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It's Time to Return to France
Part I
by

Professor Arnie Greenberg

We live in strange political times. During the past few years the entire travel and tourism industry is hurting and those who have been traveling have been shunning France and spending our travel dollars in other places. 

But …

The time has come for us to go about our daily lives and enjoy all the sights our plant has to offer.  New discoveries can be rewarding.  If you have never been to France, I’m suggesting that the time has come for us to put politics aside, and treat yourself to an experience of a lifetime.

You have no idea what you’re missing. Maybe I can paint a picture that will persuade you.  Besides, getting even with the French for not joining the ‘coalition’ isn’t something President Bush and the coalition members have called for; and simply put, it proves nothing.  While I disagree with France’s decision to NOT join the coalition, and do not wish to justify their position, the simple fact is that countries change alliances during and after conflicts all the time, and history has shown us time and time again that diplomacy shifts back and forth. 

Consumers rapping a country’s knuckles for what they did or didn’t do politically does more harm than it does good.  And while it may make some particularly angry patriots feel better in the short term, in reality, it does not serve the interests of the American consumer.

Many feel that American cannot and should not be burdened with the troubles of all nations and be the world’s policeman and, and regardless of how anyone feels – there are limits to even our formidable resources.  And let’s face it; in terms of defense and military resources, we are arguably stretched to our limits.  And consider this, who would have thought, back in 1945 that we’d have the close and rewarding relationships with Germany, Italy and Japan that we have today.

Dumping French wine and discarding their cheese is not going to change anything.  All you do is hurt farmers and winemakers who had nothing to do with the decisions upsetting you and worse to hurt yourself, and restaurants and retailers in the USA. 

Of course the wine growers and cheese makers in America might see a great opportunity here, but in the long term these kind of artificial market forces do not best serve the consumer.  Competition based on price and quality are without question the best way to serve the consumer and insure the consumer gets the lowest price, best quality, safe, and reliable products possible, not politics and political score settling. 

This situation is reminiscent of my youth when in the schoolyard a boy would say to another, ‘if you don’t do that, I’ll never speak to you again’.  It really is a juvenile policy.  I thought governments were above that.

So, I suggest, it’s time we returned to France and picked up where we left off.  We should be promoting travel and tourism at home and abroad and doing whatever we can to help get the industry back on its feet.   Think of what you are missing out of stubbornness or trying to prove you are right and they are wrong.  France has more to offer tourists than most countries. I found that out over the years.

I first discovered France as a very young adult. I was completely taken with this soft, gentle country of artists, gourmets and lovely villages. I was captured by the joie de vivre, the joy of living, and the pride of a proud and growing nation. I have not stopped visiting France from day 1 nor did I stay away these past two years while many sunned the country for reasons we all know. What I benefited from was the fact that with fewer visitors I was able to see a less crowed France and a more open group of people. But things are righting themselves again. Tourism is up and the planes are full again. I want to tell you what there is in this amazing country. I’m not talking of just Paris. From previous articles people know I love Paris. But it’s the rest of the country from the Chateaus on the Loire to the Dordogne Valley, the Perigord, Brittany, and of course the south. There are so many places worth a holiday I hardly know where to begin. The old idea of living in Canada during the summer and in France throughout the winter is reappearing in my thoughts. France is my magnet. I never get tired of the new villages I find. They give me energy.

Consider the great chateaus on the Loire Valley. They date back 6-8 centuries, are open to the public and offer delightful architecture and setting. The best, I think, are near Tours, the old capital. That way you can see Versailles on your way out of Paris and the great Cathedral at Chartres on your way south. It’s a perfect lunch stop.

You can see Chenenceau the next morning, Blois Chateau during lunch as it’s in the city center and Amboise in the afternoon. It was in Amboise that Da Vinci lived out his last years. His home alone is a good reason to go there. Then, you can dine in a 19th century bistro in the center of Tours or in the bustling Place Plumereau surrounded by half-timbered buildings and a young and chic crowd. Even the prices are right.

The next day you can visit nearby Azzay-Le-Rideau to the east and the voluptuous gardens at Villandry. No need to describe them in detail. If you go, you will be rewarded. There are chateaus from the Atlantic inland to Orleans, which will take you back to Paris. If you go that way, be sure to visit the great hunting chateau at Chambord. Look for the double spiral staircase. It was made for people going up to rendezvous who didn’t want to be seen by people coming down. After you’ve seen Orleans, drive north through Fontainbleau. This magnificent chateau and gardens was once the home of Napoleon. The town has many good restaurants and a good selection of hotels. You can make it easier on yourself by taking the small train that takes you around the sprawling gardens for just a few dollars. You see more and get less tired. Inside, there are rooms that will amaze you. I return there every once in a while.

Considering the size of France, you hardly made a dent. If you wanted to head south from Tours you can go through Poitiers on the River Clain, where there’s a theme-park of the Future (Futuroscope), a state-of-the-art view of futuristic environments.  Then you can travel south o to the great wine and cognac areas nearer to Bordeaux. A drive along the coast to La Rochelle would be pleasant but once you get into that sea of grapes between the two rivers you will understand why France supplies wine and cognac to the world. The gentle sloping sun-filled countryside has hundreds of vineyards. In the city of Cognac you can tour one of the many distillers. I usually bring groups to Hennessey. Its modern and the tours, on two sides of the Charante River, are conducted in English. It ends with a delicious ‘tasting’. Just the smell of the simmering barrels is worth the price of admission. There are some reasonable hotels in nearby Angouleme, a city made famous by film animation studios. The dominant feature is the Cathedral St-Pierre and the ramparts give you spectacular views over the Charente Valley.

Then, it’s only a few hours to the heart of Bordeaux wine country and the charming, medieval town of St Emilion. The interesting monolithic church sits on chalky cliffs and the interesting winding streets on the upper and lower town are a photographer’s delight. There are wine shops everywhere and tasting is the thing to do. I eat lunch under the umbrellas on the lower square. This town looks like one would expect to find in France. It’s pure “Europe” with origins dating to the8th century.

From here you can drive east along the road to Bergerac and along the Dordogne Valley to Sarlat. There is so much to say about this market town with its medieval, Renaissance, and 17th century facades. It has a section of narrow lanes with archways and ochre-colored stone town houses. The town is protected from change and charms the visitor with its bustle during the day and quiet at night. On Saturday the whole area from Place de la Liberte along rue de La Republic is a market with everything you can think of including regional pate de foie gras and walnut oil. I had no trouble finding black truffles, mushrooms, cheeses, mushrooms, garlic and, of course, local wines.

My great discovery here is Hotel de Selves. This modern hotel built around a garden and heated pool, offers it all for a reasonable price. With meeting rooms, a fireplace, patio and impeccable service it is on my list of ‘Finds” in France.

There is no dining room except for breakfast but the staff will make a reservation for you in the old town. I suggest Aux Delices de Lauralice.

Hotel de Selves at 93 av. De Selves, can be reached at 5 53 31 50 00 or by email at hotel-sarlat@magic.fr

You now have to choose. Do you continue south or do you return to Paris along another route. The decision is based on how much time you have. I will give you a route back to Paris and in my next article I’ll steer you south and south east all the way to the Italian border.

You need time to see France and don’t be afraid to get off the beaten track.

Heading Home

Near Sarlat the main highway goes north south. If you head north you are facing Limoges that great city once famous for its china. They are still available but not to the extent once seen. Just before Limoges, the detour to Monignac and the famous prehistoric caves at Lascaux can be another highlight.

Here the astonishing Paleolithic wall paintings will amaze you. A guided tour can be done in under an hour year round except in January.

In nearby Montignac The Relais de Soleil d’Or on the main street offers quiet rooms around a pool and an excellent dining room.

As you pass Limoges. I suggest another detour slightly northwest to the tiny village of Oradour-sur-Glanne. Here in 1944 the retreating German army, stopped long enough to annihilate the entire population of over 650 people in a single afternoon. It was done as a reprisal for the intense Resistance in the area. The town has been left, as it was found and is now a moving shrine and memorial visited annually by thousands. The visitor’s center is new and explains everything. It is a moving stop, which you will never forget. Nearby is the new town that was built after the war. Remember, when you walk through the ruins, you do it in silence out of respect for those who died here.

The A 20 will take you back to Orleans mentioned earlier. Don’t forget to stop at Fontainbleau and if there’s time head for Malsherbes, the home of Josephine, after her divorce from Napoleon. It’s on the route towards Barbizon.

You will be approaching Paris from the south. When you get settled, examine a map of France and see where you’ve been. What will amaze you is that you just traveled through such different country and saw so many unusual things. However, look at what you haven’t seen yet. I’ll set out a route for your next trip.

Yes, you will be back. France is a country that draws one. You can have a wonderful holiday no matter which route you take or how long you spend. But the decision is yours. Enjoy what is there otherwise you’ll be missing one of the easiest countries in the world to visit.

 #   #   #

You can Contact Professor Arnie Greenberg at

Email:  Ultours1@gmail.com

Over the past few years, Professor Greenberg has traveled with groups to France, Italy, Spain, Greece, Budapest, Vienna, Salzburg, Prague and both Sorrento and the Bay of Naples plus most of Sicily. His tours traveled to the far reaches of the globe including Italy and most of China (Beijing -Hong Kong) and to Russia where his group cruised the waters from St.Petersburg to Moscow. 

"He took a group to Greece and another to northern Russia. In Nov 07 he took a tour group to much of India and ended his tour groups by revisiting France. He now travels with his wife and friends. They winter in Argentina or San Miguel Mexico.  His newly found spare time is taken up with his painting and writing. "I must write every day." His current work is a cautionary manual for would-be tour leaders..  "So You Want To Be A Tour Leader." 

Arnie now travels with friends. He continues writing Travel articles about unusual places but often concentrates on novel writing. Two books based on French Art will be published this year.  Keep reading his web for travel ideas.  His next novel HELLSTORM'S Folly, will be available this fall. He now lives in British Columbia.

Go to:  www.top-travel-ideas.com or contact him directly at ultours1@gmail.com.

(More about the writer.)

 

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