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CULTURE

Five ways to take a virtual trip around France

So travel to and from France, and within the country itself, is pretty much out of bounds while the country is on lockdown - but that doesn't mean you can't see the sights.

Five ways to take a virtual trip around France
Louvre is closed, but you can still check out what's inside. Photo: AFP

With museums, galleries and all tourist attractions closed during the coronavirus lockdown, many are instead offering virtual tours.

So from your own home you can gaze on fabulous artworks and visit some of France's most spectacular sights, while planning your next trip once the epidemic is over.

Here is our pick of some of the best virtual tours on offer.

Louvre

Paris' most famous museum has a spectacular collection – including of course Da Vinci's Mona Lisa. But it can also get pretty crowded especially in the summer when more than 15,000 people visit every day.

Its virtual tours, however, take place in spacious empty galleries and involve no shoving tourists and selfie sticks.

There are four online tours – three in galleries, which you control, stopping every now and again to read the information provided (in English) about the artworks you are passing, and one that takes you underground to the remains of the moat of the historic building.

Find out more here.

The distinctive exterior of the Pompidou Centre in Paris. Photo: AFP

Pompidou Centre

If you like your art a little more modern, the Pompidou centre is offering virtual tours of certain exhibitions.

The museum's site also offers podcasts (in French) on such weighty topics as Art and utopia, Art and feminism and Art and consumerism.

Click here.

Eiffel Tower

If you want to check out some of Paris' most spectacular views while pretending you are atop la dame de fer, there is a website for that.

The 'virtual visit' option on the Eiffel Tower's website isn't quite a virtual tour of the whole tower, it's more a fun website of facts and games, but if you head to the 'panorama' section you will find yourself on top of the world famous landscape, and able to enjoy the virtual views over Paris.

Click here.

Enjoy podcasts of archive interviews with French stars including Serge Gainsbourg. Photo: AFP

Musée Sacem

As a museum dedicated to music, the museum of the Société des Auteurs, Compositeurs et Éditeurs de Musique (society of musical authors, composers and editors) adapts well to an online experience.

Browse through the info from one of its selected exhibitions while listening to the specially selected playlist (we particularly enjoyed the French disco playlist).

There are also podcasts (in French) featuring archive interviews with some of the greatest names in French musical history, from Serge Gainsbourg to Johnny Hallyday.

Click here.

Mucem

Marseille's Museum of European and Mediterranean Civilisations offers a properly immersive 3D tour of its galleries, with colour-coded dots you can click on to get more information about the exhibits you are passing.

It's very atmospheric, even offering a virtual guest book for comments at the end, but the majority of the labels are only available in French.

Click here.

Fly away on a virtual tour. Photo: AFP

Air France Museum

The only flights most of us will be taking in the foreseeable future will be in our imaginations, so this might be a good time to check out Air France's museum on the history of flight. A full interactive tour which you control via the arrow keys on your keyboard, it also has music in some locations, making for a fuller experience.

Go and make yourself a cup of coffee while the site loads up though (or pretend you're in an airport by hurling back a pint at 9am).

Click here.

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MONEY

Everything you need to know about France’s 2022 summer sales

In France, you can only shop the best deals twice a year - during the soldes. Here is everything you need to know about this year's summer sales.

Everything you need to know about France's 2022 summer sales

They happen twice a year – Each year, France has two soldes periods: one in the winter, usually starting January, and another in the summer, usually starting in June.

This summer, the soldes will start on Wednesday, June 22nd in most parts of France and run for four weeks, so even though you might be tempted to go on the first day, keep in mind they’ll be going on for a while.

They are progressive, so items will be continuously marked down as the soldes wear on. If you wait, you are risking that your favourite t-shirt might sell out quickly, but if you’re lucky it might end up marked down even further.

During 2020 and 2021 the government altered sales dates and time periods to help shops cope with closures and lockdowns, but now we’re back to the usual timetable.

This is the only time stores can have “sales” – Technically, the soldes are the only time that stores are allowed to have sales, but the definition of ‘sale’ is important.

Basically, the French government qualifies a ‘solde‘ as the store selling an item for less than they purchased it for.

During the rest of the year discounting is allowed in certain circumstances, so you might see promotions or vente privée (private sales, usually short-term events aimed at regular customers or loyalty-card holders) throughout the year.

In these situations the stores might be selling items for less than their original price, but they are not permitted to sell the item for less than they bought it for. 

Shops are also permitted to have closing-down sales if they are shutting down, or closing temporarily for refurbishment.

They are strictly regulated by the French government – Everything from how long the soldes go for to the consumer protection rules that apply to the very definition of ‘solde’ is regulated by the French government, and the main purpose of this is to protect small independent businesses which might not be able to offer the same level of discounts as the big chains and multi-national companies.

Whether you shop in person or online, the same rules apply.

As a consumer, you still have the same rights as non-sales times regarding broken or malfunctioning items – meaning you ought to be entitled to a refund if the item has not been expressly indicated as faulty. The French term is vice caché, referring to discovering a defect after purchase.

On top of that, stores must be clear about which items are reduced and which are not – and must display the original price on the label as well as the sale price and percentage discount. 

READ MORE: Your consumer rights for French sales

They started in the 19th century – France’s soldes started in the 19th century, alongside the growth of department stores who had the need to regularly renew their stock – and get rid of leftover items.

Simon Mannoury, who founded the first Parisian department store “Petit Saint-Thomas” in 1830, came up with the idea.

Funnily enough, this department store actually is the ancestor for the famous department store Le Bon Marché. His goal was to sell off the previous season’s unsold stock in order to replace it with new products.

In order to do this, Mannoury offered heavy discounts to sell as much merchandise as possible in a limited time.

The soldes start at different times depending on where you live – The sales start at the same time across most of mainland France, but there are exceptions for overseas France and certain départements, usually those along the border.

France’s finance ministry allows for the sales to start at different times based on local economies and tourist seasons. 

For the summer 2022 sales only two parts of metropolitan France have different dates; Alpes-Maritimes sales run from July 6th to August 2nd, while on the island of Corsica they run from July 13th to August 9th.

In France’s overseas territories the sales are held later in the year.

You might qualify for a tax rebate – If you are resident outside the EU, you might be eligible for a tax rebate on your sales purchases.

If you spend at least €100 in one store, then you qualify. You should hold onto your receipt and tell the cashier you plan to use a tax rebate so they can give you the necessary documentation (a duty-free slip).

Then when you are leaving you can find the kiosk at the station or airport dedicated to tax rebates (détaxe) and file prior to leaving France. For more information read HERE

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