With the exception of haggling at flea markets, bargaining is not the norm in France.
Dangers & Annoyances
In general, Provence is a safe destination. Petty theft and burglary are the main problems – especially in touristy cities such as Marseille and Nice – but assault is rare. It's sensible to take the usual precautions: don't flash money around, keep expensive electronics and camera equipment concealed, and beware of pickpockets in busy areas (rucksacks are a favourite target).
- Mobile-phone theft is now probably the most common theft of all – tourists wandering around following directions on Google Maps are favourite targets. Try not to wander round city streets and train stations staring at your phone, and keep it hidden when not using it.
- Theft from luggage, pockets, cars, trains and laundrettes is widespread, particularly along the Côte d’Azur. Beware pickpockets in crowded tourist areas.
- If you carry a rucksack in very crowded areas, slinging it across your front makes it harder for pickpockets to undo the zips without you noticing.
- Keep close watch on bags, especially in markets, at train and bus stations, at outdoor cafes, on beaches and during overnight train rides (lock your compartment door).
- If travelling on trains, don't leave laptops, tablets and smartphones on display. If you go to the toilet or plan to sleep, lock your compartment door.
- If you're worried, lock your passport in your safe, or ask at reception to use the hotel's safe if your room doesn't have one. Don't forget it when you leave!
- Carry your passport number (or a photocopy) and your driver's licence for ID.
- Email yourself scans, or upload cloud copies of important documents such as passports, travel insurance documents, driving licences and so on. They're much easier to replace if you have copies. Photocopies are a useful back-up.
- When swimming, don't leave valuables unattended – you might have to take turns. On the Prado beaches in Marseille, consider placing valuables in one of the free (staffed) lockers.
- Break-ins on unattended vehicles are a big problem – leave nothing of value inside.
- Aggressive theft from cars stopped at red lights is an occasional problem in Marseille, Nice and larger cities; keep doors locked and windows up when idling.
- Common cons: thief finds a gold ring in your path, or lays a newspaper on your restaurant table, or approaches to ask if you speak English. Ignore children with clipboards, especially those playing deaf.
Beaches & Rivers
- Watch for pale-purple jellyfish on beaches.
- Major rivers are often connected to hydroelectric stations and flood suddenly when dams open. Ask tourist offices about l'ouverture des barrages – commonplace in summer.
- Swimming is prohibited in reservoirs with unstable banks (eg Lac de Ste-Croix, southwest of Gorges du Verdon; Lac de Castillon; and Lac de Chaudanne, northeast of the gorges). Sailing, windsurfing and canoeing are restricted to flagged areas.
Thunderstorms – sometimes violent and dangerous – are common in August and September. Check weather (la météo) before embarking on hikes. Carry pocket rain gear and extra layers to prevent hypothermia. Year-round, mistral winds can be maddening.
- In fire emergency, dial 18. Forest fires are common in July and August, and spread incredibly fast. July to mid-September, high-risk trails close. Never walk in closed zones.
- Forests are criss-crossed by fire roads. Signposted DFCI (forest-fire defence team) tracks are closed to motorists but open to walkers.
- Campfires are forbidden. Barbecues are forbidden in many areas in July and August.
France's hunting season runs September to February. Warning signs on trees and fences read ‘chasseurs’ or ‘chasse gardée’. Wear bright colours when hiking.
Many museums and monuments sell billets jumelés (combination tickets). Some cities, such as Aix-en-Provence, Arles and Avignon, have museum passes. Seniors over 60 or 65 are entitled to discounts on public transport, museums and cinemas. Train discounts are available.
French Riviera Pass (www.frenchrivierapass.com) Admission to all Nice’s paying attractions, plus many nearby.
- Plugs have two round pins; electrical current is 220V/50Hz AC.
Embassies & Consulates
Emergency & Important Numbers
|France country code||33|
|International dialling code||00|
Entry & Exit Formalities
Procedures for entering and leaving France are largely the same as for any other EU nation.
Goods imported and exported within the EU incur no additional taxes, provided duty has already been paid somewhere within the EU and the goods are for personal consumption. Duty-free shopping is only available if you are leaving the EU. For full details, see www.douane.gouv.fr.
Coming from non-EU countries, duty-free adult allowances are as follows:
- 200 cigarettes
- 50 cigars
- 1L of spirits
- 2L of wine
- 50mL of perfume
- 250mL of eau de toilette
Generally not required for stays of up to 90 days (or at all for EU nationals); some nationalities will require a Schengen visa.
For up-to-date information on visa requirements see www.diplomatie.gouv.fr.
- EU nationals and citizens of Iceland, Norway and Switzerland need only their passport or national identity card to enter France and work. However, nationals of the 12 countries that joined the EU in 2004 and 2007 are subject to residency and work limitations.
- Citizens of Australia, Canada, Hong Kong, Israel, Japan, Malaysia, New Zealand, Singapore, the USA and many Latin American countries do not need tourist visa for stays shorter than 90 days.
- Others must apply for a Schengen visa, allowing unlimited travel throughout 26 European countries for a 90-day period. Apply at the consulate of the country that's your first port of entry or will be your principal destination. Among other particulars, you must provide proof of travel and repatriation insurance, and prove you have sufficient money to support yourself.
- Tourist visas cannot be extended, except in emergencies (such as medical problems). Leave before your visa expires and reapply from outside France.
- Greetings When entering or leaving a shop, it's polite to say bonjour and au revoir. When greeting friends, it's usual to give a kiss on both cheeks and ask Comment ça va? (How are you?)
- Conversation Use vous (you) when speaking to people you don't know well, or who are older than you; use tu (also you) with friends, family and children.
- Asking for help Say excusez-moi (excuse me) to attract attention; say pardon (sorry) to apologise.
- Religious buildings Dress modestly and be respectful when visiting.
- Eating & drinking When dining in a French home, wait for your host to start first. Always clear the plate. When you're finished, line up your fork and knife on top of your plate towards the right.
- Waiters Never, ever call waiters garçon – use Monsieur (Mr), Mademoiselle (Miss) or Madame (Mrs), or attract their attention by saying s'il vous plaît (please).
Checking insurance quotes…
EU citizens and those from Switzerland, Iceland, Norway and Liechtenstein are covered for emergencies by the European Health Insurance Card (EHIC), but not for non-emergencies or repatriation. Every family member needs a card. Seek care from state providers (conventionnés); private health care is not covered. Pay directly and keep receipts for reimbursement.
If you're not from Europe you need to determine whether your country has reciprocity with France for free medical care. If you need health insurance, strongly consider a policy that covers worst-case scenarios, including emergency medical evacuation. Determine in advance if your insurance pays directly for overseas expenditures or reimburses you later (it's probably the latter). Keep all documentation.
We recommend travel insurance covering theft, loss and medical problems. Some policies exclude dangerous activities, including diving, motorcycling and mountaineering. Read the fine print.
Purchasing airline tickets with a credit card may provide limited travel-accident insurance. Ask your credit-card company.
Worldwide travel insurance is available at www.lonelyplanet.com/travel-insurance. You can buy, extend and claim online anytime – even if you’re already on the road.
- Wi-fi (pronounced wee-fee) is offered by many hotels, cafes and some tourist offices. If you need the password, ask for le code.
- Wi-fi is also available in many public spaces; check coverage at www.journaldunet.com/wifi.
- 3G is widely available in urban areas, but check roaming rates with your provider before you switch it on.
- Internet cafes provide access for €4 to €6 per hour but are becoming rare – it's a better idea just to head for the nearest bar or cafe.
- French police have wide powers of search and seizure, and may demand identification at any time, regardless of 'probable cause'.
- Foreigners must be able to prove immigration status (eg passport, visa, residency permit).
- Verbally (or physically) abusing police officers carries hefty fines, even imprisonment.
- You may refuse to sign a police statement, and you have the right to request a copy.
- Those arrested are innocent until proven guilty but may be held until trial. The website www.service-public.fr details rights.
- French police are ultra-strict with security. Never leave baggage unattended at airports or stations: suspicious objects may be destroyed.
- French law makes no distinction between ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ drugs.
- The penalty for personal use of stupéfiants (including cannabis) can be a one-year jail sentence and a €3750 fine but may be lessened to a stern talking-to or compulsory rehab.
- Public drunkenness (ivresse) is punishable by a €150 fine. It's illegal to drive with a blood-alcohol concentration (BAC) over 0.05%. Police conduct random breathalyser tests.
- Smoking is illegal in public interiors, including restaurants and bars.
Driving, cycling and hiking maps are widely available at maisons de la presse (newsagencies), papeteries (stationery shops), tourist offices, bookshops and petrol stations. Quality maps cost about €7 or €8. The website http://fr.mappy.com has online maps and a journey planner, including tolls and petrol costs.
Free street plans (maps) distributed by tourist offices range from superb to useless.
- FFRP (www.ffrandonnee.fr) Topographic hiking maps.
- Institut Géographique National (www.ign.fr) France's definitive map publishers, great for hiking and cycling.
- Michelin (www.viamichelin.com, www.michelin-boutique.com) Brilliant atlases and driving maps.
Walking & Cycling Maps
- Fédération Française de Randonnée Pédestre (Randonnée Pédestre) Publishes detailed French-language topo guides – trail booklets of major routes (eg GRs) with topographic maps. Several local walking organisations also produce detailed topographic trail guides; ask tourist offices and bookshops.
- IGN (www.ign.fr) Publishes brilliant topo guides and outdoor-sports maps. Also good mobile apps, though paper is better for serious hiking.
- Guides RandOxygène (www.randoxygene.departement06.fr/randoxygene-8938.html) An excellent resource for hiking, mountain-biking, snowshoeing and canyoning, with maps and text; in French.
- Radio Regional news and chat airs in English on Monte Carlo–based Riviera Radio (www.rivieraradio.mc).
- Newspapers French-language regional newspapers are Nice Matin (www.nicematin.fr) and La Provence (www.laprovence.com). English-language regional newspapers are the Riviera Reporter (www.riviera-reporter.com) and Riviera Times (www.rivieratimes.com).
- TV French TV networks broadcast a second audio in the program's original language, often English, so fiddle with your remote.
The euro (€) is the only legal tender in France and Monaco. ATMs are widely available, and most hotels and restaurants take credit cards.
ATMs (distributeurs automatiques de billets or points d’argent) are the easiest means of obtaining cash, but banks charge foreign-transaction fees (usually 2% to 3%), plus a per-use ATM charge. Check with your bank. Cirrus and Maestro networks are common.
Credit & Debit Cards
Credit and debit cards are widely accepted, although some restaurants and B&Bs may only accept cash.
- North American cards with magnetic strips don't work on (certain) autoroutes or at unattended 24-hour petrol stations – which can leave you in a sticky situation if you have no alternative method of payment.
- Nearly everywhere requires a card with a chip and PIN. Notify your bank/card provider before departure to avoid a block on your account.
- Visa (Carte Bleue – or CB – in France) and MasterCard (Access or Eurocard) are common. American Express is less so, but Amex offices provide exchange and travel services.
- Credit cards generally incur a more favourable exchange rate than debit cards, but it depends entirely on your bank/credit-card provider.
- Most credit cards charge a foreign-transaction fee (generally around 2.5%), but again it depends on the provider. Some credit cards charge a 0% fee for overseas use.
- Consider getting a prepaid currency card, which you can load with currency before departure. You won't incur a foreign-transaction fee, and if it's lost you just cancel the card and order a replacement. Most importantly, you don't lose the funds.
For current exchange rates, see www.xe.com.
- Banks usually charge stiff €3 to €5 fees per foreign-currency transaction – if they change money at all.
- Bureaux de change (exchange bureaux) are faster and easier, are open longer and usually have better rates.
- To track rates and find local exchange bureaux, see http://travelmoney.moneysavingexpert.com.
- Some post offices exchange travellers cheques and banknotes but charge a €5 commission for cash; most won’t take US$100 bills.
By law, restaurants and cafes are service compris (15% service included), thus there's no need to leave a pourboire (tip). If satisfied with the service, leave a euro or two on the table.
- Bar Round to nearest euro
- Hotel housekeepers €1 to €1.50 per day
- Porters €1 to €1.50 per bag
- Restaurants Generally 2% to 5%
- Taxis 10% to 15%
- Toilet attendant €0.20 to €0.50
- Tour guide €1 to €2 per person
Secure and fee-free, but places where they are accepted are becoming extremely rare. Must be converted at exchange bureaux, and rates aren't always favourable.
Most businesses, sights and museums close over lunch between noon and 2pm. In rural Provence, many places open only from Pâques (Easter) to Toussaint (1 November). Standard hours are as follows:
Banks 9am–noon and 2pm–5pm Monday to Friday
Cafes 8am–11pm Monday to Saturday
Post offices 8.30am–5pm Monday to Friday, 8am–noon Saturday
Restaurants Lunch noon–2.30pm, dinner 7pm–11pm
Shops 10am–noon and 2pm–6.30pm Monday or Tuesday to Saturday
Supermarkets 8.30am–7pm Monday to Saturday, 8.30am–12.30pm Sunday
Post offices are signposted La Poste (www.laposte.fr). For a proper stamp (un timbre), rather than an uninspiring sticker (une vignette) from coin-operated machines, go to windows marked toutes opérations (all services). Tobacconists and postcard shops also sell stamps.
Postage rates are calculated both by size and weight. Standard letters weighing up to 20g/100g cost €0.77/1.54 sent within France, or €1.18/2.36 to Zone 1 (EU, Switzerland, Iceland, Norway) and €1.29/2.58 to Zone 2 (rest of world).
The following jours fériés (public holidays) are observed in France:
- New Year’s Day (Jour de l’An) 1 January
- Easter Sunday & Monday (Pâques & lundi de Pâques) late March/April
- May Day (Fête du Travail) 1 May
- Victoire 1945 8 May – celebrates the Allied victory that ended WWII
- Ascension Thursday (L’Ascension) May – the 40th day after Easter
- Pentecost/Whit Sunday & Whit Monday (Pentecôte & lundi de Pentecôte) mid-May to mid-June – celebrated seventh Sunday after Easter
- Bastille Day/National Day (Fête Nationale) 14 July
- Assumption Day (L’Assomption) 15 August
- All Saints’ Day (La Toussaint) 1 November
- Remembrance Day (L’onze Novembre) 11 November – marks WWI armistice
- Christmas (Noël) 25 December
Travelling during vacances scolaires (school holidays) isn't recommended, especially July and August; summer Saturdays are horrendous. French government staggers holidays by region.
Easter Month-long spring break, beginning around Easter, students have overlapping 15-day holidays.
Summer The nationwide summer holiday lasts from the tail end of June until very early September.
- Smoking Illegal in all indoor public spaces, including restaurants and pubs (though, of course, smokers still light up on the terraces outside).
French telephone numbers have 10 digits and need no area code; those starting with the digits 06 or 07 are mobile-phone numbers. Telephone numbers in Monaco have eight digits and likewise need no area code.
France and Monaco have separate telephone systems (so dialling from one to the other is considered an international call). Most modern mobile phones will work in both countries, but check roaming rates before you travel.
- French mobile-phone numbers begin with 06 or 07.
- Most modern smartphones will be able to pick up a signal from one of France's main carriers: Bouygues (www.bouyguestelecom.fr), Orange (www.orange.fr) and SFR (www.sfr.com).
- For EU travellers, roaming charges are now standardised across the EU area, meaning you can use your calls, texts and data package as you would back home for no extra cost. You'll probably receive a text message reminding you when you first switch on your phone.
- For non-EU travellers, phone and data roaming is likely to be more expensive (often substantially more expensive), although many providers now offer contracts that include certain overseas destinations; check before you travel.
- Some providers offer call and data packages that cover travel in other European countries for a fixed daily fee; check before you leave.
- If you are a pay-as-you-go user, or your provider doesn't offer overseas roaming packages, then it may be cheaper to buy a French SIM card or a French pay-as-you-go handset than to use your own phone. If so, buy when you land in Paris, where more salespeople speak English than in Provence.
- Remember that SMS texting is always cheaper than making a call – and using wi-fi in a cafe or tourist office combined with a message or calling service such as WhatsApp is completely free.
- For help in English with all Orange services, see www.orange.com or call 09 69 36 39 00.
- Calling France (or Monaco) from home Dial your country's international-access code, then 33 for France (or 377 for Monaco), then the 10-digit number, without the initial zero.
- Calling abroad from France Dial 00 for international access, then the country code (1 for US, 44 UK, 16 Australia), then the area code and local number, minus any initial zeros.
Useful Numbers & Codes
- Emergency numbers Free from payphones and mobiles.
- International access code 00
- France country code 33
- Monaco country code 377
- Directory enquiries 12 or 11 87 12 (€1, plus €0.23 per minute). Not all operators speak English.
- International directory enquiries 11 87 00
Phonecards & Payphones
Public payphones are becoming rarer by the day, but assuming you can find one, it's almost certain to only accept credit cards or phonecards (available at tobacconists and supermarkets). Rates are likely to be very high for both.
France uses the 24-hour clock (eg 20.00 is 8pm) and Central European Time, one hour ahead of GMT/UTC. During daylight saving (last Sunday in March to last Sunday in October), France is two hours ahead of GMT/UTC.
- Public toilets are signposted toilettes or WC. In towns, look for public toilets near the town hall, port, public squares or parking areas.
- Mechanical, coin-operated toilets are free or €0.20. (Never dodge in after the previous user or you'll be doused with disinfectant!) If you exceed 15 minutes, the door automatically opens. Green means libre (available); red occupé (busy).
- A few older cafes and petrol stations still have hole-in-the-floor Turkish-style toilets. Provided you hover, they're hygienic, but stand clear when flushing.
- The French are used to unisex facilities.
Nearly every city, town and village – even the smallest ones – usually has a tourist office where you can pop in and pick up a wealth of local information, ranging from accommodation to transport schedules and nearby activities. In larger towns, there's nearly always at least one staff member who can speak English.
Tourisme PACA (www.tourismepaca.fr) The region's main tourist portal, packed with high-level information.
Côte d'Azur (www.cotedazur-tourisme.com) Similar general info for the Riviera towns.
Travel with Children
Provence–Côte d'Azur is a wonderful place to travel with children. It offers swimming and snorkelling galore, cycling through lavender fields, kayaking in the Camargue, visiting Roman ruins, walking along the Calanques and wildlife-watching in the Parc National du Mercantour, to name a few.
- Nice, Monaco & Menton
Riviera glamour isn't just for grown-ups: skate or scooter along Nice's promenade des Anglais; hop on a boat for a scenic cruise or a dolphin excursion; and in Monaco, watch the changing of the guard, ogle the yachts and slurp milkshakes at Stars 'n' Bars.
- St-Tropez to Toulon
Buckets and spades, beachcombing, swimming, snorkelling – it's all about the beach here.
- Arles & the Camargue
Quiet roads, bountiful nature, long beaches and activities galore make the Camargue one of the easiest places to visit en famille. Add evocative Roman ruins in Arles and you have the perfect holiday.
- Haute-Provence & the Southern Alps
White-water activities in the Verdon, snow fun in the mountains, dinosaurs in Digne and indoor adventures at Vesubia in St-Martin-Vésubie – nature is Haute-Provence's drawcard.
Provence & Côte d'Azur for Kids
Provence is a super destination for children, with enough activities to fill a lifetime of holidays – from beach-time to biking, swimming to wildlife-spotting, horse-riding to hiking, there's really not much chance of getting bored.
- Sentier de Littoral, Cap d'Antibes Clamber among rocks, in caves and on cliffs.
- Véloroute du Calavon, Luberon Valley Cycle through this lovely Provençal valley.
- Château des Baux, Les-Baux-de-Provence Relive medieval battles at this hilltop castle.
- Colorado Adventures, near Apt Tackle the adventure course near these old ochre mines.
- Alpha, St-Martin-Vésubie See semi-wild wolves in the mountains.
- Gorges du Verdon Look out for vultures in the skies.
- Village des Tortues, Collobrières Spot native French tortoises.
- Camargue Go horse-riding and flamingo-watching.
- Domaine du Rayol, Corniche des Maures Snorkel with colourful fish in the Med.
For all-round information and advice, check out Lonely Planet’s Travel with Children.
What to Pack
Don't panic if you forget something: you will find everything you need in French shops and supermarkets.
Babies & Toddlers
- A carry sling: pushchairs are a pain on cobbled lanes.
- A portable changing mat (changing facilities are rare)
- A screw-on seat for toddlers (restaurants don't always have high chairs)
- Inflatable armbands for the sea or pool
- Baby sunscreen and mosquito repellent
Six to 12 Years
- Entertainment for car journeys – tablets, DVD players, activity books, sketchpads (remember to pack chargers and extra plug adapters)
- Swimming gear, goggles, snorkel and flip-flops for the beach
- Binoculars for spotting wildlife
- Camera and batteries
Most hotels have quadruple or family rooms with extra beds for the kids. Chambres d'hôte are a great family option; many offer dinner on the premises, which takes care of babysitting arrangements: just bring a baby monitor to wine and dine in peace.
Renting your own gîte (self-catering cottage) is the best idea if you don't mind staying in one place; it feels more like home, and you can cook your own meals.
Camping is popular too. Book ahead, as tent pitches and mobile homes get snapped up fast. Most larger French campsites tend to be busy, holiday-park-style affairs, with shops, playgrounds, activities and so on.
When to Go
- For swimming and sunshine, the best times are from May to September; for skiing in the mountains, the season runs from December to March.
- Be careful of the heat – especially in midsummer, when the sun is fierce. It's very easy to get sunburned, even on overcast days; cover up and slap on the suncream.
- Be especially wary on cool days in the mountains – the air often feels deceptively cool, but the sun can be extremely strong, making sunburn a certainty without protection.
- Public toilets are rare in smaller towns and villages, but automated loos are common in cities. Most visitor attractions and some service stations have dedicated loos with baby-changing facilities.
- Breastfeeding is generally not a problem. Nappies, baby formula, baby food and other supplies are widely available in shops and supermarkets.
- Note that children under four get free train travel, and discounted tickets are available for older kids.
Food & Drink
Eating out en famille is commonplace, but the French will expect children to behave properly at the table – so don't let the kids run wild. Most restaurants don't open for dinner before 7.30pm, so brasseries (which serve food continuously) are often a more useful option for families.
There is usually a menu enfant (children's menu) – pizza, pasta and steak hâché-frites (bun-less hamburger and fries) are staples. Don't be shy about ordering a starter or half-portion as a child's meal; most restaurants will happily oblige.
Drinks can be pricey in restaurants (€5 for a soda is not unusual); save money by ordering une carafe d'eau (a jug of tap water) or un sirop (syrup; €2 at most), diluted with water. If you want a straw, ask for une paille.
Museums & Activities
Many museums and monuments are free for kids, but rules vary – sometimes 'kids' refers to children aged under 18, sometimes to children aged under six or 12. Family tickets, covering two adults and two children, are often available.
Note that for many outdoor activities (rafting, canoeing, horse riding etc), there is often an age minimum, generally six or seven years. Check in advance to avoid disappointed faces on the day.
Weights & Measures
- Weights & Measures France uses the metric system. To convert kilometres to miles, multiply by 0.6; miles to kilometres, multiply by 1.6.
France is liberal about LGBT matters, but, as always, rural Provence tends to be more conservative than its big cities. Aix-en-Provence, Nice and Cannes have gay bars, while Marseille has the region's biggest gay community and hosts the Lesbian & Gay Parade.
France is slowly improving access for travellers with disabilities (visiteurs handicapés), but inevitably there are problems – narrow streets, cobbles, a lack of kerb ramps and a lack of elevators in old hotels, to name a few. For guidance, download Lonely Planet's free Accessible Travel guides from http://lptravel.to/AccessibleTravel.
- Check carefully whether your hotel or B&B has an elevator and is fully accessible – steps and small bathrooms are common pitfalls.
- Most parking areas have dedicated sections for drivers with disabilities (bring your parking placard).
- Some beaches are wheelchair accessible – flagged handiplages on city maps – in Cannes, Marseille, Nice, Hyères, Ste-Maxime and Monaco.
- Michelin’s Guide Rouge and Gîtes de France (www.gites-de-france-paca.com) flag wheelchair access in their listings.
- Most SNCF trains are wheelchair accessible; major train stations will have staff who can assist you as you get on board.
- Detailed information is available on the SNCF Accessibilité website (www.accessibilite.sncf.com).