This video is an excerpt from a much
longer France travel talk by Steve Smith. To view other topics, or to watch
Steve’s France talk in its entirety, visit ricksteves.Com, or check out my
Rick Steves YouTube channel. Enjoy. France is a place of
gentle beauty, where the play of light can turn the
routine into the exceptional.
My name’s Steve Smith, and for 25 years
I’ve been introducing Rick to my favorite French people, and teaching him
the Art of French living, while he taught me the science of guidebook writing.
Together we’ve produced a variety of books, maps, phrasebooks, and travel tips
to help you negotiate this marvelous country. France is filled with
iconic sights and mesmerizing views. My job today is to help you sort through
many of those, so that you can organize your trip to be the best
experience possible for you on your trip, hopefully in 2015 or 2016. Let’s get
France is central in Europe, in Western Europe, you’ll notice
it just between Spain, with Atlantic to its west, the Mediterranean to the south,
and Germany, Austria, Switzerland, to its east. It doesn’t suffer from the extreme
heat of the South, nor cold of the north, so it’s a mild climate, things grow well
there. Food, wine, think that. It’s about 700 miles across from east to west and
north to south.
Were it a square, it would take about eleven hours to go to top to bottom or
left to right. What’s astonishing about this country, is the variety of scenery
that is packed within a country eighty per cent the size of the state of Texas. For
this country offers, from its northern monumental city of Paris, to the capital
of the Riviera, Nice, in the south, pastoral landscapes, like this in Normandy, to rock sculpted
villages of Provence hanging from cliff edges. Two distinctly different
coastlines dominate the coastal region in France, from the rugged Atlantic to
the west, to the balmy, warm seas of the Mediterranean to the south.
Wouldn’t Central European countries love
at least one coastline, France is blessed with two distinctly different ones. And
if it’s the highest peaks in Europe that you must scale, you gotta go to France.
France’s– Europe’s highest peaks are in the Alps, 15,700 foot Mont Blanc
is resting there between Switzerland and France for you
to visit. The Alps are just one of the main mountain regions in France, there are two
others. The Pyrenees form the mountain range to the southwestern corner of the
country, guarding the border to Spain and
Portugal, and the Massif Central Mountain Range harbors great canyons to the
southeastern part of France, surprising many Americans as the destination for
European outdoor lovers and thrill-seekers.
rafters, rock climbers love southern France for that reason. France has a
variety of each culture. Traveling between the various regions in France, you’ll
experience different cultures and cuisines, as well as different scenery.
For one day you could be here, the northeastern corner of France, quaffing
liters of beer next to these Germanic fellows, hearing a language that sounds
very German, and eating sauerkraut smothered in ham, and potatoes, and
sausage, in the Alsace in the northwestern corner of the country. The
next day, maybe ten hours away by car, an hour flight away, you’d encounter
lads like this who look more Irish than French, and they are because this is
Brittany, whose history and roots carry that history with them.
here in this in this region of Brittany, their sauerkraut is crepes and galette for dinner every
night. I imagine that most of these kids have never even seen sauerkraut in their
life. Such is the cuisine so regional in France. To the southwestern corner, where
the locals look “muy Spanish” and Paella is on most venues and the fiesta– the
siesta is still respected, to the southeastern corner where the– where
France inherited its Italian heritage of “what me worry,” “what’s the hurry,”
devil-may-care Italian sort of love of life attitude.
And you’ll see this in the Riviera and
the regions that border Italy, and you find fresh pasta in most shops, and
windows, and in restaurants in this corner. Traveling through France then
is like experiencing a variety of different countries in Europe within
this small country, again smaller than the state of Texas. But France is more
than just a beautiful place to eat well and drink well, for in many ways, the rich
heritage of this country’s history is a yardstick of human achievement. For here,
you can trace the whole of Western civilization from mesmerizing cave art
20,000 years old, to Roman ruins that rival anything that Italy has to
offer, to feudal fortresses that rival anything that the rest of the European
countries have to offer, like here at Carcassonne.
All of this, in the country
of France. In the Middle Ages, France gave birth to Gothic architecture.
Stretching the– this technique of designing churches to stretch its ceilings
taller and filling their windows with radiant windows of stained glass. In the 1500s and 1600s, engineers and architects design palaces by the
hundreds like this, announcing France’s emergence as
Europe’s first superpower, and richest country by far. Becoming the envy of kings and queens
throughout Europe, where palaces like this at Vaux Le Vicomte, and certainly Versailles just
outside the city of Paris.
In the 1800’s, France gave birth to impressionist art, and the foundation of modern art, and the
way we think abstractly today, born in the roots of French soil. You can
trace the origins too on your trip to France, all of this history staying
within this one country, and maintaining that foundation. France today insists on
remaining capital of art today, designing homes for contemporary artists
throughout the country, and performing arts as well, like the Pompidou Center
here in Paris. For many people, this range, or this combination I wanna say, of rich
history, glorious scenery, great food and wine right sounds pretty tempting.
they would have been long ago, many times, were it not for the French. Waiters like
this can seem intimidating, until you understand how this system works. Understand that this waiters tip is
included in the bill. You do not tip in French restaurants,
maybe just a little bit if the person was nice to you, but you don’t tip.
tips are included in the bill so he’s not working for a tip, he’s paid to be
fast and efficient. If you understand how the system works and you slow down,
you’ll have that waiter eating out of your hand, by understanding the system and
working with that waiter. Slow down, that’s the first rule of travel in France to
me, slow your itinerary down. See fewer regions, more time in fewer region for
France rewards the traveler who slows down.
Take time to sample the goat cheese from Jerry Garcia’s farm. If you’re moving too fast you won’t even see that he’s
handing with that lovely piece of goat cheese. Connect with the locals. I offer
opportunities throughout the book in France to make these connections.
on a wine tour with Michelle in southern France, take a cooking class anywhere throughout
the country, connect with the locals, with these
fluent English-speaking people, and understand what matters to them about
culture and their country. And your trip will have an added dimension and become
much richer for it. Traveling in France. Getting around the
country is really about as good as it gets.
France is home to Europe’s state of the art
bullet train system connecting all the major cities. Two hundred miles an
hour whisking you from left to right, to up to down. And remember. The country’s
only 700 miles across any way.
You can cover a
lot of territory thanks to this technology. That’s the good news. The bad
news is you have to reserve these high-speed trains in France and frankly
anywhere in Europe. It’s about $10 for a reservation, that’s no problem, but if
you’re traveling with a rail pass, which is generally a good value for Americans,
it’s heavily subsidized by the French government.
The problem is that they
limit the number of seats for pass holders on these TGVs, which means you
just have to be on the ball. Book your train well ahead if you’re traveling
with a rail pass, otherwise you don’t have to worry about it that much, or separate your rail pass from TGV
trains and buy those trips when you’re in France. Local trains takeover will the
where the bullet trains leave off, getting you to smaller towns and
mid-size towns, and this will be most of the train riding you’ll do if you’re
traveling by train in France. And minivans and regional buses take off
where those trains leave you, allowing you to explore this marvelously,
largely rural, country whether you’re driving or not.
These minivan tours that
I’m showing you an example of here in the Alsace region are an opportunity, even if you’re
driving, to spend a day with a local. With running commentary as you go, join other
people and pile into his minivan. It’s anywhere from 40 to 80 dollars a
day for this kind of service, you see, and if you don’t have a car it’s essential
to seeing the small villages, caves in the Dordogne region or the D-Day beaches for
example. France seems to me like it was made for driving.
The country after Paris, between
Paris and Nice, is largely– the highlights of this country are rural in
nature. You’ll end up on a lot of small roads
just like this. Well maybe not quite this small, but the
beauty of driving in France is a big — they drive on the same side of the road that
we do, obey largely the same traffic rules that we do, and so much the country’s
rural compared to Italy, or Spain for example, where cities dominate your
sightseeing menu. In France it’s gonna be castles,
vineyards, hill towns and the like.
Making the advantage of a car terrific. I think
a great way to go when traveling to France is to mix high-speed train travel
with car rental. A lot of people like to do that, why drive the eight hours from
Paris to Provence? Take the two-hour bullet train, then rent a car from there,
you see, unless you have things you wanna see on the way. There are a couple of key
signs I want to remind you of today before you embark on your driving in France,
and this is the most important one.
This signed is found throughout small
roads and highways in France everywhere. It warns you that there is a radar
coming, a camera box, that the speed limit is 50 miles, and if you’re going faster
than that, in 130 meters where the camera is, you’ll get a ticket.
And you ask yourself, how could anybody screw that up? You won’t believe how
often they happen, how easy it is to do. And if you’re even going just 52 kilometers,
two kilometers over the speed limit, that’s like a mile and a half, you’ll still
get a ticket, and the biggest part of the ticket is the ticket itself, not the
mileage above and beyond the speed limit. Pay attention to those radar signs, and
buying gas is not as easy as it appears.
Understand I had this summer at our
house in burgundy where I hang my beret in research season, and friends came
to visit and rented a car and put the wrong gas in their diesel car. That’s not
covered by insurance we found out, so I. Mean seriously understand that “gasoil” is
diesel, it comes in– it’s always black or yellow on the fuel handles. Regular are
the other red and green handles that you see.
Diesel gas is far cheaper France,
20 to 25% cheaper than regular gasoline. Most for manual transmissions come with
it. It’s a good deal and the mileage is better, you want a diesel car if you can
drive a manual transmission. If you insist on an automatic car, probably it’s
going to use regular gasoline.
Not the end of the world, the distances just
aren’t that great in France. Even though they pay more than twice per gallon what we do, their cars
typically get typically get twice the mileage, and again, the distance isn’t
that great. That’s what I’ve realized years of researching by train– car, pardon me.
The problem of buying gas after hours is an example of the
headache of traveling with credit cards today in France for some Americans,
Credit cards work brilliantly at restaurants, hotels, shops, as long as
there’s a person in front of you it’s just like here, but if you want to use
ticket machines, pay toll booths because the toll roads in France aren’t manned anymore, or you
might want to buy a train ticket from a ticket machine, or gas after hours. Good luck, unless you have a chip on your
credit card and a four digit PIN.
Associated with that, and even if you
have that as an American, don’t count on it working everywhere. I don’t understand
why that’s the case, but all of the researchers at Rick Steves have had that
experience, so your best bet is to get that credit card, ’cause it will work much of the time,
but also always have cash on hand to pay that toll road when you leave the
freeway, or to buy gas when you need it and you’re almost out, right. Okay, sleeping in France. Sleeping is– around
France accommodations are a remarkable range at reasonable prices.
The mainstay hotels there are starred from one
to five stars. The hotels we recommend and focus on in our guidebook are two and three
star hotels. This is a two-star hotel in front of you in Honfleur, downtown Honfleur. Also we look for
centrally located places, reasonably priced, family run whenever possible.
star hotels are simple, comfortable places, always private
bathrooms. 80 To 100 dollars, outside the city of Paris, buys a two-star hotel on the
average throughout the country of France. If you want a little bit more character
and sometimes more comfort, three-star hotels stay $150 a night for a double
room and it varies, more in Paris, buys you that much more comfort, sometimes. I
want to warn you, three star hotels, I.
Have listed many two star hotels that are
better than three star hotels, trust the write-up in the guidebook. Use a guidebook, use resources before
you go. And even if you find your accommodations on your own, through other
sources, use our books to know what you should be paying. We update these books
every year, these prices should be accurate.
That gives you a good handle on
appropriate price to pay. The interior, three 3 star hotels is cozier, sometimes
on rooms as well. Four-star hotels are worth paying for, I
think, when you get to sleep in a seven hundred fifty year old castle like this,
but not just ’cause you need four stars. Trust me, three stars provides more than
sufficient comfort for anybody in this room, and if you want to wake up feeling
like a king in the morning this is worth paying for.
Mix your hotel accommodations up.
Stay in one star, two star, three star, four star hotels. Really don’t insist on a certain
level of comfort and your budget will be pleased for that, and so will your
experience. Bed and breakfasts are marvelous options
in France, and there are about 15,000 of them throughout the country. They’re mostly in rural areas so you need a car to get to them.
80 To $100 for a double most, for most of these bed and breakfasts that I list, will buy a room and breakfast.
This is a big deal because hotels in France do not include breakfast as a
part of their room price. You’ll save, because bed and breakfasts include
breakfast, 25 to 30 dollars on the average for a couple per day for breakfast, by staying
in bed and breakfasts, good value. Apartment rental and home rental, this is
the rage certainly in Paris today. Everybody wants to rent an apartment and
everybody wants to rent you an apartment.
A apartment rental is
relatively easy to do, whether you go directly to the owner, or the way I
prefer, using an organization to inspect these places, and I write them up in my
guidebook, in our guidebook on Paris to help you sift through the pros and cons.
I can’t know all of these apartments because they change all of the time,
unlike a hotel where it stays where it is and there’s 50 rooms 30 rooms, I
can inspect that. I can’t do that for apartments, so you’re left to your own
devices or the website reviews, client reviews to make
that decision. Apartment rental won’t save any money in
Paris, certainly, compared to a nice comfortable hotel. You’ll get more space,
a nice living room, and a kitchen, that’s the big deal.
You can save
some money on meals, certainly breakfast, by having your own cereal milk in the morning,
or the advantage, I think, is you get to shop like a local, pretend that you’re a local,
and bring stuff back to your kitchen and have to function that way, and cook maybe
a few times. But it’d be a shame not even restaurants in France, don’t cook in
your kitchen every night. Home rental throughout France is a great
value, I think, compared to apartment rental. They’re called ‘gite,” G-I-T-E-S, and there home rental is generally Saturday to Friday night’s,
weekly only, and it’s a good value.
Homes like this that you’re seeing here in the
countryside are available throughout the country, but again its weekly
only. Here you’ll spend about $1,500 on the average, and relatively high season
for a three-bedroom two-bathroom place so if there’s three couples traveling
together, that’s 500 bucks per week per couple, good value, plus you get
a kitchen and lot of space to relax. Eating in France. France should be
sightseeing for your taste buds, that’s the reason you came.
This is not a place
to skimp on your sightseeing budget, and bakeries like this should be a daily
stop on anybody’s itinerary. If you’re staying at hotels and breakfast isn’t
included, bakeries in cities often offer breakfast
deals for a fraction of the price. Yeah sure it’s a lot less than what you get at
your hotel, but a lot of times you only have the choice of $15 for the buffet
breakfast at hotel and that’s too much for you. Go to the neighborhood bakery, or
certainly to a cafe to order your breakfast, and save lots of money and
breakfast– break your croissant with locals.
Lunches that bakeries like this
offer, fresh sandwiches, if you look closely you’ll see them there, and treats
throughout the day. The fresh sandwiches for $5 apiece make a great, cheap, on-the-go lunch for
many people. Cafes are the most flexible way to eat
out in France. They’re open late, their hours are
generally longer than restaurants, and more flexible menus for you to order
And a cafe, perfect for bringing families and kids, you can order just
snails if that’s all you want, or a salad or bowl of French onion soup, whereas at
a restaurant or bistro, you must order at least a main course. You can split the
first course or a dessert, that’s no problem, but everybody must order a main course.
You can– this is the kind of place that I. Look for naturally throughout the
country places, where the chalkboard menu is brought to you by a waiter who
smiling. There are two ways of ordering food at a French restaurant, understand
The item, the object that he is showing you in French is called the “carte.”
Ordering from “la carte” means “off the menu” to us it’s a menu. If you order a menu
in France, you’ve already ordered dinner. That’s a fixed price: two, three, or four
core sequence of items for a set price that you’ve ordered. And that’s a great
deal if you want that much food.
Today in France, this never used to exist, most
restaurants specialize in two course menus for about $25, tax and tip included.
That’s a good deal. You typically, and this is very common throughout almost
all the restaurants, you can order a three-course. Appetizer, main course,
dessert. For two courses– and that would be about say, $30, I’m close– for two
courses, for maybe $25, you get a choice of entree, first course, I’m sorry, and main
course or main course and dessert.
When my wife and I travel together, she does
main course and dessert, I do first course and main course, and we split the
first and the third courses, you see. And the best deal going, I think, today, are
“plat Du jours” in French– in France. Most cafes and restaurants offer this, about
$20, tax and tip included, that’s your dinner. Beautiful plates, garnished, that’s
what a “plat Du jour” is.
Not part of a menu, it’s just “plat Du jour,” and often it’s
better than the average item on the menu. Every so often, much like hotels, allow
yourself to splurge a little bit in a French restaurant scene and enjoy the ambiance of this kind of restaurant.
I list places that, mostly thanks to my wife, she’s a culinary expert, that she thinks are
worth that kind of money. This is 48 euros by the way, for a four course
dinner at a place like this. And you have to be willing to go with the chefs
Sometimes I don’t recognize what I’m eating but that’s
okay, that’s part of the deal, isn’t it though. So mix it up with restaurants also.
Cafes, bistros, restaurants, and elegant restaurants are a nice way to go.
Every so often do a picnic dinner, I. Think that’s a great way to go as well.
If you’re traveling in the summertime, France is replete with vistas and
benches to have picnic dinners on. Many people are perfect, love doing all
of this– they’re perfect do it yourselfers.
They look to be their own
guides, and all this organization makes total sense to them, and they love to
take it on. Others are a little bit overwhelmed by the task. My friend Rick
here lying on the floor of the Louvre Museum, right. For them, going on a tour, sharing their
experience, but not the headaches of hotels, and, “how am I gonna get from point
A to point B,” makes more sense.
And we offer tours at Rick Steves, we offer
tours for people who– for whom want to travel in the style, stay in the
kind of hotels I’ve just described to you, and sharing their experience. Our–
it’s 25 people on the average on a tour that we offer, in 48 passenger bus,
traveling from region to region with a Rick Steves trained guide, matched with a
local expert everywhere. Together their teaching brings you great learning,
and that is the hallmark of our tours, the most– the core to our tours
then is teaching, and you’re learning. Group time and free time, you can learn
by experiencing these great works of art on your own as well, can’t you.
we’re leaving you free time to explore on your own, whether it’s the art of
living in “caf au laits,”or art as I. Showed you before. We occupy about two–
half of your time on our tours. The other half you’re free to use our guidebooks and explore on
Our guide– we also use group time to take advantage of French’s cuisine,
France’s cuisine, doing potluck picnics whenever we can. And we offer options in the afternoon, if
you want to join us for a special wine tasting with translation that would be
impossible, unless you spoke French, to do on your own, these are the advantages
of group travel, I think. We offer three– four primary itineraries to enjoy the country
of France. We have a week in Paris tour that runs basically year ’round.
People love the week in Paris, you only unpack once, we stay in a cozy hotel in a great neighborhood.
Or my favorite, or the best if you’ve never been before, Paris and the heart of France. 11 Days,
featuring Burgundy, a corner of Burgundy, the Loire Valley, Mont St-Michel, the
D-Day beaches in Normandy, Claude Monet’s gardens in Giverny, and four nights in
Paris, as well. Our western France tour is 13 days, starting outside of Paris in
Chartres, running through the Loire Valley, the Dordogne, Languedoc, and Provence, ending in
the French Riviera. Our West eastern France tour highlights the east, starting
in the Champagne district, going through the Alsace, Burgundy, the French Alps,
Provence, and ending in Marseille.
The average price of a tour is about $300 a
day and it includes everything but a few meals, your sightseeing is included, we
don’t allow tips to the driver or the guides, thats nice, that’s annoying, but
everything’s included, there are no surprises, and that’s critical to Rick.
All of the information about getting ready to go to France, that I have just
explained to you, is included in our France guidebook, and much more. All– we even
give you a diagram of a roundabout, if you’re driving, to show you how to
maneuver those in your car, and much more detail and how to get from
point A to point B. If you’ve enjoyed this video,
you’ll find lots more at ricksteves.Com, and on my
Rick Steves YouTube channel. Happy travels, and thanks for