France travel information, including maps of France, food, drink and where to stay in France plus the best time to travel in France
In one day, you could drive from Brittany’s windswept coasts and medieval forests, past the verdant, flat pastures either side of the Loire, through the snow-flecked peaks of the Massif Central, the deep gorges of Languedoc-Rousillon and on to the sun-baked beaches of the Mediterranean.
France is also an ideal destination for green holidaymakers. Numerous ferries and a now even quicker Eurostar (just 2h 15m from London to Paris) connect Britain with France – great for those conscious of their carbon footprint. Once you're there, France is home to a wide range of eco-accommodation, from environmentally-friendly ski lodges to mountain retreats. Plus, a wide network of cycle paths and some 60,000km of long distance footpaths (sentiers de grande randonées) make this a rambler’s paradise.
Those used to 24-hour-7-days-a-week convenience may be shocked to learn our French cousins still take time off. As a general rule, shops in rural areas tend to close between midday and 2pm. By law, shops are not allowed to open on Sundays (although some food stores have obtained exemptions, many shops flout the rules in busy cities and there have been moves in the French parliament to relax the laws). Many shops, restaurants and museums also close on Mondays – something to think about if you're planning a long weekend.
Holly Gurr on the one thing she wished she'd known on her arrival:
"You'll receive a warmer welcome if you make the effort to say basic greetings in French."
Daisy Cropper on what she thinks would have been helpful to know before her trip:
“High season really does mean high season. If you’re travelling in the summer months book your accommodation in advance. Don’t attempt to arrive in a town and look for somewhere to stay – it’s tedious and expensive.”
“Paris is a must-see on many travellers' to do lists. Get out in the suburbs to save money on accommodation and to see a side of the capital few people see. We stayed nearby the Jasmin Metro station. It was quiet, serene and had many restaurants and bars nearby –all without a tourist in sight.”
To avoid the crowds The French tend to stick to their own country when they go on holiday. This means that during the main French holiday periods train fares soar and road travel becomes unbearable unless you like miles-long tailbacks. Avoid August at all costs when the entire country takes its congé annuel and only the tourist industry remains open. For the exact dates of school holidays – by region – see the French Department of Education’s website.
Climate and weather The general rule is that winter is cold, summer hot and spring and autumn pleasant. However on the Atlantic coast and in the north (in Brittany in particular), the weather can be highly changeable at any time of year. As you go further south temperatures tend to get hotter and the weather more predictable. The Mediterranean region gets most of rainfall from late September to early November, when the rains can be torrential. Winter sports enthusiasts can expect good snow on France’s numerous mountain ranges from mid-December to late March.
Festivals in France The summer months see the greatest concentration of festivals in France, ranging from the nation-wide celebrations on Bastille Day (14 July) to the week-long music festivals and bullfighting ferias in the south of France. In December, head to Alsace for its Christmas markets and Lyon for the Fêtes des Lumières, when the entire city becomes a playground of light installations. In February, Nice holds France’s largest street carnival.
Paris-Charles de Gaule (CDG) 23km from the city, Paris-Orly (ORY) 14km, Bordeaux (BOD)12km, Lille (LIL) 12km, Lyon (LYS) 25km, Marseille (MRS) 30km, Nice (NCE) 6km, Strasbourg (SXB) 12km, Toulouse (TLS) 8km.
By air All of France’s major cities and many minor ones have airports. Most internal flights are run by Air France, with some operated by budget carriers such as easyJet and Airlinair.
By train France has an excellent rail network, ranging from the regional TER to the high speed TGV, which will take you between almost any two French cities within three hours. Corail Lunéa are comfortable sleeper trains. Book your train journeys in advance at SNCF to save on the fare. Just don’t forget to composter (stamp your ticket with the special machines provided on platforms before getting on the train – claiming ignorance as a foreign visitor wont always spare you the fine).
By road Buses in France are run by SNCF, Eurolines and the municipal authorities. For local bus timetables, your best bet are the gare routières (bus stations) and local tourist offices. Generally buses are slower and cheaper than the trains. The same rule of composter or face a fine applies.
Outside of the main holiday season, France’s roads can be a real pleasure to cycle or drive. The motorway toll roads are great if you’re in a rush. If you’re planning to take scenic routes, it’s worth investing in a Michelin map, which marks these in green.
Most French cities now have a network of 24-hour bicycle stations, where for a small sum you can rent a bike, picking it up from one station and dropping it off at whichever station is nearest to you are the end of the day.
From delightful chambres d’hôtes (B&Bs) to modish boutique hotels, from châteaux with a view to eco-retreats – and not to mention over ten thousand campsites (www.campingfrance.com), you’ll find rooms all over France to suit any taste and budget. Outside of peak season, you can usually turn up in any town and find rooms still available.
If you’re staying for a while in one place, consider renting an apartment or gîte (www.gite-de-france.fr) (holiday cottage).
Hikers and long distance bicyclists are well-catered for with gîte d’étapes (rustic hostels with basic kitchen and washing facilities). Mountaineers will a find a good network of refuge huts, mostly run by the Fédération Française des Clubs Alpins et de Montagne.
Don’t underestimate how seriously food is taken in France. Where else would you find politicians ransacking McDonald’s with tractors? Leading the anti-fast food revolution is the aptly-name Slow Food France, which lists local tasting events on its website.
Perhaps the most incredible thing about French gastronomy is the variety. Each region fiercely prides itself on its cheeses, wines and specialities such as crepes in Brittany and boeuf bourguignon, a red-wine beef stew from Burgundy. If you want to know where the best restaurants are and what dishes you shouldn’t miss, ask a local.
Vegetarians will be pleased to hear that options have improved in recent years. Most restaurants in main towns serve a range of veggie dishes, although in small villages you might not find much beyond a salade verte. In most towns now you will also find a range of ethnic food. Thanks to large immigrant populations, Moroccan and Vietnamese restaurants are particularly numerous.
There is little to worry about health-wise in France. Under the French health system, you’ll have to pay for all hospital services, doctors’ consultations and prescriptions upfront but EU citizens are entitled to a refund, provided you have a European Health Insurance Card.
From the packed Taj Mahal to the tall Trolltunga Rock, and the narrow walkways of Mount Hua, China - you'd definitely need to be brave to take on one of these locations for a quick picture... More
Bringers of both destruction and life, and steeped in myth and folklore, these winds are both feared and revered in the lands where they blow. Check out the most famous, and where to feel them... More
From a remote mining town in New Zealand to a scary 'ghost island' in Japan, we introduce 14 ghost worlds across six continents. Would you dare to visit any of them? More
Take a load off your thighs, as we pick the European, Asian and African rides that'll put the electricity back into your next cycling escape, in every sense... More
France's Benedictine abbey and the castle of Cornwall draw many similarities. The view of both are amazing, but how do they compare on history, walking and food? We put them head to head to find out... More
From lambs carved from butter through to wild rabbit hunts in New Zealand, here are the most eggs-traordinary ways to celebrate this Easter... More
From stunning candlelit streets to innovative installations and breathtaking projections, these annual light festivals are guaranteed to dazzle, delight and cheer the soul... More
Instagrammer Thomas Duke brings photos of famous movie moments to their exact settings around the world. The results are, as you'd expect, very cool. Here are our favourites... More
Feisty, cosmopolitan, but still very French, the historic port city of Marseille makes the perfect short break destination. Enjoy great food, beautiful beaches and a buzzing cultural scene... More
The best times to visit these extraordinary flower-filled getaways around the world, including California's Antelope Valley Poppy Reserve and the lavender fields of Provence... More
When it comes to adventurers, men dominate the history books. As International Women’s Day approaches, we're celebrating inspirational female explorers, past and present... More
Found everywhere from Austria to India, Ethiopia to Colombia, these rare cattle breeds – the star of a new photography book – are dignified, fascinating, and udderly charming More
From stunning art installations to challenging mythological creations, these astounding fountains take creativity and credulity to refreshingly new heights. Which is your favourite? More
From mass weddings and anonymous poems to friend celebrations and cutlery, these unusual Valentine gestures are as diverse as the countries they originate from — but all speak the same language of love... More
Cities are exciting and energising for solo travellers, especially on Valentine's Day. Author Stephanie Rosenbloom reveals her favourite cities to explore alone – where you'll always receive a warm welcome More
Forget Paris, Rome or Venice this Valentine's Day and visit these quieter, loved-up destinations instead. They offer all the charm and romance, but without the crowds... More
Fireworks, feasts, dragon boat races and more! We round up the best of the world's celebrations, guaranteed to bring you a happy and auspicious Chinese New Year More
From a ghostly castle in France to a paranormal pub in Britain, these 'possessed' destinations are guaranteed to spook even the most sceptical of travellers... More
Author Will Hunt travels the planet exploring the world beneath our feet. He reveals five caves that have strong spiritual and cultural meaning - and are incredibly beautiful as well More
Wanderlust subscribers now receive a free £50 voucher valid on trips from a great selection of top tour operators
And the best bit is, this isn't a one-off offer, you get one every time you renew as well!
The £50 discount can be redeemed against one trip booking with one of our tour operator partners, by the expiry date printed on the voucher. The £50 can even be redeemed on top of any discounts our partners are already offering, ensuring Wanderlust subscribers get the best deal possible.
Simply quote your unique voucher code when booking to claim the discount. This offer is only available to Wanderlust subscribers.
UK subscribers automatically receive the voucher each year. Overseas subscribers receive it upon request.
From: £1330.00More …
Sign up today for free and be the first to get notified of new articles, new competitions, new events and more!