Intimate France Tours e-News

Issue 13, November 2014

 

www.intimatefrance.com

 

info@intimatefrance.com

 

 

At Intimate France, we specialize in small groups - usually eight travelers or fewer, never more than 16. Read more about how we are different.

 

Netherlands-Belgium,

May 3-15, 2015

Tour priced at $4,095 per person sharing accommodation. Single supplement to be determined, but estimated at  $725.* Tour begins and ends in Amsterdam.

(more tour information)

 

Austria – Alps, Abbeys & Vienna, May 17-29, 2015

Tour priced at $4,095 per person sharing accommodation. Single supplement to be determined.* Tour begins in Munich, ends in Vienna.

(more tour information)

 

Dordogne, the Best of France, Sept. 6-18, 2015

Tour priced at $4,095 per person sharing accommodation. Single supplement to be determined.* Tour begins and ends at Bordeaux airport.

(more tour information)

 

Spain North of Madrid, Sept. 20-Oct. 2, 2015

Tour priced at $4,095 per person sharing accommodation. Single supplement to be determined.* Tour begins and ends at Madrid airport.

(more tour information)

 

* Intimate France sets single supplements to cover the cost of more expensive single accommodation. Rates will be determined closer to tour departure and are intended to cover costs only. Call us for further information – (800) 676-1247.

 

 

INTIMATE

FRANCE

BLOG

 

George Nevin

Founder/owner

Intimate France Tours

 

 

Italy – A Bad Case

of 'Tourist Fatigue'?

Throughout northern Italy, from the Milan and Lake Maggiore area through Lake Como, Lake Garda, Verona, Padova and Venice, my strong impression is that each tourist season puts a serious strain on Italians in the hospitality industry, with predictable results.

 

Don't get me wrong – our group on the Italian Lakes & Venice tour in September 2014 encountered many delightful, charming, cheerful and obliging people, from hotel personnel to tourist office staffers to waiters and shopkeepers.

 

We also encountered our share of people who were (at best) just going through the motions or (at worst) were unsympathetic and even unpleasant to be around.

 

Perhaps nowhere was this syndrome more evident than in Venice, which has to be among the places in Italy most visited, and thus most impacted, by tourist throngs.

 

Example: At our Venice hotel, the desk clerk checked our group in (not terribly efficiently, but not incompetently), then vaguely waved toward a side room of the lobby to direct us to our rooms, saying "The elevator is over there."

 

After milling about in confusion for several minutes, we returned to the desk and asked again.

 

Turns out the elevator was one flight up a rather formidable staircase. (It sounds like the punchline of a joke: "Her elevator doesn't go all the way to the lobby.")

 

Was it too much for the clerk to tell us this before we wandered around looking for the lift?

 

Apparently.

 

Cochem center, Mosel

 

The next day, our group arrived at the Doges' Palace for the highly rated Secret Itineraries tour.

 

The agent who scanned our tickets said nothing about where to rendezvous with the guide, so I asked. "Over there," she said, gesturing vaguely. 

 

So we waited "over there" until 10 minutes past the time the tour was to begin.

 

Eventually I explored the courtyard where our group had settled, and found, around a corner, a place with a sign "Tour groups gather here." Our guide was there, chatting with a security guard.

 

I told her the agent had directed us to a different area, but she just rolled her eyes and complained that we were late.

 

This was a specially booked tour, not something for the general public. Was it too much trouble for the agent to have specified where we should go and what sign to look for? For the guide to have strolled around looking for us (we were quite close, but out of sight)?

 

Apparently.

 

 

Piazza delle Herbe, in the center of Verona.

 

My neighbors Cliff and Nance were in Rome, Florence and Venice just before my Intimate France group arrived in Italy, and they reported the same thing – big crowds and Italian tourism professionals unengaged with the needs of visitors.

 

My neighbors vowed not to visit Italy again during the "season," which is expanding and now encompasses around April to October.

 

I take a slightly more nuanced approach – I'll definitely try to avoid big destinations during busy times of the year, although there seem to be plenty of smaller towns and villages that aren't being overwhelmed by visitors or suffering from tourist fatigue.

 

As for Venice, Florence, Rome and other major destinations – Italy can be absolutely marvelous in the winter.

 

Vineyard, northern Italy

 

Riesling and food

 

In contrast to Italy, Germany (Romantic Road, Rhine and Mosel valleys) was an absolute delight, with perfect weather, incredibly charming villages and landscapes, terrific castles and palaces, and an abundance of cheerful, efficient people at every turn.

 

We began in the Bavarian Alps, at Füssen, and saw the magnificent castles of King Ludwig II (Linderhof and Neuschwanstein, plus the older Hohenschwangau) as well as the riotously rococo church of Wies, with its profusion of stucco cherubs, gilt-work and frescoes.

 

From there we traveled north on the Romantic Road to what must be the absolutely most charming town in Germany, perhaps in Europe – Rothenburg ob der Tauber.

 

Here we thoroughly enjoyed not only the medieval village but also the fabled Night Watchman Tour, one hour of history and laughs.

 

Northward via Würzburg (featuring the Residenz, perhaps the most magnificent palace anywhere, with jaw-dropping wall and ceiling paintings by Tiepolo) we came to the Rhine, where we not only explored the postcard-perfect villages of Bacharach and Oberwesel but also witnessed spectacular fireworks above the river – the yearly 

Rhine in Flames celebration.

 

Then it was on to what was generally agreed to be the most perfectly preserved part of our trip – the Mosel River Valley, with each village more perfect than the last. Our favorites were Cochem, where we stayed in the charming Hotel Lohspeicher and dined in its renowned restaurant, run by TV chef Ingo Beth, and Bernkastel, oozing half-timbered charm.

 

Steve and Joanne Malone from the San Francisco area told me after the tour, "There isn't a day we don't reminisce about Germany as it surpassed our greatest expectations in terms of beauty, charm and grandeur."

 

Could not have said it better.

 

Now, Germany isn't known far and wide for the quality of its cuisine, but we ate very well there. In particular I recall meals at Lohspeicher, at Topinambur in Rothenburg, and at Weinhotel Landsknecht near St. Goar, on the Rhine.

 

The beer was uniformly excellent, as we had expected. What did not go down quite so well was the wine.

 

We passed through several wine regions, chief among them the Rhine and Mosel valleys, and always asked for the best local wine, invariably white. (Germany is too far north to produce good red wines.)

 

Although we specified dry-dry-dry, what we mostly got was moderately sweet, usually Riesling, Germany's noblest grape.

 

Our group agreed that the Mosel wines were superior to their Rhine counterparts, possibly because the Mosel is fairly near France, where the winemakers have learned how to make absolutely delicious, delicate Riesling that is nevertheless dry.

 

CONTACT
INTIMATE
FRANCE

 

 


INTIMATE FRANCE:

HOW WE ARE DIFFERENT

 

    After 25 years of travel and research, we founded Intimate France in 1994 to share our accumulated wisdom and exciting discoveries with you. In the years since then, we’ve taken hundreds of Americans to France, Italy, Spain, Croatia, Belgium, the Netherlands and the Alps.

 

    Our small groups (never more than 16) assure the utmost in personal service, attention to detail and flexibility.

    Our small group size allows us to take care of you and your needs the way you deserve. Our long familiarity with Europe has taught us the hidden, authentic visits and sights not in any guidebook.

 

    Our cheerful, experienced, bilingual guides love Europe with a passion and want to share this feeling with you. Our carefully planned itineraries feature a multitude of enriching visits – all included in the tour price. Optional excursions at additional expense are virtually non-existent.  

 

    At Intimate France, we believe that cookie-cutter hotels, tourist-oriented restaurants and fast-paced sightseeing are barriers to enjoying the real Europe.   

 

      Over time we have discovered small, family-run hotels, local bistros and insider sights. You’ll visit the top attractions in each town while also having experiences that are more typically European.

An occasional newsletter from George Nevin, founder/owner, Intimate France Tours

 

 

UP CLOSE AND PERSONAL –

WORK-PLAY OPPORTUNITY IN FRANCE

    My good friend and travel associate Connie Barney is (or soon will be) the proud owner of a little corner of French paradise – a house in the quiet region south of the Loire Valley called "Sud Touraine" (south of Tours).

    The amazing story of how Connie came to find and buy the house, from no less than nine owners (family members who had inherited it), makes for a tale that will not be told here.

    She plans to move in and start needed repair-refurbishing work early in 2015, and is looking for people to come to France in March and April 2015 to help whip the place into shape, ready to welcome guests as a B&B some day.

    This is not a vacation, but an offer of Bed & Breakfast in exchange for helping with cleaning, painting, gardening and other tasks.

    Knowing Connie, there will be lots of good food and wine in the process, as well as plenty of laughs, along with some true insights into la vie française.    

    If you want to experience la France profonde (as the French call the deep countryside) while helping Connie realize her long-held dream, email her at connie4935@gmail.com.

 

'RHINE IN FLAMES' – WORTH THE WAIT

 

 

The 'Rhine in Flames' at the village of Oberwesel.

 

    Several times a year, communities along Germany's Rhine River stage elaborate fireworks festivals called Rhine in Flames.

 

    On Intimate France's September 2014 tour of Germany, we stayed in charming St. Goar, just a few kilometers from Oberwesel, where a Rhine in Flames was to be held during our stay.

 

    We arranged with our hotel to hire a taxi to take us to Oberwesel, which we were told would be chockablock with revelers. Accordingly, we checked the festival schedule, which showed that the fireworks would begin at 9 p.m. and that there would be a break at 9:45. Perfect, we thought – 45 minutes to see the show, then we're out of there.

 

    Our taxi guy dropped us off in central Oberwesel around 8 p.m. and arranged to return at 9:45. Accordingly, we made our way to the riverfront, where a massive crowd was already gathered. 

      

    Stepping over and around blankets and folding chairs occupied by seriously partying German tourists, we found a few square feet of space and settled down to wait for an hour.

 

    9 p.m. came and went without a single firework. On the river, a massive flotilla of boats crammed with party-goers arrived and took up station offshore. We could see revelers drinking, dancing and eating. It looked like a great vantage point.

 

    At 9:30, there was still no sign of fireworks, and I was getting worried. Our taxi guy was due in 15 minutes, and we had seen exactly nothing. I managed to reach him on his cell phone (in Germany they are called 'handies") and asked him to come 30 minutes later, around 10:15.

 

    But even that wasn't enough. Just after 10 p.m., a full hour late (so much for the vaunted German efficiency!) we left the riverfront, made our way through the truly massive crowd and went to our taxi rendezvous point. While waiting there, the fireworks began. What we could see of them, reflected from medieval town buildings, did look spectacular.

 

    When our taxi man picked us up, he returned us to St. Goar not along the river, the obvious route, but via a road that climbed high into the hills. At a vantage point, with other spectators assembled nearby, he stopped, and gave us 10 minutes to view the show far below. It was wonderful – the river truly seemed to be burning. 

 

 

 

 

IN SPAIN'S CATALONIA,

YEARNING FOR INDEPENDENCE

 

Pro-independence signs in Montblanc, Catalonia.

 

By George Nevin

Founder-owner, Intimate France

 

    Spain's Catalonia region, encompassing the northeast portion of the country (around Barcelona), is gripped by separatist fervor, with a vote on independence from Spain scheduled for November 9. 

 

    The non-binding referendum appears to be going ahead despite a court injunction forbidding it.

 

    If public signs of popular sentiment is any indication, Catalans will overwhelmingly support independence from Spain.

 

    On a recent swing through the region, we saw pro-independence rallies and signage all over the place urging "yes" votes. 

 

    Interestingly, many of the signs urged a vote of "Si o si," yes or yes. We took these to mean the partisans were asking for a "yes" vote no matter what the individual voter's political sentiments.

 

    More subtle, but somehow more forceful, were the myriad examples of public fountains, light posts and trees wrapped in yellow plastic, yellow being one of two colors of the Catalan flag. (The other color is   red.)

 

 

In the run-up to Catalonia's independence vote Nov. 9, Catalan flags can be found everywhere in the region. 

 

 

    In a small square in the pretty village of Montblanc, west of Tarragona, trees received the wrapping treatment.

 

    Signs (in yellow and red) expressing desires of ordinary citizens were very compelling. One said, "I want a country that has a good relationship with Spain." It was written in Spanish (not Catalan, which is a distinct language) and attributed to Barbara Branco, 32, of Barcelona.

 

    Another sign, in Catalan, announced: "I want a country where it is easier to start a business," a dig at the notoriously constrictive regulations hampering entrepreneurship in European Union countries.

 

    Authorities in Madrid are dreading the November 9 vote, because other parts of Spain, notably the prosperous Basque region, may choose to advance their own separatist agenda if Catalonia paves the way. The Basque and Catalan areas comprise about a quarter of Spain's population but a much higher percentage of the country's industrial and economic output. 

 

 

 

SPAIN DURING AN ECONOMIC DOWNTURN – BAD FOR THEM, GOOD FOR US


By George Nevin

Founder-owner, Intimate France

 

After our Intimate France fall trips in Italy and Germany, I flew to Madrid for two-plus weeks of scouting for our Spain North of Madrid tour next fall (Sept. 20-October 2, 2015). We had a terrific time.

 

Our visits took in several cities north of Madrid, including Segovia (loved it), Avila, Zamora, Salamanca (a favorite), Leon (great cathedral), Soria and the wine country of the Duero, Zaragoza (unexpectedly lively, interesting and pretty), and my favorite of all, Burgos, smack athwart the Camino de Santiago de Compostella.

 

We also dipped into Toledo, a most wonderful place south of Madrid; Cuenca, also a favorite, clinging to a  cliff above deep gorges; Valencia, big and somewhat gritty, a real city rather than a large town; Tarragona, on the Med, with Roman monuments and a lively balcony over the waterfront; and Girona, quite pretty and atmospheric.

 

 

Cuenca, with its hanging houses above a gorge.

 

I tried to express to my friends what set this part of Spain apart, and struggled to explain it. I finally decided that what appealed to me about the royal cities (Segovia-Salamanca-Leon-Burgos-Avila) of Spain is their stark grandeur, often rising out of featureless plains. These strongholds are a thousand years old  (or more), repositories of noble power, church might, knowledge and culture, and the end point for tons and tons of New World gold and silver.

 

Several of them played important roles in the reconquest of Spain by Catholic monarchs from occupying Moors, which culminated only in 1492.

 

For nine-tenths of our time in Spain, we traveled through areas still bowed down by the weight of a lingering, persistent economic slump. We found half-empty hotels, quiet (though excellent) restaurants, and highways where the absence of traffic was both welcome and spooky.

 

Only in Catalonia (Girona-Barcelona-Tarragona, then inland) did we perceive economic vitality, along with greatly increased truck traffic. This is not surprising – Catalonia, along with the Basque country to the west, is Spain's economic engine, where standard of living and economic output are high; unemployment in these regions is far lower than Spain's horrific average of 23 percent.

 

The only downside to our sojourn in Spain was mealtimes – breakfast later than we wished, lunch at 1 p.m. at the earliest, and dinner averaging 8:30 p.m. but often beginning at 9 p.m.

 

To circumvent the late dinner hour, in particular, we sometimes had tapas dinners, with mixed success – the tapas were good, but often limited in selection, and even though a tapas bar-restaurant may be "open" at 7 p.m., sometimes food isn't available until later.

 

One bright side at mealtime was wine – the Spanish whites and reds are uniformly excellent and bargain priced. Whites from the Rueda region, in the Duero wine country, were yummy and often only 12 to 15 euros per bottle; the red crianzas were only a couple of euros more.

 

The skinny on enjoying a fine French meal.

Jake and Maureen (Mo) Dear of Marin County, Calif., travel frequently to France, enjoy good food and wine and maintain an online travel diary. Their "Une Douzaine Restaurant Tips" are highly recommended.

 

OUR 2015 DEPARTURES

 

SPRING 2015 IN NORTHERN EUROPE

 

• Netherlands and Belgium, May 3-15

Austrian Alps, Abbeys and Vienna, May 17-29

 

FALL 2015 IN CENTRAL & SOUTHERN EUROPE

 

Dordogne, France's most beautiful area, September 6-18

Spain North of Madrid, September 20-October 2

 

HOW TO SIGN UP FOR A 2015 TOUR

First, call us at (800) 676-1247 or email  info@intimatefrance.com for an idea of which tours are proving popular, and in fact may already have filled. Every year, some would-be travelers get left behind.

 

Remember, most tours max out at eight travelers, meaning no Big Bus Blues for you! That also means that our groups can fill quickly, and well in advance.

 

2015 Tour Lineup

 

 

Magnificent tulips, Keukenhof Gardens, Netherlands.

 

Netherlands & Belgium - May 3-15, 2015

 

Tour priced at $4,095 per person sharing accommodation. Single supplement to be determined but estimated at $725 (see note*, bottom). Discounts available. Tour begins and ends at Amsterdam Airport..

  • The gardens of Keukenhof, a riot of spring flowers

  • Stately Amsterdam’s atmospheric canals

  • Fine art (Van Gogh, Rembrandt, Rubens, Vermeer)

  • Lovely, medieval Bruges

  • Pretty Ghent’s canals and soaring cathedral

  • Lively Brussels and its many museums

  • Authentic Dutch towns – Delft, Haarlem

  • Girl With a Pearl Earring at the Mauritshuis Museum, the Hague

  • The magnificent modern art collection at the Kröller-Müller Museum, eastern Netherlands

  • Exciting port of Antwerp, and its Rubens museum

How to sign up for this tour

 

 

Hallstatt, on its lake south of Salzburg, is an ideal village.


Austria – Alps, Abbeys & Vienna,

May 17-29, 2015

 

Tour priced at $4,095 per person sharing accommodation. Single supplement to be determined (see note*, bottom). Discounts available. Tour begins at Munich Airport, ends at Vienna Airport.t.

  • Magnificent, imperial Vienna, one-time capital of an empire

  • Baroque Salzburg, home of Mozart

  • Stately Innsbruck, Alpine capital

  • Outstanding rococo churches

  • Soaring Alps, thundering waterfalls, deep valleys, icy glaciers

  • Medieval Dürnstein, on the Danube

  • Lakeside Hallstatt, one of Austria's most beautiful villages

  • Explore an ancient salt mine

  • Crystalline lakes of the Salzkammergut

  • Baroque abbey of Melk

  • Cathedrals, castles, markets, cafés, art, fine dining, exceptional wines

    How to sign up for this tour

 

 

Château of Les Milandes, once owned by Josephine Baker.

 

Dordogne, the Best of France - September 6-18, 2015

 

Tour priced at $4,095 per person sharing accommodation. Single supplement to be determined (see note*, bottom). Discounts available. Tour begins and ends at Bordeaux Airport..

  • Château visits
  • Winery tour in the fabled Médoc region of Bordeaux
  • Picnic with local produce
  • Fabulous outdoor markets
  • The fine wines of St. Emilion
  • Some of France’s loveliest villages – Domme, Beynac, la Roque-Gageac
  • Cave art and artifacts from 500,000 years of human habitation
  • Outstanding market at Sarlat
  • Lunch in a Michelin-starred restaurant
  • Les Milandes, a château once owned by American singer-dancer Josephine Baker
  • Périgueux, bustling régional capital
  • Lascaux II, reproduction of the cave considered to have the best prehistoric art
  • Roque St. Christophe, a rocky fortress from medieval times

 

How to sign up for this tour

 

 

 

The Roman aqueduct of Segovia, UNESCO World Heritage.

 

Spain North of Madrid - September 20-October 2, 2015

 

Tour priced at $4,095 per person sharing accommodation. Single supplement to be determined (see note*, bottom).  Discounts available. Tour begins and ends at Madrid Airport.

  • Palace of El Escorial
  • Gardens of la Granja de San Ildefonso
  • Segovia, with its spectacular Roman aqueduct
  • Medieval Avila
  • Duero wine region
  • Burgos and its UNESCO-listed cathedral
  • Salamanca, with Spain’s most picturesque central plaza
  • Hilltop Toledo
  • Cuenca, León
  • Palace, garden of Aranjuez

* Intimate France sets single supplements to cover our cost of providing more expensive single accommodation. Rates will be set closer to tour departure, and you will be notified prior to signup. Call us at (800) 676-1247 for further information.

 

How to sign up for this tour

 

 

Make an Intimate France tour your best trip ever.