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What's new in France and Switzerland for 2018

By Rick Steves, Tribune Content Agency on

France and Switzerland are two of Europe's most appealing destinations, but they're constantly changing, so I've gathered these new items for your 2018 travel planning.

In Paris, prices at the Eiffel Tower are up nearly 50 percent to help fund a 15-year renovation, including a bulletproof, eight-foot glass wall around the tower's base. It now costs about $30 to ride the elevator to the top, $19 for just the two lower levels, or $12 to climb the stairs to the first or second level.

At two other major Paris sights -- Notre-Dame and Sacre-CSur -- a modest dress code is being enforced; visitors with shorts or uncovered shoulders may be turned away. Renovations continue at the Carnavalet, a museum dedicated to the history of Paris, keeping it closed through 2019.

Due to legal challenges, Uber in Paris is no longer much cheaper than taxis, and may cost more than taxis at peak times. And when considering Uber, note that private cars don't enjoy the privileged access that taxis do in the town center.

Last summer, Paris' regional transit authority announced plans to drop the term "RER" and instead use "train" for commuter rail lines A through K. Similarly, the French railway is changing the name of its network of high-speed trains from "TGV" (high-speed trains) to "InOui."

Thanks to deregulation, inter-city and international bus service from Paris is improving. Ouibus and Flixbus are cutting costs drastically and amping up onboard comfort with Wi-Fi and more spacious seats. For example, Flixbus runs direct and cheap bus service from Paris to the island abbey of Mont St-Michel.

It's also easier to travel from Paris to the Dordogne River Valley, an area known for its prehistoric cave art. A new high-speed train between Paris and Bordeaux has reduced travel time to two hours. Your best bet to see prehistoric caves there is to reserve ahead for a tour of the new, high-tech Lascaux IV, a replica reproducing all of the original Lascaux cave art.

Sound-and-light shows employing new laser technology are trendy these days and a highlight at several French chateaux. In Auvers-sur-Oise, Chateau d'Auvers' new show incorporates sound, light, and video to teach visitors about the Impressionist painters (such as Van Gogh and Cezanne) who left their mark on this area. In the Loire Valley, renovation is complete at the island chateau in Azay-le-Rideau, and its sound-and-light show is back on. At Chateau Royal d'Amboise, the dramatic sound-and-light show -- complete with lavish costumes, battle scenes, and fireworks -- now comes with an English audioguide to follow the narration.

To the south in Provence, several new sights have popped up. Arles' LUMA Foundation -- a 180-foot-tall Frank Gehry-designed aluminum tower -- houses a resource and exhibition center for artists. In Nîmes, the Roman World Museum is slated to open this summer in a futuristic building across from the Roman arena. It will feature an archaeological collection from the 7th century B.C. to the Middle Ages, and a rooftop garden with city views.

Next door, in the French Riviera, Nice's Russian Cathedral has reopened after a two-year, $23 million renovation, which included finishing frescoes untouched since World War I. A new tramway line will eventually link Nice with its airport (running parallel to the Promenade des Anglais a few blocks inland); service should start by the end of 2018.

To the east, Switzerland offers its own set of new scenic treats. Near Lake Geneva, the Diablerets summit now features the Peak Walk suspension bridge, which stretches 350 feet from the top of the lift to the mountain's highest point.

In my favorite corner of Switzerland, those ascending the Schilthorn (a famous mountain in the Berner Oberland) can stop at the midpoint cable-car station of Birg and try out the Thrill Walk, a 600-foot-long see-through catwalk bolted to the cliff side. More adventurous (in their imagination) travelers can also tightrope across a cable bridge (there's a net), cross a section of glass flooring, or crawl through a chain-link tube -- all with views to the valley below. Also, those traveling with a Swiss Travel Pass can now use their rail pass to reach the Schilthorn summit for free.

Part of the joy of Swiss travel is its wonderful train system, which is continually being improved. One of the heavily marketed scenic rail journeys, the William Tell Express, is now called the Gotthard Panorama Express. (It's still the same trip, half by boat and half by train, from Luzern to the Italian-speaking region of Ticino.) And passenger trains have started using the new Gotthard Base Tunnel, the longest railway tunnel in the world. At 35 miles long, it cuts about 30 minutes off the travel time between Zürich and Milan.

In travels to France, Switzerland, and beyond, plan ahead and travel with up-to-date information to make the most of your trip.

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(Rick Steves (www.ricksteves.com) writes European travel guidebooks and hosts travel shows on public television and public radio. Email him at rick@ricksteves.com and follow his blog on Facebook.)

(c)2018 RICK STEVES DISTRIBUTED BY TRIBUNE MEDIA SERVICES, INC.

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