Croissants, Countryside and Je Ne Sais Quoi: The Definitive Guide to France

pexels-photo-408503Ooh la la! There’s just something about France that sweeps you off your feet. Is it the impossibly chic sense of style? The wonderfully buttery croissants? The rolling countryside dotted with a patchwork of vineyards and villages? Perhaps it’s the sun-drenched beaches, or the mouth-watering Michelin restaurants that seem to be around every corner? Or maybe it’s that “je ne sais quoi” that you just can’t put your finger on?

Whatever it is that makes you swoon, here’s our definitive guide to holidaying in France. And yes, there will be buttery cheese, flaky pastries and endless glasses of wine, you lucky little so-and-so, you.

How long can I stay without a visa?
Thanks to reciprocal visa agreements New Zealand citizen holders with a valid passport are not required to obtain a visa to enter France. The only catch is you can’t stay longer than 90 days.

What’s the local currency?
The French wheel and deal in Euros, so be sure to stock up before you go. It’s always worth keeping an eye on the exchange rate in the lead up to your trip because it can fluctuate significantly.

Do I need to tip?
By law, all French restaurants are required to include a 15% service charge in the bill which is listed as “service compris” on your receipt. That said, the price shown on the menu generally includes the 15% so there shouldn’t be any hidden extras. If you’ve been wowed by the experience servers will always appreciate a few Euros extra.

Transfers to and from the airport
The flight from New Zealand to France is long, and you won’t want to mess around when you touch down at Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport. For a breezy trip why not chat to House of Travel consultants about booking private transfers before you leave? Of course, you can always ride the RER B straight to the heart of Paris. Just watch your belongings as pickpocketing is rife.

pexels-photo-548077Getting around
Now available in Paris, Nice, Lille, Lyon, Marseille, Nantes, Bordeaux, Strasbourg and Toulouse, Uber is loved by savvy travellers across France. If you’re travelling long distance the world class SNCF train system is a fantastic way to hop your way through France and take in the picturesque scenery. It’s not always cheap, so book in advance for the best deals and reach out to a HOT consultant for expert help. Self-drive tours open a world of freedom and are the quintessential way to explore the French countryside. If you can score a vintage convertible, all the better.

Weather: When is the best time to go?
With mild winters and warm summers, there is so much variety when it comes to weather in France. The Mediterranean coast is drenched in summer sunshine, though you’ll still enjoy plenty of rays in mid-winter. As a general rule, travel south to maximise sunshine. Of course, winters in the Alps, Pyrenees and Auvergne bring a flurry of snow and legendary skiing.

Need to know phrases
The French are famously protective of their language and don’t respond well to foreigners who don’t try to embrace it. Never assume a local speaks English, and always start conversations with a polite, “parlez-vous anglais?” which translates to do you speak English? “Bonjour” means hello, “s’il vous plait” means please, while “merci” means thanks you. If someone starts babbling to you a simple “je ne parle pas français” (I don’t speak French) will let them know you’re not following. If you’re shopping, “Combien ça coûte?” is an easy way of asking how much an item costs.

pexels-photo-53300Wining and dining
Champagne anyone? Epernay’s Avenue de Champagne is dotted with vineyards, while nearby Hautvillers is the hometown of 17th century monk and godfather of champagne, Dom Pérignon. France is a mecca for foodies, with a smorgasbord of Michelin restaurants to eat your way through. Even in the smallest towns you’ll often find a world class bistro. The best way to get your bearings is to check out the Michelin guide itself, or read up on the latest articles. Burgundy is the region of lusciously creamy cheese, Chablis wine, Dijon mustard and rich boeuf bourguignon. Of course, Bordeaux steps up as the capital of over-indulgence and is home to 57 globally recognised wine labels. No frill “auberge” eateries serve up tasty and affordable meals, and if all else fails you can always pick up a crusty baguette, a hunk of cheese and a bottle of vino and enjoy an impromptu picnic.

Mobile usage – to roam or not to roam?
From posting Eiffel Tower selfies to checking TripAdvisor reviews, a mobile will make your trip so much easier. House of Travel recommends purchasing a local French SIM card with major carriers like Orange.