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Holidays in France

Understanding France

"It is only with the heart that one can see rightly What is essential is invisible to the eye" — Antoine de Saint Exupéry, from The Little Prince

Climate

A lot of variety, but temperate winters and mild summers on most of the territory, and especially in Paris Mild winters and hot summers along the Mediterranean and in the southwest the latter has lots of rain in winter Mild winters with lots of rain and cool summers in the northwest Brittany Cool to cold winters and hot summer along the German border Alsace Along the Rhône Valley, occasional strong, cold, dry, north-to-northwesterly wind known as the mistral Cold winters with lots of the snow in the Mountainous regions: Alps, Pyrenees, Auvergne

Terrain

Mostly flat plains or gently rolling hills in north and west; remainder is mountainous, especially Pyrenees in south west, Vosges , Jura and Alps in east, Massif Central in the mid south

History

France has been populated since the Neolithic period The Dordogne region is especially rich in prehistoric caves, some used as habitation, others are temples with remarkable paintings of animals and hunters, like those found at Lascaux

Rise and fall of the Roman empire

Written History began in France with the invasion of the territory by the Romans, between 118 and 50 BC Starting then, the territory which is today called France was part of the Roman Empire, and the Gauls name given to local Celts by the Romans, who lived there before Roman invasions, became accultured "Gallo-romans"

With the fall of the Roman empire, what was left were areas inhabited by descendants of intermarriages between gallo-romans and "barbaric" easterners Mainly the Franks, but also other tribes like the "burgondes"

The legacy of the Roman presence is still visible, particularly in the southern part of the country where Roman circuses are still used for bullfights and rock and roll shows 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 especially Paris The other main legacy was the Catholic Church which can be, arguably, considered as the only remnant of the civilization of that time

Middle-Ages

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, known as Aachen

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 were established in Spain The Vikings were given a part of the territory today's Normandy in 911 and melted fast in the Feudal system The Saracens were stopped in 732 in Poitiers by Charles Martel, grand father of Charlemagne, a rather rough warrior who was later painted as a national hero

Starting with Charlemange, a new society starts to settle, based on the personal links of feudalism This era is named middle age Although generally seen as an era of stagnation, it can more be described as a very complex mix of periods of economic and cultural developments Music and poems of the Troubadours and Trouveres, building of the Romanantic, then Gothic cathedrals, and recessions due to pandemic disease and wars

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 Alienor d'Aquitaine to Henry II Count of Anjou, born in the town of Le Mans Some kings of the Plantagenet dynasty are still buried in France, the most famous being Richard I, of Walter Scott's fame, and his father Henry II, who lies in the Abbaye de Fontevraud The struggle between the English and French kings between 1337 and 1435 is known as the Hundred Years War and the most famous figure, considered as a national heroine, is Joan of Arc

Reading up

Before you leave you may want to read a book like French or Foe by Polly Platt or Almost French by Sarah Turnbull — interesting, well written records from English speaking persons who live in France For the adult reader interested in the famous reputation enjoyed by Paris for romance and sensuality, try "SENSUAL PARIS: Sex, Seduction and Romance in the Sublime City of Light" by Jonathan LeBlanc Roberts

The making of a modern state nation

The beginning of the XVIth century saw the end of the feudal system and the emergence of France as a "modern" state with its border relatively close to the present ones Alsace, Corsica, Savoy, the Nice region weren't yet French 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 series of wars with the other colonial empires, mainly England later Britain and Spain over the control of North America

The French Revolution started in 1789, leading 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 British 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

20th and 21st centuries

1905 saw the separation of the Church from the State This was a traumatic process, especially in rural areas The French state carefully avoids any religious recognition Under a 'don't ask, don't tell' policy the law forbids French students and civil servants from displaying any sign explicitly showing their religion This policy applies to wearing Christian crosses, and has recently been applied to the Muslim hijab and has been copied in countries like Tunisia and Turkey In the early 21st century, statistics for Church going and belief in God are among the lowest in Europe

World War I 1914 -18 was a disaster for France, even though the country was ultimately a victor A significant part of the male workforce had been killed and disabled and a large part of the country and industry destroyed World War II 1939 - 45 also destroyed a number of areas

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 sixteen European countries

In 2010, France is a republic with a President elected for a 5-year term Some current main issues are the further integration of the country into the EU and the adoption of common standards for the economy, defense, and so on

Talking in France

L'Anglais et les Français

Yes, it's true: while most people in France under the age of 60 have studied English, they are often unable or unwilling to use it This is not necessarily linguistic snobbery, but is usually due to lack of practice, or fear that their little-used-since-high-school English will sound ridiculous Please note that British English, spoken with the carefully articulated "received pronunciation", is what is generally taught in France; thus, other accents such as Irish, Scottish, Southern US or Australian accents may be understood with difficulty, if at all Try to speak clearly and slowly, and avoid slang or US-specific words or phrases There is no need to speak loudly unless in a loud environment to be understood; doing so is considered impolite Don't forget that French people will really appreciate any attempts you do to speak French

See also: French phrasebook

French Français is the official language of France, although there are regional variations in pronunciation and local words For example, throughout France the word for yes, oui, said "we" is pronounced "ouais", said "waay" It's similar to the English language usage of "Yeah" instead of "Yes"

In Alsace and part of Lorraine, a dialect of German called "Alsatian", which is almost incomprehensible to speakers of standard High German, is spoken In the south, some 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 Romance language, a very close relative of Italian, Spanish, or Catalan In the west part of Brittany, a few people, mainly old or scholars, speak Breton; this Celtic language is closer to Welsh than to French In parts of Aquitaine, Basque is spoken, but not as much as on the Spanish side of the border In Corsica a kind of Italian is spokenIn Provence, Provençal is most likely to be spoken, especially along the Riviera In Paris, the ethnic Chinese community in Chinatown also speaks Teochew

However, almost everyone speaks French and tourists are unlikely to ever come across regional languages, except in order to give a "folkloric" flair to things

Hardly anybody understands imperial units such as gallons or Fahrenheit Stick to metric units

The French are generally attached to politeness and will react coolly to strangers that forget it 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 It is, for the French, very impolite to start a conversation with a stranger even a shopkeeper or client without at least a polite word like "bonjour" For this reason, starting the conversation with at least a few basic French phrases, or some equivalent polite form in English, goes a long way to convince them to try and help you

  • "Excusez-moi Monsieur/Madame": Excuse me ex-COO-zay-mwah mih-SYOOR/muh-DAM
  • "S'il vous plaît Monsieur/Madame" : Please SEEL-voo-PLAY
  • "Merci Monsieur/Madame" : Thank you mare-SEE
  • "Au revoir Monsieur/Madame" : Good Bye Ore-vwar

Some travel phrases:

  • Où est l'hôtel? - Where is the hotel?
  • Où sont les toilettes? - Where can I find a restroom?
  • Où est la gare? Where is the train station
  • Parlez-vous Français? Do you speak French
  • Parlez-vous Anglais? Do you speak English

Note that French spoken with an hard English accent or an American accent can be very difficult for the average French person to understand In such circumstances, it may be best to write down what you are trying to say But tales of waiters refusing to serve tourists because their pronunciation doesn't meet French standards are highly exaggerated A good-faith effort will usually be appreciated, but don't be offended if a waiter responds to your fractured French, or even fluent but accented, in English If you are a fluent French speaker and the waiter speaks to you in English when you'd prefer to speak French, continue to respond in French and the waiter will usually switch back - this is a common occurrence in the more tourist-orientated areas, especially in Paris

Please note that some parts of France such as Paris are at times overrun by tourists The locals there may have some blasé feelings about helping for the umpteenth time foreign tourists who speak in an unintelligible language and ask for directions to the other side of the city Be courteous and understanding

As France is a very multicultural society, many African languages, Arabic, Chinese dialects, Vietnamese or Cambodian could be spoken

Buying stuff in France

Vacations

Many of the French take their vacations in August As a result, outside of touristic areas, many of the smaller stores butcher shops, bakeries will be closed in parts of August This also applies to many corporations as well as physicians Obviously, in touristy areas, stores will tend to be open when the tourists come, especially July and August In contrast, many attractions will be awfully crowded during those months, and during Easter week-end

Some attractions, especially in rural areas, close or have reduced opening hours outside the touristic season

Mountain areas tend to have two touristic seasons: in the winter, for skiing, snowshoeing and other snow-related activities, and in the summer for sightseeing and hiking

Money

France is part of the Eurozone, so as in many other European Union countries the currency used is the euro symbol: Some foreign currencies such as the US dollar and the British Pound are occasionally accepted, especially in touristic areas and in higher-end places, but one should not count on it; furthermore, the merchant may apply some unfavourable rate In general, shops will refuse transactions in foreign currency

It is compulsory, for the large majority of businesses, to post prices in windows Hotels and restaurants must have their rates visible from outside note, however, that many hotels propose lower prices than the posted ones if they feel they will have a hard time filling up their rooms; the posted price is only a maximum

Almost all stores, restaurants and hotels take the CB French debit card, and its foreign affiliations, Visa and Mastercard American Express tends to be accepted only in high-end shops Check with your bank for applicable fees typically, banks apply the wholesale inter-bank exchange rate, which is the best available, but may slap a proportional and/or a fixed fee

French CB cards and CB/Visa and CB/Mastercard cards have a "smart chip" on them allowing PIN authentication of transactions This system, initiated in France, has now evolved to an international standard and newer British cards are compatible Some automatic retail machines such as those vending tickets may be compatible only with cards with the microchip In addition, cashiers unaccustomed to foreign cards possibly do not know that foreign Visa or Mastercard cards have to be swiped and a signature obtained, while French customers systematically use PIN and don't sign the transactions

There is practically no way to get a cash advance from a credit card without a PIN in France

Automatic teller machines ATM are by far the best way to get money in France They all take CB, Visa, Mastercard, Cirrus and Plus and are plentiful throughout France They may accept other kinds of card; check for the logos on the ATM and on your card on the back, generally if at least one matches It is possible that some machines do not handle 6-digit PIN codes only 4-digit ones, or that they do not offer the choice between different accounts defaulting on the checking account Check with your bank about applicable fees, which may vary greatly typically, banks apply the wholesale inter-bank exchange rate, which is the best available, but may slap a proportional and/or a fixed fee; because of the fixed fee it is generally better to withdraw money in big chunks rather than €20 at a time Also, check about applicable maximal withdrawal limits

Traveller's cheques are difficult to use — most merchants will not accept them, and exchanging them may involve finding a bank that accepts to exchange them and possibly paying a fee

Note that the postal service doubles as a bank, so often post offices will have an ATM As a result, even minor towns will have ATMs usable with foreign cards

Exchange offices bureaux de change are now rarer with the advent of the Euro - they will in general only be found in towns with a significant foreign tourist presence, such as Paris Some banks exchange money, often with high fees The Bank of France no longer does foreign exchange

Do's Put money into your checking account, carry an ATM card with a Cirrus or Plus logo on it and a 4-digit pin and withdraw cash from ATMs Pay larger transactions hotel, restaurants with Visa or Mastercard Always carry some € cash for emergencies

Don't's Carry foreign currency $, £ or traveller's cheques, and exchange them on the go, or expect them to be accepted by shops

Stores

Inside city centers, you will find smaller stores, chain grocery stores Casino as well as, occasionally, department stores and small shopping malls Residential areas will often have small supermarkets Champion, Intermarché Large supermarkets hypermarchés such as Géant Casino or Carrefour are mostly located on the outskirts of towns and are probably not useful unless you have a car


Food and eating in France

With its international reputation for fine dining, few people would be surprised to hear that French cuisine can certainly be very good Unfortunately, it can also be quite disappointing; many restaurants serve very ordinary fare, and some in touristy areas are rip-offs Finding the right restaurant is therefore very important - try asking locals, hotel staff or even browsing restaurant guides for recommendations as simply walking in off the street can be a hit and miss affair

There are many places to try 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 These usually offer a relatively consistent and virtually standardised menu of relatively inexpensive cuisine To obtain a greater variety of dishes, a larger outlay of money is often necessary In general, one should try to eat where the locals do for the best chance of a memorable meal 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

Chinese, Vietnamese, even Thai eateries are readily available in Paris, either as regular restaurants or "traiteurs" fast-food They are not so common, and are more expensive, in smaller French cities Many places have "Italian" restaurants though these are often little more than unimaginative pizza and pasta parlors You will also find North African Moroccan, Algerian, Tunisian as well as Greek and Lebanese food The ubiquitous hamburger eateries US original or their French copies are also available; note that McDonalds is more upmarket in France than in the US

In France, taxes 196 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

Menu fixed price seldom include beverages If you want water, waiters will often try to sell you mineral water Évian, Thonon or fizzy water Badoit, Perrier, at a premium; ask for a carafe d'eau for tap water, which is free and safe to drink Water never comes with ice in it unless so requested and water with ice may not be available

As in other countries, restaurants tend to make a large profit off beverages Expect wine to cost much more than it would in a supermarket

Ordering is made either from fixed price menus prix fixe or à la carte A typical fixed price menu will comprise:

  • appetizer, called entrées or hors d'œuvres
  • main dish, called plat
  • dessert dessert or cheese fromage

Sometimes, restaurants offer the option to take only two of three steps, at a reduced price

Coffee is always served as a final step though it may be followed by liquors A request for coffee during the meal will be considered strange

Not all restaurants are open for lunch and dinner, nor 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 begins at around 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

In a reasonable number of restaurants, especially outside tourist areas, a booking is compulsory and people may be turned away without one, even if the restaurant is clearly not filled to capacity For this reason, it can be worthwhile to research potential eateries in advance and make the necessary reservations in order to avoid disappointment, especially if the restaurant you're considering is specially advised in guide books

A 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 A lunch or dinner for one person in a decent Chinese restaurant in Paris can cost as little as €6 if one looks carefully

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

Bread

All white bread variants keep for only a short time - must be eaten the same day Hence bakers bake at least twice a day!

  • The famous baguette: a long, thin loaf
  • Variants of the baguette : la ficelle even thinner, la flûte
  • Pain de campagne or Pain complet: made from whole grain which keeps relatively well

Pastries

Pastries are a large part of French cooking Hotel breakfasts tend to be light, consisting of tartines pieces of bread with butter or jam or the famous croissants and pains au chocolat, not dissimilar to a chocolate filled croissant but square rather than crescent shaped

Pastries can be found in a pâtisserie but also in most boulangeries

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 was poor people's food:

  • Cassoulet in south west : Beans, duck, pork & sausages
  • Choucroute, or sauerkraut in Alsace : stripped fermented cabbage + pork
  • Fondue Savoyarde central Alps : Melted/hot cheese with alcohol
  • Fondue Bourguignonne in Burgundy : Pieces of beef in boiled oil, usually served with a selection of various sauces
  • Raclette central Alps : melted cheese & potatoes/meat
  • Pot-au-feu boiled beef with vegetables
  • Boeuf Bourguignon Burgundy : slow cooked beef with gravy
  • Gratin dauphinois Rhone-Alpes : oven roasted slices of potatoes
  • Aligot Auvergne : melted cheese mixed with a puree of potatoes
  • Bouillabaisse fish + saffron Marseille and French Riviera Don't be fooled A real bouillabaisse is a really expensive dish due to the amount of fresh fish it requires Be prepared to pay at least €30/persons If you find restaurants claiming serving bouillabaisse for something like €15/persons, you'll get a very poor quality
  • Tartiflette Savoie Reblochon cheese, potatoes and pork or bacon
  • Confit de Canard Landes : Duck Confit, consists of legs and wings bathing in grease That grease is actually very healthy and, with red wine, is one of the identified sources of the so-called "French Paradox" eat richly, live long
  • Foie Gras Landes : The liver of a duck or goose Although usually quite expensive, foie gras can be found in supermarkets for a lower price because of their purchasing power around the holiday season It is the time of year when most of foie gras is consumed in France It goes very well with Champagne

Cooking and drinking is a notable part of the French culture, take time to eat and discover new dishes

Unusual foods

Contrary to stereotype, snails and frog legs are quite infrequent foods in France, with many French people enjoying neither, or sometimes having never even tasted them Quality restaurants sometimes have them on their menu: if you're curious about trying new foods, go ahead

  • Frogs' legs have a very fine and delicate taste with flesh that is not unlike chicken They are often served in a garlic dressing and are no weirder to eat than, say, crab
  • Most of the taste of Bourgogne snails escargots de bourgogne comes from the generous amount of butter, garlic and parsley in which they are cooked They have a very particular spongy-leathery texture that is what is liked by people who like snails Catalan style snails "cargols" are made a completely different way, and taste much weirder

Let us also cite:

  • Rillettes sarthoise A sort of potted meat, made from finely shredded and spiced pork A delicious speciality of the Sarthe area in the north of the Pays de la Loire and not to be confused with rillettes from other areas, which are more like a rough pate
  • Beef bone marrow os a moelle Generally served in small quantities, with a large side So go ahead: If you don't like it, you'll have something else to eat in your plate
  • Veal sweetbread ris de Veau, is a very fine and generally expensive delicacy, often served with morels, or in more elaborates dishes like "bouchees a la reine"
  • Beef stomach tripes is served either "A la mode de caen" with a white wine sauce or "A la catalane" with a slightly spiced tomato sauce
  • Andouillettes are sausages made from tripe, a specialty of Lyon
  • Beef tongue langue de bœuf and beef nosemuseau and Veal head tete de veau are generally eaten cold but thoroughly cooked! as an appetizer
  • Oysters are most commonly served raw in a half shell
  • Oursins sea urchins For those who like concentrated iodine
  • Steak tartare a big patty of ground beef cured in acid as opposed to cooked, frequently served with a raw egg
  • Cervelle, pronounced ser-VAYL lamb brain

Cheese

France is certainly THE country of cheese, with nearly 400 different kinds Indeed, former president General Charles De Gaulle was quoted as saying "How can you govern a country which has 246 varieties of cheese?"

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 Saint Marcellin
Camembert Ossau-Iraty Sainte Maure de Touraine
Cantal Pelardon Tomme de chèvre
Chaource Pérail Tomme des Cévennes
Comté Picodon Tomme des Cévennes
Valençay

Dietary restrictions

Vegetarianism is not as uncommon as it used to be, especially in larger cities Still, very few restaurants offer vegetarian menus, thus if you ask for something vegetarian the only things they may have available are salad and vegetable side dishes

There may still be confusions between vegetarianism and pesce/pollotarianism Vegetarian/organic food restaurants are starting to appear However, "traditional" French restaurants may not have anything vegetarian on the menu, so you may have to pick something "à la carte", which is usually more expensive Veganism is still very uncommon and it may be difficult to find vegan eateries

Breakfast

Breakfast in France isn't the most important meal of the day and is usually very light The most typical breakfast consists of a coffee and a croissant or some other "viennoiserie", but since it implies going to the baker's store early in the morning to buy fresh croissant, it's typically reserved for somewhat special occasions On normal days most people have a beverage coffee, tea, hot chocolate, orange juice and either toasts "tartines" made of baguette or toast bread with butter and jam/honey/Nutella that can be dipped in the hot beverage, or cereals with milk People who eat healthy may go for fruits and yoghurt As a general rule, the french breakfast is sweet only, never savory ie you'll never see people eating eggs or sausage

Drinking in France

Champagne, Burgundy, Bordeaux, Rhone, the Loire Valley France is the home of wine It can be found cheaply just about anywhere Beer lager is also extremely popular, in particular in northern France, where "Biere de Garde" can be found The alcohol purchase age was recently raised to 18 for all drinks, but this is not always strictly enforced; however, laws against drunk driving are strictly enforced, with stiff penalties

Wine and liquors may be purchased from supermarkets, or from specialized stores such as the Nicolas chain Nicolas offers good advice on what to buy specify the kind of wine and the price range you desire In general, only French wines are available unless a foreign wine is a "specialty" with no equivalent in France such as port, and they are classified by region of origin, not by grape

Never drink alcoholic beverages especially red wine or strong alcohol such as cognac directly from a 75 cl bottle Such behaviour is generally associated with bums and drunkards Drinking beer from a 25 to 50cl can or bottle is ok

Café prices depend heavily on location Remember, you're not paying so much for the beverage as for the table spot; and accordingly, in general, it is cheaper to drink at the bar than seated at a table Cafés in touristic areas, especially in Paris, are very expensive If your intent is simply to have a drink, you'll be better off buying beverages from a grocery store and drinking them in a park

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 and lemonade, basically a beer shandy
  • Monaco is a Panaché with some grenadine syrup added
  • Kir is a pleasant aperitif of white wine in theory, Bourgogne Aligoté or, less frequently, of champagne then named kir royal and about twice the price of regular kir and cassis blackcurrant liqueur, or peche peach, or mûre blackberry
  • Pastis is an anise-based licorice-flavored spirit that is more popular in the South, but is also available everywhere else Served with a small pitcher of iced water that is used to dilute the drink and turns the yellow colored liquid cloudy

Tap water is safe to drink apart from exceptional cases remote farms, remote rest areas, in which case it will be labeled eau non potable Tap water may be obtained in restaurants by asking for a carafe d'eau; it will not come with ice In some cities, it may have a taste such as that of chlorine

There is a variety of bottled water, including:

  • Évian, Thonon, Contrex: mineral water
  • Perrier: fizzy water
  • Badoit: slightly fizzy and salty water

Accommodation in France

Short term rentals

Travelers should definitely consider short term villa/apartment/studio rentals as an alternative to other accommodations options Short term can be as few as several days up to months at a stretch Summer rentals are usually from Saturday to Saturday only July & August This type accommodation belongs to a private party, and can range from basic to luxurious A particular advantage, aside from competitive prices, is that the accommodations come with fully fitted kitchens

Hundreds of agencies offer accommodation for short term rentals on behalf of the owner, and can guide you into finding the best property, at the best price in the most suitable location for you An internet search for the location and type of property you're looking for will usually return the names of several listing sites, each of which may have hundreds or thousands of properties for you to choose from There are plenty of sites in both English and French, and the rental properties may be owned by people of any nationality

France is a diverse and colourful country, and you'll find everything from stunning log chalets in the Alps, Chateaux in the countryside and beach front villas on the Rivieraplus everything in between!

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 Stars are awarded according to objective yet somewhat outdated administrative criteria area of the reception hall, percentage of rooms with ensuite bathroom

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 cheap and €110 expensive for a double without breakfast

All hotels, by law, must have their rates posted outside or visible from outside Note that these are maximal rates: a hotel can always propose a lower rate in order to fill up its rooms 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 Many 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 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

When visiting Paris, it is essential to stay in the city; there are cheaper tourism hotels in the suburbs, but these cater to groups in motor coaches; they will be hard to reach by 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 eg Formule 1 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

B & B's and Gîtes

Throughout France, mainly in rural areas but also in towns and cities, you can find B&Bs and gîtes

B&B's are known in French as "Chambres d'hôtes" and are generally available on a nightly basis By law, breakfast MUST be included in the advertised price for a "chambre d'hôte" Bear this in mind when comparing prices with hotels, where breakfast is NOT included in the room price

Gites or gites ruraux are holiday cottages, and generally rented out as a complete accommodation unit including a kitchen, mostly 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

Traditionally, gites provided basic good value accommodation, typically adjacent to the owners household or in a nearby outbuilding More recently the term has been extended, and can now be used to describe most country-based self-catering accommodation in France Hence it includes accommodation as varied as small cottages villas with private swimming pools

During peak summer months the best self-catering gites require booking several months in advance

There are thousands of B&Bs and gites in France rented out by foreign owners, particularly British and Dutch, and these tend to be listed, sometimes exclusively, with English-language or international organisations and websites that can be found by keying the words "chambres d'hotes", "gites" or "gites de france" into any of the major search engines

There is a large number of organisations and websites offering "gites" Literally the French word gite just means a place to spend the night; however it now largely used to describe rental cottages or self-catering holiday homes, usually in rural parts of France

Gîtes de France

A France-wide cooperative organisation, Gites de France regroups on a voluntary basis more than 50,000 rural accommodations and was the first in France to offer a consistent rating system with comprehensive descriptions

Despite the name, Gites de France offers B&B as well as holiday rental gite accommodation

Its website in English is 28 for B&B and 29 for gîtes

The "Gites de France" rating system uses wheat stalks called Epis equivalent to stars, based on amenities rather than quality - though generally the two go together

Through its website, bookings can be done directly with owners or through the local Gîtes de France booking agency no extra fee for the traveler Although an English language version is available for many of the website pages, for some departments the pages giving details of an individual gite are only in French

The advantages of booking through this agency are that it is often possible to book on-line, payments can by made by credit/debit card and there will be someone who can be contacted by phone or e-mail who speaks English Some French language skills might be necessary if you are dealing directly with the owner Prices are usually competitive since they are initially geared to the local market A 25% non refundable payment is standard policy at the time of booking

After making a gite booking you will receive, by post, a contract to sign gites only Sign and return one copy When signing write the words "Read and approved", and the name of your home town, before signing and dating the contract The remaining 75% of the hire charge will be required one month before the start of your holiday When you arrive at the gite a security deposit, specified in the contact, should be given to the owner in cash This will be returned at the end of your stay, less any fuel charges and breakages In case of dispute with the owner the organisation will mediate since its rating system is at stake

Gîtes d'étape

Another possibility is gîtes d'étape These are more like overnight stays for hikers, like a mountain hut They are mostly cheaper than the Gîtes de France but also much more basic

Camping

Camping is very common in France Most campsite are a little way out of the city centre and virtually all cater not just for tents but for Camper Vans/Caravans also While all campsites have the basic facilities of Shower/toilet blocks, larger sites tend to offer a range of additional facilities such as bars and restaurants, self-service laundries, swimming pools or bicycle hire All campsites except for very small "farm camping" establishments must be registered with the authorities, and are officially graded using a system of stars

In coastal areas, three-star and four-star campgrounds must generally be booked in advance during the months of July and August, and many people book from one year to the next In rural areas, outside of popular tourist spots, it is usually possible to show up unannounced, and find a place; this is particularly true with the municipal campsites that can be found in most small towns; though even then it may be advisable to ring up or email in advance to make sure There are always exceptions

In France it's forbidden to camp:

  • in woods, natural, regional and national parks
  • on public roads and streets
  • on the seaside
  • less than 200 meters from watering place used for human consumption
  • on natural protected sites
  • less than 500 meters from a protected monument
  • everywhere where it's forbidden by local laws
  • on private properties without the owner's consent

Hostels

Working in France

Citizens of EU countries save from some Eastern European countries, for a temporary period can work in France without having to secure a work permit 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% 2009

Note that if you are not from the EU, you cannot work legally in France without a proper work visa or employment permit Doing so otherwise makes you an illegal alien, potentially subject to possible arrest, prosecution, expulsion, and prohibition from reentering France and the Schengen area

If you want to earn money to continue traveling, Interim agencies eg 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 McDonald's 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 lessons, taking care of young children or many other thingscheck out the university buildings, they often have a lot of advertisements An easy way to find job offers in France is to use Trovitfr 34, search engine for job offers in France

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 under-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

In France you will find jobs on CadrEmploi 35

Cities in France

abbeville  acheres  agde  agen  aire-sur-la-lys  aix-en-provence  aix-les-bains  ajaccio  albert  albertville  albi  alencon  ales  alfortville  allauch  allonnes  amberieu-en-bugey  amboise  amiens  amilly  amneville  andresy  angers  anglet  angouleme  aniche  annecy  annecy-le-vieux  annemasse  annoeullin  annonay  antibes  antony  anzin  apt  arcachon  arcueil  argentan  argenteuil  arles  armentieres  arnouville-les-gonesse  arras  athis-mons  aubagne  aubenas  aubergenville  aubiere  auch  auchel  audincourt  aulnay-sous-bois  aulnoye-aymeries  auray  aurillac  autun  auxerre  avallon  avignon  avion  avon  avrille  bagneux  bagnolet  bagnols-sur-ceze  bailleul  balma  barentin  bar-le-duc  bastia  bayeux  bayonne  beaucaire  beauchamps  beaumont  beaune  beausoleil  beauvais  begles  behren-les-forbach  belfort  bellegarde-sur-valserine  berck  bergerac  bernay  besancon  bethune  beziers  bezons  biarritz  bihorel  billere  biscarrosse  bischheim  bischwiller  blagnac  blanquefort  blois  bobigny  bois-colombes  bois-guillaume  boissy-saint-leger  bolbec  bollene  bondues  bondy  bonneuil  bonneville  bordeaux  bouc-bel-air  bouguenais  boulogne-billancourt  boulogne-sur-mer  bourg-en-bresse  bourges  bourg-la-reine  bourg-les-valence  bressuire  brest  bretigny-sur-orge  briancon  brie-comte-robert  brignais  brignoles  brive-la-gaillarde  bron  bruges  brunoy  bry-sur-marne  bully-les-mines  bures-sur-yvette  cachan  caen  cagnes-sur-mer  cahors  calais  caluire-et-cuire  cambrai  cannes  canteleu  cappelle-la-grande  carcassonne  carmaux  carpentras  carquefou  carrieres-sous-poissy  carrieres-sur-seine  carros  carvin  castelnaudary  castelnau-le-lez  castres  caudebec-les-elbeuf  caudry  cavaillon  cenon  cergy  cernay  cestas  chalette-sur-loing  challans  chalon-sur-saone  chamalieres  chambery  chamonix-mont-blanc  champagnole  champigny-sur-marne  chanteloup-les-vignes  chantilly  charenton-le-pont  charleville-mezieres  chartres  chateaudun  chateau-gontier  chateauneuf-les-martigues  chateaurenard  chateauroux  chateau-thierry  chatellerault  chatenay-malabry  chatillon  chatou  chaumont  chauny  chaville  chelles  chenove  cherbourg  chevilly-larue  chilly-mazarin  choisy-le-roi  cholet  clamart  claye-souilly  clermont  clermont-ferrand  clichy  clichy-sous-bois  cluses  cognac  colmar  colombes  colomiers  combs-la-ville  comines  compiegne  concarneau  conflans-sainte-honorine  corbeil-essonnes  cormeilles-en-parisis  coudekerque-branche  coueron  coulommiers  courbevoie  courcouronnes  courrieres  coutances  cran-gevrier  creil  crepy-en-valois  creteil  creutzwald  croissy-sur-seine  croix  cugnaux  cusset  darnetal  dax  decines-charpieu  denain  deuil-la-barre  deville-les-rouen  dieppe  digoin  dijon  dinan  dinard  dole  dombasle-sur-meurthe  domont  douai  douchy-les-mines  dourdan  draguignan  drancy  draveil  dreux  dunkirk  eaubonne  echirolles  ecully  elancourt  elbeuf  enghien-les-bains  epernay  epinal  epinay-sous-senart  epinay-sur-orge  epinay-sur-seine  eragny  ermont  escaudain  etampes  etaples  evreux  evry  eysines  ezanville  fameck  fecamp  figeac  firminy  flers  fleury-les-aubrais  fleury-merogis  floirac  florange  foix  fontainebleau  fontaine  fontenay-aux-roses  fontenay-le-comte  fontenay-le-fleury  fontenay-sous-bois  forbach  fosses  fos-sur-mer  fougeres  fourmies  francheville  franconville  frejus  fresnes  frontignan  gagny  gaillac  gaillard  gap  garches  gardanne  garges-les-gonesse  genas  gennevillers  gentilly  gerardmer  gerzat  gien  gif-sur-yvette  gisors  givors  gonesse  goussainville  gouvieux  gradignan  grand-couronne  grande-synthe  granville  grasse  graulhet  grenoble  grigny  guebwiller  guerande  gueret  gueugnon  guipavas  gujan-mestras  guyancourt  hagondange  haguenau  halluin  harfleur  harnes  haubourdin  hautmont  hayange  hazebrouck  hem  hendaye  henin-beaumont  hennebont  herblay  hericourt  herouville-saint-clair  hirson  hoenheim  hombourg-haut  houilles  hyeres  igny  illkirch-graffenstaden  illzach  issoire  issoudun  issy-les-moulineaux  istres  ivry-sur-seine  jarville-la-malgrange  jeumont  joigny  joinville-le-pont  joue-les-tours  jouy-le-moutier  juvisy-sur-orge  kingersheim  la baule-escoublac  la celle-saint-cloud  la chapelle-sur-erdre  la ciotat  la courneuve  la crau  la ferte-bernard  la fleche  la garde  la garenne-colombes  la madeleine  lamballe  lambersart  la motte-servolex  landerneau  lanester  langres  lannion  laon  la queue-en-brie  la ricamarie  la rochelle  la roche-sur-yon  la seyne-sur-mer  la teste-de-buch  la trinite  lattes  la valette-du-var  laval  laxou  le blanc-mesnil  le bourget  le bouscat  le cannet  le chambon-feugerolles  le chesnay  le creusot  leers  le grand-quevilly  le havre  le kremlin-bicetre  le mans  le mee-sur-seine  lens  le passage  le pecq  le petit-quevilly  le plessis-robinson  le plessis-trevise  le pont-de-claix  le pontet  le portel  le pradet  le pre-saint-gervais  le raincy  les clayes-sous-bois  les herbiers  les lilas  les mureaux  les pavillons-sous-bois  les ponts-de-ce  levallois-perret  le vesinet  libercourt  libourne  lievin  lillebonne  lille  lillers  limay  limeil-brevannes  limoges  limoux  lingolsheim  lisieux  livry-gargan  lognes  lomme  longjumeau  longuenesse  longwy  lons-le-saunier  lons  loos  lorient  lormont  loudeac  lourdes  louviers  luce  lunel  luneville  lure  luxeuil-les-bains  lyon  macon  maisons-alfort  maisons-laffitte  maizieres-les-metz  malakoff  manosque  mantes-la-jolie  mantes-la-ville  marck  marcq-en-baroeul  marignane  marly-le-roi  marly  marly  marmande  maromme  marseille  martigues  massy  maubeuge  mauguio  maurepas  mayenne  mazamet  meaux  melun  mende  mennecy  menton  mericourt  merignac  meru  merville  metz  meudon  meylan  meyzieu  millau  mions  miramas  mitry-mory  moissac  moissy-cramayel  mondeville  mons-en-baroeul  montargis  montataire  montauban  montbeliard  montbrison  montceau-les-mines  mont-de-marsan  montelimar  montesson  montfermeil  montgeron  montigny-en-gohelle  montigny-le-bretonneux  montigny-les-cormeilles  montigny-les-metz  montivilliers  montlucon  montmagny  montmorency  montpellier  montreuil  montrouge  mont-saint-aignan  morangis  morlaix  morsang-sur-orge  mougins  moulins  mouvaux  moyeuvre-grande  mulhouse  muret  nancy  nanterre  nantes  narbonne  nemours  neuilly-plaisance  neuilly-sur-marne  neuilly-sur-seine  neuville-en-ferrain  nevers  nice  nimes  niort  noeux-les-mines  nogent-le-rotrou  nogent-sur-marne  nogent-sur-oise  noisiel  noisy-le-grand  noisy-le-sec  notre-dame-de-gravenchon  noyon  obernai  octeville  oignies  oissel  olivet  ollioules  oloron-sainte-marie  onnaing  orange  orleans  orly  ormesson-sur-marne  orsay  orthez  orvault  osny  ostwald  oullins  outreau  oyonnax  ozoir-la-ferriere  palaiseau  pantin  paray-le-monial  paris  parthenay  passy  pau  perigueux  perpignan  persan  pertuis  pessac  pierre-benite  pierrefitte-sur-seine  pierrelatte  pithiviers  plaisance-du-touch  plaisir  plan-de-cuques  plerin  ploemeur  ploufragan  plougastel-daoulas  plouzane  poissy  poitiers  pont-a-mousson  pontarlier  pont-audemer  pontivy  pontoise  pont-sainte-maxence  pont-saint-esprit  port-de-bouc  porto-vecchio  privas  provins  puteaux  quetigny  quimperle  quimper  raismes  rambouillet  ramonville-saint-agne  reims  remiremont  rennes  revin  reze  riom  riorges  ris-orangis  rive-de-gier  rixheim  roanne  rochefort  roche-la-moliere  rodez  rognac  roissy-en-brie  romainville  romans-sur-isere  rombas  romilly-sur-seine  ronchin  roncq  roquebrune-cap-martin  rosny-sous-bois  roubaix  rouen  rouvroy  royan  rueil-malmaison  rumilly  sable-sur-sarthe  saint-amand-les-eaux  saint-andre-les-vergers  saint-andre-lez-lille  saint-avertin  saint-avold  saint-brice-sous-foret  saint-brieuc  saint-chamond  saint-claude  saint-cloud  saint-cyr-sur-loire  saint-denis  saint-die  saint-dizier  saint-doulchard  sainte-foy-les-lyon  sainte-genevieve-des-bois  sainte-luce-sur-loire  sainte-maxime  sainte-savine  saintes  saint-esteve  saint-etienne-du-rouvray  saint-etienne  saint-fons  saint-gaudens  saint-genis-laval  saint-germain-en-laye  saint-gilles  saint-gratien  saint-herblain  saint-jean-de-braye  saint-jean-de-la-ruelle  saint-jean-de-luz  saint-jean-de-maurienne  saint-junien  saint-laurent-du-var  saint-leu-la-foret  saint-lo  saint-louis  saint-malo  saint-mande  saint-martin-boulogne  saint-martin-de-crau  saint-maur-des-fosses  saint-maurice  saint-maximin-la-sainte-baume  saint-max  saint-medard-en-jalles  saint-michel-sur-orge  saint-nazaire  saint-omer  saint-orens-de-gameville  saint-ouen  saint-paul-les-dax  saint-pierre-des-corps  saint-pol-sur-mer  saint-priest  saint-quentin  saint-raphael  saint-remy-de-provence  saint-saulve  saint-sebastien-sur-loire  saint-vallier  sallanches  sallaumines  salon-de-provence  sanary-sur-mer  sannois  saran  sarcelles  sarlat-la-caneda  sarrebourg  sarreguemines  sartrouville  saumur  saverne  savigny-le-temple  savigny-sur-orge  sceaux  schiltigheim  seclin  sedan  selestat  senlis  sens  septemes-les-vallons  sete  sevran  sevres  seynod  seyssinet-pariset  sin-le-noble  soissons  soisy-sous-montmorency  sollies-pont  somain  sorgues  sotteville-les-rouen  soyaux  stains  stiring-wendel  strasbourg  sucy-en-brie  suresnes  talant  talence  tarare  tarascon  tarbes  tarnos  tassin-la-demi-lune  taverny  tergnier  thiais  thiers  thionville  thonon-les-bains  thouars  tinqueux  tonneins  torcy  toulon  toulouse  toul  tourcoing  tourlaville  tournefeuille  tournon-sur-rhone  tours  trappes  trelaze  triel-sur-seine  troyes  tulle  uckange  ussel  vaires-sur-marne  valbonne  valence  valenciennes  valentigney  valenton  vallauris  valreas  vandoeuvre-les-nancy  vannes  vanves  vaulx-en-velin  vaureal  vauvert  velizy-villacoublay  vence  vendome  venissieux  verdun  verneuil-sur-seine  vernon  vernouillet  verrieres-le-buisson  versailles  vertou  vesoul  vichy  vienne  vierzon  vieux-conde  vigneux-sur-seine  villebon-sur-yvette  villefontaine  villefranche-de-rouergue  villefranche-sur-saone  villejuif  villemomble  villeneuve-la-garenne  villeneuve-le-roi  villeneuve-les-avignon  villeneuve-loubet  villeneuve-saint-georges  villeneuve-sur-lot  villeparisis  villepinte  villers-les-nancy  villerupt  villeurbanne  villiers-le-bel  villiers-sur-marne  vincennes  vire  viroflay  viry-chatillon  vitre  vitrolles  vitry-le-francois  vitry-sur-seine  voiron  voisins-le-bretonneux  wasquehal  wattignies  wattrelos  waziers  wittelsheim  wittenheim  woippy  yerres  yvetot  yzeure  

What do you think about France?

How expensive is France?
(1 EUR = 1.09 USD)
Meal in inexpensive restaurant13.3 EUR
3-course meal in restaurant (for 2)45 EUR
McDonalds meal7.68 EUR
Local beer (0.5 draft)5.55 EUR
Foreign beer (0.33 bottle) 3.72 EUR
Cappuccino2.86 EUR
Pepsi/Coke (0.33 bottle)2.67 EUR
Water (0.33 bottle)1.49 EUR
Milk (1l)0.83 EUR
Fresh bread (500g)1.26 EUR
White Rice (1kg)1.86 EUR
Eggs (12) 2.54 EUR
Local Cheese (1kg) 13.42 EUR
Chicken Breast (1kg) 11.35 EUR
Apples (1kg) 2.17 EUR
Oranges (1kg) 2.46 EUR
Tomato (1kg) 2.45 EUR
Potato (1kg) 1.46 EUR
Lettuce (1 head) 1.15 EUR
Water (1.5l)0.83 EUR
Bottle of Wine (Mid-Range) 4.8 EUR
Domestic Beer (0.5 bottle)1.83 EUR
Foreign beer (0.33 bottle) 1.83 EUR
Cigarettes6.37 EUR
One way local bus ticket1.52 EUR
Monthly pass for bus52.57 EUR
Taxi start2.94 EUR
Taxi 1km1.66 EUR
Taxi 1hour waiting30.66 EUR
Gasoline (1 liter) 1.34 EUR
Utilities for a "normal" apartment137.86 EUR
Tennis Court Rent (1 Hour on Weekend) 15.29 EUR
Apartment (1 bedroom) in City Centre 680.08 EUR
Apartment (1 bedroom) Outside of Centre 539.89 EUR
Apartment (3 bedrooms) Outside of Centre 869.62 EUR
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