The economic outlook may be gloomy but there’s never been a better time to go to France. Follow our tips to bag a bargain and have a great holiday
1 – Holiday for free and join World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms (www.wwoof.fr). Work half a day, and earn your food and board. The afternoons are your own!
2 – Play golf – the courses are much emptier and cheaper than British ones and the clubs make it their mission to find the best chefs in the area, making the 19th hole a gastronomic heaven.
3 – Look for local festivals going on, and you’ll be treated to great entertainment, usually for free. June is the best time for music-lovers as the F�te de la Musique (www.fetedelamusique. culture.fr) kicks off nationwide.
4 – Avoid the busy coastal beaches and head inland. Some of France’s best beaches are actually next to lakes or rivers. Beautiful Lake Annecy (www.lacannecy. com) is hard to beat.
5 – Follow the dedicated cycle routes, known as the Voies Vertes (www.voiesvertes.com) for smooth, traffic-free bike rides.
6 – Attend a son et lumi�re (sound and light show) at one of the magnificent Loire ch�teaux (www.loirevalleytourism.com/Discover/ Destination-Chateaux/Land-of-Kings.html).
7 – Doing a city break? Invest in a museum pass. They’re on offer in most towns and for one ticket price, you’ll get access to all the attractions and maybe even the transport system. Nantes has a great one on offer (www. nantestourisme. com).
8 – Don’t let your accommodation cost the earth, stay in an eco-g�te. They’re built from eco-friendly materials, use solar power and save water. Those that serve food, use natural and organic products (www.gites-defrance. com).
9 – Into walking? Stay in a mountain refuge while on the route. One worth trying is the Refuge de Sarenne in the beautiful resort of Alpe d’Huez (www.alpedhuez.com) and be impressed by Catherine and Fabrice’s chalet, with all its eco-mod cons (www.refuge7.com).
10 – Worried about the strength of the euro? Book your accommodation through a British company that owns the mobile home/villa/ hotel. They will have paid for it in pounds, and so are happy to charge customers in pounds.
11 – Can’t cope with camping? Stay in a mobile home. They have all the comforts of home – even microwaves and televisions. Who said camping needs to be rough? Companies such as Siblu (www.siblu.com), Keycamp (www.keycamp.co.uk), Canvas Holidays (www.canvasholidays.co.uk) and Eurocamp (www.eurocamp.co.uk) all have them on their sites.
12 – Get back to nature and enjoy the rustic side of France at the French version of Featherdown Farm – Un Lit au Pr� (www.unlitaupre.fr).
13 – Try a ski holiday – in the summer. Even with no snow, chalets are a great place to stay. Visit the little huts high in the Vosges mountains (www. alsace-chalets.fr).
14 – Look for companies offering discounted ferry fares with their accommodation. Because they are negotiating on behalf of hundreds of customers, they have a lot of clout when it comes to getting good deals.
15 – Book your French train travel in advance and save money – SNCF (www.sncf.co.uk) opens its tickets 90 days in advance. Look for a range of fares called Prems, low-cost fares available to those who book well in advance (the name comes from an abbreviation of the French word premier).
16 – The French train network is amazing (and much cheaper than in the UK). Find local routes through www.ter-sncf.com and discover how to reach those off-the-beaten-track places.
17 – Plan ahead to take advantage of these great fares; even if you don’t book your accommodation at the same time, it is often worth getting the fares when you see them as they tend to sell out quickly. Sign up to company newsletters via email to be kept up to date.
18 – Early Eurostar train? Stay at the YHA St Pancras (www.yha. org.uk/find-accommodation/ london/hostels/london-st-pancras/ index.aspx) for a great budget option. Just roll out of bed and on to the train.
19 – Travel as a foot passenger on the ferry, it’s cheaper than taking a car and you’ll be first off the boat, and first on holiday when you get there.
20 – Discover a city by bike – Paris, Lyon, La Rochelle, Toulouse, Chamb�ry, Nantes, Perpignan and several other destinations have a public bike hire scheme. There are so many stations from which to pick them up or leave them, your feet will thank you for taking the weight off. It only costs a few euros to use, and if you keep within the minimum time, you may not even need to pay anything at all.
21 – Celebrating a special occasion? Combine a trip to Champagne- Ardenne with shopping and pick up some bubbly from the independent producers around the region. Bottles cost between €10 and €18 and are just as delicious as the big name brands. Visit C Comme in Epernay (8 Rue Gambetta, 51200 Epernay, www.c-comme.fr) to discover your favourite kind of fizz.
22 – Eat your main meal at lunchtime, you’ll get a cheaper deal (look out for formule menus) and be in good company with the locals.
23 – Be aware you’ll be charged more to sit on the terrace of a caf�, than at the bar.
24 – Look out for the Relais Routiers badge – the brand was originally created for truck drivers with the aim of providing good food at a reasonable price. So even truckers are treated to gastronomic delights you’d never find in a roadside greasy spoon in the UK (www.relais-routiers.com).
25 – Stop off at the cave cooperative, where wine made by local producers is marketed to passers-by at a one-stop shop (with lots of character).
26 – Self-catering? Remember to bring certain basics with you such as salt, pepper, sugar and cooking oil as this will save you having to buy big quantities when you’re there.
27 – Look out for local food festivals. The French are keen to celebrate anything food-related, be it black puddings, ham, truffles or asparagus. There are festivals all year round and you can buy delicious goods direct from the producers.
28 – Forget Michelin-starred eateries and try restaurant critic and journalist Gilles Pudlowski’s guides to regional restaurants for more affordable options.
29 -Don’t pay for breakfast at your hotel, head out into the town or village and enjoy coffee and a croissant in the warm morning sunshine of a local caf�.
30 – Eat Lyonnais delicacies in their bouchon restaurants, where hosts welcome you like longlost friends and serve you all manner of weird and wonderful small dishes that you share between you, much like Spanish tapas.
31 – Buy delicious food cheap in the local market, discover the best places for a pique nique (www.pique-nique.info/) and eat in the open air in style.
32 – Miss out the middleman at the market and pick your own produce. If you want fresh fruit, take writer R�gine Godfrey’s advice and visit the Chapeau de Paille (www. chapeaudepaille.fr) farms across France. It’s also a great way to show children where their food comes from (other than le supermarch�!).