So you’re planning a trip to France? the date is in your diary, the air tickets are bought, hotels are soon booked and itineraries being put together. You are very excited about the trip but you are a worried about seeing little more than the well beaten tourist trail.
Here are ten tips to get you behind the scenes and give you a real taste for french living that the guide books won’t tell you about.
1. Instead of a hotel, book a rental apartment. There is just no comparison if you want to get a feel for a city or for the local culture. It doesn’t mean you have to cook and clean, many rentals offer a cleaning service and you can simply go out for all your meals which will give you even more opportunities to see how the french live. Haven in Paris have some fantastic rentals.
2. Get up early. Get out of bed and get out early to see the city wake up. Grab a coffee on a small café terrace and watch the locals hurry off to start their working day. And if you are staying in the country, then get up early and take a walk to admire the view and the morning light. Chances are you’ll come back with a story to tell.
3. Buy food at a street market. The stalls at the open air farmers markets are always beautifully displayed, shopping becomes a sensual experience. You don’t need to buy a ton of stuff, especially if you’re eating out each day, but you can get a few pieces of fresh fruit, some local charcuterie or cheese, fresh bread a bunch of flowers for your apartment. As you walk back to your rental with your basket full of fresh strawberries, a baguette and a bunch of daisies, I promise you’ll be smiling.
4. If you are in town then walk as much as possible, you see so much more on foot than from the back of a cab. And if you feel adventurous, use the Velib, the bicycles that you can rent by the hour or ten minutes or the day. You can find out how they work in Paris here and here for Nice
5. Take your time. Don’t plan each day so full that they become frantic. Take your time over your meals, take a moment in the morning for a coffee and watch the world go by, don’t forget to enjoy an aperitif in a cute little bar before dinner.
6. Plan a special outing. If you are going to be in Paris or in a big enough town, then find out before hand if there will be a concert or a show that you would enjoy. If you don’t speak French, then the theatre would be difficult, but a concert or the opera will give you an opportunity to see a great show and to mix in with the locals on their night out.
7. Visit the smaller museums rather than queue for hours to shuffle your way around the most well known ones.
8. If you love to hunt for antique and brocante treasure, then keep your eyes open for signs saying ‘Foire à tout’, or ‘Vide grenier’. These are the little street markets where the bargains are to be found and slipped into your suitcase as your piece of french treasure.
9. If you really want to go up the Eiffel Tower, then don’t queue for hours just to go up and down again, book your self in for lunch or dinner! There are two restaurants to choose from, you can reserve by phone and jump the queue for the lift.
10. And finally just try to blend in. If you want to get a feel for the real France then you need to be as inconspicuous as possible. Try to avoid moving around in large groups, and for your clothing take the lead from the French and go for casual chic, preferably without sneakers!
oh yes, and number 11 …. enjoy!