The Rough Guide to France begins with an extensive section, about eighty pages long, to refer to before you travel. It gives details on possible ways of getting to France from Britain, Ireland, North America, Australia and New Zealand. There is information on costs, whether or not you wil require a visa, and what health issues need to be considered. Insurance, getting around, accommodation and information for disabled visitors are among other topics dealt with in this introductory section. An overview of eating and drinking gives useful vocabulary as well as what to expect in the way of regional cuisine, from duck and goose in the Dordogne to pickled cabbage and flans in Alsace. Communications and the media gives information on sending and receiving mail as well as making telephone calls.
There is a guide to opening hours of museums, banks, churches and cathedrals. Whether you are interested in festivals, music, film, theatre and dance, or sport and outdoor activities, you will find useful details here.The section on trouble and the police tells you how to report a theft as well as the fact that you have the right to contact your consulate if you are arrested. Gay and lesbian contacts and information are given for several large towns. The guide also includes information on work and study, such as working in a language school or as an au pair.
You will find maps of the whole country, channel ports and routes to Paris, main French rail routes, and a map showing the regions covered by the various chapters are included in the first section. Although obviously useful, they are all in black and white and could perhaps have been presented a little more imaginatively.
Following the introduction, one hundred and twenty-four pages are devoted to Paris and the surrounding region, including Versailles, Chartres and Disneyland. There are maps of the metro, arrondissements, museums and galleries, La Voie Triomphale (from the Louvre Museum to La Defense) the Marais, Ile St-Louis and the Bastille, the Latin Quarter, St-Germain, and Pere-Lachaise Cemetery (where you can visit the tombs of such greats as Moliere, Colette, Edith Piaf, Balzac, and of course Jim Morrison). Everything from the Louvre Museum to the flea markets is included here. The seven-page hotel listing covers all categories and is followed by a list of hostels and campsites, giving something for all tastes and pockets. The sixteen pages of bars, cafes and restaurants have a price guide, and a special list of those open at night. Information follows on music and nightlife; gay and lesbian interest; film, theatre and dance; sports and activites; kids' stuff and shopping. The final section on travel details covers only the main railway stations.
There are then fifteen separate chapters on the regions of France, averaging around fifty pages each. A chapter is divided into a guide to between six and twelve towns/cities in that region, with information on accommodation, eating out, historical monuments, museums and nightlife. The North, for example, has everything from sites connected with World War I to champagne tasting. The Loire gives descriptions of castles as well as troglodyte dwellings carved out of the rock, dating from the twelfth century. In Bagneres-de-Luchon in the Pyrenees, the advice given is that 'you're best off forsaking the obvious accommodation on alle d'Etigny for better value in the quieter side streets.' Each regional chapter ends with travel details on train and bus services.
Part 3 is entitled Contexts and opens with The historical framework, a twenty-one page section that begins in 10,000 BC and takes us up to the present day. Following this is a section on the history of French art, beginning with fifteenth-century illuminators such as Jean Fouquet, and then moving on through Boucher, Ingres, and Delacroix, to Rousseau, Courbet and the Impressionists. The twentieth century would not be complete without Marcel Duchamp, but there is also a mention of contemporary artists.
Architecture in France is traced from the Romans through Gothic, Baroque and Rococo to the twentieth century. Then follows a section on books on France that are worth reading, whether you are interested in travel, history, society and politics, arts or guide books.
The language section gives a brief pronunciation guide, concentrating mainly on vowel sounds; basic words and phrases including times, here, there, big, small, open, closed; numbers; days and dates; greetings and nationalities; travelling and directions; accommodation; driving; health matters; miscellaneous - food shop, stamps, money, etc. This is of course very basic. For a holiday, you would need a more comprehensive phrase book, and for a long-term stay, a detailed text book and dictionary.
Finally there is a glossary of architectural terms in case you don't know your amulatory from your clerestory. Then, of course, such a detailed guide would not be complete without an index.
Interspersed in the guide are thirty-five colour photos, each either a quarter or half a page, showing various aspects of this diverse country from an alpine ibex to a wine shop in Cahors or the Pompidou Centre fountains in Paris.
The Rough Guide to France would be an excellent book for anyone who spends a lot of time in France or who travels there regularly, not always to the same region. For a one-off trip to a particular area or town, there are often individual, more specialised guides. If I was travelling around France on public transport, I would find this book too heavy, but for anyone driving round France or going to live there, this would presumably not be a problem. On the whole, it is definitely to be recommended.