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France

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Overview of France

There is a good reason why people speak of ‘living like a God in France’! The French love to eat good food, drink great wine and get together with friends, sitting for hours simply to enjoy life. It is for this lifestyle that we love France! And for the wonderful smells and colours of the Provence, the world capitol of love, Paris, and the pompeos and sometimes a little aloofCôte d’Azur.

Location and people

Hexoganol France lies in Western Europe and shares borders with Germany, Luxemburg, Switzerland and Italy in the East, Belgium in the North and Spain in the South. To the West and to the South the country is surrounded be the sea, the English channel in the North, the Gulf of Biscaya in the West and the Atlantic and Mediterranean in the Southeast.

France is marked by several kinds of vegetation: flat plains, hills and mountains such as the Alps and Pyrenees. The Northern part of the Atlantic coast consists mostly of sand dunes and cliffs of white chalk, the Western coast forms a steep cliff line with many bays and in the South you find the highest dune in all of Europe towering at a hight of 115 meters.

With its over 640,000 square kilometers France is the largest country in Europe, this includes its overseas territories such as Martinique, Réunion and Guadeloupe.

France has a little more than 66 million inhabitants, the largest city and capitol is Paris, followed by Marseille.

Climate and best time to travel

Due to its geographical variety France cannot really be divided into climate zones. The Southeast has subtropical Mediterranean weather with the highest temperatures and the most sunshine while the mountain regions have by far the most rain.

In the North of the country the climate is moderate, the Northeast has more continental climate whereas the Northweast has predominantly oceanic climate. This means lots of rain in Summer but mild, dry Winters.

The Southwest is very unstable and it rains a lot, especially in Spring and Autumn. This is great for all the lovers of winter sports, the high mountain ranges are covered in snow for almost six months from December till April. You can even go skiing or snowboarding all year round on the glaciers.

Whereas in central France you will have mild weather with pleasant temperatures.

With the weather being as diverse as it is France is worth a visit no matter what time of the year it is. Spring and Autumn are great for city visits or road trips. There is not much rain in Spring and Autumn stays very mild for a long time. You can go swimming in the Mediterranean from May till October and in the Atlantic from June to September. At the Côte d’Azur it can even be warm enough to have your aperitif outside in February.

Language

French is the only official language in France. Apart from that you will hear a few dialects and regional languages like Gaulish Romanic in the North and Breton and Catalan in the South.
It is commonly said that the French do not like to speak English or simply are not good at it. This will often be wrong in the major cities. Still, it will be helpful to learn a couple of sentences in French.

Currency and payment culture

Since the introduction of the Euro to the EU France too has been paying in Euros. There are ATMs everywhere and unlike Spain or Italy for example it is easy and common practice to pay with credit card in France.

Immigration and vaccinations

France is part of the EU so you can immigrate from the EU with a passport or id card which may only be expired for one year at max. Citizens of other countries (US, Australia, Japan, Switzerland, etc.) need a Schengen Visa for short visits. For stays longer than 90 days (3 months) you need an extended stay Schengen Visa.

There are not required vaccinations. However, additionally to the standard ones hepatitis A and B, typhus, rabies and FSME won’t hurt.

Transport

You can choose from 23 airports in France. Paris-Charles-de-Gaulles is the second largest airport in Europe after London Heathrow and an important intersection especially for Air France. Paris-Orly is the capital’s number two. There are mostly domestic flights and connections to Southern Europe taking off here. To get to the Côte d’Azur you have to fly to Nice, the third largest airport in the country.

Other airports are Toulouse in the South, Marseille on the Mediterranean, Bordeaux or Biarritz.

For traveling in the country you have several options: the domestic flight connections are very good and the train too takes you pretty much anywhere you want to go. If you are in a hurry, take the TGV. It connects the major cities speeding up to 300 km per hour.

Together with the ICE of the Deutsche Bahn (the German rail operator) the TGV will bring you to the French capital super fast.

Probably the nicest and most comfortable way to travel a country is a roadtrip with a car or a camper. The travel times are short and the roads are very well maintained. There are rental companies all throughout the country.

If you want to make a dash to Corsica you should take the ferry from Marseille, Toulon or Nice.

Events

The French celebrate all the good things in life! Various of their own regional specialties are thus highlighted.

Lemon festival: the lemon festival of Menton is unique in the world. 145 tons of citrus fruits are stacked to sculptures that can be up to 10 meters high!

Salon du chocolat: you love chocolate? Then you have to check this out! Over 150 international chocolatiers show their newest creations at the chocolate fair in October/November in Paris.

Bordeaux Fete de Vin: in June/July the city on the Atlantic coast celebrates the nation’s tastiest alcoholic drink. Be careful when trying your way through all the wines, that can quickly go to your head!

Lavender festival in Sault: in August the Provence transformes to a purple sea of lavender. On August 15 people celebrate the lavender harvest with a sickle cutting contest among others and lots of lavender products.

Cultural specialities

Do you also still foster the clishe of the Frenchman walking down the street with a beret on his head, striped t-shirt and a baguette wedged under his arm? Reality looks very different. The beret is nearly extinct and the French really don’t sport the marine look every day.

What holds true is that France, like Italy, has a very pronounced culinary culture. Especially the huge wine and cheese selection is a culinary experience in itself!

And of course the French have distinguished themselves when it comes to fashion and haute couture. They pay great attention to their appearance and definitely have good taste. In Paris you will not find sweatpants out in public as is common in Berlin, unless of course they become some kind of fashion must-have.

For a good reason Paris Fashion Weeks is amongst the most important fashion weeks in the world. This is where the fashion elite comes together and admires the newest creations of the best designers.

Food and drink

In France food and drink is intimately connected with indulgence and style. Be it a nice, comfy bistro with simple dishes such as tarte flambee or a noble restaurant with fancy creations and oysters - you wil feel good anywhere you go. Because the French simply love good food in a nice atmosphere!

Different dishes are served in different regions of the country: in the North and the central regions food tends to be more hearty and often includes heavy cream whereas the South cooks more Mediterranean.

High end ingredients, fresh baguette and good wine are the foundation of good food in France. On the coast fresh fish is served daily. Marsaille’s Bouillabaisse with lots of fresh fish, seafood, vegetables and herbs is famous all over the world. South of La Roche on the Atlantic coast there are several oyster farms if you are into those flabby guys.

The French have a particular soft spot for sweets. Mousse au chocolat, Crème brulée or tarte tatin are true masterpieces! And in the past years the macarons in all sorts of colours have become very popular. Macarons are two baisers with a light cream in between. However, at 1 to 2 Euros a piece they are a rather expensive little treat!

Breakfast in France is usually sweet as well. A milk coffe and a fresh croissant to dip into the coffee and you are ready to start the day!

To the French the most important meal of the day is dinner. Normally it will consist of three courses. And often there is a cheese platter - there are more than 350 types of chesses - between the main course and dessert. One usually has red wine or water with the food and often a strong coffee after eating.

Unlike in Germany people generally don’t tip much often it will only be a couple of Euros or even 50 cents if you only drink something. You leave the tip on the table after paying the bill.

What to pack

France is pretty uncomplicated when it comes to packing. Depending on what region you go you might need bathing clothes and sunscreen but apart from that there is not much to worry about. Mosquito spray might be useful in the rural areas.

If you come for winter sports than don’t forget the sunscreen. In the mountains you need real sunblocker with a sun protection factor of 50.

Off The Path Highlights

French cuisine and the wine alone are reason enough to visit France but we are also dazzled by the landscape every time we go.

Bordeaux: why always Paris? Bordeaux is just as beautiful, has castles, great architecture, a river, fantastic wines and great weather! The region around Bordeaux is also worth a visit: the river valleys, vinyards, lakes, forests and even the oceanic coast with great sanddune scapes is not far.

Lavender route: a journey along this route will charm all your senses. Great countryside, colours and smells and picturesque villages in the Provence. You can have a wonderful time here from March through November!

French wine trip: wine tasting, biking through vinyards and exploring new places. This trip will take you through four different regions: Loir, Bordeaux, Languedoc and Burgundy.

Île d’Oléron: a beautiful island with spectacular beaches, forest, a white lighthouse, an old fortress and a cute town in the Atlantic right off of the French coast and connected with a bridge. The French themselves like to go on holiday there and you will not find many foreigners there!

Alsace: right by the German border lies the Alsace region, Elsass in German, picturesque sloping vinyards, dreamy little towns, tasty tarte flambee and good wine of course! A nice region for a little roadtrip but only if you travel sober!

Côte d’Azur: you should see this flashy region at least once in your life. And you don’t have to stay overnight in Monaco or Cannes. Antibes is not far but a lot quieter and Nice too has some really nice areas!

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