France can be divided loosely into five regions. The north and northwest have a maritime climate. Winters are mild and summers are warm and rain falls year- round. In the southwest, winters are mild and summers are hot. Around the Pyrenees and along the border with Spain rainfall can be heavy. In the centre of the country, Paris for example, winters are cool and summers are hot. Along the Mediterranean Coast, the winters are mild and summers are very hot. Rain is scarce. The Mistral, a northerly wind, blows in the spring time bringing very cold weather. Corsica has a Mediterranean climate too, along the coast, that is. In the mountains, there's plenty of snow in the winter. The Vosges in Alsace and Lorraine, the Jura and Alps along the borders with Switzerland and Italy, the Pyrenees in the extreme south, and the higher parts of the Massif Central get a lot of snow.
When to fly to France
Mid-May to September (July and August in particular), the second half of October, Christmas and New Year's, February, and Easter are the high season times in France. These follow the school holidays when French families and European tourists take to the cities and the resorts.
November–February is the low season in the cities and at the beaches, but this is high season for skiers and snowboarders.
Getting around France
The major cities - Paris, Bordeaux, Lyon, Nice and Strasbourg - have excellent public transport networks. Trains, buses and trams, in some cities, make it easy to get around.
Air France, the flag-carrying airline, connects Paris with most of the big French cities. There are plenty of low-cost airlines operating in France too. EasyJet and Ryanair, to name just two well-known European no-frillers, both offer cheap flights around France.
France's rail network is best in class. The TGV trains, which travel at speeds in excess of 550kph, make getting between some cities faster than taking flights. The railway network runs to every corner of the country, but several routes radiate from Paris and cross-country routes and services are fewer and, sometimes, less frequent.
Bus services augment the rail services especially in more rural areas.
Hiring a car is a great idea, especially if you are travelling outside the major cities. In the bigger cities, traffic can be very heavy and parking can be difficult.
France insider information
- There's no denying that Paris is an expensive city, but if you time it right, you could pick up some savings in stylish French fashions. The post-Christmas sales start in the middle of January (the tourist off season). The department stores on Boulevard Haussmann offer mark downs of between 20 and 70 per cent. There are also great discount shopping outlets such as La Vallée Village, a 35-minute drive from Paris.
- Bordeaux, a famous wine-producing region, is where Vinexpo takes place each year. It's the largest exhibition on wine and spirits in the world.
- Nantes has several museums, one of the best known is the one dedicated to Jules Verne, the Nantes-born writer of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and Around the World in Eighty Days fame. Other museums include the Natural History Museum, Dobree museum, Fine Arts Museum and Museum of printing.
- La Route du Rock festival takes place in Saint-Malo in Brittany. Saint-Malo is a walled town surrounded by the sea, not far from Cancale, one of the best places in France for eating oysters. The festival is completely independent, one for real music aficionados. The mix of big names – including the Cure, Franz Ferdinand and Pulp – and less well-known bands is great.
- Hossegor is a top surfing spot, about half an hour from Biarritz in the Pays Basque.