France

France: When to Go

Southern France claims 300 days of sun a year and holidaymakers pass through all year round. Early November is often wet, occasionally with extremely heavy rainfall. Avignon, Montpellier, Marseilles and Nice are big cities with vibrant year-round cultural calendars. Nimes has shot up in popularity since Ryan Air started flying there, while country towns like Uzes and Arles have a fair number of tourists in the off season now. On the Côte d’Azur you still need to book a table at a restaurant at the end of October, the markets are busy in November and February. As always May and September are great months to travel; high season is yet to start, the prices can be lower, there’s greater availability, less traffic, and bright sunshine without the oppressive heat of July and August.

Paris is famously lovely in the springtime, but frankly it's pretty lovely in the autumn, summer and winter as well - all for different reasons. Winter is quiet tourist-wise - a good time for galleries and museums - apart from Christmas (lots is closed), New Year (Réveillon or St Sylvestre, when thousands enjoy Champs Elysées fireworks and fabulous feasts in restaurants) and Valentine's Day. Mid-November heralds the arrival of Beaujolais Nouveau in bars around town; from December to March there's free ice-skating at the Hotel de Ville. Spring and autumn are lovely in terms of weather, but Easter and October half-term are predictably busy, and watch out for salons (trade and fashion fairs) which fill hotel rooms for a week; Feb-Mar and late Sept-Oct are busiest. Early April sees the film festival and Paris Marathon, late May-early June the French Tennis Open, while the autumn festival (Sept - Dec) bring contemporary theatre, dance and opera to the city. Summer is prime time except for August, when many shops and businesses close down, leaving the city relatively quiet and traffic-free. Some hotels lower their rates, and you can bask on Paris-Plage (imported sand and potted palms on the banks of the Seine), or enjoy dance festivals in the Tuileries and jazz in Vincennes park. 21 June sees the Fete de la Musique (free open air concerts, from rock on the banks of the Seine to classical in the Sainte Chapelle), 23 June the Gay Pride march, 13-14 July the 'storming of the Bastille' celebrations (fireworks at the Eiffel Tower), and the summer festival and La Villette open air cinema both run from mid-July to mid-Aug.

Bear in mind that many museums are closed on Mondays (and a few on Tuesdays); restaurants typically have their fermeture hebdomadaire from Sunday afternoon to Monday afternoon; and entry to state sites is free on the first Sunday of each month.

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TRAVEL ESSENTIALS

Getting There

For access from the UK, please see the relevant section:

> Paris
> Normandy
> Brittany
> [info:bordeaux-charente:Bordeaux and Charente]
> [info:cote-dazur:Nice and Toulon] (for Cote d'Azur)
> [info:dordogne-lot:Bergerac] (for Dordogne & Lot)
> Pau - Toulouse - Biarritz (for Gascony)
> La Rochelle (for Ile de Ré)
> The French Alps
> Nimes - Avignon - Marseille - Lyon (for Provence)
> Carcassonne - Beziers - Montpellier - Perpignan (for Languedoc)

Getting Around

The whole of France is laced with an excellent network of paying motorways. The speed limit is 130 km/h in good weather, 110 km/h in bad weather. Avoid travelling over the first weekend in August if possible, when the whole of France sets off on its holidays.

The motorways of the south offer easy access from Paris, Barcelona, Rome and Geneva. The A7 heads south from Lyon to Marseilles, with the A9 forking southwest at Orange for Nimes, Montpellier and Spain. At Marseille the A54 heads west to Arles (and Nimes), while the A8 forks east for St Tropez, Cannes, Antibes, Nice and Italy.

The country roads of Provence and the Côte d’Azur heave with traffic in high season – the competition for a parking space in town on market day can be intense. The A8 Riviera motorway from Marseilles to Monaco is busy in July and August. Country roads are well-signposted, though the old avenues of trees make them fairly narrow in places. Watch out for the cyclists, who are afforded greater respect in France than in any other European country.

Car hire is widely available at reasonable prices; all TGV stations and airports are represented by the major companies, as are the big towns and cities - see our car rental recommendations.

Visa / Entry Requirements

EU citizens do not need a visa. North Americans, New Zealanders and Australians do not need a visa for stays of up to 90 days.

Other Essentials

No vaccinations necessary. Free healthcare is available for all citizens of the EU (you should carry a European Health Insurance Card, or EHIC), though we strongly advise you take out medical insurance to cover emergencies.