Favorite thing: France officially adopted the tricolore in 1794 and is made up of three equal vertical bands of red, white and blue, with the blue next to the flagpole. Red, White and blue represent liberty, equality and fraternity, the ideals of the revolution in France. On the other hand the French Government website claims that white is the color of the king and red and blue are the colors of Paris.
To take a tour or go by yourself . . .
Favorite thing: This was a reply to a lady who asked about visiting the French countryside. They had gone on tours and cruises but were thinking about renting a car and house on their own to get outside tourist areas and see the "real" France. Here is my answer to her and I am answering her direct questions.
You say you have not traveled on your own, so I suspect you may have gone on organized tours. We've never done that but I think it's a good idea to get your feet wet and see what you want to explore on your own. Now you seem ready to take that step.
Our first trip to France was a driving/camping trip because as teachers with 3 kids that is all we could afford. I spoke a bit of Haitian Creole and my husband had French in high school so language was a problem for us and we were nervous. We quickly discovered it is possible to communicate pretty well because a French national pasttime is helping people. You can count on it. If you need help and they don't speak English, they will find someone who does.
Driving is not a problem. It's as easy to drive in France as it is in the US. We have driven on nearly all of our trips. The only time we don't get a car is when we are spending the entire time in a large city like Paris. In a city, a car is a nuisance . . . but in the country, a car is a joy. If you can manage to plan your trip for 21 days or more, you can lease a brand new car with 24-hour road service. We always get a Peugeot 207 automatic for our trips. [There is now a Citroen available for lease for a 17-day stay. It's available through the same web sites listed. We have since used the Renault lease program and it works exactly as well as Peugeot. Shop both programs and see what suits you. We get an automatic transmission and diesel fuel but there are lots of options. I noticed Kemwel is offering a lease for 14 days and that might be good for people with shorter vacations.]
We usually fly into Paris, Nice or Toulouse, visit the city for a few days and then return to the airport to pick up our leased car. We have used AutoFrance, AutoEurope, Kemwel and Sodexa for our leases. Here are three of the web sites so you can check the program. It is all paid ahead of time so there are no unpleasant surprises when you hand in the car.
Auto France ((800) 572-9655 in the US)
For fewer than 21 days, try Nova Car We haven't used them but friends have and were satisfied. They do rent to folks over the age of 70.
Our 2010 trip was unhinged by the Iceland ash cloud. We were transferring planes in London when British air space was closed. After 4 unplanned days in London (paid for by British Airways), we managed to get a train to Paris. Our car was in Toulouse so we spent 2 nights in Paris before we got on a train to Toulouse where we finally managed to get our car, so yes, taking a train to another city is a great idea if you want to do that.
You will not escape tourists anyplace. However, most of them will be French tourists visiting other parts of France so it's not like you will be spending your French vacation with other American tourists. If you are near a border, you will see lots of tourists from those countries too, i.e., Italian tourists in southeast France, Spanish tourists in western France, German and Dutch tourists in northeastern France, and French tourists everyplace. We enjoy our interactions with all these nationalities; it's part of the fun of going to Europe.
Where to stay? Well, we stay in hotels in cities and we rent farmhouses when we are visiting the countryside. We once rented an apartment in Paris but that was because it was the cheapest way to spend 9 days with our family along. The hotel staff is usually a great help.
We love renting farmhouses or small houses in tiny villages. There you interact with the owner and several have become fast friends over the years. You visit the local grocery, boulanger, boucherie and interact with the local shopowners and their customers. We've both picked up a lot of French over the years but language has never been a problem. If no one speaks French in the store, often another customer will help or there is the point and mime method of purchase. If you don't know numbers, you can always read the price on the cash register. Easy. Take your own shopping bags; they charge for bags in Europe. When we forget, we buy the first bag and then keep using it.
Yes, they take credit cards at most groceries and even in the occasional street market. Small places and most markets will use cash. Groceries cost the same as or less than they do at home. The trick to saving money on food is purchase local products in season. If you try to find Jiffy Peanut Butter, you will find it but pay too much. Coca Cola costs more than the local excellent wine.
We eat breakfast in our gite (rented house) and then eat lunch at a restaurant where we are sightseeing for the day. Lunch is usually cheaper than dinner so that's a money-saver too. Then in the evening, we stop at a boulanger and epicerie (grocery) and get bread, cheese, fruit and wine and take it back to our gite and have dinner there as a picnic.
For hotels in the countryside, we use the Logis de France. This is a chain of small family-owned hotels in nearly every town and village in France. They are always clean and friendly and most have an excellent restaurant. Here's the web site. You can see what they offer. Logis de France
For rentals we use a couple web sites. Our favorite is Gites de France, an umbrella organization that oversees rural rentals. We have never had a problem with anything we've rented through them so I highly recommend them. We have also used VRBO (Vacation Rental By Owner) twice and had a fabulous experience but we don't have much experience with the company. We have also used Home-Away Holiday Rentals, a British company. We've used them many times and have had good experiences with all but one. We chalked that up to a learning experience; it wasn't a dead loss, just less than we expected. Since we've had so many good experiences with them, I would recommend them and we certainly will continue using them. Here are the 3 web sites.
Gites de France
Vacation Rental By Owner
Fondest memory: Average cost for eating? That depends on what and how you like to eat. Restaurants range from inexpensive to very expensive. We try to keep it in a range comfortable for us. Obviously you pay more in a city. A small country auberge will be excellent and may cost as little as 9 euros a meal plus wine. If you are in a popular tourist area, plan on 15 to 30 euros for a meal. The French menu (as you probably already know) offers what they call a "Menu" or sometimes it's called a "Formula" in a couple different price ranges. These are usually the best deal and offer several courses for a fixed price. We usually get these although if we decide to splurge, we'll blow 30 euros on a dinner. That doesn't happen often because my ancestry is Scot. ;^)
You have to buy groceries at home, so buying them in France is not much different. If you want to eat at your rented house, most epiceries and certainly all supermarches have precooked (like deli) meals you can microwave. These are often excellent. We just enjoy the restaurant experience in France and there are plenty of excellent reasonably-priced restaurants in the countryside.
I've babbled on way too long so I'll stop here. If you have any specific questions or want to ask about a specific area, please feel free to e-mail me here on VT. Also type the names of places into the VT Search Window and see what has been written about them by all the VT members. There will be lots of photos, web links and reviews on VT.
Have fun planning and don't be afraid to go on your own. It's lots of fun to control your destiny.Related to:
- Road Trip
- Family Travel
- Budget Travel
Favorite thing: Paying visits to Deauville as well asTrouville to Normandy; possibly Lisieux, for the basilica, as well. A trip to a Calvados distillery is VERY much worth doing, especially if there are samples to be had.
Favorite thing: Saucisson is another important French food item. It's not unusual for markets to have 20 different kinds of Sauccison (many of which we sampled in Annecy).
I wouldn't say it tastes like any kind of salami, even it looks a bit like that inside.
We really enjoyed it nearly every day with cheese on baguettes for lunch. One of the things I miss about France though in large Australian cities you can at least find 1 kind of saucisson these days.Related to:
- Food and Dining
Favorite thing: France is awesome for it's bakeries and Patisseries. You can walk into any bakery, even in a tiny town, and for just 2-3 Euros try some of the most mouth watering pastries you've ever had. Things like Pain au Chocolat, Pain au Raisin, and the sublime Paris Brest are my absolute favorites. Also, even in the supermarket aisles for 2 Euros you can try the most amazing crème caramels and crème brulee - even their supermarket ones are amazing! Thankfully we now have good patisseries in Australia or this food would be one of the things I'd miss most about France.Related to:
- Food and Dining
- Budget Travel
Favorite thing: Orangina is a typical French soft drink that's not seen much in other countries (unless it's imported). I like it because it tastes like real orange juice has been added to lemonade (you can see some of the orange particles in it).Related to:
- Budget Travel
- Food and Dining
Violet lemonade (syrop a la violette)
Favorite thing: I absolutely love this drink. It has a fantastic and different flavour. Used to be, you could only have it served in pubs or cafes in Alsace, but now, thanks to Globalisation, you can find it as a liqueur in bottle shops and a syrup in some supermarkets elsewhere.Related to:
- Food and Dining
- Budget Travel
sorting mobile phones costs and usages
Favorite thing: I have Nokia and use Orange in France, when travel its very cost effective for me. it change per country with the local provider.
Cant tell if other option is cheaper. However, buying a SIM card will give you the same roaming charges if go from country to France. The card is good cheaper for in country use.
You can get a SIM card in France for as little as 10 euros or a mobicarte prepaid phone for 19 euros at Orange.
you have the stores by area bottom of link orange ,and they do speak English
Another good option especially on specials there is the La Poste Mobile Inside the post offices, they have SIM cards in cards of 5,10,15,20,30, and 50 euros that have special pricing and have validity dates from 20 days to 3 months;of course if you need shorter they will work too.
See détails at in French
Hope it helps
Fondest memory: phoning home and aroundRelated to:
- Historical Travel
- Family Travel
- Budget Travel
What about your cell phone in Europe?
Favorite thing: Cell phones are called mobiles in Europe and they broadcast on different bands than the USA so unless you have a tri or quad band cell phone, it won't work in Europe. The next trick is to be sure it is unlocked. Most phones are locked and many can't be unlocked until you've had them for six months. If you are shopping for a new phone, be sure it is unlocked. I had no trouble finding one at Best Buy and I'm sure there are many other places that will sell them.
In France in the past I have purchased a SIM card from the Orange company. It would be long distance for callers from the USA but that may not be too bad depending on the plans your callers have on their phones. Our daughter had no problem texting (not talking) because her plan allowed texting anywhere for a very low cost, something like 20 cents US.
A few years ago after a lot of looking I bought a LeFrench Mobile SIM and the price for me is very reasonable. Again, your callers will have to pay long distance charges so it depends on their plans. You have a French phone number and receive texts and calls for free while in France. There is a small charge if you are in some European countries. You receive calls at 0.06 euro cents a minute and make calls at 0.15 euro cents a minute and that is also for the USA so a big savings over many of the other plans for travelers. Big disadvantage is you can't send text messages when you are outside of France. Service is in English if you don't speak French. Rates change periodically but recently they actually went down so check the web site at: Le French Mobile Tariffs
Another option may be the National Geographic Cellular Abroad program that gives you both a US and a UK phone number. Their rates are a bit higher but it might be cheaper for your callers.
Here are web sites for the plans I checked. You can look at all of them and see if any will serve your purpose. I don't see how to get around your callers having long distance charges so you might want to consider the LeFrench Mobile plan and have them call (or text) you and then you can call them back and talk on your bill which is 0.15 euro-cents per minute. There is a charge for the first full minute and then it's prorated by the second after that.
Fondest memory: Here are several of the plans:
Le French Mobile
La Poste Mobile Service
If you don't have an unlocked phone, either get yours unlocked or purchase one when you get the SIM card and you'll have a European phone for travel.
If you are Verizon, you can rent a phone inexpensively from Verizon for your trip and then return it. We know people who have done this and loved the program. We also have friends with iPhones who purchased the European option for the time they were in Europe, cancelled it when they got home and they found that worked well for them.
You should set up a Skype account too. It's free to other Skypers. We've got our family on it now so calls are free. Of course you need the computer to do this. I take mine for many reasons but it's very convenient for keeping in touch with family and friends.Related to:
- Family Travel
- Business Travel
- Road Trip
@ home in France...
Favorite thing: France is a big country & the geography changes noticably if you cross it from north to south - northern France is no more alike the scenery in the south, than the Scottish Highlands are to the English coastal resorts...
Having grown-up in the countryside, I feel at home in rural areas, & northern France feels like home to me - it looks like pleasant cycling country, where the pace of life is relaxed...
Fondest memory: When I have been on a long distance coach trip across Europe, I feel back at home as soon as I cross the border into northern France...
Northern France is so alike England, much more so than the north of Britain is to East Anglia...
The only obvious difference is that traffic drives on the opposite sides of the carriageways, apart from that, if I do not wear my spectacles, so that the language on the roadsigns becomes unreadable, I feel like I am in southern England...
Northern France is flattish, arable farmland & pasture, dotted with small farmhouses, smallholdings, barns, & domestic wind turbines...Related to:
- Road Trip
- Budget Travel
- Arts and Culture
Favorite thing: In Europe, the electrical outlets are 220V AC. That means for American travelers, our electrical devices we use at home will only work with an adapter. I've become a smarter traveler and have bought certain items with the 220V plugs such as a high watt hair dryer, curling iron and straight iron (I know that seems like an oxymoron - the curling iron & straight iron). I have damaged a curling iron and straight iron on previous trips using an adapter because the voltage was still too high. Other devices we bring such as cell phone chargers, lap top cord and camera battery chargers do just fine with the adapters.
Hope you find this helpful!
weather in France
Favorite thing: I tell you don't worry about and come in anyway. The weather is very unpredictable even in local news programs, and nowdays with the climate conditions the way they are, even more difficult to predict.
I check these sites for information if going for long periods
LA Châine méteo
and the weather channel
in addition to whatever local news is saying the night before. Generally, we can classify the seasons as :
Summer comes in July and lasts till August in Paris. Throughout these summer months the average temperature stays at 25°C. Moreover, nighttime temperature hardly falls below the mid-teens. Rainfall is not frequent although the occasional and unexpected shower could disturb the tourists at any time. Summer months receive more than 60mm of rain. However, the city witnesses more than eight hours of sunshine per day.
Autumn, October to December, is a period of change. Paris experiences cooler temperatures during this season. The first month of autumn sees regular highs of 15°C and as the season progresses it falls quickly and stands at 10°C. Rainfall remains almost same like the other months of year. Night time temperature, however, drops into 8°C in October. Interestingly, the city gets very low level of sunshine during November, less than three hours per day.
Winter features very cold weather in Paris. During January the maximum temperature of the city stands at only 6°C while the minimums at 1°C. Although it is unusual, the city sees snow often. During this time, especially when snow falls, Paris looks truly stunning.
Spring appears with better climate. Paris dwellers see the sign of the season when flowers bloom in several well decorated garden in the city. The temperature increases gradually and stands at around 20 during May. The season sees a great level of sunshine during the spring season.
you can find weather info for Paris and surrounding area in the Paris tourist office webpage in English
for a footnote, these are the weather in the hemisphere north and South this year 2014.
Spring from March 20 to June 20.
Summer from June 21 to September 22.
Fall from September 23 to December 20.
Winter from December 21 to March 19.
Spring from September 23 to December 20.
Summer from December 21 to March 19.
Fall from March 20 to June 20.
Winter from June 21 to September 22.
Fondest memory: driving on the A13 Under a hailstorm with heavy winds, and arrive in Brittany safe and sound. No sweats.Related to:
- Family Travel
- Historical Travel
- Road Trip
Getting high at Capluc and Pas de Loup
Favorite thing: Make no mistake, this walk is hard but extremely rewarding, not for agoraphobics or the unfit. In a life of bushwalking this is one of the best I've ever done. My notes from the day:
HAVE WE GOT ROCKS IN OUR HEADS?
At some point during our 6 ½ hour walk we contemplated such words. We had started out above Le Rozier, the village adjacent to Peyreleau where we were staying. They are separated only by a small stream and a one arch mediaeval bridge.
We had climbed for about 20 minutes to get to the base of Capluc, whose name comes from Cap Luuis, the Latin for “peak of light”. In the 19th century they were going to erect a statue of the Virgin Mary up there but apparently the local priest entrusted with the funds, a buxom young lady and the funds themselves all disappeared. So, in 1973 they erected a simple cross instead.
From the base, reached by steep uneven steps, you then have to climb three ladders to reach the very top where there’s a small area fenced in. I’ve travelled a bit but can honestly say I’ve never seen a 360 degree view to match it; for below, where the Jonte and Tarn Rivers converge, heading in three different directions are some of the deepest gorges in Europe. Dotted by ancient villages and scarred here and there by the few roads in the area it truly is spectacular.
Even more breathtaking are the rock formations, and that was our next goal on the Pas de Loup. For just over an hour we trod an uneven path, ascending through sparse forest to a saddle between two of the formations. Lorraine was suffering but soldiered on and when we reached the upper part of the walk things were a lot easier.
Every 50 metres beheld new panoramas over sheer drops and beneath towering ramparts of massive rock walls. It was like our Blue Mountains on steroids only there’s a lot more of it. Occasionally we passed other hikers or they overtook us as we branched out on the loop that would ultimately return us via even more dramatic formations, something we’d not thought possible a couple of hours before.
By the time we reached the sheep’s gate, a now disused affair, Lorraine wasn’t really in need of what lay below. For 50 precarious metres beyond the old metal, put there to stop sheep from going over the cliff and falling to their death, one had to descend a rock strewn slope with few grips and very steep. Lorraine, somewhat acrophobic, was not amused! However, with some gentle cajoling and some physical help, she bravely made it to the bottom only to be confronted by other situations along the rim where, without any protection, the abyss awaited you beside the narrow track.
However, the rock formations here were beyond anything we’d ever seen and were right in your face and often towering immediately above you. It was epic, unforgettable and awe inspiring all at the same time. Lammergeiers rose majestically on the uplifting currents and skinks scuttled from the path as we trod onwards.
Fondest memory: From time to time we came across rock climbers, for here, with over 600 sites to choose from, they have found heaven. Nirvana on a rock face is not something either of us aspire to though we could but gasp at what they were trying to achieve.
When we reached the end of the loop and started down again, our knees weren’t keen at all but, when you do incredible walks like this, somehow the moment overcomes the physical hardship and then there are all those photographs you’ll have to show your friends!Related to:
- Hiking and Walking
- National/State Park
Favorite thing: It was only because I was looking for somewhere to stay that I stumbled over this town as I had been aiming for a little further south. Frankly, I'm disappointed in myself; Sarlat is a great town in more ways than one. It has more 17th century facades than any other town in France for a start.
We deliberately went there on market day and loved every minute of it. The variety and atmosphere rival any market I've been to in Europe.
The only problem was, we got so caught up in it we didn't have enough time to see some of the other attractions the town has to offer.
Sarlat's traceable past began in the 9th century with the founding of a Benedictine abbey. The abbey grew and acquired other churches in the Perigord region and with its growth a town began to build up around it. The town was under the authority of the church but the abbey grew in power and tension came to the fore until finally in 1299 the town was granted liberty from the church by Philippe le Bel.
Sarlat had actually become a city at the 8th century and was on the border between Kings of France and of England during the Hundred Year War, it became English later in 1360 and was then relieved ten years later by Du Guesclin. The cathedral of Saint-Sacerdos was set up under Henri IV.
In medieval times Sarlat grew bigger and richer and became an important market town. Many of the upmarket houses in Sarlat's old time were built during this time to house the rich merchants. Despite its fortified walls Sarlat suffered greatly during the Hundred Years War.
The end of the 15th century and beginning of the 16th century was again an important time for Sarlat. With an exemption from some taxes the town began to prosper again and became an important political and judicial centre. Another period of building started this time in the Renaissance style. The Italian Renaissance ideas were to influence one of Sarlat's residents and Etienne de La Boetie became a famous humanist and philosopher. The house of his birth still stands opposite the cathedral.
The Wars of Religion struck and Sarlat at the end of the wars was firmly in the Catholic camp.
In the following centuries the bishops played an important part and the cathedral was completed and the bishop's palace restored. Most of the fortifications were removed (only a very small section of ramparts still exists) and the defensive ditches filled in.
Following the Revolution in 1789 Sarlat lost its bishopric but the last bishop became the first maire of Sarlat and Sarlat began its new role as a centre of commerce but its distance from main road routes and lack of railway for many years meant that it did not become a successful commercial centre - happily for us as this could have lead to the destruction of many of its historic buildings in the name of progress!
The coming of the railway led to a new era of prosperity though.
In 1962 Sarlat became the trial town of a new law called the 'loi Malraux' which set about to protect the patrimony of French towns. Money was provided to restore Sarlat's fine buildings and it now has the highest density of 'Historic Monuments' and 'Classified Monuments' of any town in France. It is now classified as a 'Town of Art and History' and as a 'Plus Beaux Detour' - a town meriting a visit for its beauty. The historic centre is also on the tentative list for UNESCO World Heritage Classification
Fondest memory: About half way along the Rue des Consuls is the Manoir de Gisson originally called the Hotel Magenat. The Manoir de Gisson is made up of two buildings of different styles linked together by a hexagonal tower. The building dates back to the 13th century. Recently opened to the public there are two aspects to your visit. The first is a visit to the vaulted cellars and rooms which exhibit items on the history of Justice from the Middle Ages to the Revolution. This includes an exhibition of instruments of torture.
The second part of a visit to the Manoir de Gisson is the private apartments showing home life for the Sarlat nobility. Furniture dates from the Middle Ages to the 17th century and you can see the lovely wooden floors, panelling and huge fireplaces and of course the spiral staircase which winds up the hexagonal tower.
Outside the Manoir de Gisson is the Place du Marché des Oies, the goose market with a statue of some geese in the centre, just the place to get your picture taken.
The preceding is but a part of what Sarlat has to offer, definitely one of the highlights of any trip to FranceRelated to:
- Historical Travel
- Food and Dining
Autun, a past and a future
Favorite thing: Autun is a town in the Saône-et-Loire department of Burgundy, to the north-west of Chalon-sur-Saone. An active town these days, Autun retains much of the original fortified walls (ramparts) around the old town, and, set in an attractive setting with the Morvan Hills behind, is one of the most visited towns in Burgundy.
The town was an even more active and lively centre in Roman times and the Roman remains are one of the main drawcards.
There are several Roman remnants to be seen in and around Autun and they include two remaining portals that were part of the fortified walls: the Porte d'Arroux to the north and the Port saint-Andre to the east. Both follow a similar design, with wider arches for carriages to pass through and narrow side arches for pedestrians.
You can also see the Roman amphitheatre and the taunting Temple of Janus, though the remaining corner of the temple only hints at the grandeur of the original building. There is strong archeological evidence that there were originally other temples nearby. The theatre was among the largest in the Roman empire and could seat up to 20 000 people, as befits a town sometimes labelled "the Rome of the north".
There are several museums in Autun, dedicated to diverse subjects such as Natural History; the children who played in bands that accompanied the French Army (the Musée des Anciens Enfants de Troupe); and the Musée Lapidaire that contains various architectural items from the medieval period, among others.
If you only have time to visit one museum then the Musée Rolin has an interesting collection of art and historical items including those by the well known medieval artists Gislebertus and the Maitre des Moulins.
The centre of Autun is largely situated in the streets around the two large squares that are next to each other. One is dominated by Autun's Theatre and Town Hall and the other by the impressive Lycée buildings.
Be sure to also visit the 'Covered Passage', an ornate shopping arcade with a glass ceiling built in the 19th century. Another unexpected discovery in Autun is the old prison. Set on a circular plan, it was one of the first prisons in France to be built around individual 'prison
Fondest memory: Your visit should ideally commence heading towards the historical centre of Autun, near the cathedral. The Cathedral Saint Lazare is an attractive Roman style cathedral within the ancient town walls, dating originally from the 12th century although signficant modifications were made in the following centuries, and the spire was added in the 16th century. Famed above all for its carvings and sculptures, particularly statues by Gislebertus, one of the most renowned of the Romanesque sculptors - see the story of the Last Judgement in the tympanum above the west door for some of the best examples - while inside you can see some attractively carved capital stones. Next to the cathedral is the Saint-Lazaire fountain.
In the area around the cathedral there are some pedestrianised streets with bars and restaurants if you are looking for somewhere to eat. The cobbled streets leading from the main square to the cathedral are a pleasure to stroll along, even if they are a bit uphill!Related to:
- Historical Travel
- Religious Travel
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