Notes from an exiled Franglais: Why everyone loves France
Some adore theme parks, while others enjoy the lush greenery, but not all visitors are welcomed, observes blogger Robert Bullock who offers a tip on how to stay in the French’s good books.
The world’s top tourist destination
It’s official, and, although visitor numbers were down in recession-hit 2008 from 2007 (79.3 million as opposed to 81.9 million the year before) France is still the world’s top tourist destination. Most of us would be surprised to discover that France gets more than 20 million more visitors than both the USA and Spain, 50 million more than the UK and almost 60 million more than Turkey, according to the world tourism organisation WTO.
But in order to retain its crown as most popular tourist destination, France has learned to invest and diversify, with the sleepy backwater of Poitou Charente leading the way!
Theme parks with excellent transport links
If you’re like me and not into theme parks, then you probably can’t fully appreciate multimedia parks such as Futuroscope, or Parc du Futuroscope to be precise.
This impressive 131-acre site was first opened in 1987 and was the brainchild of the forward thinking René Monory, president of the general council of Vienne, the department where it resides, just a few kilometres north of Poitiers.
Impressive road, air and rail infrastructure link it effortlessly to the rest of France, Paris, the UK and Spain. With regular flights from Poitiers Biard airport to London Stanstead, Edinburgh and Barcelona getting to the park can be cheap and easy. The beautiful, historic city of Poitiers is also blessed with a TGV line that links it to Paris and Lille, where Eurostar connections make London cheap and efficient, and to Bordeaux, for connections south. These excellent transport links has enabled Futuroscope to draw over 35 million visitors since it was opened.
Things are also looking buoyant for the destination: Futuroscope’s newest attraction Arthur the 4D adventure has helped the park smash its 2008 festive visitor numbers for Christmas 2009 by an amazing 20,000. Last year 110,000 people visited Futuroscope over the Christmas holidays, compared with 90,000 in 2008, and it is believed that film director Luc Besson’s new creation has been the main reason.
The home of green tourism
With its beautiful countryside and varied landscapes, France was the home of green tourism well before the term was even coined! And with over 35,000 kilometres of dedicated long distance trekking routes which are known in France as Sentiers de grandé randonnée there has long been the opportunity to enjoy the great outdoors and the benefits of lots of fresh air.
Camping a la ferme and rural gite holidays
Small-scale campsites on farms, or camping a la ferme have long been an eco-friendly way to see the real rural France. Often a farmer will let out three or four pitches on a spare field for a modest fee, but beware, they may not have many of the facilities found on large campsites! (ie flushing toilets and shower blocks, so you may have to improvise!)
If you’re not quite brave enough to pitch your tent in a farmer’s field then you could rent a rural gite, or holiday cottage. Friends of mine would visit the same gite each year, actually on a working farm in the Dordogne, just for the lavish breakfasts!
The real French breakfast
Each morning my teacher friends would wake up in their huge, peaceful, farmhouse bedroom and feast upon freshly home baked breads, pastries and cakes along with countless types of jams and conserves, different kinds of local cheeses, fruit from the orchard, home pressed juices and lashings of strong coffee! It always kept them going for the whole day!
The annual English invasion
But even though France has invested in multimedia tourism, green tourism and for those traditionalists who seek out the real France, each and every year the country opens its welcoming arms to the English invasion.
When we first moved to France (in a caravan, with four dogs, three cats, two rats and my mother-in-law!) we camped on an English-owned campsite for a few months. All was peaceful and calm until the last week in July when the swarm arrived!
Within days of the start of the English school summer holidays, our campsite and every other campsite in the south west of France filled to capacity. Resembling more the South African shanty town of Soweta than Camping de Canard, all of a sudden there were queues at the toilet block each morning and the pool was a no-go area, unless you were a teenager!
To cap it all off, a coach load of vigorous Morris Dancers from Derbyshire arrived one afternoon! Needless to say, that was the entertainment sorted for the next week, we quickly decided to beg the notaire to push through our house sale double quick so we could escape!
Don’t ask for a sandwich!
It’s not hard to see why France is such a popular destination, good wine, interesting characters, beautiful and varied countryside and a warm welcome awaits visitors. Unless of course you go into a bar, cafe or restaurant and ask for a sandwich at lunchtime - a cardinal sin in France! The only people crazy or cheeky enough to demand one are visiting Brits and travelling salesmen, the former definitely won’t be accommodated but the latter might just, if only to get them out of the village double quick!
If you want to remain welcome, ask for hot food, not a cheese baguette!
Robert Bullock / Expatica
Robert Bullock is a British children's writer. He lived in the Poitou Charente area of South West France for seven years. His first book is Noah Ramsbottom and the Cave Elves. His second book Sam Marsh the Viking King was released at the end of 2009. His website is www.ninnylizard.com. Robert is currently touring Britain giving readings of his first book, and is available to visit schools, libraries or youth groups in France.
Photo credits: AFP; Pierre-Olivier
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