Have you considered a French gap year? With the best part of 85 million visitors a year, France remains the number one tourist destination in the world, and there is a reason for this – or rather there are many, many reasons for this.
Paris, of course, has plenty of them. You might hang out in the cafes of Montmartre, take in great art at the Louvre or Jeu de Paume, or shop at Galeries Lafayette; it takes a dull soul to be bored in one of the world’s great cities. But just sticking to Paris would be a huge mistake, as France is so much more than just its capital city…
With the largest area of any country in Western Europe, the real joy of France is its diversity. To the north you will find places familiar for all the wrong reasons – Arras, Cambrai and Béthune, or, on the coast, Dunkerque. Go west and you will find yourself in Normandy and still further on, in Brittany, with its wild coasts. To the south and west are the Loire and Bordeaux, famed for chateaux and wine. Another swing of the compass takes us through the Dordogne and on to the still remote Pyrenees and Cathar territory.
For summer heat, head to the South coast, the wild Camargue, Nice and tiny Monaco. We have skipped the Massif Central and the Rhône Valley because now, on the eastern side, we have the Alps, a playground for skiers, climbers and those who love wild, high places. Nudged up against Switzerland is the Jura region, lovely, mountainous and almost neglected with so many places competing for attention. Sweeping north you’ll find the border lands of Alsace and Lorraine where the German influence is strong, a reminder of its turbulent history. Champagne is next on our rapid tour and so back to Paris. The names themselves call to us. A gap year in France? It will take a lifetime.
Working in France
In France, you’ll also be able to find work relatively easily. It helps to speak some French and with just a little you will pick up work quickly. In the summer there is work in bars and on campsites. The minimum wage works out at around £7 an hour but le black (the black economy) holds sway in many areas and you may see much less than this in practice. The ski season brings chalet and bar work, while English speaking au pairs are in demand all year round. Working as a language assistant in schools and colleges provides opportunities for work from a few weeks to an entire year and is a great chance to immerse yourself fully in the culture.
If you are one of those who wants to stay a few days or weeks and then move on, the options are huge. After all, you’re at the heart of Western Europe. To the north lie Belgium and Luxembourg, to the north east there’s Germany and the Black Forest, to the east Switzerland and to the south east, Italy. Monaco and Andorra are tiny states that border France and beyond the Pyrenees lies the heat and Hispanic culture of Spain.