A BACKPACKER’S GUIDE TO FRANCE
Ooh la la, c’est la France, the land of love and cheese that has long held the imagination of romantic travellers the world over. France is a land of almost unbearable beauty, of high alpine mountains, and the sun-soaked pebbles of the southern riviera, of big cities filled with art and culture and a vast countryside that produces some of the best produce in the world. It’s a land of lazy afternoons spent drinking wine on terraces, of naked beaches and an almost national approach to extramarital affairs.
For backpackers France might be a little more expensive than other destinations in Europe, but how can one visit the continent without dabbling in baguettes and berets, escargot and the Eiffel Tower? France is where people come to live well, to treat themselves, to while the days away pursuing the things that make them truly happy on a physical level. Viva la France, as they say, stay for as long as you can afford it and really enjoy yourself.
Facts About France
France’s Population: 66.9 million
Tourists to France in a year: 85.7 million, making it the most visited country in the world
France’s biggest cities: Paris, Lyon, Marseille, Toulouse, Lille, Bordeaux, Nice, Nante, Strasbourg
Languages spoken in France: overwhelmingly French, and it’s the only official language, with some people also speaking Alsatian near the German border, and Breton along the Brittany Coast. Small number of Basque speakers in the south west and speakers of Catalan near that Spanish provence.
Average wage in France: €3000
Price of things in France: lunch for two with wine €30, packet of Gauloise cigarettes €7, a glass of beer €6, une baguette €0.45, huge lump of cheese €6.50
Times things happen in France: breakfast is kind of nonexistent, lunch is strictly between 12-2 and dinner from 7-9. If you’re coming from Spain, expect a return to almost-normal eating times.
Average summer high temperature in France: Paris 25°C, Biarritz 24°C, Marseille 30°C, Chamonix 24°C
Average winter low temperature in France: Paris 3°C, Biarritz 5°C, Marseille 3°C, Chamonix -8°C.
Festivals In France
There are plenty of festivals all over France, but for us the best are the Fetes de Bayonne, that take place every August in the southwest of France. For five days this ancient Basque city sees its streets filled with revellers dressed in white and red, drinking wine and dancing, and basically just going nuts. It’s France’s version of a Spanish street fiesta, and while they don’t quite get it right, they do do it in a very particular French style.
Transportation In France
Car rental in France: hiring a car is awesome in France as there are so many villages and national parks, rural areas and hidden beaches. There are a lot of tolls in France, so give yourself plenty of time and still to the national highways, not the toll roads, or prepare to cough up some euros. The process of hiring a car is the same in France as it is in the rest of Europe, and we recommend you use a service like rentalcars.com to get the best prices across all hire car companies.
Flying in France: there are airports all over France, particularly in the bigger cities and around the tourists hubs in the south. The main budget airlines like Ryanair and Easyjet service most, if not all of these airports. Flying is convenient, but you will miss out on many of the hidden gems that you’d find on a more land-based method of travel. Make sure you weigh up the options to determine if flying is the best method of transport for you.
Train travel in France: the French are famous for their super-fast rail system that runs out from Paris and across the country and beyond into Europe and even the UK. The train is far superior to flying in France, especially with trains that hit speeds of up to 320 kms/h, before dropping you off right in the middle of town. The train system in France is called the SNCF and the super fast trains are the TGVs. You can use French trains with a Eurail pass, but there are fees for most intercity lines. Make sure that a Eurail pass is the best option for your trip before you buy one.
Campervan hire France: this is a great option to see the country with some friends. There are plenty of places you can park and sleep for free in France, and also many where it has become a problem and the authorities have cracked down on it. Most popular beaches, particularly on the wilder west coast, will have entire carparks dedicated to camper cars, complete with power and water, toilets and basic showers, all for a nominal fee, great if you’re surfing. There’s a company called Van-it that seem to have reasonable deals on normal-sized camping cars (meaning you can park in places that have height and length restrictions), available from some major French cities. Hiring a campervan isn’t just a good idea for France, but for your Europe trip in general.
Bus travel in France: France is really proud of their train network and so they focus on them to the detriment of their bus options. The usual suspects, like Eurolines and Busabout go to plenty of cities and regions, but buses in France are a worse option than trains and hiring cars.
Accommodation In France
Couchsurfing in France: is like couchsurfing anywhere — cheap, potentially awkward, maybe a whole lot of authentic fun, could be creepy. The French aren’t renowned for being open to foreigners, but that stereotype isn’t really true and less so outside the cities. The only problem is that English isn’t really all that widely spoken, particularly by older generations, and parlez-vous francais?
Sleeping in your car in France: you can do it, and you may be moved along, particularly in swankier seaside resorts like Monaco. Sleeping in your car is a great option to travel France on the cheap, especially if you can find a way to have a good night’s sleep in the small space. We really recommend mixing it up with staying in places that allow you to stretch out, shower, etc.
Camping in France: there are campgrounds all over France, running the gamut from over-the-top family affairs with restaurants and amusement parks and cinemas, to spartan rural campsites that offer little more than a space to pitch a tent and enjoy nature. There are websites that list most campsites across France, like campingfrance.com.
Hostels in France: be aware when booking hostels in France that many may be auberges de jeunesse, which technically are youth hostels, but are more geared towards school groups and other large congregations of dorks. Like always, you want to be prepared for surviving hostel life, and make sure you book the right place for you by us