Special purchases include lace, crystal glass, cheeses, coffee and, of course, wines, spirits and liqueurs. Arques, the home of Crystal D’Arques, is situated between St Omer and Calais, en route to most southern destinations. Lille, the main town of French Flanders, is known for its textiles, particularly fine lace. Most towns have fruit and vegetable markets on Saturday. Hypermarkets, enormous supermarkets which sell everything from foodstuffs and clothes to hi-fi equipment and furniture, are widespread in France. They tend to be situated just outside of town and all have parking facilities.
Department stores are open Mon-Sat 0900-1830. Some shops are closed between 1200-1430. Food shops are open 0700-1830/1930. Some food shops (particularly bakers) are open Sunday mornings, in which case they will probably close Monday. Many shops close all day or Monday afternoon. Hypermarkets are normally open until 2100 or 2200.
Single European currency (Euro)
The Euro is now the official currency of 12 EU member states (including France). The first Euro coins and notes were introduced in January 2002; the French Franc was still in circulation until 17 February 2002, when it was completely replaced by the Euro. Euro (&Euro;) = 100 cents. Notes are in denominations of &Euro;500, 200, 100, 50, 20, 10 and 5. Coins are in denominations of &Euro;2 and 1, and 50, 20, 10, 5, 2 and 1 cents.
Some first-class hotels are authorized to exchange foreign currency. Visitors should also look for the ‘Crédit Mutuel’ or ‘Crédit Agricole’, which have longer opening hours. Shops and hotels are prohibited from accepting foreign currency by law. Many UK banks offer differing exchange rates depending on the denominations of currency being bought or sold. Travelers should check with their banks for details and current rates.
Credit & debit cards
American Express, Diners Club, MasterCard and Visa are widely accepted. Check with your credit or debit card company for details of merchant acceptability and other services which may be available.
In 2002, the Banque de France stopped dealing in foreign currencies and therefore no longer handles travelers cheques.
The import and export of local and foreign currency is unrestricted. Amounts over &Euro;7622 must be declared.
Exchange rate indicators
The following figures are included as a guide to the movements of the Euro against Sterling and the US Dollar:
Mon-Fri 0900-1200 and 1400-1630. Some banks close Monday and some are open Saturday. Banks close early (1200) on the day before a bank holiday; in rare cases, they may also close for all or part of the day after. Some banks in Paris are open Mon-Fri 1000-1700.