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Welcome to France
 
About France


France is the grande dame of Europe, its cultural trendsetter and perhaps its cultural heart as well. No matter what your fancy, France will more than cater to your needs. You’ll find hotels in France that are quaint, with a true homely feel, and others that are plush, with 5-star service and amenities that rival the best hotels in the world. Wherever you choose to stay, whatever sights you wish to see, treasures you wish to visit, shopping you require or fashions you desire, France has it all.

France conjures up images of romance, glamour, style, the Eiffel Tower. Paris, its capital, is associated with more timeless cultural icons than any other city in the world: the Louvre, Museum D’Orsay, Arc de Triomphe, Cathedral Notre Dame, Basilique du Sacre Coeu, and the Champs-Elysees are just some of them. Head outside the city, and an endless variety of destinations await, whether a week in Cannes, a fortnight in Nice or a day in the French Alps.

Synonymous with style, France is sophisticated and exciting. From Paris to the breathtaking Loire Valley castles and the glittering Cote d’Azur with its air of romance and faded grandeur, it is not hard to see why the country has enchanted generations of visitors. Wine aficionados flock to the French vineyards that dot the country-side, in areas whose names evoke the wines that come from them: Champagne, Chablis, and Bordelais.

Home to over 60 million people, it is the largest country in Western Europe, with topography ranging from rolling plains of the north to the jagged peaks of the Pyrenees, in the south. Finding hotels in France is easy, with a wide choice of different styles and locations. Travelling is effortless, with many modes of transportation one can choose amongst- from high speed trains to lolling horse-pulled buggies. No romantic can fail to be entranced by the charm of French cities and country-sides, with their timeless ability to set the perfect mood for whatever holiday you have mind.

Though France has tons of different options for visitors inside the country, within its interior, don’t forget the coasts! French resorts along the fabled French Riviera are famous for their natural beauty and white sandy beaches. To the north, Normandy draws millions of visitors to beaches that saw the greatest invasion in the history of mankind, one which began the march to victory over Nazi Germany during World War II. One could spend a month in this incredible country and still not experience more than a small part of what it has to offer.

A mention of France typically conjures up images of the Eiffel Tower, gastronomic delights, wine country chateaux, high fashion and the French Riviera. France is Western Europe’s largest nation, and is home to over 58 million people. It extends from the wild coast of Brittany to the jutting peaks of the Pyrenees; to the Alps in the southeast, and finally the Mediterranean coast. Visitors to France inevitably find an exceptional range of attractions and things to do here. Paris is normally at the top of most itineraries, but Lyon, Nice, Cannes, the villages of Provence and the French Alps also figure prominently.

From the excitement, sophistication and style of Paris to the grandeur of the chateaux of the Loire Valley and the glamour of the Cote d’Azur, it’s easy to see why France has been a source of enchantment to tourists for generations. The country’s world-renowned cuisine and wines are a significant part of its appeal. The list of gastronomic delights goes on forever, but a few specialties that are not to be missed include escargot, foie gras, fromage, patisserie and truffles.

The country’s attractions range from small aspects of daily life to famous works of art and architectural masterpieces. You can experience the essence of France in its café culture, at the Cannes film festival or in a walk around the monastery and fortress of Mont Saint Michel. A visit to the windswept beaches of Normandy brings to life images of the troops landing during WWII and a visit to Versailles evokes images of yet another era of French history.

You can experience at first hand the awesome beauty of Mont Blanc in contrast to the glamour and style of Paris. And while you’re in Paris, you can visit the Louvre to see da Vinci’s ‘Mona Lisa’ up close, take in the cabaret show at the Moulin Rouge or enjoy a leisurely boat ride along the Seine River. No matter what type of accommodation you have in mind, France has an option to meet your needs. There are quaint guest houses, small and affordable family hotels, converted chateaux and five-star deluxe hotels and resorts – all characterised by a uniquely French sense of style. No matter which region of France you choose for your visit, there will be plenty to see, lots of things to do, interesting shops to explore, great food and wine to enjoy.

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History & Culture

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Sightseeing Sightseeing
Sightseeing Sightseeing

France’s history can be traced to early civilisations dating back to 50,000BC. Plenty of evidence has been found in Périgord from the Stone Age, where the remains of Cro-Magnon man were uncovered at Les Eyzies. Neolithic sites dating from 5000BC were discovered in Brittany.
Marseille was founded by Greeks in 600BC and called Massalia at the time. Other parts of Gaul (as the country was then called) were mostly rural but archaeologists have found communities such as Autun with well-defined merchants' quarters from as early as 100BC. Evidence to support the theory of trading relations between the Gauls and the Greeks has been found in ancient burial grounds outside of Vix.

In 52BC, the Gauls were defeated by the Romans when Julius Caesar arrived to seize more lands for his empire. For more than five centuries after this defeat, the country experienced an era of peace and development. The populace was educated in Latin, was taught farming techniques and learned about trade and manufacturing; and a national border was established with Germany at the Rhine River. These developments enabled France to withstand the centuries of conflict that were to begin with the fall of the Roman Empire.

The Franks, led by King Clovis, were the next major presence, bringing with them Christianity, and founding the city of Paris. In 754 the Pope crowned Pepin king and his son, Charlemagne, later continued Frankish rule. By 987, only Paris was still dominated by the Franks.
In 1000 power became more centralised, as French kings began to consolidate land holdings. The marriage of Louis VII to Eleanor of Aquitaine expanded the kingdom and created a more unified France. When they later divorced and Eleanor married the English King Henry II in 1152, the western part of France came under English influence and became a threat to the French king’s rule.

Since the early years of the 17th century, France’s role in European and world affairs has been pivotal. During the 20th century, the country faced a wide range of crises, including two world wars, internal political upheaval, the loss of its empires in Africa and south-east Asia and massive immigration and social change. It survived these challenges and has emerged from them as a major player in agricultural and industrial production and a major force in the EU.

France was anxious to avoid a repeat of the upheavals and economic disasters it had endured, and directed its efforts toward the founding of a European Union. To this day it continues to be a driver of EU economic programmes and stresses the importance of political harmony. For a number of years, France has asserted itself in the international arena as a counterpoint to US culture and political domination. The country proudly flaunts its position as the top tourist destination in the world: this is a country that entices visitors to come for repeat visits.

Other Europeans have a peculiar relationship with the French people, in which there may be more than a touch of envy. The French have much to boast about, and are rightly proud of their culture. As a result, they have gained a reputation with their neighbors for being arrogant. They are often accused of seeing themselves as decidedly superior to every other nation. For years the French have been criticized and stereotyped for their attitude. But the minute a foreigner steps on French soil he or she is once more seduced: by the country, the overwhelming charm of the people, the way of life.

The French strike a happy balance between the work driven culture of northern Europeans and the wonderfully alluring, but overly relaxed, southern European approach to life. This is a prosperous country with a high standard of living, where both men and women hold down prestigious and influential jobs in every sector. It is also a highly efficient country with an excellent infrastructure, making things very easy for visitors. Public transportation is first rate, with Europe's best and fastest train system, If you're driving, you'll find the roads fast and in good condition, although you should be aware of the sometimes erratic national driving style. Hotels are comfortable, restaurants provide good value, and tourism is a well organized, thriving industry.

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Weather


France’s climate is temperate in the northern regions and north-eastern parts of the country tend to experience a more continental climate characterised by cold winters and warm summers. Rainfall can be expected throughout the year and some snowfall is typical during the winter months.

In the Jura Mountains, the climate is alpine; with much of the terrain above the tree line and it is cold for the majority of the year. In Lorraine, which is sheltered by the hills bordering the province, the climate is relatively mild. The south of France enjoys a Mediterranean climate, with cold, wet winter months and a hot, dry summer season.

The climate of the western coast, from the Basque region to the Loire, is influenced by the Atlantic Ocean. The weather is relatively mild and rainfall is expected throughout the year. Summers are mostly sunny and can be very hot, however. The areas inland from the coast are typically mild, and in fact, the foothills of the Pyrenees are known for record numbers of sunny days.

In Auvergne, Burgundy and throughout the Rhône Valley, the climate is continental. Strong, cold, and dry winds known as the ‘Mistral’ blow from the north-west through to the south of France in the winter, and are often accompanied by clear and sunny days.

France has the benefit of a temperate, rather agreeable climate.

Continental France is divided into four climatic zones:

- Oceanic and humid climate with often cool summers to the west of a line from Bayonne to Lille;

- Semi-continental climate with harsh winters and hot summers in Alsace, Lorraine, along the Rhône corridor and in the mountainous massifs (Alps, Pyrenees and Massif Central);

- Intermediate climate with cold winters and hot summers in the north, and in the Paris and central regions;

- Mediterranean climate with mild winters and very hot summers in the south of France.

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Sightseeing

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France boasts a great range in attractions that will interest visitors – including some of the most recognisable landmarks in the world. Highlights include the world-famous Eiffel Tower and Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris – among many other attractions in that city; the cathedral at Chartres, the pilgrimage site at Lourdes and the magnificent French Alps.

Avignon
Avignon is located around 600km to the south of Paris, and is noted for its Palais des Papes – Palace of the Popes - as well as its active theatre scene. The city is home to actors and artists, as well as a number of notable theatres and art galleries. The annual Theatre Festival, held from 10 July to 5 August, has placed Avignon securely on the European calendar and on the tourist map. Avignon boasts charming streets and alleys, shops and cafés throughout its ancient centre. Visit this website for photographs and further information about Avignon in France.

Chartres Cathedral
This cathedral, officially known as the Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Chartres, is one of the country’s finest examples of Gothic religious architecture, and is located in the city of Chartres, approximately 100km south of Paris. The cathedral is considered to be the best-preserved medieval religious structure in Europe. Dating from the 12th century, its design reflects the work of numerous architects – and artisans - over a period of several hundred years. The result is an exterior comprising both Gothic and Romanesque aspects. The cloth said to have been worn by the Virgin Mary when she gave birth to Christ is enshrined here.

Eiffel Tower
This tower is the most well-known of all French monuments, and may be one of the most-recognisable attractions in the world. The Eiffel Tower was built for the International Exhibition held in Paris in 1889 – organized in commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the French Revolution. The plan for the tower was not widely accepted initially, however, with a petition circulated protesting its construction. Standing 300m tall, and weighing 7000 tons, this was the tallest structure in the world until 1930. The tower’s second platform boasts an exclusive, deluxe restaurant – the Jules Verne, and the top platform features a bar and a souvenir shop. From all the platforms, the views of the city are wonderful; many feel that the optimal time to see the metropolitan panorama is about an hour before sunset.

French Alps
The magnificent landscape, summer hiking trails, winter skiing options and the quaint towns set in the region’s picturesque valleys are some of the attractions here. The biggest draw of all, of course, is Mount Blanc - western Europe’s highest peak at an altitude of 4808m. The landscape of the region is covered with forests and dotted with pristine lakes; and in the valleys you’ll come across traditional villages, with appealing shops and marketplaces.

Lourdes
Lourdes is known for miracle cures, and even if you aren’t particularly religious it makes for a fascinating stop. Until 1858, it was little more than a small village. After a local girl called Bernadette Soubirous began seeing visions of the Virgin Mary at a place now known the Grotte de Massabielle, the character of this small village changed dramatically. The shrine at this site today holds up to 20,000 visitors. In addition to being a pilgrimage site, Lourdes is also a charming Pyrenees town. As you stroll around the area, you’ll discover its rich heritage – from the fortifications at the Pic du Jer to the lovely Lourdes Lake.

Notre Dame de Paris
The Cathédrale de Notre Dame de Paris was built 900 years ago on the Île de la Cité – an island in the middle of the Seine River that was the birthplace of Paris. It played a central role in Victor Hugo’s novel, The Hunchback of Notre-Dame. The bells of the cathedral ring out several times each day, and visitors are welcome to tour the interior and its towers, to see the famous gargoyles and the collection of art and relics in the cathedral’s small museum. Masses are still celebrated daily.

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Sightseeing Sightseeing Sightseeing

Top Things to Do

You’ll find loads of things to do in Paris, but there’s so much more to France than its capital city. Take the time to relax for a bit in the city’s Luxembourg Gardens before heading out to one of France’s noted wine regions, or south to Marseille. Discover Greek and Roman ruins in Provence, and continue to the Mediterranean where you can mingle with the rich and famous on the French Riviera.

Check out Marseille. For years known as dangerous place that was the haunt of thieves and prostitutes, France's most important Mediterranean port has been revitalised and is being visited by larger numbers of tourists each year. This is a great place to enjoy seafood at the old port and to take in attractions of interest that include Notre Dame de la Garde, perched on a hilltop overlooking the city, a number of museums, Le Corbusier's Unité d'Habitation, the Château d'If and the Hospice de la Vieille Charité.

Head south to the Languedoc-Roussillon. Discover the magnificent Roman and early Gallic ruins of France’s Languedoc-Roussillon region. In Nîmes, you’ll find Diana's Temple, the Roman Arena and Maison Carré: the city is known as 'the Rome of the Gauls.’ Some of the finest examples of Greco-Roman architectural style in the world can be seen here.

Relax in the Jardins du Luxembourg. A favourite among Parisians and students at the Sorbonne, this 25 hectare retreat is an oasis near the city’s Quartier Latin that merits a visit. The elegant gardens boast fountains, statues, lots of flowers and a number of attractions for children. Also located in the gardens is the Luxembourg Palace, which was built for the 17th century queen of France, Marie de Medicis, who was Italian by birth. The palace was modelled after the Palazzo Pitti in her native city, Florence.

Enjoy the glamour of the Côte d'Azur. Nice is really the centre of the action and glamour on the French Riviera. A stroll along the Promenade des Anglais in Nice, which runs parallel to the Mediterranean, is a chance to experience the seafront opulence of this top end resort city. Nice is also known for its Flower Carnival, held in January; and Cannes, to the west, holds the possibility of spotting a celebrity or two in May at the international film festival held here.

Take a wine tour. Several wine-growing regions in France offer tours for visitors, and some allow tourists to join in the grape harvest. The country boasts ten principal regions where wine is king, including Alsace, Beaujolais, Bordeaux, Burgundy, Champagne and the Rhône Valley, among others. Each area is identified with the grape varieties that flourish there – according to its micro-climate and soil type. Many of the vineyards throughout the country offer tours and tastings.

Appreciate Champagne. A major wine region in the north-east of the country, the province of Champagne is most well known for its world-renowned sparking white wine. Champagne is actually fermented in the bottle. In case you’re planning on making a purchase, there are two sizes of bottles used for fermentation: magnums are considered as producing the higher quality product, as less oxygen is found in the bottle, favouring the creating of bubbles that are just the right size. As with other wine regions of France, tours and tastings are on offer to visitors.

Golf in France. France, a land of golf, has over 500 golf courses and still more are being designed. Courses have been created here by the top architects: Robert Trent Jones Snr & Jnr, Nicklaus, Hawtree, Pete Dye, Gary Player, Robert Von Hagge, Ronald Fream, Tom Simpson, Peter Alliss. From fairways overlooking the sea to glistening snow-covered peaks. From courses which challenge the most experienced golfers, to others which host the most famous trophies. They all offer an opportunity to experience the joys of the game and to discover the French art de vivre.

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Travel Tips


Business Hours

Banks: 09:30 to 16:30, Monday to Friday
Department Stores and Shops: 09:00 to 18:30, Monday to Saturday
Business Offices: 09:00 to 17:00, Monday to Friday

Cautions

Visitors should be aware that while most of the country experiences a low-to-moderate crime rate, the possibility of petty crime always exists. Pickpocketing and wallet and handbag theft are reported at tourist attractions, at transportation centres and on public transport systems. Theft from cars is reportedly on the rise; drivers should keep windows rolled up, doors locked and all valuables well out of sight.Electricity: 220 volts AC, 50Hz. Two-round pin plugs are inHealth use.

Health

The only proof of inoculations required for visitors entering France is for those who have recently visited an area where yellow fever is prevalent. Anyone whose plans involve spending time in one of France’s forested areas is advised to consider being vaccinated for tick-borne encephalitis. Rabies is also present here and those planning on spending part of their holiday in wilderness areas should be aware of the risk. Any animal bite should be taken seriously and medical help should be sought as quickly as possible.

Tourists who are nationals of EU member nations are eligible for free or significantly reduced cost treatment for an urgent accident, or an illness occurring while visiting France. The treatment facility staff will ask to see a valid European Health Insurance Card (EHIC). Full travel insurance is advised for all travellers, however, for costs not normally covered by the EU scheme – and for all visitors who are not EU nationals. Ambulance: 15; Police: 17

Language

French is the country’s official language and many regional dialects are spoken. Basque is the first language of a large percentage of the population in the south-western border area with Spain and Breton of part of the population of Brittany. Quite a number of people, especially those involved in business, and anyone connected with the tourist industry, understand and speak English.

Currency

The national currency is the Euro, as France is a member of the EU: abbreviation EUR; symbol €. Each Euro is equivalent to 100 cents. Bank notes are circulated in denominations of €500, 200, 100, 50, 20, 10 and 5. Coins are found in denominations of €2 and 1; and 50, 20, 10, 5, 2 and 1 cents.

Currency Exchange

Currency can be exchanged at most banks, bureaux de change and post offices. Exchange service counters are easily recognized by a sign reading ‘Change.’ Some hotels are also authorised to exchange foreign currency. Major credit cards are widely accepted, as are travellers’ cheques. You find ATMs conveniently located throughout the cities and smaller towns in France.

Customs

Visitors to France arriving from non-EU countries are permitted to bring in the following goods without incurring customs duty: 200 cigarettes or 50 cigars; one litre of spirits; two litres of fortified wine; two litres of still wine; 250ml of eau de toilette; 50g of perfume; 500g of coffee; and 100g of tea. It is also permissible to bring in personal medications. The total value of other goods that may be brought into the country is €175.

Etiquette

The typical forms of greeting in France are shaking hands and kissing both cheeks – with the latter a more familiar form of greeting. People are generally referred to simply as Monsieur or Madame without a surname, until the relationship has developed to a level familiar enough for first names to be used. Casual wear has become more common, even at some social functions. There still are social functions, casinos, clubs and more upscale restaurants where more formal attire is expected. Topless sunbathing is an accepted practice for women at the majority of French beaches; but totally nudity is restricted to ‘naturist’ areas.Smoking in public places is no longer permitted in France.

Dining Etiquette

If you’re invited by someone to dinner when you’re visiting France, it is proper etiquette to arrive on time, or certainly no more than 10 minutes later than the time indicated. The standards relax a bit the farther south you go, however. If your invitation is to a large dinner party, it is customary to send flowers to the host or hostess on the morning of the event – for display during the event. At formal dinners, the host will signal when guests should begin eating by saying ‘bon appetit’. Be prepared for a lengthy, leisurely meal.

Table manners in France follow the continental style, with the fork held in the left hand and the knife held in the right hand while eating. Elbows should not be rested on the table but hands should be kept at table height. It is considered polite to eat everything on your plate and to leave your wineglass full or nearly full if you don’t want it to be refilled.

Visa and Passports

Visitors who are nationals of other European Union countries are only required to show their national ID card when entering France. All others must be in possession of a valid passport. France is a signatory to the Shengen Agreement, meaning that visitors who do require visas are basically able to travel freely among the following countries: Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Greece, Iceland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway and Portugal.

Citizens of the US and Canada who are visiting France as tourists, for up to 90 days, do not require visas. For citizens of most other countries, a visa must be obtained in advance at a French consulate or embassy abroad. It is a good idea to allow plenty of time for processing the visa; and the time required differs by country. Visitors are advised that carrying a form of ID at all times is required in France. Police officers are permitted by law to ask for proof of identity, and this might occur on the street or at transportation centres such as railway stations and airports.

Tourist Information Offices

French government tourist offices are charged with promoting tourism in France, and they provide information on tourist destinations throughout the country, as well as assistance in trip planning. The major offices in Paris are: Paris Maison de la France, located at: 8, avenue de l'Opéra; and Siège de Maison de La France, located at 23, Place de Catalogne. Phone: +33 1 4296 7000.

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Transportation


France Map

Airports

Paris-Charles de Gaulle Airport (CDG) is located 23kms northeast of the city. As the major international long-haul facility service Paris, the amenities available to travellers are comprehensive. Passengers will find banks and bureaux de change, duty-free shopping, bars, cafés and restaurants and car hire facilities. Transfer options include coaches to the city centre, running every 20min; taxis and the Roissybus service connecting the airport to Paris’s Place de l'Opéra.

The city’s other main international facility is Paris-Orly (ORY), located 14km south of Paris. International flights from around Europe comprise the majority of the traffic here. Facilities for travellers include banks, currency exchanges, restaurants and shops. Buses connect the airport with central Paris, leaving from outside the Orly Ouest Arrivals hall, every 12 minutes – with a journey time of 25 minutes. Taxis are readily available; and the RER B and C line trains run every 15 minutes via Saint-Michel, with the trip taking 30 minutes.

The Lyon-Saint-Exupéry Airport (LYS), located 25kms east of Lyon, is an important hub for the Rhône-Alpes region. Domestic and international flights service the airport, with most international service arriving from points around Europe. Transfer to Lyon centre is possible by coach and taxi. Coach service also links the airport with Chambéry and Grenoble.

Marseille’s Marseille-Marignane Airport (MRS) is situated about 30kms northwest of the city. This is a regional and international facility, with flights arriving from all points in France and a number of cities of origin from other European nations. It ranks as France’s fifth-busiest airport in passenger traffic; and second in cargo. Coach and taxi services are available for transfer to the city.

Public Transport

Public transportation systems in France’s urban areas are excellent, and all larger towns are also serviced by systems that are comprehensive, although somewhat more limited in options.

In Paris, the RATP (Régie Autonome des Transports Parisiens) operates the Métro, surface rail (RER) and bus services in the city and suburban areas. The RATP is also responsible for transport links with the major airports: services include Orlybus, Roissybus and Orlyval; and also the Montmartre funicular – taking passengers from the foot of Montmartre up to Sacré-Coeur. The Paris Metro was built for the city’s Exhibition of 1900; it features 14 lines that cover a large part of the central area of the city, and can be a good way for tourists to see the sights. The RER services operate from the centre to the suburban areas; and from the suburbs, SNCF (the French rail operator) runs five lines that radiate out to other parts of France. In addition to these rail services, extensive bus service is available, which covers thousands of routes around the city; and taxi service is on offer, although quite expensive.

Also offered for use in Paris is the Paris Pass, entitling the bearer to discounts and even free entry into most of the favourite tourist attractions around the city, as well as free public transport in Paris Zones 1-3.

In other French cities, visitors will find a variety of transport options. There are automated trains and a tramway in Lille; a funicular, trolleybuses, and underground rail services in Lyon; and tramways, trolleybuses and a Métro servicing Marseille. In Grenoble, Nantes and St Etienne, tramways are the main transportation option; and in Limoges and Nancy tourists have trolleybuses as their primary option. Schedules and route maps are generally available.

Car hire in France is simple and widely available in all cities with ample services for visitors. Valid driver’s licences are necessary and most businesses require credit cards, as well as passports for international visitors.

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