Intimate France Tours e-News

Issue 14, April 2015

 

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.

 

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)

 

LOOKING AHEAD

TO TOURS IN 2016

 

Burgundy-French Alps, May 1-13, 2016

Tour priced at $3,995 per person sharing accommodation. Single supplement to be determined, but estimated at  $550.* Tour begins at Lyon Airport and ends at Charles de Gaulle Airport, Paris.

(more tour information)

 

Provence, the Chic and the Wild, May 15-27, 2016

Tour priced at $3,995 per person sharing accommodation. Single supplement to be determined, but estimated at  $550.Tour begins and ends at Marseille Airport.

(more tour information)

 

* Intimate France sets single supplements to cover the cost of more expensive single accommodation. Estimates are provided, but final 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

 

 

Flying Domestic – A Tale of Two Airline Experiences

Call me elitist – go ahead, you know you want to – but I feel a bit smug at traveling mostly internationally. On the road for six or more weeks every spring and fall, I don’t get away from home much otherwise. At least, I didn't until the past three months.

 

After making trips to Texas (twice) and Las Vegas (from the San Francisco Bay Area) on three different airlines in late 2014 and early 2015, I had a chance to compare the domestic travel experience to that of the international.

 

I concluded that domestic travel still lags behind its international variant in most respects that are important to me, but my flights to U.S. destinations this winter-spring were surprisingly (to me) easy and hassle-free.

 

FOR YOU road warriors out there, always on the move, here are my observations and experiences.

 

First some ways in which domestic travel is clearly deficient vs. international:

 

• Pesky baggage fees. It cost my partner and me an extra $100 to check bags from San Francisco to San Antonio and return in December. That’s par for the course for U.S. airlines. Internationally, one free bag per person is generally allowed.

 

• Ditto food and (on some airlines) wine. Domestically, be prepared to pay for just about anything you eat and many things you want to drink.

 

International carriers, on the other hand, still provide hot meals at no extra cost, and some (Lufthansa being a favorite) supply those tiny bottles of wine and even, at meal’s end, a digestif. Bailey’s Irish Cream, anyone?

 

• Check-in chaos. I have to say our domestic airlines have made great strides in my experience in reducing confusion and long lines to check in.

 

BEING ABLE to check in online the night before, and drop bags after using a machine to prepare luggage tags, has tamed many an unruly scrum passing for a check-in line.

 

 

Airport check-in counter.

 

I still find domestic check-in less organized – OK, I will say it, less civilized – than international. Certainly at my airport of choice, SFO, the international departure terminal is a haven of calm, peace and volupté, with its soaring ceilings and hushed ambiance.

 

Domestic departure halls are catching up but have a way to go.

 

• Irritating fees for no reason. Since United Airlines watered down its frequent-flier program, making it virtually impossible for hoi polloi like me to qualify for even the lowest level of elite status – the one in which a couple of extra inches of legroom doesn’t cost extra – I’ve shopped around, looking for the best fares and most convenient routings.

 

IN THE PAST couple of years I’ve used Lufthansa (often), Air Canada, Swiss, KLM and, yes, United for transatlantic travel.

 

Within Europe, it’s been the budget carriers – easyJet, Ryanair and so on – plus the occasional Iberia, Alitalia (watch them – frequent strikes!) and Air France.

 

Mostly, these carriers have a pretty straightforward menu of options – first class, business or coach? Economy Plus or regular seating? That’s it.

 

Domestically it’s a wildly different story. Flying American Airlines to Dallas and back in March, online check-in was a wonderland of choices. “Do you want to sit closer to the front? That will cost you. How about getting on early – yes, pay more to sit on the plane longer!”

 

I didn’t see an offer of aisle seats for a higher price, but I am sure that is coming.

 

And how about the European carrier (Ryanair, who else) that flirted with the idea of charging to use the restrooms? This didn’t come to pass, but you just wait.

 

I introduced this item as “Irritating fees for no reason.” Well, of course there is a reason – to make more $$$ for the airlines!

 

And, to a lesser degree – because they can!

 

AND NOW, a few other experiences and observations from domestic air travel:

 

• For one flight, I was surprised and pleased to receive TSA Precheck status. It said so right on the boarding pass.

 

It was a first for me – shoes stayed on, laptop stayed in carry-on, coat remained on back, liquids sloshed merrily in suitcase. What a breeze – we almost argued with the agent: “Are you sure I don’t have to strip down?”

 

It made it that much harder to be denied Precheck status for my two other flights. It all had something to do with being a member of that particular airline’s frequent flier program (in my case, United).

 

It turns out we can apply for Precheck status. Go to http://www.tsa.gov/tsa-precheck-application-program to find out how. A fee is involved.

 

There are several paths to laptop-in-bag bliss, including three operated by Customs and Border Protection that have the added benefit of allowing you to use priority lines when returning to the U.S. from abroad.

 

 • On my last flight home from Dallas, on a plane with 2-3-2 seating, I was seated in an aisle seat in the center (three abreast) section as we were boarding. A young woman arrived, put her paper cup of tea on the tray of her seat and promptly knocked the cup over, saturating her seat cushion.

 

DART tram, Dallas

 

What to do? She found an attendant who shrugged, leaned over and yanked the cushion bodily from the frame. My row-mate and I looked into the void – it was mighty grungy under there. Clearly no one cleans under the cushions.

 

A few minutes later the captain came on the intercom: “Folks, we’re finished loading. Now we’re just waiting for a replacement seat cushion to be delivered so our last passenger can be seated. We’ll be on our way soon.” And so we were.

 

• Despite airport corridors that go on for miles (are you listening, DFW?) and are not-so-admirably signed (DFW, would it kill you to do a better job telling us how to find the DART trolley station to go downtown?), I was impressed with how good a job airline and airport personnel do in getting an estimated 1.7 million passengers to their destinations in the U.S. every day.

 

Now, if they’d just do something about those baggage fees!

 

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

 

LAST CHANCE FOR SPRING 2015

A few vacancies remain. Come join our small groups!

• Netherlands-Belgium, May 3-15

• Austria Alps, Abbeys & Vienna, May 17-29

 

 

MICHELIN-STARRED CHEF
SHOWS OFF HIS CHOPS

 

 

Menu artistry – a single lamb chop and a quintet of sorbets
at Michelin-starred restaurant l'Atelier de Jean-Luc Rabanel.

 

 

Michelin, the venerable publisher of hotel, restaurant and tourist guides, thinks highly of Jean-Luc Rabanel.

 

He's an innovative chef in Arles, a very nice town in Provence, and owner of a restaurant called ... wait for it, l'Atelier de Jean-Luc Rabanel, atelier meaning "workshop."

 

The restaurant (www.rabanel.com) has been around nine years, and soon after it was founded it earned a Michelin star, meaning very high quality dining indeed.

 

A few years ago Michelin bestowed a second star, putting Rabanel in the elite of French restaurants – one of only 80 so honored in 2015.

 

This level of culinary artistry doesn't come cheaply – Rabanel's standard menu (set meal) runs €125 for 12 courses. (Yes, 12 – many vegetable, all quite small.) If you want wine pairings, that's €60 more.

 

We're reminded of something a true Francophile said a few years ago – her husband told her, "I get the feeling that all the activities we do here in France are just killing time between meals." And she answered, "So, what's your point?"

 

Note – Dinner at l'Atelier de Jean-Luc Rabanel is not an included part of our Provence 2016 tour, but we'll gladly help you reserve there for a free evening in Arles.

 

ELEGY WRITTEN IN AN

ITALIAN PARKING LOT

 

 

The parking lot at Piazzale Boschetti, Padua, Italy

 

By George Nevin

Founder-owner, Intimate France

 

It's a parking lot. How complicated can it be, right?

 

The answer: if you are in Italy, particularly in technologically advanced Padua, quite complicated. In fact, overly so.

 

There we were – myself (a seasoned European traveler) and a fellow American, both trying to make sense of the  pay machine at the Piazzale Boschetti parking lot near Padua's fabulous Scrovegni Chapel.

 

Both of us were used to parking lots where you take a ticket at entry, then feed it into a machine when it's time to leave, and pay the demanded price.

 

We'd also encountered many lots where you park, put coins into a machine to equal the time you intend to stay, and put the ticket on your windshield.

 

I was moreover familiar with machines that want you to punch in your license plate number before giving you a ticket. In that way the parking authority avoids the dastardly practice of donating your ticket (with unexpired time on it) to another motorist as you leave. If the machine knows your plate number, you can't do that.

 

The machine at Boschetti, in tech-savvy Padua, was not like any of these.

 

Fortunately, there was a large sign in several languages to explain things. Unfortunately, on closer examination, what was listed were rules and regulations, not procedures. We learned the helpful fact that Article 14 of the Municipal Parking Code prohibited cooking in your vehicle, but nothing about how to pay for your parking.

 

To make matters more confusing, a couple of scruffy young men sidled up to us as we puzzled over the automated choices. They started telling us, in extremely broken English that nevertheless was better than our rudimentary Italian, that "You pay after." After returning to your car in order to leave, apparently.

 

I told my fellow American, "I think it's a scam – he wants us to pay him for parking, and clearly he's not an official employee." We tried to ignore him while attempting to decipher the instructions, but the scruffies persisted. One typed an Italian phrase into his telefonino, and showed us the translation –"You pay after." He did add that a camera captured your license plate number upon entry to the lot – a critical bit of information, as it turned out.

 

Still his explanation made no sense – as near as we could determine, we were supposed to drive to the automatic exit gate, then somehow pay for the time we'd been there. Made no sense at all.

 

After watching a couple of Italians use the machine, I gave it a try, pushing the button for English, then entering my plate number in the touchpad and inserting the requested amount – €1.70 for an hour of parking. One scruffy helpfully pushed the green button to print the ticket.

 

Hmmm, that was odd – the ticket had me entering a few seconds after 10 a.m., which was correct, but leaving at 10:35, the current time. I wasn't ready to leave, and besides, I was supposed to get an hour for my €1.70. Why only 35 minutes?

 

Walking back to my car, I noted that none of the other cars had parking receipts on their windshields, the conventional way of indicating you have paid. Taking another look at the ticket – enter 10:02:30, depart 10:35:59, I finally got it.

 

We did have to "pay after." A camera at the entry had captured our plate number and knew when we arrived. Having punched in my plate number at payment time, the machine assumed I would be leaving right away. Cameras on the exit gates would again capture the license plate number, verify that I had paid for my entire stay and lift the barrier.

 

To pull a ticket early, then delay departure, probably would not work – the exit camera would determine I'd overstayed my allotted time, and the gate would refuse to open. I would be stuck in Piazzale Boschetti until I could convince some faceless bureaucrat to liberate me.

 

The solution was evident – I started the car and pulled up to the exit gate. After a moment's heart-stopping hesitation, the barrier lifted. I drove out, then immediately came back. Now the camera knew I was newly arrived, and I could pay for my entire remaining stay at the end – just as the scruffy young man had tried to tell me.

 

I filled my fellow American in on my theory, and he also pulled out and came back in. 

 

Later, leaving the parking lot, I tipped the nearest scruffy a euro. Even though he hadn't told me everything about this new (to me), gee-whiz parking system, he had told me enough to figure things out. 

 

SPANISH UPDATE – CATALUNYA CALMS DOWN, GALICIA HEATS UP

 

The Catalan flag is found everywhere in the region. 

 

By George Nevin

Founder-owner, Intimate France

 

    Opinion polls in Spain's Catalunya region, where a nonbinding vote last November overwhelmingly favored independence, seem to indicate that separatist fever is dying down.

 

    One poll released in mid-March 2016 showed a narrow plurality in favor of Catalunya remaining a province of Spain – 48% vs. 44.1%.

 

    The November referendum was condemned by politicos outside Catalunya (the northeast portion of the country around Barcelona) but staged anyway, with almost 81% of those casting ballots expressing a desire for independence.

 

    One possible explanation of the discrepancy between the result of the November election and today's opinion polls – it's one thing to express a general desire for independence, but another to favor actually cutting ties. 

 

    As calm returns to Catalunya, another restive district of Spain, Galicia, is flexing its muscles.

 

    Last September, an estimated 20,000 people marched in the major Galician city of Santiago de Compostella, in support of the area's distinctive language, Galego.

 

    Galego is recognized in Galicia as co-equal with Castilian, which most of us know as "Spanish." (In fact, Castilian is only one of numerous dialects and even distinct languages, all descended from Latin, used on the Iberian Peninsula.)

 

    The marchers in Santiago were not asking for independence, but for an increased emphasis in education and in official life on their distinctive language, which closely resemble Portuguese. Galicia's southern border touches Portugal.

 

    The marchers fear that the Madrid-based Spanish government will move against Galego the same way it has acted against speakers of Catalan, in the east, where politicians who refused to use Castilian were fined.

 

    I'm reminded of an incident a number of years ago – a friend of mine, American born but of Latin American ancestry (and a high school Spanish teacher) tried to use his fluent Spanish in Barcelona, but without success. The people there insisted that Cesar speak English.

 

    However, when I visited Barcelona soon thereafter, my Spanish was responded to widely, leading me to conclude that Catalunyans were OK with Spanish from "foreigners," but not from native Spanish (Castilian) speakers, or anyone who sounded like one (such as my friend Cesar).

 

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

 

FALL 2015 IN CENTRAL & SOUTHERN EUROPE

 

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

Spain North of Madrid, September 20-October 2

 

LOOKING AHEAD TO 2016

 

SPRING 2016 IN SOUTHEN & CENTRAL FRANCE

 

• Burgundy & French Alps, vineyards, villages, soaring mountains, crystalline lakes, May 1-13, 2016

 

• Provence, the Chic and the Wild, May 15-27, 2016

 

HOW TO SIGN UP FOR A 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.

 

Fall 2015 Tour Lineup

 

 

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

How to sign up for this tour

 

Spring 2016 Tour Lineup

 


Nighttime at Annecy, on its namesake Alpine lake.

 

Burgundy & French Alps - May 1-13, 2016

 

Tour priced at $3,995 per person sharing accommodation. Single supplement to be determined but estimated at $550 (see note*, bottom). Discounts available. Tour begins and ends at Amsterdam Airport..

  • Comfortable hotels and charming inns – all rooms with private bath
  • Transportation in van or mini-bus
  • Outstanding cuisine and wine
  • Château visits – Veugeot, Chillon (Switzerland)
  • Fabulous outdoor market and picnic with local products
  • The wine villages of Burgundy
  • Walled city of Beaune and its Hospice
  • The wines of Burgundy, among France’s best
  • Visits to villages enshrined as among France's most beautiful – Pérouges, Yvoire, Châteauneuf, Vézelay.
  • Gorgeous Annecy, beside its Alpine lake.
  • A wine-centric lunch at La Table d'Olivier Leflaive, Chassagne-Montrachet. 

How to sign up for this tour

 

 

The perched village of Gordes rises above the Lubéron.

 

Provence, Chic and Wild, May 15-27, 2016

 

Tour priced at $3,995 per person sharing accommodation. Single supplement to be determined but estimated at $550 (see note*, bottom). Discounts available. Tour begins and ends at Marseille Airport.

  • Boat ride on the sparkling Mediterranean from the fishing port of Cassis
  • Stately Aix-en-Provence, one of France's loveliest towns
  • Perched villages among the most beautiful in Europe – Gordes, Roussillon, Bonnieux
  • Exciting, colorful outdoor markets
  • Some meals include wine at no extra cost
  • The ancient Cistercian Abbey of Senanque
  • The wines of Chateauneuf-du-Pape
  • The ocher-colored village of Roussillon
  • Lodging in a comfortable inn in the vineyards
  • Avignon, with possible visit to the Palace of the Popes
  • The stunning, ruined fortress of les Baux-de-Provence

How to sign up for this tour

 

* 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.

 
 

 

Make an Intimate France tour your best trip ever.