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The best and worst things about France in the summer

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The best and worst things about France in the summer
Photo: AFP
09:11 CEST+02:00
There are some things that make France the best place to be in summer, and then there are others that drive us mad, writes Katie Warren.
Travelling France in the summertime probably evokes images of cruising along the coastal highway of the French Riviera, sipping rosé, frolicking through lavender fields, and having picnics in Parisian parks. 

Perhaps lining up for three hours in the hot sun to get into the Louvre. Or being packed in like sardines at the same Riviera beach half the country decided to go to. Or getting stuck in barely-moving traffic for two hours while trying to get out of Paris.

France in the summer can be wonderful, but before you plan your dream French summer holiday, you should perhaps be aware of some of the downsides.

Here are the some of the worst things about France in the summer. 

Queues and crowds 

More than 80 million people visit France every year, a good portion of them in the summer months. So it’s no surprise that the country becomes inundated with tourists in June, July, and August. 

Paris and the French Riviera are the hardest-hit by the crowds, so if you’re planning on being in either of those places, be prepared for an influx of people, and be ready to wait in queues if you want to do anything remotely touristy.

You might think you’re being clever by hitting up a lesser-known museum in Paris on a hot day instead of going to the beach, but thousands of other people will probably have the same idea.

Our advice for beating the crowds? Visit some of the delightful lesser-known parts of the country such as the Lorraine region in northeastern France, or relatively under-the-radar cities such as Clermont-Ferrand or Rennes.

Driving headaches

Photo: AFP

Tourists and French holiday-makers travelling into and all around France to their summer destinations means loads more vehicles on the roads. 

Keep an eye on France’s official traffic-monitoring site to see peak driving hours and routes and to figure out how to avoid them. 

With France’s current reinforced security measures, holiday travel has already been made difficult for some British motorists heading to France. Brits waiting to cross by ferry from the southeastern port of Dover were forced to wait up to 15 hours to get through heightened security checks.

And although chances are you won’t have any of this sort of trouble, keep a wary eye out for some common scams targeting drivers on French roads.

Melting in the Metro

The summer months are not always a fun time to take public transport. 

In the larger cities, Metro trains are not always air conditioned, so it can be unbearably hot. Being confined in tight quarters with sweaty strangers isn’t what anybody has in mind for an ideal French summer.

But when you are lucky enough to be in a blessedly cool air-conditioned Metro car, it can be a heavenly escape from the streets above. 

Summer also seems to be the designated time for France’s rail operator SNCF and Paris transport group RATP to undertake major construction work on their lines. 

The RER A in Paris for example, the busiest public transport line in Europe, is completely shut down this year within the Peripherique from July 23rd to August 21st.

Strikes

Photo: AFP

The French love their strikes. Indeed, there were a total of 966 across France in 2015 (that's 2.6 a day!), according to the site cestlagreve.fr, which records the nation's industrial action in real time. 

And in which month are they most likely to strike? That would be June — the first month of summer, and prime travelling season. 

So while you might want to do your travelling in June to get a headstart on most summer holidaymakers, July and August are your best bets to avoid any travel problems related to strikes. The French tend to trade in striking for lounging on the beach during their holidays.

Although this year Air France stewards are set to go on strike for seven days at the end of July, during peak tourist season. So you never really know. 

Elevated prices

The French tourism industry celebrates the mass arrival of tourists during the summer months by jacking up prices. 

Be prepared to shell out more for flights, hotels, and train tickets in France in June, July, and August than during the rest of the year. 

The August dead zone 

Paris 'closes' for August but how long will it last?This one might be closed but a law states a certain number of boulangeries in Paris, must remain open in August. Photo: Eric Feferberg/AFP

Good luck trying to get anything accomplished in France during the month of August. Offices, shops, and restaurants close up by the dozens for the entire month so their workers can go on holiday.

Even the end of July can be hit and miss, as some workers take off for their holidays a bit early, so it’s best to get anything important done before then. Or else it will just have to wait until September. 

Although you should be aware of the negatives to help you most make the most of France in the summer months, it’s certainly not all bad. 

There are many more things things that make visiting France in the summer completely worth it.

Here are a few of the best things about France in the summer.

The August dead zone

This is one of the worst and best parts of France in the summer, because unless you actually have to get some work done or get into see the dentist, the month-long holiday period is a beautiful thing. 

Whether they want to or not, those living in France are forced to slow down in August and smell the rosé. 

Paris

Yes, believe it or not. The French capital is a great place to be at the height of summer because most Parisians have gone to the beach and the left the city half-empty.

That means, seats on the Metro, albeit a sweaty Metro, seats in bars, space to lie down in parks, less beeping of horns...the list goes on and on.

Rosé wine

Photo: Megan Cole/Flickr

Sure, you can enjoy a glass of rosé any month of the year if you really want to, but there’s nothing quite like sipping a glass of that crisp, refreshing pink wine on a lazy, hot summer afternoon (preferably on a boat in the south of France). 

Why not see the French summer through rosé-tinted glasses like the rest of the French do?

Ignore the wine snobs who say rosé has no place up there with red or white wine. If it's good enough for Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, it's good enough for us. 

Festivals

When it comes to festivals, summer is the best time to be in France. Music, gastronomy, dance, theatre… you name it, there’s a festival for it. 

There’s the Cognac Festival in western France, the Avignon Theatre Festival in the south, the Bayonne Festival in the south-west… the list goes on.  

One of the biggest summer events for music in France is the annual three-day Rock en Seine festival that takes place at the end of August just outside of Paris. 

Outdoor markets

French markets really are at their best in the summertime. Strolling through the sunshine, perusing the vendors’ stalls overflowing with mouth-wateringly fresh produce — perfectly ripe peaches, tomatoes, fragrant basil, juicy strawberries… It doesn't get much better (until you get your food home and can actually eat it).

Terrace life

The French, staunch supporters of café culture, will sit at outdoor terraces even in the dead of winter (and it certainly helps that many of them have heaters and some even offer blankets).

But café terraces really come alive in June, July, and August, when those cafés and rosés and cold beers can be enjoyed in the warm sunshine. 

Apéro is just better in the summer. 

Beaches

Sunbathers on the beach in Nice, the Riviera's largest city. Photo: AFP

France has more than 3,400 kilometres of coastline, so every kind of beach bum is bound find at least a kilometre or two that will tickle their fancy.

The French Riviera is of course the spot that comes to mind, but the Cote d'Azur isn’t the only place to find a good plage. The Atlantic coast also has its fair share of perfectly sunbathable stretches of sand, not to mention the island of Corsica to the south. 

For when the mercury creeps up way too high and it’s unthinkable to be anywhere but near the sea, here the ten best beaches in France.

Lavender and sunflower fields

Photo: AFP

The famous lavender fields of Provence in southern France --  sweet-smelling fields of purple as far as the eye can see -- are definitely a highlight of summer. 

The Lavender Museum in Coustellet even offers free lavender distillation demonstrations from July 1st to August 25th, for the diehard lavender fans. 

And don't forget the sunflowers! Not as fragrant, but just as lovely. 

So despite its various drawbacks, I think we can all agree that France in the summer is more than worth a visit. What are you waiting for?

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