One of the online French newspapers that I look at each morning always has a “View From…” section where they summarize an article written in a foreign newspaper about life in France. The topic is often politics but there are a fair number of discussions regarding food, wine, and culture. A headline that caught my eye was “The French, those almost perfect vacationers” in the section “View from the United Kingdom”. I was really curious to see why this writer from the London-based The Daily Telegraph would rate our new neighbors and friends as the ideal holidaymakers. I became even more intrigued when I saw that the title in English in the original newspaper story was actually “The beautiful corners of France that the French don’t want you to know about.” Lost in translation?
After reading the article in full, it seems that either of those headlines could apply based on what you wanted to emphasize. Employees receive a federally-mandated 30 working days of vacation each year, a right that most people seem determined to exercise. While Disneyland Paris attracts visitors by the millions, so do the Louvre and Versailles and many of the country’s other 1,220 museums covering art, culture, and history. In a busy year our own medieval walled fortress of Carcassonne can welcome 3 million tourists.
There are at least 8,000 campgrounds in France, apparently the largest number in Europe, and these serve as the perfect base for outdoor activities such as hiking, cycling, climbing, and rafting. At the end of the day, with “glamping” now the trend, you are as likely to return to a cabin with electricity and water as you are to a canvas tent. While these campers are out on a trek, they can easily investigate a bit of history given that there are 45,000 listed monuments across the country. In a survey, half of our fellow residents said that gastronomy was vital in their decision of where to take a break. Going on vacation is serious business!
While the author took a light-hearted view as he was recounting the information above, he was more down-to-earth with his final evaluation of what makes the French so good about vacationing: lack of cynicism. He tells of friends who were enthralled by an all-night poetry reading or watching a calligraphy demonstration then happily visiting countless Romanesque churches. He continues, “Simply put, the French are wide-eyed innocents. Tell them it is culture and they will believe it is good. Being so easily entertained is admirable.”
Now, where they go on vacation leads us to the second version of the headline. At the risk of inundating some beautiful spots, here’s the list that the author says the French don’t want anyone else to know about:
- St. Jean-de-Luz
- Route Nationale 7 (Road trip: Paris to the Mediterranean Sea)
- Loir Valley (without the “e”)
- North Finistère, Bretagne
- Le Grau-du-Roi
- Corsica (featured photo above)
One of the reasons we moved to Carcassonne was because of the ease of travel access not only to the rest of France but to Europe in general. We were surprised to read, therefore, that usually the French stay within this country for their holidays, a factor that saved this year’s summer season, according to the Minister of Tourism. Typically 80% of the French don’t cross the border for their annual vacations and that percentage went even higher in 2021 with some hotels reporting that 90% of their guests were French. Given that this country attracts more international visitors than anywhere else on Earth, it’s no surprise that our neighbors want to explore more of what’s right here. We’ll be joining them in some of those “secret” destinations mentioned above!
Bonus fun: If your French is up to it, here’s a funny 2-minute video that the comedy team of Mélissa & Fred from Toulouse have produced about how to recognize French tourists on vacation abroad: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VhBrRd_vKgM