A Travellerspoint blog

Take a tour . . . or do it yourself?

Things to consider when deciding . . .

Amboise candy shop

Amboise candy shop

This was a reply to a lady who asked about visiting the French countryside. They had gone on tours and cruises but were thinking about renting a car and house on their own to get outside tourist areas and see the "real" France. Here is my answer to her and I am answering her direct questions but if you're thinking about using a tour company or going it on your own, you may find some useful information.

She said she had not traveled on her own, so I suspect she may have gone on organized tours. We've never done that but I think tours are a good way to get your feet wet and see what you want to explore on your own. This is something only you can decide and there is no right or wrong answer. Your budget, time and sense of adventure all factor into your decision.

Canet-Plage, the beach at Canet-en-Roussillon, France

Canet-Plage, the beach at Canet-en-Roussillon, France

Our first trip to France was a driving/camping trip because as teachers with 3 kids, that is all we could afford. I spoke a bit of Haitian Creole and my husband had French in high school so language was a problem for us and we were nervous. We quickly discovered it is possible to communicate pretty well because a French national pastime is helping people. You can count on it. If you need help and they don't speak English, they will find someone who does.

Driving is not a problem. It's as easy to drive in France as it is in the US. We have driven on nearly all of our trips. The only time we don't get a car is when we are spending the entire time in a large city like Paris. In a city, a car is a nuisance . . . but in the country, a car is a joy. If you can manage to plan your trip for 21 days or more, you can lease a brand new car with 24-hour road service. We usually get a Peugeot 208 automatic for our trips. [There is now a Citroen available for lease for a 17-day stay. It's available through the same web sites listed blow. We have since used the Renault lease program and it works as well as Peugeot. Shop both programs and see what suits you. We get an automatic transmission and diesel fuel but there are lots of options. I noticed Kemwel is offering a lease for 14 days and that might be good for people with shorter vacations.]

Peugeot 308 Diesel from 2012 - Europe

Peugeot 308 Diesel from 2012 - Europe

We usually fly into Paris, Nice or Toulouse, visit the city for a few days and then return to the airport to pick up our leased car. We have used AutoFrance, AutoEurope, Kemwel and Sodexa for our leases. Here are three of the web sites so you can check the programs. It is all paid ahead of time so there are no unpleasant surprises when you hand in the car.
Auto France ((800) 572-9655 in the US) Auto France web site
Auto Europe - Auto Europe web site
Kemwel - Kemwel web site

For fewer than 21 days, try Nova Car We haven't used them but friends have and were satisfied. They do rent to folks over the age of 70 and that can be a problem. Nova Car Hire web site

Our 2010 trip was unhinged by the Iceland volcanic ash cloud. We were transferring planes in London when British air space was closed. After 4 unplanned days in London (paid for by British Airways), we managed to get a train to Paris. Our car was in Toulouse so we spent 2 nights in Paris before we got on a train to Toulouse where we finally managed to get our car, so yes, taking a train to another city is a great idea if you want to do that. If your cheapest airline tickets are to Paris, fly into Paris and take the train to the place you want to rent or lease your car. We've done that when it saves money.

You will not escape tourists anyplace. However, most of them will be French tourists visiting other parts of France so it's not like you will be spending your French vacation with other American tourists. If you are near a border, you will see lots of tourists from those countries too, i.e., Italian tourists in southeast France, Spanish tourists in western France, German and Dutch tourists in northeastern France, and French tourists everyplace. We enjoy our interactions with all these nationalities; it's part of the fun of going to Europe.

Hotel-Restaurant Pointe du Grouin - Saint-Malo

Hotel-Restaurant Pointe du Grouin - Saint-Malo

Where to stay? Well, we stay in hotels in cities and we rent farmhouses when we are visiting the countryside. We once rented an apartment in Paris but that was because it was the cheapest way to spend 9 days with our family along. The hotel staff is usually a great help and you don't have a staff when you rent an apartment. Keep in mind that when you rent, you are pretty much on your own for finding local tourist sights, don't have fresh towels regularly and are expected to either clean before you leave or pay a hefty cleaning fee. That being said, we love renting farmhouses or small houses in tiny villages. There you interact with the owner and several have become fast friends over the years. You visit the local grocery, boulanger, boucherie and interact with the local shopowners and their customers. We've both picked up a lot of French over the years but language has never been a problem. If no one speaks French in the store, often another customer will help or there is the point and mime method of purchase. If you don't know numbers, you can always read the price on the cash register. Easy. Take your own shopping bags; they charge for bags in Europe. When we forget, we buy the first bag and then keep using it.

Yes, they take credit cards at most groceries and even in the occasional street market. Small places and most markets will use cash. Groceries cost the same as or less than they do at home. The trick to saving money on food is purchase local products in season. If you try to find Jiffy Peanut Butter, you will find it but pay too much. Coca Cola costs more than the local excellent wine.

Vegetables for sale - Nice

Vegetables for sale - Nice

We eat breakfast in our gite (rented house) and then eat lunch at a restaurant where we are sightseeing for the day. Lunch is usually cheaper than dinner so that's a money-saver too. Then in the evening, we stop at a boulanger (baker) and epicerie (grocery) and get bread, cheese, fruit and wine and take it back to our gite and have dinner there as a picnic.

For hotels in the countryside, we use the Logis de France. This is a chain of small family-owned hotels in nearly every town and village in France. They are always clean and friendly and most have an excellent restaurant. When we're out sightseeing and looking for lunch, we try to find a Logis de France because of their good restaurants. Here's the web site. You can see what they offer. Logis de France English-language web site

For rentals we use a couple web sites. Our favorite is Gites de France, an umbrella organization that oversees rural rentals. We have never had a problem with anything we've rented through them so I highly recommend them. We have also used VRBO (Vacation Rental By Owner) twice and had a fabulous experience but we don't have much experience with the company. We have also used Home-Away Holiday Rentals, a British company. We've used them many times and have had good experiences with all but one. We chalked that up to a learning experience; it wasn't a dead loss, just less than we expected. Since we've had so many good experiences with them, I would recommend them and we certainly will continue using them. Here are the 3 web sites.
Gites de France web site
Vacation Rental By Owner (VRBO) web site
Home Away web site

Average cost for eating? That depends on what and how you like to eat. Restaurants range from inexpensive to very expensive. We try to keep it in a range comfortable for us. Obviously you pay more in a city. A small country auberge will be excellent and may cost as little as 9 euros a meal plus wine. If you are in a popular tourist area, plan on 15 to 30 euros for a meal. The French menu (as you probably already know) offers what they call a "Menu" or sometimes it's called a "Formula" or "Special du Jour" in a couple different price ranges. These are usually the best deal and offer several courses for a fixed price. We usually get these although if we decide to splurge, we'll blow 30 euros on a dinner. That doesn't happen often because my ancestry is Scot as well as French. ;^)

You have to buy groceries at home, so buying them in France is not much different. If you want to eat at your rented house, most epiceries and certainly all supermarches have precooked (like deli) meals you can microwave. These are often excellent. We just enjoy the restaurant experience in France and there are plenty of excellent reasonably-priced restaurants in the countryside.

I've babbled on way too long so I'll stop here. If you have any specific questions or want to ask about a specific area, please feel free to e-mail me here on TP.

Have fun planning and don't be afraid to go on your own. It's lots of fun to control your destiny.

Posted by Beausoleil 15:20 Archived in France Tagged rental car tours trips road leasing Comments (0)

What about your cell phone in France (Europe)?

They use different band widths so be prepared.

Fountain Square in Chateauneuf - Châteauneuf

Fountain Square in Chateauneuf - Châteauneuf

Cell phones are called mobiles in Europe and they broadcast on different bands from the USA so unless you have a tri or quad band cell phone, it won't work in Europe. The next trick is to be sure it is unlocked. Most phones are locked and many can't be unlocked until you've had them for six months. If you are shopping for a new phone, be sure it is unlocked. I had no trouble finding one at Best Buy and I'm sure there are many other places that will sell them.

In France in the past I have purchased a SIM card from the Orange company. It would be long distance for callers from the USA but that may not be too bad depending on the plans your callers have on their phones. Our daughter had no problem texting (not talking) because her plan allowed texting anywhere for a very low cost, something like 20 cents US.

Château Chambord

Château Chambord

A few years ago after a lot of looking, I bought a LeFrench Mobile SIM and the price for me is very reasonable. Again, your callers will have to pay long distance charges depending on their plans. You will have a French phone number and receive texts and calls for free while in France. There is a small charge if you are in other European countries. You receive calls at 0.06 euro cents a minute and make calls at 0.15 euro cents a minute and that is also for the USA so a big savings over many of the other plans for travelers. Big disadvantage is you can't send text messages when you are outside of France but that seems to have changed recently. Service is in English if you don't speak French. Rates change periodically but recently they actually went down so check the web site. The big advantage with LeFrench is that you can keep your phone number for the small fee of 90 euro cents a month. Le French Mobile web site: LeFrench Mobile web site

Another option may be the National Geographic Cellular Abroad program that gives you both a US and a UK phone number. Their rates are a bit higher but it might be cheaper for your callers.

Here are web sites for the plans I checked. You can look at all of them and see if any will serve your purpose. I don't see how to get around your callers having long distance charges so you might want to consider the LeFrench Mobile plan and have them call (or text) you and then you can call them back and talk on your bill which is 0.15 euro-cents per minute. There is a charge for the first full minute and then it's prorated by the second after that. Most will not let you keep your number so you will have to get a new number each time you return to Europe. LeFrench Mobile is the only one I know that lets you keep the number forever. I've had mine for years.

Here are web sites for several plans. Compare to see what suits you.
Le French Mobile web site
Orange Mobile web site
Cellular Abroad web site
Vodafone Mobile web site
La Poste Mobile Service web site (probably best for those who speak fluent French)
Boingo Mobile web site
LeBara Mobile web site
Lyca Mobile web site

If you don't have an unlocked phone, either get yours unlocked or purchase one when you get the SIM card and you'll have a European phone for travel. I usually switch my SIM card while waiting to board the plane. It's very easy. If you don't know how, ask at any phone store.

If you are Verizon, you can rent a phone inexpensively from Verizon for your trip and then return it. We know people who have done this and loved the program. We also have friends with iPhones who purchased the European option for the time they were in Europe, cancelled it when they got home and they found that worked well for them.

You should set up a Skype account too. It's free to other Skypers. We've got our family on it now so calls are free. Of course you need the computer to do this. I take mine for many reasons but it's very convenient for keeping in touch with family and friends. You can also set up Skype on your smart phone and that may be easier if you don't carry a computer or tablet.

Posted by Beausoleil 13:23 Archived in France Tagged cell phones mobiles handy Comments (0)

Medical Emergencies

. . . or any emergencies

Paris Firemen / Pompiers - France

Paris Firemen / Pompiers - France

If you're from the USA, you're used to the 911 emergency number. The emergency medical number in France is 15. There is also a general European emergency phone number of 112 and you might want to program these into your phone before you go.

The 15 is for medical emergencies. If you need police or fire personnel, there are different numbers. These are all listed on the web site below. However, it might be easier to remember the general 112 for other emergencies. 112 will work in all European countries and, as such, you will probably get an English speaker. 15 is strictly for medical emergencies in France and the fastest way to get medical help in an emergency.

Here's a list of emergency phone numbers. English web site with emergency numbers

Remember, if you only speak English (or are much more comfortable in English), use 112 because you will get an English speaker. The other numbers will not necessarily have anyone available who speaks English.

I sincerely hope you don't need any of this information.

Posted by Beausoleil 13:02 Archived in France Tagged emergencies emergency_phone_numbers emergency_numbers Comments (0)

New Names for Fewer French Regions

As of Jan. 1, 2016, France only has 13 official regions, not the former 22 (not counting overseas departments)

Tiles and tables in Provence - Parc Naturel Régional de Camargue

Tiles and tables in Provence - Parc Naturel Régional de Camargue

Starting January 1, 2016 there was a big change in France. This will affect people looking for ancestors and people planning trips with older maps or guide books. Here is a brief summary: (Many maps will take another edition to catch up to the new names.)

France changes the boundaries and names of regions fairly often (historically speaking) so it can be hard to follow ancestral leads or information in older guide books and maps. January 1, 2016 was another very large change. Here is a brief summary. The numbers are mine for convenience; the names are from the French government. Keep in mind that each region is further divided into Departments.

Before Jan. 1, 2016 there were 22 distinct governing regions in France. These were named:
01) Nord pas de Calais
02) Picardie
03) Haute-Normandie (Upper Normandy)
04) Basse-Normandie (Lower Normandy)
05) Champagne-Ardenne
06) Lorraine
07) Alsace
08) Île-de-France (with Paris, capital of the country)
09) Bretagne (Brittany in English)
10) Pays de la Loire
11) Centre
12) Bourgogne (Burgundy in English)
13) Franche-Compté
14) Poitou-Charentes
15) Limousin
16) Auvergne
17) Rhône-Alpes
18) Aquitaine
19) Midi-Pyrénées
20) Languedoc-Roussillon
21) Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur
22) Corse (the island of Corsica off the southern coast)

Starting Jan. 1, 2016 there are only 13 regions. Each Regional Council proposed its own name and these were confirmed by the Conseil d'Etat on July 1, 2016. Here are the official New Names:

01) Hauts-de-France (a combination of Nord pas de Calais and Picardie, the first two above)
02) Normandie (a combination of Haute-Normandie and Basse-Normandie or #3 and #4 above)
03) Grand Est (a combination of Champagne-Ardenne, Lorraine and Alsace or #5, #6 and #7 above)
04) Île-de-France (unchanged)
05) Bretagne (unchanged)
06) Pays de la Loire (unchanged)
07) Centre-Val de la Loire (Centre added Val de la Loire to the name; area is unchanged)
08) Bourgogne-Franche-Compté (a combination of Bourgogne and Franche-Compté or #12 and #13 above)
09) Nouvelle-Aquitaine (a combination of Poitou-Charentes, Limousin and Aquitaine or #14, #15 and #18 above)
10) Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes (a combination of Auvergne and Rhône-Alpes or #16 and #17 above)
11) Occitanie (a combination of Midi-Pyrénées and Languedoc-Roussillon or #19 and #20 above)
12) Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur (unchanged)
13) Corse (unchanged)

Following are the regions with each capital. (listed alphabetically by new region name)
Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes: Lyon
Bourgogne, Franche-Comté: Dijon
Bretagne: Rennes
Centre-Val de la Loire: Orléans
Corse: Ajaccio
Grand Est: Strasbourg
Hauts-de-France: Lille
Île-de-France: Paris
Normandie: Rouen
Nouvelle-Aquitaine: Bordeaux
Occitanie: Toulouse
Pays de la Loire: Nantes
Provence-Alpes, Côte-d'Azur: Marseille

You can get maps and further information at: Website: New Map of France web site

Posted by Beausoleil 12:57 Archived in France Tagged regions regions_of_france french_regions Comments (0)

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