France

France

The outside world has always had a love affair with France since the Romans colonised it. Most people envisage spectacular beaches, bronzed bodies and conspicuous wealth of the infamous Côte D’Azur, but France also offers some of the best food in the world, picturesque towns, ancient Roman ruins and it has inspired generations of artists.Cahors Cathedral by decar66 Flickr Creative Commons

Few other nations of its size pack such sheer variety of sights, scenery and culture from the unique Brittany to the Loire Valley, rich in greenery and grapes, the snow capped peaks of the Alps to the east and south-west Pyrénées, the south central Massif Central with rocks and plateaux and the luscious south east Mediterranean coastline.

All this variety is within a day’s journey of Paris, fashion, art, style and culture epicentre.

Situated on the western tip of Europe, France is nearly the same size as Texas with a population of 65.7 million.

Climate

Temperatures change quite a bit from the comparatively wet, British-style climate of Paris in the north and Brittany in the west to the hot, sunny Mediterranean coastline in the south. July and August are the worst times to visit as tourists take over the cities, but off-season you can enjoy a few cheaper hotel bargains in the autumn.

Visas

All non-nationals will need a valid passport. Europeans are free to enter the country, and USA visitors do not need a visa for less than a 90 day stay, however, Australians do so check with your local embassy.

Check Visa France to find up to date information on visa requirements.

Currency

France is one of the more top end expensive destinations, especially Paris. It’s unlikely you could get a hotel in Paris for less than $100 a night, but B & B’s and hostels can have some bargains.

Currency: Euro (EUR)

  • USD $1 = 0.75 Euros
  • GBP £1 = 1.2 Euros

For up to date exchange information, please visit xe.com.

Food

Fine wines, rich cheeses are the synonymous with French life, as are the light white breads and cakes like the baguette freshly baked and bought daily from a boulangerie (bakery) and patisserie (cake shop). The French are possibly the most cuisine conscious nation in the world, so expect good quality even at cheap restaurants. There is not a lot in the way of world cuisine, and the French don’t really “do” Vegetarian so expect plenty of meat and fish and unusual specialities like snails, frogs legs and horse meat.Patisserie by KJGarbutt Flickr Creative Commons

For great food at cheap prices head for a local market. In major centres such as Paris they run Tuesday to Sunday. Here you’ll find fresh fruit, vegetables, flowers and even BBQ chickens. The prices undercut the supermarkets and they’re great places to people watch. The gourmet local market in Rennes is reputedly the best open market in Northern France. If you have to learn one phrase in French it should be “ou est le marche?” meaning “where is the market?”.

The French are known for their coffee passion. For many travellers it often comes as a big surprise that all the posh names used at the local Starbucks like ‘café au lait’ and ‘latte’ mean nothing to the local café owner in France. To the French ‘café‘ means an extremely strong tiny coffee – an expresso to Americans. Ordering a café crème will get you close to what an American would call a ‘latte’; to get a big steaming cup of coffee order a ‘café American’.

Language

The national language is French. English is widely spoken by many people, but the French are fiercely proud of their language and some will not like to speak English even if they can. Many older people and people living rurally will only speak French – so bring that phrase book.

People

The French are a proud, stylish nation – fiercely independent, and in love with their own culture and ways of life. It is a republic nation with minority ethnic groups in the cities from France’s former colonies in Africa and Asia.

Travel

Internal flights and petrol, car hire is averagely priced for west Europe but rail-passes, particularly for Inter-Railing in Europe is very well priced. With the world’s fastest trains, you can get to anywhere within the country in a matter of hours. You can also cross to and from Britain via the underwater Channel Tunnel by car or Eurostar by train.

France has one of the world’s best train systems. The ‘trains de grande vitesse’ (TGVs), meaning very fast trains, make it possible to travel from Paris to any major city in France in less than five hours. The only drawback of the network is that it only serves major destinations; to get to smaller places you’ll have do combine train and bus rides. For train schedules and reservations for anywhere in France call 08 92 35 35 35 which will save you a lot of grief at the station.

Arles

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Bayonne

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Bordeaux

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Brittany

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Burgandy

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Calais

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Cannes

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Marseille

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Marseilles

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Monaco

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Normandy

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Paris

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Provence

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