France, in Western Europe, encompasses medieval and port cities, tranquil villages, mountains and Mediterranean beaches. Paris, its capital, is known worldwide for its couture fashion houses, classical art museums including the Louvre and monuments like the Eiffel Tower. The country is also renowned for its sophisticated cuisine and its wines. Lascaux’s ancient cave drawings, Lyon’s Roman theater and the immense Palace of Versailles are testaments to its long history.
France is one of the top tourist destinations in the world. It has everything that you could ever want to see on your holidays: a great city like Paris, good beaches, more monuments than any other country, lovely nature, incredible mountain scenery, and let’s not forget amazing food and great wines. It is divided into 7 main cultural regions:
- The Ile de France is the region surrounding the Paris.
- Northern France consists of the flatlands and includes the cities of Nord-Pas de Calais, Picardie, and Haute-Normandie.
- Northeast France produces many famous wines. It includes Alsace, Lorraine, and Franche-Comté.
- The Great West is an oceanic region, with a culture greatly influenced by the ancient Celtic peoples. It includes Normandy, Brittany, Pays de la Loire, Bordeaux, Pays Basque, and Biarritz.
- Central France is a largely agricultural and vinicultural region. It includes Centre-Val de Loire, Poitou-Charentes, Burgundy, and Auvergne.
- Southwestern France is a region of sea and wine, with nice beaches over the Atlantic Ocean. It includes Aquitaine and Midi-Pyrenees.
- Southeastern France has a warm climate and azure sea. It includes Rhône-Alpes, Languedoc-Roussillon, Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur and the Mediterranean island of Corsica.
Paris Currency : Euro Driver's License : A valid driver's license is accepted for rental periods of less then 90 days. An International Driving Permit is recommended. Electricity : 220 V, 50Hz Entry Requirements : A passport, valid 3 months beyond intended stay, and an ongoing or return ticket are required. It is the traveller's responsibility to check with the country’s Embassy for up-to-date information. GMT Time : +1hr. Daylight savings time is applied. Government : Unitary semi-presidential republic Land size : 547,030 km2 approx in metropolitan France Language : French National Airlines : Air France Population : 64,057,792 approx Religion : Roman Catholic 83%-88%, Protestant 2%, Jewish 1%, Muslim 5%-10%, unaffiliated 4% Required Vaccines : none Tourist Season : Year round but from April to June and September to November are best
French cuisine is a style of cooking derived from the nation of France and is considered to be the world's most refined cuisine. French cuisine has evolved extensively over the centuries. The Middle Ages brought lavish banquets to the upper class with ornate, heavily seasoned food. The era of the French Revolution, however, saw a move toward fewer spices and more liberal usage of herbs and refined techniques. But French cuisine was only codified in the 20th century to become the modern version of haute cuisine.
French regional cuisine is characterized by its extreme diversity and style as ingredients and dishes can vary greatly. Cheese and wine are also a major part of the cuisine, playing different roles both regionally and nationally with their many variations and Appellation d'origine contrôlée (AOC) laws.
Below is a list of some of the most national and regional dishes: - Cassoulet (south west): Beans, duck, pork & sausages - Choucroute, or sauerkraut (Alsace): stripped fermented cabbage + pork - Fondue Savoyarde (central Alps): Melted/hot cheese with alcohol - Fondue Bourguignonne (Burgundy): Pieces of beef in boiled oil - 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 (south east): A real bouillabaisse is a really expensive dish due to the amount of fresh fish it requires - Tartiflette (Savoie): Reblochon cheese, potatoes and pork or bacon - Confit de Canard (Landes): Duck legs and wings bathing in grease - Foie Gras (Landes): The liver of a duck or goose
Common desserts and pastries include : Chocolate Mousse, Crème Brûlée, Mille-feuilles, Choux à la Crème, Madeleines, Tarte Tatin, Éclairs, and Profiteroles.
France is one of the oldest wine-producing regions of Europe. France is the source of more well-known grape varieties (such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc and Syrah) and winemaking practices than any other country. Beer and liqueurs are also extremely popular.
Culture The culture of France has been shaped by its geography and historical events. France has played an important role as a center of high culture and of decorative arts since the seventeenth century world wide. The late 19 century greatly influenced also modern art, cinema, fashion and cuisine.
The names of the historical French provinces (such as Normandy, Languedoc, Lyonnais, Champagne, Burgundy, Provence, Brittany, Auvergne, Alsace, Savoy) are still used to designate natural, historical, cultural regions and governmental départements. The culture could be divided into two groups: Paris and "la France profonde", designating provincial towns, village life and rural agricultural culture. Another expression, "terroir", today used to describe regional food products. In the twentieth century, France exhibited a high rate of immigration from southern and Eastern European. One million European pieds noirs also migrated from Algeria in 1962 and the following years, due to the chaotic independence of Algeria.
French is the sole official language of France since 1992, making metropolitan France the only Western European nation to have only one officially recognised language. Of this excludes the 77 regional languages. The Académie française is the pre-eminent French learned body on matters pertaining to the French language. The Académie was officially established in 1635 by Cardinal Richelieu, the chief minister to King Louis XIII. The body has the task of acting as an official authority on the language; it is charged with publishing an official dictionary of the language.
The association of France with fashion dates largely to the reign of Louis XIV when the French royal court became, arguably, the arbiter of taste and style in Europe. Haute couture began in the 1860s with the establishment of great couturier houses such as Charles Frederick Worth, Chanel, Balenciaga, Christian Dior, Givenchy, Yves Saint Laurent, Pierre Cardin, Jean-Paul Gaultier and Christian Lacroix.
The importance of fine arts is best represented by The Louvre in Paris, which was created by the new revolutionary regime in 1793 in the former royal palace. Famous French painters include Nicolas Poussin, Claude Lorrain, Antoine Watteau, Jacques-Louis David and Honoré Daumier, each specializing in various art mouvements. Impressionism was developed in France by artists such as Claude Monet, Edgar Degas, Pierre-Auguste Renoir and Camille Pissarro. Innovative art was born with Pablo Picasso, Toulouse-Lautrec, Gauguin and Cézanne. The Cubism movement was born in Paris at the beginning of the 20th century.
France boasts a wide variety of indigenous folk music. In the field of classical music, France has produced a number of legendary composers (Perotin, Machaut, Couperin, Debussy, Milhaud and Poulenc), while modern pop music has seen the rise of popular French hip hop, French rock and techno/funk.
Geography France is a country whose metropolitan territory is located in Western Europe and that also comprises various overseas islands and territories located in other continents. Metropolitan France extends from the Mediterranean Sea to the English Channel and the North Sea, and from the Rhine to the Atlantic Ocean. It is bordered by Belgium, Luxembourg, Germany, Switzerland, Italy, Monaco, Andorra, and Spain. France is also linked to the United Kingdom by the Channel Tunnel, which passes underneath the English Channel. Metropolitan France covers 547,030 square km, making it the largest country in area in the European Union. Politically, it is divided into 22 régions.
France also includes: - 4 overseas regions: Guadeloupe, French Guiana, Martinique, and Réunion. - 3 overseas collectivities: Saint-Pierre and Miquelon, Wallis and Futuna, and Mayotte. - 1 sui generis collectivity: New Caledonia. - 1 overseas "country": French Polynesia. - 1 overseas territory: the French Southern and Antarctic Lands. - 5 islands in the Indian Ocean: Bassas da India, Europa, Juan de Nova, Glorioso, and Tromelin. - 1 uninhabited island in the Pacific Ocean: Clipperton
History France has been populated since the Neolithic period. The Dordogne region is especially rich in prehistoric caves, some used as habitation, others presumed to be temples with remarkable paintings of animals and hunters, like those found at Lascaux. The name France originates from the Francs, a Germanic tribe that occupied northern Europe after the fall of the Western Roman Empire, somewhere between 118 and 50 BC.
The first King of the Francs, Clovis, is regarded as the forefather of the French kings. 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. A new society started to settle, based on the personal links of feudalism. This era is named middle age. 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. 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.
The beginning of the 16th century saw the end of the feudal system and the emergence of France as a modern state. Louis XIV who was king from 1643 to 1715 was probably the most powerful monarch of his time. 1789 saw the start of the French Revolution which led to the creation of the Republic. Napoléon reunited the country but his militaristic ambition was finally his downfall as he was defeated in Waterloo in 1815. 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 19century was the start of the industrialization of the country and the development of the railways.
World War I was a disaster for France as 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 also destroyed a number of areas. Since then France went through a period of reconstruction and prosperity. France and Germany were at the start of the Treaties which eventually became the European Union and the introduction of the Euro (€).
Nature Considering the many different climate topography zones, France's flora and fauna can vary greatly. It has forests of oak and beech in the north and center, as well as pine, birch, poplar, and willow. The Massif Central has chestnut and beech; the sub-alpine zone, juniper and dwarf pine. In the south are pine forests and various oaks. Eucalyptus and dwarf pines abound in Provence. Toward the Mediterranean are olive trees, vines, and mulberry and fig trees, as well as laurel and wild herbs.
The Pyrenees and the Alps are the home of the brown bear, chamois, marmot, and alpine hare. In the forests are polecat and marten, wild boar, and various deer. Hedgehog and shrew are common, as are fox, weasel, bat, squirrel, badger, rabbit, mouse, otter, and beaver. The birds of France are largely migratory; warblers, thrushes, magpies, owls, buzzards, and gulls are common. There are storks in Alsace and elsewhere, eagles and falcons in the mountains, pheasants and partridge in the south. Flamingos, terns, buntings, herons, and egrets are found in the Mediterranean zone. The rivers hold eels, pike, perch, carp, roach, salmon, and trout; lobster and crayfish are found in the Mediterranean.
Sports The most popular sports in France are football (soccer) in first place, rugby, basketball, cycling, sailing and tennis. France is notable for holding the football World Cup in 1998, for holding the annual cycling race Tour de France, and the tennis French Open.
Professional sailing in France is centred on ocean. Significant events include the Vendee Globe, Solitaire du Figaro, Mini Transat 6.50, Tour de France à Voile, and Route de Rhum transatlantic race.
Other important sports include Grand Prix Racing (Formula 1), Pétanque, Fencing, Parkour (resembling martial arts), and Babyfoot.
Banks & Money
In France, the legal currency is the Euro. Dollars can be exchanged in the many banks, some large stores, train stations, change offices and the post office which often double as a bank. Banks ATMs are available throughout the country.
Credit cards are accepted in most hotels, restaurants, stores and shops. Traveler's checks should be exchanged in banks or exchange offices because very few businesses will accept them.
Climate The temperate climate is generally cool in the winter and mild in the summer overall. Metropolitan France is divided into four climatic zones:
- Oceanic: along the Atlantic marked by high precipitation and cool summers. - Continental: the central and eastern part has harsh winters and hot summers and less rain. - Mountain: in higher altitude with high precipitation and winter snow. - Mediterranean: in the south eastern part defined by mild winters and very hot summers. The Mistral is an atmospheric phenomenon that occurs mostly in the winter and spring which creates a cold, strong north westerly wind along the coast.
For monthly average temperatures please refer to your destination of choice.
Communication The country code in France is 33. Telephone numbers in France are composed of 10 digits. The first two digits identify the area: 01 for Paris, 02 for the northwest, 03 for the northeast, 04 for the southeast, 05 for the southwest, 06 for cell phones.
Most phone booths use only a telephone cards available at Post Offices, tobacco and souvenir shops. France uses the GSM standard of cellular phones and is very well covered by the 3 French mobile service providers.
In France, mail boxes are yellow and can be found along streets and in every post office. Stamps may be purchased at the post office and at any tobacco shop.
Internet Cafes are becoming common place and can be found in most towns throughout France. You will be charged according to the amount of time spent using the computer. Some larger hotels may offer also internet services.
Health Tap water is safe to drink apart from remote farms or rest areas. If that is the case you may see a sign reading "eau non potable", untreated water. Sensitive stomachs may get upset so bottled water is best if unsure. All food is safe as well. There is no major health threat in France. There are no required vaccines to enter the country, unless arriving from an endemic area.
Pharmacies in France are denoted by a green cross, usually in neon, and only sell medicine, contraceptives and often beauty and related products. Medicines must be ordered from the counter, even for non-prescription medicines. Since drug brand names vary, it is better to carry prescriptions using the international nomenclature in addition to the commercial brand name.
Official Holidays January 1 - New Year's Day March/April - Easter May 1 - Labor Day May 8 - Celebration of the end of WWII in Europe May - Ascension July 14 - French Independence Bastille Day August 15 - Assumption November 1 - All Saints' Day November 11 - Armistice December 25 - Christmas
Safety France is not a high crime area but large cities are plagued with the usual woes, pickpockets being one of them especially in tourist areas. 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.
Crime-related emergencies can be reported to the toll-free number 17. In large cities, especially Paris, there are a few areas which it is better to avoid, such as the outer ring and suburbs. These are sometimes grounds for youth gang violent activities and drug dealing.
In the last years it can be common to see armed patrols in tourist areas, all part of the anti terrorist units.
Shopping Where to begin! You could easily come back with 5 extra suitcases of souvenirs, foods, beauty products and wine.
The French are certainly known for their sense of style and beauty. Paris is the city that gave birth to fashion. If you can afford it go for the designer labels of Dior, Chanel, Hermes, Yves St-Laurent, JP Gaultier and hundreds more. You can also find knockoffs all over, at more than affordable prices. Designer perfumes and skin products purchased at the duty-free store (not the airport ones) or a discounter where you can qualify for VAT refund can save you 20% to 45% off. Note that French perfume lasts longer than the US counterpart of the same scent due to the different alcohol used in production.
Traditional souvenirs and local crafts abound depending on the region you are visiting. Examples include: faïence (earthenware) are in the north on the Atlantic coast; Moustier Ste-Marie in Provence is known for a type of faïence with animals; Salernes produces tiles; soap making is an art in the south; you'll find copper cooking pots in northern France; Strasbourg area is the home of Baccarat crystal; for delicate porcelains, head to Limoges; and Burgundy is known for its large hand-carved furniture.
You can bring cheeses that have aged more than 90 days. Dijon mustard and many other condiments are great to bring home, as is a can of foie gras. A visit to a Maitre Chocolatiers in Lyon or Paris is a must for incredible artful chocolates: try La Maison du Chocolat and Christian Constant. If in Provence a bag of Herbes de Provence for cooking, or dried lavender is a perfect purchase. The list goes on and on.
And of course one cannot leave France with at least two bottles of wine. From big names to the unusual vintages, wine shops and vineyard abound all over the country. Try a wine from Bordeaux, Burgundy, Provence, Languedoc, Alsace, the Rhône Valley, or a Champagne from Epernay and Reims. Keep in mind that big surface wine stores are not always offering the best deal. Shop around and taste as much as you can. Liqueurs and digestifs are popular by region as well, such as Cognacs, Calvados, and Armagnac.
Taxes & Tips There is no departure tax at the airport.
Tipping, although not obligatory, is very much expected. Bellhops and doorman usually receive $2 per bag and chambermaids should get $2 per day. Taxi drivers usually receive at tip of 10% of the metered charge. Almost all restaurants include a 15% service charge (service compris) in their prices.
The value-added tax (TVA in French) on most goods and services is of 19.6%. Refunds are made for the tax on certain goods and merchandise if you spend a minimum of 175€ in the same store on the same day, and if you are not a resident of the European Union. You must then get the Retail Export Form from the store, have customs stamp your form when leaving (have purchases with you) and then mail it in for your refund when back home.
Transportation There are approximately 478 airports in France. The Charles de Gaulle International Airport located in the vicinity of Paris is the largest and busiest airport in the country. Air France and other regional airlines offer domestic flights. Airports are well served by shuttle services. Senior, youth and student discounts are available on many domestic flights.
The train system, operated by the SNCF, is always the easiest way to travel within France. There is a variety of affordable and flexible passes. Most passes have special discounts for youth and seniors. High-speed train services include the Thalys, the Eurostar and TGV, which travels at 320 km/h. The Eurostar, along with the Eurotunnel Shuttle, connects with the United Kingdom through the Channel Tunnel.
There are ten major ports in France, the largest of which is in Marseille, which also is the largest bordering the Mediterranean Sea.
Several larger cities have a metro or subway system to facilitate public transportation. These rapid transit services operating in France include Paris Métro, Poma 2000 in Laon, Lyon Metro, RTM in Marseille, and the VAL in Lille, Rennes and Toulouse. Larger cities also have bus transportation services.
In Paris, the Batobus is an original 8-stop boat service on the Seine River which operates from April to October. You can use it to reach Paris’ most visited places: Eiffel Tower, Orsay Museum, Notre Dame, Beaubourg, and the Louvre.
There are approximately 893,300 km of roadways in France which connect with cities in neighbouring Belgium, Spain, Andorra, Monaco, Switzerland, Germany and Italy. France possesses the world's tallest road bridge: the Millau Viaduct.