Located in western Europe, bordering the Bay of Biscay and the English Channel, between Belgium and Spain, southeast of the UK, and bordering the Mediterranean Sea, between Italy and Spain, France is mostly flat plains or gently rolling hills in the north and west, and the remainder is mountainous, especially the Pyrenees in the south and the Alps in the east. France is one of the most modern countries in the world and is a leader among European nations, with a rich history, fantastic wines, and intriguing culture.
Climate: The climate features generally cool winters and mild summers, but milder winters and hot summers along the Mediterranean coast. France has occasional strong, cold and dry north-to-northwesterly winds known as the Mistral.
Handshaking and, more familiarly, kissing both cheeks, are the usual forms of greeting. The form of personal address is simply Monsieur or Madame without a surname and it may take time to get on first-name terms. At more formal dinners, it is the most important guest or host who gives the signal to start eating. Mealtimes are often a long, leisurely experience. Casual wear is common but the French are renowned for their stylish sportswear and dress sense. Social functions, some clubs, casinos and exclusive restaurants warrant more formal attire. Evening wear is normally specified where required. Topless sunbathing is tolerated on most beaches but naturism is restricted to certain beaches – local tourist offices will advise where these are. Smoking is prohibited on public transport and in cinemas and theaters. Tobacconists display a red sign in the form of a double cone. A limited choice of brands can be found in restaurants and bars.
A 12 to 15 per cent service charge is normally added to the bill in hotels, restaurants and bars, but it is customary to leave small change with the payment; more if the service has been exceptional. Other services such as washroom attendants, beauticians, hairdressers and cinema ushers expect tips. Taxi drivers expect 10 to 15 per cent of the meter fare.
The national airline is Air France. Many airlines operate to France, including an increasing number of low-cost airlines from the UK.
Approximate flight times
From Paris to London is one hour five minutes; from Nice and Marseille is two hours.
From Paris to Los Angeles is 15 hours five minutes; to New York is eight hours; to Singapore is 15 hours five minutes; and to Sydney is 25 hours five minutes.
Paris-Charles de Gaulle (CDG), also known as Roissy-Charles de Gaulle, is 23km (14 miles) northeast of the city (travel time – 40 minutes). There are coaches to the city at least every 20 minutes. Taxis are readily available and journeys to the center cost around &Euro;38. An airport limousine service can also be hired for approximately &Euro;90. Roissybus services operate from the airport to Place de l’Opéra between 0545-2300 every 15 minutes. Fare is approximately &Euro;8 and takes approximately 60 minutes. Air France coaches run from Étoile via Porte Maillot, from Montparnasse via Gare de Lyon and from Orly Airport to Roissy-Charles de Gaulle. Services run every 12 to 20 minutes and take 40 to 50 minutes. Fares are approximately &Euro;11. The airport is also easily accessible by train on the RER B line or SNCF with connecting ADP shuttle bus.
Paris-Orly (ORY) is 14km (9 miles) south of the city. Coaches and buses run to the city every 12 minutes (travel time – 25 minutes) from outside Orly Ouest. Taxis are available. RER B and C trains run every 15 minutes via Saint-Michel (travel time – 30 minutes).
Bordeaux (BOD) (Merignac) is 12km (8 miles) west of the city. There are coaches, buses and taxis to the city.
Lille (LIL) (Lesquin) is 12km (8 miles) southeast of the city. Coaches and taxis are available to the city.
Lyon (LYS) (Lyon-Saint-Exupéry) is 25km (15 miles) east of the city. Coaches or taxis are available to the city.
Marseille (MRS) (Marseille-Marignane) is 30km (19 miles) northwest of the city. A coach service departs to the city and taxis are available.
Nice (NCE) (Nice-Côte d’Azur) is 6km (4 miles) west of the city. Buses depart every 20 minutes. Taxis to the city are available.
Nantes (NTE) is 15km (9 miles) south of the city. Trains and buses depart frequently to the city.
Strasbourg (SXB) is 16km (10 miles) southwest of the city (travel time – 15 to 30 minutes). Trams and taxis are available to the city.
Toulouse (TLS) (Blagnac) is 10km (6 miles) northwest of the city. Buses to the city depart every 20 minutes. Taxis are available to the city.
Facilities at the airports listed above are all of a high international standard and include bank/bureaux de change, duty-free shops, restaurants and bars. There are also small airports with some international flights at Biarritz, Caen, Deauville (St Gatien), Le Havre, Montpellier, Morlaix, Rennes and Quimper.
The following companies run regular cross-channel services:
P&O Stena Line from Dover to Calais (travel time – one hour 15 minutes);
P&O Portsmouth from Portsmouth to Le Havre (travel time – five hours 30 minutes during the day and eight hours at night) and from Portsmouth to Cherbourg (travel time – five hours during the day and eight hours at night);
Seafrance from Dover to Calais (travel time – one hour 30 minutes);
Hoverspeed Fast Ferries from Dover to Calais (travel time – 50 minutes by seacat) and from Newhaven to Dieppe (travel time – two hours 15 minutes by seacat);
Brittany Ferries from Plymouth to Roscoff (travel time – 6 hours), from Portsmouth to St Malo (travel time – eight hours 45 minutes to the UK, 11 hours to France), from Portsmouth to Caen (travel time – six hours) and from Poole to Cherbourg (travel time – four hours 15 minutes by ferry or, in the high season, two hours 15 minutes by seacat);
Condor Ferries from Poole and Weymouth to St Malo (via Guernsey and Jersey) (travel time – four hours 30 minutes and five hours 30 minutes respectively), from Guernsey to St Malo (travel time – two hours 40 minutes) and from Jersey to St Malo (travel time – one hour 10 minutes).
These companies offer a variety of promotional fares and inclusive holidays for short breaks and shopping trips. Passenger and roll-on/roll-off ferry links to and from North Africa, Corsica and Sardinia are provided by Southern Ferries/Société Nationale Maritime Corse-Mediterranée (SNCM) (see Travel – Internal section).
International trains run from the channel ports and Paris to destinations throughout Europe. For up-to-date routes and timetables, contact French Railways (SNCF)or in the UK, Rail Europe.
The Channel Tunnel: Eurostar is a service provided by the railways of Belgium, the UK and France, operating direct high-speed trains from London (Waterloo International) to Paris (Gare du Nord) and to Brussels (Midi/Zuid). It takes three hours from London to Paris (via Lille). When the high-speed rail link from London through Kent to the tunnel is fully operational (January 2007), the travel time between the two capitals will be reduced to two hours 15 minutes. The Eurostar trains are equipped with standard-class and first-class seating, buffet, bar and telephones, and are staffed by multilingual, highly-trained personnel. Pricing is competitive with the airlines, and seats range from Premium First and Business to Standard. Children aged between four and 11 years benefit from a special fare in first class as well as in standard class. Children under four years old travel free but cannot be guaranteed a seat. Wheelchair users and blind passengers together with one companion get a special fare. For further information and reservations, contact Eurostar (tel: (0870) 600 0792 (travel agents) or (08705) 186 186 (public; within the UK) or +44 (1233) 617 575 ; or Rail Europe . Travel agents can obtain refunds for unused tickets from Eurostar Trade Refunds, 2nd Floor, Kent House, 81 Station Road, Ashford, Kent TN23 1PD. Complaints and comments may be sent to Eurostar Customer Relations, Eurostar House, Waterloo Station, London SE1 8SE . General enquiries and information requests must be made by telephone.
There are numerous and excellent road links with all neighboring countries. Eurolines and National Express run regular coach services to France from the UK. For documentation and traffic regulations, see the Travel - Internal section.
The Channel Tunnel: All road vehicles are carried through the tunnel in shuttle trains running between the two terminals, one near Folkestone in Kent, with direct road access from the M20, and one just outside Calais with links to the A16/A26 motorway (Exit 13). Each shuttle is made up of 12 single- and 12 double-deck carriages, and vehicles are directed to carriages depending on their height. There are facilities for cars and motorcycles, coaches, minibuses, caravans, campervans and other vehicles over 1.85m (6.07ft). Bicycles are provided for. Passengers generally travel with their vehicles. Heavy goods vehicles are carried on special shuttles with a separate passenger coach for the drivers. Terminals and shuttles are well-equipped for disabled passengers. Passenger Terminal buildings contain a variety of shops, restaurants, bureaux de change and other amenities. The journey takes about 35 minutes from platform to platform and around one hour from motorway to motorway. Eurotunnel runs up to four passenger shuttles per hour at peak times, 24 hours per day. Services run every day of the year. For further information about departure times of shuttles at the French terminal, contact Eurotunnel Customer Information in Coquelle (tel: France (3) 2100 6543). Motorists pass through customs and immigration before they board, with no further checks on arrival. Fares are charged according to length of stay and time of year and whether or not you have a reservation. The price applies to the car, regardless of the number of passengers or size of the car. Promotional deals are frequently available, especially outside the peak holiday seasons. Tickets may be purchased in advance from travel agents, or from Eurotunnel Customer Services in France or the UK with a credit card. For further information, brochures and reservations, contact Eurotunnel Customer Services UK, Customer Relations Department, Saint Martin's Plain, Cheriton, Folkestone, Kent CT19 4QD .
The following goods may be imported into France without incurring customs duty by passengers 17 years of age or older arriving from non-EU countries:
200 cigarettes or 50 cigars or 100 cigarillos or 250g of tobacco; 1l of spirits more than 22 per cent or 2l of alcoholic beverage up to 22 per cent; 2l of wine; 50g of perfume and 250ml of eau de toilette; goods up to the value of &Euro;175 (&Euro;90 per person under 15 years of age); caviar up to 250g.
(a) Plants and plant products. (b) Meat and meat products from Africa. (c) Pharmaceutical products (except those needed for personal use). (d) Works of art. (e) Collectors’ items and antiques.
Abolition of duty free goods within the EU
On 30 June 1999, the sale of duty-free alcohol and tobacco at airports and at sea was abolished in all of the original 15 EU member states. Of the 10 new member states that joined the EU on May 1st 2004, these rules already apply to Cyprus and Malta. There are transitional rules in place for visitors returning to one of the original 15 EU countries from one of the other new EU countries. But for the original 15, plus Cyprus and Malta, there are now no limits imposed on importing tobacco and alcohol products from one EU country to another (with the exceptions of Denmark, france and Sweden, where limits are imposed). Travelers should note that they may be required to prove at customs that the goods purchased are for personal use only.
Air France flies between Paris (from both Orly and Charles de Gaulle airports) and around 45 cities and towns. It also connects regional airports. For information, contact Air France . Details of independent airlines may be obtained from the French Government Tourist Office (see General Info section).
There are almost 9000km (5600 miles) of navigable waterways in France, and all of these present excellent opportunities for holidays. The main canal areas are the north (north and northeast of Paris) where most of the navigable rivers are connected with canals; the Seine (from Auxerre to Le Havre, but sharing space with commercial traffic); the east, where the Rhine and Moselle and their tributaries are connected by canals; in Burgundy, where the Saône and many old and picturesque canals crisscross the region; the Rhône (a pilot is recommended below Avignon); the Midi (including the Canal du Midi, connecting the Atlantic with the Mediterranean); and Brittany and the Loire on the rivers Vilaine, Loire, Mayenne and Sarthe and the connecting canals. Each of these waterways offers a magnificent variety of scenery, a means of visiting many historic towns, villages and sites and, because of the slow pace (8kph/5mph), an opportunity to learn much about rural France.
Cruising boats may be chartered with or without crews, ranging in size from the smallest cabin cruiser up to converted commercial barges (péniches), which can accommodate up to 24 people and require a crew of eight. Hotel boats, large converted barges with accommodation and restaurant, are also available in some areas, with a wide choice of price and comfort. For further information, contact the national or regional tourist board.
State-run car ferries known as ‘BACs’ connect the larger islands on the Atlantic coast with the mainland; they also sail regularly across the mouth of the Gironde. The island of Corsica is served by ferries operated by the Société Nationale Maritime Corse-Mediterranée (SNCM), BP 90, 13472 Marseille Cedex 2 .
Services run from Marseille, Toulon and Nice to Ajaccio, Propriano, Porto Vecchio and Bastia on the island.
French Railways (SNCF) operate a nationwide network with 34,200km (21,250 miles) of line, over 12,000km (7500 miles) of which has been electrified. The TGV (Train à grande vitesse) runs from Paris to Brittany and southwest France at 300kph (186mph) and to Lyon and the southeast at 270kph (168mph).
The SNCF is divided into five systems (East, North, West, Southeast and Southwest). The transport in and around Paris is the responsibility of a separate body, the RATP, at 54 quai de la Rapée, 75599 Paris . This organization provides a fully integrated bus, rail and métro network for the capital.
Rail tickets: There are various kinds of tickets (including Family and Young Person’s Tickets) offering reductions which can usually be bought in France. In general, the fares charged will depend on what day of the week and what time of the day one is traveling; timetables giving further details are available from SNCF offices. It is essential to validate (composter) tickets bought in France by using the orange automatic date-stamping machine at the platform entrance.
There is a range of special tickets on offer to foreign visitors; they usually have to be bought before entering France and some are only available in North America; others are unique to Australia and New Zealand. There are also special European Rail and Drive packages. For more information, contact your local French Government Tourist Office (see General Info section).
Motorail (car sleeper): Services are operated from Boulogne, Calais, Dieppe and Paris to all main holiday areas in both summer and winter. Motorail information and booking is available from Rail Europe; see Travel - International section.
Traffic drives on the right. France has over 9000km (5600 miles) of motorways (autoroutes), some of which are free whilst others are toll-roads (autoroutes à péage). Prices vary depending on the route, and caravans are extra. There are more than 28,500km (17,700 miles) of national roads (routes nationales). Motorways bear the prefix ‘A’ and national roads ‘N’. Minor roads (marked in yellow on the Michelin road maps) are maintained by the départements rather than by the Government and are classed as ‘D’ roads. It is a good idea to avoid traveling any distance by road on the last few days of July/first few days of August and the last few days of August/first few days of September as during this time, the bulk of the holiday travel takes place and the roads can be jammed for miles. A sign bearing the words Sans Plomb on a petrol pump shows that it dispenses unleaded petrol. The Bison Futé map provides practical information and is available from the French Government Tourist Office.
Bus: Information on services may be obtained from local tourist offices. Local services outside the towns and cities are generally adequate.
Car hire: A list of agencies can be obtained at local tourist offices (Syndicats d’Initiative or Offices de Tourisme). Fly-drive arrangements are available through all major airlines. French Railways (SNCF) also offer reduced train/car hire rates. Caravans: These may be imported for stays of up to six months. There are special requirements for cars towing caravans which must be observed; eg cars towing caravans are prohibited to drive within the boundaries of the périphérique (the Paris ring road). Contact the French Government Tourist Office for details.
Regulations: The minimum age for hiring a car in France ranges from 21 to 25 depending on the company; some companies may also include additional charges for drivers under 25. The maximum age limit is generally 70. Speed limits are 50kph (31mph) in built-up areas, 90kph (56mph) outside built-up areas, 110kph (68mph) on dual carriageways separated by a central reservation, and 130kph (81mph) on motorways. Visitors who have held a driving license for less than two years may not travel faster than 80kph (56mph) on normal roads, 100kph (62mph) on dual carriageways and 110kph (68mph) on motorways. The police in France can - and do - fine motorists on the spot for driving offences such as speeding. Random breath tests for drinking and driving are common. Seat belts must be worn by all front- and rear-seat passengers. Under-10s may not travel in the front seat. Priorité à droite: particularly in built-up areas, the driver must give way to anyone coming out of a side-turning on the right. The priorité rule no longer applies at most roundabouts – the driver should now give way to cars which are already on the roundabout with the signs vous n’avez pas la priorité or cedez le passage; but watch for signs and still exercise great caution. All roads of any significance outside built-up areas have right of way, known as Passage Protégé, and will normally be marked by signs consisting either of an ‘X’ on a triangular background with the words ‘Passage Protégé’ underneath, or a broad arrow, or a yellow diamond. A red warning triangle must be carried for use in the event of a breakdown. All headlamp beams must be adjusted for rightside driving by use of beam deflectors or (on some cars) by tilting the headlamp bulbholder. For further details on driving in France, a brochure called The Traveller in France is available from French Government Tourist Offices and must be ordered by telephone (see General Info section). It contains a section on motoring.
Documentation: A national driving license is acceptable. An international sign, distinguishing your country of origin (eg GB sticker or plate), should be positioned clearly on the vehicle. EU nationals taking their own cars to France are strongly advised to obtain a Green Card. Without it, insurance cover is limited to the minimum legal cover in France; the Green Card tops this up to the level of cover provided by the car owner’s domestic policy. The car’s registration document must also be carried.
Urban public transport is excellent. There are comprehensive bus systems in all the larger towns. There are also tramways, trolleybuses and an underground in Marseille; trolleybuses, an underground and a funicular in Lyon; and automated driverless trains in Lille, where there is also a tramway. There are tramway services in St Etienne and Nantes and trolleybuses in Grenoble, Limoges and Nancy. The systems are easy to use, with pre-purchase tickets and passes. Good publicity material and maps are usually available.
Paris: The RATP (Régie Autonome des Transports Parisiens) controls the underground (métro), rail (RER) and bus services in and around Paris. The public transport network is split into several different fare zones and a single ticket will allow travel on any of the systems within that zone (although interchange is only permitted on the métro and RER, and not on buses). Other useful transport links provided by the RATP include: Orlybus and Roissybus (special buses operating to Orly airport and Roissy Charles de Gaulle airport), Orlyval (rail service linking RER stations of Antony and Orly airport) and Montmartre funicular (special railway connecting the foot of Montmartre to the top, near the Sacré-Coeur church).
Métro: This was built during the Paris Exhibition in 1900. Its dense network of 14 lines in the central area makes the métro the ideal way to get about in Paris. Trains run from approximately 0530-0115.
Rail: RER (fast suburban services) operate five main lines connecting most areas of the capital. There is also an extensive network of conventional suburban services run by French Railways (SNCF), with fare structure and ticketing integrated with the other modes of public transport.
Bus: A comprehensive network operates within the city. Services include PC buses that run around the outskirts of Paris; Noctambus services which run through the night; Balabus services which run between La Défense and the Gare du Lyon, navigating around La Seine and major tourist attractions; Monmatrobus services that run from Pigalle to Mairie du XVIII Jules Joffrin via Montmartre; sightseeing tourist buses, l’Opentour and Paris Trip.
Special tickets: Disneyland Passeport offers a combined ticket price of RER travel and entrance fee to the theme park at a reduced rate. Paris Visite Pass offers superb value for money with a choice of unlimited travel on the entire RATP network (métro, RER, bus etc) for a period of one to five days. A variety of discounts are available wih the pass such as reduced prices at certain museums, cinemas, restaurants and shops. Paris transport tickets can be bought in the UK from Allo France . All other tickets can be purchased from the RATP Tourist Office at 54 quai de la Rapée, 75599 Paris or from 50 of the métro stations, all mainline railway stations and certain banks. Children under four years of age travel free on buses and underground, while children between four and 11 years travel half price. Taxi: Day and night rates are shown inside each cab. There are extra charges on journeys to and from racecourses, stations and airports and for luggage. Private car: Parking is now prohibited in many areas of the center. Otherwise there are parking meters or parking time is restricted (zone bleue). Car parks charging a fee are plentiful all over Paris and on the outskirts.
France, the largest country in Europe, is bordered to the north by the English Channel (La Manche), the northeast by Belgium and Luxembourg, the east by Germany, Switzerland and Italy, the south by the Mediterranean (with Monaco as a coastal enclave between Nice and the Italian frontier), the southwest by Spain and Andorra, and the west by the Atlantic Ocean. The island of Corsica, southeast of Nice, is made up of two départements. The country offers a spectacular variety of scenery, from the mountain ranges of the Alps and Pyrénées to the attractive river valleys of the Loire, Rhône and Dordogne and the flatter countryside in Normandy and on the Atlantic coast. The country has some 2900km (1800 miles) of coastline.