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France

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France

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Quick Facts
CapitalParis
Governmentrepublic
Currencyeuro or € (EUR)
Area547,030 sq km
Population59,900,300 (start 2004) - metropolitan / European France only
LanguageFrench 100%, some regional dialects
ReligionRoman Catholic 83%-88%, Protestant 2%, Jewish 1%, Muslim 5%-10%, unaffiliated 4%
Calling Code33
Internet TLD.fr
Time ZoneUTC +1

France is a country located in Western Europe. Clockwise from the north, France borders Belgium and Luxembourg to the northeast, Germany and Switzerland to the east, Italy to the south-east and Spain to the south-west, across the Pyrenees mountain range (the small country of Andorra lies in between the two countries). The Mediterranean Sea lies to the south of France, with the Principality of Monaco forming a small enclave. To the west, France has a long Atlantic Ocean coastline, while to the north lies the English Channel, across which lies the last of France's neighbours, England (part of the United Kingdom).

France is one of the most popular destinations for travellers in Continental Europe, boasting dozens of major tourist attractions. The country is renowned for its gastronomy (particularly wines and cheeses), history, culture and fashion.

Map of France
File:France-cities.png
Map of France with prefectures

Regions

France is divided into 22 administrative regions, which themselves can be grouped into 7 main "cultural regions", which share common points.

The world-famous Loire Valley - best known for its wines and chateaux - extends across two regions in west and central France.

Corsica is a large French island located to the south-east of mainland France in the west Mediterranean Sea (close to Genova, Italy). The Republic of France also includes several overseas departments namely:

French overseas territories include:

Cities

Listed below are the largest cities of France, together with several cities that should not be missed:

  • Paris -- the "City of Light", the romantic capital of France


  • Aix-en-Provence- a lively university town
  • Arles - the gate to the Camargue and the city of Van Gogh
  • Avignon - the city of the French papacy and a great festival of theatre
  • Bayeux -- tapestry
  • Beauvais -- cathedral
  • Besançon - historical capital of the Franche Comté region
  • Bordeaux - city of wine, capital of South-West
  • Brest - the heart of maritime Brittany
  • Chambord -- castle
  • Chartres - home of the famous cathedral of stained-glass
  • Clermont-Ferrand - capital of the volcanic Auvergne region
  • Dijon - the historical heart of Burgundy, a region of great wines
  • Fontainebleau -- castle
  • Grenoble - the 1968 Winter Olympic Games and an important new centre of technology
  • Lille - great northern city, industrial, European City of Culture 2004
  • Lyon - France's second city, with a history from Roman times to the Resistance, restaurants (Beaujolais and delicatessen)
  • Marseille - big harbor, heart of Provence
  • Moissac - the Cloister ( twelfth and fifteenth centuries), Centre of Romanesque Art
  • Mont Saint Michel - abbey
  • Nancy
  • Nantes -- big harbor, city of Jules Verne, a great traveler
  • Nice -- the sun and glamour of the Riviera
  • Orleans
  • Provins -- Medieval city
  • Strasbourg -- European capital (EU parliament and European Council)
  • Toulouse -- very nice and lively city
  • Tours -- nice city, on the Loire Valley
  • Vaux le Vicomte - castle
  • Versailles -- castle

Cities with the largest number of visible Roman monuments:

Cities with an outstanding gothic cathedral :

Paris - Amiens - Reims - Chartres - Rouen - Beauvais - Laon - Le Mans...

Cities with an outstanding castle :

Versailles - Fontainebleau - Vaux le Vicomte near Melun - la Malmaison in Rueil-Malmaison - the Loire Valley with Azay le Rideau, Blois, Chambord, Chenonceaux

Towns of Interest

Inland: Vence, St Paul de Vence, Tourrettes-sur-Loup

Coastal: Villefranche, Stes-Maries-de-la-Mer

Mountains: Chamonix

Understand

Climate

Generally cool winters and mild summers, but mild winters and hot summers along the Mediterranean; occasional strong, cold, dry, north-to-northwesterly wind known as the mistral.

Terrain

Mostly flat plains or gently rolling hills in north and west; remainder is mountainous, especially Pyrenees in south, Alps in east

Elevation extremes 
lowest point: Rhone River delta -2 m
highest point: Mont Blanc 4,807 m

History

The territory which is today called France was considered by the ancient Romans as part of their empire. With the fall of the Roman empire, what was left were areas inhabited by descendants of barbaric notherners who had intermarried with the locals. The legacy of the Roman presence is still visible particularly in the southern part of the country. Some of the main roads still follow the routes originally traced 2,000 years ago, and the urban organisation of many old town centers still transcript the cardo and the decumanus of the former Roman camp. The other main legacy was the Catholic Church which can be, arguably, considered as the only remnant of the civilization of that time.

Clovis, who died in 511, is considered as the first French king although his realm was not much more than the area of the present Ile de France, around Paris. Charlemagne, who was crowned emperor of the Holy Roman Empire in 800, was the first strong ruler. He united under his rule territories which extend today in Belgium, Germany and Italy. His capital was Aix-la-Chapelle (now in Germany).

The country was under attack by the Vikings who came from the north and navigated upstream the rivers to plunder the cities and abbeys, it was also under attack from the south by the Muslim Saracens who where established in Spain.

In 987, Hughes Capet was crowned as king of France ; he is the root of the royal families who later governed France. In 1154 much of the western part of France went under English rule with the wedding of Eleonor d'Aquitaine to Henry II. Some kings of the Plantagenet dynasty are still buried in France, the most famous being Richard I, of Walter Scott's fame, who lies in the Abbaye de Fontevraud. The struggle between the English and French kings is known as the Hundred Years War and the most famous figure, considered as a national heroin, is Joan of Arc.

The beginning of the XVIIth century saw the end of the feudal system and the emergence of France as a "modern" state with its border close to the present ones. Louis XIV who was king from 1643 to 1715 (72 years) was probably the most powerful monarch of his time. French influence extended deep in western Europe, its language was used in the European courts and its culture was exported all over Europe.

That era and the following century also saw the expansion of France on the other continents. This started a whole serie of wars with the other colonial empires, mainly England and Spain over the control of North America.

1789 saw the start of the French Revolution which led to the creation of the Republic. Although this period was also fertile in bloody excesses it was, and still is, a reference for many other liberation struggles.

Napoléon reunited the country but his militaristic ambition which, at first, made him the ruler of most of western Europe were finally his downfall. In 1815 he was defeated in Waterloo (Belgium) by an alliance of English and Prussian forces. He is still revered in some Eastern European countries as its armies and its government brought with them the thinkings of the French philosophers.

France went back to monarchy and another revolution in 1848 which allowed a nephew of Napoleon to be elected president and then become emperor under the name of Napoléon III. The end of the XIX century was the start of the industrialization of the country, the development of the railways but also the start of the bitter wars with Prussia and later Germany.

World War I (1914 -18) and World War II (1939 - 45) involved most of the European countries and saw the intervention of the USA. Many battles were fought on French territory and the scars are still visible.

Since the end of WWII France went through a period of reconstruction and prosperity came back with the development of industry. France and Germany were at the start of the Treaties which eventually became the European Union. One of the most visible consequence being the introduction in 2002 of the Euro (€), the common currency of twelve European countries.

In 2004, France is a Republic with a President elected for a 5-year term. One of the main issue is the further integration of the country into the EU and the adoption of common standards for the economy, the defense etc.

Get in

Passport and Visa

France is a member of the European Union and the Schengen Agreement. European visa policy will be covered in the article about the EU. In brief, a visa to any other signatory state of the Schengen Agreement is valid in France too. No visa is required for citizens of other EU member states, and those of some selected nations with whom the European Union or France have special treaties. Inquire at your travel agent or call the local consulate or embassy of France.

Also, there are hardly any border controls between France and other Schengen Agreement nations, making travel less complicated. However, sometimes cars and buses are stopped at borders or at the first toll-booth after entering the country.

Malaysian citizen visiting France for holiday will not need a Visa.

By plane

The main international airport, Roissy - Charles de Gaulle (CDG) near Paris, is likely to be your port of entry if you fly into France. CDG is the home of Air France (AF), the national company, for practically all international flights. AF and the companies forming the Skyteam Alliance (Dutch KLM, AeroMexico, Alitalia, US Continental, NorthWest and Delta Airlines, Korean Air use Terminal 2 while most other foreign airlines use Terminal 1. A third terminal is used for charter flights.

Tranfers to another flight in France : AF operates a few national flights from CDG, but mostly out of Orly, the second Paris airport. For transfers within CDG you can use the free bus shuttle linking all terminals, train station, parking lots and hotels on the platform. For transfers to Orly there is a (free for AF passengers) bus link operated by AF. The two airports are also linked by a local train (RER) which is slightly less expensive, runs faster but is much more cumbersome to use with heavy luggage. AF has agreements with the SNCF, the national rail company, which operates TGV's (see below) out of CDG airports (some trains carry flight numbers). The TGV station is located in Terminal 2 and is on the route of the free shuttle. For tranfer to Paris see Paris.

Other airports have international destinations : Paris - Orly, Bordeaux, Clermont-Ferrand, Lille, Lyon, Marseille, Nantes, Nice, Toulouse have flights to a few cities in western Europe and North-Africa ; those airports are hubs to smaller airports in France and may be useful to avoid the transfer between the two Paris airports. Two airports, Bâle-Mulhouse and Geneva, are shared by France and Switzerland and can allow entry into either country.

Some low-cost airlines, including easyJet, Ryanair and Volare, fly to Beauvais airport situated about 80 km northwest of Paris. Buses to Paris are provided by the airlines. Check schedules and fares on their websites.

By train

The French rail company, SNCF, provides direct service from most European countries using regular trains. The Eurostar service uses high-speed TGV trains to connect Lille and Paris with London, the later via the Calais-Dover channel tunnel. The Thalys service uses high-speed TGV trains to connect Paris to Brussels and onward to cities in the Netherlands and Germany.

By car

Driving from surrounding countries is easy as the border controls have been eliminated with most of them, the exceptions being Switzerland and Andorra. The main (toll) highways are listed below. Roads can also be used but they are usually much slower.

Entrance from Belgium is through highways A1, or A2 from Brussels to Paris.

Entrance from Luxembourg is through highway A31 to Metz and then A4 to Paris or Strasbourg.

Entrance from Germany is through highway A4 from Strasbourg to Paris.

Entrance from Switzerland is through Geneva and highway A40 to Lyon and then A6 to Paris.

Entrance from Italy is via Torino and the Mont-Blanc tunnel using A43 to Lyon and then A6 to Paris or along the Mediterranean coast on A8.

Monaco is reached by A8 between Nice and Italy.

Entrance from Eastern Spain via Barcelona is through A7 continuing on A75 to Paris. Entrance from Western Spain via San Sebastian is through A10 to Paris.

Andorra is reached through Toulouse by A66.

Entrance from the United-Kingdom is via Calais either using the train shuttle through the Channel tunnel or by ferry across the Channel. From there highway A28 goes to Paris.

By bus

Eurolines connects over 500 destinations, covering the whole of the continent, including Morocco. Eurolines allows travelling from Sicily to Helsinki and from Casablanca to Moscow.

By boat

Get around

By car

France has a well-developed system of highways. Most of the links are toll roads. Some have toll station giving you access to a section, others have entrance and exit toll stations. All toll stations accept major credit cards but you can use the automatic booth only if your card is equipped with a chip.

Policemen sometimes read your ticket at the toll station to see how long you took since joining the autoroute: (as of 2004) they are not allowed to use that info to give you a speeding ticket. On the other hand, be aware that there is a new (as of 2004) automatic photo-radar system that is being implemented throughout France. For the moment, this system is most commonly found along major highways, and near major cities. Large brown rectangular signs warn when you are entering a photo-radar area.

When not otherwise specified, the speed limit is 130 km/h on turnpikes, 110 on divided highways, 90 otherwise and 50 km/h in city areas.

All passengers are required to wear their seat belt and children under 10 must use the back seat.

Unless clearly posted on the road you are using, you are supposed to yield to any vehicle coming from your right.

Signposts used in France are patterned according to EU recommandations and use mostly pictograms (not text). The following signs are essentials for finding your way on a map and avoid tickets.

Panneau autoroute.gif Panneau route.gif Panneau ville.gif Panneau touriste.gif Panneau priorité.gif Panneau fin de priorité.gif Panneau yield.gif Panneau stop.gif
Blue sign with white lettering and Axx indicates divided highway
Toll road if the word "péage" appears
Green sign with Nx indicates national highway.
White sign with Dx or Cx indicates local roads
Entering a city.
Reduce speed to less than 50 km/h, unless ortherwise indicated.
Brown sign
Tourist information
Trunk (priority) road End of trunk road Yield to vehicle on the other road Stop before entering or crossing the other road
Panneau sens interdi.gif Panneau limite de vitesse.gif Panneau radar.jpg Panneau défense de stationner.gif Panneau danger.gif Panneau obligatoire.gif Panneau indication.gif
Red round sign means : forbidden
Do not enter
Red round sign means : forbidden
Speed limit
Newest addition : the police want to take your picture and send you a souvenir ticket
Radar ahead
Red round sign means : forbidden
No parking
Red triangle sign means : danger
Cattle crossing
Blue round sign means : must
You must turn right
Blue square sign means : information
Parking lot with meters

France is not a good country for hitchhiking.

By train

Trains are a great way to get around in France. You can get pretty much from anywhere to anywhere else by train. For long distances, use the TGV (Train a Grande Vitesse - High-Speed Train). Reservations are obligatory. But, if you have time, take the slow train and enjoy the scenery. The landscape is part of what makes France one of the top tourist destinations in the world.

The French national railway network is managed by the SNCF (Société Nationale des Chemins de fer Français). You can get schedules and book a ticket online at http://www.voyages-sncf.com, or http://www.sncf.com/indexe.htm. Booking is available in two classes: première classe (First Class) is less crowded and more comfortable but also 50% more expensive than deuxième classe (Second Class). Note that If your TGV is fully-booked, step aboard seconds before the doors close, and look for the guard ("contrôleur"). He will find you a seat somewhere.

If you've booked online, you can pick up your ticket when you get to the train station. Just go to the counter ("Guichet") and ask to have your ticket issued ("retirer votre billet"). You can ask "Je voudrais retirer mon billet, s'il vous plait", or 'zhe voo dray ruh teer ay mon bee yay, sill voo play' and then hand them the paper with the reference number.

To find your train, locate your train number and the departure time on the departures board. There will be a track ("Voie")number next to the train and departure time. Follow signs to that track to board the train. You will have a reserved seat on TGV trains, but you can pick any seat on other trains. To find your reserved seat, first look for the train car number ("voiture No"). As you go down the track, the car number will be displayed on an LCD screen on the car, or maybe just written in the window or right next to the doors. If you are early, there is often a map somewhere on the track that will show how the train and car numbers will be lined up on the track according to letters that appear either on the ground or on signs above. That way, you can go stand by the letter corresponding with your car number and wait to board the train closest to your car number.

Beware: to avoid any form of fraud, your ticket MUST be punched by an automatic orange machine ("composteur", newer machines are yellow and gray) situated at the entrance of all platforms to be valid. Failure to do so may entitle you to a fine even if you are a foreigner with a limited French vocabulary. Likewise if you step aboard a train without a ticket you MUST find the conductor ("contrôleur") and tell him about your situation before he finds you.

Talk

French is the official language of France, although there are regional variations.

In Alsace and part of Lorraine, a kind of German, called "Alsacian", is spoken. In the south, some people still speak dialects of the Langue d'Oc (because the word for "yes" is oc): Languedocien, limousin, auvergnat or provençal. Langue d'Oc is a roman language, very close of italian, spanish or catalan.In west part of Brittany, a few people, mainly old or scholars, speak Breton; this Celtic language is very different from French. It is close to Welsh, spoken in Wales. In parts of Aquitaine they speak Basque, but not as much as on the Spanish side of the border. In Corsica a kind of Italian is spoken.

Overall, though, everyone speaks French. The regional languages are (sadly) disappearing, despite some valiant efforts to keep them alive. This is due to the laws in France trying to unify the nation: one nation, one language.

While most people in France have actually studied English, they are usually unable or unwilling to give it a try. In most cases (for older people) this is due to the emphasis on teaching English literature, not normal conversation, in other cases it is just for lack of practice, but some do make a principle out of the matter. Oftentimes, starting the conversation with at least a few basic French phrases goes a long way to convince them to try and help you. Note that this holds also true with many people in the service- and even tourism industries - although these are much more likely to have a co-worker who speaks good English. You can never overuse "Monsieur" and "Madame" (muh-see-you/mah-dame)in your phrases. Try these simple phrases as often as possible and you'll give a great image to foreigners if you do this!

  • "Excusez-moi Monsieur/Madame": Excuse me (ex-cues-ay-moi)
  • "S'il vous plait Monsieur/Madame" : Please (seell-voo-play)
  • "Merci Monsieur/Madame" : Thank you (mare-see)
  • "Au revoir Monsieur/Madame" : Good Bye (oh-ruh-vwah)

You might be surprised to see that you are greeted by other customers when you walk into a restaurant or shop. Return the courtesy and address your hellos/goodbyes to everyone when you enter or leave small shops and cafes.

See also: French phrasebook

Buy

France is part of the Eurozone, so as in many other European Union countries the currency used is the euro (symbol: ).

It is compulsory, for the large majority of businesses, to post prices in windows. Hotels and restaurants must have their rates visible from outside.

Eat

The food is reason enough to go to France. Food is not just food to the French - it's a passion....

There are various places to enjoy French food in France, from three-star Michelin restaurants to French "brasseries" or "bistros" that you can find at almost every corner, especially in big cities. Most small cities or even villages have local restaurants which are sometimes listed in the most reliable guides. There are also specific local restaurants, like "bouchons lyonnais" in Lyons, "crêperies" in Brittany (or in the Montparnasse area of Paris), etc. Ethnic food is available throughout France, Chinese restaurants and takeaways (actually most of them are Vietnamese) are everywhere, and large cities have North African, Greek, Italian (pizzerias) restaurants and eateries. The ubiquitous hamburger eateries (US original or their French copies) is also available.

Lunch and dinner in a restaurant is "à la carte" (item by item) or on the "menu". The latter offers usually a 3-course meal ("hors d'oeuvre + plat + dessert") at a set price. Service is included but most of the time beverages are not. In the large cities, especially for lunch, restaurants are offering a "formule" which is a 2-course (either "hors d'oeuvre + plat" or "plat + dessert") meal.

In France, taxes (19.6 per cent of the total) and service (usually 15 per cent) are always included in the bill ; so anything patrons add to the bill amount is an "extra-tip". French people usually leave one or two coins if they were happy with the service.

All restaurants are not open for lunch and dinner, neither are they open all year around. It is therefore advisable to check carefully the opening times and days. A restaurant open for lunch will usually start service at noon and accept patrons until 13:30. Dinner is served between 19:30 and patrons are accepted until 21:30. Restaurants with longer service hours are usually found only in the larger cities and in the downtown area. Finding a restaurant open on Saturday and especially Sunday can be a challenge unless you stay close to the tourist areas. Unfortunately those places often think that the view will distract you from what's in your plate.

A quite memorable lunch or dinner for two on the "menu" including wine and coffee will cost you (as of 2004) €70 to €100 in a listed restaurant in Paris. The same with beer in a local "bistro" or a "crêperie" around €50. Outside of Paris and the main cities, prices are not always lower but the menu will include a fourth course, usually cheese. As everywhere beware of the tourist traps which are numerous around the heavy travelled spots and may offer a nice view but not much to remember in your plate.

Finding a good restaurant

For the serious gourmand not satisfied with Wikitravel's recommendations, plenty of guidebooks are available and deciding which one is best for you is a matter of personnal preference. The most talked about is the Guide Michelin commonly called the Guide rouge (Red Guide) for its red cover. Most of the articles written about the other guides compare them to the Michelin which is the recognized reference (even if attacked).

The Michelin guide includes maps of the main cities with the location of the establisments listed. The guide rates the better restaurants which are often quite expensive. It is not very useful for the backpacker even though it includes a selection of bargains. One can say that the concept of this guide is for people who are travelling to eat rather than for those who are looking for a place to eat while travelling.

The Guide du routard is originally intended for backpackers and includes a selection of eateries as well as real restaurants. It also lists places for those who want to splurge. It lacks location maps. The Lonely Planet is also intended for backpackers, it includes maps which are sometimes difficult to read. One definite advantage (at least in the Paris issue) is an index of the restaurants open on Sunday.

Other reliable guides include the Gault et Millau, the Bottin gourmand, the Champerard etc. Numerous sites are also available on the Internet but they have yet to establish a reputation for objectivity. Their main advantage is that they may provide updated information on closing days and times etc. or even if the place still exists.

Bread

  • The famous baguette: buy it in a boulangerie, it's much better than in a supermarket.
  • Variants of the baguette : la ficelle, la flûte
  • Pain de campagne: big loaf which keeps relatively well
  • Grain bread: there are all kinds (rye, nuts, olives, ...)
  • Yeast bread: demand natural sourdough without baker's yeast, preferably organic, "saveur et conservation seront au rendez-vous", trust the bakers' creativity
  • Pain d'orage, pain mina, boulot, pain au potimarron, pain aux orties, pain a l'ail for real connoisseurs, etc.

Pastries

Pastries are a large part of French cooking. Though the average French breakfast is light, consisting of tartines(pieces of bread with butter or jam) or the famous croissants, others are available. Try the pain au chocolat, a chocolate filled croissant. Pastries can be found in a patisserie.

Regional dishes

Every French region has dishes all its own. These dishes follow the resources (game, fish, agriculture, etc) of the region, the vegetables (cabbage, turnip, endives, etc) which they grow there. Here is a small list of regional dishes which you can find easily in France. Generally each region has a unique and widespread dish (usually because it's poor people's food):

  • Cassoulet
  • Choucroute (sauerkraut)
  • Fondue (savoyarde, bourguignonne)
  • Pot-au-feu
  • boeuf bourguignon

Frogs and snails

Contrary to stereotype, they don't eat snails and frog legs every day in France. Quality restaurants sometimes have them on their menu: if you're curious about trying new foods, go ahead. And if you don't feel like it, know that many French don't like seeing those little critters on their plates either.

Cheese

France is certainly THE country of cheese, with nearly 400 different kinds. Here is a far from exhaustive list of what one can find:

Bleu des Causses Livarot Roquefort
Bleu du Vercors Morbier Saint Nectaire
Boulette d'Avesnes Maroilles Salers
Brie de Meaux Munster Sainte Maure de Touraine
Brie de Melun Murol Selles-sur-Cher
Broccio Neufchâtel Sainte Maure de Touraine
Camembert Ossau-Iraty Tomme de chèvre
Cantal Pelardon Tomme des Cévennes
Chaource Pérail Tomme de Savoie
Comté Picodon Valençay
...

Drink

Champagne, Burgundy, Bordeaux, Rhone, the Loire...France is the home of wine, and it can be found cheaply just about anywhere. Note that you must be 18 to buy alcohol.

There are a couple of mixed drinks which seem to be more or less unique to France, and nearby francophone countries.

  • Panaché is a mix of beer (usually non-alcoholic beer) and lemonade.
  • Monaco is a Panaché with a bit of grenadine syrup added.
  • Kir is a sweet aperitif of white wine or, less frequently, of champagne (then named kir royal and about twice the price of regular kir) and cassis (blackcurrant liqueur), or peach.
  • Pastis is a sweet anise-based (licorice-flavored) spirit that is more popular in the South, but is also available everywhere in Paris. Served with a small pitcher of water that is used to dilute the drink.

Sleep

Hotels

Hotels come in 4 categories from 1 to 4 stars. This is the official rating given by the Ministry of Tourism, and it is posted at the entrance on a blue shield. Rates vary according to accommodation, location and sometimes high or low season or special events.

As of 2004, the rate for a *** hotel listed in a reliable guidebook falls between 70 euros (cheap) and 110 euros (expensive) for a double without breakfast.

All hotels, by law, must have their rates posted outside (or visible from outside). Bargaining is not the norm but you can always ask for a discount.

Hotels located in city centers or near train stations are often very small (15 to 30 rooms) which means that you should book ahead. The newer hotels, business oriented, are found in the outskirts of cities and are sometimes larger structures (100 rooms or more); they may not be easy to reach with public transportation. Along the highways, at the entrance of cities, you find US-like motels ; they are very often reachable only by car. Some motels have minimal service, if you come in late you find an ATM-like machine, using credit cards, which will deliver a code in order to reach your assigned room. The newer hotels are often part of national or international chains and have high standards. Many older hotels are now part of chains and provide standardized service but they retain their own atmosphere.

Etap Hotel Rooms designed for 1,2 or 3 people, with a shower, toilet, and satellite TV (from 35€ to 60€). Formule 1 Rooms offer functional accommodation for 1, 2 or 3 persons and have a sink with mirror and a TV. (From 25€ to 50€). You can also have a look at B&B hotel

B & B's and Gites

In rural areas you can find B & B's and gîtes. These are not the same. B&B's are known in French as "Chambres d'hôtes", and are generally available on a nightly basis; 'gites' or 'gites ruraux' are holiday cottages, and generally rented out as a complete accommodation unit, on a weekly basis. There are very few near or in the cities. Finding them requires buying a guide or, for greater choice, using the internet as you will not find a lot of signposts on the road.


Though the Official Gites de France site has thousands of properties listed, there is no obligation to register with this organisation, There are now thousands of gites in France rented out by foreign owners, particularly British and Dutch, offering facilities for booking and payment in sterling or in the Netherlands; it is probably true to say that most of these are not registered with Gites de France, To find them you can visit English-language sites such as Gitelink France or Gite.com, which provide links to or details of lots of properties with English-speaking owners

At the Official Gites de France site you can make reservations at 8500 B&B's and many self catering gites. The average B&B price for two including breakfast is €46.

The "Gites de France" rating system uses wheat stalks (instead of stars).

Individual listings are found in the article for the nearest city or village.


Camping

Camping is very common in France with a large proportion of campers at any site being French. Most campsite are a little way out of the city centre but most have places for not just tents but Camper Vans/Caravans also. Some campsites have additional facitities to Shower/toilet blocks, such as self-service laundries or bicycle hire for example.

Learn

France, of course, is the best place to acquire, maintain and develop your French. A number of institutions offer a variety of courses for travellers:

Work

For European people coming from an EU country, working in France is allowed without problem, and working in many French cities is possible. If you're from outside the EU, you will probably need a work permit - check with the French Embassy in your country. Depending on your qualifications, you can find a lot of different jobs. Do not forget though that the unemployment rate is around 10%.

If you want to earn money to continue traveling, Interim agencies (e.g. Adecco, Manpower) are a good source of temporary jobs. You can also consider working in bars, restaurants, and/or nightclubs (they are often looking for English-speaking workers, particularly those restaurants in tourist areas - fast-food restaurants such as McDonalds and Quick are also always looking for people).

A lot of "student jobs", if you happen to be in a big city, are also available for younger travelers, and foreigners are often very welcome. Such jobs include, for example, giving private English tuition, taking care of young children or many other things...check out the university buildings, they often have a lot of advertisements.

Don't forget that being an English speaker is a big advantage when you're looking for a job - French employers really have a problem finding English-speaking workers. Do note, however, that it will be much easier for you if you know a bit of French, for the same reason (your colleagues are not likely to speak English). However, don't overestimate your chances of finding work; in March 2005 unemployment is back at 10%, and a whopping 22% among uner-25's.... many of whom speak or understand English. There are a lot more people looking for jobs than there are jobs - except those unattractive jobs that no-one wants to do.

The French work market tends to operate through personal contacts - if you know someone that works somewhere, you can probably figure out quite an easy way to work at that place too. It always helps to know people living in the area you wish to work.

Stay safe

France is not a high crime area but large cities are plagued with the usual woes.

The inner city areas and a few select suburbs are usually safe at all hours. In large cities, especially Paris, there are a few areas which it is better to avoid. The outer ring of most cities and especially suburbs are sometimes grounds for youth gang violent activities and drug dealing. The subject is very touchy as it may easily have racist overtones.

If you are traveling alone, especially if you are a woman, you should avoid using public transportation at late hours especially on links between the city center and the suburbs.

Usual caution apply for tourists flocking around sights as they may become targets for pickpockets.

It is compulsory, in France, to carry an ID card. Foreigners should, at all times, carry some kind of official proof of identity. Although random checks are not the norm you may be asked for your ID in all kinds of situation, for example if you cannot show a valid ticket when using public transportation. Again the subject is touchy as the police has been often accused of targeting special people : "délit de sale gueule" = "odd face misdemeanor".

Carrying or using narcotic substances, from marijuana to hard drugs, is illegal whatever the quantity. The penalty can be severe especially if you are suspected of dealing. Trains and cars coming from countries which have a more lenient attitude are especially targeted.

Due to the terrorist factor police, with the help of military units, is patrolling monuments, the Paris subway, train stations and airports. Depending on the status of the "Vigipirate" plan (anti terrorist units) it is not uncommon to see armed patrols in those areas. This presence of police is a help for tourists, as it also deters pickpockets and the like, but the chance of having a policeman asking you for your ID is high especially if you are not wearing clean and decent clothes.

Stay healthy

Drugstores in France are denoted by a green cross, usually in neon. They carry the same general supplies as a neighborhood pharmacist (asprin, condoms, etc.), but don't have the variety of a Walgreens or similar grocery/drugstore in the U.S.

Respect

Dress code

Dress codes are fast disappearing all over the country but very few French people will wear short pants in the city. Nobody will tell you anything, you will just be labeled as a tourist. Generally speaking, business casual dress code is sufficient in cities and in all but the most formal occasions.

Usual courtesy apply when entering churches, and although you may not be asked, it is better to avoid short pants and halters like pieces of garment.

Some restaurants will frown if you come in dressed for trekking but very few insist on jacket and tie. At the same time you'll be surprised by the number of french twenty-somethings who show up at a grungy bar in jacket and tie, even if obviously from a thrift-shop.

Beaches and swimming pools (in hotels) are used for getting a tan. Taking off your bra will not usually bring a stir if you don't mind a bevy of oglers. Taking off the bottom part is reserved to designated nude beaches. People on beaches are usually not offended by a young boy or girl being dressed or undressed without covering. Most resort cities insist on your wearing a shirt when leaving the beach area.

Breast feeding in public is very rare but nobody will mind or call the police if you do.

Talking to people

If you try to use your French to address people be careful about the use of "tu" (informal, friendly) and "vous" (formal, respectful) forms. People who do not know each other well seldom use their first name to introduce themselves. Refrain from using somebody's first name unless you are invited to do so or if you are with people used to deal with foreigners. Actually French people will use the "tu" and the "vous", "first name" or "surname" depending on their relationship and the code is not easy to learn. As an example, ladies will often call each other by their first names but use the "vous" form. On the other hand, boys in schools call each other by their surnames and use the "tu" form.

If that's confusing (or not confusing enough) the key is that it's all about distance. For example a bartender is vous up until the moment that he or she "comps" you a drink, at which point tu becomes more appropriate, and the use of vous a bit off-putting.

For foreigners, the best way to deal with the "tu" and "vous" problem is to adressing people using "vous" untill invited to say "tu", or adressed by their first name. Doing so will look perhaps a shade old fashioned, but always respectful, while doing otherwise can be pretty rude and embarrassing in some situations.

Contact

Phones

Country code : 33

Dialing within France : all numbers have 10 digits. The first two are 01 for the Paris area, 02, 03, 04, 05 for the other regions (respectively northwest, northeast, southeast and southwest). Numbers starting with 06 are cellphones. When spelling phone numbers, people will usually group the digits by sets of two (02 47 66 41 18 will be spelled as zero-two forty-seven sixty-six forty-one eighteen). The two-number-digit '00' is spelled 'zero zero' and not 'double zero'. Dialing from France abroad : 00 + country code + number Dialing France from abroad : international prefix + 33 + number without the first 0

There are very few companies which provide an 800 number (actually starting with 08 followed by 00) but a lot have numbers starting with 08 followed by 2 which are reduced rate calls. You pay the cost of a local call wherever you are located.

Numbers starting with 089 are (heavily) surtaxed. They provide service to some legitimate businesses but the one you see advertised all over the country are usually for porn services.

Emergency numbers are 15 (Medical aid), 17 (Police station) and 18 (Fire brigade and rescue). You can also use the european emergency number 112. These calls are free, and are accessible from virtualy any phone.

There is only one company providing land lines phone service "France Telecom". Phone booth are available in the usual locations (train or subway stations, bus stops, near tourist attractions etc.) There is at least one phone booth in every village (look on the main plazza). Due to the widespread use of mobile phones there are now fewer booths than a few years ago. Most phones use a card (no coins). You can first try to see if your visa card will work, but probably not every phone will accept foreign cards. Otherwise, go in post offices and in café-tabac (tobacco and cigarettes are only sold in special places, most often coupled with a café, and recognizable by a red lozenge hanging outside. You must be 16 to buy tabacco.), or stores that sell magazines. Ask for a phone card <<carte telephonique>>, or 'kart telephone eek'. The easiest kind to use will be the kind with a computer chip in it, so ask for a 'kart telephone eek ah poose' (or <<carte telephonique a puces>>). They will want to know how many units, or how much you want to spend, so just make a sign for little (the smallest amount), and/or say "puh teet". If you get the card with the chip in it, you just have to slide it into the phone, listen for the dial tone, and then dial. If they don't have any cards with the chips, they might give you one where you have to dial a number and then enter a code. This works the same way as the phone cards in the US, but you might have to follow instructions in french.

French mobile phones can be used all over Europe but not in the USA. The reverse should be true. There are 3 companies offering wireless service. The country is totally covered but you may have difficulties to use your mobile phone in remote mountainous areas. However, for emergency numbers (15, 17, 18 and 112), the three companies are required by law to accept your call if they technicaly can, even if you are not one of their customers, thus maximizing your chance of being helped even in difficult areas.

The cost of calling from a pay phone is calculated in "units", that is you pay one set price which gives you several minutes of talking if you are calling within France or just a few seconds if you call abroad.

Minitel

The French invented Internet in the early 70's ! Well, almost.

Actually the idea was to equip every house with a screen which could be connected to a server through phone lines. Since the Minitel had no processor the connection was very slow and initially limited to text. The use was long limited to a few companies (train and plane bookings...) until the early 80's when it was used for games and connection with escort services. This dinosaur still exists, companies will list their Minitel code as 36 15 + 4 letters. Its main advantage over the Internet is that you pay for services through your phone bill (delayed) or your phone card (instant) so there is no risk like the one associated with sending your credit card number on Internet.

Minitels are found in all post offices (great for looking free of charge in the White or Yellow Pages), and a few phone booths are equipped.

Internet

Internet access is available in cyber cafes all over large and medium-sized cities. Service is usually around 10 euro per hour.

Post

Post offices are found in all cities and villages but their time of operation vary. In the main cities the downtown office may be open during lunchtime, typically 09:00 to 18:00. Most offices are only open on Saturday morning and there is only one office in Paris which is open 24 hours and 365 days.

Letter boxes are colored in yellow.


Parcels

International delivery services like FedEx are available in cities, however you generally have to call them for them to come to you as they have very few physical locations.

External links