Intimate France Tours e-News

Issue 8, March 2013

 

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.

 

OUR  2013 TOURS:

FILLING UP FAST

 

Italian Lakes & Venice - April 28-May 10, 2013

Tour priced at $3,895 per person sharing accommodation. Singles $550 extra.Tour begins at Milan airport, ends at Venice airport.

(more information)

 

Friuli, Eastern Italy & Slovenia -

May 12-24, 2013

Tour priced at $3,895 per person sharing accommodation. Singles $550 extra.Tour begins and ends at Venice airport, Italy

(more information)

 

High Pyrénées, France - Sept. 1-13, 2013

Tour priced at $3,895 per person sharing accommodation. Singles $550 extra.Tour begins and ends at Toulouse Airport.

(more information)

 

Languedoc, France - Sept. 15-27, 2013

Tour priced at $3,895 per person sharing accommodation. Singles $550 extra.Tour begins and ends at Toulouse Airport.

(more information)

 

 

INTIMATE

FRANCE

BLOG

 

George Nevin

owner/founder

Intimate France Tours

 

 

The Cats of
Italy's Borromean
Islandsl

 

    Guidebooks gush about the legendary beauty of northern Italy’s Lago Maggiore.

    Michelin’s editors call it “the most famous of the Italian lakes ... at times both majestic and wild.”

    Especially beguiling, Michelin continues, are the three Borromean Islands – Bella, Madre and Pescatori. These fabled specks of green and pastel lie, locked in the lake’s blue embrace, just offshore of the resort of Stresa.

    Other guides laud Maggiore’s privileged position surrounded by Alps, its balmy microclimate and its pretty villages.
    But not one mentions the most astonishing aspect of Lago Maggiore:

    The cats of the Borromean Islands.

            ********

    In the pearly light of January, the islands sleep. Gone are the day-tripping hordes. The baroque palace on Isola Bella is closed for the season, and the ferry doesn’t even service Isola Madre.
    Susan and I are the only passengers on the 3 p.m. ferry to Isola dei Pescatori, or Fishermen’s Island.
    The island smells like any other Italian place in winter – the bitterness of espresso, the bite of wood smoke and the mineral grit of wet cobblestones. Though seemingly deserted, it must be alive – someone has brewed the coffee.
    Pescatori is essentially flat. Measuring 400 by 200 yards, it exudes a scruffy charm. The stuccoed houses, finished in whitewash or pale colors, hunch together. Streets are non-existent, as are cars. The only way to get around is afoot, along cobbled lanes.
    Rounding a corner, we come across someone’s sunny front step chockablock with cats. Haunch to haunch like kernels on an ear of corn they doze, tails tucked in, paws together, facing out.
    Three appear to be siblings – a couple of black-and-brown striped specimens, looking pleasingly plump, and a white-breasted cat. A fourth kitty, pure black, bookends the litter.
    How cute, we exclaim. Out come cameras.
    Winding through the maze of alleyways, we soon reach the far side of the island.
    Hello, what’s this – more cats? Wait a minute – are these the same? No, they can’t be. Remember, those were striped. These are gray, and tabby-coated, and pure white.
  Clearly, something is going on. We count seven cats going about their kitty business – grooming, dozing, yawning, slinking, stalking, pondering the world through slitted eyes.
Returning to the ferry landing, another piece of the cat puzzle falls into place.
Beside the lake, on a piece of aluminum foil, is a large, cooked fish. Someone must have just set it out – dinner for cats.

  There are already three or four, eating greedily in a way only really hungry animals do. The last time I saw cats this hungry was in Sicily, where they have to make do with leftover pasta, of all things – pasta and fried potatoes. The vegetarian cats of Sicily – who knew?

    These animals, however, are fortunate to live on Fishermen’s Island, where there really are fishermen, and real fish, which once in a while someone cooks for them.

    The eating hierarchy is clear. The largest cats eat without hurry. The small, the young and the weak creep in, lunge for the fish, break off pieces and scurry away.
Susan and I admire them on this dying day.

    Susan puts into words my thoughts: “How many cats does this little island have? And do they belong to anyone?”
                ********
    Returning to Stresa, we try to find out more. The Tourist Office lady isn’t terribly helpful. “Oh, yes, the people of the islands like cats,” she tells us. “People live on Isola dei Pescatori all year, but most of the people on Isola Bella come to the mainland during the winter. They bring their cats with them.”
    It all sounds very civilized, quite proper, really – and not a bit Italian. Life here is much messier than that, and I determine to get to the bottom of the Borromean Island cats.


            *******
    Ten months later, I am back. It’s early October.
    With exactly one week of instruction in conversational Italian crammed into my head, thanks to an immersion course in nearby Omegna, I’m looking for answers
    From Stresa, my first stop is not Fishermen’s Island but the busier Isola Bella.
“Bella” means “beautiful,” but the island actually was named after Isabella d’Adda, wife of Count Carlo Borromeo III, who built the island’s villa in 1632.
    The tiny village, with its stairstep streets and appealingly peeling plastered homes, draws closer, until details emerge: stone buildings two and three stories high, with wooden shutters cracked by the sun.
    Ashore, it takes only minutes to scope out the place. The Borromean Palace – four stories of marble-clad baroqueness – anchors the northwestern tip of the island. It boasts soaring ceilings and walls crammed with plaster sculptures, as well as a garden, where the peacocks are blindingly white.
    After visiting the palace, I wander the tiny streets and meet Simonetta, who runs a tourist stand. My Italian is just adequate to ask about the cats, for Isola Bella has them, too, though fewer than on Fishermen’s.
    She tells me they are, indeed, feral (“selvatico”), and that people feed them as best they can. The man who runs the public toilet is generous in this regard, she says.
    It turns out not everyone loves the cats. Simonetta says they spray urine on doors and leave their droppings on the pavement. They are tolerated, but not always beloved.
    I tell her about studying Italian in Omegna, and that my French is really better than my Italian. (We had already determined she spoke no English.) Oh, says Simonetta, you should meet my friend Lia. She speaks French.
    Lia, manning a booth a few yards away, is delightful and a font of information, imparted in charmingly Italian-accented French.         Yes, most of Bella’s 30 or so residents do leave the island for the mainland every fall. No, they don’t take the cats, which somehow make do with handouts from those few who overwinter.
    Lia herself is one of them. “Last winter the countess” – that would be the current Countess of Borromeo, for that noble renaissance family is alive and well, owners of not only the Isola Bella villa but the island itself – “hired me to mend the Napoleon linens.”
    These would be the bed coverings in the villa’s Napoleon Room, which the emperor slept in (with Josephine) during a visit in 1797. It’s said he returned to the island in 1800, on his way to do battle at Marengo (where he won a significant victory), and spent the night in the arms of an opera diva, whose name has not come down to us.
    As we chat, Lia asks if I’d like tourist advice – perhaps a restaurant recommendation? “Here or on Fishermen’s Island?” I ask.
    She replies, “I don’t know anything about Fishermen’s. I only visited there once. People from here don’t go there.”
    It turns out the two islands have feuded for 500 years. The fishermen think Bella islanders are stuck-up snobs. Bellans are convinced the fishermen are hopeless rubes.
    Lia tells me that in the 16th century, plague was sweeping northern Italy. A boatload of Fishermen’s Islanders arrived at Isola Bella. “Please take us in; we are starving,” they called out. The Bellans refused – the risk of plague was too great.
    The conflict continues to this day, she says. “In Stresa, in the supermarket, there’s a box where people can donate food for the cats. The people from Fishermen’s Island take all the food and don’t leave any for us.”
            *********
       Back on the mainland, I visit the supermarket. Lia is right – a cardboard box sports a neat sign: “Help the cats who live freely. A small gift will permit the cats to live in accordance with Italian Law ...” The law says feral cats may be captured, sterilized and returned to the wild, but not killed.
    So, mystery solved. The cats of Fishermen’s Island, and indeed those on Isola Bella, are either treasured or put up with, but they endure.
    One more insight awaits – I wander into a news and tourist shop in Stresa and ask the two owners if they ever see the countess.
    Yes, they say, she comes in all the time to buy toys for her grandchildren.
    “And do you know what she says?” one asks, rolling his eyes in astonishment and outrage. “She wants a discount because she is the Countess Borromeo. Just think – one of Italy’s richest women, asking for a deal.”
    The other shopkeeper points out that the Borromeo family not only owns Isola Bella lock, stock and villa, it owns Isola Madre as well, with its palace and garden. And it has, for hundreds of years up to the present, owned all fishing rights in Lago Maggiore.
    The circle is complete – all those fishermen on Fishermen’s Island still pay tribute to the noble Borromeans for every fish they pull out of the lake to eat, sell or cook for cats


CONTACT
INTIMATE
FRANCE

 

(800) 676-1247

 

 www.intimatefrance.com

 

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

 

 

EXTRAORDINARY TRAVEL
OPPORTUNITY – ONE VACANCY
TO ITALIAN LAKES & VENICE

 

European travel doesn't get any better than Northern Italy's Lake area and Venice

 

A last-minute cancellation has resulted in one free seat on our Italian Lakes & Venice tour, departing April 28, 2013, from Milan, and concluding May 10 in Venice. See the 2013 itinerary here.

 

Please contact us for further information, including how to sign up. See below for itinerary details.

 

If you're interested, please don't wait – it's first-come, first-served for this spot in our group of eight travelers.

 

And be aware that we plan to repeat the Italian Lakes & Venice tour in 2014. See below for our tentative 2014 schedule.

 

And, as always, travel well.

 

Tentative 2014 Tour Lineup

 

We've already made some preliminary decisions about tours in 2014. If you're interested, contact us about early enrollment. Believe it or not, some of these tours may be sold out by the middle of 2013.

 

And please be aware that projected destinations and dates may change as 2014 approaches. We will be sure to keep readers updated via this e-newsletter.

 

 

Village of Bellagio, Lake Como, Italy


Italian Lakes & Venice - May 4-16, 2014

 

Tour priced at $3,995 per person sharing accommodation. Singles $550 extra. Discounts available. Tour begins at Milan Malpensa Airport, ends at Venice Airport.

 

This is a repeat of our spring 2013 tour.a .

  • Comfortable hotels and charming inns – all rooms with private bath
  • The splendor of the Italian lakes – Maggiore, Como, Garda
  • Transportation in van or mini-bus
  • Outstanding cuisine and wine
  • The splendid Palladian architecture of the Veneto region
  • The magnificent villas and gardens of the lake country
  • Beautiful villages with stairstep streets and murmuring fountains
  • Medieval Verona, known for its Roman past and for Romeo and Juliet
  • Venice, perhaps the world’s most beautiful and splendid city
  • Aperitivi, gelato, formaggio, salume
  • Lovely towns of Vicenza and Padova

 

The Rhine is Germany's most romantic river.

 

Germany's Romantic Road, Rhine & Mosel Valleys - May 18-30, 2014

 

Tour priced at $3,995 per person sharing accommodation. Singles $550 extra. Discounts available. Tour begins at Munich Airport, ends at Frankfurt Airport.t.

  • Comfortable hotels and charming inns – all rooms with private bath
  • The fabled Romantic Road and its most-loved village, Rothenburg ob der Tauber
  • Transportation in van or mini-bus
  • Outstanding cuisine and world-class wines from the Rhine and Mosel valleys
  • Two castles associated with 'Mad' King Ludwig –  Neuschwanstein and Hohenschwangau
  • The castles, half-timbered villages and vineyards of the Rhine River Valley
  • Burg (Castle) Eltz, a 700-year old fortress furnished as it was five centuries ago.
  • The impossibly picturesque Mosel Valley, with vineyards clinging to its steep slopes.
  • Ancient Trier, already a center of art and learning in Roman times.
  • Romantic Road villages of Dinkelsbühl, Nördlingen, Donauwörth
  • Old centers of art and architecture – Würtzburg, Worms, Limburg.

 

The Old Port at Honfleur, one of France's most scenic.


Normandy & Châteaux of the Loire,

Aug. 31-Sept. 12, 2014

 

Tour priced at $3,995 per person sharing accommodation. Singles $550 extra. Discounts available. Tour begins and ends at Paris-Charles de Gaulle Airport.t.

  • Comfortable hotels and charming inns – all rooms with private bath
  • Transportation in van or mini-bus
  • Outstanding cuisine and wine
  • The gardens, studio and home of Claude Monet in Giverny
  • Old Bayeux, and its most famous sight, the Bayeux Tapestry
  • D-Day beaches & monuments
  • Magnificent Chartres Cathedral
  • Belle Epoque resorts of Deauville and Trouville
  • Outdoor markets, local cheeses, cider & calvados
  • Fresh seafood – some of the best in France
  • Stunning coastal scenery
  • Medieval Abbey of Mont St. Michel, soaring high above its bay
  • Cathedrals, castles, markets, cafés, art, fine dining, exceptional wines.

 

 

Hospice de Beaune, Burgundy, the city's old hospital

 

Burgundy & Alsace - Sept. 14-26, 2014

 

Tour priced at $3,995 per person sharing accommodation. Singles $550 extra. Discounts available. Tour begins at Lyon Airport, ends at Strasbourg Airport.t.

  • Comfortable hotels and charming inns – all rooms with private bath
  • Transportation in van or mini-bus
  • Outstanding cuisine and wine
  • Château visits – Veugeot, Savigny-les-Beaune
  • Fabulous outdoor markets and picnic with local products
  • The wine villages of Burgundy
  • Walled city of Beaune and its Hospice
  • Dijon, world’s mustard capital
  • The wines of Burgundy, among France’s best
  • Proud Lyon, a center for art on the banks of two rivers.
  • Groundbreaking mid-20th century architecture – Notre Dame de Haut, by Le Corbusiner.
  • The wine villages of Alsace – Riquewihr, Ribeauvillé, Kaysersburg
  • The charming regional capital of Colmar
  • The grand city of Strasbourg and its world-renowned gothic cathedral, built of red sandstone.
  • The delicate wines of Alsace, some of France’s best
  • Visits recalling a troubled past: World Wars I and II

 

Our Tours in 2013

 

 

Village of Bellagio, Lake Como, Italy


Italian Lakes & Venice - April 28-May 10

Detailed itinerary

 

Tour priced at $3,895 per person sharing accommodation. Singles $550 extra. Discounts available. Tour begins at Milan Malpensa Airport, ends at Venice Airport.t.

  • Comfortable hotels and charming inns – all rooms with private bath
  • The splendor of the Italian lakes – Maggiore, Como, Garda
  • Transportation in van or mini-bus
  • Outstanding cuisine and wine
  • The splendid Palladian architecture of the Veneto province
  • The magnificent villas and gardens of the lake country
  • Beautiful villages with stairstep streets and murmuring fountains
  • Medieval Verona, known for its Roman past and for Romeo and Juliet
  • Venice, perhaps the world’s most beautiful and splendid city
  • Aperitivi, gelato, formaggio, salume
  • Lovely towns of Vicenza and Padova

 

Piran, Slovenia, on the shores of the Adriatic Sea

 

Friuli, Eastern Italy & Slovenia - May 12-24

Detailed itinerary

 

Tour priced at $3,895 per person sharing accommodation. Singles $550 extra. Discounts available. Tour begins and ends at Venice Airport.

  • Unusually fine food (pasta, ham) and wine, exceptional even for Italy
  • Exquisite Roman mosaics at Aquileia
  • Palmanova, a star-shaped, fortified  town
  • Graceful Udine, a charming town encircling a hill crowned with a castle
  • A slice of Slovenia – pretty Piran, on the Adriatic, with echoes of Venice
  • The sunny resort of Grado, with its fine-sand beach on the Adriatic
  • Villa Maser, built by Palladio, and Villa Pisani, mansion on the Brenta
  • Stud farm at Lipica, Slovenia, source of the original Lipizzaner stallions
  • Lively Trieste, the Adriatic’s chief port, with its air of Middle Europe
  • Charming Cividale del Friuli
  • Lake Garda and resorts Limone & Riva

PLEASE NOTE that although our gateway airport is Venice Marco Polo, this tour does not visit Venice. Travelers are encouraged to visit Venice on their own before or after the tour.

 

 

High Pyrénées, mighty mountains dividing France & Spain

 

High Pyrénées Mountains, France & Spain - Sept. 1-13

Detailed itinerary

 

Tour priced at $3,895 per person sharing accommodation. Singles $550 extra. Discounts available. Tour begins and ends at Toulouse Airport.

  • Comfortable hotels and charming inns – all rooms with private bath
  • Fortified village of St. Bertrand, with intact city walls
  • Lofty Andorra, both a mountain mini-state and a tax-free shopping paradise
  • Travel by van or mini-bus
  • Soaring mountain peaks, deep valleys, waterfalls
  • Cave of Niaux, containing prehistoric paintings of superior quality from 10,000 BC
  • Fortresses such as Montségur, shelter for 12th century religious martyrs the Cathars
  • Pilgrimage sites in Lourdes, where for 150 years the faithful have gathered
  • 12th century bastides, fortress towns with a curious, square layout
  • Cathedrals, castles, markets, cafés, fine dining, exceptional wines

 

 

Picture-perfect village of Collioure, on the Mediterranean

 

Languedoc-Roussillon, France - Sept. 15-27

Detailed itinerary

 

Tour priced at $3,895 per person sharing accommodation. Singles $550 extra. Discounts available. Tour begins and ends at Toulouse Airport.

  • Comfortable hotels and charming inns – all with private bath
  • Transportation in nine-passenger van
  • Outstanding cuisine
  • Medieval Carcassonne, a walled miracle from the Middle Ages
  • The beautiful fishing port of Collioure
  • Red-brick Albi with its Toulouse-Lautrec Museum
  • Some of France’s most beautiful villages – Cordes, Bruniquel, Mirepoix
  • The wines of southern France: Collioure, Banyuls, Corbières
  • A picnic featuring local produce
  • Fabulous outdoor markets
  • Romanesque churches
  • France with a flavor of Spain – the border country of Catalonia
 


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 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.

 

 

Make an Intimate France tour your best trip ever.