This page has some general tips for those who may be new to visiting France. It is certainly not a comprehensive list of 'tips', but rather some which the author of the webpage Tent Camping in France has not found covered in the many otherwise excellent travel books and webpages providing tourist information on France. Anyone familiar with France will find this information elementary.

Be warned that most of this page was posted 23 May 2001, and since then the French franc (FF) has been replaced by the Euro (�). The early conversion rate was about 6.6 FF to the �. For some time the US $ was about equal to the �. There will be an attempt to give a better review of prices and costs, as well as internet access, after completing a June 2003 trip.

Internet Access while traveling in France.
Many French post offices (La Poste) have 'Cyberposte' stations to access the web, which are a means for travelers to access web-based e-mail. We had our regular e-mail forwarded to a web-based account on It worked well to receive and send messages during the summer of 2000. However, one is on line at all times while messages are composed and read. Access is by debit [pre-paid] card, purchased at the post offices (sometimes sold only in the morning). These work just like the normal telephone debit cards. At the post offices, one can print out their mail, for an extra charge. At some information bureaus, there are internet access stations run by the French telephone company (France Télécom). These use the regular 'Télécarte' debit cards, same as used with the voice phones. Both debit cards work on a 'units' system, and the amounts can be increased with the use of Visa and some other credit cards at machines located at the post offices and many telephone stations.
Of course, most of large towns have 'Cyber cafes' as found in the USA cities.
Telephones and Telephoning in France.
Some pointers:
  • Most all public telephones accept only phone debit cards, called télécartes. These are sold at post offices or cafétabacs for FF40.60 or FF97.50.
  • The usual convention in listing a phone number in France is to pair the digits and separate the pairs with a space. This convention has nothing to do with dialing, but helps to identify the components of the total number of digits to dial. The basic phone number consists of the eight digits (or four paired digits) counting from the right).
    To the left of, or preceding, the basic eight digits is a phone district number. France has five phone districts: a district around and including Paris [that appears to correspond to the political Region 'Ile-de-France', but is not stated as such] is number '1'; northwestern France is number '2'; northeastern France is number '3'; southeastern France (and Corse) is number '4'; and southwestern France is number '5'.
  • When making a call in France, one must dial a '0' before this phone district number. This makes dialing a total of ten digits [five paired digits].
  • When calling a number in France from the US, the '0' before the district number is not used. Otherwise, after dialing '011' (the international access code), then '33' (the country code for France), dial just the single digit district code, followed by the basic eight-digit number.
  • To call the US from France, dial '00', then '1', plus the US area code followed by the basic phone number. If using a phone credit card, check with the paticular issuing company for the latest procedure for calling from France. For AT&T Direct dial 0 800 99 00 11
'Regionalization' of Tourist Information.
France's tourism is fundamentally promoted by the various geographically described political regions. This is much like in the US with its states. Even though the French Government Tourist Office oversees the distribution of a vast amount of information, there appears to be considerable competition among the various regions, departments, and communities in France. If one is new to French history, the many names can be confusing. The problem can be compounded by the tendency of some French travel information forums to use the numerical designation of the political departments rather that the names. For example, the very valuable Guide Officiel Camping Caravaning published by Fédération Française de Camping et de Caravaning (FFCC), arranges its campground listings by the numerical designation of the departments in which the grounds are located. It is a logical system, but there are 97 departments.
In an effort to 'simplify' this 'regionalization' the French tourist activities consolidate regional information into fewer geographic groupings.* The names for these are usually similar to, or a combination of the political names. These regional groupings or areas for tourist information are not standard and change slightly from year to year or even among different media forums. The best way to approach the possible problems is to have a ready reference to the actual political structure, which is often not covered. This is the purpose of the following section.

[* Example of one tourist informational grouping: Western France, Eastern France, Southwest France, Languedoc-Roussillon, Provence, Rivera, Rhône-Alps, Ile de France, Nord Pas De Calais, Picardy, Auvergne, Corsica.]

Political structure of France.
France is divided into 22 geographical regions superimposed upon 96 departments. Each department has a name as well as a number. Each department is subdivided into 5 arrondissements. Arrondissements are divided into cantons, and cantons into communes (which can be a small hamlet of several buildings and surrounding fields, or it can be a large city like Bordeaux or Marseille.
  • The modern regions and many of the departments have names that correspond to the names of the ancient historic provinces and feudal entities that preceded the Revolution of 1789. However, the boundaries may not be exact. Two of the departments are in Corsica [Corse].
  • Numerical List of Departments (with names) and with Region.
General Shopping.
  • Household-type items used for camping and general food items can be economically purchased at the many supermarkets in France. These are generically called 'Supermarch�s' or 'Hypermarch�s' (big ones). Many chains cover the country: Casino, Carrefour, Castorama, Auchan, etc..
  • Purchasing fuel for automobiles is generally cheaper at the supermarket gas stations. If you happen to be renting a diesel car, remember that the French use the words 'gazole' and 'diesel' interchangeably. So be alert when you are looking for that first re-fueling in your diesel.
Public Transport Discount Passes.
If staying at a location outsite of Paris, but near a train station, one may want to take advantage of the cost savings in purchasing a discout pass good for M�tro, RER (train that services the Ile-de-France region), and autobuses. These passes are mult-day tickets for use on public transportation systems in and around Pairs. One may choose from zone packages: 1-3, 1-5, or 1-8. These zones radiate out from the near-center (Ch�telet-les-Halles) of Paris in segmented rings to include most of the Ile-de-France region. The cards are for 1,2, 3, or 5 day periods [some might be even longer periods].
These cards come with small paper tickets (called 'coupons') that one inserted in turnstiles (much like tickets used in the regular Metro) and then collected back. These reusable 'coupons' have indicated on them the number of zones covered and the expiation date. The larger card has the individual's name [they are not transferable to others] on it, and contain an authorization stamp by the vendor. The cards are sold at train stations and tourist offices.

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Top of page. /Internet Access. / Telphones and Telephoning in France. / 'Regionalization' of Tourist Information. / Political structure of France. / General Shopping. / Transport Discount Passes.

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Page created 7 June 1999; last updated 16 May 2003.