About Practical information
Getting there by air
Paris is the main gateway city for air travellers to France with two international airports: Roissy-Charles de Gaulle (23 km NE), and Orly (14 km S). There are regular direct or one-stop flights from numerous U.S. centres; most direct flights from Canada are ex-Toronto. The French international airline UTA operates a service between Sydney and Paris. From the U.K., and other European countries, there are also direct flights to several French regional airports such as Bordeaux, Lyon, Nice and Toulouse.
It is worth shopping around for reduced fares such as Apex (booked at least two weeks in advance), and charter deals. There is often a discount for flying mid-week and staying a minimum number of nights. Some long-haul travellers may find it cheaper to fly via low-cost European destinations such as London.
France’s national train service, the SNCF (Société Nationale des Chemin de Fer Fran͵cais), and other European train networks operate rail links and motor rail services between many European cities. (For details of special deals within France, see Getting Around, page 20.) Boat trains from London’s Victoria Station depart regularly throughout the day for Dover, Folkestone and Newhaven to connect with ferry, hovercraft and Seacat crossings, and onward train services.
Travel between the U.K. and France was revolutionized with the opening of the Eurotunnel in 1995. Actually three tunnels, one carrying rail traffic in each direction and a service tunnel, it has slashed travel times and, on the whole, earned more fans than detractors despite teething troubles with the foot passenger Eurostar services.
Eurostar high-speed rail services between London Waterloo and Paris (3 hours) depart several times a day; there are also daily London-Brussels services which travel via Lille (2 hours) where passengers can make connections with TGV or overnight trains to destinations throughout France.
Le Shuttle, the car-carrying train service between Folkestone and Calais, operates 24 hours a day, every day, with up to four services an hour at peak times. The journey takes 35 minutes (45 minutes at night) platform to platform, or an hour from motorway to motorway. Passengers travel with their vehicles in double-decker carriages, but may get out and stretch their legs and use the toilet facilities. Most 4WD-vehicles and camper vans can now be accommodated in single-decker carriages, but check in advance of travel. Tickets are purchased in advance from travel agents or direct from Le Shuttle; or bought at toll booths on arrival at the terminals which also provide shopping and restaurant facilities. Fares are cheaper between 2200-0600hrs; return tickets are valid for up to a year unless otherwise stated.Access to le Shuttle in Britain is signposted from M20 Junction 11a at Folkestone and in France from the A16 Junction 13 at Calais. Passport and customs checks are completed before boarding, so you can drive straight off at the other end.
The shortest Channel crossings between mainland U.K. and northern France are those linking Dover (ferry or hovercraft) with Calais; Folkestone (Seacat high-speed catamaran) with Boulogne. The fastest crossings are Dover-Calais (35-40 minutes by hovercraft) and Folkestone-Boulogne (55-60 minutes by Seacat). There are also services between Newhaven and Dieppe (by Super Seacat, daily in summer, weekends only in winter); Portsmouth and Caen/Cherbourg/Le Havre/Saint-Malo; Plymouth and Roscoff; and Poole or Weymouth with Saint-Malo via the Channel Islands. From Eire, there are year-round ferry services between Rosslare and Cher-bourg/Le Havre; and summer-only crossings between Cork and Le Havre/Roscoff. Special deals range from discounted three- and five-day breaks to off-season bargains. Book well in advance for summer holidays.
GETTING AROUND FRANCE
Most of France’s 8,000 km autoroute (motorway) network is privately funded and toll booths (péages) collect dues at regular intervals. These can be costly on a long journey such as Calais-Menton (1,221 km), where tolls will add up to around 488F. If you do not have the correct change, credit cards are accepted.
Motorways aside, N-roads form the main national route system, though many of the secondary D-roads have been upgraded (some in name alone). These can become congested in summer, especially in the north on roads to the Channel ports. During the French annual holidays, and from mid-July to September 1, even the autoroutes can grind to a standstill. The French Ministry of Transport provides maps indicating congested routes and major road works with tips on how to avoid them. Known as Bison Futé (wily buffalo), these maps are available free from petrol stations. If you are looking for scenery, roads edged by a green line on maps represent particularly attractive routes.
Petrol (gas) is sold by the litre in France. Unleaded petrol is widely available, as is diesel (gasoil) but LPG can be difficult to find off the motorways. LPG motorway service stations can provide free LPG location maps.
Car hire is expensive in France, so check out possible fly-drive deals through any of the major rental companies such as Avis, Budget and Hertz, all of whom operate in France.
The SNCF offers convenient rail-drive rentals from around 200 destinations in France. For touring holidays of three weeks or more, it is worth investigating leasing options such as Renault’s Eurodrive scheme, a purchase/resale plan, which has the additional advantage of being tax-free to non-European citizens.
Regulations The French drive on the right. Drivers of left-hand drive cars are obliged to have their headlight beams adjusted for driving on the right. Speed limits are posted at 130 kph on toll roads, 110 kph on two-lane highways, 90 kph on lesser roads, and 50 kph or less in built-up areas. Fines for speeding (minimum 900F) and drink-driving (900-30,000F) are extracted in cash on the spot. The lethal priorité à droite rule is being phased out, but still applies in some urban districts: you must give way to drivers coming out of a side turning on the right. Traffic circles are the exception. Seatbelts must be worn in the front and the back of the car and under-IOs may not travel in the front unless strapped into an approved back-facing baby seat.
Taxis These have illuminated signs on their roofs and can only be picked up from taxi ranks (stations de taxi) or summoned by telephone. Check that the taxi has a meter before entering. The pick-up charge is around 13F (more from a railway station), and the rate per kilometre starts at around 3F (more in the provinces).
Air Inter is the main domestic carrier serving 30 major business and holiday destinations. Air travel is expensive, though Air France does offer discounts for foreign travellers in possession of an international air ticket, and the France Pass for North American visitors. Check with your travel agent.
There are few long-distance bus routes in France, but local routes operated by the SNCF (French railways) link most notable destinations by-passed by the extensive rail network (see below). SNCF buses leave from the railway station, and major bus stations in large towns are usually located nearby. SNCF bus timetables will be posted at the station, or ask for advice and details of other local services at tourist offices (S.I.).
The SNCF (Société Nationale des Chemins de Fer Fran͵cais) operates the most technically advanced train system in the world. Its 33,000 km of track links over 2,000 destinations. Services are frequent, punctual and fast: on major routes, high-speed trains (TGV) streak across the country at speeds of up to 300 kph.
If you plan to travel the rail network extensively there are a variety of good value rail passes available. For visitors normally resident outside Europe, the Eurail Pass provides a flexible, economic and practical means of unlimited travel throughout France and continental Europe; as does the more restricted (but significantly cheaper) EuroPass. Both passes offer valuable discounts for youth travellers and should be purchased before leaving home (see the list of overseas SNCF representatives below).
French hotels are officially graded from one to four stars on their facilities (not character), and their category is advertised by a blue tin sign with the appropriate number of red stars. There is a wide choice of accommodation styles, and prices are still reasonable by European standards. Local tourist offices (syndicats d’initiative, addresses given throughout this guide) can assist with information and bookings.
The French Government Tourist Office (FGTO) can provide accommodation lists and details of organizations such as Logis de France with its country-wide network of recommended family-run hotels (mostly in the one- to two-star categories); and Gîtes de France which lists 1,650 self-catering properties in rural areas. During the summer season, numerous private houses, from the small to the very grand, open up their spare rooms and post signs offering Chambres d’Hôte. Quality varies dramatically (ask to see the room first) and facilities are likely to be simple, but this is often a cheap and friendly way to get bed-and-break-fast.
Camping: The Fédération Fran͵cais de Camping et Caravanning, 78 rue Rivoli, 75004 Paris, lists more than 11,000 approved campsites in their official guide. The sites are rated from one to four stars and range from out-of-the-way country farms to beach-front tented cities. The FGTO publishes loads of practical information and details of how to obtain the FFCC guide abroad.
Banks and currency exchange
Banks are open Monday to Friday 9am to noon and 2 until 4pm. Some open on Saturday mornings and close on Monday mornings; many close early before bank holidays. Bureaux de change keep longer hours and can usually be located at main railway stations. Tourist offices will have details, and some have their own currency exchange facilities.
If your car does not have hazard lights, a red warning triangle must be posted behind (it is sensible to use both). Emergency telephones are posted at 2-km intervals on autoroutes. These connect you with rescue services via the traffic police. On other roads, get help from a local garage or call the emergency number provided by your motoring insurance.
Drinking and smoking regulations
Alcohol is served from breakfast until closing in bars and cafes, but drink-driving laws are strictly enforced by breathalizers, on-the-spot fines and worse. It is also worth remembering, despite the tariff posted in every drinking establishment, that you will pay less at the bar, more at a table, and even more on the terrace.
The most recent government anti-smoking campaign is backed up with compulsory non-smoking sections in all restaurants and cafés. Draconian fines are levied on the patron and customers who transgress; many small, single dining-room establishments have had to ban smokers altogether.
As in most of Europe, French voltage is 220v 50AC; plugs are two-pronged. Take an adaptor for foreign electrical appliances.
For the police, dial 17; fire service, dial 18; ambulance service (SAMU) dial 15. See also Medical matters, below.
Foreign visitors should read the instructions which come with their travellers cheques: they explain exactly how to replace them if lost or stolen. Lost travel documents must be reported to the police. Lost or stolen credit cards should of course be reported to the issuing company.
Inform the ticket office about items lost on public transport; property found on the Paris Métro (underground or subway) may end up at the end of the line, where it can be collected. In Paris, lost property is held at the Bureau des Objets Trouvés, 36 rue des Morillons, Paris 15e; tel. 01 55 76 20 20 (open Monday to Friday). Remember to get a statement from the police in order to validate any insurance claim.
France operates on the metric system: One litre = 1.7 pints (1 imperial gallon = 4.54 litres; 1 US gallon = 3.73 litres).
One kilogramme (1,000 grams) = 2.2 lbs.
One kilometre (1,000 metres) = 0.62 mile.
Local hospitals are generally well signposted (Centre Hospitaller). For non-emergency medical problems, there are chemists or drugstores (pharmacies) marked by a green cross. After hours they post the name of the nearest 24-hour duty pharmacie and doctor on the door; the police can also advise.
Banks: see above, under Banks and currency exchange. Museums and tourist attractions: see Conventions Used in this Guide, page 12.
Post offices are open Monday to Friday 8am-7pm, Saturday 8am-noon.
Food shops are generally open 7am-6.30 or 7.30pm; some open on Sunday mornings, and most are closed all or for half the day on Monday. Hyper-markets open Monday to Saturday 9 am-10pm, though many close Monday morning. Other shops open Monday to Saturday 9 or 10am until 6.30 or 7.30pm; many close all-day or half the day on Monday. Shops in small towns often close for lunch (noon to 2pm). In the south of France, many shops take a siesta between noon or 1pm and 3 or 4pm, and stay open later in the evening.
Post and telephone
Post offices (PTT – pey-tey-tey) are marked by a blue and yellow sign. For opening times, see above.
Main post offices will hold mail addressed to individuals on the move until collected in person. The envelope should carry the name of the recipient, the words Poste restante, and the name of the place where the main post office is situated. The person collecting the mail pays a small fee (take identification).
Post offices also have cabines or booths in which you make telephone calls, paying afterwards. Stamps can also be bought from tobacconists (tabacs) and newsagents.
In October 1996, the French telephone system was revised so that all French telephone numbers now have ten digits. The country has been divided into five regions, each with the two-digit prefix. The area code for Paris is now 01; for numbers to the north-west, dial 02; for the north-east, dial 03; for the south-east, dial 04; and for the south-west, dial 05. When calling from abroad, omit the initial 0 of the prefix.
For international calls, dial 00 then add the country code, followed by the subscriber’s number omitting the initial zero of the area code. To make a collect call (PCV – pey-sey-vey) call the international operator on 00 33, followed by the country code. Public telephones marked with a blue bell can receive incoming calls.
Most public telephones now take phonecards (télécartes) which can be bought at post offices, tobacconists (tabacs) and newsagents. It is cheaper to call EC countries between 10.30pm to 8am on weekdays, and at weekends after 2pm on Saturday; for cheap rates to the U.S. and Canada, call between noon to 2pm and 8pm to 2am on weekdays, and on Sunday afternoons.
January 1; Easter Day; Easter Monday; Ascension Thursday; Labour Day, May 1; VE-Day, May 8; Whit Monday; Bastille Day, July 14; Assumption Day, August 15; All Saints’ Day, November 1; Remembrance Day, November 11; Christmas Day.
France is one hour ahead of the U.K., (G.M.T. plus one) and six hours ahead of U.S. Eastern Standard Time. Clocks go forward one hour for daylight saving from the last Sunday of March to the last Sunday of September.
Baggage porters, 5F per item (in addition to usual charge); cinema usherettes, 2F; hairdressers, 10 per cent; taxi drivers, 10-15 per cent; tour guides, 5F per person; waiters (service is generally included, if not) 10 to 15 per cent.
Tourist offices offer a mass of information on local attractions, events and accommodation, and can also help with hotel reservations (usually for a small fee).
In major cities, the Office de Tourisme will be well-signposted and probably open seven days a week during the summer season. In smaller towns, local tourist offices may close for the winter as well as on Sundays and Monday mornings.
Food, wine and eating out
Food and wine
Cooking is an art in France, and great chefs can enjoy the star status reserved for screen idols elsewhere. No other country displays such a passionate interest in food, and in the techniques of its culinary champions.
There are three main culinary styles in French cooking: classical, nouvelle and regional. The former, with its complex techniques for rich and varied sauces, delicate soufflés and intricate pâtisseries forms the basis of all other styles. Nouvelle cuisine, developed in the late 1960s and 70s, coincided with the move towards healthier eating and replaced the large portions and creamy sauces of traditional cooking with fresher, lighter combinations designed to maximize texture and flavour; presentation is elegant and stylized. Several nouvelle cuisine dishes have become classics in their own right, including magret de canard (lightly sautéed duck breast served with a reduced wine or fruit sauce). Few restaurants now serve exclusively nouvelle or classical dishes, but a mixture of the two.
The current trend favours whole some and interesting regional dishes. Today’s rising chefs are going back to their roots. Not just parsnips and turnips, but old regional recipes are dug out, dusted off and given a new and tempting look.
Wine is an intrinsic part of French cuisine, and sometimes an essential ingredient. It is of course a huge subject; here are some basic principles:
The chilled white wines of the Loire (for example Muscadet and Saumur) make wonderful company for fish and shellfish; so do white Bordeaux, Burgundy or Chablis. A light Beaujolais gets my vote (though a few raised eyebrows) with heartier fish dishes.
Meat and game dishes are typically complemented by the big reds of Bordeaux and Burgundy; but don’t ignore sun-baked Côtes du Rhone, and the lesser-known regional wines of the Ardèche, the Dordogne, Languedoc-Roussillon and the Côtes du Ventoux, where standards are being raised with every vintage.
The most delectable golden pudding wines come from Sauternes, south-east of Bordeaux, but there are also Monbazillac from the Dordogne, Beaumes-de-Venise from the Rhone Valley and Prestige d’Automne from the Pyrenean Juracon region.
Spirits are many and varied, from the grape derivatives cognac, armagnac and fiery marc (distilled from the final pressings of grape pulp) to calvados (apple brandy) and eau de vie which is essentially alcohol flavoured with fruits or herbs.
It should come as no surprise that eating out is a national pastime. French restaurants post a copy of the menu outside, which in addition to à la carte choices usually offers different prix fixe menus, and sometimes children’s menus. Budget restaurants also serve fairly priced daily specials (plats du jour). Some prix fixé menus offer wine and coffee, all include bread, and most include the service charge (service compris). It is increasingly common not to put water on the table (actively discouraged during summer water shortages), but you can always ask for a carafe d’eau (tap water). Reasonably priced house wines are getting difficult to find, but modest restaurants usually serve vin ordinaire by the quarter, half-or one-litre jug (pichet); in a wine-growing region, check out the vin du pays.