Tips for saving money when travelling in France
Your travel gurus are frequently asked about how to save money when roaming through France. Here are a few tips (and - we hasten to add - genuine travellers tips; we receive no endorsements or other material advantage):

Car hire of longer than 21 days can be arranged and paid prior to travel through Renault Eurodrive in Sydney. The procedure is uncomplicated and the rental goes hors taxe (a useful term: tax free!). You can collect a brand-new car in many locations in France and elsewhere in Europe (for an extra cost), and the delivery and return is handled expediently. After that, you are free to roam, insured and supported by roadside assistance, if needed. Citroen Eurodrive in Sydney  and Peugeot Eurodrive in Sydney offer similar leasing.

The once competitive Eurail tickets have risen enormously in price and each is now limited to a few countries. Eurail only makes sense if you plan to do long distances on specific days. Also note that hotels near (often grotty) railway stations are rather expensive or often run down. Car hire gives you access to cheaper accommodation.

Accommodation in non-metropolitan France is easy and plentiful. We never book, but we may drop into the local tourist office for a list of available chambres d'hotes (B&Bs). These are a delight in rural France, as you mix with French travellers. Two important rules: (a) Ring ahead, and (b) be absolutely punctual for breakfast (or other meals that you may have booked) -- the whole party of guests may have to wait for the late-comers, and their looks can kill unreliable anglo-saxons ! -- You can find B&B and similar listings on Gites de France , but you will need decent French to get full value from that splendid, Hexagon-covering website.

Another cheap option is the Formule 1 (F1) chain , which offers no frills accommodation with safe parking of your car (relieving you of a major problem in European cities!), a TV, a good shower, and a good bed for 2 (if necessary 3), plus an optional breakfast. The atmosphere is French-jovial. Often you meet many young people and sports clubs, but also people with expensive cars who want to ' faire leurs economies' . When you drive into French towns, F1 hotels are always well sign-posted; they are normally on the outskirts, often convenient to public transport to the centres. There are other price-competitive chains of a similar kind, and we found all impeccably clean and user-friendly. -- Before you take our word for this, try an F1 out in Sydney, Canberra or Melbourne.

Paris has a huge choice of furnished apartments for short-term hire. We had very pleasant dealings with a company called LIMA (run by a former Euro-Disney exec, who is collecting good apartments in central locations) . For a week in Paris or more, apartments beat hotels anytime, and you feel like a visitor, not a tourist. The local marche and the boulangerie around the corner will entice you to use the kitchen in those apartments, and if it is  only as a break in between sumptuous restaurant meals.

2010 suggestions:
Walking in France: An increasingly available option for travel in France for those who are fit and energetic is walking the many guided paths.  Belle France  is an organisation which can be recommended for such activities.  For a pictorial account of a walk done in 2009 - the "Stevenson Trail" from le Puy en Velay to St Jean du Garde - by 3 members of our Alliance and members of the Bega Valley Bushwalkers, click here.  This particular walk required a fairly good level of fitness, as despite your luggage being transported between hotels/auberges, the distances walked were up to 30km a day.  The participants were rewarded with a face to face conversation with the French Countryside (Auvergne et Cervennes), great food and wine and good company.  There are many other walks available on the Belle France website.
Walking in Switzerland:  The "Switzerland - get natural" site has lots of fantastic walking routes mapped on their "MySwitzerland" website.

Youth Hostels are a definite option for accommodation in France - and you don't have to be young to use them.  The Nimes Auberge de Jeunesse is one we stayed at in 2009 - relatively central (as long as you don't mind a bit of a climb to get home), clean and friendly.  Definitely worth considering.

2011 thoughts:

The Man in Seat 61 is a site that has detailed information and comment on train travel throughout Europe and the rest of the world.  His page on French train travel is a must-see before planning your train journey in France.

If you have good tips that can help us stretch our travel Euros when in France, let us know!

I think we had a link to Ray Johnstone's site in a post earlier this year, but on Fiona's suggestion decided to add it more permanently here.

Ray arranges self-catering and art holidays in SW France, and comes highly recommended, not only by our members, but also by members of the U3A French Cooking groups who stay there.  Ray has also been a supporter of our Alliance through the donation of a wonderful painting won by Derek at this year's Coupe d'Antibes.

Click on the photo to go to Ray's blog.