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EXPLAINED: What do France’s new Covid rules mean for tourists?

France is planning a major relaxation of its Covid rules, but other restrictions - notably on travel - remain in place. This is what you need to know if you're planning a trip to France.

EXPLAINED: What do France's new Covid rules mean for tourists?
Tourists take a self in Etretat in Normandy. Photo by Sameer Al-DOUMY / AFP

On Monday, March 14th, France brings in a pretty radical relaxation of its Covid rules – the vaccine pass which has been in place in various forms since summer 2021 will be scrapped for almost all venues, while masks will no longer be required in most public spaces.

Here’s a look at how the new rules will apply to you if you are visiting France either for a holiday, to see friends and family or visiting a second home.

Getting to France

Restrictions on travel do remain in place, so not everyone can enter France.

France’s green list has recently been expanded and if you’re coming from a green list country you can enter France for any reason, including tourism. If you’re fully vaccinated you don’t need a Covid test. If you are not fully vaccinated to French standards, you will need to show a negative Covid test at the border.

Full details on travel rules for green countries HERE.

If you’re entering from an orange list country – which includes the UK, USA and Australia – you may not be allowed to enter if you’re unvaccinated.

Fully vaccinated arrivals can travel for any reason and do not need a Covid test.

Unvaccinated people can only travel if their trip is for essential reasons – you can find the full list here but it does not include holidays, family visits or visits to second-homes. Those who do qualify to travel will need a negative Covid test.

If applicable, proof of vaccination will need to be shown at the border – this can be your home country’s vaccination certificate, there is no requirement to use the French vaccine pass at the border. A booster shot is not needed to enter the country.

The above rules do not change on March 14th – see here for the latest travel rules updates.

In France

Once you’re in France, some rules relax from March 14th.

Vaccine pass – the vaccine pass is currently required for entry to a wide range of everyday venues including bars, cafés, tourist sites and long-distance trains.

It has caused particular headaches for visitors, including for non-Europeans who needed to exchange their vaccination certificate to get a French-approved QR code and for families with children over the age of 12.

From March 14th a pass will only be required when visiting nursing homes, hospitals and venues where vulnerable people live. This pass is a ‘health pass’ so if you need to visit one of these venues you can show a recent negative Covid test instead of a vaccination certificate.

The pass is not required if you need emergency medical treatment while in France.

Full details here.

Mask rules – mask rules also relax on March 14th although they are not scrapped entirely. 

Masks will no longer be required in most indoor public spaces including bars, cafés, shops or workplaces. They will, however, still be required on all public transport (including trains, Metro, buses, taxis and VTC such as Uber, ferries and planes) and in all public transport hubs (eg airports, train stations, Metro stations). Failure to wear a mask that covers your mouth and nose on public transport will be punishable by a €135 fine.

Masks will also be required to visit a hospital, medical centre or care home as either a patient or a visitor.

Private businesses are entitled to impose their own conditions of entry, so businesses such as shops, bars or restaurants are legally entitled to make mask-wearing a condition of entry, if they want.

Self-isolation – if you test positive for Covid while in France, you are obliged to self-isolate until your test is negative. If you are a contact case of someone who has tested positive you need to get tested, but if you are fully vaccinated and your test is negative you are not obliged to self-isolate, although it is recommended;

READ ALSO How tourists and visitors can get a Covid test in France

Recommendations – the rest of France’s Covid protocols that remain in place are recommendations rather than rules. People are still advised to physically distance, or to wear a mask if they are in an indoor space where physical distancing is not possible.

The gestes barrières (hygiene measures) remain recommended with the suggestion that people should refrain from shaking hands or doing la bise (the French double cheek kiss), while people are advised to regularly wash their hands or use hand sanitiser.

What next?

Travel rules generally change on a country-by-country basis, you can find the latest updates here.

The vaccine pass is technically suspended rather than scrapped, and could be reintroduced if another wave of Covid comes along. many epidemiologists are predicting that this could happen in the autumn. You can find the latest announcements on rules here.

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What to know when visiting France’s lavender fields this summer

Known affectionately as 'blue gold,' France’s lavender fields are a popular tourist attraction every year. Here is what you need to know about visiting them:

What to know when visiting France's lavender fields this summer

Lavender is the “soul of Provence,” the French region where the fields can be found. Like wine, lavender was brought to France around 2,000 years ago by the Romans. The flower is the emblem of ‘Haute Provence’ regional identity, though the fields stretch from just outside of Nice almost all the way up to Valence, and they are not fully exclusive to France.

Even the washerwomen, those whose job it was to clean clothes and linen, were referred to as les lavandières in France. 

The flowers, which can be found mainly in two species in Provence, have several uses – as oils for cooking and bathing, as a perfume for soaps, and even as an antiseptic for healing wounds and scars.

The lavender essential oil that comes from Provence is even an AOP (L’Appellation d’origine protégée) in France. 

When is the best time to see the fields?

Typically, the lavender flowers from around mid-June to early-to-mid August. However, depending on the weather, especially if there is a drought or hotter temperatures, the lavender might flower sooner than normal, which is likely the case for this year.

This is unfortunately also a side effect of climate change, which might be pushing up the lavender flowering season.

Where should I go?

The Valensole plateau is perhaps the most famous place to go for lavender fields. Speckled with several small Provencal towns, the area is beautiful, with a mountainous backdrop in the distance. If you go here, you might also be able to see the sunflower fields too.

Sault is perhaps a bit less known, partially because due to its altitude, the lavender typically flowers a bit later.

It is still a great place to go see the fields, and every year the town hosts a Lavender Festival in August. Walking (or cycling) between the villages (Aurel, Saint-Trinit and Saint-Christol) is very manageable.

This is not too far from the Sénanque Abbey, a medieval 12th century abbey which is surrounded by lavender fields. You might notice some small stone houses called bories in the fields, which were historically used for field workers.

Luberon Valley is another location that comes highly recommended. In the area, there is a regional national park, home to rosé wines, castles (chateaux) and charming villages, like Gordes, a stunning hilltop village.

Here you can also find the Musée de la Lavande, if you are looking to learn more about harvesting, producing and distilling lavender, its industry, and some interesting regional history.

How to get there?

You can take a TGV train to Aix-en-Provence or Avignon, or rent a car. With a car, you can also enjoy the several scenic routes that allow you to see the fields from the roads.

What else is there to do while in the region?

The area is also known for its rosé wine, so you could take the opportunity to go visit some vineyards or spend some time wine-tasting. 

In the summer months, the south of France can get quite warm. If you are looking to go swimming or enjoy the water, the Gorges du Verdon are not too far away. Though a bit of a tourist hotspot, the canyon is a beautiful and a wonderful place for paddling along in a canoe.

If you’re a fan of hiking, you can always go for a (light) hike along the Ochre Trail near Roussillon. Here, there are two marked paths that will take you through sunset-colored red and yellow cliffs in an old quarry.

Words of Wisdom

Unless you have been given express permission, do not pick the lavender, as this is the farmer’s livelihood. You can always buy a bouquet from nearby souvenir shops for your photo shoots! 

Also, stick to the paths that exist to avoid trampling any crops, and of course do not litter in the fields.