Endless blue seas, majestic snow mountains, mysterious castles, as well as diverse arrays of food and wines, and the best spas in the world… France, a land brimming with romance, offers thousands of lifestyles to enjoy. By Gareth Powell
France is the center of any European tour. Other countries can argue about it – and they do – but for the sheer wealth of tourist attractions, France is the leading country in Europe. It stands between the Mediterranean and central Europe, and is about the size of Texas. It is diverse in scenery, living styles, food, wine, and sport. And all combined with a style which is definitely French.
A lot of what is believed about France is incorrect. So let us nail down some facts which are correct:
- French people are generally extremely polite and friendly
- France is not so expensive. Yes, there are the three star Michelin restaurants which you cannot afford but they are the exception, not the rule. You can eat better in France for a reasonable sum of money than almost anywhere else in the world
- Always travel between the main centers by train.
- Never travel to France in August. It is closed.
Expanding on Those Points
The best way to move around from center to center is by train, especially the TGV (pronounced tay jay vay) which is very fast and goes from city center to city center. Except in August when France– think four Golden Weeks strung together – you will rarely have trouble finding a hotel room even if you have not booked. The tourist office is in the railway station – another reason for going by rail.
You can have almost any style of holiday you want in France. Possibilities range from sunning it on the Riviera, skiing in the French Alps, exploring the chateaux of the Loire or enjoying the intellectual life of the sidewalk cafes in Paris and then wandering through the world’s greatest art galleries.
And France is a very large country, impossible to explore properly in one holiday. One fifth of France is still covered with forests, and national parks are a major part of the scenery. There are 36,000 towns and villages and the country has a coastline of over 5,000 kilometers. There is a skiable area of 1,950 square kilometers and 13,000 kilometers of downhill ski pistes.
There are about 450 different wines. And France has 35,000 boulangeries which bake and sell the traditional long slim loaf. There are close to 20,000 hotels. The Eiffel Tower – surely the most ugly tourist attraction in the world – alone gets about six million visitors a year.
Internet and Post
You will find internet cafes throughout France where you can log on and view your email. The keyboard is slightly strange with the ‘z’ where the ‘q’ should be and so on. It is not difficult to get used to, especially if you are a two-fingered typist.
In France a post office is normally called a Bureau de Poste or PTT. French post offices are very good at helping you to send stuff home. This stops you paying excess baggage and lugging stuff all the way around France. Most post offices sell yellow shipping boxes with fastening systems.
Ladies should carry their handbags in the French style so the strap goes across their bodies. This is especially true in the Metro. Men should use a money belt. Beware of young children begging. They are often pickpockets.
The French police can stop you anywhere and ask you to produce an ID. Some guides suggest you carry your passport at all times. Most police will accept a driver’s license as proof of identity if it has a photograph. Be polite, be quiet, respond reasonably and all will be well.
The French currency is the Euro as it is throughout Europe except Britain. You can change money at a bank but the best rate is nearly always at an ATM.
Most of the major restaurants, nightclubs and gas stations will accept the major credit cards.
France is now totally 220-230 volts AC. The shape of the sockets is slightly peculiar and you will need an adapter.
The French are very serious about the food that they eat. Even if it is the plainest meal it will be prepared carefully. Except on trains where something very strange happens and you get rubbish.
You could think of the food of France as dividing into three levels. The first is haute cuisine which is very rich and prepared in a most elaborate way. Coming down a bit in style, but not in flavor, we find cuisine bourgeois. Then there is nouvelle cuisine which started in the 1970s and emphasizes fresh ingredients mixed and matched in new and interesting ways.
What you now get served in France is in fact a mixture of these three – haute, bourgeois and nouvelle. Together they provide a culinary experience which cannot be matched anywhere else in the world.
If you want to eat cheaply, visit various shops – charcuterie, boulangerie and so on – and build yourself a phenomenal picnic for a very small amount of money.
A brasserie is like a restaurant only quicker and normally cheaper. Brasseries normally open until late and offer snacks until they close. A bistro is quicker still – the name comes from a word meaning quickly – and even less expensive. An easy way is to always go with the special of the day. A French meal is always served with bread and water.
Every bar or café displays a full price list for drinks at the bar. If you want to sit at a table inside – la salle – it will be slightly more expensive. And more expensive yet will be the terrace outside where you can watch the world go by, but you are under no pressure to gulp and run.
With wine, the easy and the best option is to order the house wine which will at worst be very drinkable, and at best, sublime.
Luxury Spas in Paris
You might not think it, but Paris can be a rather stressful place to live or visit. Whether it’s work, wandering the tree-lined boulevards or shopping that has tired you out, here are 10 of the best luxury spas in the French capital where you can relax and rejuvenate with a massage or beauty treatment.
Institut Dior at the Hotel Plaza Athénée
One of Paris’ leading fashion houses and one of its most luxurious hotels have joined forces to deliver a spa experience inspired by the exclusivity and specificity of haute couture. The Institut Dior’s expert therapists offer a wide range of treatments, all of which utilize the brand’s top-quality products and follow a specially-designed structure. Every treatment begins with a one-on-one consultation and detailed skin examination, which they say guarantee instant and long-lasting results, and a customized back massage. Likewise, every treatment concludes with an awakening hand massage and the offer of a ‘Finishing Touch’ beauty treatment including makeup and perfume.
Hôtel Plaza Athénée
25 Avenue Montaigne, 75008 Paris, France.
Tel: +33 1 53 67 66 65
Spa Valmont at Le Meurice
The Spa Valmont, located on the luminous mezzanine of Le Meurice, uses products by the Swiss anti-ageing skincare specialists Valmont and offers exclusive treatments that combine cutting-edge technology with natural ingredients. The Eye Contour Lifting Intensive Treatment, which rejuvenates tired-looking eyes, is just one of the exclusive beauty treatments offered. There is also a sunny terrace where you can dine on a light lunch or enjoy a freshly squeezed juice. To end your day of relaxation, allow the team of in-house makeup artists to perfect your look using By Terry beauty products, including the coveted Baume de Rose balm.
228 Rue de Rivoli, 75001 Paris, France
Tel: +33 1 44 58 10 10
Spa Le Bristol
The Spa Le Bristol by La Prairie is an oasis of peace in the heart of the frenetic city of Paris. It offers eight treatment rooms, including one double cabin that is perfect for couples, all of which open onto a courtyard garden that’s bathed in sunlight. La Prairie, known for their pioneering work in anti-ageing cell therapy, provide all the products necessary for effective and enjoyable face and body treatments. You can also experience the spa’s Russia Room, inspired by the banya, a traditional Russian sauna, or take a tea or infusion on one of the private terraces.
Le Bristol Paris
112 Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré, 75008 Paris, France
Tel: +33 1 53 43 43 00
Spa by Sothys at Le Burgundy Paris
The Spa by Sothys at Le Burgundy Paris provides 250sqm of luxury dedicated to wellbeing. The spirit of relaxation begins with the interior décor, which uses a calming backdrop of beige leather, stone, and golden mosaics to seduce the eye and prepare the body for a host of soothing treatments. One of the two large massage rooms can accommodate couples and in both, you can enjoy a wide range of facials, body treatments, massages, and beauty rituals for women and men. There is also a sauna and hammam where you can further unwind and recuperate from the demands of work and travel.
Le Burgundy Paris, 6 Rue Duphot, 75001 Paris, France.
Tel: +33 1 42 60 34 12
Ritz Club Paris at the Ritz Paris
The Ritz Club Paris has been a space of perfect bliss – where the outside world and even time itself can be forgotten – for more than 27 years, but only recently has it been totally rethought, redesigned, and reborn. You can swim in the magnificent pool under a beautifully painted summer sky, work out with a personal trainer, or take it easy with one of a multitude of made-to-measure treatments. Every beauty and wellbeing experience at the spa has been designed to be a treat for the senses, combining scents and sounds that help restore harmony to the body and mind.
15 Place Vendôme, 75001 Paris, France
Tel: +33 1 43 16 30 30
Mosaic Spa by Decleor&Carita at Hotel du Collectionneur
The Mosaic Spa by Decleor&Carita is another haven of peace in Paris. Its 400sqm of soft-toned mosaic floors are in themselves a treat for the eyes and mind and this luxurious decoration is completely in keeping with the vibe of the hotel. The spa boasts 10 cabins, where you can experience a range of face and body treatments, as well as a super-sized jacuzzi, a hydrotonic bath with massage jets, a sauna, a hammam, and a fitness suite. If you’re feeling active, you can also have a session with a personal trainer in the nearby Parc Monceau.
Hotel du Collectionneur
51-57 Rue de Courcelles, 75008 Paris, France
Tel: +33 1 58 36 67 00
La Réserve Paris Hotel and Spa
The spa at La Réserve is set around a 16-meter indoor pool and comprises three treatment rooms and a fitness area with an experienced sports coach on hand. All of the cosmeceutical products used in the wide range of massages and beauty rituals are provided by the Nescens-Swiss anti-ageing science brand. Created by Professor Jacques Proust, a pioneer in the biology of ageing and anti-ageing medicine, they have been developed at the Center for the Prevention of Ageing at the Clinique de Genolier in Switzerland. A day spent here is going to leave you looking and feeling years younger.
La Réserve Paris Hotel and Spa
42 Avenue Gabriel, 75008 Paris, France
Tel: +33 1 58 36 60 60
Mandarin Oriental, Paris
One of the largest spas in Paris, stretching over two floors and 900sqm, the spa at the Mandarin Oriental is nonetheless dedicated to celebrating each of its guests as an individual. On arrival, your shoes are replaced with slippers, symbolizing your departure from the temporal world and entry into the rejuvenating embrace of the spa. During the in-depth consultation in one of the seven private suites, three of which are suitable for couples, your personal therapist will then recommend treatments designed to meet your needs. There is also a 14-meter lap pool, herbal steam room, fitness center and boutique.
251 Rue Saint Honoré, 75001 Paris, France
Tel: +33 1 70 98 78 88
Le Roch Hotel & Spa
The wellness suite at Le Roch is composed of a pool, made from black lava rock and illuminated by natural light, a delightfully toasty hammam, which can be reached without leaving the water, a fitness suite, and a spa where treatments for the face and body are provided by expert hands. The menu of care options has been designed in partnership with Codage, whose high performance and carefully measured formulations meet the requirements of all skin types, and can be personalized to suit your specific needs. Care products from Kure Bazaar are also incorporated into treatments for hands and feet.
Le Roch Hotel & Spa
28 Rue Saint-Roch, 75001 Paris, France
Tel: +33 1 70 83 00 00
CHI, the Spa at the Shangri-La Hotel
CHI, the Spa at the Shangri-La, is located in the converted stables of Roland Bonaparte’s hôtelparticulier. The classical French architecture has been evolved by designer Pierre-Yves Rochon to include a 16-meter indoor pool and 94m2 outdoor planted terrace. Inspired by the former owner’s passion for botany, the décor embraces floral motifs and a palette of watery blues and celadon green. The spa also includes fitness facilities and a beauty treatment center, where you can indulge in facials, massages, and signature slimming rituals which use products containing high-quality organic extracts and herbs, provided by the amazing Organic Pharmacy.
10 Avenue d’Iéna, 75116 Paris, France
Tel: +33 1 53 67 19 98