The Ecrins Circuit Trek - GR54
France is the second largest country in Europe, extending to more than half a million square kilometers. Divided into 96 administrative regions or departments, the country has land borders to the southeast with Italy and to the east, with Switzerland, Germany and Belgium. To the southwest, France has a long border with Spain. The English Channel lies to the north and the warmer waters of the Mediterranean lie to the south. Two thirds of France is mountains and hills. The most important mountain range is the French Alps, a part of the European Alps, which extend for some 1000 kilometres (620 miles), through parts of southeastern France, Switzerland, Italy, Germany, Austria and Slovenia. Amongst the hundreds of peaks comprising this range, there are some 75 which top the 4000 metre (13000ft.) mark. Above 3000 metres (10000ft.), the mountains are permanently snow-capped and the region is heavily glaciated. In many alpine valleys, forests of pine reach above 2500 metres (8000ft.)and there are flower-filled alpine pastures above this height. At 4808 metres (15,767ft.) Mont Blanc is the highest and most complicated mountain massif in the Alps. Thirty glaciers flow down from its upper snow slopes and these have contributed to the creation of the jagged rock spires (aiguilles) which are such a distinctive feature, when viewed from the French town of Chamonix. The second biggest range of mountains in France is the Pyrenees, which forms a natural border with Spain. From the Bay of Biscay and the Atlantic Ocean in the west, the Pyrenees extend for more than 400 kilometres (250 miles) to the Mediterranean in the east, whilst the maximum width of the chain (north to south) is about 130 kilometres (80 miles). Amongst France's other mountainous areas are the Massif Central, which does not have any really big peaks, but does cover almost one-sixth of the country.
The time in France is GMT +1 hour and GMT + 2 hours in summer time.
The national language of France is French. Whilst English is widely understood, we do recommend you try to learn some simple French phrases and greetings, as attempting to speak the local language is all part of the fun of travelling and will be appreciated by the people you meet.
The climate is very variable across France. In the north, there is a temperate pattern of climate, influenced by the Atlantic Ocean. Temperatures are generally mild, quite hot in summer, with rainfall spread throughout the year and modest snowfall in winter. Further south, the climate is Mediterranean, with hot summers and mild winters. The mountainous areas of the Alps and Pyrenees have variable climates influenced by their elevations. Although the high valleys of the Alps and the Pyrenees can experience near arctic conditions during the winter, it pays to remember that each of these areas is less than 300 kilometres (185 miles) from the Mediterranean. In summer, the climate is hot and sunny in the valleys and pleasantly cool at the high cols. June, July and August usually provide the most reliable weather conditions for mountain activities in this area. The temperatures that we can expect to encounter during the day will be reasonably warm, ranging from 10 to 25 degrees centigrade (50º - 77º F). It can be cool in the evenings at our highest overnight stopping places, falling below freezing point at night. We can also expect clear, frosty conditions on our early "Alpine" starts. Of course, mountainous area do produce their own weather systems and short-lived storms cannot be ruled out at any time of the year.
The unit of currency in France is the Euro. For up to date exchange rates visit: www.xe.com
You should take some euros with you on your holiday to France. These are readily available at most banks. If you run out of euros, dollars and sterling (cash or travellers cheques) can easily be exchanged once you are in France, although not every bank will provide this service. French post offices will often change money, however. Credit and debit cards can be used widely and you will also be able to obtain currency at cash machines (ATM's) at larger French banks in the usual way.
You will need a valid passport. Nationals of the EU, the USA, Canada, New Zealand, and Australia do not require visas to visit France, Italy or Switzerland as tourists for up to three months. Nationals of other countries should check the visa requirement with the relevant embassy in their own countries.
You should attend your own doctor and dentist for a check-up. No special vaccinations are required for France. UK residents should obtain a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) before travelling. The EHIC is normally valid for three to five years and covers any medical treatment that becomes necessary during your trip, because of either illness or an accident. The card gives access to state-provided medical treatment only, and you'll be treated on the same basis as an 'insured' person living in the country you're visiting. Remember, this might not cover all the things you'd expect to get free of charge from the NHS in the UK. You may have to make a contribution to the cost of your care. You can obtain an EHIC from the Department of Health by phone, online, or at the post office.
Additional Sources of Information
Tour Of Mont Blanc. Andrew Harper.
The Haute Route - Chamonix to Zermatt. Cliffe.
Walking In The Alps. Kev Reynolds.
Chamonix-Mont Blanc. A Walking Guide. Martin Collins.
The Mountains of Europe. Kev Reynolds.
Savage Snows. Walt Unsworth.
In Monte Viso's Horizon. Will McLewin.
Trekking in the Pyrenees. Trailblazer Publications.
Walks and Climbs in the Pyrenees. Cicerone Press.
The Rough Guide to the Pyrenees.
Landscapes of the Pyrenees. Sunflower Books.
The French IGN (Institut Geographique National) 1:25,000 Series has a full and excellent coverage of The French Alps and the Pyrenees.