With low-cost flights reaching all areas of France, there’s every reason to visit this year. But with the cost of living crisis, how easy is it to enjoy all that France has to offer, without spending a fortune? Here are a few tips to making your trip to France both pleasurable and affordable.
Travel in Low Season
If you are not tied in to school holidays, visiting France off-season can be a lot more affordable, and particularly in the south, the weather can be surprisingly warm, even in spring and autumn. The benefits of low season travel include fewer crowds and cheaper rates of accommodation, but some establishments may close during the winter or use this time for renovations and upgrades – don’t let that put you off, however, there will be plenty of others still open.
Self-catering is ideal for budget travel as you can minimise expensive dining out, shop locally and prepare your own meals. Renting an apartment, even a studio, will often give you more space than a hotel room, and you can enjoy feeling like a local during your stay.
In the summer months, camping makes for an inexpensive and charming way to travel, and France has a vast network of campsites, with excellent facilities and activities for all the family. If camping isn’t for you, however, try renting a rural Gite or holiday cottage, or going through holiday rental companies.
For larger groups, a holiday villa may seem expensive at first, but once you divide costs between a large group – perhaps two families holidaying together – they become a very reasonable way to enjoy extra space and possibly a private pool.
One of the joys of visiting France is its food and fresh local produce, making self-catering a fun and pleasurable activity – and much cheaper than relying on restaurants all the time. Who doesn’t love fresh croissants and pain au chocolat with their morning coffee, or fresh bread with a hunk of Brie or Camembert for lunch? Everywhere you go, from the local epicerie or boulangerie to a major hypermarket, you’ll find good quality produce at affordable prices.
Enjoy Some Wine
When in France, act like the French, non? Just because you’re on a budget doesn’t mean you should stint on life’s pleasures, and you’ll be pleasantly surprised at the price of some wines in any supermarket. At local markets, you’ll find even cheaper vins de table – just take your own empty bottles and fill them up on the spot!
If you prefer to stay in a hotel, France is full of good quality two-star establishments, which can be even cheaper if you book a few weeks or even months in advance. Try avoiding city centres, and choose hotels based in residential neighbourhoods, where accommodation prices are lower and you get better access to local restaurants rather than tourist traps.
Take Public Transport
France enjoys a terrific and efficient rail service, SNCF, enabling you to explore the country without renting a car. Book directly through the SNCF website or try Ouigo, which often has good offers on trips booked over 30 days in advance. France’s famous high-speed trains, the TGV, are more expensive, but can also be cheaper if you book in advance; there may also be promotions on offer, particularly in low season.
If you are a group of 5 to 9 people travelling together, try a Mini-Groupe train ticket, available providing you spend a Saturday night at your destination. For the over-60s, the Carte Avantage Senior costs €49 and offers 30% discount and 60% off tickets for up to three children accompanying you.
In most cities, you’ll find offers on public transport, from buses to trams, such as a carnet of 10 tickets at a reduced cost. For France’s network of intercity buses, check Ouibus or Flixbus for good deals.
If you prefer to drive over to France, plan your routes to avoid the pricey toll roads on the autoroutes. Think of your journey as an adventure, taking you on scenic routes through lovely French countryside, passing vineyards, chateaux and pretty villages. Filling up with petrol or diesel is cheaper at super- and hyper-markets rather than on the autoroutes, too. Many medium-sized towns have a system of parking zones, with cheaper and less restricted parking out of the centres, often with free shuttles, or navettes, taking passengers into the centre.
France has a wealth of great attractions, many of which, including beautiful villages, pretty churches or sandy beaches, can be enjoyed for free. For the others, it’s worth visiting the local tourist centre, which often offer discounts for major attractions, or single pass bundles for museums and other attractions. See if there are any free events or walking tours available during your stay, and it’s worth noting that almost every museum in France is free on the first Sunday of each month. Many sights offer free or reduced admission for students and the over-60s, too.
France is world-renowned for its cuisine and restaurant culture, from local bistros to city brasseries and Michelin-rated gourmet establishments. A trip to France would be incomplete without enjoying its cuisine – and the good news is it doesn’t have to cost a fortune, particularly if you choose to eat out at lunch time over dinner.
Most French restaurants pride themselves on offering excellent set formules at lunch. These usually involve two-courses with possibly a carafe of wine or some coffee to finish. Some restaurants may offer three-course menus, possibly including wine and/or coffee. Otherwise, look out for the plat du jour, or house speciality, which will be set at an attractive price.
Children are well catered for in France as well, with two- or three-courses offered to those up to 12 years old, often including a drink. Crêperies are a cheap and fun option and can be found all over France, offering both sweet or savoury fillings most children love.
If you fancy some shopping, look out for the words Soldes or Ventes Privées, for the sales, which take place in January and during the summer. Have fun at flea markets, or Marché aux Puces, where you can pick up all kinds of antiques and trinkets, and look out for your local Brocante or Vide Grenier, which are similar to car boot sales in the UK.
France is a wonderful place to visit and it doesn’t have to be expensive, either. So why not give yourself a break this year and enjoy a few days in la belle France?