France is a hop across the channel for UK residents and is our nearest Continental neighbour. It has become even more accessible since the opening of the Channel Tunnel and rail-link sped up our journey even more. France is a beguiling blend of lush agricultural countryside, varied tourist attractions that appeal across the ages range, and iconic landmarks such as the enduringly-popular Eiffel Tower.
France is part of the European Union and is bordered by the North Sea, the Channel, the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean. It also boasts a varied landscape of rolling prairies, Alpine peaks, northern spruce forests and steppe-like plateaux. France is the largest country in Western Europe and the third-largest country in Europe as a whole. France is bordered by Belgium, Luxembourg, Germany, Switzerland, Italy, Monaco, Spain and Andorra.
You are eligible to apply for an EHIC card to take with you on your holiday in France, to provide you with a degree of medical provision while you are there. You are entitled to the same level of service provision as a French citizen, so should receive free treatment in a public hospital or facility. As France operates a mixed public and private system, you should aim to be treated by a practitioner operating in a publicly funded capacity. It is still advisable for you to take out travel insurance prior to your time in France to offer you full cover for any price that you have to pay for treatment in a public facility and also to cover you in the event that you require repatriation back to the UK. The French healthcare system is generally well-regarded and in 2005, was named by WHO (the World Health Organization) as providing “the best overall health care” in the world.
Reassuringly, the tap water is considered to be one of the world’s finest sources of water, with quality provision across the country.
France is famous for the high calibre of its legendary cuisine and fine wines ( as well as the deliciously decadent chocolates and cheeses on offer). The gastronomy of France is one of its key selling points from exquisite patisseries, to fresh, seasonal produce including seafood and meats, there is something for all food lovers to enjoy. There is also an abundance of cookery schools and cookery holidays that can be enjoyed in this culinary wonderland. For a little something to wash down some of these gastronomic delights, you can take a trip to the Champagne region of France, or one of the other wine-producing regions such as Bordeaux or the Rhone Valley. The only caution to add is that you may find it slightly more challenging to find vegetarian food as vegetarianism is a relatively new concept for the French.
Electricity – you will need to take a two-pin electrical adaptor for electrical appliances.
Currency – the Euro
Driving – on the right
Climate – The north and northwest of France have a temperate climate. There is a Mediterranean climate in the south-east, in the west there is a high level of rainfall, mild winters and cool to warm summers. Inland, the climate tends to result in hot, stormy summers, colder winters and less rain. The climate in the Alps and other mountainous regions is mainly alpine, with snow cover lasting for up to six months.
Clothing – It depends what region you will be travelling in and the activities that you will be enjoying, but generally pack for a variety of weather conditions, ensuring that you pack ‘layers’ to adjust as necessary.
Where to go?
For history and culture – you must visit the impossibly chic capital Paris, with its stunning architecture and history around every fabulous corner. From the Musee d’Orsay, to The Louvre to the Cathedral of Notre Dame, artistry and beauty abound. To combine the two, why not take a worthwhile detour to the opulent and Unesco World Heritage listed Palace and Gardens of Versailles, which was transformed and expanded by Louis XIV. The gardens alone are grand enough to transport you back in time to a more refined era.
For kids and teens – You can’t beat the enduring appeal of Disneyland Paris, which is unbelievably celebrating its 20th anniversary in 2012. Children of all ages (and the grown-ups) will be charmed by the fairytale ambience of the park, overlooked by every young girls dream abode – the sugary pink Princess castle. Thrill seekers will find plenty of hurtling rollercoasters and water rides to awaken the senses. There are also wondrous family shows and parades as well as an opportunity to meet well-loved Disney characters.
Relaxation – Head to the idyllic French countryside typified by the unspoilt beauty and tranquillity of the Dordogne. There are reputed to be 1001 castles and chateaux in this region, along with mysterious prehistoric caves and medieval villages. For pure relaxation, go rustic and discover your own peace with a picnic by a wooded stream or a walk by the river.
Action – There are lots of options afforded by the variety of landscapes in France. You can go skiing or climbing in the Alps or the Pyrenees, you can enjoy world class golf or perhaps go canoeing along one of the county's rivers.
Nightlife – For glitz and glamour head south to the Mediterranean coast and more specifically to the French Riviera, which includes Nice and St.Tropez. You are spoilt for choice, whether you fancy an evening of dancing, dining, drinking and gambling, or any combination of the above! Drinks are expensive, but you may want to splash out to have a taste of the film-star lifestyle (it’s also where the Cannes Film Festival takes place!).