For a country of its size–roughly equal in territory to the state of Texas–France is incredibly diverse. Coastal plains stretch across Normandy and Brittany in the northwest, giving way to wide beaches and white-chalk cliffs. The soaring, snow-capped Alpilles rise in the east, peaking at Western Europe’s tallest summit, Mount Blanc. The Pyrenees tower above at the border with Spain. And the Rhône River meanders through south-central France, feeding the vineyards of Burgundy and the flowering fields and farmlands of Provence.
Home to 39 UNESCO World Heritage Sites, France has also witnessed a remarkable history, from the time of Iron-Age Gauls to the Roman Empire and the ambitions of Napoleon. The nation, technically called the French Republic, is a unitary, semi-presidential republic. The capital city is Paris.
French is France’s official language. While knowledge of the local language is not necessary, you may want to learn some fun and useful phrases to use during your walking tour. The effort seldom goes unappreciated and by trying some greetings and salutations with a smile, your interactions are likely to grow into rewarding exchanges. See the BBC Languages site for helpful hints.
Life in France
Shopping and banking hours: Shops and stores are generally open Monday to Saturday between 9:30 a.m. and 12:30 p.m., and from 2:00 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.; department stores and supermarkets are open all day from 9:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. Open-air markets vary by day of the week in towns and villages and generally operate from 8:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m.
Banks are open from 10:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. and 3:00 to 5:00 p.m., Monday to Friday (in Paris they are open all day).
Meal times: Breakfast is served at hotels from 7:00 a.m. to 10-10:30 a.m. In restaurants, lunch is served almost exclusively from noon to 2:00 p.m. At other times, you’ll have to get a sandwich. Dinner is usually served from 7:30 to 10:00 p.m.
Tipping: Gratuities in restaurants and bars are included in the total bill (service compris); however, it is customary to leave 5 to 10 percent of the total, or to round up the total. Taxi drivers are tipped 10 to 15 percent of the total. For luggage assistance, a tip of 1 to 2 euros per bag is appropriate.
French public holidays: French public holidays, festivals, or calendars of events may affect your travel planning. Visit the French tourist board’s website.
French cuisine has great regional variation that is based on fresh and local ingredients from each area. Rich butter- and cream-based classics originated In France’s northern tier, as did the creamy cow’s milk cheeses of Normandy such as camembert. Fresh seafood, especially oysters, is served in Brittany. In the Alps, hearty mountain fare includes cheese fondue and grilled raclette cheese over steamed potatoes. The cuisine of southern France is quintessentially Mediterranean, with olive oil, herbs, fresh vegetables, and goat cheeses. Common to all regions, of course, are crusty breads, buttery croissants, and exquisite desserts, from fine pastries to rustic fruit tarts.
A meal in France—lunch or dinner—typically consists of three courses, starting with an entrée (appetizer), followed by a plat principal (main dish), and finishing with a dessert or cheese plate. First brought to Narbonne in the south by the Romans, the wines of France mirror the variety and excellence of its cuisine. Menus feature a region’s local wines, as well as those from other regions. For example, In Provence, red Rhône or rosé wines pair perfectly with the cuisine. In Normandy and Brittany, local hard cider is served with crepes and Calvados, an apple brandy, is sipped as an after-dinner digestif.
France has a range of climates, and—depending on the region—spring, summer, and fall are ideal for a walking tour.
Provence, in southern France, has a pleasant Mediterranean climate with daytime temperatures in the 70s during our tour dates. Normandy and Brittany, on the northwest coasts, can have pleasant weather in the 50s to low 70s, with evenings in the 50s with occasional rain showers. In the French Alps, mornings and evenings can be around the freezing mark in the morning and evening, especially at higher elevations, with daytime temperatures rising into the 70s and even low 80s.
U.S. citizens: Passports are required and must be valid for at least three months beyond the dates of travel. Visas are not required for stays of up to 90 days. For more information, see travel.state.gov.
France uses the euro (EUR). The current exchange rate is 1 USD = 1 EUR. Exchange rates can vary greatly month to month, so we recommend you visit oanda.com for the latest.
Many businesses in Europe will no longer accept credit cards without PIN numbers (chip and pin cards). Contact your bank or your credit-card company for details on fees and card use when travelling, and to inform them of your travel destination and dates so they do not freeze your accounts when they see charges appear from a foreign country.
We recommend having a variety of payment options readily available to help you start your trip: ATM card(s), credit card(s), some U.S. dollars to exchange, and some euros in small denominations.
No immunizations are required to enter France. Requirements and recommendations change frequently, so always check directly with the Centers for Disease Control (CDC: cdc.gov/travel; 800-232-4636), a travel clinic, and/or your personal physician for the most current information. Plan ahead for immunizations, as some require administration several months prior to departure.
Electricity: Alternating current of 230V and 50Hz is used in France. Plugs have either two round pins and a hole, or just two round pins. For a full listing of electrical outlets worldwide, see electricaloutlet.org. If you are bringing your own hair dryer or other electrical device, you will need a travel converter, available at most hardware, travel, or consumer electronic stores. For laptops or an electronic device with a dual voltage switch, you will only need the adapter plug, not the converter.
Phone: France’s country code is “+33.” Cell phone coverage throughout France is extensive, but we cannot guarantee adequate signals on all American phone models or while on walking trails or in remote areas. For more information regarding international phone use, please refer to this blog post.
Internet: Internet access is generally very good in towns and villages; however, all of the hotels used on our tours do not necessarily provide it, or they provide it at an additional cost. Details regarding Wi-Fi availability in each hotel are available in the Itinerary Overview that you’ll receive once you’ve reserved.
France is in the Central European Time Zone, Eastern Standard Time plus 6 hours. For more information on worldwide time zones, see: worldtimezone.com.
A wealth of travel information is available at us.france.fr.
International Airports in France
- Ajaccio – Campo dell’Oro Airport
- Bastia – Poretta Airport
- Beauvais – Tillé Airport
- Bergerac – Bergerac-Roumanière Airport
- Béziers Cap d’Agde Airport
- Biarritz Airport
- Bordeaux – Mérignac Airport
- Brest – Brest Bretagne Airport
- Carcassonne – Salvaza Airport
- Châlons-en-Champagne – Châlons Vatry Airport
- Chambéry – Savoie Airport
- Dinard – Pleurtuit Airport
- Figari Sud-Corse Airport
- Grenoble-Isère Airport
- La Rochelle – Île de Ré Airport
- Lille – Lesquin Airport
- Limoges – Bellegarde Airport
- Lyon – Saint-Exupéry Airport
- Marseille – Provence Airport
- Montpellier – Méditerranée Airport
- Mulhouse – Basel-Mulhouse-Freiburg Airport
- Nantes Atlantique Airport
- Nice – Côte d’Azur Airport
- Nîmes – Garons Airport
- Paris – Charles de Gaulle Airport
- Paris – Orly Airport
- Pau – Uzein Airport
- Perpignan – Llabanère Airport
- Poitiers – Biard Airport
- Rodez – Marcillac Airport
- Bouthéon Airport
- Strasbourg Airport
- Toulon – Hyères Le Palyvestre Airport
- Toulouse – Blagnac Airport
- Tours Loire Valley Airport
SNCF is France’s national train company. You may book your train travel directly with them. Or, if you plan to travel for longer periods, consider Rail Europe, a U.S.-based company that provides schedules, reservations, and ticketing for all European train networks. Their multi-day, -week or -month passes in one country or combinations of countries may be a more economical and convenient choice. For more information, go to raileurope.com or call 800.622.8600.
Other local transportation
Direct flights from the U.S. are only available to Paris, Nice, and Lyon, but reaching any destination is easy thanks to France’s excellent rail network. Regional bus lines and internal flights (which are never more than 1½ hours) are also widely available. For information on French airports, visit aeroport.fr (in French only). Taxis are available at all major airports, train stations, and in smaller towns, and can be reserved in advance (your hotel can usually provide assistance).
Most major car rental agencies are available at French airports and train stations. For more information, please click here.