Signs announcing a shop or restaurant is ‘fermé pour les congés annuels’ are a familiar sight in France during the months of July and August because whilst you’re enjoying your summer holiday, so are the French, many of whom will take around four weeks off work in one go.
But if your idea of a relaxing holiday involves trawling markets in Provence or people watching from pavement cafés à Paris, had you ever stopped to wonder how the French like to spend their congés annuels, where they go and whether we might be missing out on anything?
Historically, it seems that French people are less inclined to holiday abroad than English people. However, when they do, the proximity of the border ensures Spain is a popular choice. Countries where French is widely spoken, such as Tunisia, Morocco and Senegal are also top of the list.
Further afield, it is the overseas departments of Guadeloupe, Martinique and La Réunion that attract the most holidaymakers from France. In 2009, the Ministry of Overseas Territories worked with tour operators to further boost tourism in Guadeloupe and Martinique by offering bargain price breaks.
But as the effects of the recession continue to be felt, more French people than usual are expected to spend their holiday in France this year. For those who can afford to travel within France, hotspots include: Brittany, the Côte d’Azur and mountainous areas such as the Alps and the Pyrénées.
Bear in mind that between the end of July and the beginning of August, when the French are either returning home from their holidays or beginning their congés annuels, France’s main motorways become particularly congested and are best avoided.
The A5/A6 autoroute goes all the way down and has its fair share of traffic jams in peak season. Some tailbacks have been known to stretch for kilometres, so before setting off on a car journey it is advisable to check for traffic alerts on the Bison Futé website.
In the event that taking a month’s holiday from work is unrealistic for parents, French children can still enjoy a range of activities without them by attending one of France’s many colonies de vacances. The opportunity to spend a few weeks at holiday camp or a day at the leisure centre is open to most.