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France is one of those countries that is so vast and diverse that one could literally spend months exploring and still not even touch the surface of incredible places to visit in France. Big, small, Urban, rural, or coastal, French cities have a patina of thousands of years of history and this indescribable charm of France is what makes it such a delight to visit. From the sulfurous Marseille on the Mediterranean coast to the Flemish Lille in the north, the country is overflowing with stunning destinations to discover...
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- Take a guided tour of the Louvre, the world’s greatest art museum, and marvel at its masterpieces of European art. From the enigmatic smile of the ‘Mona Lisa’ and the sensual curves of ‘Venus de Milo’ to legendary works by Rembrandt, Vermeer, Caravaggio, and countless others, the Louvre holds some of the world’s most dazzling and valuable art treasures. Among more than 30,000 artworks are incredible collections of antiquities from ancient Rome, Greece and the Middle East, as well as one of the world’s most important collections of ancient Egyptian art.
- Immerse yourself in the singular beauty of Impressionism at the Musee d’Orsay, home of Degas’ ballerinas, Gaugin’s Tahitian ladies, Toulouse-Lautrec’s cabaret dancers, and Renoir’s joyous Belle Epoque parties. Afterward, sated on the world’s finest art, treat yourself to lunch at the museum’s exquisite restaurant – itself designated a historic monument.
- Take in the best views of Paris from the Eiffel Tower, once the tallest structure in the world and without a doubt the most enduring symbol of the ‘City of Light’. After soaking up the spectacular sights, there is no more civilized way to end your visit than by savoring the stunning Michelin-starred cuisine of Alain Ducasse at the Le Jules Verne restaurant on the tower’s second level.
- Experience the Parisian joie de vivre at lovely parks and legendary cafes, from the manicured lawns of the Champ de Mars next to the Eiffel Tower to the stunning botanical gardens of the Jardin du Luxembourg, close to the Latin Quarter. Pull up a chair at the Jardin de Tuileries, an elegant garden in the formal French style, where you can stop for a crepe or a light lunch at the La Terrasse de Pomone. Or soak up the inimitable atmosphere of the Germain des Pres, where you can people-watch in style on the terraces of the Cafe du Flore or Cafe Les Deux Magots.
- Absorb the medieval charms of Marais, where you can wander through narrow cobblestone streets lined with cafes and boutiques, admire aristocratic palaces abandoned during the Revolution, or relax in the courtyard of the Place de Vosges – one of Paris’s most elegant squares.
- Be inspired by magnificent Gothic cathedrals that reflect France’s rich spiritual heritage. Attend a Catholic mass at the Notre-Dame de Paris to soak up the heavenly aura of this immense cathedral, featuring an ornate 13th-century choir area and sanctuary. Bask in the spectacular stained-glass chapel of Eglise de Saint-Chapelle, or take the train south to Chartres, where the huge vaulted ceilings, ancient stained glass, and exquisite sculptures of Chartres Cathedral are celebrated by many as the most beautiful place of worship in France.
- Walk in the footsteps of pampered royalty through some of the world’s most opulent and magnificent homes – from the extravagance of the Chateau de Versailles, where France’s last monarchs lived in Paris, to the storybook splendor of the Loire Valley castles, set amid expansive estates and evergreen forests.
- Discover tales of bravery and tragedy on the beaches of Normandy, where, on a single day in June 1944, 150,000 troops landed in 7,000 vessels on five beaches – in what remains the greatest seaborne invasion in modern military history. Today, the events of ‘D Day’ are commemorated through a series of informative museums and memorials, and a moving daily flag-lowering ceremony at the Normandy American Cemetery overlooking Omaha Beach.
- Learn about the centuries-old French tradition of viticulture while sampling fine wines and hearty cuisine at some of the world’s oldest and most renowned vineyard estates. From sparkling wines and gorgeous chateaux in Champagne to the classic red wines and sprawling estates of Bordeaux, and the ancient castles and legendary Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays of Burgundy, no other country offers so much for wine-lovers.
- Soak up the country charm and the evocative past of Provence, where you can thrill in the history of the 2,000-year-old Roman amphitheater at Arles or walk in hallowed footsteps at the towering 14th-century papal palace in Avignon. Sunbathe at stylish French Riviera beach resorts, swim in the Mediterranean Sea, or tour the iconic perfume factories of Grasse – surrounded by the fields of flowers used to make their aromatic essential oils.
- Savor the Basque Country’s distinctive cuisine and culture, from the picturesque ancient village of Espelette, renowned for its piquant red peppers, to the fashionable seaside resort of Biarritz, and the exquisite old-world charms and new-world spa treatments of Saint-Jean-de-Luz.
- Delight in the quaint villages and postcard-perfect views of Alsace, from the lovely half-timbered houses along the river in Strasbourg to the tranquil woodlands and idyllic hamlets of the Black Forest. During the holiday season, visit the festive Christmas markets to shop for artisan products while sipping on spiced hot apple cider.
- Head off the beaten track in some of Europe’s most pristine and beautiful mountains, from the spectacular lakes and hiking trails of the French Alps to the dramatic forests and mountain-bike trails of the Pyrenees, and the starkly beautiful limestone cliffs and inlets of the Calanques – France’s newest national park.
As Ella Fitzgerald’s “I love Paris” eloquently explains, you can appreciate France at any time of the year! The spring offers mild weather, longer days and flowering gardens. Summertime is a lively season with a more lighthearted mood, as the French get ready for their annual vacations. In August, Paris tends to be hot and humid, and many Parisians vacate the city. You won’t see the typical Parisian atmosphere in August, but you may enjoy the slower pace. Expect the French Riviera and Biarritz resorts to be extremely crowded in July and August. If you prefer a more relaxing vacation at this time of year, visit the countryside, such as Provence, le Vars or the Pyrenees Mountains. In autumn, especially September in Paris and October on the French Riviera, you can enjoy great weather and fewer crowds. The holiday season is a festive time to see the Christmas markets and decorations.
France offers a wide range of accommodation to suit every budget and taste, from high-end luxury establishments like the Ritz to simple hotels with basic amenities. The French tourism authorities have a well-defined rating system, from one to four stars, which categorizes hotels based on their level of facilities. For instance, a one-star hotel probably will not have an elevator and may not have common areas, whereas a four-star hotel will have an elevator, concierge, lounge areas, restaurant and amenities such as WiFi access, cable TV and laundry services. However, the rating system does not take into account subjective criteria like a welcoming staff or the style of decor.
In France, there are many smaller hotels in charming historic buildings. For a really special experience, the prestigious Relais & Chateaux group provides distinctive luxury accommodation, usually in splendid renovated castles, farmhouses or old monasteries, and often in beautiful natural settings. Whatever your criteria and travel preferences, your Leisure agent will help you to select the hotels that suit you best for each location on your trip.
Visas and Passport Requirements
Most non-European Union nationals require a visa for a tourist stay of 90 days or more. If you plan to stay longer than 90 days, you will need to submit a short-stay visa application at a French Consulate or Embassy before your arrival in France.
Health And Safety
There are no health precautions for visiting France. The Center for Disease Control recommends that you are up to date on routine vaccines and your yearly flu shot. If a medical issue arises when you’re in France, you can visit a local pharmacy for medical advice. The pharmacy can contact a doctor to provide a “house call” at your hotel room. France has one of the world’s best healthcare systems, and medical fees for most services are reasonable enough to pay out of pocket. You should still consider travel health insurance, to cover the costs in the rare chance of a serious medical emergency. Before your trip, you should also check to see if your health insurance plan will cover any medical costs incurred while traveling overseas.
Although France is a very safe country, you should take precautions as with any travel experience. Be aware of pickpockets, especially in big cities like Paris and Marseille. Pay attention to your surroundings in crowded areas like the metro and train stations. Keep your passport and cash in a secure place such as a hotel safe or by wearing a money-belt. Always bring copies of credit card information, so that you can contact your credit card company in the case of theft. Before your trip, be sure to get travel insurance that covers theft and lost baggage.
Single women sometimes experience the culture shock of forward French men when traveling alone in France. Usually, this is a mere inconvenience rather than a safety threat. Single women travelers should take the same precautions in France that they would elsewhere: be aware of your surroundings and avoid areas that are desolate or not well-lit at night.
France is a country steeped in customs and the tradition of good manners. The English word for “etiquette” comes from the antiquated French word “estiquette”, which means “ticket.” In the 17th and 18th centuries, the nobility was presented with tickets that prescribed specific codes of behavior permitted at the King’s court. Although manners today are less codified, they are generally more formal in France than in America. In contemporary French society, children are taught from a young age the importance of “politesse”, and you will see how French people value treating others in a polite way. The French also tend to speak at a lower volume than Americans – and you will fit in better if you lower the decibel level of your voice.
Address women as “madame” (or “mademoiselle” for a young woman) and men as “Monsieur” – the equivalent of “ma’am” and “sir”. When entering a store, restaurant or other public venues, use the greeting “Bonjour, madame/monsieur” or “bonsoir, madame/monsieur”. Do not call waiters “garcon” as this is considered rude. The French address strangers by their last name until the acquaintance becomes more familiar. The French language has built-in formalities; the word for “you” differs depending on how well you know the person. Use “tu” for close friends and to address someone younger, and “vous” for acquaintances and to show respect to elders. The two most essential French phrases are “s’il vous plait” and “merci” (“please” and “thank you”). Whenever you use these expressions of politesse, you will be met with appreciation and politeness.
French is the official language in France, spoken by 100% of the population. The French language is also a matter of national pride, and France has enforced the use of the French language by law. The government added an article to the constitution in 1992, stating: “The language of the Republic is French.” In 1994, France passed the Toubon law, declaring that all public notices, broadcast media, and advertising must provide a translation of foreign words. In addition, France has several regional languages: Alsatian, Basque, Breton, Catalan, Corsican, Flemish, and Provencal. The Basque country proudly retains its language and culture; about a third of the local population is bilingual. Schools teach both Basque and French, and road signs are written in Basque as well as French.
Except in small towns, in rural areas and among the older generation, most French people speak English reasonably well. The younger generation is often fluent in English and enjoys American movies and music. As a visitor, it is not necessary to speak French: English is widely spoken at tourist locations. However, you will enjoy a much warmer reception if you attempt a few basic French phrases. You can begin by asking “Parlez vous anglais?” (“Do you speak English?”) and most often the answer will be “yes”.
In France, all restaurants include the waiter’s service fee on the bill. Including a tip is optional. Most French customers either do not leave a tip or they leave spare change. You may want to tip the staff at your hotel or your guides if you feel that they’ve provided excellent service, although this is up to your discretion. In French stores, the prices that you see are not negotiable and it is not considered good form to bargain.
FRANCE TOURS: THE LEISURE WAY
With Leisure’s customized tours, travelers are presented with the hassle-free convenience of pre-packaged group tours and the flexibility of planned independent travel so there are greater options to choose from.
Whether you’re interested in learning about French gastronomy and wines from an expert or wanted to travel along the French Riviera on a customized romantic getaway, you will appreciate a variety of unique and authentic experiences meaningful to you. Your trip will be carefully crafted to ensure hassle-free logistics and the selection of the perfect accommodation arrangements.
Begin by telling us about your dream trip by filling out a Trip Request. We’ll then match you with 2 – 3 France travel specialists to design a trip just for you.
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