What to do, see and try in France.


Logistics: Air France and United offer daily non-stop flights from Dulles International Airport to Paris-Charles de Gaulle. From CDG, you can connect to other French destinations such as Nice, Lyon and Bordeaux. The country's high-speed rail network allows for pleasant and efficient travel. The road network is also excellent, but keep in mind that tolls can be expensive. If you are driving, avoid the start and end of school vacation periods, when roads may be obstructed by traffic, especially around urban areas.

Money: The currency is the Euro. Credit cards are widely accepted. The restaurant servers will also patiently split the bills; it's common for friends who dine out to pay exactly what they owe.

Paperwork: American citizens do not need a visa to travel to France and other members of the Schengen area for up to 90 days. Your passport must be valid for at least three months beyond your scheduled departure date.

Language: French is the official language; English is widely spoken in cities. The number of dialects, dialects and vernaculars - including Basque, Occitan and Breton - reflects the multifaceted diversity of the country. It was only under Napoleon that French became the national lingua franca. Learn a few words and phrases in French to speak to the locals who will greatly appreciate your efforts.

Health: No special precautions. If you come with something, highly qualified French pharmacists can help you. Look for the flashing neon green cross in front of a pharmacy.

Dominant myth: France is no stranger to tenacious stereotypes. Unpleasant waiters, accordionists wearing berets, sexy Parisians who exude chic effortlessly. ... Forget these shots; France is a cosmopolitan and open-minded place.

Itinerary for beginners: Paris is always a good idea, especially on foot. Take a few days to see the main monuments, such as the Louvre and the Eiffel Tower, wandering on the pedestrian quays along the Seine. Then stroll through the Marais and Saint-Germain-des-Prés districts, before exploring less touristy areas such as the 11th arrondissement (large restaurants), the 13th (street art) and the 3rd (trendy concept stores). Combine a stay in Paris with a few days (or weeks, depending on time and budget) in another region.

Keep in mind that the tourist "rules" in Paris are different from the countryside. In rural areas, residents respect specific meal times, which means that restaurant kitchens are open from noon to 2 p.m. for the lunch. Likewise, stores can close for an afternoon break and most close completely on Sundays.

Itinerary for regular visitors: Master your ambitions (France is the largest country in Western Europe, after all) and choose a single area to explore. Do you like wine? Taste your way through Burgundy, the Rhône Valley or Bordeaux. Children in tow? Discover the prehistoric cave paintings of the Dordogne valley. History buff? Discover the Normandy landing beaches, as well as Mont-Saint-Michel, the island monastery listed as World Heritage by UNESCO. Adrenaline junkie? Skiing, paragliding or canyoning in the Alps. Hiking fanatic? Try the epic GR20 trail in Corsica. Beaches abound: the Catalan coast, the lively playground of the French Riviera and the highest sand dune in Europe (Pilat) on the Arcachon basin. Follow in the footsteps of artists in Provence. Take a royal road trip in the Loire Valley, dotted with Renaissance castles. Or if you hear the song of the (Celtic) siren of Brittany, discover the islands and the culture centered on the sea of ​​an ancient province at the end of the world (Finistère, in the far west of France, is derived from Latin "Finis Terræ").

Eat this: Cradle of the bistro and Michelin guide, France has a vast and fascinating culinary heritage. During a gourmet Tour de France, try beef bourguignon and coq au vin in Burgundy, bouillabaisse in Marseille, dumplings in Lyon and buckwheat pancakes in Brittany. Don't skip dessert. With a revival of pastry in progress in Paris, taste pastries that look like jewels from Cédric Grolet, Christophe Michalak and Yann Couvreur. Tip: the fixed price lunch menu, offering two or three dishes, can be a good deal, especially in gourmet restaurants.

Special events: France is a party all year round. May means the Cannes Film Festival and the Open de France tennis tournament. The Fête de la Musique takes place at the summer solstice and brings concerts to almost every street corner. Summer also brings the Tour de France, the Avignon Festival and music festivals galore. Autumn is marked by the European Heritage Days and the harvest. Christmas markets start to appear in November; that of Strasbourg has delighted crowds since 1570. The Fête des Lumières in December in Lyon is followed by winter festivities on the Côte d'Azur (Carnival of Nice, Fête du Citron in Menton).

Reading list: The country that gave us Colette and Camus inspires countless writers. A handful of insightful English-language books include “The Discovery of France” by Graham Robb; "The New Paris" by Lindsey Tramuta; "The Seine" by Elaine Sciolino; "The Divorce" by Diane Johnson.

playlist: "Body language" (Grand Corps Malade); "I say love" (M); "I am" (Bigflo & Oli); "Makeba" (Jain); "Get Lucky" (Daft Punk); "Christine" (Christine and the queens); "Boléro" (Maurice Ravel); "Fantastic Symphony" (Hector Berlioz); "Souvenirs" (David Guetta); "A standing man" (Claudio Capéo); "Everyone cares" (Sofiane); "Joe the taxi" (Vanessa Paradis); "Sapés like never" (Master Gims); "Light the fire" (Johnny Hallyday); "Route Nationale 7" (Charles Trenet).

Cultural sensitivities: Say "hello" when entering a store or restaurant. Avoid leisure; French people just don't wear yoga pants unless they take a yoga class. In the Paris metro, don’t sit on one of the fold-down seats on a crowded train during rush hour.

Memories: Handcrafted knives like Opinel, Nontron and Laguiole; wine, cognac and other fine spirits; Basque Country Espelette Red Pepper; striped Breton shirts by Saint James; Ile de Ré sea salt; linens and lavender from Provence; Hermès, Goyard et al in Paris. If you coincide with your trip with the semi-annual sales (sales) in January and July, you can get deals of up to 70%.

Quote: “How can you govern a nation that has 246 different kinds of cheese? "- Charles de Gaulle


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