally up to 5 in Corsica. The kisses start on the left cheek in north and on the right cheek in the south.
According to statistics English is spoken by 34% of France's population (making English the most spoken foreign language of the country).
Nicotine substance was named after Jean Nicot (1530-1600), a French diplomat and chemist who introduced the tobacco plant to France in 1559 (from Portugal where he was ambasador).
The French 'Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen' of 1789 is the world's first universal declaration of human rights, applying not only to French citizens or "free men" (as opposed to slaves), but to all people in the world.
Between 1309 and 1376 the papacy moved from its traditional location the city of Rome and resided in the French town of Avignon. This move was triggered by the conflict between the King of France Philip IV, who was instrumental in the election of Clement V, a Frenchman, as a pope, and the rest of the cardinals. Clement moved his court to Avignon, were it remained for 67 years and where a succession of 7 popes ruled. Finally in 1377 Gregory XI moved his court to Rome, officially ending the Avignon papacy.
France is the first country to establish airborne postal services. They were set up during Franco-Prussian war of 1870 and were using manned hotair baloons. The first mail baloon took off on the 23 of September 1870 in Paris, was called Neptune and was manned by the pilot Jules Dufour. France was also a pioneer in using the airplanes for mail carrying. The famous Aéropostale company, among whose pilots was Antoine de Saint Exupery, was established in Toulouse in 1918.
On November 11, 1789, the National Assembly adopts the division into departments whose names are selected based on geography and hydrography. France was divided into departments following the decree of December 22, 1789. Their exact number (83) and their limits were published February 26, 1790 and their existence took effect March 4, 1790. The size of each department was established to make it possible to get to its capital town in less than a day's horse ride from any point of their territory.
France is divided into 101 departments, five of which are located overseas.
Built between 1667 and 1681 the "Canal du Midi" that links the Mediterranean Sea with the Atlantic Ocean is the oldest still in use canal of Europe.
The French explorer Jacques Yves Cousteau together with the French engineer Émile Gagnan developed the very first self-contained underwater breathing apparatus, or "SCUBA" equipment - Aqua-Lung, allowing divers to explore to depths of beyond 100 feet.
With a length of 73m, a width of 80m and a hight of 24m the plane Airbus A380, built mainly in Toulouse, France, is the biggest civil aviation plane of the moment.
The name of the French capital Paris comes from the name of the earliest inhabitants of what is not the Paris region, a tribe called Parisii.
During the Roman occupation the city was called Lutetia and was renamed Paris in 360 AD.
The phrase "haute cuisine" was coined by the French chef François Pierre La Varenne who wrote in 1651 the cookbook "Le Cuisinier françois". The book, that was re-published the last time in 1983, put the foundation of the modern French cuisine.
In 1963, NASA funded the installation of a 106 cm telescope on the peak " pic du Midi de Bigorre" of the Pyrenean Mountains. The telescope was used to make precise shots of the lunar surface as part of the planning of the Apollo mission.
The first functional sewing machine was invented by the French tailor, Barthelemy Thimonnier, in 1830.
Le Bon Marché ("the good market", or "the good deal" in French) in Paris, France,is regarded as the first department store in the world. It was founded in 1850 by Aristide Boucicaut.
Alfred Binet was a French psychologist who in the early 1900 suggested the concept of the measure of inteligence and developed the first IQ test.
The term "radioactivity" was introduced by the French scientists Pierre and Marie Curie, who discovered and studied the phenomenon. At the time of the discovery radioactivity was considered a "miracle, cure all" phenomenon. There were even facial creams with Radium and spas using radioactive water. Now we know better!
Each second 10 bottles of Bordeaux wine are opened in the world!(according to the site www.bordeaux.fr)
Philosopher and statesman Michel de Montaigne, a friend of King Henri IV of France, did invent the essay form of writing. The word essay comes from the French "essayer" which means "to try".
Maybe not a piece of trivia but a amusing enough fact: At her wedding in 1533 to future Henri II of of France, Catherine de Medicis received as a wedding present from her brother Alessandro de' Medici a bag of … white beans! The white beans - the great northern beans variety - were a novelty in Europe being just introduced from America!
The stethoscope was invented 1816 in France by Dr. Rene Laennec. It was then a simple roll of paper that was allowing the doctor to do the auscultation while keeping his ear away from the patient for reasons of modesty.
The biggest truffle ever found in Perigord was a 1,2 Kilo truffle in 2012. Big truffles being known as less flavored then the small ones it was sold to a shopkeeper for "only" a little more then ...900Euros. The truffle is now exposed in a glass jar in the shop's window.
The origin of the Friday the 13th superstition comes from the events that took place in the 14th century.
At down on Friday the 13th of October 1307 the leader of the Templars organization Grand Master Jacques de Molay and many other Templars were arrested - to be later tortured - by the order of King Philip le Bel of France.
On May 1st the tradition goes that French people offer the loved ones bouquets of Lily of the Valley. According to the legend the first one to offer these flowers was King Charles IX who when presented himself with lilies, liked the flowers so much he decided to offer them to all the ladies of the court.
Did you ever wonder who coined the Olympic Games motto:"Citius, Altius, Fortius"- "Faster, Higher, Stronger"?
The correct answer is not the French Pierre de Coubertin - the "father" of the modern Games - but his friend - another Frenchman - Henri Didon a Dominican priest and athletics enthusiast who came up with the phrase for a sport youth gathering in 1891.
The ambulance was invented by French surgeon Dominique-Jean Larrey (1766-1842), a millitary medical doctor that followed Napoléon Bonaparte (French emperor from 1804-1814) in his various war campaigns.
Louis Braille was a French man - blinded by accident as a small child - that invented in the 19th century the system of reading and writing that has been used since by people who are blind or visually impaired that took his name: braille.
With 9.7 million of visitors (in 2012) Louvre, Paris, is the world's most visited art museum (followed by Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City and British Museum, London)*.
Source: Art Newspaper
The oldest historic festival of France takes place every year since 1211(!!!) in the town of Bourg Saint Bernard –in Lauragais region south east of Toulouse. The festival is called “Pré de la Fadaise” (“The Meadow of Nonsense”!!!) and is celebrated each year on Whitsun Monday.
France is the first country in the world to introduce the registration of motor vehicles in 1893.
The famous French baguette is a relatively new product, its appearance dating from the 1920s when a labor law was passed preventing the bakers from working before 4:00am. This made it impossible for them to prepare the traditional round loaves - that needed more baking time - in time for breakfast. Bakers were "forced" to come up with a differently thin shaped bread -called baguette or "little stick" in French - that needed less time to bake.
Probably unique in the world, the literary prize "Prix Folire", created by the famous - in France - writer and TV personality Patrick Poivre d'Arvor has as its jurymen and jurywomen the patients of the psychiatric hospital of Thuir in the Pyrénees Orientales department of south west of France.
In France the postal workers take an oath at the beginning of their careers. It is a tradition born during the French revolution. The oath contains the rules that they are bound to follow throughout their careers that include: to protect the objects deposited by the clients, to respect the secret of correspondence, and the prohibition of keeping, event temporarily, the mail.
Roland Garros whose name is borne by the French tennis open was not a tennis player but an aviator and World War I fighter pilot who became 1913 the first to make a non-stop flight across the Mediterranean Sea from Fréjus in the south of France to Bizerte in Tunisia.
The oldest (re-opened in 2013) movie theater in the world is "Eden" in La Ciotat - a town situated between Marseilles and Toulon on the Mediterranean Sea coast.
It was here that the Lumiere brothers, Auguste and Louis, screened their first moving pictures on March 21, 1899.
The telescope was invented by the French priest Mersenne in 1639 as proved by his correspondence with Descartes (and not by the Scott Jacques Gregory or by Isaac Newton as many times considered)
The largest dinosaur footprints found to date are located in Plagne, near Lyon, France. The tracks spread over dozens and possibly even hundreds of meters.
The first true automobile was built in 1769 by French military engineer Nicolas-Joseph Cugnot. This steem powered tricycle is preserved and can be seen nowadays at the National Conservatory of Arts and Crafts in Paris.
Alphonse Bertillon (1853 – 1914) was a French police officer who standardized in 1888 the use of the "mug shot"!!!!
Strasbourg Cathedral built between 1176 an 1439 was with a height of 142 metres (466 ft) the tallest building in the world during the time between 1647 and 1874 and STILL IS the tallest still standing complete building erected during late Middle Ages.
French engineer Paul Cornu designed the world's first successful manned rotary wing aircraft.
He piloted this "helicopter" himself on November 13, 1907.
The Arbez Hotel in Jura department of France (or in Switzerland!) is the unique hotel in the world situated in 2 countries! One can sleep with the head in France and the legs in Switzerland since the Franco-Swiss border passes through the middle of the building. This strange situation happens because in the 19th century Napoleon III moved the French border several meters!
Artificial concrete was invented by the French Louis Vicat in 1818. The first artificial concrete bridge was completed in 1822 and is the Souillac Bridge over the Dordogne River. Another Frenchman, Joseph Monier invented in 1849 the technique of the reinforced concrete where steel is added to the concrete structure.
The French Charles Cros (1842-1888) was the first person to record and play the human voice when he created the so called paleophone - the ancestor of the phonograph - in 1877.