France has 45 sites on the UNESCO World Heritage List and has cities and gorgeous villages of high cultural regard, beaches, alpine geography, ski resorts, and rural regions for those who want a retreat. Famously known for its gastronomy, some would say that France has it all.
History of France
French history can be traced to 5th century BC, when a Gallic identity consisting of the Belgae, Aquitani and Gauls (Celts) was forged. Despite the Gauls crossing the Alps in 390 BC, beseiging the regional power of Rome and remaining a threat for centuries, it succumbed to Rome in 52 BC and remained a part of the Roman empire until the late 5th century.
By the Early Middle Ages, Gaul was fragmented and came to be known as Francia. By the 10th century Viking invasions led to the region of Normandy (from the word 'northman') and from which William Duke of Normandy conquered England, becoming king and the equal of the French king. Technically a vassal of the king of France, this led to hundreds of years of tension between England and France.
The Middle Ages saw heavy French involvement in the Crusades to restore the Holy Lands for Christianity. Much of France was ruled by the English kings but The Hundred Years War between England and France, ending in 1453, saw France win back territories from England, eventually leaving just the port of Calais in English hands until as late as 1532.
French culture gave rise to the first colonial empire, claiming parts of the Americas, India, and Africa, while engaging in a set of wars called the Italian Wars, as well as going to war with Spain. It lost overseas possessions yet expanded in Europe, but a financially ruinous decision to support the American fight for independence from Britain contributed to the French Revolution and a very busy Madame Guillotine.
By 1799 Napolean Bonaparte seized control of the Republic, and went on to conquer much of Europe, overextending in Russia and succumbing to General Winter in 1812. Fatally weakened, Napoleon was beaten by its many enemies and exiled to the British island of St Helena.
Fast forward through a new monarchy, revolution and another republic, by the 1920s France had reached it's apogee, ruling about 8% of the world's land mass. Despite this, France was actually shattered by World War 1, losing 1.4m troops - nearly 4% of its population.
It was rapidly defeated by Germany In World War 2, and lost many of its colonial possessions in Asia to the Japanese. After World War 2, many of France's colonial possessions were the scenes for anti-colonial conflicts, with first French Indochina and then Algeria gaining bloody independence.
France still retains overseas territories, many of which have the same status as mainland France but it's focus is now on developing the European Union, of which it was a founding member whose origins are traced back to 1951.