With your phrase book at the ready, your European adventure starts in France – Bonjour! Begin your French journey in Paris and it will be a race for firsts … first glimpse of the Eiffel Tower, first to hear “bonjour” spoken with a true French accent and the first sip of French champagne on French soil. Getting about Paris is easy with the underground rail system known as the Metro. With 372 stations you will always be able to find one nearby to take you off to explore another part of Paris. The hop on and off open-top tour buses are a good way to get your bearings when you first arrive in Paris. By day, take in the famous historic landmarks that were remarkably untouched during the two world wars. Enjoy a birds-eye view of the expanse of Paris from The Eiffel Tower; take in the gothic architecture complete with frightening gargoyles at the Notre Dame Cathedral and the Arc de Triomphe sitting so majestically amongst the hectic lanes of congested traffic. Treasure a visit to the enormous collection of art at the Louvre with the obligatory stop at the face of the most famous painted lady, Mona Lisa. The exhibits at the Louvre just go on and on, floor by floor, so it’s best to accept this from the start and not to sweat-it trying to cover it all. Two other must-sees is the statue of Venus de Milo and the Winged Victory of Samothrace. Buy a ticket in advance to save time queuing at the entrance. Paris is over-flowing with art galleries; worthy of a visit if you can are the Picasso Museum, the National Museum of Modern Art and the Rodin Museum. Step out onto the Champs-Elysees, lined with its sophisticated shops, and eye up the famous labels of the likes of Louis Vuitton, Chanel and Hermes. Or stroll down the busy Haussmann Boulevard famous for its premier department stores. Worth a definite look is Galeries Lafayette which houses a vast selection of French fashion, house-wares and perfumes set amongst stunning ornate architecture. For a relaxed atmosphere walk along the Left bank of the Seine between the Lourve and Notre Dame to find local “bouquinistes” selling old books and prints. The Seine River runs through the middle of Paris creating two quite different areas on either side. The Bohemian Left Bank and the sophisticated Right Bank. The medieval streets of the Latin Quarter found in the older bohemian section of the Left Bank has a lively atmosphere and there are plenty of chic bistros to hang out in. The former art colony of Montmartre, topped with the white-domed Basilica of the Sacre Coeur, is a taxi ride back over to the Right Bank. Set on a hill that looks grandly out over Paris, Montmartre was seen as the centre of artistic life in Paris and where famous artists, Monet, van Gogh, Berlioz and Picasso worked and played. Nowadays Montmartre is a hot spot for night-clubbers. Don’t forget Disneyland Paris for younger tourists. It’s a first-rate reward for best behavior when being made to traipse through the endless art galleries and monuments. Known worldwide as the City of Light, Paris at night turns on a dazzling display of illuminations as its unique collection of attractions and monuments are lit up. This is when you will fall in love with Paris if you haven’t already. Glowing with sparkling lights, Paris takes on a whole new dimension. The feeling you get when you catch your first glimpse of the Eiffel Tower during the day will be surpassed easily when at night it becomes quite breathtaking. Often the Eiffel Tower is still open after sunset so try and have a look at the view at night for a spectacular experience. A river cruise down the Seine is equally romantic especially as the sun goes down and the lights come on. Finish off your night-time experience with a seat at the daring Moulin Rouge cabaret show which is entertainment with a capital E! After a busy day of sight-seeing take the time to simply sit at a street-side café sipping an expresso or latte. It is from here that you will get a true taste of Parisian lifestyle. Listen to the French talk; observe their gestures and their simple je ne sais quoi as they go about their daily lives. To truly appreciate the sensual sophistication and chic lifestyle of Paris you must stay a good 3-4 days, if not more! Beckoning further a-field are the rustic charms of the French countryside, the jet-set lifestyle of the Cote d’Azur and the top-class outdoor activities in the French Alps. The French rail system is superior and fast and an excellent option if you are in a hurry to get to your next destination. Driving is also a good option as long as you don’t have a problem with driving on the right-hand side. The French road systems are well maintained and sign-posted. If you decide on a driving holiday remember that getting lost is part of the adventure. That little back road you never knew existed will often lead you to the most amazing surprises: a hidden little village, a local market, a game of pentanque being played in a small town square. If you are short for time then visiting the province of Champagne is your best choice. Easily accessible from Paris with the bonus of its world renowned bubby supply. Other must see provinces are Bordeaux, Provence, the Cote d’Azur and the Loire Valley. A hop across to Monaco is an experience also not to be missed.
EVENTS IN FRANCE
Public Holidays in France 1 Jan New Year's Day Mar Easter Monday 1 May Labour Day May Ascension 8 May 1945 Victory Day May Whit Monday 14 Jul Bastile Day 15 Aug Assumption 1 Nov All Saints' Day 11 Nov Remembrance Day 25 Dec Christmas Day Remember that the summer months of July and August is when most French take their holidays. Less tourist spots will be quieter during these months, whilst coastal resorts, especially on the Mediterranean, will be very crowded. Annual Events Mid Feb – March Nice Carnival Mid March – mid April Banlieues Bleues Festival (Jazz Festival), Paris March Nuits-St-Georges (wine tasting festival), Burgundy April Paris Marathon April Le Mans, (24 hr motorcycle race), Western Loire May Cannes Film Festival May Loire Valley Wine Festival May-June French Tennis Open, Paris June-July Paris Jazz Festival June Le Mans, (24 hr automobile race), Western Loire July Nice Jazz Festival July Tour de France July 14 Bastille Day celebrations October Montmartre Harvest Festival, Paris December Festival of Light, Lyon
Population: 64,102,140 Flying Time from NZ: Approximately 30 hours from Auckland. Climate: The south of France has a warm Mediterranean climate with hot summers and mild winters. Northern France, including Paris, has a temperate climate with warm summers, cold winters and rainfall throughout the year. Electricity: 220 volts AC, 50Hz. European two-pin plugs are standard. A travel adaptor will be needed for your New Zealand plug. Currency: Euro (EUR; symbol €) = 100 cents. Notes are in denominations of €500, 200, 100, 50, 20, 10 and 5. Coins are in denominations of €2 and 1, and 50, 20, 10, 5, 2 and 1 cents. Banking: ATM’s take Visa, Mastercard, Cirrus and Plus. They are the best way to get cash and are widely available (check post offices in smaller towns for an ATM machine). Travellers cheques are accepted mainly in large tourist areas. Credit cards: American Express, Diners Club, MasterCard and Visa are widely accepted. It is important to know your pin number as swiping and signing for a transaction will be unheard of in the majority of shops. Knowing your pin number will be a definite must to get a cash advance from your credit card. Internet: Use cyber-cafes to keep in contact with home. Out of the larger cities these will be harder to find as most French homes, all over the country, have Broadband. Dress: The French, as we know, are incredibly stylish so it would help not to dress too slap-dash for acceptance amongst the French. Keep the beachwear for just that and not for the streets of Paris. During summer only light clothing is necessary throughout France. Waterproof winter gear in the mountain areas is needed all year round. An extra layer of a jacket or sweatshirt might be needed during the winter evenings on the Mediterranean coast.
Top things to see and do
1. Bake in the sun and sip champagne with the glamorous jet-set in Nice.
2. Ride a bike and tour the majestic chateau of the Loire Valley.
3. Smell the wild herbs and lavender as you picnic in Provence.
4. Ski the sparkling slopes of the French Alps.
5. Stroll along the chic boulevards of Paris and then people watch at a street-side café.
6. Relax in a rural village centre, enjoying fresh coffee and croissants while watching a dusty game of boules (petanque).
7. Mingle with celebrities at the Cannes Film Festival held in May each year.
8. Amble through a sunlit vineyard in Burgundy and spend the rest of the day sampling the wine.
9. Enjoy the fine food at a 3 star Michelin restaurant in Paris.
10. Get out and enjoy Paris at night, the lights, a cruise on the Seine, topped off by a cabaret show.
Spring and Autumn. The summer months of July and August can be stiflingly hot particularly in the bigger cities making traveling less enjoyable. Most top tourist spots will be over-crowded, clogged with traffic and generally more expensive. These peak summer months is also the time of the year when the French take their holidays so towns will be deserted of locals as they flock to the southern beach resorts.