We hope the following information will be useful to you in preparing for and during your trip.
Climate and wearing apparel: Three types of climate may be found within France: oceanic, continental, and Mediterranean. The oceanic climate, prevailing in the western parts of the country, is one of small temperature range, ample rainfall, cool summers, and cool but seldom very cold winters. The continental type of climate, found over much of eastern and central France, adjoining its long common boundary with west-central Europe, is characterized by warmer summers and colder winters than areas farther west; rainfall is ample, and winters tend to be snowy, especially in the higher areas. The Mediterranean climate, widespread throughout the south of France (except in the mountainous southwest), is one of cool winters, hot summers, and limited rainfall. In central and southern France, annual rainfall is light to moderate. Rainfall is heavy in Brittany, the northern coastal areas, and the mountainous areas. In all seasons, it would be wise to pack a travel umbrella for an occasional shower that may occur. In spring (from March 21 to June 21), we suggest medium to heavyweight apparel, with gloves and hats for early morning and evening. In summer (from June 22 to September 22), we suggest lightweight apparel, with light jackets for early mornings and evenings. In fall (from September 23 to December 22) we suggest medium-weight apparel, with a jacket for early morning and evening. In winter (from December 22 to March 20), we suggest heavyweight apparel, with gloves and hats throughout the day.
Cuisine: French regional cuisine is characterized by its extreme diversity and style. Traditionally, each region of France has its own distinctive cuisine. A meal often consists of three courses, hors d’œuvre or entrée (introductory course, sometimes soup), plat principal (main course), fromage (cheese course) or dessert, sometimes with a salad offered before the cheese or dessert. The baguette, a long, thin loaf of crusty bread, is the most important part of any French meal. Everyone at the table is expected to eat a piece. It is eaten in a variety of ways, including being used to make sandwiches. In French cuisine, beverages that precede a meal are called apéritifs (literally: that opens the appetite) and can be served with amuse-bouches (literally: mouth amuser). Those that end it are called digestifs. Your average full meal runs from $30 to $50, per person, depending on the choice of menu and wine. Bistros are ideal for quick lunches, where you can consume from a variety of sandwiches and salad dishes.
Currency: The local currency is the Euro (€). You will find coins of 1, 2, 5, 10, 20, 50 cents, €1, €2, and paper bills of €5, €10, €20, €50, €100, €200, €500. Please visit Bloomberg’s website for the current exchange rate. Credit cards are accepted, at the hotels and some stores/restaurants. If you intend to use your bank card, consult your bank before departure to ensure that your ATM card is internationally compatible.
Dress code: Casual and comfortable are keywords especially in footwear as there will be a lot of walking to do. Please note to be allowed to enter many religious sites, shoulders have to be covered and shorts or skirts are required to cover the knees. A scarf to cover exposed shoulders may be used when entering a church.
Hairdryers/Irons: Please note that the hotels are equipped with hair dryers. Irons/ironing boards are not provided.
Itinerary: Exact departure times can be found on the bulletin board that your tour leader will post each day, at your hotel.
Flights: Enclosed with your final documents, you will find a detailed flight itinerary. Please note that you will not receive an actual flight ticket, but an e-ticket receipt. All flight tickets are electronic and you will receive your boarding pass after checking in with your passport at the airport. Check-in time varies from carrier to carrier. We suggest check-in at least two hours prior to departure.
Hotels: You will find the name/address/phone of your hotels, following your tour itinerary, in your final documents. Hotel rooms are generally available for check-in after 2:00 pm. Check out time is usually at 10:00 am.
Insurance: France has a socialized medicine system. Anyone requiring emergency treatment or hospitalization will be accepted in public hospitals. We suggest checking personal insurance coverage while traveling abroad.
Language: The national language is French, even though English is commonly spoken in hotels, some restaurants and stores. Useful words to know are “S’il vous plaît” (please) and “merci” (thank you).
Linen: General bed and bath linen are provided in your hotels. However, you will not find washcloths, as it is not customary.
Luggage: Baggage allowance on flights is one piece of checked luggage with a maximum weight of 50 lbs. with linear dimensions (W+H+D) not to exceed 62 inches. The carry-on weight limitation is 40 lbs. with linear dimensions not to exceed 45 inches. In addition to the carry-on, you may bring with you a personal item such as a purse, briefcase or laptop computer. Cellular phones may be carried on board. You will find a travel bag included in your final documents of a convenient size for your personal items. For more information about U.S. carry-on baggage restrictions please read the complete details on the U.S. government airport regulations website, www.tsa.gov.
Mail: In France, you may buy stamps for your postcards at any tobacco store (‘tabacs’) they look like newsstand. Ask for a ‘timbre’ (french for stamp). The cashier will be able to tell you the necessary postage for your mail. Better not tackle the post office as you may encounter long lines.
Medical: No special vaccinations are required for travel to Europe. Anyone taking prescription medicine should be careful to bring an adequate supply for the entire trip and should remember not to pack it in check-in luggage. It is advised to leave it in the original container.
Passport and Visa: All U.S. citizens are required to have a valid passport, with an expiration date of no less than six months from the date of return. A visa is not required to enter France for U.S. citizens. Non-U.S. citizens must check requirements with their respective consulate.
Phones: It is possible to make calls from all of your hotels with a service charge. Remember when you call the States to dial 001 followed by the area code and phone number you are trying to reach. You can also utilize your calling card. Check with your calling card company to obtain toll-free numbers to call from France and further instructions.
Shopping: Try pralines, ganaches and fruit chocolates from La Maison du Chocolat or artisan chocolates made with 100% cocoa butter (no milk, butter or cream) from Charles Chocolatier. Pack chocolates in your checked luggage, not carry-on, to keep cool. Brightly colored feather-light macaroons from Ladurée or Pierre Hermé are a favorite gift – note they are eggshell-fragile and must be eaten within three to five days of purchase. Many fromageries (cheese shops) provide vacuum packing to transport cheese home. Hard cheeses are most practical, seek advice from knowledgeable staff at 38 Saint Louis, Androuet or Barthélémy. Don’t forget to inject a dash of Parisian chic into your everyday wardrobe with a French accessory: a signature square of silk from Hermès is timeless.
Time difference: France 6, 7, 8 and 9 hours ahead of Eastern, Central, Mountain and Pacific Time, respectively.
Tips: General tips to porters at the hotel and waiters at the restaurants are included. It is customary to leave small change for restroom attendants, during your en route stops, and also at the cafés when consuming a beverage or snack. What is not included is the tip to guides, tour leader and driver. The suggested tip is $1.00 – $2.00 for each half day service for the guide, $2.00-$3.00 per person per day for the driver and $4.00 – $5.00 per person per day for the tour leader.
Transportation: When taking public transportation, please be sure to put anything valuable in a safe place, out of reach of pickpockets that thrive in any large, tourist-filled city. You may wish to make a copy of your passport to have with you and leave the original at the hotel. If taking a taxi, take only the official ones bearing the sign “taxi” on top and meters that should be turned on, as you enter the cab.
Voltage: The voltage is 220. Appliances you bring should have dual voltage and be equipped with the adapter from the two flat prongs to two round ones. It would be beneficial to purchase this adapter before leaving the U.S.