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France

France destinations

Alsace

Aquitaine

Bordeaux

Brittany

Champagne, Ardennes and Lorraine

Dordogne

French Riviera

Languedoc-Roussillon

Limousin and Poitou-Charentes

Marseille

Midi-Pyrénées

Nice

Nord Pas de Calais Picardy

Normandy

Paris

Pays de la Loire and Centre

Provence

South Burgundy

Toulouse

France

France is the most popular tourist destination in the world with 83.7 million tourist arrivals in 2014. People refer to it as ‘La Belle  France’.  While it’s true this is a beautiful country with superb scenery, they visit for a variety of other reasons too! These include superb weather, great cuisine, amazing beaches and a fascinating culture  – what’s not to like?

Bordered by Spain in the South and Belgium, Luxembourg, German, Switzerland and Italy in the East, France has the advantage of being part of cooler Northern Europe and part of the warmer Latin south. It has a land area of 640,679 square km and is the second biggest country in Europe after Russia.

The many and varied attractions of la Belle France

Since France is a large country it rarely seems to get overcrowded. Being both extensive and diverse, it offers a wide enough range of holiday experiences to suit everyone’s taste.

Are you thinking perhaps of a beach holiday? France is also known, mostly by the French, as L’Hexagone, because it has six sides. Three of them are coastal with long stretches of sandy beaches but perhaps you prefer some mountain activities? Well, how the about the Alps or the Pyrénées not to mention the Massif Centrale and Jura.

Maybe you prefer Cities? Paris needs no introduction but what about Bordeauxthe centre of the eponymous world famous wine region, Lyon, with its famous Traboules or covered passageways. Then there are the vibrant southern cities of Toulouse, Marseille and Nice which buzz with excitement from morning to night.

The North

Many visitors head for a particular region of France and each has something, often unique, to offer. In the north east, Brittany with its wild and rocky coastline is popular with those who want to get away from it all. Its neighbour Normandy attracts history buffs and lovers of rich pastoral scenery. In the north east Alsace is very Germanic with some very pretty villages and its own mountain range, the Vosges.

The East

Further south on the east side are the fabulous Alps with Mont Blanc, the highest mountain Western Europe, straddling the border with Italy and Lake Annecy, arguably the most beautiful lake in Europe. Every possible outdoor pursuit is offered here during winter and summer from skiing to ice climbing and via ferrata to mountain biking.

The Centre

Paris is the third most visited city in the world with its famous landmarks and world renowned museums while the Île-de-France, which surrounds it, includes iconic palaces and chateaux. Talking of chateaux, the World Heritage Site of the Loire Valley, just a little to the south west, includes the Renaissance Châteaux that used to be home to the kings and other notables of the era.

The South West

The south west boasts the Atlantic Coast favoured by surfers, the Basque Country with its own language and the Dordogne which the English either owned or coveted for so long. Further east the Languedoc-Roussillon, Catalan in flavour, has some great beaches of its own and curves away in a great arc towards Provence, home to lavender, Roman Cities, bullfighting and wild horses.

The South

The second most visited region in France after Paris is the Riviera in South Eastern France with 10 million visitors per year and many go to Nice the undisputed capital of the Cote-d-Azur. Its unique coast line and superb climate attracted the crowned heads of Europe during the 19th Century. Visitors have flocked here ever since many never returning to the cooler climes of the north.

Nice is at the eastern end of the fabulous region of Provence, a land so loved by the Romans that they called it Provincia Nostra (Our Province). The name stuck and many wonderfully well-preserved monuments reflecting their presence can be found at Arles, Nîmes and St-Rémy. 

Lifestyle and Cuisine

For many visitors it is the relaxed lifestyle and fabulous cuisine regardless of region which attracts them back every year. While all regions have their own specialities you will always obtain very good value for your Euro!

 

 

When To Go

Anytime is the time to go to France because there is so much to see and do in this huge and varied country! Maybe avoid January and February in the North but head down towards the magnificent Mediterranean coast and enter a different world even in the depths of Winter!

Check out ‘How Much Time to Spend’, ‘High and Low Season‘, ‘Weather and Climate’, ‘Events & Holidays‘ and ‘Time Zone‘ by visiting the grey area at the left of this text.

How Much Time To Spend

France is a large country by European standards and there is so much to see and do that you could literally spend several weeks here and hardly scratch the surface! If you intend only to visit one of the large cities, e.g. Paris, Marseille or Toulouse, then a few days will allow you to see most of the sites but to explore a region like Provence or the Dordogne you need at least a couple of weeks!

Why not indulge yourself and spend at least a month in la Belle France? I promise you won’t regret your decision!

High and Low Season

The High Season in France is July and August especially from mid-July to mid-August when the French themselves tend to take their holidays. In the southern regions high season tends to last much longer due to the Mediterranean climate while in the Alps and Pyrénées, the High Season for Winter Sports is January/February when the resorts are very busy. However if there is enough snowfall the season is extended and indeed some of the higher resorts, for example, Les Deux Alpes, operate year round.

High Season can be extremely busy on the French Riviera where the world and his/her wife/husband plus many others head and who can blame? However, just above the coast in the Pays Arrière Niçois you find lots of space for yourself with hardly a soul for miles. The Dordogne too can be very busy at this time but head there in the shoulder season and you’ll have the place to yourself – well almost!

Low Season won’t be busy at all anywhere unless there’s a special event like the Nice Carnival taking place and lasts from October till Easter.

Weather and Climate

France generally enjoys a very pleasant climate ranging from Oceanic in the west and north to Continental in the east to Mediterranean in the south. Check out a climate map here.

Summers can be very warm throughout France but clearly the further south you go the hotter it gets. The weather along the Riviera usually remains relatively warm throughout the winter especially in places like Menton on the border with Italy and Beaulieu-sur-Mer slightly further which have very mild micro climates.

Events and Holidays

Events include:
Mid-January – Truffle Festival  -Sarlat
February – Dunkirk Festival
February – Mimosa Procession – Bormes–les-Mimosas
End February/Early March – Nice Carnival
End February/Early March – Menton Lemon Festival
Early March – Fest d’Oie (Goose Festival) Sarlat
March (4 days – varies)) – Easter Feria – Arles
2nd Sunday in May – Beaulieu-sur-Dordogne Strawberry Festival
Mid-July – Grand Falconer’s Festival at Cordes-sur-Ciel
July 14th – French National day – all over France
Early August – Corso of Lavender – Digne-les-Bains
Mid-August – Arvor Festival – Vannes, Brittany
3rd week August – St. Louis Festival (water jousting) Sète
End-August – Mirabelle Plum Festival – Metz
Early September – Vines, Wines & Hikes in the Loire Valley – Nantes, Angers, Saumur, Tours & Blois
October – Pepper Festival – Espelette
Mid-November –
Beujolais Nouveau Festival – all France
End November & December – Strasbourg Christmas Market

French Holidays include:

January 1st – New Year’s Day
Good Friday and Easter Monday
May 1st or the first Monday in May
May 14th – Ascension Day
May Whit Monday – last Monday of month
July 14th – Bastille Day
August 15th – Assumption Day
December 25th – Christmas Day
December 26th – Boxing Day

Consult: For further information and Regional Holidays click here.

Time Zone

France is located in the Central European Time (CET)

Daylight Saving Time (DST) happens in the Spring (last Sunday in March at 1AM) when clocks are advanced one hour. In the Autumn (last Sunday in October at 1AM), clocks shift back one hour to standard time to give more daylight in the morning.

What it Costs

France is not expensive – expect to pay much the same as, or even less, than you would elsewhere and certainly much less than in neighbouring Switzerland for example. Admission to sites of interest is often surprisingly cheap and eating out, while not exactly inexpensive, is normally very reasonably priced.

Of course the traveller will find that large cities can be a little pricey especially for eating out but, if you are prepared to shop around a little, you will find something to suit your pocket.

What you can expect is value for money wherever you go. For food shopping try the local outdoor market, held daily in the big cities and weekly in small towns and villages. These are not necessarily cheaper than the shops but the produce is guaranteed to be local and fresh.

For really low prices on a whole range of goods try the local Hypermarché. These are huge retail outlets, usually to be found on the outskirts of town, which sell everything from food to clothes. Hypermarchés to look out for are Carrefour, Leclerc, Auchan, Intermarché Hyper and Géant Casino.

Abstract Pricing at a Glance

Prices often fluctuate dynamically depending on capacity, seasonality and deals. We don’t want to lead you astray by quoting exact prices that quickly become wrong. To give you a rough idea for budgetary planning purposes, though, we have indicated general price ranges for all points of interest.

Price ranges are quoted in €

See & Do
N/A => Not applicable
Free
€ => Tickets less than €15 per person
€€ => Tickets €15- €30 per person
€€€ => Tickets €30 per person

Sleep — Out of town/rural
€ => Rooms less than €60 for a double
€€ => Rooms €60 – €100 for a double
€€€ => Rooms €100 for a double

Sleep — Large Cities
€ => Rooms less than €100 for a double
€€ => Rooms €100 – €150 for a double
€€€ => Rooms €150 for a double

Eat
€=> €5- €10 per person for a meal (without alcohol, tax, tip)
€€ => €10 – €25 per person for a meal (without alcohol, tax, tip)
€€€ => €25 per person for a meal (without alcohol, tax, tip)

Shop         
N/A => Not applicable

Tours
€ => Tickets less than €25 per person
€€ => Tickets €25 – €50 per person
€€€ => Tickets €50 per person

Airfare and Car Rental Prices

Fly the Friendly Skies

Airfares are a fickle thing. When you need it to be low, it’s high. And when prices dip, what happens? You can’t get off work to travel. Sigh.

But you can get notifications from companies like Kayak, which will email you when airfares drop. Type your destination and the dates you are watching and boom, when there’s a deal, you’ll hear about it immediately via your inbox.

Sites like Momondo also display prices for multiple airlines, so you can compare rates without visiting individual airline sites.

That said, there is an advantage to visiting an individual airline’s site. Why? Because some of their really great deals don’t show up on the aggregator airfare sites. Most airlines share limited-time, super-specials via their Facebook pages or email blasts. So it pays to be their ‘friend’ or subscribe to their e-mailings. European operators such as easyJet, Ryanair, Air France-KLM, Jet2,  British Airways, flybe and Lufthansa offer an extensive range of routes in Europe.

Have Car, Will Travel

Like airlines, car rental rates are all over the map. Companies like Expedia and Hotwire offer comparison price shopping.

Zipcar is another choice for rentals. Available in many major cities, Zipcar is a great alternative for super-short term rentals. Picture this scenario: you are in a big city with terrific public transport, so you don’t need a car. But then you hear about an amazing restaurant 20 miles away in the suburbs. You can’t go home without trying it. A taxi would cost a fortune. You’d have to wait a long time to get a return taxi. Download the Zipcar app; search for a nearby Zipcar locale. Memberships cost about €8/£6 a month; rentals are about €8-13.50/£6-10 per hour; fuel and insurance are included.

Ride-sharing companies, such as Uber, are also ubiquitous in major cities. Through a smart phone app, you can line up rides all over town. It’s convenient because no money changes hands (payment is made through the app) and it’s usually cheaper than a taxi. Another bonus? After requesting a ride, you can see where the driver is on a map, so you know that they are on their way and how long it will be. Try that with a cab.

All the major car rental companies such as Avis, Sixt, Hertz and Europcar operate throughout Europe.  It is not normally possible to rent in the UK and take the vehicle to mainland Europe or vice versa.

Insurance

Hopefully, your trip to (or within) Europe goes without a glitch. But what if an unexpected situation arises? Will you lose the money you invested in the trip? Will you need quick cash to cover sudden costs?

Travel insurance policies are meant to cover these unexpected costs and assist you when problems arise. The fee is typically based on the cost of the trip and the age of the traveler.

Most travel insurance providers offer comprehensive coverage that usually includes protection for the following common events:

Trip Cancellation — About 40 percent of all claims fall in this category.

Medical — Travellers within Europe from European Union member states should obtain an EHIC (European Health Insurance Card) card which entitles them to healthcare on the same terms as citizens from the country they are visiting. This is a reciprocal agreement which means for example that EEA visitors to the UK will receive free care in NHS hospitals in the same way that UK residents do.  Some countries e.g. France make a charge known as a patient contribution for GP visits or stays in hospital for both their own citizens and visitors from the EEA. Even so, travellers are well advised to have additional medical insurance to cover for example the cost of repatriation, mountain rescue in ski resorts and other emergencies.

For travellers from outside the European Union the cost of health services in Europe, while not as high as in the US for example, can be relatively expensive for the uninsured. For this reason it is essential to consider purchasing medical insurance. If you have a Health Care Plan back home it may cover you for most situations which arise abroad but you need to check this out and in any case additional medical travel insurance will cover you for private health care or other expenses.

Some countries outside the European Union have a reciprocal agreement for healthcare with certain European countries.  For example Switzerland has an agreement with all European Union countries and Australia has agreements with the UK, the Netherlands, Italy and others. It pays to check before leaving home.

Trip Interruption — For example, if you become ill during your trip or if someone at home gets sick, and you have to get off the cruise ship or abandon a tour. The insurer will often pay up to 150% of the cost of your trip to get you home.

Travel Delay — Insurance usually covers incidentals like meals and overnight lodging while you wait to travel home.

Baggage — Insurance will typically cover lost and mishandled baggage.

Some insurance companies allow you to purchase a policy that allows you to cancel for any reason. This may cost more (often 10% or more), but it is worthwhile for certain travellers.

Do I need travel insurance?

If your trip is expensive it’s essential and even if it isn’t it’s certainly a good idea. Your age and health are important factors. Your English or other European language skills are also crucial because insurance policies often include concierge services with 24-hour hotlines that can connect you quickly with someone who speaks your language.

How do I choose an insurance provider?

Do your homework — check around.

The largest insurers in the U.S. include Travel Guard, Allianz and CSA Travel Protection. Smaller reputable companies include Berkley, Berkshire Hathaway Travel Protection, Travel Insured International and Travelex. You may also find deals through aggregates like Squaremouth and InsureMyTrip.

Many airlines and travel companies also offer travel insurance when you book your flight (often contracted with the above major players).

In Europe the largest insurers are Allianz, Axa and Zurich but there are many smaller providers such as insureandgo and Direct Line.

Pre-existing health conditions
— Many policies have exclusion policies if you have a pre-existing medical condition or charge an additional premium related to the condition.  Some companies also offer waivers that overwrite the exclusion if you purchase the policy within a certain time frame of paying for your trip (e.g., within 24 hours of buying your cruise package). Again, it’s best to check the fine print.

Credit card insurance — If you buy your airfare or trip with a credit card, you may be partially covered by the credit card’s issuing bank. Check directly with the company to find out exactly what’s covered, as many have “stripped down” coverage and restrictions.

Exchange Rates and Currency

The main currency of Europe is the Euro which is currently used in 25 countries a few of which are not even EU members. Some countries within the European Union have retained their original currency including the UK (Pound), Denmark (Kroner) and Poland (Zloty). Most non-EU countries such as Switzerland (Swiss Franc) and Turkey (Lira) continue to use their own currency. All are decimalised and have 100 ‘pennies’ in each main unit.

Euros come in €5, €10, €20, €50, €100, €200 and €500 notes. They vary in size, from 120mm x 62mm (€5) to 160mm x 82mm (500), and colour, so it is easy to differentiate between them. All feature European architecture throughout the ages. (Smaller businesses may not accept the larger notes, so plan to have €20s or smaller notes in hand)

There are eight denominations of euro coin: 1, 2, 5, 10, 20 and 50 cent plus a €1 and €2 coin. All have a common side and a national side. Remember to spend all coins before you leave – they can’t be exchanged!

Many travellers like to have a small amount of local currency when they arrive in a country but this is becoming less and less important as ATMs and Bureaux de Change appear everywhere especially in transport terminals.

Tipping and Costs That Add Up

The good news for travellers in Europe is that you don’t need to get stressed about tipping – you don’t have to do it and when you do it really should reflect good or excellent service rather than be something you are expected to do. On the whole workers in tourism are reasonably well paid and don’t depend upon tips to make up their wages. In some cases over-tipping can be embarrassing for all concerned.

Restaurants
Many restaurants include a ‘service’ charge in the price so check and, if it isn’t mentioned, then a tip of between 5 – 10% is quite enough. Even where it is included but you feel that you’ve had really excellent service then the same amount is adequate but ensure that your server receives this by handing it directly to them.

Other methods are to add a euro/pound for each member of the party or round up the bill to the nearest 5 or 10 euros.

In the UK many restaurants add an ‘optional’ amount to the bill when you are paying with plastic, but in many cases the servers don’t receive any of this and it simply becomes an extra profit for the owner. The server won’t mind if you decline to do this!

Taxis
With taxis, just round up to the next euro or pound for a short journey or, for a long ride, to the nearest ten. Again 10% is the maximum you should consider unless of course the driver carries your bags into the hotel or airport when a little more will be appreciated.

Hotels
You may wish to give the porter a euro for each bag he carries but, while it will be appreciated, it is not normally expected. Similarly you may wish to leave a small tip for the housekeeping staff, especially if they have been particularly helpful, but this is completely up to you.

Other

Invariably, there are incidental costs associated with being on the road. Make sure to budget between €10 and €40 per day for batteries, lost phone chargers, insect repellent, headache medicine, sunburn relief and other personal items you might have forgotten. If you’re traveling with kids, consider the snack budget. Local grocery, super/hypermarkets and pharmacies will be cheaper than tourist shops for all of the above.

Transportation

France is blessed with an excellent transport infrastructure and getting to the various destinations on offer couldn’t be easier! Check out ‘Getting There‘, ‘Getting Around‘ and ‘Transportation Hubs‘ by visiting the grey area to the left of this text.

Getting There

AIR: The main international airports are in Paris, Charles de Gaulle and Orly, but there are international airports at Bordeaux, Marseille, Nice, Lyon and Toulouse as well as regional airports throughout the country which are served by flights from Paris and elsewhere.

SEA:  If you have your own yacht there is no shortage of ports to anchor in but for the majority of us there is a great selection of ferries crossing the English Channel (La Manche) to Dover, Caen and Dunquerque which are linked to all parts of France by Autoroute. 

TRAIN: French Railways are amongst the best in Europe and the TGV (Train à Grande Vitesse) will propel you to Bordeaux, Marseille or Nice from Paris or Lille at 270kph/170mph

CAR:
The French Autoroute system is the best in Europe and while it can be relatively expensive (Paris – Bordeaux is €54.80 while Paris – Marseille is only €58.30) it is quick and safe, provided you avoid peak travelling times.
MOTORHOME HIRE: From their base south of Paris, France Motorhome Hire provide immaculate, reliable and carefully maintained motorhomes and campervans for English speaking visitors wishing to explore France & Europe.

Finally, an easy way to plan your journey from your home to your final destination in the Dordogne by any means of transport is to use the excellent rome2rio website.

Getting Around

Cities: Getting around in the big cities of Paris, Lyon, Nice and Marseille is easy because they all have superb, cheap and efficient public transport systems. The smaller town and cities, especially their historic centres, are small enough to to walk around.

Inter City Bus Services: This is a relatively recent introduction to France – hitherto these services were rare but  now are expanding rapidly. Check out Ouibus operated by SNCF the National rail operator.

Air Travel: Air France, the National carrier serves, about 30 French Cities.

Car: Probably the easiest way of getting around the country which has one of Europe’s best systems of Autoroutes (Motorways). Main roads and Departmental roads are normally of a very high standard too making this method of travel much less tiring that you will find elsewhere. Please note most Autoroutes are designated as Péage so you will have to pay for the privilege but I always feel it’s well worth it terms of easier driving. (Some Autoroutes are free – usually where there is no alternative road and around cities) Check out the Autoroute operator’s website here.

Train: France has some of the world’s fastest trains  – the TGV or Train à Grand Vitesse which links about fifty French cities. Where there is no TGV the system operated by SNCF (French Railways) is just as good although somewhat slower but, more importantly, it all normally runs to time!

Transportation Hubs

France has it’s fair share of transport hubs and of course the main one is Paris with its two main international airports, Charles de Gaulle and Orly as well as eight major train stations. Lesser hubs in terms of passenger numbers but vitally important to their respective regions are Lille, Bordeaux, Lyon, Marseille , Nice and Toulouse.

Background

Etiquette

The French tend to be quite formal, much more so than the English or other Europeans. It is not polite to use anyone’s first or given name unless invited to do so or to indulge in cheek kissing (faire la bise) unless the person you are meeting initiates the process.

Always say ‘Bonjour‘ when meeting someone  or entering a shop and don’t forget ‘au Revoir‘ when you leave. ‘S’il vous plait‘ and ‘Merci‘ are both essential phrases. If you’ve never spoken French before you may feel a little awkward  at first but it is essential if you want to get along with folks and get the most out of your visit. 

You may find that the person you are speaking to wants to practice their English – I’ve often found myself in the bizarre situation of endeavoring to speak to someone in French who insists on speaking to me in English!  Nowadays I indulge them as there will be plenty who don’t speak English and on the whole they will respect your efforts. 

Although things have improved in recent years, the politeness you find on the street or in shops does not always extend to the road. Always make sure drivers are stopping before you step out onto a crossing and don’t assume that a driver flashing his/her lights at you wants you to proceed! However, if you’re driving and see an oncoming driver flashing their lights then he/she is probably warning you that ‘Les Flics’ (Gendarmes) are waiting down the road to check your speed!

Language

The main language spoken in France is, unsurprisingly, French and is used by everyone, although regional languages and dialects are spoken by minorities in Brittany, in the Basque Region, in Languedoc-Roussillon and in Provence. While some locals speak English, this is not normally the case, especially in the more rural areas. It pays to assume that the people you come across don’t speak English so begin any conversation in French, if only out of politeness. Often it is resented if you assume people speak English – if they do they will usually switch over when they realise where you’re from and if they don’t, well it can be hard work!  

As always when travelling it is a good idea to know at least the basics i.e. the words for good day (bonjour), good evening (bon soir), goodbye (au revoir), thank you (merci), and please (s’il vous plait). Using these will get you a long way especially when you accompany them with monsieur or madame!

Whatever you do don’t shout in English if people don’t understand – this only serves to annoy. A little miming can sometimes win the day but better still buy a phrase book and learn some words and sentences before you go or during your journey.

The Language of Oc

The Oc language or Langue d’Oc is the old language of southern France, Catalonia, Monaco and parts of Liguria and Piedmont in Italy. It has several dialects including Provençal and Catalan. Mainstream French was referred to as the Langue d’Oui – both mean the ‘Language of Yes’!

Derived from Vulgar Latin, Oc is the southern French word for ‘yes’, hence the term Languedoc for the southern French Region. Interestingly, the modern French word for ‘yes’ is Oui and the French language used to be referred to as the ‘Langue d’Oui ‘ although originally it was spoken only in Northern France. During the Middle Ages the Northern French gradually took control of the south and the ‘Langue d’Oui’ became the official tongue of the whole country.

During 19th century Oc re-established itself thanks mainly to the poet Fréderic Mistral and something of a revival took place. Throughout the south you will notice several dual language street signs and occasionally some graffiti defacing those which are not dual language!

Hints, Tips and FAQs

Tips

As always when travelling it is a good idea to know at least the basics i.e. the words for good day (bonjour), good evening (bon soir), goodbye (au revoir), thank you (merci), and please (s’il vous plait). Using these will get you a long way especially when you accompany them with monsieur or madame!

Whatever you do don’t shout in English if people don’t understand – this only serves to annoy. A little miming can sometimes win the day but better still buy a phrase book and learn some words and sentences before you go or during your journey.