France – Travel Tips
- Conversation Use the formal vous when speaking to anyone unknown or older than you; the informal tu is reserved for close friends, family and children.
- Churches Dress modestly (cover shoulders).
- Drinks Asking for une carafe d’eau (free jug of tap water) in restaurants is acceptable. Never end a meal with a cappuccino or cup of tea. Play French and order un café (espresso).
- French kissing Exchange bisous (cheek-skimming kisses) – at least two, but in some parts of France it can be up to four – with casual acquaintances and friends.
France’s high-speed train network renders rail travel between some cities (eg from Paris to Lyon, Marseille and Bordeaux) faster and easier than flying.
France is great for cycling. Much of the countryside is drop-dead gorgeous and the country has a growing number of urban and rural pistes cyclables (bike paths and lanes; see Voies Vertes online at http://www.voievertes.com) and an extensive network of secondary and tertiary roads with relatively light traffic.
French law requires that bicycles must have two functioning brakes, a bell, a red reflector on the back and yellow reflectors on the pedals. After sunset and when visibility is poor, cyclists must turn on a white headlamp and a red tail lamp. When being overtaken by a vehicle, cyclists must ride in single file. Towing children in a bike trailer is permitted.
There are boat services along France’s coasts and to its offshore islands, and ferries aplenty to/from Corsica.
Transportation and tranquillity are usually mutually exclusive – but not if you rent a houseboat and cruise along France’s canals and navigable rivers, stopping at whim to pick up supplies, dine at a village restaurant or check out a local château by bicycle. Changes in altitude are taken care of by a system of écluses (locks).
Buses are widely used for short-distance travel within départements, especially in rural areas with relatively few train lines (eg Brittany and Normandy). Unfortunately, services in some regions are infrequent and slow, in part because they were designed to get children to their schools in the towns rather than transport visitors around the countryside.
Some less-busy train lines have been replaced by SNCF buses, which, unlike regional buses, are free if you’ve got a rail pass.
Car & Motorcycle
Having your own wheels gives you exceptional freedom and makes it easy to visit more remote parts of France. Depending on the number of passengers, it can also work out cheaper than the train. For example, by autoroute, the 930km drive from Paris to Nice (9½ hours of driving) in a small car costs about €75 for petrol and another €77 in tolls – by comparison, a one-way, 2nd-class TGV ticket for the 5½-hour Paris to Nice run costs anything from €69 to €120 per person.
In the cities, traffic and finding a place to park can be a major headache. During holiday periods and bank-holiday weekends, roads throughout France also get backed up with traffic jams
Travelling by train in France is a comfortable and environmentally sustainable way to see the country. Since many train stations have car-hire agencies, it’s easy to combine rail travel with rural exploration by car.
The jewel in the crown of France’s public-transport system – alongside the Paris métro – is its extensive rail network, almost all of it run by the heavily indebted, state-rail operator SNCF.