Your full Wanderlust guide to


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In one day, you could drive from Brittany’s windswept coasts and medieval forests, past the verdant, flat pastures either side of the Loire, through the snow-flecked peaks of the Massif Central, the deep gorges of Languedoc-Rousillon and on to the sun-baked beaches of the Mediterranean. Yet France’s variety isn’t spoken of nearly enough.

It’s the same for French culture. Too often it is seen as one homogenous thing, yet there is Roman France, when the colosseum of Nîmes rivalled that of Rome’s own, or the France of the Impressionists, whose hazy renditions of Normandy’s Alabaster cliffs or the Gothic streets of Rouen fuelled a painting revolution; then there’s the France of Louis XIV, whose Versailles palace tickles the optic nerves with its decadence, or prehistoric France, in which the caves of Lascaux became a canvas for early mankind 17,000 years ago. And we didn’t even mention the world-class museums of capital Paris…

Arguably most accessible of all is gastronomic France. The first nation to have its entire food culture recognised by UNESCO naturally sleeps and breathes cooking. From butter-rich Lyonnaise fare to the pizza-like flammekueche of Alsace-Lorraine and the crêpes of Brittany, this may be the land of Michelin, but even in tiny village backstreets you’ll find incredible cooking… and wine! From Burgundy to Bordeaux, you can tour vineyards by bike, foot or riverboat, and visit the world’s largest wine museum, the Cité du Vin.

These days there’s also green France. The country is well connected by rail, and the wide range of eco-stays, from ski lodges to off-grid gites, opens up that little-sung side to the land of romance and wine: its wildernesses. Across many of these you’ll find some of the 60,000km of long-distance footpaths (sentiers de grande randonées), including the beginning of the Camino Frances and Corsica’s magnificent, if brutal, GR20. It’s a magnificent way to explore everything from the peaks of the pyrenees to the leafy Ardennes.

There are almost countless ways to soak up France, and that’s where the real joie de vivre is to be found in this country.

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You can travel to countries in the Schengen area, which France is part of, for up to 90 days in any 180-day period without a visa. This applies if you travel as a tourist, to visit family or friends, to attend business meetings, cultural or sports events, or for short-term studies or training.
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When to go to France

The French tend to stick to their own country when they go on holiday. This means that during the main French holiday periods train fares soar and road travel becomes unbearable unless you like miles-long tailbacks. Avoid August at all costs, when the entire country takes its congé annuel and only the tourist industry remains open.

As expected, the general rule is that winter is cold, summer hot and spring and autumn pleasant. However on the Atlantic coast and in the north (in Brittany in particular), the weather can be highly changeable at any time of year. As you go further south temperatures tend to get hotter and the weather more predictable. The Mediterranean region gets most of its rainfall from late September to early November, when the rains can be torrential. Winter sports enthusiasts can expect good snow on France’s numerous mountain ranges from mid-December to late March.

The summer months see the greatest concentration of festivals in France, ranging from the nation-wide celebrations on Bastille Day (14 July) to the week-long music festivals and bullfighting ferias in the south of France. In December, head to Alsace for its Christmas markets and Lyon for the Fêtes des Lumières, when the entire city becomes a playground of light installations. In February, Nice holds France’s largest street carnival.

International airports

Paris-Charles de Gaule (CDG) 23km from the city, Paris-Orly (ORY) 14km, Bordeaux (BOD)12km, Lille (LIL) 12km, Lyon (LYS) 25km, Marseille (MRS) 30km, Nice (NCE) 6km, Strasbourg (SXB) 12km, Toulouse (TLS) 8km.

Getting around in France

France has an excellent rail network, ranging from the regional TER to the high-speed TGV, which will take you between almost any two French cities within three hours. There are a number of comfortable sleeper trains. Book your train journeys in advance to save on the fare. Until recently, travellers had to composter (stamp) their ticket using the special machines provided on platforms before getting on the train, but this is being phased out with the rise of e-tickets, which don’t require this.

For local bus timetables, your best bet are the gare routières (bus stations) and local tourist offices. Generally buses are slower and cheaper than the trains.

Outside of the main holiday season, France’s roads can be a real pleasure to cycle or drive. The motorway toll roads are great if you’re in a rush. If you’re planning to take scenic routes, it’s worth investing in a Michelin map, which marks these in green.

Most French cities now have a network of 24-hour bicycle and e-scooter stations, where for a small sum you can rent a bike, picking it up from one station and dropping it off at whichever station is nearest to you at the end of the day.

Health & safety

There is little to worry about health-wise in France. Under the French health system, you’ll have to pay for all hospital services, doctors’ consultations and prescriptions upfront but EU citizens are entitled to a refund, provided you have a valid European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) or Global Health Insurance Card (GHIC).

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