Les Palmiers restaurant in Pezenas, Languedoc is probably one of the best mid-priced restaurants in Pezenas. The restaurant is set in an open-air courtyard in the heart of the old windy streets of Pezenas' historic quarter. You literally dine out under the stars, beneath 3 huge cream canopies strung in between the two adjoining properties.
The restaurant is set on 2 different levels - the higher terrace being very popular in Summer. From mid-May through to September, it is probably one of the best places to eat in the hot South of France evenings. There is of course the obligatory Palm tree inside. What is most imperssive however is the kitchen is open on view to all.
The menu changes daily and is displayed on a big blackboard that is brought to your table. The food is simple and uncomplicated, but extremely well prepared. Les Palmiers restaurant, 10 bis rue Mercière, Pézenas, Languedoc. Tel: 04 67 09 42 56. The restaurant is closed on Sundays.
2. For getting around the Faugeres region from village and village around Caussi, up into the mountains and so forth, Michelin Local Map 339 Gard Herault 1/200,000 is fabulous. You'll find your way on that beautiful back road from Faugeres to Pezenas, past several vineyards and a castle without problem, for example. Or see exactly how to climb up to Douch to start the walk to Mt. Caroux.
Order from: www.maptown.com
3. And, of course, the Michelin Green Guide to Languedoc-Rousillon gives you details on all the sites, castles, cities, and background information about the region.
We've never had a problem with our credit card or ATM card in Languedoc (although it is best to know your card's PIN number as that is widely requested in Europe). But here's the New York Times' Practical Traveller on the topic (next to a beautiful street scene taken in Caussi this summer by Kathleen Collins!).
I WAS driving to the Los Angeles airport in April when apparently I did something suspicious: I stopped at a gas station and filled up the tank.
By the time I returned the rental car and got to my gate, I had a fraud alert message from my credit card company, U.S. Bank. Since I don’t own a car and rarely buy gas, it seems that $13 fill-up raised a red flag.
Such is the state of credit card security, a continuing battle between card issuers and criminals who steal account numbers, with consumers caught in the fray. Whether travelers are more likely to become victims of credit card fraud is debatable, but we’re certainly more likely to get tripped up by efforts to combat fraud, especially overseas.
Here are some things to watch out for if you plan on paying with plastic, which isn’t quite as widely accepted as the ad campaigns for credit cards would have you believe.
Avoiding a Freeze on Your Account
Most travelers know it’s a good idea to call your credit card company before a trip to a foreign country, so your purchases in Bangkok or Barcelona don’t trigger a freeze on your account. Banks rely on antifraud software that monitors customers’ spending patterns, which means that any time you stray from your usual habits — like buying groceries in another state instead of at a store in your home ZIP code — your bank might become concerned.
I was surprised that a cheap gas purchase in California could also freeze my account, so I called U.S. Bank to find out if travelers need to start alerting their banks about their domestic travels, which seemed like overkill to me.
It probably is, said Dave Leiker, a senior vice president with U.S. Bank. He told me that besides watching for unusual spending patterns, banks also monitor where criminals use stolen cards, places like automated payment kiosks in metropolitan areas.
“We may have been seeing a trend where the bad guys were out there using stolen credit cards at gas pumps,” he said.
That would explain why I didn’t get a fraud call when I bought gas more recently in rural Pennsylvania. But it also reinforces an important point about traveling with plastic: carry more than one card, in case one is declined.
Overseas, it can be much more of a hassle to unfreeze a card, especially if you don’t have a cellphone with international service.
Rejection of Cards Abroad
For globe-trotting travelers, another issue is that many countries in Europe, as well as Japan, Canada, Mexico and other nations, have adopted a type of credit card that has a chip and requires customers to enter a PIN instead of the ones with a magnetic stripe on the back that we still use in the United States.
Merchants that accept Visa, MasterCard and American Express are supposed to let customers pay with either type of card. But employees at some retailers outside the United States don’t always know what to do with the magnetic version.
There are also automated kiosks that accept only the “chip and PIN” cards, particularly in European train stations, parking garages, gas stations and some tollbooths. In those cases, Americans with magnetic stripe cards usually have to wait in line to pay with cash or have a clerk swipe their cards. Travelers say those lines can be long, which is especially frustrating if you’re trying to catch a train. And at unattended tollbooths, you may get stuck if you don’t have coins you can pay with instead.
So how common is this problem? In a study last September, the research company Aite Group found that nearly half of American cardholders who have traveled abroad in the past few years have had some problem using a debit or credit card, and 16 percent said their card was rejected because of this issue with magnetic stripe acceptance overseas.
“I think many cardholders assume when they travel abroad that it is much like being in the United States,” said Ron Shevlin, a senior analyst with Aite Group, pointing out that in addition to the chip versus magnetic stripe problem, merchants in other parts of the world often have higher minimum-purchase requirements to use a credit card or simply don’t accept the cards because they don’t want to pay the fees that card companies charge retailers.
He also suggested checking your credit limit before a trip, since banks have reduced credit limits for some cardholders; travel expenses can push up against those maximums.
Chip Cards in the United States?
As for whether banks plan to offer chip and PIN credit cards to their American customers, Mr. Shevlin said the cost of issuing new cards is a hurdle, especially given the banking industry’s other financial challenges.
“It should be more of a concern among card issuers than it is,” he said. “But I would not expect to see a lot of movement before the end of 2011.”
There is one financial institution that is moving more quickly: the United Nations Federal Credit Union, which plans to offer its members credit cards with both a magnetic stripe and a chip beginning in October.
Merrill Halpern, card services manager for the credit union, said that with Canada and Mexico now embracing chip and PIN cards, along with Europe and many other parts of the world, it was time to make the switch. Another motivation is that the chip and PIN cards are more secure because there is a unique key encrypted in every card, whereas magnetic stripe cards are relatively easy to clone — that is, to steal the data and copy it onto another card.
“It’s going to save us money on fraud losses,” Mr. Halpern said. “The trend seems to be that more fraud is coming to the U.S. because we’re the one last holdout in magnetic stripe cards.”
Despite that concern, the major credit card companies do not have imminent plans to offer chip and PIN cards to their American customers, even though they provide them to cardholders abroad. When I asked about this topic, representatives from Visa and MasterCard e-mailed me statements saying they’re working with issuers to evaluate the feasibility of offering cards with the chip technology to customers who travel internationally.
Desiree Fish, a spokeswoman for American Express, said the company doesn’t plan to add the chip technology to cards issued in the United States at this time. But she emphasized that customers should be able to use their magnetic stripe cards abroad, even if a clerk tells them they cannot.
“A card member can insist that, yes, in fact, they can swipe the card,” Ms. Fish said.
Of course, communicating with store employees who may not speak English isn’t always easy, which is why carrying plenty of cash is a good backup, especially in rural areas and developing countries.
American Express, Visa and MasterCard also suggested that customers report any trouble they have using a magnetic stripe card abroad. Taking the time to make that call may help pressure the industry to come up with a solution for this problem.
We always reserve from the US, using the europacar web site, and have picked up cars for our Caussi trips in Barcelona or in Montpellier. I think that Beziers maybe a pick up option as well. We've dropped off in Aix en Provence (at the TGV station where we took the train to Pair), at Beziers or Montpellier, and in Spain as well. Never a problem (other than that one fateful encounter with a cement post in a Barcelona underground parking garage that took out the side of the rented car...see article below with help on that!)
When Renting Cars Abroad, It’s Renter Beware
I ONCE rented a car at an agency in a garage under the Villa Borghese in Rome. The parking structure was tight and poorly lighted, and before I even exited I put a dent in the vehicle, thanks to a low concrete barrier I couldn’t see in the rearview mirror.
I’m a careful driver at home with a clean record. But renting abroad poses special challenges, as well as the risk of unintended encounters with foreign objects, which in my case have included an ill-placed guardrail at a tollbooth in Switzerland, a milk truck in Jamaica and hedgerows all over England.
Eventually I decided that dings, dents and scrapes are an almost inevitable consequence of driving in unfamiliar territory, and I resigned myself to buying comprehensive accident protection from rental car agencies. When I travel abroad, I routinely take out a collision damage waiver (which generally covers damage to the rental car, theft, towing and loss-of-use expenses incurred by the company while the vehicle is being repaired), and liability (for injury to people and damage to property outside the rental). These two plans alone can cost up to $30 a day, but allow me to drive away knowing that, whatever happens, I’m covered.
Are You Covered?
People who refuse rental car agency protection plans might call me a sucker. Many of them think that peddling insurance is a deep profit center for big rental companies, most of which have their own repair shops and sometimes don’t bother to fix dents and dings. (For this reason, inspect a vehicle before you take it off the lot to avoid being charged for pre-existing damages.)
Others assume they have adequate coverage through policies that insure their cars at home and generally extend to rentals in the United States. But personal auto insurance from most companies, including Allstate and Travelers, rarely applies to vehicles rented abroad.
However, other kinds of insurance can come into play. Some health and home policies may help cover injuries and theft. Those who take out trip insurance are likely to be covered for damage to rental cars abroad, according to Vikki Corliss, a spokeswoman for insuremytrip.com, a travel insurance aggregator. And many credit cards (but not debit cards) provide auto insurance that extends to rentals abroad at no extra cost, though according to Ben Woolsey, director of marketing and research for creditcards.com, an online catalog of credit card offers, only 10 percent of cardholders are aware of the benefit.
MasterCard, Visa, Discover and American Express generally offer collision damage waivers for foreign and domestic rentals, but the coverage is a patchwork, with myriad exclusions and claim requirements that vary from card to card. “It is incumbent on consumers to find out exactly what is covered by calling the toll-free number on the back of the card,” Mr. Woolsey said.
In most cases, the rental must be booked and paid for using the card. Vans, expensive or exotic cars and long-term rentals are usually excluded. Claims stemming from accidents in which the renter has been cited for speeding or drunken driving are rejected. Moreover, the plans are inoperative in certain countries because of statutory issues and difficult driving conditions; Ireland, Iceland, Israel, Italy, Jamaica and Mexico often make the list.
Card coverage tends to be secondary, meaning that if the renter has any other applicable insurance it must be tapped first to pay for damages, with the card picking up deductibles and extras like towing. One exception to this is Premium Car Rental Protection, available only to American Express cardholders, which provides primary insurance with no deductibles for a flat $24.95 per rental of any length.
Drivers who have no other form of insurance must pay for repairs out of pocket and then file a claim for reimbursement with the credit card company. The procedure is not onerous, but the time limit for generating a claim is strictly enforced.
Imad Khalidi, chief executive of Auto Europe, a rental car consolidator based in Portland, Me., says people who hope to use a credit card plan to cover the cost of an accident abroad must call the card company immediately and do exactly as instructed. Paperwork from the rental company will most likely be required; police reports are necessary only in the event of major accidents.
Mr. Khalidi recently discovered another useful tool for expediting claims: the photo function of his BlackBerry. Three months ago, when his rental car was rear-ended near Avignon, France, he took pictures of the accident scene, the damage and the license plate of the vehicle that hit him, which the rental company was glad to have when he returned the bashed-up car.
“How Protected Are You?“ (at hertz.com) is a resource for understanding the ins and outs of rental insurance. At the very least, travelers should make sure they know precisely what coverage they have before landing at a rental car counter in Palermo or Puerto Vallarta and trying to communicate with a clerk whose English language skills may be shallow.
Beyond that, it behooves travelers to seek information on driving rules and road conditions in the countries they plan to visit. “We Americans drive roads that are very forgiving, but there are places without shoulders and guardrails where rules differ from those at home,” said Rochelle Sobel, president of the Association for Safe International Road Travel, a nonprofit based in Potomac, Md. The organization’s Web site, asirt.org, has driving reports for 160 countries.
It’s all too easy to underestimate the differences between driving at home and abroad, especially if you fly to a place, rent a car at the airport and then hit the road. Suddenly you may be confronted with a perilously short highway entrance ramp, or — surprise, surprise — the fact that you’ve rented a vehicle with a manual transmission.
“Don’t assume that the vehicle you rent will have an automatic transmission, air-conditioning, power brakes and windows,” said Neil Abrams, founder of the car rental industry consulting company Abrams Consulting Group. “When renting abroad you must request these thing specifically.”
In general, it helps to rent a car as similar as possible to the one you drive at home so you can venture with confidence into a new country — and the occasional hedgerow.