France Guide, Europe 2017-07-20T20:05:45+00:00

France Travel Guide, Europe

Paris and the Seine River overview, France

Paris, France, Europe

France Travel Guide to Holidays

Style, culture, architecture, food, wine and fashion all exist in multiple layers of excellence, with Paris in particular capturing and displaying these assets to great advantage.

This is the largest country in Europe and has an incredible diversity of landscapes offering a vast variety of holidays in gorgeous villages, world-famous resorts, on soft warm beaches or on spectacular romantic escapes.

On top of that, French love anything to do with bodies, so there is no better place for fulfilling your physical dreams.  Try paragliding off the Alps, boating through the Dordogne, cycling the Loire Valley tracks or stuffing yourself with foie gras and a bottle of Pouilly-Fuissé.

The language is one of the most beautiful things about the country so let’s forgive the French for being sniffy about it.

Downsides

– Traffic. The French are no longer insane drivers on autoroutes, having been tamed by a draconian and successful anti-speed campaigns, but they are still hairy and careless around towns. France is also a convenient thoroughfare for North-South Europe road deliveries, so some cross-France routes suffer truck overdose.
– Sudden, disruptive strikes.
– Local attitudes to foreign travellers could be improved in Paris though in many other areas the French are charming and friendly.

Weather

Best tourism seasons: March – early October for sightseeing. January-March for wintersports.

Beware July and August when the country is packed with foreign and local tourists. Avoid driving on the weekend at the beginning of August, it’s hell on wheels, bumper-to-bumper even on autoroutes. Some services in Paris – even museums and restaurants – are closed.

The big Atlantic beaches are warm and useable though the Mediterranean coast can get too hot and the warm waters may be visited by stinging jellies.

November-February can be bitterly cold in mountain areas and in the north including Paris, though the Cote d’Azur may well see blue skies and daytime T-shirt weather, but. . . rain is equally likely in winter.

Activities

Hiking/Climbing

With more than 60, 000 km (37, 500 miles)of well-marked long-distance footpaths to hike on, France is a superb walking country. Many hikes take place on the Pyrenees Mountains is the south of France but the most spectacular routes are in the Alps. For example the  stunning Grande Traversée des Alpes which takes around five weeks.

Alternatively, the best shortish Alpine bit is probably the 7 day route from Les Houches south to Pralognan. It moves from spectacular snowy peaks, past glaciers and through flowering meadows, with plenty of wildlife (including ibex and chamois) and mountain refuges serving hot meals. Check holidays in the Alps

The most French of activities; the first modern bike was French!

France – a country where car drivers respect cyclists – has 28, 000km of marked cycle routes, as well as good city and town cycle lanes. The lush and lovely Loire Valley for example, flat and full of châteaux and rural scenery has 650 kms of dedicated cycle track. Loire Valley Cycling Pictures

France is one of world’s finest and most popular destinations for both downhill and cross-country skiing, mainly in the Alps.

Caving

The limestone caves along the Spanish border or further southwest in the Pyrenees mountains offer many interesting opportunities.

Golfing

There are over 500 golf courses in the country, with several world-class ones.

Among the 500 golf courses in France the best is probably the tough but spectacular Les Bordes course near Orléans, with Kempferhof (Strasbourg), Royal Park Evian (Geneva), and Spérone (Corsica) coming well up to par.

The land between Biarritz and Bordeaux is a particular haven for those who like to travel, drink wine and swing a club, with four of Europe’s top courses – among others – interspersed with vineyards.

Rafting/Canoeing

Rental boats and organised excursions are available just about everywhere by the water in summertime. The gorges in the Pyrenees (esp. Verdon), the Alpes and the Massif Central are particularly suited for this sport.

Hang Gliding

Hangliding and paragliding: The Hautes-Alpes of Provence, the Pyrenees and Corsica are considered to be best places for high times.

Swimming/Sunbathing

From Normandy, down to Biarritz, across to the Côte d’Azur and across the water to Corsica there’s no shortage of French beaches and swimming spots in the summer.

Driving to France from the UK, hints and links on ferries, tolls, speeding controls, insurance.

Sailing

The Atlantic coast has solid winds, and an interesting coastline though the water and weather can be brutal; there are plenty of delightful and welcoming ports such as La Rochelle, Cherbourg, Biarritz and St Jean de Luz. On the the Mediterranean side the sea is safer and warmer but ports are expensive and crowded, such as Monaco, Cannes, Nice and Antibes.

Diving/Snorkelling

Excellent diving available in Corsica and pretty good off Cannes and Antibes too, especially around the islands off the coast.

Surfing

Often good waves along the Atlantic coast, such as Biarritz, Anglet and Hossegor.

Wind/Kitesurfing is most popular on the western end of the Mediterranean coast. Many rivers as well as on lakes such as Lac d’Annecy and Lake Geneva have leisure centres offering a wide rage of watersports.

Fishing

Available on rivers and lakes with permits. Try Brittany for carp fishing, River Loire and Brittany/ Normandy for trout and salmon, but the best and most scenic rivers for salmon fishing are in the western Pyrenees.
Get a licence at the local tourist office. Sea-fishing, including night-fishing, is popular and available at most seaside resorts.

Horse riding

Widespread but particularly favoured in Burgandy and the Camargue at the Rhône Delta (in Provence), a nature reserve famous for not only its indigenous horses but also mosquito saturation.
Another horse friendly area is the north; Parc International de la Canche in Le Touquet has 112km of forest riding routes and 26km of beach trails.

A large and sophisticated network of canals and rivers can take you all over the country in peace and quiet, and you still see the sights, but you don’t have to book a room ahead.

Jan. 1st: Grand Parade Paris, twinned event with London for New Year celebrations. Massive and colourful.

Feb-March: Nice Carnival, one of the biggest and the most original carnivals in the world, a two week event with colourful parades, street parties, fireworks, and monster illuminations.

mid May: Cannes Film Festival – No need to be a celebrity to enjoy Europe’s high profile film fiesta. Loads of public screenings are available, as well as a small chance of bumping into stars. No better place for people watching.

mid May/mid Oct: Gypsy Festival (Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer in Provence), a gypsy gathering; historic, unique and kaleidoscopic.

June: International Music Festival (Strasbourg in Alsace, the North), contemporary music.

July 14th: Bastille Day (nationwide), France’s biggest street festival, with parties, parades and fireworks to remember the French Revolution.

July: Tour de France, a three-week cycling race for 3, 500km (2000 miles) over the country (route changes annually). The world’s most famous French sporting event.

mid July-mid Aug: Festival d’Avignon – a dynamic and diverse Arts festival, boasting over 50 official productions and many more fringes. For classical music, try

Festival International d’Art Lyrique in Aix-en-Provence in July, too.

early Aug: Festival Interceltique (Lorient in Brittany), a worthy folk event (Celtic music and culture).

Oct: Jazz Festival (Nancy), one of the country’s best jazz events.

Food

Traditional French cuisine of the protein-covered-with-heavy duty sauce kind has been top of the gastronomic world since Romans went there to eat wild boar with cranberries in 34AD.
But it’s finally out of fashion – too heavy, too fattening, too taste-limited; these days the kind of French cuisine tourists are more likely to find will be varied, healthy, entertaining and perhaps even competitively priced, with all things fishy being especially appetising in contrast to classic Anglo-Saxon marine fare.

Shopping

Pricewise France is not so brilliant due to the €uro’s enduring strength, but French style and taste is still irresistible.
If designer labels are not your thing, try French eccentricity at smaller boutiques in trendy areas, or cheap chic stuff at flea-markets.
Bargain shopping for any French products at huge malls in places such as Calais or Lille is very popular (with mainly British tourists).
Visiting local open-air food markets for regional cheese, pastries and wine, especially in Provence, is a fun way to make lunch.

Basics

Length of stay

Minimum worthwhile holiday, not including flights is: Paris and île de France (a short excursion) – 4 days. Weekend trips to just Paris are fine too.
Recommended: At least 2 weeks to take in Paris as well as and some country/mountain/beach activities, but you’ll need months to discover how diverse the country’s attractions are.

Visas

EU citizens do not need visas, nor do many other country’s residents – including USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and Israel for visits up to 90 days.

Electricity

Electric sockets are 230v and take 2 (thin) round pin plugs.

France tourism is relatively safe but always use common sense. Pickpockets operate on the metro and around some tourist sights.

Cars with foreign number plates are possible targets for theft, ranging from smash ‘n’ grab by motorcycle while in motion, ‘Mister your wheel look funny’ trickery, and parked break-ins.

Always hide luggage, especially valuables, and park in a conspicuous area if possible.

Language

Nowadays more locals understand English, but do not expect them to speak it, even if they are in service. If you can throw together a few words it will help when travelling in most places in France, except possibly Paris, where city dwellers are notoriously sniffy about their gorgeous language being tortured by foreigners.

Do, at least try to say ‘Bonjour Madame/monsieur’ when you enter a small shop and ‘Au revoir’ when you leave, this will show that you have some appreciation of their culture, even if you don’t speak any other French.

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