France: Where Love is Always in the Air

Roads to romance wind through France, hugging Mediterranean and Atlantic shores, passing beneath snow-capped Alps and Pyrenees heights, linking picturesque villages and treasure-filled historic towns. And, of course, France’s romantic piece de resistance is Paris—a.k.a. the “City of Love.” Therefore, it comes as no surprise that La Belle France has once more—this is the 11th year—captured Recommend’s Readers’ Choice Award for Sexiest Romance/Honeymoon Destination in Europe.

France has welcomed lovers for centuries, says New York-based Marion Fourestier, media director for Atout France, the France Tourism Development Agency. “And it is certainly no less true today that France remains a perfect pick for a honeymoon, vow renewals or just a mad cap weekend.” She also believes that, “Travel agents who know France come to love selling France—the first time and the next—for more than half of our American visitors are repeat travelers.”

For romantics, Paris is usually the centerpiece, and over the next two years, the Paris luxury brand—with Asian accents—is in for a big expansion. Just opened in October, the Raffles Royal Monceau, whose guest attractions range from a private library and art gallery to a 100-person cinema. This month, Shangri-La Hotel Paris becomes the second new entry, occupying a building originally built in 1896 as the home of Roland Bonaparte, Napoleon’s great-nephew. Here, rooms boast an exceptional Eiffel Tower view.Mandarin Oriental, Paris, set to open in mid-2011, will be home to Michelin-star chef Thierry Marx. In the summer of 2012, look for the debut of The Peninsula Paris in the former International Conference Center of the French foreign ministry.

And, no doubt, hotels with a “palace” label fill many a romantic traveler’s dreams, and palaces will get new meaning when France awards a handful of hotels displaying “excellence, perfection, luxury and timelessness,” a special palatial class rating—only one fifth of the 100 five-star hotels in France are due to receive this honor. This is an extension of a new hotel classification system under which previously rated French four-star-luxe hotels were moved into the five-star category. Whether a one- or five-star accommodation, “officially classifying our hotels and making them more transparent helps take the guesswork out of picking the optimum place to stay,” says Fourestier, “and small loans are available to hotels that want to upgrade their property to match the standards of the new classification.”

Beyond Paris, the top region for U.S. visitors is Provence/Cote d’Azur, where the romance of France stretches from Marseilles. Always a favorite here is Antibes, which just celebrated the 50th anniversary of its famous Jazz Festival. And Fourestier points out that those who love France will find that this year and next, France continues to, “…decentralize its culture, making sure that its artistic treasures and celebrations are happening reasons to spend time in all the provinces.” For instance, a stunning satellite of Paris’ Pompidou Museum just opened in Metz, introducing to art and architecture lovers a new destination and a whole new region of France just 1.5 hours on the TGV from Paris. This year, everyone fell in love again with the French Impressionist painters during a province-wide focus on Normandy. Future visitors will want to return to visit Le Havre, almost flattened during the Normandy landings in WWII, now revived, restored and receiving an unusual UNESCO World Heritage site salute for a modern city.