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About France

France is a country located in Western Europe. Clockwise from the north, France borders Belgium and Luxembourg to the northeast, Germany and Switzerland to the east, Italy to the south-east and Spain to the south-west, across the Pyrenees mountain range (the small country of Andorra lies in between the two countries). The Mediterranean Sea lies to the south of France, with the Principality of Monaco forming a small enclave. To the west, France has a long Atlantic Ocean coastline, while to the north lies the English Channel, across which lies the last of France's neighbours, England (part of the United Kingdom). France is the world's most popular tourist destination (77.6 million in 2003) boasting dozens of major tourist attractions, like Paris, Côte d'Azur (the French Riviera), The Atlantic beaches, The winter sport resorts of the Alps, The Castles of Loire Valley, Britanny: Mont Saint Michel. The country is renowned for its gastronomy (particularly wines and cheeses), history, culture and fashion.


France is divided into 22 administrative regions, which themselves can be grouped into 7 main "cultural regions", which share common points.

  • The Ile de France is the region surrounding the French capital, Paris. 
  • The North is one region where the world wars have left many scars. It includes Nord-Pas de Calais, Picardie, and Haute-Normandie. 
  • The North-East is a region where wider European culture (and specially German culture) has merged with the French, giving interesting results. It includes Alsace, Lorraine, Champagne-Ardenne and Franche-Comte. 
  • The Great West is an oceanic region, with a culture greatly influenced by the ancient Celtic peoples. It includes Brittany (French: Bretagne), Basse-Normandie, and Pays de la Loire. 
  • The Centre is a largely agricultural and vinicultural region, featuring river valleys, chateaux and historic towns. It includes Centre-Val de Loire, Poitou-Charentes, Burgundy (French: Bourgogne), Limousin, and Auvergne. 
  • The South-West is a region of sea and wine, with nice beaches over the Atlantic ocean, as well as young, high mountains close to Spain. It includes Aquitaine and Midi-Pyrenees.
  • The South-East is the primary tourist region of the country outside of Paris, with a warm climate and azure sea, contrasting with the mountainous French Alps. It includes Rhône-Alpes, Languedoc-Roussillon, Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur and the Mediterranean island of Corsica (French: Corse).

The world-famous Loire Valley - best known for its wines and chateaux - extends across two regions in west and central France.

Corsica is a large French island located to the south-east of mainland France in the west Mediterranean Sea (close to Nice on one side and Livorno, Italy).


France has numerous cities and towns of interest to travelers. Below is a list of nine of the most notable:

  • Paris -- the "City of Light", the romantic capital of France
  • Bordeaux - city of wine, capital of South-West
  • Cannes -- host of the annual ··Cannes Film Festival
  • Lyon - France's second city, with a history from Roman times to the Resistance, restaurants (Beaujolais and delicatessen)
  • Marseille - big harbor, heart of Provence
  • Nice - a major resort on the French Riviera
  • Rennes -- Nice city, wonderful market, capital of Brittany
  • Strasbourg -- European capital (EU parliament and European Council)
  • Toulouse -- very nice and lively city


A lot of variety, but temperate. Cool winters and mild summers on most of the territory, and especially in Paris. Mild winters and hot summers along the Mediterranean and in the south west. Mild winters and cool summers in the north west (Brittany). Cool to cold winters and hot summer along the German border (Alsace). Along the Rhône Valley, occasional strong, cold, dry, north-to-northwesterly wind known as the mistral.

By car

France has a well-developed system of highways.
Most of the freeway (autoroute) links are toll roads. Some have toll station giving you access to a section, others have entrance and exit toll stations. Don't lose your entrance ticket or you will be charged for the longest distance. All toll stations accept major credit cards but you can use the automatic booth only if your card is equipped with a chip.

Unless clearly posted on the road you are using, you are supposed to yield to any vehicle coming from your right from another public thoroughfare. However, roads generally work along a system of "priorities": main thoroughfares will be flagged as "priority" and all crossroads will yield.

Signposts used in France are patterned according to EU recommendations and use mostly pictograms (not text). The following signs are essentials for finding your way on a map and avoid tickets.

Most cars in France have stick shifts, which you may find difficult or even impossible to operate if you have only driven automatic transmissions. If you rent a car and you want an automatic, be sure to explicitly request so in advance.
France drives on the right.

Roads range from the narrow single-lane roads in the countryside to major highways. Most towns and cities were built before the general availability of the automobile and thus city centers tend to be unwieldy for cars. Keep this in mind when renting: large cars can be very unwieldy. It often makes sense to just park and then use public transportation.

Many personal cars run on diesel; make sure you know whether your car is Diesel or gasoline. Diesel fuel in gas stations is known as gasoil, gazole or diesel; gasoline is known as Super 95 or Super 98 (all cars accepting 95 accept 98; almost all cars only require 95). Gasoline tends to be more expensive on freeways, and less expensive in supermarkets (Casino, Auchan, Intermarché, Carrefour, etc.). Better to rent the car, which uses Diesel fuel, it's cheaper and more economic than gasoline.

When driving out of towns, look for toutes directions ("all outside directions") or autres directions ("all other outside directions"), which will point you to highways. Highways and roads are classified into:
· Axxx: freeway (red number sign)
· Nxxx: national road (red number sign)
· Dxxx: departmental road (yellow number sign)

There also are municipal (white number sign) and forestry roads (green number sign).

Highways are signposted with the direction of towns or cities in the direction you're going as well as the highway number. Directions in green are for major destinations through major highways; in blue, for directions through freeways. Péage means "toll". To pay toll is quite easy - slide you credit card and go. Sometimes you get the ticket to calculate the distance and fair, so with the ticket you slide the ticket and then the card into the same slot.

If you have time, use the smaller roads. The speed is decent and you don't pay on tolls. But you have the opportunity to drive through small towns and vilages, stop and grab a bite in the restaurants or buy local wine. Though it's recommended to use GPS or have a good map, the navigation could be sometimes tricky. There are a lot of circles instead of traffic lights, which could confuse your sense of direction.

Detailed maps (1/200000 scale approximately) are highly advisable unless you stick only to main cities and main highways. Michelin and IGN provide good maps.

Law enforcement forces (depending on the area, Police Nationale or Gendarmerie) sometimes read your ticket at the toll station to see how long you took since joining the autoroute: (as of 2005) they are not allowed to use that info to give you a speeding ticket. On the other hand, be aware that there is a new automatic photo-radar system that is being implemented throughout France. For the moment, this system is most commonly found along major highways, and near major cities, but it expands quickly. Large brown rectangular signs warn when you are entering an automatic photo-radar area.

A few tips about photo-radar area: 

  • If you find that the average speed of other (French) cars is surprisingly lower than five minute before, then you must have entered such an area.
  • Law enforcement forces may install mobile photo-radar system. You'll be warned but the sign is much smaller than for permanent area.
  • Your speed may also be controlled virtually anywhere, without warning. In such a case, you'll be directly intercepted and fined if you committed a speeding offense. Very often, these controls are less strict than photo-radar: for example, if the speed limit is 110 km/h, you will be intercepted only if you exceed, say, 120 km/h. Note that this is just a common tolerance and NOT a general rule. Do not rely too much on it!

When not otherwise specified, the speed limit is 130 km/h on freeways motorways (specified to 110 km/h in urban areas), 110 on divided highways (always specified), 90 km/h otherwise and 50 km/h in city areas. In wet conditions, these limits are reduced to, respectively, 110 km/h, 100 km/h, 80 km/h and 50 km/h. In case of snowy/icy conditions, or under heavy fog, the speed is limited to 50 km/h on all roads.

As of October 2005, the typical fines for speeding are:

  • <20 km/h above limit: 68€ (90€ in city area), 1 demerit point ; 
  •  20 to 50km/h above limit: 90€ to 250€, 2 to 4 demerit points ; 
  •  >50km/h above limit: 1500€, minimum 6 demerit points.

Drunk driving is a very serious offense. The tolerated limit is 0.50 g/l (0.05% BAC) in blood, being above this limit is thus illegal and can entitle you a fine up to 750€ and 6 demerit points. If you are found above 0.80 g/l (0.08% BAC), or if you refuse to pass the test, the fine may reach 4500€ followed by an immediate withdrawal of your driving licence; jail sentences and confiscation of the vehicle are also possible.

All passengers are required to wear their seat belt and children under 10 must use the back seat (fine 135€ per persons not wearing a seat belt, 1 demerit point if the offender is the driver)

Regional dishes

Every French region has dishes all its own. These dishes follow the resources (game, fish, agriculture, etc) of the region, the vegetables (cabbage, turnip, endives, etc) which they grow there. Here is a small list of regional dishes which you can find easily in France. Generally each region has a unique and widespread dish (usually because it was poor people's food): 

  • Cassoulet (in south west) : Beans, duck, pork & sausages 
  • Choucroute, or sauerkraut (in Alsace) : stripped fermented cabbage + pork 
  • Fondue savoyarde (central Alps) : Melted/hot cheese with alcohol 
  • Fondue bourguignonne (in burgundy) : Pieces of beef (in boiled oil), usually served with a selection of various sauces. 
  • Raclette (central Alps) : melted cheese & potatoes/meat 
  • Pot-au-feu : boiled beef with vegetables 
  • Boeuf bourguignon (Burgundy) : slow cooked beef with gravy 
  • Gratin dauphinois (Rhone-Alpes) : oven roasted slices of potatoes 
  • Aligot (Auvergne) : melted cheese mixed with a puree of potatoes 
  • Bouillabaisse (fish + saffron) (Marseille and French Riviera). Don't be fooled. A real bouillabaisse is a really expensive dish due to the amount of fresh fish it requires. Be prepared to pay at least 30€/persons. If you find restaurants claiming serving bouillabaisse for something like 15€/persons, you'll get a very poor quality. 
  • Tartiflette (Savoy) Reblochon cheese, potatoes and pork or bacon. 
  • Confit de canard (Landes) : Duck legs and wings bathing in grease. That grease is actually very healthy and, with red wine, is one of the identified sources of the so-called "French Paradox" (eat richly, live long). 
  • Foie gras (Landes) : The liver of a force-fed duck (or goose). Although usually quite expensive, foie gras can be found in supermarkets for a lower price (because of their purchasing power) around the holiday season. It is the time of year when most of foie gras is consumed in France. It goes very well with champagne.

Unusual foods

Contrary to stereotype, snails and frog legs are quite infrequent foods in France, with many French people enjoying neither, or often having never even tasted them. Quality restaurants sometimes have them on their menu: if you're curious about trying new foods, go ahead. 

Frogs legs have a very fine and delicate taste with flesh that is not unlike chicken. They are often served in a garlic dressing and are no weirder to eat than, say, crab. 

Most of the taste of Bourgogne snails (escargots de bourgogne) comes from the generous amount of butter, garlic and parsley in which they are cooked. They have a very particular spongy-leathery texture that is what is liked by people who like snails. Catalan style snails ("cargols") are made a completely different way, and taste much weirder.

Modified: 2007-02-19 19:05:25+01
Source: http://wikitravel.org/en/France


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