Things to Know Before Choosing to Ski in France

Wherever you choose to begin or end a sojourn in Europe’s largest country, and however long you spend exploring you’ll simply be scratching the surface of this vast and varied land. France’s geography stretches from rugged coastline to seemingly infinite beaches, from bustling cities to quaint countryside villages and from a sun-drenched isle to luxury mountain ski resorts.
A civilisation dating back to 50,000 BC and a history spanning Roman and Frankish invasion, wars of power and religion, a wealthy and powerful monarchy ultimately crushed by revolution, the rise of Napoleon and a new battle between monarchy and republic, and two world wars, has left the country brimming with a rich heritage. Cave paintings, castles, cathedrals and battle scars are scattered across the land, yet much of the French countryside remains untouched, and traditional rural life still flourishes.
This is a country that has inspired Monet’s reinvention of colour, Toulouse Lautrec’s dark underbelly of Paris society, and the haunting harmonies of Debussy. It has tantalised our taste buds with foie gras and frogs’ legs, and captured the imagination of the world’s jet-set with the resorts of St Tropez and Port Grimaud. Millions discover its wonders each year with a holiday in France, and rediscover the meaning of joie de vivre.

The Basics

Time

Local time is GMT +1 (GMT +2 between last Sunday in March and last Sunday in October).

Electricity

Electrical current is 220 volts, 50Hz. European two-pin plugs are standard.

Language

French is the official language.

Travel Health

French hospitals and health facilities are first class. British, and visitors from other EU countries, are entitled to heavily discounted medical treatment and medicines on presentation of a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC). Otherwise doctors and hospitals often expect immediate cash payment for health services. Medical insurance is advised. Pharmacies will provide some first aid, but charge for it. Rabies also occurs occasionally. In February 2006, France confirmed its first cases of bird flu; all affected birds have been culled and precautionary measures taken. The risk is low for travellers, but close contact with domestic, wild and caged birds should be avoided, and all poultry and egg dishes well cooked.

Tipping

Most restaurants and hotels automatically add a 15% service charge so a tip is not necessary, although another 2-3% is customary if the service has been good. If service is not included then 15% is customary. Taxi drivers expect 10-15% of the fare and hairdressers 10%. Hotel staff generally receive €1.50 a day and tips of €1 are given to washroom and cloakroom attendants and museum tour guides. Tour bus drivers and guides are also tipped.

Safety Information

Following the London and Madrid bombings, security has been heightened particularly in the transport sector. Unattended luggage left in public places will be removed or destroyed by security staff.
While generally safe, visitors to France are advised to take precautions against petty theft and to ensure their personal safety.Thieves and pickpockets operate on the metro and around airports. Theft from cars is prevalent, particularly in the south, around Marseilles, and in Corsica. A Corsican nationalist group FLNC have been responsible for a series of bomb attacks on public buildings and holiday homes in Corsica and visitors should take care, particularly in Ajaccio the capital, and other town centres.
Several recent cases of burglary have been reported while visitors were asleep in their caravans or motorhomes and motorists are asked to avoid parking in isolated or darkened areas of camping sites or parking lots. Tourists are advised to conceal bags and purses even when driving, and to never leave valuables unattended in the car. Bag snatching is also common, particularly on public transport and in shopping centres, and visitors should also be vigilant of luggage while loading bags into and out of hire cars at airports.

Local Customs

French culture is of paramount importance to the French and in an increasingly Americanised world they feel duty-bound to protect it. It is appreciated if visitors can speak a few words of French; they do not respond well to being shouted at in English. While the food is second to none, foreigners may find the service in many restaurants sloppy; waiters can appear rude (particularly in Paris) and take their time. This is just the way they are. Traditional games such as pétanque (similar to lawn bowling but played on gravel) are popular in village squares, but the national sports are soccer, rugby and cycling. Smoking in public places is not allowed and will incur heavy fines.

Business

Business etiquette is important in France. A smart, fashionable, sense of dress is common as the nation prides itself on haut couture. Punctuality is not always observed though and the ‘fashionably late’ tactic may be applied. A handshake is the common form of greeting for men and women upon first introductions. Titles are important and the person is to be referred to as ‘monsieur’ (Mr.), ‘madame’ (Mrs.), or ‘mademoiselle’ (Ms.). Meetings usually occur over lunches, and the French are known to enjoy food. Business hours are generally 9am to 6pm Monday to Friday.

Communications

The international access code for France is +33. The outgoing code depends on what network is used to dial out on (e.g. 00 for France Telecom), which is followed by the relevant country code (e.g. 0044 for the United Kingdom). Other codes are used if using different networks. The area code for Paris is (0)1. Most public telephones accept phone cards, which are available in newsagents. Most hotels add a surcharge to calls, which can be very expensive; the cheapest way to call abroad is often with a phone card from a public telephone or at a post office. The local mobile phone operators use GSM networks and have roaming agreements with most international mobile phone companies. Internet cafes are available in towns throughout France.

Duty Free

Travellers from non-EU countries over 17 years entering France can bring in the following items duty-free: 200 cigarettes, or 100 cigarillos, or 50 cigars, or 250g tobacco; 1 litre of spirits with alcohol content 22% and over, or 2 litres of dessert wine or sparkling wine not exceeding 22% alcohol volume, and 2 litres of table wine; 50g perfume or 250ml eau de toilette and other goods to the value of €175 per adult or €90 for children under 15 years.

Climate

The south of France has a warm Mediterranean climate with hot summers and mild winters. Strong winds, known as ‘le Mistral’, can occur in the Cote d’Azur, Provence and in the Rhone valley particularly over the winter and spring. Northern France, including Paris, has a temperate climate similar to southern England with warm summers, cold winters and rainfall throughout the year. The western coast, from the Loire valley to the Pyrenees, is milder and summer days are generally very hot. During the second half of July and August most French take their five-week vacation to the coasts and mountains, and empty cities tend to shut down accordingly.

Passport/Visa

The borderless region known as the Schengen Area includes the following countries: Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, The Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland. All these countries issue a standard Schengen visa that has a multiple entry option, and which allows the holder to travel freely within the borders of all the aforementioned countries. Additionally, travellers must hold sufficient funds to cover their stay in France, and proof of repatriation (a return or onward ticket, and the necessary travel documentation for their next destination). Note that Schengen visas, if required, are also valid for French Guiana, French West Indies and Reunion, provided that the Schengen visa is endorsed “Also valid for French territories being in observation of the respective French territories”.

Money

The Euro (EUR) is the official currency in France. Currency can be exchanged at banks, bureaux de change and some large hotels, though you will get a better exchange rate at the ATMs. Major credit cards are widely accepted, as are travellers cheques, particularly in major tourist destinations. Foreign currency is not accepted.

Paris

It is impossible not to fall in love with Paris. The city’s people are stylish and flirtatious, its architecture seductive, its restaurants and nightlife devoted to the pursuit of pleasure and its streets are scattered with dreams.
There is no ‘best time’ to visit Paris; in every season the city is always alive. Summer days are spent lazing on the banks of the Seine, sipping coffee at a sidewalk café, or idling in one of the city’s many gardens or forests. In autumn afternoons the brisk walk from the Eiffel Tower through the Parc du Champ de Mars and up to the glittering Champs Elysées is accompanied with a carpet of leaves crunching underfoot. Winter nights induce a warm glow ice-skating in the outdoor rink at the Hotel de Ville, and in spring the passions of performers fill the air outside the Pompidou Centre and the nose is tickled with the subtle scents of flowering gardens.
There is an otherworldliness to this city, where beauty and elegance are favoured over purpose and practicality. Centuries of urban development have the appearance of having being mastered by a single hand with a strong sense of balance, contrast and aesthetics. The views from the Eiffel Tower or Sacré Coeur reveal hundreds of iconic attractions for the snapshot visitor, but the best way to see this city is by tucking your map back in your pocket and allowing yourself to get lost on its streets and avenues, discovering the city for yourself. However long you spend in Paris, on departure you will know you are sure to return.

Attractions in Paris

Eiffel Tower
Gustave Eiffel, the architect of the Eiffel Tower (Tour Eiffel) could never have guessed that it would become Paris’ signature sightseeing attraction and bring more than six million visitors a year. It was built as a temporary structure to commemorate the centenary of the French Revolution and was opened by the Prince of Wales, later King Edward VII of England. The Eiffel Tower was considered an eyesore by many and there were petitions to have it pulled down. It was saved only because it had become an important antenna for telegraphy. It towers 984 feet (300m) above the Champ de Mars and until 1930 was the world’s tallest building. The highest of its three levels offers a wonderful panoramic view over Paris.
The Eiffel Tower itself has several restaurants, including the popular Le Jules Verne, with panoramic views of the city, and a champagne bar at the very top. There are also several souvenir shops and a carousel at the base. This is a great way to keep children entertained if you plan to go to the top of the Tower, as the queues can be several hours long. A slightly different (and cheaper) way to enjoy the Eiffel Tower is with a picnic on the lawns with the famous structure providing a picturesque backdrop.
Notre-Dame
Notre-Dame looms large over the Place de Paris, on the Isle de la Cité, and as the most enduring symbol of Paris is an alluring tourist attraction. Built between 1163 and 1345 the Cathedral is considered one of the of the world’s Gothic masterpieces. The massive interior can seat 6,000 people and it is dominated by three spectacular and enormous rose windows and a vast 7,800-pipe organ. The 387-step climb to the top of the towers is worth the effort for the panoramic view of the city and the close-up views of the famous gargoyles. The tower also holds the great bell that was rung by Quasimodo, the fictional hunchback in the novel by Victor Hugo.
Opposite the north door is a museum that displays the Cathedral’s history, while under the square in front of the Cathedral is the crypt that houses Notre-Dame’s archaeological museum. The church has no gift shop, but votive candles are available at points in the church in return for a donation.
For a special experience, visit Notre-Dame on a Sunday morning when Paris’ museums are closed and services are being held, but be respectful of worshippers, especially when taking photos. Some say the best time to visit Notre Dame, however, is on summer evenings for the Night Show, operatic performances projected on a 100-metre tulle screen hanging in the nave. The performances are held nightly in July and August.
Louvre
One of the world’s great art museums, this vast edifice houses an extraordinary collection of paintings, sculptures and antiquities from all over the world. The permanent collections are divided into Egyptian, Greek, Roman and Asian antiquities, painting, drawings, sculpture and objects d’art.
The Louvre was opened to the public in 1793, soon after the Revolution, to display the spectacular treasures looted from the royal palaces. The best-known attractions in the Louvre are Leonardo da Vinci’s enigmatic Mona Lisa, which is protected by bullet-proof glass within its own room; and the ancient Venus de Milo. With more than 35,000 works on display, don’t even attempt to see it all in one day.
Pompidou Centre
Built in the 1970s and named after former French president Georges Pompidou, the futuristic Pompidou Centre is now considered part of the Parisian landscape. The outrageous design, complete with its glass elevators, was the inspiration for the Lloyds Building in London and attracts visitors by the million; it is the city’s most popular attraction by far. The building houses the Musée National d’Art Modern (MNAM), which displays a vast collection of 20th-century art from Fauvism and Cubism to Abstract and Absurd and its numerous cinemas and theatres have regular musical and dance performances. The square to the West of the building attracts a varied assortment of street performers. While you’re there, be sure to check out the whimsical Stravinsky Fountain with its 16 water-spraying scultpures.
Musée d’Orsay
This great museum is fairly new by Paris standards. It is situated in a railway station by the Seine and houses a vast collection of works from the significant 1848 to 1914 period. There are important works from the Art-Nouveau movement but the Orsay is best known for its Impressionist and Post-Impressionist art. The collection is arranged chronologically and contains highly regarded works by Monet, Manet and Courbet. Also on permanent display is the famous painting by Gustave Doré entitled L’énigme and Henri Chapu’s marble statue of Joan of Arc in Domrémy.

Airports

Paris Orly Airport (ORY)

Location
The airport is nine miles (14km) south of Paris.
Getting to the city
Several choices of public transportaiont methods are the cheapest way to the city centre. RER C trains leave regularly from both terminals and connect to the metro and SNCF train stations. A number of bus services also operate from both terminals such as the Roissy bus line and Air France. Taxis are an expensive albeit fast way to the city centre although they should be avoided in rush hour. Fares usually cost US$35 but are more expensive at night (Tel: 01 47 39 00 91). Airport shuttles also offer door to door service or connections to public transportation stations.
Time
GMT +1 (GMT +2 from last Sunday in March to last Sunday in October).
Contacts
Tel: +01 49 75 5252.
Car rental
All the major car rental companies are represented at the airport.
Airport Taxis
There are taxis outside the arrival terminals and the taxi fare to the city centre is generally €35.
Transfer between terminals
The two terminals are linked by a free shuttle bus.
Facilities
There are a number of shops, bars and restaurants throughout the airport and both terminals have ATMs, banks and currency exchange services. Other facilities include information desks, an art gallery, left luggage, and a medical centre offering vaccinations. Internet access points and wireless Internet access is available, and a business centre offers a venue and equipment for business needs. Disabled passengers are well catered for; passengers with special needs are advised to inform their airline in advance.
Departure Tax
None.
Website
www.aeroportsdeparis.fr

Paris Charles de Gaulle International Airport (CDG)

Location
The airport is 14 miles (23km) north east of Paris.
Getting to the city
There is a good train service with the RER B line that serves the airport with connections to the city centre and the Metro station. From the airport RER B can be accessed from terminal 2 railway station stop on the airport shuttle. The RER B line is serviced every fifteen minutes Monday through Friday and takes 50 minutes to the city centre costing €8.40. The Roissy bus line also connects to the city centre and costs €8.40 for the 50 minute drive which buses depart for every 15 to 20 minutes between 7am and 11pm. Air France also runs buses to certain city destinations. The Noctilien night bus runs between 12.30am and 5am with fares depending on destination but below €7.50. Taxis can be found outside the arrivals terminal and should cost €50 to the city centre (Tel: 01 47 39 00 91).
Time
GMT +1 (GMT +2 between last Sunday in March and last Sunday in October).
Contacts
Tel: +33 (0)1 48 62 1212.
Car rental
All major car rental companies are represented.
Airport Taxis
There are taxis outside the baggage reclaim area of the arrival terminals. The taxi fare to the city centre is generally €50.
Transfer between terminals
The three terminals are linked by free shuttle buses.
Facilities
There are ATMs, banks and bureaux de change in all terminals as well as a wide selection of shops, restaurants and bars. Terminal 1 also has a hairdresser and a business facility that includes meeting rooms, fax and photocopier. Internet facilities and wireless Internet access are also available. Mobile phones can be rented at the airport. Disabled passengers are well catered for at the airport.
Departure Tax
None.
Website
www.aeroportsdeparis.fr

The French Alps

The deep valleys and soaring snow-covered peaks of the Alps border France, Switzerland and Italy in dramatic splendour, delighting walkers and climbers in summer and offering a challenge to skiers and snowboarders in the winter months.
Downhill skiing was established here towards the end of the 19th century by the English, since when an increasing number of French and international skiers (and more recently snowboarders) have been attracted to the first-rate resorts. French resorts may not be as picturesque as those in Switzerland and Austria but they are some of the most extensive and best; by European standards they are high, mostly between 6,562 and 9,843 feet (2,000m and 3,000m), and have reliable snow. The ski season runs from late November to April and is busiest during the Christmas and Easter holidays.
Climbers and hikers head for the Alps between July and September when the weather is more predictable and the snow above 6,562 feet (2,000m) has melted. There are a number of national parks with round-the-park trails requiring one or two weeks walking, there are also longer trans-alpine routes, which should only be attempted by experienced walkers. Local tourist offices supply detailed maps of their area. The towns of Grenoble, Annecy and Chambéry are good bases for hiking. Climbers tend to head to the Chamonix-Mont Blanc area.

Attractions in French Alps

Grenoble

The beautiful university town of Grenoble is situated on the Drac and Isère Rivers, and is surrounded by proud mountains, dramatic gorges and hidden valleys. The prosperous, lively and cosmopolitan city is a base for companies involved in the chemical, nuclear research and electronics industries, but more obviously to visitors it is home to 40,000 students, many international. There are some excellent walks among the mountains surrounding the city and there are ski slopes within easy driving distance, but for many tourists Grenoble is simply a stopover before heading further into the Alps. Before you go, however, take a scenic ride on the distinctive egg-shaped suspended cable cars known as ‘Les Bulles’.

Aix-les-Bains

Aix-les-Bains is a popular and fashionable family holiday resort and spa town located on the eastern side of Lac du Bourget, the largest natural freshwater lake in France. Although the lake is icy cold, you can sail, fish, play golf and tennis, or picnic on the parkland at the water’s edge. The main town of Aix is two miles (3km) inland from the lake and has been built around its thermal springs. Many small hotels line the streets, and streams of holiday visitors take to the baths each day; in the evening, for a change of pace, they play the slot machines at the Aix-les-Bains casino or attend tea dances.

Annecy

Situated 80 miles (129km) east of Lyon, the holiday destination of Annecy has a magical setting on the shore of Lake Annecy at the foot of the French Alps. It has been called the Venice of the Alps because of the web of canals that cut through the Annecy old town. Annecy is probably the best base for a holiday in the Haute-Savoie region because of its location, conveniently situated near many interesting towns and attractions. Just six miles (10km) to its west is Gorges du Fier, a dramatic river gorge; a gangway takes visitors through a narrow gully that has been cut by a torrent of water over the eons; you can hear the roar of the river below. Emerging from this labyrinth, you’ll be greeted by a huge expanse of boulders. The site is closed to the public between mid-October and mid-March. Visitors can also take a cruise on the ice-blue lake for which the town is famous.

Evian-les-Bains

Evian-les-Bains, on the southern end of Lake Geneva, is famous for its mineral water, which have been bottled since the early 18th century. Many of the French have second homes in Evian, but visitors come to this chic holiday resort principally to enjoy the creature comforts and spa facilities of the deluxe Evian-les-Bains hotels. The town has been a fashionable resort since the early 1800s, and much of its architecture comes from that century and the 1920s, making it an attractive city to stroll through. Aside from the springs, there are many things to do in Evian-les-Bains, including golf, sailing, hiking, river rafting and rock climbing.

Briançon

Perched among the French Alps, Briançon is the highest town in Europe. The town is divided into the lower town, where the Durance and Guisane rivers meet and much of the modern amenities lie; and the walled and fortified upper town, which was built in the 17th century to defend the town from Austria and so contains the most interesting sights. Briançon is a paradise for outdoor sports enthusiasts. Part of the massive Serre-Chevalier ski area, which also includes Saint-Chaffrey, La Salle le Alpes, and Monêtier les Bains, it enjoys up to 300 days of sunshine per year. But the town is a popular tourist area in summer as well, drawing visitors to see its citadelle, forts, and sundials, as well as to enjoy activities like hiking, kayaking and rock climbing. Briançon is also the site of one of the most thrilling stages of the Tour de France. Situated only six miles (10km) from the Italian border, Briançon has a distinctly Italian feel compared to other towns in Provence. There are a number of good pizzerias but few French restaurants, and some lively bars popular with tourists.

Les Arcs Guide

A modern, purpose-built ski resort, the holiday destination of Les Arcs comprises four resort villages situated above the town of Bourg-Saint-Maurice, all linked by a free shuttle bus. Named after their respective altitudes, Arc 1600, Arc 1800 and Arc 2000 are built with glass and concrete apartment buildings, purposefully designed with convenience in mind, while the latest addition to the resort, Arc 1950, has a more traditional guise and a typically European village style.
The large and diverse network of well-groomed pistes more than make up for any lack of charm however, and the highest station at Aiguille Rouge Peak (10,584 feet/3,226m) guarantees excellent snow conditions from December to April. Its vast trail system has been linked to that of La Plagne, making the combined Paradiski area one of the largest interconnected ski and snowboard areas in the world.
Arc 1800 is the biggest and most popular resort, consisting of four villages, and is the most conveniently situated for all levels of skiers and non-skiers on holiday, while just below, Arc 1600 is smaller and suited to young families, although it can get crowded on weekends due to the direct funicular link from the town of Bourg Saint Maurice.
More devoted snow enthusiasts prefer to head to the highest resort, Arc 2000, situated at the foot of Aiguille Rouge in the next valley, where the emphasis is on skiing and snowboarding rather than apres-ski holiday facilities. It has easy access to the glacier and is linked to Arc 1950 by a free cable car.
There are a few other villages in the area that, while not officially part of the resort, are seamlessly connected and offer their own accommodation and ski areas as well. These include Vallandry, Peisey, Plan-Peisey, Le Pre and Villaroger.

Shopping

Visitors on holiday in Les Arcs will find there are supermarkets in all the villages and a variety of shops, although Arc 1800 has the most choice. Arc 1950 also offers a wide range of shops, from clothes and souvenirs to sport equipment and rental. Arc 2000 has the least variety, and more serious shoppers should head to the lower altitudes for better options.

Restaurants

All the Les Arcs villages offer a variety of dining options to enjoy on holiday, from local specialities to international cuisine. Arc 1800 has the biggest variety, while Arc 1600 and Arc 2000 have only a few restaurants to choose from.

Nightlife

The Les Arcs nightlife is fairly low-key, although all the villages have bars and there are one or two nightclubs.

Activities

Les Arcs is a year-round holiday resort with a huge variety of summer and winter activities, from climbing, hiking, horse riding and golf in summer, to sleigh rides, paragliding and snow-shoeing in winter. Bourg-Saint-Maurice is worth a visit and there are several interesting excursions to villages in the area, an ice grotto and several museums to explore.

Les Arcs Negatives

Les Arcs has limited nightlife and après-ski so those looking for a more hip and happening scene best head for another resort.

Meribel Guide

Meribel is in the centre of the Trois Vallées, which also incorporates the holiday resorts of Courchevel and Val Thorens. Together they form the largest ski area in the world. Unlike most French holiday ski resorts, Meribel has retained an atmosphere of the traditional skiing village, despite having grown enormously in recent years. Meribel-Mottaret is situated two miles (4km) up the valley and is better suited for the skiing, but not the nightlife. The resort was founded by the English early in the last century and is still very popular with British holidaymakers.

Shopping

Meribel is stuffed with lots of good-value ski shops for holidaymakers to enjoy browsing through. Those with more expensive taste can ski over to Courchevel 1850. There are plenty of mini-supermarkets for self-caterers as well as a fine selection of bakeries and delicatessens.

Restaurants

There are some seriously good restaurants for holidaymakers to enjoy in Meribel; get local advice on arrival and book early for the best. There’s more choice for those happy with a fondue and nice bottle of red (including popular option Le Cro Magnon), but it is still worth booking. If you tire of fondue and French cuisine, the eclectic menu at Evolution has a bit more variety.

Nightlife

The nightlife in Meribel is not as wild as in some holiday ski resorts, but there’s still plenty going on. Dick’s Tea Bar is the best-known nightclub and the queues can be long. Meribel-Mottaret has few choices and closes up earlier.

Activities

Paragliding can be organised and is a great option for holidaymakers wanting to get down to Meribel when the snow’s not so good. For whiteout days there’s a cinema, bowling, ice-skating, a gym and a swimming pool. Some of the smarter hotels offer spa treatments.

Meribel Negatives

Meribel is quite spread out and much of the accommodation is far from the slopes. The resort is quite low and it is often not possible to ski to the main village

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