This article is the second part of the international experts' interview about France. 10 foreign travelers talk about their favourite place for your next holidays in France and give their best tips.
For this second interview, a few other foreign travelers joined them to tell you about their holidays in France and give you their best tips to enjoy your next trip.
I asked these three questions:
1. Which places have you visited? Why?
2. What is your favourite place to take some holidays in France? Why?
3. Which tips would you give to a first-time traveller to France?
I often hear my foreign friends telling they want to visit the rural France.
What about our experts?
Hadas: I have travelled in France every opportunity I had. I went to Paris many times, because… do you really need a reason? Like they say: “Paris is always a good idea.” I also visited Normandy with a group of my classmates in one of the university breaks we had, and it was absolutely gorgeous. We went to Le Havre, Honfleur and Etretat. To Nice, Cannes and Lyon I went after 4-week long Euro-trip I made with a friend. It was the end of our trip and we were exhausted so chilling in the French Riviera was exactly what we needed.
Sophie: I’ve tried to visit Ile de France (which is where Paris is located). For me, it’s convenient to do day trips in this region as they’re all free with the Navigo card (a bit like the London ‘oyster’ card, the Navigo is a monthly pass that can be purchased and from then on, allows unlimited travel in the Paris region).
Larissa: I have been to the cities of Lisieux, Livarot, Marseille, Paris, Strasbourg, and Toulon.
I visited Paris and Strasbourg while on a study abroad trip.
I visited the other cities during a month solo trip to Europe. I didn’t really have a specific reason for choosing the cities that I did; I just wanted to explore different regions of France.
Gina: I always wanted to visit France (French movies addict alert), explore it and experience its people’s lifestyle.
Six years ago I hosted in Greece a French girl, Astrid, through couchsurfing. And thus begun our friendship since she kept coming back every year!
So in December it was finally my turn to visit her in her country. We made a roadtrip starting from Greece so I’ve seen many places in France during almost one month; Rochebraud, Orléans, Bordeaux, Tours, La Flèche, Cheverny, Paris… and many others!
I visited those particular places mostly because of her family/friends and also some other good friends of mine.
But the thing is that I immediately fell for France, I wanted to see more and more.
Abby: I started off in Paris, then moved on to see the Pays de La Loire and the exquisite Chateau (castle) de Chambord, followed by Les Sables D’Olonne, Futuroscope, les Volcans d’Auvergne, Ispagnac and finally stopping at Nice.
I was travelling with my friend and we wanted to see a variety of regions in France and not just stick to one particular area. And having a short time frame of just one month, we picked what we believed were different genres and areas.
Paris, because it’s the City of Love and Lights, and you can’t go to France without going to Paris. And even if parts of the Seine stink, it still is a must see. And how can one miss La Tour Eiffel or any of the other monuments in Paris.
Chateau de Chambord, we visited because it was on our list after reading about its history, beauty and distinctive Renaissance architecture.
The other places that we visited also ticked off specific criteria on our list, and were what we drilled down to after much research. (Yes, on the internet. Sometimes Google is useful).
Penelopi: I started my Travelling in Tours, where I stayed and studied French for 2.5 months.
During my stay in Tours I visited the nearby Loire Valley towns (Angers, Amboise and Blois), all magnificent small places with lovely sceneries and castles. My favourite was Blois! In addition, I visited the Chenonceau castle in Loire Valley also.
Then I moved to Bordeaux to continue my travelling and start blogging there. Except the city of Bordeaux, I visited the nearby picturesque town of Saint Emilion and Arcachon. Arcachon is a popular seaside resort area.
I also spent a few days in my friends place in Anglet and we travelled together in Biarritz, Espelette, Saint de Luz and in Abbadia castle.
On my way back to Greece I spent a few days in Lyon.
2. What is your favourite place to take some holidays in France? Why?
Our experts have visited Paris but, as you have read, a lot of them have explored both some big cities but also some less touristic areas.
Now, it's interesting to know which one was their favourite and they recommend you for some holidays in France.
Claudia: Paris. I'll visit in two weeks the Côte d'Azur after years. Maybe in a few days I'll change my mind.
Hadas: I would have to say Lille is my favourite French city because that’s where I spent most of my time. However, France is an amazing country with so many great places. Of course, Paris is gorgeous, but if I have to choose a favourite city except Lille, hands down it’s Nice. I just loved the French Riviera and the lifestyle it has to offer, as well as being so close to Cannes and Monaco.
Rich: It’s really hard to pick a favorite. Nice was wonderful for its laid back vibe, great food and art, and of course the beach. But Paris is such a refined city with so much to see and do, it’s hard to not make that my favorite.
Sophie: My favourite place (and maybe always will be) Paris! It’s just got this really cool, unique vibe where everyone can just be themselves… Saying that, every ‘arrondissement’ (Paris is divided up into 20 districts known as arrondissements) has it’s own ‘feel’. My favourite ones are probably Montmartre and Le Marais.
Daisy: To be honest, I didn’t feel the romance in Paris as was portrayed by media. Maybe it was the weather (I went during the bone-shattering months of late winter). As such, I had a much better time in the South of France, where the weather was warm and bright, the people happy and friendly and the beach breeze soothing and enjoyable. Marseille was absolutely beautiful!
Larissa: My favorite city in France, and overall, is Paris! It’s such a lively city with so much going on. I’m an introvert, so I love the aspect of getting lost in the big city where nobody knows you. I enjoy sitting back and watching the hustle and bustle of the city life. I also enjoy choosing when I want to jump in and engage! I love the culture. I love the food. I love the language. Something about this city, a certain je ne sais quoi, always draws me in!
Gina: I really loved every city or village I visited. I adore this kind of architecture and lifestyle. Also nature seems to be really in balance even in the big cities.
My favorite cities though were Bordeaux and Paris, Bordeaux because it’s unbelievably beautiful and imposing, with amazing views and Paris… well it’s Paris!
Abby: Well, I didn’t have just one favourite place in France. I had so many. But I’ll narrow down to two.
One was the Puy D’Auvergne. These dead volcanoes last erupted circa 10,000 years ago. We hiked up one of the volcanoes that were near the Puy de Dome. The lush greenery on the way up is so beautiful. And when you get to the top, the feeling of standing on something that’s so ancient is indescribable.
Another place that’s embedded in my memory is a mountain top near Valberg. We had been in December, and it hadn’t snowed that year. So we drove up to the mountains near Valberg, where there was still some snow. To stay away from the other tourists, we picked Col des Heurris near the Valberg Golf Club.
We hardly saw anyone our whole time there, except for a few passing goats, and had fun playing luge in the snow. After that we hiked up to the top and took this beautiful picture of the pristine landscape.
Here’s a picture of me afterwards, happy but trying to avoid the camera.
Penelopi: I really enjoyed my time in Tours as it was a new French adventure for me. New friends, new classmates, new food, new language and new host family.
For 1 month I stayed with a French host family, in an amazing beautiful 2 story house outside the town, where I had the chance to practise my French, eat amazing local homemade food, taste the mouthwatering Patisserie dishes and learn about French people.
Afterwards, I moved in a studio flat in the city centre.
Tours combined everything! City life, night life, wild nature life beside the Loire Valley river, shopping, castles, museums, theatres, concerts and much more.
Julie: My favourite place is Marseille, it’s a little bit edgy and has a wonderful mix of different cultures. The best place to eat fresh seafood, straight from the Mediterranean Sea.
Oh and Paris is always a good idea.
3. Which tips would you give to a first-time traveller to France?
Now that we know that most of our experts especially recommend Paris and the south of France, let's talk about their best tips to enjoy your holidays in France.
Rich: First, try hard to make sure your cell phone plan has data when you’re there, or download an offline dictionary/translate app before you go. Work really hard on the basic phrases, especially “I don’t understand”, “I’m sorry” and “Pardon me?”
Secondly, don’t spend all your time at the major tourist sites. The Eiffel Tower and Versailles are impressive, but we had some equally fun times in a little medieval village near Nice, or running around a small Roman colosseum. Get off the beaten track and don’t be afraid to explore. France is very safe, despite recent events, and there is a lot to see.
Daisy: Although there are some truths to the Parisian stereotypes, people were much friendlier than expected. Don’t be afraid to meet strangers and ask questions. Despite my broken French, many were glad to assit me navigate the *extremely* confusing streets of Paris.
Like any other country you’d visit, the most important three words I learned in Paris was “Je cherche les toilettes”. It helped me out of multiple sticky situations.
A quick tip for travelers going around France- Ouigo, a train company under SNCF offers cheap tickets to several different cities (some around 10 euros!). The catch is, you do need to ask a local for a European bank card. My experience in Paris was hella strange, accompanied by bad luck and interesting characters. Read her article that proves how a travel insurance is important and visit her Instagram.
Larissa: Attempt to speak the language. Even if your attempt is hilariously awful, I found the effort to be appreciated, and people will more likely help you should you need it.
“Know” where you’re going, even if you don’t. This isn’t specific to France per say, but it’s definitely applicable. If you look confused or lost, you’re more likely to fall into tourist traps or be targeted.
Try the street food. It’s so good! Especially the crepes!
Go with an open mind and an open heart. Just because you have an idea what “normal” is, doesn’t mean it will be in France. Be ready to accept, engage, and appreciate the cultural differences the country has to offer. Also, there is a running rumor that French people are rude and hate tourists. From my three trips to France, I have yet to experience this personally. If you go with the mindset that French people are rude, you’ll probably experience just that. But also remember, you’ll find rude people anywhere. So if you encounter a few, they should not speak for the population as a whole.
Gina: I don’t support stereotypes but be prepared to eat a lot of cheese, a lot of bread and drink a lot of wine!
It’s true and I enjoyed it to the fullest!
As for the language, sometimes it looked like that people didn’t care to speak English and interact with me. But as I understood, many of them did not feel comfortable about their skills or the accent. As soon as I showed them that I don’t mind and I can be patient even with those who spoke really bad English everybody was really amazing and I had the time of my life!
Abby: Well, I’d tell first time travellers to try to learn a few French phrases or revise your high school French before getting there. Yes, a lot of people speak English, but it’s always good to thank them or greet them in their own language. It builds a better rapport especially when stopping a random person on the street to ask for directions, or when you’re buying things in a store in the middle of nowhere.
Even with my broken French I had a difficult time once trying to purchase a body lotion. I couldn’t remember the words lait corporel, and the store attendant and me had a great acting charade going on where he finally concluded that I’d burnt my skin and needed something for it. Well, that was before my friend finally came to my aid and told the attendant that I was looking for lait corporel pour la peaux seche.
Also read up on France before getting there. Yes, there are always the must see places that you absolutely have to visit. But there are also hidden gems that people don’t know much about and aren’t hyped at all. These places should go on your travel list.
Penelopi: My tips are the followings:
a) Bonjour (Hello) is the main greeting that you MUST use before you ask or speak to someone. Merci Beaucoup (Thank you) afterwards. Always be polite.
b) It's better to know some few basic French before you visit France. French people generally do not like to speak English. Would be easy for you to order some coffee, food or ask for directions.
c) Do not be afraid to speak French! I was too scared and I would prefer not to talk at all than open my mouth. Big mistake!! Despite the fact that a lot of French do not like English, if they see you trying to communicate in French, after a while they automatically switch and speak English in order to help you out! 🙂
d) Download google maps or maps.me on your phone. It's very useful to find directions as everything is in French. You can use maps.me offline.
e) Take your time and do not hurry your visit. France is full of mini cute streets with lovely patisseries, nice Architecture and little gems everywhere. You will be happily surprised with your discoveries.
f) Do not visit only the main attractions, ask the locals or your hotel for non touristic places.
g) Forget the diet and try everything, especially the variety of wines and Patisseries! Oh my Goodness! Those sweets and the variety of breads are toothsome indeed!!!
h) And lastly, do not get discouraged about the rudeness of some people, yes you will experience that in France. Smile and move on, they are hundreds of other lovely people out there. As the French say "La vie n'est pas parfaite" (Life is not always perfect).
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Stephanie Langlet is a travel blogger and YouTuber since 2002.
Fond of the traditional cultures and festivals, she decided in 2012 to specialise in its promotion and in 2016 she created her two new blogs Travels France and Tribes and Minorities.
As a hospitality expert and a solo traveller in Asia, she's able to think as a foreign traveller and give the information they need to prepare their next trip to France or around.