A strong French connection stretches across the 70 miles of Channel waters which separate Sussex and the Normandy coast.

We love their food and wine. They love our warm welcome.

Britain and France have this week been celebrating 100 years since signing the Entente Cordiale, which ended conflict between the two nations.

Brighton and Hove City Council leader Ken Bodfish has been among a select band of English dignitaries invited to Paris to have lunch with the Queen, the Duke of Edinburgh, French prime minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin and civic leaders.

He said: "It was an honour to be invited to the lunch and is proof of the strong links Brighton and Hove has with France.

"Brighton is well known in France and our economies can both benefit from stronger links."

There are an estimated 25,000 French nationals living in Sussex.

Many Sussex people are buying second homes in France - and some are selling up and moving there permanently.

These have included Peter Mayle, best-selling author of A Year In Provence.

He studied at Brighton College during the Fifties and still has fond memories.

His favourite example of "Franglais" - a mingling of French and English - was a sign he spotted in a Paris travel agency saying "Le weekend sexy" and advertising a holiday in Brighton.

Sussex is a key market for French food and wine.

French markets at places including Worthing and Brighton Marina, with traders coming over from Normandy for the day, are regular successes.

Jean Jacques, 72, moved from Paris to Brighton 28 years ago and runs The Laughing Onion restaurant in St George's Road, Kemp Town, where he sings to customers on Saturday nights.

He said: "There is a love-hate relationship with the French and English but it is all in good humour.

"England needs France and France needs England. I have been made to feel very welcome in Brighton.

"I was thinking of setting up a restaurant in London but someone suggested Brighton and I came and stayed."

Another Frenchman who has made a success out of French cuisine in Brighton is Rosario Guarneri, who now runs Le Petit Pain patisserie in Church Road, Hove.

He said: "There are a lot of French people in Brighton and they often come into the shop and say which part of France they are from.

"The French always like to feel they are part of the community. I feel at home in Brighton and Hove, especially as the people love French food, cooking and wine."

Frances Hix, a former councillor who has homes in the centre of Brighton and in Dieppe, says: "I would like to think links between Brighton and Dieppe are becoming closer. We all want that to happen but in reality progress is slow.

"I know of people who have tried to set up businesses in Dieppe after leaving Brighton and have got their fingers burnt.

"I have never experienced any antagonism towards the English in France.

"Everyone is really friendly and along with my husband Martin I have built up a network of French friends in Dieppe. They like it when the English renovate houses."

The Newhaven-Dieppe ferry crossing provides a direct link between Sussex and France.

The route was severed for four months at the beginning of 1999 after P&O Stena pulled out of running the service, claiming huge losses.

The route is now thriving with Transmanche Ferries operating twice-daily trips all year round.

Hoverspeed fast ferry services operate three times a day at peak times during the summer months, crossing the Channel in two hours.

The French connection was confirmed once again this week when Brighton Pavilion MP David Lepper made a day trip to France to see the French parliament at work.

He said: "It is vital we look at ways of improving understanding of how our parliaments work.

"We need to work more closely with our partners across the Channel, especially with all the directives coming from the European Union.

"We need to look at how we can react to these in a similar way, for example environmental issues such as the disposal of old cars and fridges. We can learn a lot from each other."