France Travel Guide
France has lots to offer visitors with the stunning city of Paris and the romantic images it evokes, beautiful villages and impressive chateaux, plenty of style and lots of wonderful food and wine. Famously unfriendly to their 40 million annual tourists the French none-the-less like to pretend English is the world’s second language, and they get on with their lives displaying a certain joie de vivre.
Why You Should Go
What’s Cool: Copious amounts of wine, French cuisine, delicious cheese, croissants, coffee, any other food, Paris chic-ness, skiing in the Alps, stunning chateaux of the Loire Valley, the sun-drenched south, sleepy villages.
What’s Not: Overcrowded beaches, some unfriendly locals, dog mess on the Paris Metro, smoking, dirty toilets, erratic drivers, shops closing on Mondays, tourists wearing berets and stripy shirts. Unfriendly locals.
When to Go
France has a varied, temperate climate with typically cool winters and mild summers, although there are some regional variations.
Sun worshippers should head for the Mediterranean coast and the southwest, which sees the most sunshine and milder winters.
Farther north things are distinctly cooler and in some areas, including Paris, winter can be bitterly cold. The Rhône Valley region can be affected by a strong cold wind known as the mistral.
Getting There & Away
Getting to France is relatively straightforward; Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris is one of the busiest airports in the world and there are also significant airports in Lyon and Marseille, among others. It is also popular to travel to France by ferry with regular services from the UK, Algeria, Tunisia, Sardinia and Corsica, and also from ports in Northern Europe. The French railway is an efficient and fast network and there are international connections to Paris from destinations throughout Europe. Many people chose to drive to France either from the UK or mainland Europe and find the roads to be of a high standard. Within Paris, you might find the Metro a bit dirty and smelly, but nevertheless very useful.
Health & Safety
There are few serious health risks for travel to France, although rabies does exist in the country, so in the unlikely event that you get attacked by a pack of rabid dogs, it’s best to seek medical help as soon as possible. There are some superb wines to be enjoyed here, but remember that sampling lots will have the same effect as it does back home. Common sense safety rules apply; don’t wander in quiet parts of cities at night. French cities have their fair share of social problems and like anywhere, there are some no-go areas. However, you’re unlikely to experience problems in the main tourist areas. Pickpockets operate in busy places all over the world and France is no exception.
Food & Hospitality
France is known the world over for its food and chances are you won’t be disappointed; especially if you like cheese and wine. There is plenty of good value to be found, although things are cheaper outside the major cities. A must-do in rural France is to stock up with delicious breads, cheeses and meats and head for a picnic. You’ll have no problems finding accommodation to suit, from five-star luxury and cozy bed and breakfasts to cheap backstreet dives in Paris. One thing you should be warned of, if you don’t speak French you might find yourself treated with disdain, and if you do speak French, you might find your attempts at the language treated with disdain.
Two to three weeks is a good time to spend in France, giving you time explore outside of Paris, and sample some of the regional cheeses.
Five days to a week exploring Paris and its surrounds.
Three to four days touring the beautiful Loire Valley with its stunning chateaux.
Four to five days pretending to be rich and famous in Cannes and on the Mediterranean coast.
Have a go at winter sports in the Alps or Pyrenees, in the ski season of course.
Escape from mainland France and spend a few days on Corsica with its laid-back feel.
Paris: the world’s most visited city, with the Louvre, the Eiffel Tower, Champs Élysées, or just find a café and people watch.
Loire Valley: stunning beauty and some magnificent chateaux; when you’re bored of them find a small town and enjoy some fine food and wine.
Corsica: the rugged and unspoilt beauty of Corsica makes it a good place to relax.
Provence: the region of Provence is dotted with sleepy villages, and a number of historical Greek and Roman monuments.
Brittany and Normandy: the Celtic influenced oceanic region has a splendid rugged coast, charming fishing villages and a rich regional identity. Don’t miss a daytrip to the WWII war cemeteries or Mont Saint Michel monastery.
Eiffel Tower: you can’t really go to Paris and not enjoy the views from high up on the Eiffel Tower; be prepared for lots of people though.
Disneyland Resort Paris: if you’ve come to France for natural beauty and traditions, then this isn’t for you, but the kids will love it.
Take a wine tour: France has 10 main wine regions and there are plenty of opportunities for sampling the produce.
Playing boules: give the locals something to laugh at by trying your hand at this traditional French game.
Kayaking: cruise along the Dordogne River and see the regions 1,000 plus castles from a different perspective.
Cultural sightseeing: if the capital’s museums don’t satisfy your thirst for culture, hit the country’s Roman ruins, Gothic cathedrals and outstanding castles.
Skiing: hit the French Alps for some fantastic powder, slopes and scenery, oh and not forgetting the lively après ski.
Festivals & Events
France has plenty of interesting festivals from the fashionable Cannes Film Festival to celebrations in the villages of the Pyrenees where people eat sausages and pretend to be pigs.
May: film buffs should head to the Côte d’Azur for the world famous Cannes Film Festival and see if they can gatecrash some celebrity parties.
July: every year on July 14th the French celebrate the Storming of the Bastille which resulted in a war that the French actually won, the French Revolution.
July: Nice hosts one of Europe’s major jazz festivals, so if you hate jazz, stay away.
July: the Tour de France is one of the biggest sporting events to take place in France, and finishes with a sprint along the Champs Élysées in Paris.
August: in Trie-Sur-Baise they celebrate the pig, that is, eating it, by holding sausage eating contests, pig races and believe it or not, a pig imitation contest.