The Virtual Visitor
Using the web to explore France

Using Internet sources to gather information about three different towns each month and then to write a short piece with useful links to help you explore France. The aim was not to write a tourist guide, but a simple reference for you to find your own information.

France is organized into 12 regions which are divided into a total of 95 departments, each department has a prefecture (administrative capital). You can see a map and listings at . All towns have a Hotel de Ville (town hall) and these are usually the best places to start looking for information.

The first three towns selected, Bordeaux, Dijon and Montpellier, are both their regional and departmental capitals. They are the centers of three of the most important wine growing areas in France and also important tourist areas, so it would seem likely that there would be a wealth of information available on-line.

I used as I believe this is the fastest and largest search engine - anyway I like it; it is the default search engine for Yahoo. For Bordeaux there were 990,000 pages listed, for Dijon 234,000 pages and for Montpellier 367,000. I only looked at the top 30 pages for the single word search for each town, plus the "I feel lucky" button which Google has.

The website I was looking for was the official site made for the department or region where I expected to find maps, addresses and information about the towns and region.

The Results

Bordeaux. The pages can be requested in English and Japanese as well as French. The English site is at They offer an e-zine every 2 months. There are very few links, there is one to the Gironde tourism page and some broken links (when I tried them) to the official wine sites. The page offering practical information was pointless, until I accidentally clicked on the map of the world and then on the map of France. This then gave me a page of airlines and travel information on how to get to Bordeaux. This was the only page on the site which actually had relevant information. I could find nothing about property, no maps, and very little about accommodation even on the Gironde tourism site.

Dijon. Some pages are in English but most of the site is in French. The best feature is an excellent street map which can be downloaded as a pdf file. There are also two general guides in pdf format, one with useful addresses for new inhabitants and another for senior citizens, these guides are only available in French. As with Bordeaux, I could find nothing about property or real estate. Tourist information is on their sister site The English version is under construction and the French version has very little to offer apart from a list of hotels which you would get better from any guide book.

Montpellier. I like webcams, but I prefer to chose when I look at one, they are time consuming. I really do not like having one as the main page when I ask to look for information about the town, anyway it is a particularly boring webcam. The site is slow and uninformative. I tried thinking this was a private site, but it just linked me back to the same boring official site. More useful, slightly, was the site for Montpellier airport, this has flight information and a link to the official tourism site for the region, The site uses flash for all the pages, why is a mystery as most of the pages are just text in French. If you persevere with this site you eventually end up with new windows opening until your computer locks up, but eventually you are led to some commercial sites for campsites and holiday homes.


These three official town and tourist sites were easy to find. The single word search brought them to the top of the search engine. The "I feel lucky" choice did not give me anything interesting or useful.

In common with a lot of tourism sites, these seem to have been made more for the benefit of the website designer than the surfer. I can imagine the sales pitch given by the design company praising flash, frames and tricks with graphics. Loading times were poor but not unacceptable. However, for all the graphics I waited to be loaded, there were very few informative or interesting photographs. In the case of Montpellier, there was no indication I could find of where the city is.

All the other sites in the top 30 listings were either mirror sites of these official sites or of no use for finding out information relating to the towns. For Montpellier there are still a large number of Football 1998 (World Cup) soccer sites which have been left on-line.

It seems strange that with so much information available on-line, so little useful material seems to be provided for visitors about these major towns.

For now, my advice is to stick to guide books, you will usually get a singular perspective from the writers point of view, but there are plenty of books and you can quickly get a list from Amazon.

We will continue to investigate all on-line sources to try to build a useful compendium of websites for visitors to France.