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France, officially the French Republic , is a unitary sovereign state and transcontinental country comprising territory in western Europe and several overseas regions and territories. The European, or metropolitan, area of France extends from the Mediterranean Sea to the English Channel and the North Sea, and from the Rhine to the Atlantic Ocean. Overseas France include French Guianaon the South American continent and several island territories in the Atlantic, Pacific and Indianoceans. France spans 643,801 square kilometres (248,573 sq mi) and has a total population of 66.7 million. It is a semi-presidential republicwith the capital in Paris, the country's largest city and main cultural and commercial centre. Other major urban centres include Marseille, Lyon, Lille, Nice, Toulouse and Bordeaux.
During the Iron Age, what is now metropolitan France was inhabited by the Gauls, a Celticpeople. The area was annexed in 51 BC by Rome, which held Gaul until 486, when the Germanic Franks conquered the region and formed the Kingdom of France. France emerged as a major European power in the Late Middle Ages, with its victory in the Hundred Years' War(1337 to 1453) strengthening state-building and political centralisation. During the Renaissance, French culture flourished and a global colonial empire was established, which by the 20th century would be the second largest in the world. The 16th century was dominated by religious civil wars between Catholics and Protestants (Huguenots). France became Europe's dominant cultural, political, and military power under Louis XIV. In the late 18th century, the French Revolution overthrew the absolute monarchy, established one of modern history's earliest republics, and saw the drafting of the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, which expresses the nation's ideals to this day.
In the 19th century Napoleon took power and established the First French Empire, whose subsequent Napoleonic Wars shaped the course of continental Europe. Following the collapse of the Empire, France endured a tumultuous succession of governments culminating with the establishment of the French Third Republic in 1870. France was a major participant in the First World War, from which it emerged victorious, and was one of the Allied Powers in the Second World War, but came under occupation by the Axis Powers in 1940. Following liberation in 1944, a Fourth Republic was established and later dissolved in the course of the Algerian War. The Fifth Republic, led by Charles de Gaulle, was formed in 1958 and remains to this day. Algeria and nearly all the other colonies became independent in the 1960s with minimal controversy and typically retained close economic and military connections with France.
France has long been a global centre of art, science, and philosophy. It hosts Europe's fourth-largest number of cultural UNESCO World Heritage Sites and receives around 83 million foreign tourists annually, the most of any country in the world. France is a developed countrywith the world's sixth-largest economy by nominal GDP and ninth-largest by purchasing power parity.In terms of aggregate household wealth, it ranks fourth in the world. France performs well in international rankings of education, health care, life expectancy, and human development. France remains a great power in the world, being a founding member of the United Nations, where it serves as one of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, and a founding and leadingmember state of the European Union (EU). It is also a member of the Group of 7, North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the World Trade Organization (WTO), and La Francophonie.
France, officially the French Republic (French: République française), is a country with which almost every traveller has a relationship. Many dream of its joie de vivre shown by the countless restaurants, picturesque villages and world-famous gastronomy. Some come to follow the trail of France's great philosophers, writers and artists. And others still are drawn to the country's geographical diversity with its long coastlines, massive mountain ranges and beautiful farmland vistas.
France has been the world's most popular tourist destination for over twenty years. It received 83.7 million visitors in 2014, although these figures are highly skewed by the number of people who frequent the country for the weekend, particularly to visit Disneyland Paris, Europe's most popular visitor attraction. All these people come to France for many a reason: its cities contain some of the greatest treasures on the continent, its countryside is prosperous and well-tended and it boasts dozens of major tourist attractions. France is one of the most geographically diverse countries in Europe, containing areas as different from each other as urban chic Paris, the sunny French Riviera, long Atlantic beaches, the winter sports resorts of the French Alps, the castles of the Loire Valley, rugged Celtic Brittany and the historian's dream that is Normandy.
France is a country of rich emotions and turbulent politics but also a place of rational thinking and Enlightenment treasures. Above all, it is renowned for its cuisine, culture and history. Whatever you want from a holiday, you're about to find it in France.
Location and borders
The European part of France is called Metropolitan France and it is located in one of the occidental ends of Europe. It is bordered by the North Sea in the north, the English Channel in the north-west, the Atlantic Ocean in the west and the Mediterranean sea in the south-east. It borders Belgium and Luxembourg in the north east. It also borders Germany and Switzerland in the east, Italy and Monaco in the south-east, Spain and Andorra in the south west. The borders in the south and in the east of the country are mountain ranges: the Pyrenees, the Alps and the Jura, the border in the east is from the Rhine river, while the border in the north and the north east melts in no natural elements. Due to its shape, it is often referred to in French as l'Hexagone("The Hexagon"). Metropolitan France includes various islands: Corsica and coastal islands. Metropolitan France is situated mostly between latitudes 41° and 51° N, and longitudes 6° W and 10° E, on the western edge of Europe, and thus lies within the northern temperate zone. Its continental part covers about 1000 km from north to south and from east to west.
France has Overseas regions across the world. These territories have varying statuses in the territorial administration of France and are located:
- In South America: French Guiana.
- In the Atlantic Ocean: Saint Pierre and Miquelon and, in the Antilles: Guadeloupe, Martinique, Saint Martin and Saint Barthélemy.
- In the Pacific Ocean: French Polynesia, the special collectivity of New Caledonia, Wallis and Futuna and Clipperton Island.
- In the Indian Ocean: Réunion island, Mayotte, Scattered Islands in the Indian Ocean, Crozet Islands, St. Paul and Amsterdam islands.
- In the Indian Ocean: Kerguelen Islands.
- In the Antarctic: Adélie Land.
France has land borders with Brazil and Suriname in French Guiana and also with the Kingdom of the Netherlands through the French part of Saint Martin.
The European territory of France covers 551,500 square kilometres (212,935 sq mi), the largest among European Union members. France's total land area, with its overseas departments and territories (excluding Adélie Land), is 643,801 km2 (248,573 sq mi), 0.45% of the total land area on Earth. France possesses a wide variety of landscapes, from coastal plains in the north and west to mountain ranges of the Alps in the southeast, the Massif Centralin the south central and Pyrenees in the southwest.
Due to its numerous overseas departments and territories scattered on all oceans of the planet, France possesses the second-largest Exclusive economic zone (EEZ) in the world, covering 11,035,000 km2 (4,260,000 mi2), just behind the EEZ of the United States (11,351,000 km2 / 4,383,000 mi2), but ahead of the EEZ of Australia (8,148,250 km2 / 4,111,312 mi2). Its EEZ covers approximately 8% of the total surface of all the EEZs of the world.
At 4,810.45 metres (15,782 ft) above sea level, the highest point in Western Europe, Mont Blanc, is situated in the Alps on the border between France and Italy. France also has extensive river systems such as the Seine, the Loire, the Garonne, and the Rhone, which divides the Massif Central from the Alps and flows into the Mediterranean Sea at the Camargue. Corsica lies off the Mediterranean coast.
Most of the low-lying areas of metropolitan France excluding Corsica are located in the oceanic climate zone, Cfb, Cwb and Cfc in the Köppen classification. A small part of the territory bordering the mediterranean basin lies in the Csa and Csb zones. As the French metropolitan territory is relatively large, the climate is not uniform, giving rise to the following climate nuances:
- The west of France has strictly oceanic climate – it extends from Flanders to the Basque Country in a coastal strip several tens of kilometres wide, narrower to the north and south but wider in Brittany, which is almost entirely in this climate zone.
- The climate of the South is also oceanic but warmer.
- The climate of the Northwest is oceanic but cooler and windier.
- Away from the coast, the climate is always oceanic but it characteristics change a little. In the Paris sedimentary basin and more in the intra mountain basins the seasonal amplitude becomes a little stronger, the autumn rains and winter especially are less marked; therefore, most of the territory has qualified climate gradient semi-oceanic climate. This is a transition zone between the strict oceanic climate and continental climate:
- The oceanic degraded climate of plain in the centre.north, sometimes called "parisien" due tot eh fact that corresponds approximately to the Paris basin where the oceanic climate is slightly altered;
- and the semi-continental climate in the north and in the centre-west (Alsace, plains of Saône or of middle-Rhône, plains "dauphinoises", "auvergnates" ou "savoyardes" which features further modified by the neighbouring mountain ranges.
- Due to the provision of air masses, especially in summer, and mountain borders that isolate some of the rest of the country, the Mediterranean and the lower Rhone valley, swept by the Mistral and Tramontana experiencing Mediterranean climate.
- The mountain (or alpine) climate is presented mainly in the Alps, the Pyrenees, the Massif Central, the Jura and the Vosges.
- In the overseas regions, there are three broad types of climate:
- A tropical climate in most overseas regions: high constant temperature throughout the year with a dry and a wet season
- An equatorial climate in French Guiana: high constant temperature throughout the year with even precipitation throughout the year
- A subpolar climate in Saint Pierre and Miquelon and in most of the French Southern and Antarctic Lands: short mild summers and long very cold winters
With an estimated total population of around 66.6 million people as of January 2016, with 64.5 million in metropolitan France, France is the 20th most populous country in the world and the third-most populous in Europe.
France is an outlier among developed countries in general, and European countries in particular, in having a fairly high rate of natural population growth: by birth rates alone, France was responsible for almost all natural population growth in the European Union in 2006, with the natural growth rate (excess of births over deaths) rising to 300,000. This was the highest rate since the end of the baby boom in 1973, and coincides with the rise of the total fertility rate from a nadir of 1.7 in 1994 to 2.0 in 2010.
From 2006 to 2011 population growth was on average +0.6% per year. Immigrants are also major contributors to this trend; in 2010, 27% of newborns in metropolitan France had at least one foreign-bornparent and 24% had at least one parent born outside of Europe (parents born in overseas territories are considered as born in France).
Most French people are of Celtic (Gauls) origin, with an admixture of Latin (Romans) and Germanic (Franks) groups. Different regions reflect this diverse heritage, with notable Breton elements in western France, Aquitanian in the southwest, Scandinavian in the northwest, Alemannic in the northeast and Ligurian influence in the southeast.
Large-scale immigration over the last century and a half has led to a more multicultural society. In 2004, the Institut Montaigne estimated that within Metropolitan France, 51 million people were White (85% of the population), 6 million were North African (10%), 2 million were Black (3.3%), and 1 million were Asian (1.7%).
A law originating from the 1789 revolution and reaffirmed in the 1958 French Constitution makes it illegal for the French state to collect data on ethnicity and ancestry. In 2008, the TeO ("Trajectories and origins") poll conducted jointly by INED and the French National Institute of Statistics estimated that 5 million people were of Italian ancestry (the largest immigrant community), followed by 3 million to 6 million people of North African ancestry, 2.5 million people of Sub-Saharan African origin, and 200,000 people of Turkish ancestry. There are over 500,000 ethnic Armenians in France. There are also sizeable minorities of other European ethnic groups, namely Spanish, Portuguese, Polish, and Greek.
France has a significant Gypsy (Gitan) population, numbering around 400,000. Famous French Gypsies (Gitans) include Django Reinhardt, Gipsy Kings and Kendji Girac. Gypsies inspired the French novel Hunchback of Notre Dame. However, many Romani people get deported, expelled and kicked back to Bulgaria and Romania frequently.
It is currently estimated that 40% of the French population is descended at least partially from the different waves of immigration the country has received since the early 20th century; between 1921 and 1935 alone, about 1.1 million net immigrants came to France. The next largest wave came in the 1960s, when around 1.6 million pieds noirs returned to France following the independence of its North African possessions, Algeria and Morocco. They were joined by numerous former colonial subjects from North and West Africa, as well as numerous immigrants from Spain and Portugal.
France remains a major destination for immigrants, accepting about 200,000 legal immigrants annually. It is also Western Europe's leading recipient of asylum seekers, with an estimated 50,000 applications in 2005 (a 15% decrease from 2004). The European Union allows free movement between the member states, although France established controls to curb Eastern European migration, and immigration remains a contentious political issue.
In 2008, the INSEE estimated that the total number of foreign-born immigrants was around 5 million (8% of the population), while their French-born descendants numbered 6.5 million, or 11% of the population. Thus, nearly a fifth of the country's population were either first or second-generation immigrants, of which more than 5 million where of European origin and 4 million of Maghrebi ancestry. In 2008, France granted citizenship to 137,000 persons, mostly to people from Morocco, Algeria and Turkey.
In 2014 The National Institute of Statistics (INSEE, for its acronym in French) published a study which reported doubling of the number of Spanish immigrants, Portuguese and Italians in France between 2009 and 2012. According to the French Institute, this increase resulting from the financial crisis that hit several European countries in that period, has pushed up the number of Europeans installed in France. Statistics on Spanish immigrants in France show a growth of 107 percent between 2009 and 2012, i.e. in this period went from 5300 to 11,000 people. Of the total of 229,000 foreigners who were in France in 2012, nearly 8% were Portuguese, 5% British, 5% Spanish, 4% Italians, 4% Germans, 3% Romanians, and 3% Belgians.
France is a secular country, and freedom of religion is a constitutional right. French religious policy is based on the concept of laïcité, a strict separation of church and state under which public life is kept completely secular.
Catholicism has been the predominant religion in France for more than a millennium, though it is not as actively practised today as it was. Among the 47,000 religious buildings in France, 94% are Roman Catholic. While in 1965, 81% of the French declared themselves to be Catholics, in 2009 this proportion was 64%. Moreover, while 27% of the French went to Mass once a week or more in 1952, only 5% did so in 2006. The same survey found that Protestants accounted for 3% of the population, an increase from previous surveys, and 5% adhered to other religions, with the remaining 28% stating they had no religion. Evangelicalism may be the fastest growing religious category in France.
During the French Revolution, activists conducted a brutal campaign of de-Christianisation, ending the established state status of the Catholic Church. In some cases clergy and churches were attacked, with iconoclasm stripping the churches of statues and ornament. After the back and forth of Catholic royal and secular republican governments during the 19th century, France established laïcité by passage of the 1905 law on the Separation of the Churches and the State.
According to a survey in January 2007, only 5% of the French population attended church regularly (among the respondents who identified as Catholic, 10% attend church services regularly). The poll showed that 51% of citizens identified as being Catholic, 31% identified as agnostic or atheist (another poll sets the proportion of atheists equal to 27%), 10% identified as being from other religions or being without opinion, 4% identified as Muslim, 3% identified as Protestant, 1% identified as Buddhist, and 1% identified as Jewish. Meanwhile, an independent estimate by the political scientist Pierre Bréchon in 2009 concluded that the proportion of Catholics had fallen to 42%, while the number of atheists and agnostics had risen to 50%.
According to Eurobarometer poll in 2012, Christianity is the largest religion in France, accounting for 60% of French citizens. Catholics are the largest Christian group in France, accounting for 50% of French citizens, while Protestants make up 8%, and other Christians make up 2%. Non believer/Agnostic account for 20%, Atheist 13%, and Muslim 6%.
Estimates of the number of Muslims in France vary widely. In 2003, the French Ministry of the Interior estimated the total number of people of Muslim background to be between 5 and 6 million (8–10%). According to the Pewforum, "In France, proponents of a 2004 law banning the wearing of religious symbols in schools say it protects Muslim girls from being forced to wear a headscarf, but the law also restricts those who want to wear headscarves – or any other "conspicuous" religious symbol, including large Christian crosses and Sikh turbans – as an expression of their faith."
The current Jewish community in France numbers around 600,000, according to the World Jewish Congress, and is the largest in Europe. It is the third-largest in the world, after those in Israel and the United States.
Since 1905 the French government has followed the principle of laïcité, in which it is prohibited from recognising any specific right to a religious community (except for legacy statutes like those of military chaplains and the local law in Alsace-Moselle). It recognises religious organisations, according to formal legal criteria that do not address religious doctrine. Conversely, religious organisations are expected to refrain from intervening in policy-making. Certain groups, such as Scientology, Children of God, the Unification Church, or the Order of the Solar Temple, are considered cults ("sectes" in French), and therefore do not have the same status as recognised religions in France. Secte is considered a pejorative term in France.
A member of the Group of 7 (formerly G8) leading industrialised countries, as of 2014, it is ranked as the world's ninth largest and the EU's second largest economy by purchasing power parity.With 31 of the 500 biggest companies in the world in 2015, France ranks fourth in the Fortune Global 500, ahead of Germany and the UK. France joined 11 other EU members to launch the euro in 1999, with euro coins and banknotes completely replacing the French franc (₣) in 2002.
France has a mixed economy that combines extensive private enterprise with substantial state enterprise and government intervention. The government retains considerable influence over key segments of infrastructure sectors, with majority ownership of railway, electricity, aircraft, nuclear power and telecommunications. It has been relaxing its control over these sectors since the early 1990s. The government is slowly corporatising the state sector and selling off holdings in France Télécom, Air France, as well as in the insurance, banking, and defence industries. France has an important aerospace industry led by the European consortium Airbus, and has its own national spaceport, the Centre Spatial Guyanais.
According to the World Trade Organization (WTO), in 2009 France was the world's sixth largest exporter and the fourth largest importer of manufactured goods. In 2008, France was the third largest recipient of foreign direct investment among OECD countries at $118 billion, ranking behind Luxembourg (where foreign direct investment was essentially monetary transfers to banks located there) and the US ($316 billion), but above the UK ($96.9 billion), Germany ($25 billion), or Japan ($24 billion).
In the same year, French companies invested $220 billion outside France, ranking France as the second largest outward direct investor in the OECD, behind the US ($311 billion), and ahead of the UK ($111 billion), Japan ($128 billion) and Germany ($157 billion).
Financial services, banking and the insurance sector are an important part of the economy. The Paris stock exchange (French: La Bourse de Paris) is an old institution, created by Louis XV in 1724. In 2000, the stock exchanges of Paris, Amsterdam and Bruxelles merged into Euronext. In 2007, Euronext merged with the New York stock exchange to form NYSE Euronext, the world's largest stock exchange. Euronext Paris, the French branch of the NYSE Euronext group is Europe's 2nd largest stock exchange market, behind the London Stock Exchange.
France is part of the European single market which represents more than 500 million consumers. Several domestic commercial policies are determined by agreements among European Union (EU) members and by EU legislation. France introduced the common European currency, the Euro in 2002. It is a member of the Eurozone which represents around 330 million citizens.
French companies have maintained key positions in the insurance and banking industries: AXAis the world's largest insurance company. The leading French banks are BNP Paribas and the Crédit Agricole, ranking as the world's first and sixth largest banks in 2010 (by assets), while the Société Générale group was ranked the world's eighth largest in 2009.
Transportation - Get In
Flights to/from Paris
The main international airport, Roissy - Charles de Gaulle (IATA: CDG), is likely to be your port of entry if you fly into France from outside Europe. CDG is the home of Air France (AF), the national company, for most intercontinental flights. AF and the companies forming the SkyTeam Alliance (KLM, Aeroméxico, Alitalia, Delta Air Lines, Korean Air) use Terminal 2, as do Oneworld airlines, while most Star Alliance airlines use Terminal 1. A third terminal is used mainly for charter and some low-costs flights. If transferring through CDG (especially between the various terminals) it is important to leave substantial time between flights. Ensure you have no less than one hour between transfers. Add more if you have to change terminals as you will need to clear through security. For transfers within CDG you can use the free train shuttle linking all terminals, train stations, parking lots and hotels in the airport.
Transfers to another flight in France: AF operates domestic flights from CDG too, but a lot of domestic flights, and also some internal European flights, use Orly (IATA: ORY), the second Paris airport. For transfers to Orly there is a bus link operated by AF (free for AF passengers). The two airports are also linked by a local train (RER) which is slightly less expensive, runs faster but is much more cumbersome to use with heavy luggage. AF, Corsair, Emirates, Qatar Airways have agreements with SNCF, the national rail company, which operates TGVs (see below) out of CDG airports (some trains carry flight numbers). The TGV station is in Terminal 2 and is on the route of the free shuttle.
Some low-cost airlines, including Ryanair and Volare, fly to Beauvais airport situated about 80 km northwest of Paris. Buses to Paris are provided by the airlines. Check schedules and fares on their websites.
Flights to/from regional airports
Many airports outside Paris have flights to/from international destinations: among the most served are Bordeaux, Clermont-Ferrand, Lille, Lyon, Marseille, Nantes, Nice, Toulouse, they have flights to cities in western Europe and North Africa; these airports are hubs to smaller airports in France and may be useful to avoid the transfer between the two Paris airports. Two airports, Basel-Mulhouse and Geneva, are shared by France and Switzerland and can allow entry into either country.
Regional airports in France are also served long-haul from these cities:
- Antananarivo (Madagascar) : Marseille (XL Airways France)
- Dubai (UAE) : Lyon (Emirates), Nice (Emirates)
- Montréal (Canada) : Bordeaux (Air Transat), Marseille (Air Transat), Lyon (Air Canada, Air Transat) Nantes (Air Transat), Nice (Air Canada Rouge, Air Transat), Toulouse (Air Transat)
- New York City (USA) : Nice (Delta Air Lines)
- Punta Cana (Dominican Republic) : Bordeaux (XL Airways France), Lyon (XL Airways France), Marseille (XL Airways France), Nantes (XL Airways France), Toulouse (XL Airways France)
- Toronto (Canada) : Marseille (Air Transat)
France is served by numerous services from England to France:
- P&O Ferries - operate freight and passenger services from Dover to Calais.
- DFDS Seaways - operate freight and passenger services from Dover to Dunkirk.
- LD Lines - operate freight and passenger services from Portsmouth to Le Havre.
- Brittany Ferries - operate freight and passenger services from Portsmouth to Caen, Cherbourg, andSt Malo, from Poole to Cherbourg and from Plymouth to Roscoff.
- Condor Ferries - operate freight and passenger services from Portsmouth to Cherbourg, Poole to St Malo and Weymouth to St Malo.
Prices vary considerably depending on which route you choose. Generally the cheapest route is the short sea route across the English Channel which is Dover to Calais, so it is worth comparing prices before you decide which is the most suitable route to France.
Passengers travelling from Dover by ferry to France go through French passport/identity card checks in the UK before boarding, rather than on arrival in France. Passengers travelling from all other UK ports to France go through French passport/identity card checks on arrival in France.
There are also connections from Ireland to France:
- Brittany Ferries - operate ferry services from Cork to Roscoff
- Celtic Link Ferries - operate ferry services from Rosslare to Cherbourg
- Irish Ferries - operate ferry services from Rosslare to Cherbourg and from Rosslare to Roscoff
Numerous companies now act as agents for the various ferry companies much like Expedia and Travelocity act as agents for airlines allowing the comparison of various companies and routes. Two well known brands are Ferryonline and AFerry.co.uk.
The French rail company, SNCF, as well as many other companies (sometimes in cooperation with SNCF), provide direct service from most European countries using regular as well as high speed trains.
- TGVs between Paris, Metz and Luxembourg, as well as TGV between Brussels and France (except Paris) are operated by SNCF
- TGVs between Paris, Lille, Calais and Ebbsfleet, Ashford and London in the UK, through the Channel Tunnel (also called Chunnel by some), are operated by Eurostar
- TGVs between Paris, Lille, Belgium, Netherlands and northwest Germany (Cologne, Essen) are operated by Thalys
- High speed trains between France and South Germany (Frankfurt, Stuttgart, Munich) are operated by Alleo, with either a SNCF TGV or a Deutsche Bahn ICE, and bilingual crew from both countries.
- TGVs between France and Switzerland are operated by Lyria
- TGVs between France and Italy are operated by TGV France Italie
- TGVs between France and Barcelona/Madrid are operated by Elipsos, with either a SNCF TGV or a RENFE AVE, and bilingual crew.
- Night trains between Paris, Dijon and Italy are operated by Thello
- Day trains between Marseille and Milan (via Nice) are operated by Thello as well
- Night trains between Moscow and Paris operated by the russian RZD run up to twice weekly, they stop en-route in Belarus (Minsk), Poland (Warsaw, Poznan) and Germany (Berlin, Erfurt) [www]
- Night trains between Moscow and Nice operated by the russian RZD run weekly, they stop en-route in Belarus (Minsk), Poland (Warsaw, Katowice), Austria (Vienna, Linz, Innsbruck) and Italy [www]
- Upon reservation, you can take your bike with you in night trains and single-deck TGV's.
Several weekends throughout the year in France are known as 'Black Saturday' (Samedi noir) because of the start or end of school holidays and the coinciding traffic jams on French roads caused by thousands of tourists travelling to and from their holiday destinations. When possible it is wise to avoid these days. For traffic reports, see the website of the French traffic service .
Ridesharing, or carpooling, is very popular in France. Websites such as BlaBlaCar allow drivers with empty seats to safely connect with passengers looking for a ride.
See the 'By boat' section above for information on car ferries to France from the United Kingdom and Ireland.
- As according to an agreement with the CFL, the Belgian railways are directing all passenger trains to France through Luxembourg (thus causing an extra unnecessary border crossing), it may be useful to cross the border directly, on foot. The terminus of the French railways in Longwy can be reached from the Belgian train station of Halanzy (the line operates only on work days, however), or from the bigger Belgian stations of Arlon or Virton. Between these two stations there's a bus operated by the TEC company which stops at Aubange Place, a good point of departure/arrival for the walking tour. The path leads almost exclusively through inhabited areas in the community of Mont-Saint-Martin (yet partially in a forest if you go to/from Halanzy) and takes some 7 km. The city of Longwy itself is quite steep in some of its parts, so pay attention to this when planning your route.
- There are domestic Belgian trains that terminate in Lille (station Lille-Flanders).
- Between the De Panne terminus of the Belgian railways (and the Coast tram – Kusttram) and the French coastal city of Dunkerque, there is a bus line run by DK'BUS Marine. It may, however, be operating only in certain time of the year. It is also possible to take a DK'BUS bus which goes to the closest possible distance of the border and then cross it on foot by walking on the beach and arriving at a convenient station of the Coast tram, such as Esplanade.
Transportation - Get Around
The following carriers offer domestic flights within France:
- Air France has the biggest domestic network in France
- HOP!, a subsidiary of Air France, operates domestic flights with smaller aircrafts than Air France
- easyJet, a low-cost airline, has the second biggest domestic network in France
- Ryanair, another low-cost airlines, serves mainly secondary airports
- Volotea has a network of domestic flights
- Air Corsica links Corsica with mainland France
- Twin Jet operates domestic flights with 19-seat Beech 1900D aircrafts
- Hex'Air operates flights between Paris-Orly and Lourdes, using 19-seat Beech 1900D aircrafts
- Eastern Airways operates domestic flights between Lyon and Lorient
- Chalair Aviation has a limited network of domestic flights, using mainly 19-seat Beech 1900D aircrafts
- Heli Securite (Cannes (Croisette Heliport), Nice (Cote D'Azur Airport))
- Nice Helicopteres (Cannes (Croisette Heliport), Nice (Cote D'Azur Airport))
France has a well-developed system of highways. Most of the motorway (autoroute) network is made up of toll roads. Some have a single toll station giving you access to a section, others have entrance and exit toll stations at every junction. Upon entering a tolled section of a road, you must collect an entry ticket from a machine which records the point on the road you started at and ensures you only pay for the distance you travel. Be careful not to lose your entrance ticket or you will be charged for the longest possible distance. All toll stations accept major credit cards although they may not accept foreign credit cards. It is also possible to use the automatic booth, but only if your card is equipped with a special chip.
Roads range from the narrow single-carriageway lanes found in the countryside to major highways. Most towns and cities were built before the general availability of the automobile and thus city centres tend to be unwieldy for cars. Keep this in mind when renting: large cars can be very unwieldy. It often makes sense to just park and then use public transportation.
A French driver flashing headlights is asserting right of way and warning you of intentions and presence. Do not use it to mean thanks. Flashing headlights can also mean, "Watch out as there's a police speed-check ahead of you!" Horns should be used only in legitimate emergencies; use of the horn in urban areas outside such circumstances might win you a traffic ticket. Parisian drivers were notorious for honking their horns at anything and everything, though increased enforcement has greatly reduced this practice.
Don't forget that in France they drive on the right!
Renting a car
Once you arrive in France you may need to use car hire services. Most of the leading companies operate from French airports and it is advisable to book car hire in advance. It is a common experience at smaller French airports to not get the type of car you booked online but an alternative model. Sometimes the alternative model is quite different so check carefully before accepting the vehicle and stand your ground if it does not match your booking request and is not suitable to your needs.
Most cars in France are equipped with standard transmissions, a fact that derives equally from the preferences of the driving public and the peculiarities of French licensing laws (automatic transmissions are generally only used by the elderly or those with physical disabilities). This extends to vehicle categories that in other countries (read: the US) are virtually never equipped with a manual transmission, such as vans and large sedans. Accordingly, virtually all of the vehicles available for rent at the average car hire will be equipped with a manual gearbox. If you do not know how to drive a car with a manual transmission and don't have the time to learn before your trip, be certain to reserve your rental car well in advance and confirm your reservation. Otherwise, you may find yourself in a car that is much larger than you can afford (or with no car at all).
It is a good tip when travelling in numbers to get one member of the party with hand luggage to go straight through to the car hire desk ahead of everybody else, this will avoid the crush once the main luggage is picked up from the conveyor.
France is a good country for hitchhiking. Be patient, prepare yourself for a long wait or walk and in the meantime enjoy the landscape. A ride will come along. People who stop are usually friendly and not dangerous. They will like you more if you speak a little French. They never expect any money for the ride.
Remember that getting out of Paris by thumb is almost impossible. You can try your luck at the portes (city gates), but heavy traffic and limited areas for stopping will try your patience. It's a good idea to take the local train to a nearby suburb as your chance of being picked up will increase dramatically.
Outside Paris, it's advisable to try your luck by roundabouts. As it's illegal to hitchhike on the motorways (autoroutes) and they are well observed by the police, you may try at a motorway junction.
The greatest chance is at toll plazas (stations de péage), some of which require all cars to stop and are thus great places to catch a lift. If you've been waiting for a while with an indication of where to go, drop it and try with your thumb only. You can also try to get a ride to the next good spot in the wrong direction. Note with caution, however, that hitching from a péage, while a common practice, is illegal and French police or highway security, who are normally very tolerant of hitchhikers, may stop and force you to leave. You can get free maps in the toll offices - these also indicate where you can find the "all-stop-Péage".
Trains are a great way to get around in France. You can get from pretty much anywhere to anywhere else by train. For long distances, use the TGV (Train à Grande Vitesse, or High-speed train) on which reservations are obligatory. But if you have time, take the slow train and enjoy the scenery. The landscape is part of what makes France one of the top tourist destinations in the world.
The French national railway network is managed by SNCF Réseaux, a branch of the nationalised company SNCF(Société nationale des chemins de fer français).
Passenger trains are operated by different companies:
- Most of the trains are operated by SNCF
- Some low-cost TGVs between Marne-la-Vallée(Disneyland), Lyon, and Marseille or Montpellier, are operated by Ouigo. This service is modeled after low-cost airlines so watch out for hidden fees. Furthermore, ouigo tends to serve more out if the way stations to lower track and station access charges, which can make the way to your ultimate destination expensive and time-consuming.
- Some other TGVs to and from Paris are operated by iDTGV
- Some trains between Italy and Marseille or Paris are operated by Thello
- International high-speed services connecting to the rest of Europe are operated by several companies, including Eurostar (London), Thalys (Brussels, Amsterdam), Lyria (Switzerland), DB (Germany) and RENFE (Barcelona).
Each company has its own conditions of carriage, and most of them do not accept SNCF reduction cards for international journeys (Ouigo and iDTGV are also distinct from SNCF within France despite being owned by SNCF).
For regional trains, schedules can be found at ter.sncf.com (choose your region, then "Carte and horaires" for maps and timetables). Booking is available in two classes: première classe(first class) is less crowded and more comfortable but can also be about 50% more expensive than deuxième classe (second class).
The SNCF website Gares & Connexions provides live train schedules, keeping you informed about platform numbers and delays. This information is also available on smartphones via the free application SNCF.
There are a number of different kinds of high speed and normal trains:
- TER (Train Express Régional): Regional trains and the backbone of the SNCF system. TER are sometimes slower but do serve most stations. Available on Eurail and InterRail passes. As they are owned by each region, SNCF conditions of carriage do not apply and you are not entitled for a refund in case of a delayed train.
- Intercités: As of 2012, the bundling of the former Corail services. Includes trains with compulsory reservation (former Téoz and the Lunéa night trains) and those for which reservations are optional (former Intercités). The reservation-optional trains are what one will often use on passes. Some trains go to regions that the TGV services don't, for example the Auvergne.
- TGV (Trains à Grande Vitesse): The world-famous French high-speed trains run several times a day from Paris to the south-east Nice(5-6h), Marseille (3h) and Avignon (2.5 h), the east Geneva (3h) or Lausanne, Switzerland and Dijon (1h15), the south-west Bordeaux(3h), the west Rennes (2h), Nantes (2h), Brest (4h) and the north Lille (1h). Eurostar to London (2h15) and Thalys to Brussels (1h20) use almost identical trains. Reservations are compulsory.
- Night train services (Intercités de Nuit) also exist. These include couchettes second class (6 bunk beds in a compartment), first class (4 bunks) and Reclining seats. Wagon-lits (a compartment with 2 real beds) were totally withdrawn from French overnight trains. However, you can ask for a "private room" (in first class). Night trains have been gradually phased out in recent years and only a handful of them still remain in service in 2015.
The SNCF fare system is a bit complex but still easy to understand.
There are many kinds of fares but the two most important are:
- Prem's, early bird fares, non-exchangeable and non-refundable
- Loisir, as well as tickets with a reduction card, are exchangeable and refundable tickets (minus a fee) before the train departs. Tickets are generally cheaper the further in advance they are purchased.
There are three kinds of tickets:
- Billet, classic paper ticket, bought at a ticket office. If you lose it you have to buy another one.
- Billet électronique, which... is not an "electronic ticket" at all. It's also a normal paper ticket, but purchased online. Again, if you lose it you have to buy another one.
- e-Billet, which is an "electronic ticket". Only available on some TGV services, you only need to have a printed e-ticket with you (from your own printer or from a ticket machine). Tickets can be reissued as many times as needed, but are nominative: your name has to match the name on the ticket.
For regional trains (TER) and Intercités without a reservation, tickets purchased at a ticket office are valid for any train within two months... except there are two travel "periods" depending on the departure time of your train:
- Période bleue, the cheapest
- Période blanche, the more expensive
A calendar describes the time and days for each period. You can travel during "période bleue" with a "période blanche" ticket (as it's more expensive), but you cannot do the opposite.
Youths (12-28) and seniors 60+ are eligible for a 25% discount on tickets for TER and Intercités trains if traveling in the Période bleue. There is also a Senior+ Railcard that you can purchase for 60 €/year that gives the holder extra privileges.
If you are younger than 28 and will be doing more than about 2 return journeys in France, getting a "Carte Jeune" will save you money. They cost €50, last a year, and give anywhere from a 25% to 60% discount depending on when you book the ticket and when you travel.
Ouigo only sells tickets online and you have to present the QR-code in a scannable form (printed out or on a screen).
Booking tickets online can be quite a confusing process: the SNCF does not sell tickets online by itself, and it is possible to book the same journey through a number of different travel agencies websites (in different languages and currencies). The fares for journeys inside France are the same with every travel agency.
- Voyages-sncf.com French language booking website by Expedia and the SNCF. It can get sometimes confusing, and is known to hardly work when you try to buy a ticket from abroad or with a non-French credit card. Be careful: you will need the credit card that has been used for payment to retrieve your tickets from the ticket machines. If you don't have it, your tickets will be lost, and you will need to buy new tickets.
- Captain Train French, English, German and Italian language booking website. It aims to be as easy to use as possible. Unlike "Voyages SNCF", you don't need your credit card to retrieve the tickets, only the reservation number and the last name entered for reservation. You can pay with Visa, MasterCard, American Express or Paypal. Tickets can be printed or downloaded on your mobile phone or Apple watch or Android watch. This website sells tickets for 19 European countries, including Deutsche Bahn (DB, german rails) tickets for trips in France and Germany, Lyria tickets for trips to Switzerland, Eurostar for trips to the UK, Thalys for trips to Belgium, Germany and the Netherlands, and Thello tickets for trips to Italy. For Alleo (SNCF-DB joined operation) journeys between France and Germany, Captain Train automatically compares SNCF and DB fares, and shows you the cheapest of both (although it's for the same train, SNCF and DB have their own fares).
- RailEurope are booking agencies owned by the SNCF. Fares will often be more expensive on these sites than on the "official" sites, but they are generally easier to use than the SNCF sites.
To find your train, locate your train number and the departure time on the departures board. There will be a track ("Voie") number next to the train and departure time. Follow signs to that track to board the train. You will have a reserved seat on TGV trains. On other long-distance trains, you can optionally make reservations (at least one day in advance); if you do not have one you may use any unused seat not marked as reserved. To find your reserved seat, first look for the train coach number ("Voit. No"). Pay attention to the possible confusion between track number (Voie) and coach (voiture) number (abbreviated Voit) As you go down the track, the coach number will be displayed on an LCD screen on the car, or maybe just written in the window or right next to the doors.
The reserved seat rules are lax; you are allowed if you switch seats or use another seat (of the same class of course) if it is empty because the TGV is not fully booked or the other person agrees to switch with you. The only requirement is not to continue using a reserved seat if the person holding the reservation claims it.
On the main lines, TGVs often run in twos. There are two possibilities: either the two TGVs are considered as one train with one train number (in this case each coach has a different number); or the two TGVs are considered as separate trains which run together during a part of their journey, with two different train numbers (in this case, the two trains may have two close numbers such as 1527 and 1537), and each train will have its own coach numbering. So be sure you are in the right train (the train number is shown on the LCD screen, with the coach number).
If you are early, there is often a map somewhere on the track that will show how the train and car numbers will line up on the track according to letters that appear either on the ground or on signs above. That way, you can stand by the letter corresponding with your coach number and wait to board the train closest to your coach. You can easily go from one coach to another, so if you are very late, jump in any coach of the same class before the train starts, wait until most people are seated, then walk to your coach and seat number.
Beware: To avoid any form of fraud, your ticket must be punched by an automatic machine ("composteur") before entering the platform area to be valid. Older machines are bright orange, newer machines are yellow and gray. The machines are situated at the entrance of all platforms. Failure to punch the ticket may entitle you to a fine even if you are a foreigner with a limited French vocabulary, depending on how the conductor feels, unless you approach the conductor as quickly as possible and request that your ticket be validated. Likewise if you step aboard a train without a ticket, you must find the conductor ("contrôleur") and tell him about your situation before he finds you. However, e-Billet electronic tickets do not have to be punched: in doubt, punch it anyway, you won't be fined for punching an e-Billet.
French information booths, especially in larger train stations, can be quite unhelpful, especially if you do not understand much French. If something does not seem to make sense, just say "excusez-moi" and they should repeat it.
Troc des trains
As it is cheaper to book and purchase train tickets, especially those with reservations, in advance, there is a relatively lively trading of non-exchangeable and non-reimburseable train tickets on the Internet. See these sites.
Be extremely careful not to buy an "e-billet" or a printed ticket: the seller could cancel the ticket after the transaction, and you would be considered in fraud on board of the train.
There is no single national bus service. Until recently , buses were limited to local mass transit or departmental/regional service. Following a similar liberalization of the market in Germany, long distance buses are now allowed to run everywhere in France and prices can be quite low, especially when booked in advance. However, journey time and comfort tend to be worse than on the train.
France is not a particularly cyclist-friendly country (unlike, say, the Netherlands), but the situation is improving: more cycle paths are being built and about 40 cities have a bike-sharing system.
Beware of bike thieves. If you have to park your bike in the street, make sure to lock it properly, particularly in larger cities and at night. Avoid using the cable-locks that can be cut within seconds, instead use U-shaped locks, chains or folding locks. Lock your bike to a solid fixed support like a U-Rack. Lock the frame (not only the wheels) and make sure that your wheels cannot be removed without a more-determined thief with tools.
Visa & Passport
Minimum validity of travel documents
France is a member of the Schengen Agreement.
- There are normally no border controls between countries that have signed and implemented the treaty. This includes most of the European Union and a few other countries.
- There are usually identity checks before boarding international flights or boats. Sometimes there are temporary border controls at land borders.
- Likewise, a visa granted for any Schengen member is valid in all other countries that have signed and implemented the treaty.
Citizens of Albania, Andorra, Antigua and Barbuda, Argentina, Bahamas, Barbados, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Costa Rica, Croatia, El Salvador, Guatemala, Holy See, Honduras, Israel, Macedonia, Mauritius, Monaco, Montenegro, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, San Marino, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Seychelles, Taiwan and Uruguay, as well as British Nationals (Overseas), arepermitted to work in France without the need to obtain a visa or any further authorisation for the period of their 90 day visa-free stay. All other visa-exempt nationals are exempt from holding a visa for short-term employment if they possess a valid work permit, with limited exceptions. However, this ability to work visa-free does not necessarily extend to other Schengen countries. For more information, visit this webpage of the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Foreign nationals who are not visa-exempt (e.g. South Africans) must make a 'declaration of entry' (déclaration d'entrée) at a police station or to border inspection personnel if they arrive in France directly from another country of the Schengen Area (e.g. Italy), unless they hold a long-term visa or residence permit issued by a Schengen member state. Their passports will be endorsed by the authorities to prove that such a declaration has been made. This government webpage (in French) provides more information.
If you intend to stay in France for longer than 90 days, regardless of purpose, an advance long-stay visa is always required of non-EEA or non-Swiss citizens. It is almost impossible to switch from a "C" (visitor) entry status to a "D" (long-stay) status from inside France.
As of 2009, certain categories of long-stay visa, such as "visitor" (visiteur), family (vie privée et familiale), "student" (étudiant), "salaried worker" (salarié), and "short-term worker" (travailleur temporaire), do not require persons to obtain a separate residence permit (carte de séjour) for the first year of the stay in France. However, the long-stay visa must be validated by the OFII within three months of entering France. This is done by sending in a form to the OFII received along with the visa with the address of residence in France, completing a medical examination, and attending an introductory meeting to validate the visa. As of 2013, the tax paid to OFII must now be paid at the consulate where the visa is obtained. The validated visa will serve as a residence permit and, likewise, allow travel throughout the other Schengen countries for up to 90 days in a 6 month period. After the first year, however, and for many other visa categories which state carte de séjour à solliciter dès l'arrivée, a carte de séjour is required. Consult the OFII for more information.
Note that French overseas departments and territories are not part of the Schengen Area and operate a separate immigration regime to metropolitan France.
Tourism in France
France was visited by 84.7 million foreign tourists in 2013, making it the most popular tourist destination in the world. It is third in income from tourism due to briefer visits. 20% more tourists spent less than half as much as they did in the United States.
France has 37 sites inscribed in UNESCO's World Heritage List and features cities of high cultural interest (Paris being the foremost, but also Toulouse, Strasbourg, Bordeaux, Lyon, and others), beaches and seaside resorts, ski resorts, and rural regions that many enjoy for their beauty and tranquillity (green tourism). Small and picturesque French villages of quality heritage (such as Collonges-la-Rouge or Locronan) are promoted through the association Les Plus Beaux Villages de France (litt. "The Most Beautiful Villages of France"). The "Remarkable Gardens" label is a list of the over two hundred gardens classified by the French Ministry of Culture. This label is intended to protect and promote remarkable gardens and parks.
In 2012, travel and tourism directly contributed EUR77.7 billion to French GDP, 30% of which comes from international visitors and 70% from domestic tourism spending. The total contribution of travel and tourism represents 9.7% of GDP and supports 2.9 million jobs (10.9% of employment) in the country. Tourism contributes significantly to the balance of payments.
Most tourists arriving to France in 2014 came from the following countries:
|Rank||Country||Number of tourists|
Most nights spent in France in 2014 by tourists from following countries:
|Rank||Country||Number of nights|
Paris, the capital city, is the third most visited city in the world. Paris has some of the world's largest and renowned museums, including the Louvre, which is the most visited art museum in the world, but also the Musée d'Orsay, mostly devoted to impressionism, and Beaubourg, dedicated to Contemporary art. Paris hosts some of the world's most recognizable landmarks such as the Eiffel Tower, which is the most-visited paid monument in the world, the Arc de Triomphe, the cathedral of Notre-Dame or the Sacré-Cœur. The Cité des Sciences et de l'Industrie is the biggest science museum in Europe. Located in Parc de la Villette in Paris, France, it is at the heart of the Cultural Center of Science, Technology and Industry (CCSTI), a center promoting science and science culture. Near Paris is the Palace of Versailles, the former palace of the kings of France, now a museum.
With more than 10 million tourists a year, the French Riviera (or Côte d'Azur), in south-eastern France, is the second leading tourist destination in the country, after the Parisian region. According to the Côte d'Azur Economic Development Agency, it benefits from 300 days of sunshine per year, 115 kilometres (71 mi) of coastline and beaches, 18 golf courses, 14 ski resorts and 3,000 restaurants. Each year the Côte d'Azurhosts 50% of the world's superyacht fleet, with 90% of all superyachts visiting the region's coast at least once in their lifetime.
A large part of Provence is designed as the 2013 European Capital of Culture. Numerous famous natural sites can be found in the region, as the Gorges du Verdon, the regional natural park of Camargue, the national park of calanques and the typical landscape of Luberon. Provence hosts dozens of renowned historical sites like the Pont du Gard, the Arles' Roman Monuments or the Palais des Papes in Avignon. Several cities also attracts a lot of tourists, like Aix-en-Provence, Marseille or Cassis, on the Mediterranean Sea coastline.
An other major destination are the Châteaux of the Loire Valley, this World Heritage Site is noteworthy for the quality of its architectural heritage, in its historic towns such as Amboise, Angers, Blois, Chinon, Nantes, Orléans, Saumur, and Tours, but in particular for its castles (châteaux), such as the Châteaux d'Amboise, de Chambord, d'Ussé, de Villandry and Chenonceau, which illustrate to an exceptional degree the ideals of the French Renaissance.
Notable French cities
France has many cities of cultural interest, some of them are classified as "Town of Art and History" by the French Ministry of Culture.
- Amiens and its cathedral
- Annecy with the lake and the mountains (French Alps)
- Avignon with the Popes' palace.
- Arles: Arles has important remains of Roman times, which have been listed as World Heritage Sitessince 1981, notably its amphitheatre, the The Alyscamps, its Obelisk and Barbegal aqueduct and mill.
- Bayeux and its Tapestry Museum, housing the tapestry
- Bordeaux: Bordeaux is classified "Town of Art and History". The city is home to 362 monuments historiques (only Paris has more in France) with some buildings dating back to Roman times. Bordeaux has been inscribed on UNESCO World Heritage List as "an outstanding urban and architectural ensemble". Bordeaux is home to one of Europe's biggest 18th-century architectural urban areas, making it a sought-after destination for tourists and cinema production crews. It stands out as one of the first French cities, after Nancy, to have entered an era of urbanism and metropolitan big scale projects, with the team Gabriel father and son, architects for King Louis XV, under the supervision of two intendants (Governors), first Nicolas-François Dupré de Saint-Maur then the Marquis (Marquess) de Tourny.
- Cluny with its Abbey and its medieval city
- Carcassonne and its medieval fortress
- Chartres and its cathedral
- Dijon with its cathedral and the Palace of the Dukes of Burgundy
- Giverny with the home and gardens of painter Claude Monet
- La Rochelle
- Lyon: its historical centre was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1998. In its designation, UNESCO cited the "exceptional testimony to the continuity of urban settlement over more than two millennia on a site of great commercial and strategic significance." The specific regions composing the Historic Site include the Roman district and Fourvière, the Renaissance district (Vieux Lyon), the silk district (slopes of Croix-Rousse), and the Presqu'île, which features architecture from the 12th century to modern times.
- Mâcon, well known for its wine and the Rock of Solutre.
- Marseille, known for the Calanques National Park, the new MuCEM, the basilica of Notre-Dame de la Garde, the Stade Vélodrome, the Palais Longchamp, the Vieux-Port de Marseille, the Vieille Charité, the Abbey of Saint-Victor, the Château Borély or the Unité d'habitation of Le Corbusier a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2016, and multiple museums such as Marseille History Museum, the Musée Cantini, the Musée des Docks Romains, the Musée du Vieux Marseille, the Musée Grobet-Labadié, the Musée d’Art Contemporain de Marseille and the Museum of the Decorative Arts, Fashion and Ceramics.
- Metz: Metz possesses one of the largest Urban Conservation Area in France and more than 100 buildings of the city are classified on the Monument Historique list. Because of its historical and cultural background, Metz benefits from its designation as "Town of Art and History". The city features noteworthy buildings such as the Gothic Saint-Stephen Cathedral, the Basilica of Saint-Pierre-aux-Nonnains, its Station Palace, or its Opera House, the oldest one working in France. Metz is home to some world-class venues including the Arsenal Concert Hall and the Centre Pompidou-Metz Museum, the most visited art venue in France outside Paris.
- Mulhouse, home of the French Automobile Museum and the French Railway Museum
- Nancy with the Place Stanislas, Place de la Carrière and Place d'Alliance, UNESCO World Heritage Sites since 1983.
- Nantes with the Castle of the Dukes of Brittany
- Nîmes: Nîmes displays many remains of the Roman Empire including the Maison Carrée, the Arena of Nîmes and the nearby Pont du Gard.
- Orange (city): the city displays many Roman remains, including the Théâtre Antique and the Triumphal Arch.
- Perpignan with its cathedral and the Palace of the Kings of Majorca
- Rennes with its Parlement of Brittany, its cathedral, its cultural center Les Champs Libres, its Thabor parc and its medieval streets with many half-timbered houses.
- Rouen with its cathedral, castle and half-timbered houses
- Strasbourg: Strasbourg's historic city centre, the Grande Île (Grand Island), was classified a World Heritage site by UNESCO in 1988, the first time such an honour was placed on an entire city centre.
- Toulouse: with two UNESCO World Heritage sites, the Canal du Midi and the largest Romanesque building in the Europe the Saint-Sernin Basilica. The city historic centre also hosts the 13th-century gothic monastery Ensemble conventuel des Jacobins (burial place of Saint Thomas Aquinas) or again the 16th-century bridge Pont Neuf, Toulouse.
The most beautiful villages of France
Les Plus Beaux Villages de France ("The most beautiful villages of France") is an independent association, created in 1982, that aims to promote small and picturesque French villages of quality heritage. As of 2008, 152 villages in France have been labelled as the "Plus Beaux Villages de France".
There are a few criteria before entering the association: the population of the village must not exceed 2,000 inhabitants, there must be at least 2 protected areas (picturesque or legendary sites, or sites of scientific, artistic or historic interest), and the decision to apply must be taken by the town council.
Other parts of France
In the eastern parts of France there are skiing resortsin the Alps.
Tourists also travel to see the annual cycle race, the Tour de France.
France's Mediterranean beaches on the French Riviera, in Languedoc-Roussillon, or in Corsica, are famous. Away from the mainland tourists are French Polynesia (especially Tahiti), the Caribbean islands Martinique, Guadeloupe, Saint Martin and Saint Barthélemy.
The Route Napoléon, the route taken by Napoléon in 1815 upon his return from exile, leads from Golfe-Juanto Grenoble in south-eastern France. It is a scenic byway and a popular destination.
Also popular are the memorials to the battles of the First and Second World Wars. Memorials to the former include the Memorial to the Missing of the Somme, while commemorations to the latter include a D-Day museum at Arromanches, one of the landing sites.
There are too a lot of great naturals sites, with important flora collections. For example, the federal Arboretum de Pézanin gather one of the richest forest collection in France, or the Regionals natural Park, which are dispersed in all the territories.
France attracts many religious pilgrims on their way to St. James, or to Lourdes, a town in the Hautes-Pyrénées that hosts a few million visitors a year. The Taizé Community has become one of the world's most important sites of Christian pilgrimage. Over 100,000 young people from around the world make pilgrimages to Taizé each year for prayer, Bible study, sharing, and communal work.
Disneyland Paris is France's and indeed Europe's most popular theme park, with 15,405,000 combined visitors to the resort's Disneyland Park and Walt Disney Studios Park in 2009. The historical theme park Puy du Fou in Vendée is the second most visited park of France. Other popular theme parks are the Futuroscope of Poitiers and the Parc Astérix.
Most popular sites by number of visitors
The most popular tourist sites include (visitors per year):
- Louvre Museum (8.5 million),
- Eiffel Tower (6.2 million),
- Palace of Versailles (6 million),
- Centre Pompidou (3.6 million),
- Musée d'Orsay (2.9 million),
- Musée du quai Branly (1.3 million),
- Arc de Triomphe (1.2 million),
- Mont Saint-Michel (1 million),
- Notre-Dame de la Garde, Marseille (800,000),
- Château de Chambord (711,000),
- Sainte-Chapelle (683,000),
- Metz Cathedral (652,000),
- Bastille (Grenoble) (600 000)
- Centre Pompidou-Metz (550,000),
- Château du Haut-Kœnigsbourg (549,000),
- Puy de Dôme (500,000),
- Musée Picasso (441,000),
- Carcassonne (362,000).
"Metropolitan France" comprises the 12 administrative regions (French: régions) on the mainland plus Corsica, or in other words all French territory within Europe. These are distinct from the country's overseas territories on other continents, which are talked about below. For travel purposes, the 12 regions are better understood when grouped into the seven cultural regions below, which are also used by much of the tourist industry. The 96 departments (départements) are the next level down of administrative division, two-thirds of them being named after a river, and most others taking after another natural feature, such as a mountain or forest.
The region surrounding the French capital, Paris.
|Northern France (Nord-Pas de Calais, Picardy, Normandy)|
A region where the world wars have left many scars.
|Northeastern France (Alsace, Lorraine, Champagne-Ardenne, Franche-Comté)|
A region where wider European (and especially Germanic) culture has merged with the French, giving rise to interesting results.
|Great West (Brittany, Pays de la Loire)|
An agriculture-based oceanic region with a culture greatly influenced by the ancient Celtic peoples.
|Central France (Centre-Val de Loire, Poitou-Charentes, Burgundy, Limousin, Auvergne)|
A largely agricultural and viticultural region, featuring river valleys, châteaux and historic towns.
|Southwestern France (Aquitaine, Midi-Pyrenees)|
A region of sea and wine, with nice beaches over the Atlantic Ocean and the high Pyrenees mountains close to Spain.
|Southeastern France (Rhône-Alpes, Languedoc-Roussillon, Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur, Corsica)|
The primary tourist region of the country outside of Paris, with a warm climate and azure sea, contrasting with the mountainous French Alps.
Beyond Metropolitan France, also known as l'Hexagone for its shape, there are five overseas départements (départements d'outre-mer - DOMs), each as integral to France as any other department: French Guiana, Guadeloupe, Martinique, Mayotte and Réunion.
In addition to this, France has six organised overseas territories (territoires d'outre mer - TOMs)—French Polynesia, New Caledonia, Saint Barthélemy, Saint Martin, Saint Pierre and Miquelon and Wallis and Futuna—and some remote, uninhabited islands as nature reserves, including Clipperton Island and the French Southern and Antarctic Lands. Despite being administratively part of France, these entities are not covered further here, but instead in their own articles.
Due to its many overseas departments and territories scattered around the world, France actually spans twelve time zones — that's more than any other country. However, all of Metropolitan France uses Central European Time (UTC+01:00).
France has numerous cities of interest to travellers, below is a list of nine of the most notable:
- Paris — the "City of Light", romance and the Eiffel Tower
- Bordeaux — city of wine, traditional stone mansions and smart terraces
- Nice — the gateway to the French Riviera with a world-famous beach promenade
- Lille — a dynamic northern city known for its handsome centre and active cultural life
- Lyon — France's third city with a history from Roman times to the Resistance
- Marseille — on the Provençale coast sits France's cosmopolitan second city, known for its large harbour, its calanques, and its seafood
- Nantes — the "Greenest City" and according to some the best place to live in Europe
- Strasbourg — famous for its historic centre, and home to many European institutions
- Toulouse — the "Pink City", for its distinctive brick architecture, and for its lively "terroir"
- Camargue — one of Europe's largest river deltas and wetlands, with a strong and well-preserved Provençal culture of bullfighting called course camarguaise.
- Corsica — the birthplace of Napoleon, a unique island with a distinct culture and language (but everybody speaks French too).
- Disneyland Paris — the most visited attraction in Europe. Even has its own TGV stop.
- French Alps — home to the highest mountain in Western Europe, Mont Blanc.
- French Riviera (Côte d'Azur) — Mediterranean coastline of France with plenty of upper class seaside resorts, yachts and golf courses.
- Loire Valley — the world-famous Loire Valley, best known for its wines and châteaux.
- Luberon — the stereotypical Provence of picturesque villages, joie de vivre and wine.
- Mont Saint Michel — the second most-visited site in France, a monastery and town built on a tiny outcrop of rock in the sand, which is cut off from the mainland at high tide.
- Verdon Gorge — a beautiful river canyon of a turquoise-green colour, great for kayaking, hiking, rock-climbing or just driving around the limestone cliffs.
Accommodation & Hotels
France is a diverse and colourful country, and you'll find everything from stunning log chalets in the Alps, châteaux in the countryside and beach front villas on the Riviera...plus everything in between!
Hotels come in 5 categories from 1 to 5 stars. This is the official rating given by the Ministry of Tourism, and it is posted at the entrance on a blue shield. Stars are awarded according to objective yet somewhat outdated administrative criteria (area of the reception hall, percentage of rooms with en suite bathroom...).
Rates vary according to accommodation, location and sometimes high or low season or special events.
As of 2004, the rate for a *** hotel listed in a reliable guidebook falls between €70 (cheap) and €110 (expensive) for a double room without breakfast.
All hotels, by law, must have their rates posted outside (or visible from outside). Note that these are maximal rates: a hotel can always propose a lower rate in order to fill up its rooms. Bargaining is not the norm but you can always ask for a discount.
Hotels located in city centres or near train stations are often very small (15-30 rooms) which means that you should book ahead. Many newer hotels, business oriented, are found in the outskirts of cities and are sometimes larger structures (100 rooms or more); they may not be easy to reach with public transportation. The newer hotels are often part of national or international chains and have high standards. Many older hotels are now part of chains and provide standardized service but they retain their own atmosphere.
When visiting Paris, it is greatly advised to stay in the city proper; there are cheaper tourism hotels in the suburbs, but these cater to groups in motor coaches; they will be hard to reach by public transportation.
Along the autoroute (motorway) network, and at the entrance of cities, you'll find US-style motels; they are very often reachable only by car. Some motels (e.g. Formule 1) have minimal service, if you come in late you find an ATM-like machine, using credit cards, which will deliver a code in order to reach your assigned room.
B&Bs and Gîtes
Throughout France, mainly in rural areas but also in towns and cities, you can find B&Bs and gîtes.
B&B's are known in French as "chambres d'hôtes" and are generally available on a night-by-night basis. By law, breakfast MUST be included in the advertised price for a chambre d'hôte. Bear this in mind when comparing prices with hotels, where breakfast is NOT included in the room price.
Gîtes or gîtes ruraux are holiday cottages, and generally rented out as a complete accommodation unit including a kitchen, mostly on a weekly basis. Literally the French word gîte just means a place to spend the night; however it is now mostly used to describe rental cottages or self-catering holiday homes, usually in rural parts of France. There are very few near or in the cities. Finding them requires buying a guide or, for greater choice, using the internet, as you will not find many signposted on the road.
Traditionally, gîtes provided basic good value accommodation, typically adjacent to the owner's household or in a nearby outbuilding. More recently the term has been extended, and can now be used to describe most country-based self-catering accommodation in France. Hence it includes accommodation as varied as small cottages to villas with private swimming pools.
During peak summer months the best self-catering gîtes require booking several months in advance.
There are thousands of B&Bs and gîtes in France rented out by foreign owners, particularly British and Dutch, and these tend to be listed, sometimes exclusively, with English-language or international organisations and websites that can be found by keying the words "chambres d'hôtes", "gîtes" or "gîtes de france" into any of the major search engines.
There is a large number of organisations and websites offering gîtes.
Gîtes de France
A France-wide cooperative organisation, Gîtes de France groups more than 50,000 rural places of accommodation together and was the first in France to offer a consistent rating system with comprehensive descriptions.
Despite the name, Gîtes de France offers B&B as well as holiday rental (gîte) accommodation.
The Gîtes de France rating system uses wheat stalks called épis (equivalent to a star rating), based on amenities rather than quality - though generally the two go together.
Through its website, bookings can be done directly with owners or through the local Gîtes de France booking agency (no extra fee for the traveller). Although an English language version is available for many of the website pages, for some departments the pages giving details of an individual gîte are only in French.
There is no particular advantage in using Gîtes de France rather than one of the other online gîtes sites, or booking directly with a gîte owner. The procedure is pretty standard for all gîte booking sites, whether French or foreign - with the advantage that the whole booking process can be done in English, which is not always the case with Gîtes de France.
After making a gîte booking you will receive, by post, a contract to sign (for gîtes only). Sign and return one copy. When signing write the words "Read and approved", and the name of your home town, before signing and dating the contract. You will normally be asked to pay a deposit of a quarter to a third of the booking fee. The rest will be required one month before the start of your holiday. When you arrive at the gîte a security deposit, specified in the contact, should be given to the owner in cash. This will be returned at the end of your stay, minus any fuel charges and breakages.
Another great resource for booking gîtes and villas in France is Holiday France Direct[www.holidayfrancedirect.co.uk], It enables you to deal directly with the property owners and offers customers discounted ferry travel with Brittany Ferries.
Another possibility is gîtes d'étape. These are more like overnight stays for hikers, like a mountain hut. They are mostly cheaper than the Gîtes de France but also much more basic.
Short term rentals
Travellers should definitely consider short-term villa/apartment/studio rentals as an alternative to other accommodation options. Short term can be as few as several days up to months at a stretch. Summer rentals are usually from Saturday to Saturday only (July & August). This type accommodation belongs to a private party, and can range from basic to luxurious. A particular advantage, aside from competitive prices, is that the accommodations come with fully fitted kitchens.
Hundreds of agencies offer accommodation for short term rentals on behalf of the owner, and can guide you into finding the best property, at the best price in the most suitable location for you. An internet search for the location and type of property you're looking for will usually return the names of several listing sites, each of which may have hundreds or thousands of properties for you to choose from. There are plenty of sites in both English and French, and the rental properties may be owned by people of any nationality.
Well established holiday rental sites include Holidaylettings.co.uk, Owners Direct and Alpha Holiday Lettings. If you are looking to stay in just a room or part of the property, Airbnb matches holiday makers with hosts who only rent out part of their homes.
Camping is very common in France. Most camp sites are a little way out of town and virtually all cater not just for tents but also for camper vans and caravans. While all camp sites have the basic facilities of shower and toilet blocks, larger sites tend to offer a range of additional facilities such as bars and restaurants, self-service launderettes, swimming pools or bicycle hire. All camp sites except for very small 'farm camping' establishments must be registered with the authorities, and are officially graded using a system of stars.
In coastal areas, three-star and four-star camp grounds must generally be booked in advance during the months of July and August, and many people book from one year to the next. In rural areas, outside of popular tourist spots, it is usually possible to show up unannounced, and find a place; this is particularly true with the municipal camp sites that can be found in most small towns; though even then it may be advisable to ring up or email in advance to make sure. There are always exceptions.
In France it's forbidden to camp:
- in woods, natural, regional and national parks
- on public roads and streets
- on beaches
- less than 200 metres from watering place used for human consumption
- on natural protected sites
- less than 500 metres from a protected monument
- everywhere where it's forbidden by local laws
- on private properties without the owner's consent.
Camping is a great way to explore the local area as it offers you the freedom of being able to travel around at short notice. Larger more popular campsites can be booked through websites such as Eurocamp, Canvas Holidays, Go Camp France and France Break.
Things to see
Thinking of France, you might imagine the iconic Eiffel Tower, the Arc de Triomphe or the famous smile of Mona Lisa. You might think of drinking coffee in the lively Paris cafés where great intellectuals lingered in past times, or of eating croissants in a local bistro of a sleepy but gorgeous village in the countryside. Probably, images of splendid châteaux will spring to your mind, of lavender fields or perhaps of vineyardsas far as the eye can see. Or perhaps, you'd envisage the chic resorts of the Cote d'Azur. And you wouldn't be wrong. However, they are only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to France's many sights and attractions.
Paris. the "City of Light" and the capital of romance has been a travellers' magnet for centuries and a real must-see. Of course, no visit would be complete without a glance at its world famous landmarks. The Eiffel Tower is hard to miss, especially when it is lit beautifully at night, but the Arc de Triomphe, Notre Dame and Sacré Coeur are all famous and stunning sights too. With no less than 3,800 national monuments in and around Paris, history is literally around every corner. Stroll through the city's spacious green parks, with the Luxembourg Gardens as one of the favourites, and make sure to spend some time on the famous banks of the River Seine. Also, don't miss the magnificent Palace of Versailles, the grandest reminder of the Ancien Régime located just 20 km away from the capital.
Bordeaux is famous for its wine but is also a bustling city with lots of historic sights to discover. It is listed as a World Heritage Site for being "an outstanding urban and architectural ensemble". Lyon, the country's second largest city, is listed too, and boasts a beautiful old centre as well as a number of Roman ruins. Strasbourg, one of the EU headquarters, has a character of its own, with clear German influences. Montpellier is one of the best places in the south, with lots of monumental buildings and nice cafés. In the west there's the beautiful historic city of Nantes, home to the Château des ducs de Bretagne and many other monuments. The Capitole de Toulouse is situated right at the heart that famous university city's street plan. Last but not least, don't overlook Arles, with its World Heritage Listed Roman and Romanesque Monuments.
Provence and French Riviera
There are the magnificent cities of the Côte d'Azur, once the place to be for the rich and famous but now equally popular with a mixed crowd. Its sandy beaches, beautiful bays, rocky cliffs and lovely towns has made it one of the world's premier yachting and cruising areas as well as popular destination for land-bound travellers. There's bustling Nice, where some 4 million tourists a year enjoy the stony beaches and stroll down the Promenade des Anglais. Although Saint-Tropez gets overcrowded in summer, it's a delightful place in any other season. The same goes for Cannes, where the jet-set of the film industry gathers each year for the famous Cannes Film Festival. From there, you can hop on a boat to the much more peaceful Îles de Lérins. Much smaller in size but just as gorgeous (and popular) are the perched villages of Gourdon and Èze, which is located on a 427 meter high cliff, much like an “eagle's nest”. Both offer some stunning panoramic views. From Èze, its a very short trip to the glitter and glamour of Monaco. For the world's millionaires and aristocracy, the green peninsula of Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat is an old time favourite with the impressive Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild full of impressionist art as its main sight. A bit more inland but well-worth a visit are the towns of Grasse, famous for its perfumeries, and Biot, known for its glass blowers.
The Provence, backing a good part of the Côte d'Azur, is one of the most beloved regions. It has a typical Mediterranean atmosphere and is famous for its lavender fields and rosé wines. It's also home to the stunning Verdon Gorge, one of the most beautiful gorges in Europe. The huge city and arts-hub Marseille has plenty of historic sights and nearby are the stunning Calanques, a series of miniature fjords it shares with Cassis. Provence also has famous Gorges du Verdon, reknowned cities like Aix-en-Provence, Arles and Nîmes have strong ancient heritage, and Avignon, with its splendid ramparts and the Palais-des-Papes, was once the seat of popes, and hosts every july the largest theatre festival in the world.
Countryside & villages
You haven't seen the best of France if you haven't had at least a taste of its amazing countryside, dotted with wonderful medieval villages and castles. There are great examples in any part of the country, but some 156 villages have been identified as the most beautiful in France, or "Les Plus Beaux Villages de France"[www]. The country's landscapes vary from the snow-covered peaks of the Alps and the Pyrenees with their many winter sports resorts to lush river valleys, dense forests and huge stretches of farmland and vineyards. The rolling riverine landscape of the Loire Valley is home to many great castles, of which Châteaux Amboise, Château de Villandry, Azay-le-Rideau, Chambord and Châteaux du Pin are some of the finest examples. The western region of Brittany reaches far into the Atlantic and boasts many megalithic monuments such as those near Carnac. The beaches of Normandy, also on the Atlantic coast, are famed for the D-Day Allied invasion on June 6, 1944. Although the humbling Normandy American Cemetery and countless museums, memorials and war time remains keep memory of those dark days alive, the region is now a pleasant and popular destination. Its picturesque coastline includes both long stretches of beach and steep limestone cliffs, such as those near Étretat). The region is also home to the splendid and World Heritage listed Mont-Saint-Michel and its Bay. The lush hills of the Dordogne form another region famous for its castles, with over 1500 of them on its 9000 km2 area.
As the French have a real taste for art, the country has numerous art galleries and museums. Several of them are widely considered to be among the finest museums in the world of art, art-history, and culture. The grandeur and fame of the Musée du Louvre in Paris can hardly be matched by any other museum in the world. It boasts a fabulous collection of art from antiquity to the 19th century and is home of the Mona Lisa and many other renowned works. At just a 15 minute walk from there is the Musée d'Orsay, another world class museum that picks up roughly where the Louvre's collections ends. It's located in an old railway station and houses the national collection of art works from the 1848 to 1914 period. Its excellent collection includes some of the best French Impressionist, post-Impressionist and Art Nouveau works, including Degas' ballerinas and Monet's water-lilies. The Musée National d'Art Moderne in Centre Pompidou, still in France's capital, is the largest museum for modern art in Europe. The Museum of Fine Arts in Lyon has an excellent collection varying from ancient Egypt antiquities to Modern art paintings and sculptures. In Lille you'll find the Palais des Beaux-Arts de Lille, one of the country's largest museums. Its varied collection is the second largest after the Louvre and boasts everything from antiquities to modern art. Smaller but still outstanding are the collections of the Musée Fabre in Montpellier, Musée Toulouse-Lautrecin Albi and the Picasso Museum in Paris. Marseille has many galleries and its Musée Cantinihas a good collection of modern art associated with Marseille as well as several works by Picasso. Fondation Maeght houses modern art too and is situated in Saint-Paul de Vence.
Parks & natural attractions
Disneyland Resort Paris is by far France's most popular park, visited by families from all over Europe. The country's national parks have quite some visitors too though, due to their splendid scenery and great opportunities for outdoor sports. Vanoise National Park is the oldest and one of the largest parks, named after the Vanoise massif. Its highest peak is the Grande Casse at 3,855 m. The impressive natural landscapes of Parc national des Pyrénées are right on the southern border of France and extend well into Spain, where they are part of the Parc National Ordesa y Monte Perdido The whole area is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site. In the French part, the glacial cirques of Gavarnie, Estaubé and Troumouseare some of the best sights, as is the wall of Barroud. The again mountainous Cévennes National Park covers parts of the Languedoc-Roussillon (including the popular Ardèche), Midi-Pyrénées and the Rhône-Alpes regions. The park's main offices are in the castle of Florac, but there are towns all over the park. Donkey rides are available and the cave formation of Aven Armand is one of the park's best sights.
Not yet under a protected status but highly popular is Mont Blanc, the highest peak in Europe and attractive for climbing, hiking and skiing. From the French side, it is mostly explored from Chamonix, a well known resort at the foot of the mountain.
Things to do
- Go to the top of the Eiffel Tower in Paris
- Stroll grand Parisian Boulevards
- Climb Montmartre Hill in Paris
- See the Gothic monuments on the Île de la Cité, in particular the Sainte-Chapelle and Notre-Dame
- See some of the world-famous art in the Louvre, or visit the equally stunning Musée d'Orsay, installed in a former railway terminus
- See the modern architecture in the business district of La Defense
- See the Science Museum in Villette Park, and the other odd attractions assembled there
- Stroll an old train viaduct on the Promenade Plantée in Paris
- See the stunning, but crowded, Versailles Palace
- Ride the TGV, the train which holds the speed record for a conventional (wheel-on-rails) train, from Paris to Lyon, Marseille, Strasbourg or Lille.
- See the "D-Day beaches" of Normandy
- Climb to the top of Mont Saint Michel
- Explore Chartres Cathedral
- See the quaintness of the Alsace
- Sunbathe on the beaches of the French Riviera
Like neighbouring Germany and Italy, France is also known for having a very strong classical music tradition. French composers who are well-known among classical music circles, and even to many members of the general public, include the likes of Lully, Rameau, Berlioz, Fauré, Gounod, Debussy, Bizet, Saint-Saëns, Ravel, Massenet, Delibes and Messiaen. Even if you have never heard of these composers, chances are that you are already familiar with their compositions to a certain extent, as some of these pieces have found their way into popular culture, and are commonly heard in advertising and film scores.
France is famous for its ballets, and most of the modern-day terms used by ballerinas originate from French. French composers have, unsurprisingly, contributed many famous ballet scores. To this day, the Paris Opera Ballet remains one of the most famous ballet companies in the world.
Similarly, French opera is also regarded as one of the greatest operatic traditions in Europe. During the Baroque period, while Italian opera which was taking much of Europe by storm, it never gained a strong foothold in France, where the French developed their own unique operatic tradition, partly thanks to the Italian Jean-Baptiste Lully (né Giovanni Battista Lulli), who was hired by Louis XIV for that purpose. The 19th century gave rise to some new French operatic styles such as the grand opera, which combined opera and ballet into a single performance. In fact, even foreign composers such as Rossini, Verdi and Meyerbeer are famous for their contributions to the French operatic stage. Another genre of opera that developed in 19th century France was the operetta, essentially a comedic opera with light-hearted music and subject matter, which was created by the German-born composer Jacques Offenbach. For those who are interested in watching French opera, the Paris Opera remains one of the premier opera companies in the world, though there are also good opera houses in some of the smaller cities.
Without a doubt the most popular spectator team sports in France (though not necessarily in that order) are Rugby Union, Soccer and (European/team/olympic) Handball with both strong domestic competition and a national side that has variously won six nations, world cups and European championships and is usually to be reckoned with on a global level.
Money & Shopping
Many of the French take their vacations in August. As a result, outside of tourist areas, many of the smaller shops (butcher shops, bakeries...) will be closed during parts of August. This also applies to many corporations as well as physicians. Obviously, in touristy areas, shops will tend to be open when the tourists come, especially July and August. In contrast, many attractions will be awfully crowded during those months, and during the Easter weekend.
Some attractions, especially in rural areas, close or have reduced opening hours outside the tourist season.
Mountainous areas tend to have two tourist seasons: in the winter, for skiing, snowshoeing and other snow-related activities, and in the summer for sightseeing and hiking.
France uses the euro. It is one of several European countries that uses this common currency. All euro banknotes and coins are legal tender within all the countries.
|Countries that have the euro as their official currency:|
One euro is divided into 100 cents.
The official symbol for the euro is €, and its ISO code is EUR. There is no official symbol for the cent.
- Banknotes: Euro banknotes have the same design in all the countries.
- Normal coins: All eurozone countries have coins issued with a distinctive national design on one side, and a standard common design on the other side. Coins can be used in any eurozone country, regardless of the design used (e.g. a one-euro coin from Finland can be used in Portugal).
- Commemorative two euro coins: These differ from normal two euro coins only in their "national" side and circulate freely as legal tender. Each country may produce a certain amount of them as part of their normal coin production and sometimes "Europe-wide" two euro coins are produced to commemorate special events (e.g. the anniversary of important treaties).
- Other commemorative coins: Commemorative coins of other amounts (e.g. ten euros or more) are much rarer, and have entirely special designs and often contain non-negligible amounts of gold, silver or platinum. While they are technically legal tender at face value, their material or collector value is usually much higher and, as such, you will most likely not find them in actual circulation.
Some foreign currencies such as the U.S. Dollar and the British Pound are occasionally accepted, especially in tourist areas and in higher-end places, but one should not count on it; furthermore, the cashier may charge an unfavourable exchange rate. In general, shops will refuse transactions in foreign currency.
It is compulsory, for the large majority of businesses, to post prices in windows. Hotels and restaurants must have their rates visible from outside (note, however, that many hotels propose lower prices than the posted ones if they feel they will have a hard time filling up their rooms; the posted price is only a maximum).
Almost all stores, restaurants and hotels take the CB French debit card, and its foreign affiliations, Visa and MasterCard. American Express tends to be accepted only in high-end shops. Check with your bank for applicable fees (typically, banks apply the wholesale inter-bank exchange rate, which is the best available, but may slap a proportional and/or a fixed fee).
French CB cards (and CB/Visa and CB/MasterCard cards) have a "smart chip" on them allowing PIN authentication of transactions. This system, initiated in France, has now evolved to an international standard and newer British cards are compatible. Some automatic retail machines (such as those vending tickets) may be compatible only with cards with the microchip. In addition, cashiers unaccustomed to foreign cards possibly do not know that foreign Visa or MasterCard cards have to be swiped and a signature obtained, while French customers systematically use PIN and don't sign the transactions.
There is (practically) no way to get a cash advance from a credit card without a PIN in France.
Automatic teller machines (ATM) are by far the best way to get money in France. They all take CB, Visa, MasterCard, Cirrus and Plus and are plentiful throughout France. They may accept other kinds of card; check for the logos on the ATM and on your card (on the back, generally) if at least one matches. It is possible that some machines do not handle 6-digit PIN codes (only 4-digit ones), or that they do not offer the choice between different accounts (defaulting on the checking account). Check with your bank about applicable fees, which may vary greatly (typically, banks apply the wholesale inter-bank exchange rate, which is the best available, but may slap a proportional and/or a fixed fee; because of the fixed fee it is generally better to withdraw money in big chunks rather than €20 at a time). Also, check about applicable maximal withdrawal limits.
Traveller's cheques are difficult to use — most merchants will not accept them, and exchanging them may involve finding a bank that accepts to exchange them and possibly paying a fee.
Note that the postal service doubles as a bank, so often post offices will have an ATM. As a result, even minor towns will have ATMs usable with foreign cards.
Exchange offices (bureaux de change) are now rarer with the advent of the Euro - they will in general only be found in towns with a significant foreign tourist presence, such as Paris. Some banks exchange money, often with high fees. The Bank of France no longer does foreign exchange.
Do Put money into your checking account, carry an ATM card with a Cirrus or Plus logo on it and a 4-digit pin that does not start with '0' and withdraw cash from ATMs. Pay larger transactions (hotel, restaurants...) with Visa or MasterCard. Always carry some € cash for emergencies.
Don't Carry foreign currency ($, £...) or traveller's cheques, and exchange them on the go, or expect them to be accepted by shops.
Tips are not expected in France since service charges are included in the bill. However, French people usually leave the small change left after paying the bill or one to five euros if they were satisfied with the service quality.
In towns and city centres, you always will find smaller shops, chain grocery stores (Casino) as well as, occasionally, department stores and small shopping malls. Residential areas will often have small supermarkets (such as Carrefour Market or Intermarché). Large supermarkets (hypermarchés such as Auchan, Carrefour, E.Leclerc, Géant Casino) are mostly located on the outskirts of towns and are probably not useful unless you have access to a car.
Prices are indicated with all taxes (namely, the TVA, or value-added tax) included. It is possible for non-EU residents to get a partial refund upon departure from certain stores that have a "tax-free shopping" sticker; inquire within. TVA is 20% on most things, but 10% on some things such as books, restaurant meals, and public transport and 5.5% on food purchased from grocery stores (except for sweets!). Alcoholic beverages are always taxed at 20%, regardless of where they're purchased.
With its international reputation for fine dining, few people would be surprised to hear that French cuisine can certainly be very good. As a testament to this, France is tied with Japan for first place as the country with the most Michelin star restaurants. Unfortunately, it can also be quite disappointing; many restaurants serve very ordinary fare, and some in touristy areas are rip-offs. Finding the right restaurant is therefore very important - try asking locals, hotel staff or even browsing restaurant guides or websites for recommendations as simply walking in off the street can be a hit and miss affair.
There are many places to try French food in France, from three-star Michelin restaurants to French "brasseries" or "bistros" that you can find at almost every corner, especially in big cities. These usually offer a relatively consistent and virtually standardised menu of relatively inexpensive cuisine. To obtain a greater variety of dishes, a larger outlay of money is often necessary. In general, one should try to eat where the locals do for the best chance of a memorable meal. Most small cities or even villages have local restaurants which are sometimes listed in the most reliable guides. In fact, many fine dining restaurants are located in rural villages rather than in the big cities, and French people often drive to those villages to dine during special occasions. There are also specific local restaurants, like "bouchons lyonnais" in Lyons, "crêperies" in Brittany (or in the Montparnasse area of Paris), etc.
Chinese, Vietnamese, even Thai eateries are readily available in Paris, either as regular restaurants or "traiteurs" (fast-food). They are not so common, and are more expensive, in smaller French cities. Many places have "Italian" restaurants though these are often little more than unimaginative pizza and pasta parlors. You will also find North African (Moroccan, Algerian, Tunisian) as well as Greek and Lebanese food. The ubiquitous hamburger eateries (US original or their French copies) are also available; note that McDonalds is more upmarket in France than in the US.
In France, taxes (7 per cent of the total in restaurants) and service (usually 15 per cent) are always included in the bill, so anything patrons add to the bill amount is an "extra-tip". There should not be any additions to the advertised price, do not hesitate to question such additions. French people usually leave one or two coins if they were happy with the service (but it's not mandatory). Bread is always free of charge (like tap water) and no extra price should be applied for the dishes.
Fixed price menus seldom include beverages. If you want water, waiters will often try to sell you mineral water (Évian, Thonon) or fizzy water (Badoit, Perrier), at a premium; ask for a carafe d'eau for tap water, which is free and safe to drink. Water never comes with ice in it unless so requested (and water with ice may not be available).
As in other countries, restaurants tend to make a large profit off beverages. Expect wine to cost much more than it would in a supermarket.
Ordering is made either from fixed price menus (menu fixe) or à la carte.
A typical fixed price menu will comprise:
- appetiser, called entrées or hors d'œuvres
- main dish, called a plat
- dessert (dessert) or cheese (fromage)
Sometimes, restaurants offer the option to take only two of the three courses, at a reduced price.
Coffee is always served as a final step (though it may be followed by liquors). Coffee will always be served black unless requested otherwise (for white coffee, ask for "café au lait"). A request for coffee during the meal will be considered strange.
Not all restaurants are open for both lunch and dinner, nor are they always open all year around. It is therefore advisable to carefully check the opening times and days. A restaurant open for lunch will usually start service at noon and accept patrons until 13:30. Dinner begins at around 19:30 and patrons are accepted until 21:30. Restaurants with longer service hours are usually found only in the larger cities and in town centres. Finding a restaurant open on Saturday and especially Sunday can be a challenge unless you stay close to the tourist areas.
In a reasonable number of restaurants, especially outside tourist areas, a booking is compulsory and people may be turned away without one, even if the restaurant is clearly not filled to capacity. For this reason, it can be worthwhile to research potential eateries in advance and make the necessary reservations to avoid disappointment, especially if the restaurant you're considering is specially advised in guide books.
A lunch or dinner for two on the "menu" including wine and coffee will cost you (as of 2004) €70 to €100 in a listed restaurant in Paris. The same with beer in a local "bistro" or a "crêperie" around 40€. A lunch or dinner for one person in a decent Chinese restaurant in Paris can cost as little as €8 if one looks carefully. Most French restaurants offer a lunch menu that costs short of 15€.
Outside of Paris and the main cities, prices are not always lower but the menu will often include a fourth course, usually cheese. As with everywhere beware of the tourist traps which are numerous around the heavy travelled spots and may offer a nice view but not much to remember on your plate.
Bakeries (boulangeries) are something of a French institution and are to be found all over the country from the smallest villages to city streets. All white bread variants keep for only a short time and must be eaten the same day, or else saved for dunking in soup or hot chocolate the following morning. Hence bakers bake at least twice a day.
- The famous baguette: a long, thin loaf (costs around 1€ in bakeries, old fashioned baguettes can cost up to 1.40€);
- Variants of the baguette : la ficelle (even thinner), la flûte, la tradition (a baguette with a generally more delicate taste but also more expensive);
- Pain de campagne or Pain complet: made from whole grain which keeps relatively well.
Pastries are a large part of French cooking. Hotel breakfasts tend to be light, consisting of tartines (pieces of bread with butter or jam) or the famous croissants and pains au chocolat, not dissimilar to a chocolate-filled croissant (but square rather than crescent shaped).
Pastries can be found in a pâtisserie but also in most boulangeries.
Every French region has dishes all its own. These dishes follow the resources (game, fish, agriculture, etc.) of the region, the vegetables (cabbage, turnip, endives, etc.) which they grow there. Here is a small list of regional dishes which you can find easily in France. Generally each region has a unique and widespread dish (usually because it was food for the masses):
- Cassoulet (in the south west) : beans, duck, pork & sausages
- Choucroute, or sauerkraut (in Alsace) : stripped fermented cabbage + pork
- Fondue Savoyarde (central Alps) : melted/hot cheese with white wine
- Fondue Bourguignonne (in Burgundy) : pieces of beef (in boiled oil), usually served with a selection of various sauces.
- Raclette (central Alps) : melted cheese & potatoes/meat
- Pot-au-feu (found all over France) : boiled beef with vegetables
- Boeuf Bourguignon (Burgundy) : slow cooked beef with red wine gravy
- Gratin dauphinois (Rhone-Alpes) : oven-roasted slices of potatoes with sour cream and cheese
- Aligot (Aveyron) : melted cheese mixed with a puree of potatoes
- Bouillabaisse (fish + saffron) (Marseille and the French Riviera). Don't be fooled! A real bouillabaisse is a really expensive dish due to the amount of fresh fish it requires. Be prepared to pay at least €30 per person. If you find restaurants claiming to serve bouillabaisse for something like €15 per person, you'll find it to be of a very poor quality.
- Tartiflette (Savoie) : Melted Reblochon cheese, potatoes and pork or bacon.
- Confit de Canard (south west) : Duck Confit, consists of legs and wings bathing in grease. That grease is actually very healthy and, with red wine, is one of the identified sources of the so-called "French Paradox" (eat richly, live long).
- Foie Gras (south west) : The liver of a duck or goose. Although usually quite expensive, foie gras can be found in supermarkets for a lower price (because of their purchasing power) around the Christmas season. It is the time of year when most foie gras is consumed in France. It goes very well with Champagne.
- Moules marinière (Brittany) : Mussels steamed in cider or wine with cream normally served with crusty bread.
Cooking and drinking is a notable part of French culture; take time to eat and discover new dishes.
Contrary to stereotype, snails and frog legs are quite infrequent foods in France, with many French people enjoying neither, or sometimes having never even tasted them. Quality restaurants sometimes have them on their menu: if you're curious about trying new foods, go ahead.
- Frogs' legs have a very fine and delicate taste with flesh that is not unlike chicken. They are often served in a garlic dressing and are no weirder to eat than, say, crab.
- Most of the taste of Burgundy snails (escargots de bourgogne) comes from the generous amount of butter, garlic and parsley in which they are cooked. They have a very particular spongy-leathery texture and, for obvious reasons, a strong garlicky flavour. Catalan-style snails ("cargols") are made a completely different way, and taste even weirder!
Let us also cite:
- Rillettes sarthoises also known as Rillettes du Mans. A sort of potted meat, made from finely shredded and spiced pork. A delicious speciality of the Sarthe area in the north of the Pays de la Loire and not to be confused with rillettes from other areas, which are more like a rough pâté.
- Beef bone marrow (os à moelle). Generally served in small quantities, with a large side. So go ahead: if you don't like it, you'll have something else to eat on your plate!
- Veal sweetbread (ris de Veau), is a very fine (and generally expensive) delicacy, often served with morels, or in more elaborate dishes like "bouchées à la reine".
- Beef bowels (tripes) is served either "à la mode de Caen" (with a white wine sauce, named after the town in Normandy) or "à la catalane" (with a slightly spiced tomato sauce)
- Andouillettes are sausages made from tripe, a specialty of Lyon
- Tricandilles are seasoned and grilled pork tripe from the Bordeaux region
- Beef tongue (langue de bœuf) and beef nose(museau) and Veal head (tête de veau) are generally eaten cold (but thoroughly cooked!) as an appetizer.
- Oysters (Huîtres) are most commonly served raw in a half shell. They are often graded by size, No1 being the largest (and most expensive).
- Oursins (sea urchins), for those who like concentrated iodine.
- Steak tartare a big patty of ground beef cured in acid as opposed to cooked, frequently served with a raw egg. Good steak tartare will be prepared to order at tableside. A similar dish is boeuf carpaccio, which is thin slices or strips of raw steak drizzled with olive oil and herbs.
- Cervelle (pronounced ser-VELL), lamb brain.
France is certainly the country for cheese, with nearly 400 different kinds. Indeed, former president General Charles De Gaulle was quoted as saying "How can you govern a country which has 365 varieties of cheese?".
Vegetarianism is not as uncommon as it used to be, especially in larger cities. Still, very few restaurants offer vegetarian menus, thus if you ask for something vegetarian the only things they may have available are salad and vegetable side dishes.
There may still be confusion between vegetarianism and pescetarianism. Vegetarian and organic food restaurants are starting to appear. However, "traditional" French restaurants may not have anything vegetarian on the "menu fixe", so you may have to pick something "à la carte", which is usually more expensive.
Luckily North African cuisine is very popular in France, couscous is one of the most popular dishes in France (especially in Eastern France) and is widely available.
Veganism is still very uncommon and it may be difficult to find vegan eateries.
Breakfast in France is usually very light, typically consisting of a coffee and a croissant or some other "viennoiserie" at special occasions. On normal days most people have a beverage (coffee, tea, hot chocolate, orange juice) and toast of baguette or toast bread with butter and jam/honey/Nutella that can be dipped in the hot beverage, or cereals with milk, or fruit and yoghurt. The French breakfast is mostly sweet, but anything can change and you can have savoury breakfasts everywhere today.
Champagne, Burgundy, Bordeaux, Rhone, the Loire Valley... France is the home of wine. It can be found cheaply just about anywhere. Beer (lager) is also extremely popular, in particular in northern France, where "Bière de Garde" can be found. The alcohol purchase age was recently raised to 18 for all drinks, but this is not always strictly enforced; however, laws against drunk driving are strictly enforced, with stiff penalties.
Wine and spirits may be purchased from supermarkets, or from specialised stores such as the Nicolas chain. Nicolas offers good advice on what to buy (specify the kind of wine and the price range you desire). In general, only French wines are available unless a foreign wine is a "speciality" with no equivalent in France (such as port), and they are classified by region of origin, not by grape.
Etiquette-wise, you shouldn't drink alcoholic beverages (especially red wine or strong alcohol such as cognac) directly from a 70 cl bottle. Such behaviour is generally associated with drunkards (though if you are surrounded by college students, you may be OK). Drinking beer from a 25 to 50cl can or bottle is OK.
Prices of food and beverages will vary on whether they're served to you at the bar or sitting at a table - the same cup of espresso might cost €0.50 more if served at a table than at the bar, and €0.50 more again if served out on the terrace. Really, you're not paying so much for the beverage as for the table spot. Do consider the bar, though - while you will have to stand, café bars are often where a great deal of public discourse and interaction happens. In any event, cafés are required by law to post their prices somewhere in the establishment, usually either in the window or on the wall by the bar.
There are a couple of mixed drinks which seem to be more or less unique to France, and nearby francophone countries.
- Panaché is a mix of beer and lemonade, basically a beer shandy.
- Monaco is a Panaché with some grenadine syrup added.
- Kir is a pleasant aperitif of white wine (in theory, Bourgogne Aligoté) or, less frequently, of champagne (then named kir royal and about twice the price of regular kir) and cassis (blackcurrant liqueur), or peche (peach), or mûre (blackberry).
- Pastis is an anise-based (licorice-flavored) spirit, similar in taste to Sambuca or Ouzo, that is served with a few lumps of sugar and a small pitcher of cold water to dilute the liquor. It is traditionally enjoyed on very hot days, and as such is more popular in the south of the country but available more or less everywhere.
There is a variety of bottled water, including:
- Évian, Thonon, Contrex, Volvic: mineral water
- Perrier: fizzy water
- Badoit: slightly fizzy and salty water.
Festivals & Events
French public holidays are influenced by the important Catholic holidays, with the exception of Good Friday which is only observed in the Alsace prefecture. While most of them are movable, the Assumption of Mary into Heaven always falls on August 15, All Saints' Day on November 1, and Christmas on December 25. Other holidays include the New Year (Jan 1), May Day (May 1), Victory Day (May 8), Bastille Day (July 14), and Armistice Day (November 11). It is advisable to plan ahead for your travel arrangements, especially during the French school holidays which typically fall on late October through early November, Christmas, Easter, days in between May Day and Victory Day, and summer. Unlike its big neighbor to the east, France has one date for all the country on which vacations start and end. Naturally on and around this day, streets become crowded and prices for trains and planes skyrocket. If you can avoid travel during these times, do.
|Date||English name||Local name||Remarks|
|1 January||New Year's Day||Nouvel an / Jour de l'an / Premier de l'an|
|moveable||Good Friday||Vendredi saint||Friday before Easter Sunday (observed only in Alsace and Moselle)|
|moveable||Easter Monday||Lundi de Pâques||Monday after Easter Sunday (one day after Easter Sunday)|
|1 May||May Day/Labour Day||Fête du Travail / Fête des Travailleurs|
|8 May||Victory in Europe Day||Fête de la Victoire||End of hostilities in Europe in World War II|
|moveable||Ascension Day||Ascension||Thursday, 39 days after Easter Sunday|
|moveable||Whit Monday||Lundi de Pentecôte||Monday after Pentecost (50 days after Easter), observed only in some businesses, see notes|
|14 July||Bastille Day||Fête nationale||French National Day, commemorates the Feast of the Federation|
|15 August||Assumption of Mary to Heaven||Assomption|
|1 November||All Saints' Day||Toussaint|
|11 November||Armistice Day||Armistice de 1918||End of World War I|
|25 December||Christmas Day||Noël|
|26 December||St. Stephen's Day||Saint-Étienne||Observed only in Alsace and Moselle|
To call a French number from abroad, dial: international prefix + 33 + local number without the leading 0. For example: +33 2 47 66 41 18
All French numbers have 10 digits. The first two digits are:
- 01 for the Paris region
- 02 for the north west
- 03 for the north east
- 04 for south east
- 05 for south west
- 06 for cellphones
- 07 also for cellphones since 2010.
- 08 have special prices that can be deduced from the two following figures: from free - 08 00 - to very costly (as far as 20.40 € per hour) - 08 99. Skype numbers also start with 08.
- 09 if they are attached to voice-over IP telephones connected to DSL modems from French DSL providers that integrate such functions.
You cannot drop the first two digits even if your call remains within the same area. The initial '0' may be replaced by some other digit or longer code indicating a choice of long-distance operator. Don't use this unless explicitly told to.
When speaking phone numbers, people will usually group the digits by sets of two. For example, 02 47 66 41 18 will be said as "zéro deux, quarante-sept, soixante-six, quarante et un, dix-huit". The two-digit pair 00 is said as "zéro zéro", not "double zéro". If you find it too hard to follow, you may ask the person to say the number digit-by-digit ("chiffre par chiffre"). It would then be "zéro, deux, quatre, sept, six, six, quatre, un, un, huit".
There are few companies that provide toll-free numbers (often starting with 08 00) and there are also numbers which start with 081, for which you pay the cost of a local call regardless of where you are in the country.
Numbers starting with 089 carry a premium toll. They provide service to some legitimate businesses but the ones you see advertised all over the country are usually for adult services.
Emergency numbers are 15 (medical aid), 17 (police station) and 18 (fire/rescue). You can also use the European emergency number 112 (perhaps a better choice if you don't speak French). These calls are free and accessible from virtually any phone, including locked cellphones. In case of a serious emergency, if you find a code-protected cellphone, enter a random code three times: the phone will lock, but you will be able to dial emergency numbers.
Cheap international calls
To enjoy cheap international calls from France travellers can get a local France Sim Card [www] online before they leave or use low-cost dial-around services such as appellemonde [www] or allo2556 [www].
Dial-around services are directly available from any landline in France. No contract or registration is required. Most dial-around services allows you to call the USA, Canada, Western Europe and many other countries at the local rate (tarif local) so you can easily save on your phone bill. They also work from payphones, though the first minute is surcharged by France Télécom.
To know how to order a landline (ligne fixe) in France you can click on landline providers in France [www]. Another method, if you're staying for a while, is to use VoIP over DSL, such as the Livebox or Freebox service (free long distance calls within France and to a number of countries).
Phone booths are available in train or metro stations, bus stops and near tourist attractions, etc. There is at least one phone booth in every village (look on the main square). Due to the widespread use of mobile phones, there are now fewer booths than a few years ago. Most use a card (no coins). France Télécom public phones accept CB/Visa/MasterCard cards but almost always only with a microchip. Otherwise, post offices, café-tabacs (recognizable by a red sign hanging outside), and stores that sell magazines sell phone cards. Ask for a "carte téléphonique"; these come with differing units of credit, so you may want to specify "petite" if you just want to make a short local call or two. If you get the kind with a computer chip in it, you just have to slide it into the phone, listen for the dial tone, and dial. The US-style cards require you to dial a number and then enter a code (but with spoken instructions in French).
France uses the GSM standard of cellular phones (900 MHz and 1800 MHz bands) used in most of the world outside of the U.S. There are several companies (Orange, SFR, Free, Bouygues Télécom and some others MVNOs like Virgin Mobile) offering wireless service. The country is almost totally covered but you may have difficulties using your mobile phone in rural or mountainous areas. However, for emergency numbers, the three companies are required by law to accept your call if they technically can, even if you are not one of their customers, thus maximizing your chance of being helped even in areas with spotty service.
If you stay for some time, it may be advisable to buy a pre-paid cell phone card that you can use in any phone that supports the GSM standard on the 900/1800 MHz bands. Then incoming calls and SMSes are free. You can get it from most mobile service provider (Orange, SFR and Bouygues Telecom), but they have a very short validity for the card if you don't recharge it.
An Orange pre-paid SIM card is called a Mobicarte, costs €9.90 and comes with a credit of €5 included. SMSes within Orange France cost €0.12; to international mobile GSM users €0.28. Other operators (SFR, Bouygues) have similar prices. Since 2012, the mobile operator Free offers 2€/month subscription without any minimum subscription time including 120 minutes per month and unlimited national SMSes. This is only available through the web and you need a postal address.
Internet cafés: Internet access is available in cyber cafés all over large and medium-sized cities. Service is usually around €4 per hour.
Residential broadband: In all major cities, there are multiple companies offering residential broadband service. Typical prices are €30 a month for unmetered ADSL (with speeds of up to 24 megabits per second), digital HDTV over DSL and free unlimited voice-over-IP phone calls to land lines within France and about twenty other countries (EU, US...) with external SIP access too (the price includes a modem/router/switch with integrated WiFi MiMo access point).
Wifi: You'll also find wifi access (in cities and towns) in a lot of cafés usually those labelled a bit "trendy". There will be a sign on the door or on the wall. Also look for the @ symbol prominently displayed, which indicates internet availability. However, with most homes now wired for the internet, cyber cafés are increasingly hard to find, especially outside the major cities. In Paris, one popular free wifi spot is the Pompidou Centre. There is talk that the city intends to become the first major European capital providing free wifi coverage for the whole city. Public parks and libraries in Paris are also covered. Please note that wifi is prounonced "wee-fee" in France even by English speakers. Asking for "wi-fi" will generally not be understood.
Short-term SIM cards
(for smartphones and tablets)
Orange has nearly-unlimited Internet 1-month package for €9 called InternetMax. The official limit of 500MB is not enforced. Tethering is not allowed, but this is also not enforced. Email (POP3/SMTP/IMAP) is not covered, and sold as a separate package for €9 per month. P2P, VoIP and USENET are specifically banned, and risk getting your plan cancelled as well as the loss of any call credit remaining on your account.
To set this service up:
- buy a 'mobicarte' (generic prepaid SIM card) at an Orange outlet for €9.90 which comes included with credit of €5
- recharge it with €4 (with a credit card at an Orange outlet or with a €5-euro recharge sold at tobacco kiosks and news stands everywhere).
- turn off mobile data connection and disable all email applications using POP3/IMAP/SMTP at smartphone before inserting SIM card, otherwise it will suck up the credit well before you activate the unlimited data plan
- wait for 24 hours for the SIM card to be activated before you can add packages
- activate the InternetMax data plan with #123#. The menu is in French, refer to the link below for summary in English.
- allow several hours (officially up to 48hrs) for InternetMax to be activated. There's no notification, so check it regularly: surf a bit and check your credit with #123#
As the plan is not marketed by Orange, staff at outlets and hotline operators are often completely unaware of it, and Orange website tells very little on it even in French. If your French is poor, detailed third-party instructions can be very helpful.
Post offices ("La Poste") are found in all cities and villages but their opening hours vary. In the main cities the central office may be open during lunchtime; typically the day's opening hours are 09:00 to 18:00. Most offices are only open on Saturday morning and there is only one office in Paris which is open 24 hours and 365 days (on the Rue du Louvre).
Letter boxes are coloured in yellow.
There are three levels of service for French domestic mail (Andorra and Monaco included):
- Priority Letter (lettre prioritaire), usually arrives next day. Cost (up to 20g): €0.80
- Green Letter (lettre verte), usually arrives in two days. Cost (up to 20g): €0.70
- Economy Letter (écopli), usually arrives in four days. Cost (up to 20g): €0.68
For international mail, there is only one service:
- Priority Letter (lettre prioritaire), cost (up to 20g): €1.00 (to European Union and Switzerland), €1.25 (all other countries)
Rates correct as of November 2016.
International delivery services like FedEx and UPS are available in cities, however you generally have to call them for them to come to you as they have very few physical locations.
Another option is to simply use La Poste with a wide network around the country and the same services as its competitors.
French (français) is the official language of France, as well as a number of its neighbours, is a working language of the UN and is the official language of around 270 million people in the world. Any tourist who doesn't put a bit of effort in to speak French is missing out on an important part of the country's identity and culture, and what many consider to be the most beautiful language in the world!
There are slight regional variations in pronunciation and local words. For example, throughout France the word for yes, oui, said "we", but you will often hear the slang form "ouais", said "waay." It's similar to the English language usage of "Yeah" instead of "Yes". The Loire Valley has the reputation of being the region where the best French is spoken, with no regional accent.
Other languages used in France
In Alsace and part of Lorraine, a dialect of German called Alsatian is spoken, which is almost incomprehensible to speakers of standard High German. In the south, some still speak dialects of the Langue d'Oc (because the word for "yes" is oc): Languedocian, Limousin, Auvergnat, or Provençal. The Langue d'Oc is a Romance language, a very close relative of Italian, Spanish, or Catalan. In the west part of Brittany, a few people, mainly the elderly or scholars, speak Breton; this Celtic language is closer to Welsh than to French. In parts of Aquitaine, Basqueis spoken, but not as much as on the Spanish side of the border. In Corsica, the Corsican language has a strong Italian influence. In the Provence, Provençal is most likely to be spoken, especially along the Riviera. However, almost everyone speaks French and tourists are unlikely to ever need to speak the regional languages, except to give a "folkloric" flair to things.
Hardly anybody understands imperial units such as gallons or Fahrenheit. Stick to metric units (after all, the French invented this system!).
The French are generally attached to politeness (some might say excessively) and will react coolly to strangers who forget it. You might be surprised to see that you are greeted by other customers when you walk into a restaurant or shop. Return the courtesy and address your hellos/goodbyes to everyone when you enter or leave small shops and cafes. It is, for the French, very impolite to start a conversation with a stranger (even a shopkeeper or client) without at least a polite word like "bonjour". For this reason, starting the conversation with at least a few basic French phrases goes a long way to convince them to try to help you.
- "Excusez-moi Monsieur/Madame": Excuse me (ex-COO-zay-mwah mih-SYOOR/muh-DAM)
- "S'il vous plaît Monsieur/Madame" : Please (SEEL-voo-PLAY)
- "Merci Monsieur/Madame" : Thank you (mare-SEE)
- "Au revoir Monsieur/Madame" : Good Bye (Ore-vwar)
Avoid "Salut" (Hi); it is reserved for friends and relatives, and to use it with people you are not acquainted with is considered a bit impolite.
Note that French spoken with a hard English accent or an American accent can be very difficult for the average French person to understand. In such circumstances, it may be best to write down what you are trying to say. But tales of waiters refusing to serve tourists because their pronunciation doesn't meet French standards are highly exaggerated. A good-faith effort will usually be appreciated, but don't be offended if a waiter responds to your fractured French, or even fluent but accented, in English (If you are a fluent French speaker and the waiter speaks to you in English when you'd prefer to speak French, continue to respond in French and the waiter will usually switch back - this is a common occurrence in the more tourist-oriented areas, especially in Paris).
Please note that some parts of France (such as Paris) are at times overrun by tourists. The locals there may have some blasé feelings about helping foreign tourists who speak in an unintelligible language and ask for directions to the other side of the city for the umpteenth time. Be courteous and understanding.
As France is a very multicultural society with immigrants from all over the world, many African languages, Arabic, Chinese dialects (such as Teochew), Vietnamese or Khmer could be spoken. Spanish, Italian, Portuguese and even Romanian belong to the same language family as French, and therefore it may be possible to communicate basic information through some common vocabulary, particularly when written down.
Although most French people have studied English in school, proficiency is generally poor, with only a very small minority being conversant in it. That being said, major hotels and tourist attractions will often have staff who speak English and other foreign languages. When approaching French people, always be sure to begin the conversation in French, as assuming that a foreign language will be spoken is considered to be very rude.
The standard sign language is French Sign Language, locally known by its native initialism LSF. Whenever an interpreter is present for a public event, he or she will use LSF. Users of American Sign Language (also used in Anglophone Canada), Quebec Sign Language, and Irish Sign Language may be able to understand LSF. As those languages were derived from LSF, they share a good deal of vocabulary and syntax with LSF, and also use a one-handed manual alphabet very similar to that of LSF. Users of British Sign Language, Auslan, or New Zealand Sign Language, however, will have great difficulty. Those languages differ markedly in vocabulary and syntax from LSF, and also use a two-handed manual alphabet.
France has been a centre of Western cultural development for centuries. Many French artists have been among the most renowned of their time, and France is still recognised in the world for its rich cultural tradition.
The successive political regimes have always promoted artistic creation, and the creation of the Ministry of Culture in 1959 helped preserve the cultural heritage of the country and make it available to the public. The Ministry of Culture has been very active since its creation, granting subsidies to artists, promoting French culture in the world, supporting festivals and cultural events, protecting historical monuments. The French government also succeeded in maintaining a cultural exception to defend audiovisual products made in the country.
France receives the highest number of tourists per year, largely thanks to the numerous cultural establishments and historical buildings implanted all over the territory. It counts 1,200 museums welcoming more than 50 million people annually. The most important cultural sites are run by the government, for instance through the public agency Centre des monuments nationaux, which is responsible for approximately 85 national historical monuments.
The 43,180 buildings protected as historical monuments include mainly residences (many castles, or châteaux in French) and religious buildings (cathedrals, basilicas, churches, etc.), but also statutes, memorials and gardens. The UNESCO inscribed 41 sites in France on the World Heritage List.
The origins of French art were very much influenced by Flemish art and by Italian art at the time of the Renaissance. Jean Fouquet, the most famous medieval French painter, is said to have been the first to travel to Italy and experience the Early Renaissance at first hand. The Renaissance painting School of Fontainebleau was directly inspired by Italian painters such as Primaticcio and Rosso Fiorentino, who both worked in France. Two of the most famous French artists of the time of Baroque era, Nicolas Poussin and Claude Lorrain, lived in Italy.
The 17th century was the period when French painting became prominent and individualised itself through classicism. Louis XIV's prime minister Jean-Baptiste Colbert founded in 1648 the Royal Academy of Painting and Sculpture to protect these artists, and in 1666 he created the still-active French Academy in Rome to have direct relations with Italian artists.
French artists developed the rococo style in the 18th century, as a more intimate imitation of old baroque style, the works of the court-endorsed artists Antoine Watteau, François Boucher and Jean-Honoré Fragonard being the most representative in the country. The French Revolution brought great changes, as Napoleonfavoured artists of neoclassic style such as Jacques-Louis David and the highly influential Académie des Beaux-Artsdefined the style known as Academism. At this time France had become a centre of artistic creation, the first half of the 19th century being dominated by two successive movements, at first Romanticism with Théodore Géricault and Eugène Delacroix, and Realism with Camille Corot, Gustave Courbet and Jean-François Millet, a style that eventually evolved into Naturalism.
In the second part of the 19th century, France's influence over painting became even more important, with the development of new styles of painting such as Impressionism and Symbolism. The most famous impressionist painters of the period were Camille Pissarro, Édouard Manet, Edgar Degas, Claude Monet and Auguste Renoir. The second generation of impressionist-style painters, Paul Cézanne, Paul Gauguin, Toulouse-Lautrec and Georges Seurat, were also at the avant-garde of artistic evolutions, as well as the fauvist artists Henri Matisse, André Derain and Maurice de Vlaminck.
At the beginning of the 20th century, Cubism was developed by Georges Braque and the Spanish painter Pablo Picasso, living in Paris. Other foreign artists also settled and worked in or near Paris, such as Vincent van Gogh, Marc Chagall, Amedeo Modigliani and Wassily Kandinsky.
Many museums in France are entirely or partly devoted to sculptures and painting works. A huge collection of old masterpieces created before or during the 18th century are displayed in the state-owned Musée du Louvre, such as Mona Lisa, also known as La Joconde. While the Louvre Palace has been for a long time a museum, the Musée d'Orsay was inaugurated in 1986 in the old railway station Gare d'Orsay, in a major reorganisation of national art collections, to gather French paintings from the second part of the 19th century (mainly Impressionism and Fauvism movements).
Modern works are presented in the Musée National d'Art Moderne, which moved in 1976 to the Centre Georges Pompidou. These three state-owned museums welcome close to 17 million people a year. Other national museums hosting paintings include the Grand Palais(1.3 million visitors in 2008), but there are also many museums owned by cities, the most visited being the Musée d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris (0.8 million entries in 2008), which hosts contemporary works.
Outside Paris, all the large cities have a Museum of Fine Arts with a section dedicated to European and French painting. Some of the finest collections are in Lyon, Lille, Rouen, Dijon, Rennes and Grenoble.
During the Middle Ages, many fortified castles were built by feudal nobles to mark their powers. Some French castles that survived are Chinon, Château d'Angers, the massive Château de Vincennes and the so-called Cathar castles. During this era, France had been using Romanesque architecture like most of Western Europe. Some of the greatest examples of Romanesque churches in France are the Saint Sernin Basilica in Toulouse, the largest romanesque church in Europe, and the remains of the Cluniac Abbey.
The Gothic architecture, originally named Opus Francigenum meaning "French work", was born in Île-de-France and was the first French style of architecture to be copied in all Europe. Northern France is the home of some of the most important Gothic cathedrals and basilicas, the first of these being the Saint Denis Basilica (used as the royal necropolis); other important French Gothic cathedrals are Notre-Dame de Chartres and Notre-Dame d'Amiens. The kings were crowned in another important Gothic church: Notre-Dame de Reims. Aside from churches, Gothic Architecture had been used for many religious palaces, the most important one being the Palais des Papes in Avignon.
The final victory in the Hundred Years' War marked an important stage in the evolution of French architecture. It was the time of the French Renaissance and several artists from Italy were invited to the French court; many residential palaces were built in the Loire Valley. Such residential castles were the Château de Chambord, the Château de Chenonceau, or the Château d'Amboise.
Following the renaissance and the end of the Middle Ages, Baroque architecture replaced the traditional Gothic style. However, in France, baroque architecture found a greater success in the secular domain than in a religious one. In the secular domain, the Palace of Versailleshas many baroque features. Jules Hardouin Mansart, who designed the extensions to Versailles, was one of the most influential French architect of the baroque era; he is famous for his dome at Les Invalides. Some of the most impressive provincial baroque architecture is found in places that were not yet French such as the Place Stanislas in Nancy. On the military architectural side, Vauban designed some of the most efficient fortresses in Europe and became an influential military architect; as a result, imitations of his works can be found all over Europe, the Americas, Russia and Turkey.
After the Revolution, the Republicans favoured Neoclassicismalthough neoclassicism was introduced in France prior to the revolution with such building as the Parisian Pantheon or the Capitole de Toulouse. Built during the first French Empire, the Arc de Triomphe and Sainte Marie-Madeleine represent the best example of Empire style architecture.
Under Napoleon III, a new wave of urbanism and architecture was given birth; extravagant buildings such as the neo-baroque Palais Garnier were built. The urban planning of the time was very organised and rigorous; for example, Haussmann's renovation of Paris. The architecture associated to this era is named Second Empire in English, the term being taken from the Second French Empire. At this time there was a strong Gothic resurgence across Europe and in France; the associated architect was Eugène Viollet-le-Duc. In the late 19th century, Gustave Eiffel designed many bridges, such as Garabit viaduct, and remains one of the most influential bridge designers of his time, although he is best remembered for the iconic Eiffel Tower.
In the 20th century, French-Swiss architect Le Corbusier designed several buildings in France. More recently, French architects have combined both modern and old architectural styles. The Louvre Pyramid is an example of modern architecture added to an older building. The most difficult buildings to integrate within French cities are skyscrapers, as they are visible from afar. For instance, in Paris, since 1977, new buildings had to be under 37 meters (121 feet). France's largest financial district is La Defense, where a significant number of skyscrapers are located. Other massive buildings that are a challenge to integrate into their environment are large bridges; an example of the way this has been done is the Millau Viaduct. Some famous modern French architects include Jean Nouvel, Dominique Perrault, Christian de Portzamparc or Paul Andreu.
The earliest French literature dates from the Middle Ages, when what is now known as modern France did not have a single, uniform language. There were several languages and dialects and writers used their own spelling and grammar. Some authors of French mediaeval texts are unknown, such as Tristan and Iseult and Lancelot-Grail. Other authors are known, for example Chrétien de Troyes and Duke William IX of Aquitaine, who wrote in Occitan.
Much mediaeval French poetry and literature were inspired by the legends of the Matter of France, such as The Song of Roland and the various chansons de geste. The Roman de Renart, written in 1175 by Perrout de Saint Cloude, tells the story of the mediaeval character Reynard ('the Fox') and is another example of early French writing.
An important 16th-century writer was François Rabelais, whose novel Gargantua and Pantagruel has remained famous and appreciated until now. Michel de Montaigne was the other major figure of the French literature during that century. His most famous work, Essais, created the literary genre of the essay.French poetry during that century was embodied by Pierre de Ronsard and Joachim du Bellay. Both writers founded the La Pléiade literary movement.
During the 17th century, Madame de La Fayette published anonymously La Princesse de Clèves, a novel that is considered to be one of the very first psychological novels of all times. Jean de La Fontaine is one of the most famous fabulist of that time, as he wrote hundreds of fables, some being far more famous than others, such as The Ant and the Grasshopper. Generations of French pupils had to learn his fables, that were seen as helping teaching wisdom and common sense to the young people. Some of his verses have entered the popular language to become proverbs.
Jean Racine, whose incredible mastery of the alexandrine and of the French language has been praised for centuries, created plays such as Phèdre or Britannicus. He is, along with Pierre Corneille (Le Cid) and Molière, considered as one of the three great dramatists of the France's golden age. Molière, who is deemed to be one of the greatest masters of comedy of the Western literature, wrote dozens of plays, including Le Misanthrope, L'Avare, Le Malade imaginaire, and Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme. His plays have been so popular around the world that French language is sometimes dubbed as "the language of Molière" (la langue de Molière), just like English is considered as "the language of Shakespeare".
French literature and poetry flourished even more in the 18th and 19th centuries. Denis Diderot's best-known works are Jacques the Fatalist and Rameau's Nephew. He is however best known for being the main redactor of the Encyclopédie, whose aim was to sum up all the knowledge of his century (in fields such as arts, sciences, languages, philosophy) and to present them to the people, in order to fight ignorance and obscurantism. During that same century, Charles Perrault was a prolific writer of famous children's fairy tales including Puss in Boots, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty and Bluebeard. At the start of the 19th century, symbolist poetry was an important movement in French literature, with poets such as Charles Baudelaire, Paul Verlaine and Stéphane Mallarmé.
The 19th century saw the writings of many renowned French authors. Victor Hugo is sometimes seen as "the greatest French writer of all times" for excelling in all literary genres. The preface of his play Cromwell is considered to be the manifesto of the Romantic movement. Les Contemplations and La Légende des siècles are considered as "poetic masterpieces", Hugo's verse having been compared to that of Shakespeare, Dante and Homer. His novel Les Misérables is widely seen as one of the greatest novel ever written and The Hunchback of Notre Dame has remained immensely popular.
Other major authors of that century include Alexandre Dumas (The Three Musketeers and The Count of Monte-Cristo), Jules Verne (Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea), Émile Zola(Les Rougon-Macquart), Honoré de Balzac (La Comédie humaine), Guy de Maupassant, Théophile Gautier and Stendhal (The Red and the Black, The Charterhouse of Parma), whose works are among the most well known in France and the world.
The Prix Goncourt is a French literary prize first awarded in 1903. Important writers of the 20th century include Marcel Proust, Louis-Ferdinand Céline, Albert Camus, and Jean-Paul Sartre. Antoine de Saint Exupéry wrote Little Prince, which has remained popular for decades with children and adults around the world. As of 2014, French authors had more Literature Nobel Prizes than those of any other nation. The first Nobel Prize in Literature was a French author, while France's latest Nobel prize in literature is Patrick Modiano, who was awarded the prize in 2014. Jean-Paul Sartre was also the first nominee in the committee's history to refuse the prize in 1964.
Medieval philosophy was dominated by Scholasticism until the emergence of Humanism in the Renaissance. Modern philosophy began in France in the 17th century with the philosophy of René Descartes, Blaise Pascal, and Nicolas Malebranche. Descartes revitalised Western philosophy, which had been declined after the Greek and Roman eras. His Meditations on First Philosophy changed the primary object of philosophical thought and raised some of the most fundamental problems for foreigners such as Spinoza, Leibniz, Hume, Berkeley, and Kant.
During the 18th century, French philosophers produced one of the most important works of the Age of Enlightenment. In The Spirit of the Laws, Baron de Montesquieu theorised the principle of separation of powers, which has been implemented in all liberal democracies since it was first applied in the United States. In The Social Contract, Jean-Jacques Rousseau openly criticised the European divine right monarchies and strongly affirmed the principle of the sovereignty of the people. Voltairecame to embody the Enlightenment with his defence of civil liberties, such as the right to a free trial and freedom of religion.
19th-century French thought was targeted at responding to the social malaise following the French Revolution. Rationalist philosophers such as Victor Cousin and Auguste Comte, who called for a new social doctrine, were opposed by reactionary thinkers such as Joseph de Maistre, Louis de Bonald and Lamennais, who blamed the rationalist rejection of traditional order. De Maistre is considered, together with the Englishman Edmund Burke, one of the founders of European conservatism, while Comte is regarded as the founder of positivism and sociology.
In the early 20th century, French spiritualist thinkers such as Maine de Biran, Henri Bergsonand Louis Lavelle influenced Anglo-Saxon thought, including the Americans Charles Sanders Peirce and William James, and the Englishman Alfred North Whitehead. In the late 20th century, partly influenced by German phenomenology and existentialism, postmodern philosophy began in France, with notable post-structuralist thinkers including Jean-François Lyotard, Jean Baudrillard, Jacques Derrida, Jacques Lacan, Michel Foucault and Gilles Deleuze.
France has a long and varied musical history. It experienced a golden age in the 17th century thanks to Louis XIV, who employed a number of talented musicians and composers in the royal court. The most renowned composers of this period include Marc-Antoine Charpentier, François Couperin, Michel-Richard Delalande, Jean-Baptiste Lully and Marin Marais, all of them composers at the court. After the death of the "Roi Soleil", French musical creation lost dynamism, but in the next century the music of Jean-Philippe Rameau reached some prestige, and today he is still one of the most renowned French composers. Rameau became the dominant composer of French opera and the leading French composer for the harpsichord.
French composers played an important role during the music of the 19th and early 20th century, which is considered to be the Romantic music era. Romantic music emphasised a surrender to nature, a fascination with the past and the supernatural, the exploration of unusual, strange and surprising sounds, and a focus on national identity. This period was also a golden age for operas. French composers from the Romantic era included: Hector Berlioz(best known for his Symphonie fantastique), Georges Bizet (best known for Carmen, which has become one of the most popular and frequently performed operas), Gabriel Fauré (best known for his Pavane, Requiem, and nocturnes), Charles Gounod (best known for his Ave Maria and his opera Faust), Jacques Offenbach (best known for his 100 operettas of the 1850s–1870s and his uncompleted opera The Tales of Hoffmann), Édouard Lalo (best known for his Symphonie espagnole for violin and orchestra and his Cello Concerto in D minor), Jules Massenet (best known for his operas, of which he wrote more than thirty, the most frequently staged are Manon (1884) and Werther (1892)) and Camille Saint-Saëns (he has many frequently-performed works, including The Carnival of the Animals, Danse macabre, Samson and Delilah (Opera), Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso, and his Symphony No. 3 (Organ Symphony)).
Later came precursors of modern classical music. Érik Satie was a key member of the early 20th century Parisian avant-garde, best known for his Gymnopédies. Francis Poulenc's best known works are his piano suite Trois mouvements perpétuels (1919), the ballet Les biches(1923), the Concert champêtre (1928) for harpsichord and orchestra, the opera Dialogues des Carmélites (1957), and the Gloria (1959) for soprano, choir and orchestra. Maurice Ravel and Claude Debussy are the most prominent figures associated with Impressionist music. Debussy was among the most influential composers of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and his use of non-traditional scales and chromaticism influenced many composers who followed.Debussy's music is noted for its sensory content and frequent usage of atonality. The two composers invented new musical forms and new sounds. Ravel's piano compositions, such as Jeux d'eau, Miroirs, Le tombeau de Couperin and Gaspard de la nuit, demand considerable virtuosity. His mastery of orchestration is evident in the Rapsodie espagnole, Daphnis et Chloé, his arrangement of Modest Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition and his orchestral work Boléro (1928).
More recently, at the middle of the 20th century, Maurice Ohana, Pierre Schaeffer and Pierre Boulez contributed to the evolutions of contemporary classical music.
French music then followed the rapid emergence of pop and rock music at the middle of the 20th century. Although English-speaking creations achieved popularity in the country, French pop music, known as chanson française, has also remained very popular. Among the most important French artists of the century are Édith Piaf, Georges Brassens, Léo Ferré, Charles Aznavour and Serge Gainsbourg. Although there are very few rock bands in France compared to English-speaking countries, bands such as Noir Désir, Mano Negra, Niagara, Les Rita Mitsouko and more recently Superbus, Phoenix and Gojira have reached worldwide popularity.
Other French artists with international careers have been popular in several countries, for example female singers Dalida, Mireille Mathieu, Mylène Farmer and Nolwenn Leroy, electronic music pioneers Jean-Michel Jarre, Laurent Garnier and Bob Sinclar, and later Martin Solveig and David Guetta. In the 1990s and 2000s (decade), electronic duos Daft Punk, Justice and Air also reached worldwide popularity and contributed to the reputation of modern electronic music in the world.
Among current musical events and institutions in France, many are dedicated to classical music and operas. The most prestigious institutions are the state-owned Paris National Opera(with its two sites Palais Garnier and Opéra Bastille), the Opéra National de Lyon, the Théâtre du Châtelet in Paris, the Théâtre du Capitole in Toulouse and the Grand Théâtre de Bordeaux. As for music festivals, there are several events organised, the most popular being the Eurockéennes and Rock en Seine. The Fête de la Musique, imitated by many foreign cities, was first launched by the French government in 1982. Major music halls and venues in France include Le Zénith sites present in many cities and other places in Paris (Paris Olympia, Théâtre Mogador, Élysée Montmartre, etc.).
France has historical and strong links with cinema, with two Frenchmen, Auguste and Louis Lumière (known as the Lumière Brothers) having created cinema in 1895. Several important cinematic movements, including the late 1950s and 1960s Nouvelle Vague, began in the country. It is noted for having a particularly strong film industry, due in part to protections afforded by the French government. France remains a leader in filmmaking, as of 2006 producing more films than any other European country. The nation also hosts the Cannes Festival, one of the most important and famous film festivals in the world.
Apart from its strong and innovative film tradition, France has also been a gathering spot for artists from across Europe and the world. For this reason, French cinema is sometimes intertwined with the cinema of foreign nations. Directors from nations such as Poland (Roman Polanski, Krzysztof Kieślowski, and Andrzej Żuławski), Argentina (Gaspar Noé and Edgardo Cozarinsky), Russia (Alexandre Alexeieff, Anatole Litvak), Austria (Michael Haneke), and Georgia (Géla Babluani, Otar Iosseliani) are prominent in the ranks of French cinema. Conversely, French directors have had prolific and influential careers in other countries, such as Luc Besson, Jacques Tourneur, or Francis Veber in the United States.
Although the French film market is dominated by Hollywood, France is the only nation in the world where American films make up the smallest share of total film revenues, at 50%, compared with 77% in Germany and 69% in Japan. French films account for 35% of the total film revenues of France, which is the highest percentage of national film revenues in the developed world outside the United States, compared to 14% in Spain and 8% in the UK. France is in 2013 the 2nd exporter of films in the world after the United States.
Until recently, France had for centuries been the cultural center of the world, although its dominant position has been surpassed by the United States. Subsequently, France takes steps in protecting and promoting its culture, becoming a leading advocate of the cultural exception. The nation succeeded in convincing all EU members to refuse to include culture and audiovisuals in the list of liberalised sectors of the WTO in 1993. Moreover, this decision was confirmed in a voting in the UNESCO in 2005, and the principle of "cultural exception" won an overwhelming victory: 198 countries voted for it, only 2 countries, the U.S and Israel, voted against it.
Fashion has been an important industry and cultural export of France since the 17th century, and modern "haute couture" originated in Paris in the 1860s. Today, Paris, along with London, Milan, and New York City, is considered one of the world's fashion capitals, and the city is home or headquarters to many of the premier fashion houses. The expression Haute couture is, in France, a legally protected name, guaranteeing certain quality standards.
The association of France with fashion and style (French: la mode) dates largely to the reign of Louis XIV when the luxury goods industries in France came increasingly under royal control and the French royal court became, arguably, the arbiter of taste and style in Europe. But France renewed its dominance of the high fashion (French: couture or haute couture) industry in the years 1860–1960 through the establishing of the great couturierhouses such as Chanel, Dior, and Givenchy. The French perfume industry is world leader in its sector and is centered on the town of Grasse.
In the 1960s, the elitist "Haute couture" came under criticism from France's youth culture. In 1966, the designer Yves Saint Laurent broke with established Haute Couture norms by launching a prêt-à-porter ("ready to wear") line and expanding French fashion into mass manufacturing. With a greater focus on marketing and manufacturing, new trends were established by Sonia Rykiel, Thierry Mugler, Claude Montana, Jean-Paul Gaultier and Christian Lacroix in the 1970s and 1980s. The 1990s saw a conglomeration of many French couture houses under luxury giants and multinationals such as LVMH.
According to a BBC poll in 2010, based on 29,977 responses in 28 countries, France is globally seen as a positive influence in the world's affairs: 49% have a positive view of the country's influence, whereas 19% have a negative view. The Nation Brand Index of 2008 suggested that France has the second best international reputation, only behind Germany.
According to a poll in 2011, the French were found to have the highest level of religious tolerance and to be the country where the highest proportion of the population defines its identity primarily in term of nationality and not religion. 69% of French have a favourable view of the US, making France one of the most pro-American countries in the world.
In January 2010, the magazine International Living ranked France as "best country to live in", ahead of 193 other countries, for the fifth year running.
The French Revolution continues to permeate the country's collective memory. The tricolour flag, the anthem "La Marseillaise", and the motto Liberté, egalité, fraternité, defined in Title 1 of the Constitution as national symbols, all emerged during the cultural ferment of the early revolution, along with Marianne, a common national personification. In addition, Bastille Day, the national holiday, commemorates the storming of the Bastille on 14 July 1789.
A common and traditional symbol of the French people is the Gallic rooster. Its origins date back to Antiquity, since the Latin word Gallus meant both "rooster" and "inhabitant of Gaul". Then this figure gradually became the most widely shared representation of the French, used by French monarchs, then by the Revolution and under the successive republican regimes as representation of the national identity, used for some stamps and coins.
French cuisine is renowned for being one of the finest in the world. According to the regions, traditional recipes are different, the North of the country prefers to use butter as the preferred fat for cooking, whereas olive oil is more commonly used in the South. Moreover, each region of France has iconic traditional specialities: Cassoulet in the Southwest, Choucroute in Alsace, Quiche in the Lorraine region, Beef bourguignon in the Bourgogne, provençalTapenade, etc. France's most renowned products are wines,including Champagne, Bordeaux, Bourgogne, and Beaujolais as well as a large variety of different cheeses, such as Camembert, Roquefort and Brie. There are more than 400 different varieties.
A meal often consists of three courses, hors d'œuvre or entrée (introductory course, sometimes soup), plat principal (main course), fromage (cheese course) and/or dessert, sometimes with a salad offered before the cheese or dessert. Hors d'œuvres include terrine de saumon au basilic, lobster bisque, foie gras, French onion soup or a croque monsieur. The plat principal could include a pot au feu or steak frites. The dessert could be mille-feuille pastry, a macaron, an éclair, crème brûlée, mousse au chocolat, crêpes, or Café liégeois.
French cuisine is also regarded as a key element of the quality of life and the attractiveness of France. A French publication, the Michelin guide, awards Michelin stars for excellence to a select few establishments. The acquisition or loss of a star can have dramatic effects on the success of a restaurant. By 2006, the Michelin Guide had awarded 620 stars to French restaurants, at that time more than any other country, although the guide also inspects more restaurants in France than in any other country (by 2010, Japan was awarded as many Michelin stars as France, despite having half the number of Michelin inspectors working there).
In addition to it wine tradition, France is also a major producer of beer. The three main French brewing regions are Alsace (60% of national production), the Nord-Pas-de-Calais and Lorraine. A meal often consists of three courses, hors d'œuvre or entrée (introductory course, sometimes soup), plat principal (main course), fromage (cheese course) or dessert, sometimes with a salad offered before the cheese or dessert
Prehistory (before the 6th century BC)
The oldest traces of human life in what is now France date from approximately 1.8 million years ago.Humans were then confronted by a harsh and variable climate, marked by several glacial eras. Early homonids led a nomadic hunter-gatherer life. France has a large number of decorated caves from the upper Palaeolithic era, including one of the most famous and best preserved: Lascaux (approximately 18,000 BC).
At the end of the last glacial period (10,000 BC), the climate became milder; from approximately 7,000 BC, this part of Western Europe entered the Neolithicera and its inhabitants became sedentary. After strong demographic and agricultural development between the 4th and 3rd millennia, metallurgy appeared at the end of the 3rd millennium, initially working gold, copper and bronze, and later iron. France has numerous megalithic sites from the Neolithic period, including the exceptionally dense Carnac stones site (approximately 3,300 BC).
Antiquity (6th century BC–5th century AD)
In 600 BC, Ionian Greeks, originating from Phocaea, founded the colony of Massalia (present-day Marseille), on the shores of the Mediterranean Sea. This makes it France's oldest city. At the same time, some Gallic Celtic tribes penetrated parts of the current territory of France, and this occupation spread to the rest of France between the 5th and 3rd century BC.
The concept of Gaul emerged at that time; it corresponds to the territories of Celtic settlement ranging between the Rhine, the Atlantic Ocean, the Pyrenees and the Mediterranean. The borders of modern France are roughly the same as those of ancient Gaul, which was inhabited by Celtic Gauls. Gaul was then a prosperous country, of which the southernmost part was heavily subject to Greek and Roman cultural and economic influences.
Around 390 BC the Gallic chieftain Brennus and his troops made their way to Italy through the Alps, defeated the Romans in the Battle of the Allia, and besieged and ransomed Rome. The Gallic invasion left Rome weakened, and the Gauls continued to harass the region until 345 BC when they entered into a formal peace treaty with Rome. But the Romans and the Gauls would remain adversaries for the next several centuries, and the Gauls would continue to be a threat in Italia.
Around 125 BC, the south of Gaul was conquered by the Romans, who called this region Provincia Nostra ("Our Province"), which over time evolved into the name Provence in French. Julius Caesar conquered the remainder of Gaul and overcame a revolt carried out by the Gallic chieftain Vercingetorix in 52 BC. Gaul was divided by Augustus into Roman provinces. Many cities were founded during the Gallo-Roman period, including Lugdunum(present-day Lyon), which is considered the capital of the Gauls. These cities were built in traditional Roman style, with a forum, a theatre, a circus, an amphitheatre and thermal baths. The Gauls mixed with Roman settlers and eventually adopted Roman culture and Romanspeech (Latin, from which the French language evolved). The Roman polytheism merged with the Gallic paganism into the same syncretism.
From the 250s to the 280s AD, Roman Gaul suffered a serious crisis with its fortified bordersbeing attacked on several occasions by barbarians. Nevertheless, the situation improved in the first half of the 4th century, which was a period of revival and prosperity for Roman Gaul. In 312, the emperor Constantin I converted to Christianity. Subsequently, Christians, who had been persecuted until then, increased rapidly across the entire Roman Empire. But, from the beginning of the 5th century, the Barbarian Invasions resumed, and Germanic tribes, such as the Vandals, Suebi and Alans crossed the Rhine and settled in Gaul, Spain and other parts of the collapsing Roman Empire.
Early Middle Ages (5th century–10th century)
At the end of the Antiquity period, ancient Gaul was divided into several Germanic kingdoms and a remaining Gallo-Roman territory, known as the Kingdom of Syagrius. Simultaneously, Celtic Britons, fleeing the Anglo-Saxon settlement of Britain, settled the western part of Armorica. As a result, the Armorican peninsula was renamed Brittany, Celtic culture was revived and independent petty kingdoms arose in this region.
The pagan Franks, from whom the ancient name of "Francie" was derived, originally settled the north part of Gaul, but under Clovis Iconquered most of the other kingdoms in northern and central Gaul. In 498, Clovis I was the first Germanic conqueror after the fall of the Roman Empire to convert to Catholic Christianity, rather than Arianism; thus France was given the title "Eldest daughter of the Church" (French: La fille aînée de l'Église) by the papacy, and French kings would be called "the Most Christian Kings of France" (Rex Christianissimus).
The Franks embraced the Christian Gallo-Roman culture and ancient Gaul was eventually renamed Francia ("Land of the Franks"). The Germanic Franks adopted Romanic languages, except in northern Gaul where Roman settlements were less dense and where Germanic languages emerged. Clovis made Paris his capital and established the Merovingian dynasty, but his kingdom would not survive his death. The Franks treated land purely as a private possession and divided it among their heirs, so four kingdoms emerged from Clovis's: Paris, Orléans, Soissons, and Rheims. The last Merovingian kings lost power to their mayors of the palace (head of household). One mayor of the palace, Charles Martel, defeated an Islamic invasion of Gaul at the Battle of Tours (732) and earned respect and power within the Frankish kingdoms. His son, Pepin the Short, seized the crown of Francia from the weakened Merovingians and founded the Carolingian dynasty. Pepin's son, Charlemagne, reunited the Frankish kingdoms and built a vast empire across Western and Central Europe.
Proclaimed Holy Roman Emperor by Pope Leo III and thus establishing in earnest the French government's longtime historical association with the Catholic Church, Charlemagne tried to revive the Western Roman Empire and its cultural grandeur. Charlemagne's son, Louis I(emperor 814–840), kept the empire united; however, this Carolingian Empire would not survive his death. In 843, under the Treaty of Verdun, the empire was divided between Louis' three sons, with East Francia going to Louis the German, Middle Francia to Lothair I, and West Francia to Charles the Bald. West Francia approximated the area occupied by, and was the precursor, to modern France.
During the 9th and 10th centuries, continually threatened by Viking invasions, France became a very decentralised state: the nobility's titles and lands became hereditary, and the authority of the king became more religious than secular and thus was less effective and constantly challenged by powerful noblemen. Thus was established feudalism in France. Over time, some of the king's vassals would grow so powerful that they often posed a threat to the king. For example, after the Battle of Hastings in 1066, William the Conqueror added "King of England" to his titles, becoming both the vassal to (as Duke of Normandy) and the equal of (as king of England) the king of France, creating recurring tensions.
Late Middle Ages (10th century–15th century)
The Carolingian dynasty ruled France until 987, when Hugh Capet, Duke of France and Count of Paris, was crowned King of the Franks. His descendants—the Capetians, the House of Valois, and the House of Bourbon—progressively unified the country through wars and dynastic inheritance into the Kingdom of France, which was fully declared in 1190 by Philip II Augustus. The French nobility played a prominent role in most Crusades in order to restore Christian access to the Holy Land. French knights made up the bulk of the steady flow of reinforcements throughout the two-hundred-year span of the Crusades, in such a fashion that the Arabs uniformly referred to the crusaders as Franj caring little whether they really came from France.The French Crusaders also imported the French language into the Levant, making French the base of the lingua franca (litt. "Frankish language") of the Crusader states. French knights also comprised the majority in both the Hospital and the Temple orders. The latter, in particular, held numerous properties throughout France and by the 13th century were the principal bankers for the French crown, until Philip IV annihilated the order in 1307. The Albigensian Crusade was launched in 1209 to eliminate the heretical Cathars in the southwestern area of modern-day France. In the end, the Cathars were exterminated and the autonomous County of Toulouse was annexed into the kingdom of France. Later kings expanded their domain to cover over half of modern continental France, including most of the north, centre and west of France. Meanwhile, the royal authority became more and more assertive, centred on a hierarchically conceived society distinguishing nobility, clergy, and commoners.
Charles IV the Fair died without an heir in 1328. Under the rules of the Salic law the crown of France could not pass to a woman nor could the line of kingship pass through the female line. Accordingly, the crown passed to Philip of Valois, a cousin of Charles, rather than through the female line to Charles' nephew, Edward, who would soon become Edward III of England. During the reign of Philip of Valois, the French monarchy reached the height of its medieval power. Philip's seat on the throne was contested by Edward III of England and in 1337, on the eve of the first wave of the Black Death, England and France went to war in what would become known as the Hundred Years' War. The exact boundaries changed greatly with time, but French landholdings of the English Kings remained extensive for decades. With charismatic leaders, such as Joan of Arc and La Hire, strong French counterattacks won back English continental territories. Like the rest of Europe, France was struck by the Black Death; half of the 17 million population of France died.
Early modern period (15th century–1789)
The French Renaissance saw a spectacular cultural development and the first standardisation of the French language, which would become the official language of France and the language of Europe's aristocracy. It also saw a long set of wars, known as the Italian Wars, between the Kingdom of France and the powerful Holy Roman Empire. French explorers, such as Jacques Cartier or Samuel de Champlain, claimed lands in the Americas for France, paving the way for the expansion of the First French colonial empire. The rise of Protestantism in Europe led France to a civil war known as the French Wars of Religion, where, in the most notorious incident, thousands of Huguenots were murdered in the St. Bartholomew's Day massacre of 1572. The Wars of Religion were ended by Henry IV's Edict of Nantes, which granted some freedom of religion to the Huguenots.
Under Louis XIII, the energetic Cardinal Richelieu reinforced the centralisation of the state, royal power and French dominance in Europe, foreshadowing the reign of Louis XIV. During Louis XIV's minority and the regency of Queen Anne and Cardinal Mazarin, a period of trouble known as the Fronde occurred in France, which was at that time at war with Spain. This rebellion was driven by the great feudal lords and sovereign courts as a reaction to the rise of royal power in France.
The monarchy reached its peak during the 17th century and the reign of Louis XIV. By turning powerful feudal lords into courtiers at the Palace of Versailles, Louis XIV's personal power became unchallenged. Remembered for his numerous wars, he made France the leading European power. France became the most populous country in Europe and had tremendous influence over European politics, economy, and culture. French became the most-used language in diplomacy, science, literature and international affairs, and remained so until the 20th century. France obtained many overseas possessions in the Americas, Africa and Asia. Louis XIV also revoked the Edict of Nantes, forcing thousands of Huguenots into exile.
Under Louis XV, Louis XIV's grandson, France lost New France and most of its Indian possessions after its defeat in the Seven Years' War, which ended in 1763. Its European territory kept growing, however, with notable acquisitions such as Lorraine(1766) and Corsica (1770). An unpopular king, Louis XV's weak rule, his ill-advised financial, political and military decisions – as well as the debauchery of his court– discredited the monarchy and arguably led to the French Revolution 15 years after his death.
Louis XVI, Louis XV's grandson, actively supported the Americans, who were seeking their independence from Great Britain (realised in the Treaty of Paris (1783)). The financial crisis that followed France's involvement in the American Revolutionary War was one of many contributing factors to the French Revolution. Much of the Enlightenment occurred in French intellectual circles, and major scientific breakthroughs and inventions, such as the discovery of oxygen (1778) and the first hot air balloon carrying passengers (1783), were achieved by French scientists. French explorers, such as Bougainville and Lapérouse, took part in the voyages of scientific exploration through maritime expeditions around the globe. The Enlightenment philosophy, in which reason is advocated as the primary source for legitimacy and authority, undermined the power of and support for the monarchy and helped pave the way for the French Revolution.
Modern period (1789–1914)
Facing financial troubles, Louis XVI summoned the Estates-General (gathering the three Estates of the realm) in May 1789 to propose solutions to his government. As it came to an impasse, the representatives of the Third Estate formed into a National Assembly, signalling the outbreak of the French Revolution. Fearing that the king would suppress the newly created National Assembly, insurgents stormed the Bastille on 14 July 1789, a date which would become France's National Day.
The absolute monarchy was subsequently replaced by a constitutional monarchy. Through the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, France established fundamental rights for men. The Declaration affirms "the natural and imprescriptible rights of man" to "liberty, property, security and resistance to oppression". Freedom of speech and press were declared, and arbitrary arrests outlawed. It called for the destruction of aristocratic privileges and proclaimed freedom and equal rights for all men, as well as access to public office based on talent rather than birth. While Louis XVI, as a constitutional king, enjoyed popularity among the population, his disastrous flight to Varennes seemed to justify rumours he had tied his hopes of political salvation to the prospects of foreign invasion. His credibility was so deeply undermined that the abolition of the monarchy and establishment of a republic became an increasing possibility.
European monarchies gathered against the new régime, to restore the French absolute monarchy. The foreign threat exacerbated France's political turmoil and deepened the sense of urgency among the various factions and war was declared against Austria on 20 April 1792. Mob violence occurred during the insurrection of 10 August 1792 and the following month. As a result of this violence and the political instability of the constitutional monarchy, the Republic was proclaimed on 22 September 1792.
Louis XVI was convicted of treason and guillotined in 1793. Facing increasing pressure from European monarchies, internal guerrilla wars and counterrevolutions (such as the War in the Vendée or the Chouannerie), the young Republic fell into the Reign of Terror. Between 1793 and 1794, between 16,000 and 40,000 people were executed. In Western France, the civil war between the Bleus ("Blues", supporters of the Revolution) and the Blancs ("Whites", supporters of the Monarchy) lasted from 1793 to 1796 and led to the loss of between 200,000 and 450,000 lives. Both foreign armies and French counter-revolutionaries were crushed and the French Republic survived. Furthermore, it extended greatly its boundaries and established "Sister Republics" in the surrounding countries. As the threat of a foreign invasion receded and France became mostly pacified, the Thermidorian Reaction put an end to Robespierre's rule and to the Terror. The abolition of slavery and male universal suffrage, enacted during this radical phase of the revolution, were cancelled by subsequent governments.
After a short-lived governmental scheme, Napoleon Bonaparte seized control of the Republicin 1799 becoming First Consul and later Emperor of the French Empire (1804–1814/1815). As a continuation of the wars sparked by the European monarchies against the French Republic, changing sets of European Coalitions declared wars on Napoleon's Empire. His armies conquered most of continental Europe with swift victories such as the battles of Jena-Auerstadtor Austerlitz. He redrew the European political map, while members of the Bonaparte family were appointed as monarchs in some of the newly established kingdoms. These victories led to the worldwide expansion of French revolutionary ideals and reforms, such as the Metric system, the Napoleonic Code and the Declaration of the Rights of Man. After the catastrophic Russian campaign, and the ensuing uprising of European monarchies against his rule, Napoleon was defeated and the Bourbon monarchy restored. About a million Frenchmen died during the Napoleonic Wars.
After his brief return from exile, Napoleon was finally defeated in 1815 at the Battle of Waterloo, the monarchy was re-established (1815–1830), with new constitutional limitations. The discredited Bourbon dynasty was overthrown by the July Revolution of 1830, which established the constitutional July Monarchy, which lasted until 1848, when the French Second Republic was proclaimed, in the wake of the European Revolutions of 1848. The abolition of slavery and male universal suffrage, both briefly enacted during the French Revolution were re-enacted in 1848. In 1852, the president of the French Republic, Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte, Napoleon I's nephew, was proclaimed emperor of the second Empire, as Napoleon III. He multiplied French interventions abroad, especially in Crimea, in Mexico and Italy which resulted in the annexation of the duchy of Savoy and the county of Nice, then part of the Kingdom of Sardinia. Napoleon III was unseated following defeat in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870 and his regime was replaced by the Third Republic. France had colonial possessions, in various forms, since the beginning of the 17th century, but in the 19th and 20th centuries, its global overseas colonial empire extended greatly and became the second largest in the world behind the British Empire. Including metropolitan France, the total area of land under French sovereignty almost reached 13 million square kilometres in the 1920s and 1930s, 8.6% of the world's land. Known as the Belle Époque, the turn of the century was a period characterised by optimism, regional peace, economic prosperity and technological, scientific and cultural innovations. In 1905, state secularism was officially established.
Contemporary period (1914–present)
France was a member of the Triple Entente when World War I broke out. A small part of Northern France was occupied, but France and its allies emerged victorious against the Central Powers at a tremendous human and material cost. World War I left 1.4 million French soldiers dead, 4% of its population. Between 27 and 30% of soldiers conscripted from 1912–1915 were killed. The interbellum years were marked by intense international tensions and a variety of social reforms introduced by the Popular Front government(annual leave, eight-hour workdays, women in government, etc...).
In 1940 France was invaded and occupied by Nazi Germany. Metropolitan France was divided into a German occupation zone in the north and Vichy France, a newly established authoritarian regime collaborating with Germany, in the south, while Free France, the government-in-exile led by Charles de Gaulle, was set up in London. From 1942 to 1944, about 160,000 French citizens, including around 75,000 Jews, were deported to death camps and concentration camps in Germany and Poland. On 6 June 1944 the Allies invaded Normandy and in August they invaded Provence. Over the following year the Allies and the French Resistance emerged victorious over the Axis powers and French sovereignty was restored with the establishment of the Provisional Government of the French Republic (GPRF). This interim government, established by de Gaulle, aimed to continue to wage war against Germany and to purge collaborators from office. It also made several important reforms (suffrage extended to women, creation of a social security system).
The GPRF laid the groundwork for a new constitutional order that resulted in the Fourth Republic, which saw spectacular economic growth (les Trente Glorieuses). France was one of the founding members of NATO (1949). France attempted to regain control of French Indochina but was defeated by the Viet Minh in 1954 at the climactic Battle of Dien Bien Phu. Only months later, France faced another anti-colonialist conflict in Algeria. Torture and illegal executions were perpetrated by both sides and the debate over whether or not to keep control of Algeria, then home to over one million European settlers, wracked the country and nearly led to a coup and civil war.
In 1958, the weak and unstable Fourth Republic gave way to the Fifth Republic, which included a strengthened Presidency. In the latter role, Charles de Gaulle managed to keep the country together while taking steps to end the war. The Algerian War was concluded with the Évian Accords in 1962 that led to Algerian independence. A vestige of the colonial empire are the French overseas departments and territories.
In the context of the Cold War, de Gaulle pursued a policy of "national independence" towards the Western and Eastern blocs. To this end, he withdrew from NATO's military integrated command, he launched a nuclear development programme and made France the fourth nuclear power. He restored cordial Franco-German relations in order to create a European counterweight between the American and Soviet spheres of influence. However, he opposed any development of a supranational Europe, favouring a Europe of sovereign Nations. In the wake of the series of worldwide protests of 1968, the revolt of May 1968 had an enormous social impact. In France, it is considered to be the watershed moment when a conservative moral ideal (religion, patriotism, respect for authority) shifted towards a more liberal moral ideal (secularism, individualism, sexual revolution). Although the revolt was a political failure (as the Gaullist party emerged even stronger than before) it announced a split between the French people and de Gaulle who resigned shortly after.
In the post-Gaullist era, France remained one of the most developed economies in the World, but faced several economic crises that resulted in high unemployment rates and increasing public debt. In the late 20th and early 21st centuries France has been at the forefront of the development of a supranational European Union, notably by signing the Maastricht Treaty (which created the European Union) in 1992, establishing the Eurozone in 1999, and signing the Lisbon Treaty in 2007. France has also gradually but fully reintegrated into NATO and has since participated in most NATO sponsored wars.
Since the 19th century France has received many immigrants. These have been mostly male foreign workers from European Catholic countries who generally returned home when not employed. During the 1970s France faced economic crisis and allowed new immigrants (mostly from the Maghreb) to permanently settle in France with their families and to acquire French citizenship. It resulted in hundreds of thousands of Muslims (especially in the larger cities) living in subsidised public housing and suffering from very high unemployment rates. Simultaneously France renounced the assimilation of immigrants, where they were expected to adhere to French traditional values and cultural norms. They were encouraged to retain their distinctive cultures and traditions and required merely to integrate.
Since the 1995 Paris Métro and RER bombings, France has been sporadically targeted by Islamist organisations, notably the Charlie Hebdo attack in January 2015 which provoked the largest public rallies in French history, gathering 4.4 million people, the November 2015 Paris attacks which resulted in 130 deaths, the deadliest attack on French soil since World War II, and the deadliest in the European Union since the Madrid train bombings in 2004 and the 2016 Nice attack which caused 87 deaths during Bastille Day celebrations.
At the restaurant
At French restaurants, as in other parts of Europe, it is considered impolite to have one's elbows on the table, but it is also considered impolite to leave food on your plate or lay one's hand in the lap while eating. When consuming beverages such as Coca-Cola, it is seen as almost outlandish to drink directly from the bottle. In fact, even some of the museum cafeterias provide a plastic cup for you to drink from. If you are given a glass or a cup with your beverage, use it.
Avoid asking for ketchup or barbecue sauce on your food. The French people are very proud of their cuisine and as ketchup masks the taste of good food, asking for it and pouring it on your fries is considered rude.
On the Métro
The Métro subway system is a great way to get around Paris (or Lyon, Marseille, et al.), a fact which is readily apparent by the throngs of people that use it to get to work, school, and the like. If you do not ride the train at home, or if you come from a place that doesn't have a subway system, there are certain points of etiquette that you may not be aware of:
- When boarding at the station, let those exiting the train step off onto the platform before boarding, and once aboard move to the centre of the car.
- If you have luggage, move it as far out of the path of others as possible.
- Certain stations have moving walkways to cover the distances between platforms - walk on the left and stand on the right!
- Finally, do note that the doors on French subway cars don't generally open automatically once the train has stopped at the station; rather, most cars have a small button or lever on the doors that opens them. If you should happen to be standing near the door in a crowded car you might hear someone behind you say "la porte, s'il vous plait," which means that person would like to get off the train and is asking you to open the door for him/her. Pop the door open and step aside (or down onto the platform) while that person exits the train - the driver will wait for you to get back on.
It is considered very rude to be loud in a crowded place, such as in a metro car or at a restaurant. Keep in mind that, though you may be enjoying your holiday, most people around you on the métro or in other places are probably going about their daily lives and may be tired and thus will react very coldly to tourists babbling at the top of their lungs.
In many shops in France, you must ask the shopkeeper to take items from the shelf, as opposed to picking them for yourself. This applies in liquor or wine stores, some clothing stores, etc. Failure to respect this policy might result in confused and/or angered reactions from the shopkeeper.
Dress codes are fast disappearing, but if you want to avoid looking like a tourist, then avoid white trainers, baseball caps, tracksuit pants, shorts and flip-flops (except at the beach). Generally speaking, business casual dress code is sufficient in cities and in all but the most formal occasions.
The usual courtesy applies when entering churches, and although you may not be asked to leave, it is better to avoid short pants and halter tops. Men should remove any headgear when inside a church, contrary to when visiting a synagogue or mosque when you may be given a hat or headscarf to wear.
Some restaurants will frown if you come in dressed for trekking but very few will insist upon a jacket and tie. You may be surprised by the number of French twenty-somethings who show up at a grungy bar in jacket and tie, even if obviously from a thrift-shop.
Beaches and swimming pools (in hotels) are used for getting a tan. Taking off your bra will not usually create a stir if you don't mind a bevy of oglers. Taking off the bottom part is reserved to designated nude beaches. People on beaches are usually not offended by a young boy or girl undressed. Most resort cities insist on your wearing a shirt when leaving the beach area. Many pools will not allow baggy or "board" swim trunks, insisting on snug fitting speedo type trunks.
Breastfeeding in public is very rare but nobody will mind if you do.
How to address people ("Tu and vous")
|L'anglais et les Français|
While most people in France have studied English, they are often unable or unwilling to use it. This is not necessarily linguistic snobbery and politeness is much appreciated from visitors, and you will find the liberal use of Excusez-moi ("Excuse me"), S'il vous plaît ("please") and Merci ("thank you") will go a long way. You should always politely ask the person if they speak English — "Parlez-vous anglais?"'
The French language has two different forms of the pronoun "you" that are used when addressing someone in the second person. "Tu" is the second-person singular and "vous" is nominally the second-person plural. However, in many situations, French speakers will use "vous" for the second-person singular. While one will use "vous" to address a group of people no matter what the circumstances, non-native speakers will invariably have some difficulty when trying to determine whether to address a person with the informal and friendly "tu" or the formal and respectful "vous." The language even has two special verbs reflecting this difference: "tutoyer" (to address a person using "tu"), and "vouvoyer" (to address a person using "vous"), each of them carrying their own connotations and implications. Unfortunately, the rules as to when to use which form can sometimes seem maddeningly opaque to the non-native French speaker.
Generally speaking, one will only use the "tu" form to address someone in an informal situation where there is familiarity or intimacy between the two parties. For example, "tu" is used when addressing a close friend or spouse, or when an adult child is addressing a parent. "Tu" is also used in situations where the other party is very young, such as a parent speaking to a child or a schoolteacher to a student.
In contrast, "vous" is used in situations where the parties are not familiar, or where it is appropriate to convey respect and/or deference. For example, an office worker might use "tu" to address co-workers that he works closely with, but he would probably use "vous" when speaking to the receptionist whom he rarely talks to. He certainly wouldn't use "tu" when speaking with his boss. In that same vein, police officers and other authorities should alwaysbe addressed with "vous."
If that's confusing the key thing to remember is that it's all about distance. For example, a bartender is vous up until the moment that he or she gives you a complementary drink, at which point tu becomes more appropriate, and the use of vous would be a bit ungrateful and off-putting.
For foreigners, the best way to deal with the "tu" / "vous" problem is to address people using "vous" until invited to say "tu", or until addressed by your first name. Doing so will look perhaps a shade old fashioned, but always respectful. In most cases, if French is not your native language most French people will overlook any such overly formal and polite language without thinking much about it anyway. Doing the opposite can be pretty rude and embarrassing in some situations, so it's probably best to err on the side of caution.
Simplified: Use vous unless:
- the person is genuinely your friend;
- the person is under 16; or
- you've been explicitly told to use "tu"
If talking to someone you don't know well enough to use tu with, you should always address them initially as Monsieur (for a man) or Madame / Mademoiselle (for a woman) - the issue doesn't arise with children, who are always tu. Bonjour Monsieur (for instance, on entering a shop with a male shopkeeper) is much more polite than just bonjour. But this creates further complications when addressing women. Traditionally, Madame is used to address married women, and Mademoiselle for younger and/or unmarried women. However, many find the practice to be sexist, and unless you know someone prefers to be addressed as Mademoiselleit's better to use Madame. Addressing a waiter as garçon (boy) is very rude (despite what you may have seen in films).
As a general rule, debates, discussions, and friendly arguments are something that the French enjoy, but there are certain topics that should be treated more delicately or indirectly than others:
Politics: French people have a wide variety of opinions about many subjects. Unless you really follow French news closely, you should probably steer clear of discussing internal French politics, especially sensitive issues such as immigration - you may come across as judgmental and uninformed. Reading French newspapers to get a feel for the wide spectrum of political opinions in France – from the revolutionary left to the nationalistic right – may help. That said, don't be discouraged from engaging in political discussions with French people, just be aware of the position that being a foreigner puts you in. Also, it is considered to be quite rude to ask a person point-blank about which candidate he/she voted for in the last election (or will vote for in the next); instead, talk about the issues and take it from there.
Religion: The French are not very religious, and expect you to be so as well. Expressing your religious feelings might make people feel uneasy. It is also generally considered impolite to ask someone of what religion he/she is or other personal issues.
Money: You should also avoid presenting yourself through your possessions (house, car, etc.). It is considered to be quite crass to discuss your salary, or to ask someone else directly about theirs. Instead express your enthusiasm about how great are the responsibilities, or how lucky you were to get there, etc.
City / Rural Differences: While it is true that roughly 1/6th of the country's population lives in the Paris region, don't make the mistake of reducing France to Paris or assuming that all French people act like Parisians. Life in Paris can be closer to life in London or New York City than in the rest of France; just as New Yorkers or Londoners might act and feel differently than people from, say, people from Oklahoma or Herefordshire, so might Parisian customs and opinions differ from those found "en province."
Stay safe / healthy
Crime-related emergencies can be reported to the toll-free number 17 or 112 (European emergency telephone number). Law enforcement agencies are the National Police (Police nationale) in urban areas and the Gendarmerie nationale in the countryside, though for minor crimes such as parking and traffic offences some towns and villages also have a municipal police force (Police municipale).
France generally has low crime rates and is one of the safest countries in the world, but large cities are plagued with the usual woes. Violent crime against visitors is very rare, but there is pickpocketing and purse-snatching in tourist hot-spots. If the usual precautions against this are taken, your valuables and you will be safe.
The inner city areas and a few select suburbs are usually safe at all hours. In large cities, especially Paris, there are a few areas which are better to avoid. Parts of the suburbs are hives of youth gang-related activities and drug dealing; however these are almost always far from tourist areas and you should have no reason to visit them. Common sense applies: it is very easy to spot derelict areas.
The subject of crime in the poorer suburbs is very touchy as it may easily have racist overtones, since many people associate it with working-class youth of North African origin. You should probably not express any opinion on the issue, unless you feel comfortable with the person with whom you're talking.
While it is not compulsory for French citizens to carry identification, they usually do so. Foreigners should carry some kind of official identity document. Although random checks are not the norm, you may be asked for ID in some kinds of situations, for example if you cannot show a valid ticket when using public transportation; not having one in such cases will result in you being taken to a police station for further checks. Even if you feel that law enforcement officers have no right to check your identity (they can do so only in certain circumstances), it is a bad idea to enter a legal discussion with them; it is better to put up with it and show your ID. Again, the subject is sensitive as the police have often been accused of targeting people according to criteria of ethnicity (e.g. délit de sale gueule = literally "crime of a dirty face" but perhaps equivalent to the American "driving while black.")
Due to the international threat of terrorism, police with the help of military units, often patrol monuments, the Paris Metro, train stations and airports. Depending on the status of the "Vigipirate" plan (anti terrorist units) it is not uncommon to see armed patrols in those areas. The presence of police should be of help to tourists, as it also deters pickpockets and the like. However, suspicious behaviour, public disturbances etc., may attract police officers' attention for the wrong reasons.
In France, failing to offer assistance to 'a person in danger' is a criminal offence in itself. This means that if you fail to stop upon witnessing a motor accident, fail to report such an accident to emergency services, or ignore appeals for help or urgent assistance, you may be charged. Penalties include suspended prison sentence and fines. The law does not apply in situations where answering an appeal for help might endanger your life or the lives of others.
Carrying or using narcotic substances, from marijuana to hard drugs, is illegal whatever the quantity. The penalty can be severe especially if you are suspected of dealing. Trains and cars coming from countries which have a more lenient attitude (such as the Netherlands) are especially targeted. Police have often been known to stop entire coaches and search every passenger and their bags thoroughly.
France has a liberal policy with respect to alcohol; there are usually no ID checks for purchasing alcohol (unless you look much younger than 18). However, causing problems due to public drunkenness is a misdemeanor and may result in a night spent in the cells of a police station. Drunk driving is a severe offence and may result in heavy fines and jail sentences.
A little etiquette note: while it is common to drink beer straight from the bottle at informal meetings, doing the same with wine is normally only done by tramps (clochards).
Tap water (eau du robinet) is drinkable, except in rare cases such as in rural rest areas and sinks in railway carriage toilets, in which case it will be clearly signposted as eau non potable. Eau potable is drinkable water (you may, however, not like the taste and prefer bottled water).
Health care in France is of a very high standard.
Pharmacies are denoted by a green cross, usually in flashing neon. They sell medicine, contraceptives, and often beauty and related products (though these can be very expensive). Medicines must be ordered from the counter, even non-prescription medicines. The pharmacist is able to help you about various medicines and propose you generic drugs.
Since drug brand names vary across countries even though the effective ingredients stay the same, it is better to carry prescriptions using the international nomenclature in addition to the commercial brand name. Prescription drugs, including oral contraceptives (aka "the pill"), will only be delivered if a doctor's prescription is shown.
In addition, supermarkets sell condoms (préservatifs) and also often personal lubricant, bandages, disinfectant and other minor medical items. Condom machines are often found in bar toilets, etc.
Medical treatment can be obtained from self-employed physicians, clinics and hospitals. Most general practitioners, specialists (e.g. gynaecologists), and dentists are self-employed; look for signs saying Docteur (médecin généraliste means general practitioner). The normal price for a consultation with a general practitioner is €23, though some physicians charge more (this is the full price and not a co-payment). Physicians may also do home calls, but these are more expensive.
Residents of the European Union are covered by the French social security system, which will reimburse or directly pay for 70% of health expenses (30% co-payment) in general, though many physicians and surgeons apply surcharges. Other travellers are not covered and will be billed the full price, even when at a public hospital; non-EU travellers should have travel insurance covering medical costs.
Hospitals will have an emergency room signposted Urgences.
The following numbers are toll-free:
- 15 Medical emergencies
- 17 Law enforcement emergencies (for e.g. reporting a crime)
- 18 Firefighters
- 112 European standard emergency number.
Operators at these numbers can transfer requests to other services if needed (e.g. some medical emergencies may be answered by firefighter groups).
Smoking is prohibited by law in all enclosed spaces accessible to the public (this includes train and metro cars, and station enclosures, workplaces, restaurants and cafés) unless in areas specifically designated for smoking, and there are few of these. There was an exception for restaurants and cafés, but since the 1st January 2008, the smoking ban is also enforced in those locations. You may face a fine of €68 if you are found smoking in these places.
As well as police officers, metro and train conductors can and do enforce the anti-smoking law and will fine you for smoking in non-designated places; if you encounter problems with a smoker in train, you may go find the conductor.
As hotels are not considered public places, some offer smoking and non-smoking rooms.
Only people over the age of 18 may purchase tobacco products. Shopkeepers may request a photo ID. A pack of 20 cigarettes costs around €6.