|Below is a selection of highlights from our tours, click on an image to direct you to all trips in that region.|
|Amsterdam cycles; Cochem, view from the Moselle ; Koblenz castle; ||
This tour visits the following countries. Please select one to view its details.
| Belgium | France | Germany | Netherlands | Switzerland |
|To see our current selection of tours in France click here.|
A temperate climate in the north; northeastern areas have a more continental climate with warm summers and colder winters. Rainfall is distributed throughout the year with some snow likely in winter. The Jura Mountains have an alpine climate. Lorraine, sheltered by bordering hills, has a relatively mild climate. Mediterranean climate in the south; mountains are cooler with heavy snow in winter. The Atlantic influences the climate of the western coastal areas from the Loire to the Basque region where the weather is temperate and relatively mild with rainfall throughout the year. Summers can be very hot and sunny. Inland areas are mild and the French slopes of the Pyrenees are renowned for their sunshine record. A Mediterranean climate exists on the Riviera, and in Provence and Roussillon. Weather in the French Alps is variable. Continental weather is present in Auvergne, Burgundy and the Rhône Valley. Very strong winds (such as the Mistral) can occur throughout the entire region.
European, according to season. Light breathable clothing for summer in all areas and waterproof winter gear for the mountains all year round. In winter even the Mediterranean resorts often require a sweater or jacket for the evenings.
551,500 sq km (212,935 sq miles).
119.6 per sq km.
Republic since 1792.
France, the largest country in Western Europe, is bordered to the northwest by the English Channel (La Manche), to the northeast by Belgium and Luxembourg, to the east by Germany, Switzerland and Italy, to the south by the Mediterranean (with Monaco as a coastal enclave between Nice and the Italian frontier), to the southwest by Spain and Andorra, and to the west by the Atlantic Ocean. The country’s loose six-sided shape means it often gets referred to by the informal nickname “L’Hexagone”.
The island of Corsica, southeast of Nice, is made up of two départements. France is home to an astonishing range of scenery, from the mountain ranges of the Alps and Pyrenees to the attractive river valleys of the Loire, Rhône and Dordogne, and the flatter countryside of Normandy and the Atlantic coast. The country has some 2,900km (1,800 miles) of coastline.
Away from the mainland and Corsica, there are a number of French-administered overseas departments and regions outside of Europe. These include Guadeloupe (an island in the Caribbean), Réunion Island (located in the Indian Ocean just east of Madagascar), French Guiana (on the northeastern coast of South America), Martinique (another island in the Caribbean) and Mayotte (an island in the Mozambique Channel).
French is the official language. There are many regional dialects, but these are rapidly declining, with the exception of Basque, which is spoken as a first language by some people in the southwest, and Breton,which is spoken by some in Brittany. Many people speak at least some English.
Approximately 83-88% Roman Catholic; Protestant 2%; Muslim 5 - 10%; Jewish 1%; unaffiliated 4%.
GMT + 1 (GMT + 2 from last Sunday in March to last Sunday in October).
Shaking hands and, more familiarly, kissing both cheeks, are the usual forms of greeting. The form of personal address is simply Monsieur or Madame without a surname and it may take time to get on first-name terms. At more formal dinners, it is the most important guest or host who gives the signal to start eating. Mealtimes are often a long, leisurely experience. Casual wear is common. Social functions, some clubs, casinos and exclusive restaurants warrant more formal attire. Evening wear is normally specified where required. Topless sunbathing is tolerated on most beaches but naturism is restricted to certain beaches - local tourist offices will advise where these are. A smoking ban for workplaces and public spaces has been in place since February 2007.
220 volts AC, 50Hz. Two-pin plugs are widely used.
Head of Government
Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault since 2012.
Head of State
President François Hollande since 2012.
Prior to the French Revolution in 1789, France was a monarchy known for its colourful (and often extravagant) royals. The revolution itself brought about a sea change in the way the whole country was structured, shifting power from the church and nobility to the state. The Napoleonic era then oversaw the expansion of the French Empire, before defeat at Waterloo in 1815 resulted in the restoration of the monarchy. The abdication of King Louis-Philippe in 1848 saw the formation of the Second Republic, since when the country has been ruled by different heads of state. In the twentieth century, France played an important role in both world wars (the country’s surrender to Nazi Germany in 1940 resulted in the temporary Vichy Regime) but the post-war presidency of Charles de Gaulle restored stability. In modern times, Jacques Chirac's reign as French president finally came to an end on 16 May 2007 with the ruling party's Nicolas Sarkozy winning a decisive victory in the second round of the presidential election. He won 53% of the vote, finishing six points ahead of Socialist rival, Ségolène Royal. Measures taken by his government have tried to boost growth by reducing taxes. High unemployment and the financial crisis remain pressing problems.
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.
Currency exchange can be made in most banks and post offices as well as in some large stores, train stations, airports and exchange offices near major tourist sites. Shops and hotels are prohibited by law from accepting foreign currency. Travellers should check with their banks for details and current rates.
Credit/Debit Cards and ATMs
American Express, Diners Club, MasterCard and Visa are widely accepted across the country. If you're eating at a restaurant, check prior to the meal that your card will be an acceptable form of payment. Even in cities, it's advisable to carry a supply of cash with you at all times.
Traveller's cheques are accepted nearly everywhere in France. In Monaco, to avoid additional exchange rate charges, travellers are advised to take traveller's cheques in Euros, US Dollars or Pounds Sterling.
There are no restrictions on the import or export of local or foreign currency. However, amounts exceeding €10,000 or equivalent must be declared if travelling from or to a country outside the European Union.
Banking hours in Paris are usually from 1000-1700, Monday through Friday. Throughout the rest of France, banks are usually open from 1000-1300 and 1500-1700, Tuesday to Saturday. Banks often close earlier the day before a public holiday. In Monaco, banks are normally open between Mon-Fri 0900-1200 and 1400-1630.
Exchange Rate Indicators
1.00 GBP = 1.18 EUR 1.00 USD = 0.72 EUR 1.00 CAD = 0.68 EUR Currency conversion rates as of 12 December 2013
You could spend a lifetime’s worth of holidays in France and still not feel as though you’d done the country justice. It remains the planet’s most visited tourist destination, meriting this lofty standing with an almost overwhelming mass of historical treasures, storybook landscapes and cultural idiosyncrasies.
The teeming glam of Paris makes for one hell of a centrepiece, matching any city on the planet for ambiance, individuality and set-piece sights. But the real beauty of France, in many ways, lies in the seemingly endless list of travel treats elsewhere. The country’s natural gifts are striking, with white sands, hulking mountains and fecund swathes of rolling countryside. It’s a land that has inspired dreamers and drinkers, revolutionaries and artists, gastronomes and geniuses. Little wonder that Francophiles (and it’s telling that even the country’s devotees have a given word to describe them) are found the world over.
In terms of where to go and what to see, it's all about the dramatic juxtapositions. You can soak up the A-list beaches of the Cote d’Azur, drowse in the timeless greenery of the Loire Valley or gaze up at the monumental peaks of the Alps. Wander the lavender fields of Provence, eat your way round the legendary bistros of Lyon or sample the rugged charm of Corsica. Lose yourself in megaliths, linger in ancient walled cities and hike dizzying cliff tops. France’s cities, coastline and countryside all have their own ooh-la-la rewards, and when taken as a whole, they present a near-perfect visitor package.
But naturally, there’s more to the destination than its guidebook hits. Today’s France is a nation defined by a whole host of other characteristics, among them politics, language, multiculturalism and a still-fierce sense of identity. And when seen in the context of the country’s dramatic, romping history – a timeline stretching from Joan of Arc to the Eurozone crisis via Louis XIV, Napoleon and De Gaulle – it makes any visit a fascinating one.
That’s not to say, of course, that it’s somewhere which can be easily bracketed. The wider territory of France is far-reaching, incorporating parts of the Caribbean and the Indian Ocean, but even seeing Metropolitan France itself as one distinct nation can often be a stretch of the imagination. When you’re walking the moody portside backstreets of Marseille or delving among the sprawling flea markets of Paris, it can be a job to remember that they’re a part of the same country as the vineyards of Alsace or the sand dunes of the Atlantic coast.
This diversity, in many ways, is the magic of France. It’s why it has endless magazines, books and texts dedicated to the joys of its lifestyle. It’s why the national spirit remains such a bold, many-hued thing. And it’s one reason why, in a continent full of historical wonder and natural beauty, France still draws more tourist attention than anywhere else.
"How can one describe a country which has 365 kinds of cheese?" once asked former French president Charles De Gaulle. Even today, it's a very good question.
From www.worldtravelguide.net copyright Columbus Travel Publishing Ltd, December 2013.