It’s hard to generalize about France – as Charles de Gaulle once remarked, “how could one describe a country which has 365 kinds of cheese?” Yet there is something about this magnificent land which draws millions of francophiles back year after year for a taste of la vie francaise. Could it be the chic boulevards of Paris, the sparkling ski slopes of the Alps, sunlit vineyards and sun-baked beaches, a dusty game of boules, or coffee and croissants in an undiscovered village? Or perhaps it’s a tour of the majestic chateaux of the Loire that appeals, the glamorous jet-set lifestyle of the Mediterranean, or a relaxing picnic in Provence, where the air is fragrant with wild herbs and lavender? Consider also the delights of other lesser-known regions such as Franche-Comte, Gascony or Berry, deep in the green heart of France-regions firmly rooted to the land, whose sleepy villages offer visitors a chance to sample the true douceur de vivre of provincial France. There is no denying that France is a land of great contrasts, offering an endless choice of enticing destinations, a rich diversity of landscapes, cuisines, climates and peoples, with an exceptional cultural heritage. It’s easy to see why the French stay at home for their holidays and why they so felicitously call their country La Belle France.
Area: 543,965 sq km (210,025 sq miles)
Geography: France, the largest country in Europe, is bounded by the English Channel, Belgium and Luxembourg, Germany, Switzerland, Italy, the Mediterranean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean. The country offers a spectacular variety of scenery from the mountain ranges of the Alps and Pyrénées to the attractive river valleys of the Loire, Rhône and Dordogne and the flatter countryside in Normandy and on the Atlantic.
Language: French. Most people linked with tourism speak at least some English.
Credit Cards: MasterCard, American Express, Diners Club and VISA and Eurocard are all widely accepted.
Travelers Checks: Traveler’s cheques are accepted nearly everywhere.
Banking Hours: 9am-12noon and 2pm-5pm Monday to Friday.
Currency Exchange: Some first-class hotels are authorized to exchange foreign currency. Shops and hotels are prohibited from accepting foreign currency by law.
Air: The national airline Air France (AF) (www.airfrance.com).
Approximate flight times:
London to Paris is 1 hour 10 minutes, to Nice and Marseilles is 2 hours
New York to Paris 8 hours 35 minutes
Chicago to Paris 11 hour 5 minutes
Los Angeles to Paris 14 hours 20 minutes
Paris-Charles de Gaulle (PAR/CDG) (www.adp.fr) is 23km (14.5 miles) NE of the city. There is a coach to the city every 20 minutes (travel time – 40 minutes). Taxis are available and journeys to the center cost around EUR 38. the airport is also easily accessible by train on the RER B line or SNCF with connecting ADP shuttle bus.
Paris-Orly (PAR/ORY) (www.adp.fr) is 14km (9 miles) South of the city. Coaches run to the city every 20 minutes, buses every 12 minutes. Taxis are available. RER/SNCF orly-Rail trains run every 15 minutes (travel time 30 minutes).
Nice-Côte d’Azur (NCE) (www.nice.aeroport.fr) is 7km (4 miles) West of the city. Coach to the city departs every 15-30 minutes until 11:15pm. Taxis available.
Social & Business Customs
There is almost complete unanimity of opinion that French food is the best in the Western world. Almost all restaurants offer two types of meals: á la Carte (extensive choice for each course and more expensive) and le menu (a set meal at a fixed price with dishes selected from the á la Carte menu). Costs are not necessarily high.
Wine is by far the most popular alcoholic drink in France and the choice will vary according to region. Cheap wine (vin ordinaire) is worth a try. The waiter will usually be glad to advise an appropriate choice. Try the house wine. Usually it will be less expensive and always the owner’s pride. The bill will not be presented until asked for, even if clients sit and talk to half an hour after eating.
No entrance fee is sometimes charged in nightclubs and discos in Paris although drinks are likely to be more expensive. Alternatively, the entrance price at times includes one drink. Many late-night bars and cafes are available too.
Special purchases include laces. Crystal glass, chesses, coffee and, of course, wines, spirits and liqueurs.
Stores are open 9am-6:30pm or 7:30pm Monday to Saturday. Food shops are open 8:30 or 9:00am-6:30pm or 7:30pm. Many shops close all-day or half-day Monday. Hypermarkets are normally open until 9 or 10pm.
Handshaking and more familiarly, kissing both cheeks are the usual form of greeting. The form of personal address is simply Monsieur or Madame without a surname and it may take time to get on first name terms. Casual wear is common but the French are renowned for their stylish sportswear and dress sense. Smoking is prohibited on public transport and in cinemas and theaters.
12-15% service is normally added to the bill in hotels, restaurants and bars but it is customary to leave small change. Taxi drivers expect 10-15% of the meter fare.
Business people should wear conservative clothes. Prior appointments are expected and the use of calling cards is usual. While knowledge of French is a distinct advantage in business dealings, it is considered impolite to start a conversation in French and then have to revert to English. Avoid mid-July to mid-September for business visits. Office hours: 9am-12noon and 2pm-6pm Monday to Friday.
A temperate climate in the north; northeastern areas have a more continental climate with warm summers and colder winters. Mediterranean climate in the south; mountains are cooler with heavy snows in winter. The climate of the western coastal areas is temperate and very mild. Summers can be very hot and sunny. Inland areas are also mild.