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Local insights on French travel during coronavirus | Insight Guides Blog

Local insights on French travel during coronavirus

France has long been a favorite destination for British travelers. We caught up with local expert Ekaterina Saitgalieva to find out more about the French experience of coronavirus.
 Pope palace in Avignon which became the residence of the Popes in 1309. Photo: Konstantin Yolshin/Shutterstock
Pope palace in Avignon which became the residence of the Popes in 1309. Photo: Konstantin Yolshin/Shutterstock

With captivating cities, dreamy beaches, and delectable food and drink, it’s easy to see why France is such a popular choice for travelers. Add in a healthy dollop of romance, and you’ll be smitten. Though impacted by a local resurgence of coronavirus, UK travelers are still allowed to visit its continental neighbor without quarantining on return – for now. We caught up with Ekaterina, our local French expert, to learn more about the situation, and French travel moving forwards.

Ekaterina Saitgalieva. Photo: private archive

In conversation with Ekaterina Saitgalieva

Q: Where in France are you based? How has your daily life changed since the pandemic?

A: Our agency is based in Paris. Fortunately the situation is improving in Paris (and in France in general) and we can restart our business step by step. The most important tourist attractions are open too – they are applying new booking conditions, with a limited number of people.

We have been able to adapt our products to the new safety regulations. All our services are operating with new sanitary measures:

  1. Guides come with a visor, mask and tube of hand sanitizer
  2. Guides respect and make sure travelers respect social-distancing protocols
  3. Our suppliers (hotels, transport companies, tastings facilities, attractions) follow stringent biosecurity protocols.
  4. If you book a shared tour, everything is operating at the moment as all our tours are in small groups. 

Life is slowly returning to normal. We are still working at home, and we are responding to all requests. Also, our company has been taking additional measures to make changes to the office with safety conditions in mind, so that it’s safe to return to when the time comes.   

Personally, I see this time as a time for adapting. You have to be flexible and know how to "take advantage" of this extraordinary situation. During the lockdown people have stopped, in the literal and figurative sense of the word. The streets of Paris were empty, can you imagine that?

Everything is changing, whether we like it or not. We could find time to spend with our family, go out for a walk, call people you've never had enough time for. No one's in a hurry, no rush, no running.

There was a time when we were able to travel up to 100km from home. Here in Paris we have fascinating places nearby that we can enjoy. For example, during this time I visited Chartres – 90km from Paris. it is classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The city is dominated by the 12th-century gothic cathedral. This unique spot is just a 1h15 drive from Paris – or you can also take a direct train.

Calanques of Port Pin in Cassis in France. Photo: Samuel Borges Photography/Shutterstock

Q: What are the restrictions travelers need to be aware of when traveling to France?

A: Masks are obligatory in all common areas (transport, supermarkets, museums, shopping centers). In the streets, it is recommended but not mandatory for the moment (city prefects are currently studying this issue). In restaurants the number of seats is limited, so to avoid waiting a long time or not being able to enter it is better to make a reservation in advance. For the most famous tourist sites (such as the Louvre, for example) it is mandatory to buy your ticket online in advance. The famous museums like the Louvre or Versailles have specific one-way routes – you enter on one side, leave on the other and follow arrows (waymarked path).

Q: Have you seen an increase in particular experiences and/or locations for travelers, such as a surge of demand for hikes or self-drive instead of public transportation?

A: Honestly, we are still receiving requests for train tickets. The National Train Company (SNCF) is committed to protect customers – here are some of the measures that have been put in place:

  1. Enforcing the wearing of masks by staff and customers.
  2. Guests not wearing masks are not allowed on board. 
  3. At the station and in all sales areas, hydroalcoholic gel is available for use.
  4. Cleaning is reinforced and contact surfaces are disinfected with a virucidal product several times a day.

The view from the Basilique Notre Dame de la Garde with the fortress prison Chateau d'If, famous for being one of the settings of Alexandre Duma's adventure novel, The Count of Monte Cristo. Photo: Ekaterina Saitgalieva

Q: What's your favorite destination in France and why?

A: I've traveled a lot in France; I’m passionate about discovering different places. There are places for every taste: big cities, medieval villages, the sea, mountains, vineyards, extraordinary food.

I dreamed for many years about seeing the lavender fields – and finally I went there. In the heart of the Drome provençale, you have the Chateau of Grignan (built on a rocky headland overlooking the village). Right in front of the castle there are lavender fields. This mix of medieval architecture and nature (plus the color of the lavender) makes this visit unforgettable.

Q: For anyone traveling to France within the next few weeks and months, do you have any recommendations on where to go and what to see, taking the current situation into consideration?

A: The international news suggests that in the coming weeks/months, tourism in France will be mainly from other European destinations. Restrictions from countries further afield are still in place – and likely to continue to be so. In light of the current situation, I can see that the length of stay for this period is shorter than usual, too. People are choosing to travel but not to leave their country for long periods of time. 

It will also be necessary to privilege the ‘atypical’ places, to avoid the popular beaches and to find quieter places. But of course, this could be in combination with ‘must-see’ sites. The notion of slow tourism is becoming more and more popular: discovering enchanting landscapes while taking your time, getting fully immersed in the nature that surrounds us, favoring encounters and savoring the pleasures of the table.

Of course, everything depends on the clients' desires – our team is always ready to listen and we adapt our products according to the clients' needs.  

French lavender field. Photo: Ekaterina Saitgalieva

Q: With the uncertainty of the current situation it is very difficult to predict the future, but what do you recommend travelers planning for 2021 – especially in regards to travel styles and itineraries?

A: We are already working actively for 2021. Many clients who could not come this year are changing the dates for 2021. We are happy to see that people are still interested in traveling and we, on our side, are ensuring all the necessary security measures. Our job is to be proactive, adaptable, and to try to understand everyone's needs.

It will not be necessary to avoid big cities or the most famous sites because everyone abides by the new preventative rules, respecting the latest health advice. Mask requirements, the limited number of tickets and social distancing are all set up. Just be aware of the situation and take more care for the protection of yourself and others.