Thursday, 24 July 2008

Eating in France - French Foods And Delicacies

France has an international reputation for delicacies and fine dining but finding the right restaurant is very important. The best advice for the best cuisine would be to eat where the locals eat as there are many restaurants, brasseries or bistros that serve a virtually standardised menu and could be well below par. Try looking through reliable local guides or try specific local restaurants like "crêperies" in Brittany (or in the Montparnasse area of Paris) or "bouchons lyonnais" in Lyons.

There is lots of ethnic food available throughout France including North African, Greek, Italian and Chinese takeaways and restaurants. If you're feeling like something familiar, hamburger eateries are also available.

Booking in advance is advisable, as it is compulsory in many restaurants. You may be turned away without a reservation even if the restaurant appears to have room. Also, not all restaurants are open for lunch and dinner and some only open at specific times of the year. Weekend dining is near impossible unless you stick to the tourist areas.

When eating out in France, your tip is included in the bill. The breakdown is as follows: 19.6 per cent of the total is tax plus a service charge, usually around 15% is added on top. French people do occasionally leave one or two coins if they are really happy with the service and it is considered an extra tip.

If you want water in a cafe or restaurant, ask for a carafe d'eau otherwise the waiter will try to sell you mineral water (Thonon, Évian) or sparkling water (Perrier, Badoit) at a high premium.

There are two common formats for restaurants, either fixed price menus (prix fixe) or à la carte. Each option in the fixed price menu is comprised of three courses, usually of the following:

1. Appetiser (also called hors d'œuvres or entrées)
2. Main (also called plat)
3. Dessert (typical dessert) or cheese (fromage)

If you do not want the full three courses, some restaurants offer the option of having only two of the three courses at a reduced price.

A French tradition is to finish the meal with coffee. Try to avoid ordering coffee during the meal as it would be considered quite strange.

Regional foods
What makes food in France so interesting is the variety you find as you travel around the country. Each region has its own dishes which differ depending on the kinds of foods that thrive there.

Fondue Savoyarde (in the central Alps)
Hot or melted cheese with alcohol
Choucroute aka sauerkraut (in Alsace)
Stripped fermented cabbage and pork.
Raclette (in the central Alps)
Melted cheese with potatoes or meat.
Fondue Bourguignonne (in Burgundy)
Pieces of Beef in boiled oil served with various sauces.
Boeuf Bourguignon (in Burgundy)
Slow cooked beef flavoured with garlic, onions and carrots and garnished with onions and mushrooms.
Pot-au-feu ("pot on the fire")
Boiled beef and vegetables served with spices, course salt and strong dijon mustard.
Aligot (in Auvergne)
A puree of potatoes mixed with melted cheese.
Gratin dauphinois (in Rhone-Alpes)
Oven roasted slices of potatoes.
Confit de Canard (in Landes and Gascony)
Duck Confit. Consists of duck legs and wings bathing in fat.
Foie Gras (in Landes)
The liver of a goose or duck. Usually quite expensive but is enjoyed by many around the holiday season.
Bouillabaisse (in Marseille and the French Riviera)
Fish and saffron. Requires lots of fish and therefore is a costly dish.
Tartiflette (in Savoie)
Pork or bacon with potatoes and reblochon cheese.
Cassoulet (in the south west)
Duck, beans, pork and sausages.

Photo credit: Flickr's robylab

Wednesday, 23 July 2008

Getting into France - Planes, Trains, Buses And Cars

As France is a member of the European Union, no visa is required for citizens of other EU member states. This also applies to nations who have special treaties with France or the EU. Australian, Indonesian or Malaysian citizens who are visiting France for holiday purposes don't need a visa.

Border controls are rare which makes travel a lot less complicated. Be aware, however, sometimes cars and buses are stopped at the first toll-booth after entering the country, so have your passport on hand.

Traveling by plane
The Charles de Gaulle (CDG) airport in Paris is the main international airport in France and is the home of Air France (AF), the national airline. Airlines within the SkyTeam Alliance (AeroMexico, Alitalia, Dutch KLM, NorthWest, US Continental, Delta Airlines, Korean Air) operate out of Terminal 2 while most other foreign operators use Terminal 1. Terminal 3 is used for charter flights.

There are several smaller airports in France that mostly cater to domestic travellers. These are: Orly in Paris, Bordeaux, Lille, Clermont-Ferrand, Marseille, Nice, Toulouse and Nantes. Bâle-Mulhouse and Geneva are shared by France and Switzerland, allowing entry into either country. Beauvais is an airport about 80km northwest of Paris and is used by low-cost carriers such as Ryanair and Volare. Buses to Paris are usually provided by these airlines.

Traveling by train
You can use the regular rail service provided by the French rail company SNCF (Société Nationale des Chemins de fer Français) for direct service from most European countries.
There are high-speed alternatives like the Eurostar, which links Lille and Paris with London via the Calais-Dover channel tunnel.
The Thalys service is a Paris to Brussels connection that extends onwards to the Netherlands and Germany using high-speed TGV (Train a Grande Vitesse) trains.

Traveling by bus
Bus travel can be tricky as there is no national bus service and varies from region to region.
A private bus service called Eurolines covers the whole continent with over 500 destinations.

Getting around
The freeways in France are called autoroutes and most are toll roads. All toll booths accept major credit cards. Some roads have entrance and exit toll stations. Be sure to hang on to your entrance ticket - if you lose it, you'll be charged for the longest distance plus additional fees.

Some helpful signs to look out for on the autoroutes are:
1. toutes directions (all destinations)
2. autres directions (all other destinations)
3. Axxx: Autoroute (red sign)
4. Nxxx: National Road (red sign)
5. Dxxx: Departmental Road (yellow sign)
6. Péage: Toll to be paid

If you're considering renting a car, keep in mind that most cars in France have manual gearboxes. If you haven't driven a manual before, make sure to ask for an automatic in advance as you'll likely find it impossible to drive a manual without lots of practice.

Many personal cars use diesel instead of petrol so be sure to check which one your hire car takes. Diesel is alternatively known as gazole or gasoil. Petrol is known as Super 95 or Super 98. Almost all cars require 95 and those that do, can also take 98. For cheap fuel, stick to the supermarket fuel stations such as Auchan, Intermarché, Casino or Carrefour. Fuel on the motorways tends to be more expensive. If you can choose between a diesel or petrol rental car, you'll find it's cheaper and more economical to go for diesel.

In France you must drive on the right hand side of the road.

Photo credit: Flickr's abdallahh

Tuesday, 22 July 2008

About France | Country, Weather, Tourism And Transportation

France is a country located in Western Europe bordered by Spain, Belgium, Germany, Luxembourg, Monaco, Andorra, Switzerland and Italy. It comprises various overseas islands and territories in North America, the Caribbean, South America, the southern Indian Ocean, the Pacific Ocean and Antarctica.

Metropolitan France extends from the Mediterranean Sea to the English Channel (La Manche) and the North Sea and also from the Rhine to the Atlantic Ocean. France is linked to the UK via the Channel Tunnel, which passes underneath the English Channel. Metropolitan France covers 547,030 sq km which makes it the largest country in the European Union.

France is a developed country and has the sixth largest economy in the world. France is a founding member of both the European Union and the United Nations and is a member of the G8. It is one of five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council and is an acknowledged nuclear power.

Weather
Metropolitan France is situated on the western edge of Europe and lies within the northern temperate zone. In the west, the climate is mostly oceanic with a high level of rainfall, mild winters and cool summers. The north and north-west have a temperate climate while the climate inland is more continental with hot, stormy summers, colder winters and less rain. The south-east has a Mediterranean climate while in the Alps, over 150 days of each year see temperatures below freezing and snow cover lasting up to six months.

Tourism
France is the most popular tourist destination in the world and offers coastlines, mountain ranges and cities with a rich cultural heritage. In 2006, France attracted 79.1 million foreign tourists, surpassing their population of 64.5 million. Tourism is accountable for 6% of the country's income.

Transportation
France has the most extensive rail network in Western Europe stretching 31,840km (19,784 mi). There are three high speed trains in commercial use, the Thalys, the Eurostar and TGV which travel at speeds of 320 km/h (200 mph). Connections can be made with the United Kingdom via the Eurostar or Eurotunnel Shuttle through the Channel Tunnel. There are rail connections between all neighbouring countries in Europe, except for Andorra. France has well developed intra-urban connections with both underground and tramway services complementing bus services.

There is approximately 893,000 kilometres (555,070 mi) of roadway in France which handles substantial international traffic, connecting with cities in neighbouring Belgium, Andorra, Switzerland, Monaco, Germany, Spain and Italy. There is no annual road tax or registration fee, however, tolls are to be paid on motorways. The world's tallest road bridge can be found in France, it is called the Millau Viaduct.

There are approximately 478 airports in France, including landing fields. The largest and busiest airport in the country is The Charles de Gaulle International Airport which is located within the vicinity of Paris. It handles the vast majority of private and commercial air traffic and connects Paris with virtually all major cities around the world.

France has ten major ports, the largest of which is Marseille, which is also the largest bordering the Mediterranean Sea. There are 14,932 kilometres (9,278 mi) of waterways that traverse France.

Paris
Paris is the capital of France and features many popular attractions such as the Sacré-Coeur, the Louvre, Musée d'Orsay, Arc de Triomphe, the cathedral of Notre-Dame and the Eiffel Tower.

Beaches
France is famous for its Mediterranean beaches and there are many spots to enjoy on the French Riviera, in Languedoc-Roussillon and in Corsica. Many tourists visit the French Polynesia, especially Tahiti and the Caribbean islands Guadeloupe, Martinique and others.

Photo credit: Flickr's Francois Schnell