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France


Official Name: France
Area: 220668.000
Population: 58000000

Introduction

It's no wonder that France is the most popular vacation destination in the world since the country has virtually invented the art of living well. French history, art, literature, and cuisine are among the richest in the world. The country's natural landscape, with glorious mountains, glamorous beaches, and rolling farmland, matches its cultural resources.

Much of French art and culture is concentrated in Paris, Europe's fashion center and the birthplace of modern art. The famous city of lovers is France's glittering showcase, where each era has left its handiwork. The region encircling Paris is dotted with royal chateaux and gardens, including Fontainebleau and Versailles. Here, too, you'll find the soaring Gothic monuments like the sublime cathedrals at Chartres, Bourges, Beauvais, and Reims.

During the Renaissance, the French nobility moved southwest, down the gentle valley of the Loire, France's longest river. The lively cities of Tours and Angers provide excellent bases to visit scores of majestic chateaus filled with art, tapestries, and frescoes.

North of the Loire, Brittany has preserved its Celtic character. Its lovely coastline is dotted with traditional fishing villages, and its landmarks are stone megaliths, erected some 4,000 to 5,000 years ago. Normandy, just to the east, is the land of cheese and apples and monuments left by the medieval Normans, as well the D-Day beaches and other sites associated with the World War II.

The regions north and east of Paris, around Epernay, are the land of Champagne. Alsace-Lorraine, along the German border, has its own cuisine and Strasbourg is the seat of the European parliament. Burgundy, with its famous wine, romanesque art, and Dijon mustard is to the south.

South of Burgundy, Lyon, on the river Rhone, is one of the culinary capitals of France. East of Lyon tower the majestic French Alps, one of the nation's summer and winter playgrounds; to the west the mountains of the Massif Central include the beautiful extinct volcanoes of the Auvergne around Le Puy.

On the Mediterranean, the Cote d'Azur (the French Riviera) and Provence are among the most beautiful regions, where medieval hill villages, olive groves, lavender, and sunflowers combine with the sizzling attractions of Nice, Monte Carlo, St. Tropez, and Antibes. West of Provence towards Spain, Languedoc-Roussillon is famous for the Roman Pont du Gard and arena at Nimes. Then there is the mountainous, lushly forested Corsica, the "Isle of Beauty," which is just off the Southern Coast.

The Pyrenees, Gascony, and Aquitaine in southwest France also get plenty of sun. This is the land of Bordeaux, the world's largest wine region, rose-colored Toulouse, thousands of medieval chateaux and villages, prehistoric caves, and huge Atlantic beaches.


Travel Basics

Travel Documents

Canada Australian citizens need a valid passport to enter France. For stays longer than 90 days, Australian citizens need to apply for a visa before they leave their country.

No special inoculations or health precautions are required for entering France.

Canada Canadian citizens need a valid passport to enter France. For stays longer than 90 days, Canadian citizens need to apply for a visa before they leave their country.

No special inoculations or health precautions are required for entering France.

Germany Citizens of Germany need a valid passport to enter France.

No special inoculations or health precautions are required for entering France.

Ireland Citizens of Ireland need a valid passport to enter France.

No special inoculations or health precautions are required for entering France.

Japan Japanese citizens need a valid passport to enter France. For stays longer than 90 days, Japanese citizens need to apply for a visa before they leave their country.

No special inoculations or health precautions are required for entering France.

United Kingdom Citizens of the U.K. need a valid passport to enter France.

No special inoculations or health precautions are required for entering France.

United States U.S. citizens need a valid passport to enter France. For stays longer than 90 days, U.S. citizens need to apply for a visa before they leave their country.

No special inoculations or health precautions are required for entering France.


Local Language

The French are formal and courteous in speech. When speaking to strangers, it's important to address them as Monsieur, Madame, or Mademoiselle. When you are introduced to someone, shaking hands is the bare minimum; if a woman is involved, two pecks on the cheek are often called for. Nearly all French people learn English at school, although many middle-aged or older people are reluctant to use it; younger people are usually more forthcoming.


Necessary Phrases

Do you speak (English)?
Parlez-vous (Anglais)?

How much...?
Combien...?

Where is the bus stop?
Ou est l'arret d'autobus?

Where can I get a taxi?
Ou sont les taxis?

Where is the bathroom?
Ou sont les toilettes?

Where is the police station?
Ou est le commissariat?


Local Currency

The official currency is the euro (EUR). EUR1 equals 100 cents. Notes come in denominations of EUR500, 200, 100, 50, 20, 10, and 5. Coins come in EUR2 and 1 and 50, 20, 10, 5, 2, and 1 cents.

The banks are the best place to exchange foreign currency. Most charge a small fee for changing cash. Foreign exchange bureaus (Bureaux de Change) may also be found in the larger cities, airports, train stations, ferries. and on the frontiers. These operate outside of banking hours (in train stations they generally stay open until 8pm, in airports until 11pm) but often close on weekends. If you're arriving late on a Saturday, on Sunday or a Monday or a holiday when the banks are closed, it's wise to order some French currency from your bank at home to bring along.

ATMS are everywhere in France (the instructions are in a menu of languages) but make sure your card is a "smart card" with a chip and not merely a magnetic strip, or the machines may not recognize your card. If that's the case, try the post office (which double as banks in France) for a cash advance. Charges for accessing cash from either an ATM or bank are around four percent. Note that ATM machines also accept Eurocheque cards as debit cards, even though most banks no longer accept Eurocheque cards.

Travelers' Checks are widely accepted, especially in tourist oriented areas, provided that you get them in euros. Otherwise you may encounter some reluctance, or a disadvantageous exchange rate. If you do get them in euros, they will be accepted at face value, and most banks will not charge a commission. Always have your passport on hand when using travelers' checks.

The French use their VISA (called Carte Bleue in France) as direct debit cards and they are accepted everywhere. It's essential that you know your four-digit PIN number for all purchases. Other cards such as Access, American Express, Diner's Club, and MasterCard are less used; check the stickers in the windows of the stores or restaurants, or ask. Again, because transactions are all processed through little machines that demand a PIN number, make sure yours has a "smart" chip in it.


Electricity

Electricity is 220-240V AC, 50Hz. Plugs are round with either two or three pins. Travelers from the U.K., Australia, or Ireland will need a plug adapter. North Americans and Japanese will need a transformer for computers and other personal appliances (an 85-Watt step-down converter), and a plug adapter.


Calling Codes

The international dialing code for France is 33. All numbers within France now have 10 digits (but there are no area codes). When dialing from abroad, drop the first 0 of the number.

Most public telephones in France accept only phone cards (telecartes) either for 50 or 120 units, widely available at tobacconists, post offices, and newsstands. Otherwise, bars have coin phones that tend to eat up your money rather quickly and give no change. Calling cards are the cheapest way to make international calls. Some, but not all, digital mobile phones will work in France; check before you leave home.


Fax/Modem

Nearly all hotels and many post office have fax machines you can use, although fees for international faxes can be exorbitant. Because most French people have a Minitel (little on-line computers from the 1980s) they have lagged in the Internet revolution. Nearly every city now has at least one Cybercafe, while the larger hotels (three stars and up) offer guests modem hook-ups. If a modem link is essential to you, do ask when you make a reservation.


Time Zone

France is in the Western European Time Zone (Greenwich Mean Time plus one hour). The entire country observes daylight- savings time from the last Sunday in March (changing at 2am) to the last Sunday in October (changing at 3am).


Business Hours

Shop hours are from 8am or 9am to noon or 1pm, and from 2pm or 3pm to 6:30pm or 7:30pm. In general, longer lunch hours and later opening hours prevail in the south, while in the urban centers, many stores don't close at all for lunch. Although shops often open on Sunday mornings, expect everything to be closed on Sunday afternoons and Mondays. In August, city shops close for up to a month while the owner is on vacation. Most museums and monuments close either on a Monday or Tuesday.

Also note that banking hours are either Tuesday through Saturday or Monday through Friday, from 8:30am to 1pm and from and 2pm to 5pm.


Public Holidays

  • New Year's Day January 1
  • Saint Patrick's Day March 17
  • Good Friday Friday before Easter (not official, but widely observed)
  • Easter Sunday in mid-March or early April
  • Easter Monday Monday after Easter
  • Ascension Day Sixth Thursday after Easter
  • Pentecost Second Monday after Ascension Day
  • Labor Day May 1
  • 1945 Victory Day May 8
  • Bastille Day July 14
  • Assumption August 15
  • All Saints Day November 1
  • Remembrance Day November 11
  • Christmas December 25
  • Second Day of Christmas December 26

Tipping

  • Restaurants A 15 percent service charge is usually added to the bill, unless the menu says service non compris or service en sus when you should add your own 15 percent; an additional small tip for good service is always welcome
  • Bars Service is usually included, but it's customary to round up the charge
  • Airport skycap/porter SME0.75 to SME1.5 per piece of luggage
  • Taxis 10 percent of the fare
  • Hotel bell desk SME1 to SME1.5
  • Hotel housekeeping SME1 to SME1.5 per night
  • Hotel room service Service is usually included, but round it up or leave another SME1
  • Parking attendant/valet SME.75 to SME1.5
  • Haircare/personal services 10-15 percent of the charge

When to Go

In general the best times to visit France are when the French themselves aren't on holiday. High seasons are Christmas holidays, the February school break (when the ski resorts are packed), two weeks on either side of Easter, and the entire month of August. Prices shoot up during these periods, and hotels are often full. In August, French cities become deserts as everyone flocks to the seashore, and accommodations there are at a premium. Paris is also bad in May, when it fills up with school groups, and November is generally dreary and wet everywhere, unless you stay in the cities. The best time to visit the south of France is the spring, before the crowds and the big heat, and when the wild flowers are in bloom.

Although busy, summer is the best time to take in France's many festivals. Nice puts on France's biggest Mardi Gras festivities, the week before Lent, in February. The Cannes Film Festival and Monte Carlo Grand Prix are big attractions in May. The famous Le Mans 24-hour car rally takes place in mid-June. Bastille Day (July 14) is celebrated everywhere, especially in Paris, with its parades and enormous fireworks show, and coincides with the famous Tour de France cycling race (the first three weeks of July). In Lorient in Brittany, the Inter-Celtic Festival takes place the first full week of August, and is one of the best of France's many folk events. Important summer jazz festivals take place at Vienne (first two weeks in July), Juan-les-Pins (last two weeks of July) and Marciac (second and third weeks of August).


What to Take

Bring warm clothing if you plan to visit the mountains, even in the summer. You may want to dress a bit on the Cote d'Azur and Paris, or for evenings in fancy restaurants, which often require a jacket and tie for men. Comfortable walking shoes are a necessity, no matter where and when you go. You may need an umbrella from September through May. It gets very sunny and hot in the south in the summer, so bring a hat, sunglasses, and of course a swimming costume.


Health Precautions

France requires no special immunizations or health precautions. Just be sensible. In the summer, don't overdo the sun.


Local Healthcare

France has one of world's top healthcare systems, and the emergency rooms are well equipped. If necessary, helicopters fly patients to specialized hospitals. Pharmacists are very well educated and trained to deal with minor emergencies. Pharmacies in cities take turns staying open after hours--a list is usually posted in the window. In rural areas, you'll usually find a bell to ring. Access to prescription and over-the-counter drugs is excellent.


Safety Precautions

France has a low crime rate, and outside of certain city and suburban neighborhoods it is safe to walk about at night. Marseille, Paris, Lyon, and Nice have the highest crime rates, so exercise some caution there and avoid unlit streets. Racism is a problem, especially in the south, and anyone who looks foreign may experience difficulties, even from the police. By law, you can be asked to show your ID at any time and under any circumstances. If you're driving, always lock valuables in the trunk, out of sight. It's a good idea to make use of hotel safes too.


Emergency Contacts

  • Police: 17
  • Fire (also equipped to deal with medical emergencies): 18
  • Ambulance and medical advice (SAMU): 15
  • Rape crises hotline: 08 00 05 95 95
  • AIDS hotline (national free number): 08 00 36 33 36


Foreign Embassies

American Consulate 12 boulevard Paul Petryal, Marseille, France; Tel.: +33 4 91 54 92 00

American Embassy 2 avenue Gabriel, Paris, France; Tel.: +33 1 22 51 33 01

Australian Embassy 4 rue Jean-Rey, Paris, France; Tel.: +33 1 40 59 33 00

British Consulate 11 rue Paradis, Nice, France; Tel.: +33 4 93 82 32 04

British Consulate 24 avenue du Prado, Marseille, France; Tel.: +33 4 91 15 72 10

British Embassy 16 rue d'Anjou, Paris, France; Tel.: +33 1 42 66 38 10

Canadian Embassy 35 avenue Montaigne, Paris, France; Tel.: +33 1 44 43 29 16

German Consulate 338 avenue du Prado, Marseille, France; Tel.: +33 4 91 16 75 20

German Embassy 1315 avenue Franklin D. Roosevelt, Paris, France; Tel.: +33 1 53 83 45 00

Irish Embassy 12 avenue Foch, Marseille, France; Tel.: +33 1 44 17 67 00

Japanese Embassy 7 avenue Hoche, Paris, France; Tel.: +33 1 48 88 62 00


For More Information

French Government Tourist Office 12 Castlereagh St.; Tel.: +61 2-9231-5244, Fax: +61 2-9221-8682

French Government Tourist Office 1981 Ave., Suite 490; Tel.: 514-288-4264, Fax: 514-845-4868

French Government Tourist Office 178 Piccadilly; Tel.: +44 0171-0891-244123, Fax: +44 0171-493-6594

French Government Tourist Office 444 Madison Ave.; Tel.: 212-838-7800, Fax: 212-838-7855

French Government Tourist Office 10 Suffolk St.; Tel.: +353 01-679-0813, Fax: +353 01-874-7424

French Government Tourist Office Westendstrasse 47D; Tel.: +49 069-9758-0121, Fax: +49 069-745-556

French Government Tourist Office Landee No. 2; Tel.: +81 3-3582-6967, Fax: +81 3-3505-2873



Getting There/Around

Going By Air

As a major European hub, Paris is served by the national carrier Air France and nearly every other airline in the world. International flights generally use the Paris-Charles de Gaulle Airport (CDG), while domestic flights tend to use Orly Airport (ORY). If you need to make a connection, buses, the RER B, and an automatic metro link the two airports.

Nice Airport (NCE) is the second busiest airport in France, with direct flights from the U.K., Germany, and other European airports. Other French airports with direct European connections include Lyon, Toulouse, Marseille, and Bordeaux. Smaller and domestic airlines serve Lille, Metz, Mulhouse, Strasbourg, Grenoble, Brest, Quimper, Lorient, Rennes, Deauville, Toulon, Clermont-Ferrand, Limoges, Pau, Biarritz, Le Havre, Caen, Rennes, Brest, Perigueux, Nimes, Perpignan, Montpellier, Nantes, Lourdes, and Corsica (Ajaccio, Bastia, and Calvi).


Going By Car

From Spain, the two fastest routes are on either side of the Pyrenees: the toll roads, the E15 from Barcelona in the east and E70 from San Sebastian. Otherwise expect a slow scenic ride over. Some of the passes close in the winter. The routes through Andorra, Barcelona-Bourg-Madame, Zaragoza-Pau, and Pamplona-St. Jean Pied de Port generally stay open. The Bielsa tunnel from Lerida on the 230 to Tarbes is an important year-round route through the central Pyrenees.

The presence of the Alps limits the numbers of drivers on the A10 toll route along the Mediterranean, from Genoa, Italy. Otherwise, the big toll tunnels save time and are open year round: the Fréjus tunnel at the end of the A32-E70 west of Turin towards Chambery, and the Mont-Blanc tunnel on the A5-E25 from Aosta to Chamonix. If you're headed to Paris, however, it's quicker to cut through Switzerland--from Aosta take the Grand St-Bernard tunnel by way of Lausanne-Besancon.

From Switzerland, the main highways into France are from Geneva (the E25-E62), Lausanne-Besancon (Highway 1), Neuchael-Besancon (Highway 70), and Basle-Mulhouse (Highway 35).

From Germany, countless roads cross the frontier into France. Major routes include the E35 from Freiburg to Mulhouse, Highway 28 from Stuttgart to Strasbourg, and the E50 from Heidelberg and Saarbrÿcken to Metz.

From Luxembourg, the E 25 goes south straight to Metz.

From Liege, Belgium, the E9 heads directly south to Metz, while the E46 is faster from Reims and Paris. From Brussels, Highway 2 by way of Mons and Laon is best for Reims, or take the fast E19 for Paris. The A17 links Bruges to Lille, and the E40 connects Ostende to Dunkerque and Calais.


Going By Bus

Eurolines buses serve nearly 50 French cities from Victoria station in London, and offer discounts for students and young people. Another service, the Hoverspeed City Sprint travels from London to Paris in approximately eight and a half hours. Other services link Paris and other French cities to every capital in Europe. Bus prices are nearly always lower than trains, and discounts are available for young people and students.


Going By Rail

France is frequently linked to all its neighbors by rail, and now to the United Kingdom thanks to the Eurostar, which takes just three and a half hours to travel from Waterloo Station, London to the Gare du Nord in Paris or to Lille. You'll save money by booking a ticket at least eight days in advance. In the United Kingdom, call +44 0345 303 030 for up to the minute information. If you want to transport your car on the Chunnel's Le Shuttle service, call +44 0990 353 535 for detailed information.


Getting Around By Car

France has an excellent system of roads that makes driving a pleasure. Driving is also the best way to see the countryside. Major car rental agencies, such as Hertz, Avis, Budget, Eurodollar, and Europcar, all have offices throughout France. You can arrange to pick up a car at the airports or train stations in the cities. You can often save money by investing in a fly-drive package or booking a car before you leave home. Most rental cars are stick shifts; automatics are available, but at considerably higher prices. Although you must be 18 to drive in France, you must usually be at least 21 to rent a car. Return the car with a full tank.

Toll roads, or autoroutes, begin with a capital A (for instance, the A20) and offer quick connections between the major centers. National roads (those beginning with an N) are free and offer a slightly slower alternative. Smaller, departmental roads (beginning with a D) are also very well maintained. Note that whenever you see a sign announcing the entrance of a village or town, you must slow down to 37 miles per hour (50km per hour). Speeding fines are heavy and exacted in cash on the spot. Also, beware of the French rule that gives all drivers coming from the right at any intersections the priority; some may not even slow down, so always take care at intersections and drive defensively.


Getting Around By Taxi

Taxis cruise the streets in Paris, but otherwise are usually found at taxi ranks by the train station and in the main squares. Nearly all are radio taxis and can be quickly summoned to your hotel by the concierge. Taxis can be found in the most rural areas, where you may be wise to book a journey a day ahead. All have meters, and there are surcharges for trips to the airport, Sunday travel, late hours, and baggage.


Getting Around By Bus

France's bus system is mostly run by the SNCF (France's national railroad), with routes replacing or supplementing the train lines. Departing from the train stations, they are similarly priced, but slower. Municipal buses in French cities are very user friendly, with well posted routes. Note that you nearly always have to buy a ticket before boarding, at a newsstand or tobacconist, and punch it in a machine upon entering the station.


Getting Around By Rail

France's national railroad, the SNCF, is one of the most up-to-date in the world and covers the country with a web of lines. Although trains are almost always punctual, the network is sometimes plagued by strikes, often on short notice. The word for strike is greve.

But when the SNCF is running, it runs well. Speedy TGVs (high-speed trains capable of traveling at 200 miles per hour) eat up the miles between major cities. The TGVs require a reservation charge. Prices in general are lower at off-peak times (Periode Bleue-each station has a chart), and a number of money-saving rail passes, for solo travelers and families, are available--inquire at your French government tourist office before you leave, as some have to be purchased outside of France. Fares are based on kilometers traveled. Tickets are valuable for an unlimited time, but must be date-stamped in the Compostez votre billet machines in the stations. All but the smallest stations have cafes, bars, newsstands, and restaurants to make waiting more pleasant.



Attractions and Where to Stay

Highlights

Bayeux

A visit to this town in Normandy allows you to see the world-famous 11th-century Bayeaux tapestry, vividly telling the story of the 1066 Norman invasion of Britain led by William the Conqueror. Bayeux also has one of the most touching British and Commonwealth war cemeteries, the resting place of many who died on D-Day. The tapestry is in the Centre Guillaume-le-Conquerant.

Carcasonne

The most spectacularly fortified town in France, double-walled Carcassone is beautifully set in the foothills of the Pyrenees. Its lords, the Trencavels, were Cathars, and the town was captured by Simon de Monfort in 1209 during the Albigensian crusade. In the 19th century, it was immaculately restored with a light fairytale touch by Viollet-le-Duc.

Carnac

Europe's most important megalithic monument, the 2000 or so standing stones (menhirs) by the seaside Breton village of Carnac are aligned in rows, extending some three miles across. Predating the pyramids in Egypt, many have been uprooted and moved over the years, although many believe that their positions originally plotted the motions of the moon.

Champagne Tour

According to law, you can only make this most illustrious of sparkling wines in the strictly controlled Champagne district. Most companies have their cellars in Reims and offer a tour of the cellars hollowed out of the chalk. One of the best is Mumm, which offers a tasting at the end.

Chartres Cathedral

The Cathedrale de Notre-Dame at Chartres, 80km southwest of Paris, was built between 1194 and 1260 . This is the crown jewel of French Gothic, a sublime confection of sculpture, stonework, and stained glass, with a rare labyrinth on the floor.

Dune de Pilat

South of Bordeaux, near the pine-fringed oyster-filled bay at Arcachon, the Dune de Pilat began to form 8000 years ago to become the largest sand dune in the world. The dune is 350 feet high, 550 yards wide, and a mile and a half long. A stair helps you reach the top. The views are tremendous.

Eiffel Tower

The symbol of Paris, built for the 1889 Exposition and standing a 1000 feet high, the Eiffel Tower is an engineering marvel. Two sets of elevators wait to whisk you to the top for the famous view over the capital (on a clear day). From ground level, it's most beautiful when illuminated at night.

Lascaux II

Located near Montignac in the Dordogne, the magnificent cave at Lascaux, painted around 12,0000 BC has been called "the Sistine Chapel of Prehistory." Although the original cave was closed because of the damage caused by visitors' breath, a painstakingly exact replica was created nearby. The admission charge includes access to a "prehistoric park" called Le Thot and featuring animals painted on the walls--including a life-size mammoth. For information about tours in English, call 05 53 51 95 03.

Le Puy-en-Velay

In the heart of the Massif Central, Le Puy is one of the most extraordinary towns in France, set among volcanic debris with steep cobbled streets, the chapel of St. Michael atop a lava pinnacle, and the Cathedrale Notre-Dame-de-France, with a lovely cloister begun in the 11th century. The first pilgrimages to Compostella began here.

Louvre

One of the great museums of Paris, and indeed the world, the Louvre with its new glass pyramid by I.M Pei has just expanded to include even more collections. It has superb paintings (including the Mona Lisa), Egyptian art, sculpture, Greek and Roman antiquities (the Venus de Milo), and much, much more. Most children can bear at least an hour or two at the museum.

Monet's Gardens at Giverny

Easily reached by train from Paris, the remarkable gardens and water lily ponds created by Impressionist painter Claude Monet were carefully designed to produce a maximum of color from spring to autumn. This is a breathtaking sight (and a fragrant one).

Mont Blanc Cable Car

While crowded and expensive, the Alpine resort of Chamonix offers one of the world's most hair-raising rides, steeply up 10,000 feet up to Mont Blanc's wild and exposed granite pinnacle, the Aiguille du Midi (or "Needle of the South"). A bar at the top provides Dutch courage for the descent. The ride is not recommended for anyone with vertigo. This attraction is available in summer only.

Mont St. Michel

Just off the coast between Brittany and Normandy, this spectacular pilgrimage island is crowned with the magnificent abbey founded back in the eighth century, when St. Michael appeared to the local bishop. In the old days, pilgrims would be drowned in the rising tide or sucked in the quick sand; now a causeway keeps accidents to a minimum.

Nice and Cannes

Long crescent beaches curve around Nice and Cannes, glittering under the palms on the Cote d'Azur. Both cities have exquisite hotels, restaurants, and boutiques, and are perfect bases for exploring the ancient hill towns and prestigious galleries of 20th-century art that dot the Riviera. Cannes goes into overdrive in May, when hundreds of celebrities pop in for the Film Festival in its vast seaside palace.

St. Tropez

This mellow old seafarer's town on the Cote d'Azur, with its beautiful sandy beaches, has been the place to see and be seen in ever since Brigitte Bardot starred in And God Created Woman in 1956. It claims to have had the first topless and nudist beaches, and shows few signs of slowing down, filling up with movie stars and yachties ever summer.

The Canal du Midi

Dug in the late 17th century to link the Mediterranean to the Atlantic, this lovely, tranquil canal, lined with huge plane trees and punctuated with old fashioned locks and little bridges, is a beautiful place to cycle, walk, or drift down in a houseboat. The prettiest stretches are just up from Beziers.

The Gorges du Tarn

Located near Millau in the Massif Central, this spectacular gorge carved by the river Tarn plunges down 1800 feet and measures between 3000-4500 feet across. The most spectacular stretch is between the Le Rozier and Ispagnac, and the best way to see it is by canoe--there are plenty to hire.

Versailles

King Louis XIV's enormous dream house offers a concentrated dose of the finest in 17th-century French craftsmanship, as well as offering a few clues as to why the French had a revolution. The gardens with their fountains, lagoons, and parterres go on and on, and in the back hide a little farm where Marie-Antoinette played dairy maid. The little zoo trains that ply the gardens are ideal for children. Versailles is located right outside of Paris and is easily reached by train.


3 Day Itinerary

Toulouse and Aquitaine

Day 1: Tour Toulouse in the morning. In the afternoon drive north, stopping in Montauban and Cahors.

Day 2: Visit Cahors's cathedral and Valentre bridge, then head north to visit the great chasm (Gouffre de Padirac) and Rocadmador. Spend the evening in Sarlat.

Day 3: Tour Sarlat in the morning, and drive north up the river Vezere to Montignac to visit Lascaux II. Drive back to Toulouse by way of Bergerac and Agen.


5 Day Itinerary

Chartres and the Loire Valley

Day 1: Leaving Paris, take the A11 west to Chartres and visit the Cathedral, then head south to Orleans for a brief visit, then continue down the Loire to Blois.

Day 2: Visit the Chateau de Blois, the Chateau de Chambord, the Chateau de Cheverny, and then drive to Tours.

Day 3: Visit the old quarter of Tours and drive to Amboise to visit Clos-Luce and its Leonardo da Vinci Museum. In the afternoon, drive south to visit the Chateau de Chenonceau. Spend the evening and overnight in Tours.

Day 4: Drive west to visit Azay-le-Rideau and the Chinon and continue to Samur. Visit the troglodyte dwellings.

Day 5: Continue west to Angers to visit the town and its famous tapestries of the Apocalypse and Le Chant du Monde. Drive back to Paris.


7 Day Itinerary

Cote d'Azur and Provence

Day 1: Start in Nice. Head west to visit St.-Paul-de-Vence and Fondation Maeght (contemporary art), and then carry on to Cagnes for Renoir's house.

Day 2: From Nice, follow the coast west to Cannes. In the afternoon, drive along the Esteral to St. Tropez.

Day 3: Head inland by way of Grimaud to the A80. Drive past Cezanne's Mont Ste. Victoire to Aix-en-Provence.

Day 4: Visit Aix. Drive up through the Luberon to the hilltowns of Roussillon and Gordes.

Day 5: Visit the Foute-de-Vaucluse, and then continue west to Avignon. Spend the afternoon and evening in Avignon.

Day 6: Drive south to St. Remy and Les Baux-de-Province in the Alpilles. Spend the evening in Arles.

Day 7: Take a morning tour of the Camargue with its white horses and pink flamingos. In the afternoon, drive back to Nice.


Where to Stay

France has a vast range of accommodations, from glamorous resorts to humble cottages. All hotels are graded by the government, on a system of zero to five stars. On the five-star luxury level you'll find some of the most famous and palatial hotels in the world--the Ritz and Crillon in Paris, the Carlton in Cannes, and the Negresco in Nice. Many other top choices belong to the Relais and Chateaux organization. These are often beautiful and romantic hotel in chateaux or other historic buildings, and all have gourmet restaurants.

Guestrooms in three-star hotels will have at the very least a bathroom, television, and telephone. Most also have air conditioning, mini bars, restaurants, and other facilities. Many hotels with fewer stars are perfectly acceptable, but it's impossible to make a blanket statement. Older buildings, especially in the center of cities, often make up for a lack of amenities with their unique character and convenient location. There are thousands of charming inns spread throughout the country, in all price ranges, but it helps to have a good guide to find them.

France has numerous chain hotels and motels (Ibis, Campanile, etc.), most of which are often clustered around the highway exits. These are convenient and reasonably priced, if not wildly imaginative. Many smaller, independent hotels (from zero to three stars) belong to an umbrella organization called the Logis de France. Their little chimney symbol is a guarantee of a certain quality in the lodgings and restaurant. In the countryside, you'll find chambres d'hote, bed-and-breakfast rooms, often located in farmhouses. This type of accommodation is a good way to meet French families.

The French love camping, and all regions of the country have well-equipped sites, often with swimming pools, play areas, shops, bars, and restaurants attached. However, rugged camping as in North America is rare--tents and caravans are often parked side by side in neat rows.

For stays of at least a week in the country, many people, especially with families, prefer to rent a gite, a self catering type of accommodation that can come in any shape or form, although perhaps a farmhouse cottage is the most common. The French National Tourist Office distributes detailed lists with photos of most of the nation's gites.



For Business Travelers

Business Style and Etiquette

Doing business is a very formal affair in France, in Paris, and in the provinces, although you'll find a slightly more laid-back style along the Mediterranean. It's important to dress conservatively, to be punctual and precise, to have a stack of business cards ready to distribute, and to address your business partners as Monsieur or Madame--never by their first name, unless requested to do so. If you speak some French, always use the polite vous form of address rather than the informal tu unless of course you are especially requested to do so. Nearly all French businesspeople speak good English, however, and unless your French is excellent you'd be wise to stick to English in order to avoid misunderstandings.

Handshakes all around are the rule, before and after a meeting. After one or two meetings, however, kisses on both cheeks between men and women are often customary. There are many French women in business, so you shouldn't encounter any sexism.

The French almost never invite business visitors into their homes; if they want a meeting outside of the office, fancy restaurants are the rule, whether you're being treated or extending the invitation. Unless you're an experienced gourmet, it's probably wise to let them choose the wine and recommend dishes. Many a good impression can be ruined by ordering a soft drink with a fancy meal! If you don't like wine, stick to water. Smoking isn't as taboo as it is elsewhere, but always ask before you light up. Don't chew gum.

Office hours in general are from Monday through Friday, from 9am until noon, and from 2pm to 6pm. Always phone ahead to make an appointment. Avoid coming in summer when everyone is on holiday. (Generally any time from the middle of July to the middle of September is bad.)

The French are rather long winded, careful, and conservative, and a bit distrustful of what they call "Anglo-Saxon capitalism"--they often will want to explore dimensions of a proposal beyond the money aspect. Don't expect snap decisions. You will do best if you come to a meeting well prepared. The French love facts and figures, charts, statistics, and well-reasoned arguments. Patience is essential. The paperwork, especially if any branch of the government is involved, can be diabolical--remember, the French invented bureaucracy!



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