Intimate France Tours e-News

Issue 12, September 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

 

 

What's Up in Europe

– Fall 2014 Update, and Advice About Money

Six-plus weeks in Europe in May-June 2014 convinced me that the tourist industry there, as well as the economy in general, has a lot of catching up to do.

 

Since the heady days of the 1990s and into the early 2000s, Europe has come down a peg or two – or more.

 

Even the recovery after the worldwide recession of 2008-2009 is flagging in Europe, as elsewhere, and people aren't really convinced that happy days are here again, or even just around the corner.

 

Adding to this uncertainty is the existence of unrest, border clashes and out-and-out war in many corners of the world. There is nothing like a solid dose of political uncertainty to make people tighten the purse strings and refuse to spend. It's just human nature.

 

The fragile nature of Europe's economy was brought home to me at a table in a lovely restaurant in Strasbourg, France.

 

After a week in Alsace (the area of which Strasbourg is capital), I was looking for a good French – as opposed to Alsatian – meal. My hotel recommended Restaurant Giraudin-La Casserole, which despite its rather homey name is quite elegant. (It's a place I can highly recommend.)

 

 

Restaurant Giraudin-La Casserole, Strasbourg

 

I walked in around 7:45 p.m. and was seated promptly. No surprise – I was the only guest.

 

For the next two hours I greatly enjoyed a meal that proceeded from a vegetable flan starter to a magnificent preparation involving crispy veggies and succulent crayfish tails.

 

Crayfish tails, La Casserole, Strasbourg

 

Dessert was equally delicious, as was the post-dessert (one sweet is never enough at the finest of French restaurants).

 

As 8:30 p.m. stretched to 9 o'clock and later, I kept waiting for fellow diners to show up.

 

They never did.

 

When I walked out at 9:30, I had been the only customer.

 

The chef-owner emerged from the kitchen at one point and we exchanged pleasantries. I told him (genuinely) that I truly enjoyed my meal, and asked how long the restaurant had been open.

 

"Eight years," he answered, then volunteered, with a worried look, "It's been so slow for months now. The economy here is awful. No one can afford to eat out."

 

It was a sobering point. Strasbourg is an economically lively part of France, a major Rhine River port, outlet for Alsace's lovely white wines, and the seat of the European Union's Parliament.

 

If M. Giraudin can't fill his small restaurant, or at least do better than one sole diner on a weekday evening, what does that say for the European economy?

 

Ins and Outs of Money

 

 

 

Long live the euro.

 

A random talk with a neighbor at the mailbox the other day brought home the fact that travel-related knowledge, second nature to frequent travelers, can be mighty mysterious to those who don't venture abroad very often.

 

My neighbor asked about money for a trip to Europe – "Should I go to my bank and order some euros?"

 

I said that in my opinion, she should wait until arrival in Europe, then draw euros out of an airport ATM. "It's a much better exchange rate," I told her.

 

Other Advice About Money in Europe

 

In order of preference, here are my suggestions on handling money abroad.

1. Charge it. Virtually every restaurant, café and shop in Western Europe accepts Visa and MasterCard. American Express is not as widely accepted. For the best exchange rate, always charge when you can. No PIN (personal identification number) is necessary when using a credit card.

 

By the way, it wasn't long ago that only a few U.S.-based credit cards allowed you to charge in a foreign currently without tacking on a foreign transaction fee. Capital One was just about the only one.

 

Today, many more companies have cards that are free of foreign-transaction fees. Look around to find the best combo of price and features.


2. Get cash from your U.S. bank account with an ATM card once you arrive in Europe. There are cash machines throughout Europe. The service charge is minimal and the exchange rate is great.

You need a four-digit PIN (personal identification number) to use this service. A three- or five-digit PIN will not work; nor will a PIN that you remember only by its letters.

 

If you don’t have a PIN or can’t remember yours, check with your bank well in advance. You’ll be sent a form confirming your PIN or asking if you want to register a new one.

Europe is now officially full of ATM machines. Even tiny villages have them.


Caution – Use discretion at an ATM. If suspicious-looking characters are lounging around, don't complete your transaction. Walk away. This is especially important at night, and in places associated with petty street crime (Provence in France, Paris, parts of Rome and other big cities, Barcelona).

 

Please note: Though U.S. ATMs may allow you to choose among several linked bank accounts, foreign ATMs will access only your “primary” bank account. Make sure your trip funds are in that account. If you need to know which is your primary account, ask your bank.

3. Use your ATM card for “point of sale” purchases. Just as you can buy groceries at a U.S. supermarket with your ATM card, you can make purchases in European stores. You’ll need a four-digit PIN (see above) and a card linked to the Visa or MasterCard system.

 

I no longer advise traveler's checks, even free ones (too much hassle to cash), and cash advances on your credit cards are likewise a no-no, because of high fees and interest that accrues as soon as you make your withdrawal.
 

Note – It is always best to notify both the bank that  issued your ATM card and the issuer of all credit cards that you will be traveling.

 

Sometimes this must be done with a phone call; other times it's possible to do this notification online. Failure to do so may result in your card(s) being frozen during your trip.

 

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

 

'Hundred-Foot Journey' – Film About Food, Love, Culture Nails It

 

 

By the time you read this, the film 'Hundred-Foot Journey' may have already departed your local theater, on its way to DVD status.

 

If so, make a note to rent it when it becomes available. If not, I can recommend the big-screen version for its beautiful locations, yummy food shots and excellent acting.

 

The film faithfully presents the narrative from the Richard C. Morais novel – a family of restaurateurs from India relocates to rural France and gives a local, Michelin-starred restaurant a run for its money.

 

Last fall my Languedoc (southern France) group and I came across the film crew setting up for a shoot in the adorable village of St. Antonin-Noble-Val (St. Anthony of the Noble Valley). 

 

Neither the big-name star, Helen Mirren, nor any of her co-stars was in evidence, but the medieval village was abuzz with excitement as crew members moved in truckloads of equipment and skilfully converted shops in the main square to ... well, other shops central to the story.

 

The real star, as far as I was concerned, was the village itself, with its centuries-old covered market anchoring the ancient center.

 

 

Covered market and central square, St. Antonin

 

Hundred-Foot Journey describes how a young member of the Indian family, naturally skilled in the culinary arts, longs to break free of his native cuisine and fly with the super-chefs. The film's name comes from the "journey" the young man makes from his family restaurant's door to the entree of Madame Mallory's temple of gastronomy.

 

With a nod to Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert, I confidently say, "Two thumbs up!"

 

And if you're ever in the valley of the Aveyron River north of Toulouse, do stop in to drink in the beauty of St. Antonin – truly "worth a journey."

 

TRAVEL INSURANCE PROTECTION
FOR THE RISK-AVERSE

Online insurance enrollment form

 

By George Nevin

Founder-owner, Intimate France

 

My friend Cliff was on his way to the neighborhood gym when he spotted me walking the dog. I knew he and his wife were leaving in a week for a month-plus in Italy.

 

"What about travel insurance?" he asked.

 

It was an unexpectedly complicated question, and I'm afraid I sputtered a little as he stood there, in swimsuit and sandals, a towel around his shoulders.

 

After reflection, I told him I would dig up an answer and send it to him, which I did a couple of hours later.

 

If I had been in a more coherent mood, I would have asked: "How risk-averse are you? How's your health? Your wife's health? How much money is riding on this trip – especially air tickets, hotel deposits and other payments that would be non-refundable in the event you had to cancel?"

 

All of these factors figure into your decision – to insure or not to insure. As is, I might add, your general attitude toward insurance (a regrettable necessity, or something promoted by an industry that sometimes seems to exist to tell us we are not covered?).

 

Once I had thought through the issues, I emailed Cliff with the short answer – I approve of travel insurance. I then gave him some resources – companies that offer unusual (and unusually affordable) products, and a website that lets you compare policies to select the one that provides your desired coverage at a lower cost.

 

If you'd like a version of the email I sent Cliff, email me here: info@intimatefrance.com

 

One key element of making the travel insurance decision is deciding if you want/need your tour payments covered, or if you are more interested in health insurance that will pay for medical treatment abroad or transportation back to the United States in the event of a serious illness or injury.

 

If the former (cover your payments), many companies will do that. My favorite, for its service, reliable coverage and pricing, is CSA Travel Insurance.

 

If, however, you're more concerned about medical coverage, the travel magazine International Travel News (ITN) has published excellent advice over the years. See their advice here.

 

The crux of ITN's approach is to seek one important attribute when selecting a policy, and to make one important decision.

 

The attribute – Choose a policy that offers medical coverage on a primary basis. That is, the policy should pay your medical bills while you are traveling, rather than having you pay them and seek reimbursement.

 

The decision – In order to keep prices low, put zero as the dollar amount of coverage you are seeking. In this way, your medical bills are covered, but again, your non-refundable payments are not. (Also you won't be eligible for trip cancellation or interruption payments, nor for luggage loss, damage or delay.)

 

Listing a zero amount for payment coverage brings the insurance cost way, way down – possibly from several thousand dollars to a few hundred on a long or expensive trip.

 

In this way you are shouldering the financial risk for money already spent, but asking the insurance to cover the medical cost risk. We all know that it is these potential medical costs that could mount into the stratosphere, even with a mild illness or minor injury.

 

Earlier this summer, two of my clients on our Germany tour bowed out for personal reasons. They had bought insurance – the full-featured kind – and stand to be reimbursed for all losses involved in canceling.

 

A few weeks later, two more travelers canceled from our Italian Lakes & Venice tour. They were not insured – one told me that insurance was on her to-do list, but she had not gotten around to it. She stands to lose all non-refundable costs associated with her trip – a substantial amount.

My advice – consider some of the points above, ask yourself how risk-averse you are, and then make your best decision about whether you need the gold-standard plan (both financial and medical coverage) or if protecting yourself from catastrophic medical bills is enough.

 

 

 

THIS JUST IN – INTIMATE FRANCE
FEATURED IN ITN MAGAZINE, AGAIN

 

We understand that our friends and inveterate travelers Jack and Yvonne Prevo of McKinney, Texas, near Dallas, have done it again.

 

Their article describing their adventures on the fall 2013 Intimate France tour of Languedoc is slated to appear in my favorite travel magazine, International Travel News, in October.

 

The Prevos previously wrote about Intimate France in ITN's issue of March 2011 (our Normandy-Loire tour). See the article here.

 

Check out ITN's website, www.intltravelnews.com, and see what you think of the magazine. You can ask them to send you a sample issue (go to the bottom of the ITN Web page and click on "Sample Copy," or call them at (800) 486-4968), which they hope will encourage you to subscribe. The cost – a bargain $24 per year.

 

If you contact ITN right away to request your sample copy, you will receive the October issue, and you can read about Yvonne's and Jack's adventures as we toured pretty Languedoc, which reminds many of Provence without the crowds – a throwback to the 1950s.

 

But if you don't obtain October's issue, email us at info@intimatefrance.com and I will send you an electronic copy.

 

So why is ITN our favorite travel magazine? For one thing, it is not slick – in fact, the dead opposite. It's printed in black and white on newsprint, and it's totally content-driven. Contrast this with all the technicolor travel resources on the Web, and the glossy travel mags on the newsstands. ITN is written by its subscribers – frequent travelers to international destinations (no U.S. visits, please) and it is chock-full of material you won't find anywhere else.

 

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.