And there is so much more to do in country France than in Paris! This is Lesley and Neville’s story: two Francophiles from Australia who adore travelling in France. Actually, Neville is from New Zealand but that's another story! Let their story be your story too.
Someone once said that France wasn't a just a single country; it was more like a whole lot of countries rolled into one. So Neville and I started looking into it seriously. We read books, consulted brochures, talked to friends and decided that there were just hundreds of tempting destinations in France that we just HAD to add to our bucket list.
We couldn’t stop thinking about all these wonderful places that offered us delights going beyond anything else in our many travel experiences.
Our 'bucket list' was overflowing!
That was just the problem: there are almost too many! Which to see? Which to leave out?
And having made your choice, how to organise the logistics of getting to them all without falling into an exhausted heap?
It all seemed too hard! But then...
Since we were planning to go together, why not ask my travelling companion, and newly retired husband, what he suggests?
So Neville and I started doing our research for our Grand Tour of France. We both realised that we were beyond the idea of the standard “linear” journey starting at one point and moving on every 1 or 2 nights.
It was Neville who came up with a cunning plan while cleaning out some of his old work files. He happened upon a diagram of a networking concept called Star Topology used by his former company to design workplace computer networking systems.
Before you zone out with nerd alert narcolepsy let me explain it simply. The network is set up with a series of hubs – with the server or “brainpower” of the computer at the hub and it sends information to individual workstations radiating out like the spokes of a wheel.
“The hubs for our trip”, explained Neville excitedly to me, “would be logistically convenient bases we use to explore a particular region. We find an optimal hub and stay there for a week or more while we explore that region. Then we move onto the next hub. It’s a win-win Les!”
It was lovely to see Neville so animated so I’m sure I would have agreed to it had it been called Gobbledegook, but the concept did make perfect sense.
“That’s funny. So have I." I said.
So that’s what you were doing on your iPad at the other end of the sofa all those evenings.
I thought you were watching You Tube videos like that one about the magpie and the dog wrestling each other around the Hill’s Hoist! So there I was doing the same thing at my end of the sofa. Great minds thinking alike but not together...
I’m busting to know how your list compares with mine. Show me!”
“Not so fast honey-bunch. Where’s your map?”
“Now Neville, you know I’m no good at geography; actually I’m not even 100% sure of where France is if you want to know the truth.
But I did get a really good list together by reading all about each place that caught my eye and then I used my secret weapon. I call it my weapon of mass instruction”
“What is this famous weapon then?”, he replied drily looking at me askance.
“Oh for Heaven’s sake Les, that went out with the Ark”
“So you say, but show me your list and we’ll see.”
Anyway, to make a long story short, I laid out my list and Nev his humongous map with annotations all over it and you won’t believe what we saw next: we had chosen practically the same list of “must -sees/must-dos”!
It was creepy.
“I have to admit Lesley,” said Nev with a new look of surprised respect at my intuition-based ratings, “there’s something in your secret weapon I can’t deny. You’ve chosen really well. How long did it take you?”
“Oh about two days on and off.”
“You should patent that weapon Les. It’s taken me three weeks of painstaking research!”
I didn’t tell him I had some help from these two Australian boys, Bryan and David, that put me on the right track. But I wasn’t cheating really because my trusty intuition told me that their advice was the real thing. I just tweaked it a little, that’s all. A woman’s best friend is her iPad! Have iPad will travel!!
“I tell you what Lesley”, Neville cut across my reverie, “since these lists are practically identical we can just merge them with my map and Bob’s Your Uncle!”, he chortled.
“And Fanny’s your Aunt”, I said coming down to earth, “but what about the hubs?
Which of these places could count as a hub?”, I said looking at the long list and dots all over the map.
“Mmmm. Good point. Well I guess that the first thing about a hub is that it must be located so we can actually get to our destinations easily each day - and back of course - then we wouldn’t want the hub itself to be dull in case we weren’t going out that day. Then, even if we know what place should be a hub, we want a suitable home base - let’s call it a ‘hubbyhouse!”
“Very funny Neville. But you’re right and what’s more, I have already solved that too!”
“You little treasure. Spit it out then,”
I then had to confess about my secret discovery of the two “French Cottages” boys.
Their choice of hubs was so good that they had bought and set up their own fully equipped houses in each one just for people like us. Without going into the nitty-gritty details right now, suffice to say Neville was convinced and so we put together our plan of attack, booking those of the recommended “hubby houses” that my trusty intuition told me would be right alongside practical things like how big the houses were, did they have proper kitchens, parking etc. I won’t go into those mundane matters, but since they are important you can read the details further down if you like. But I must say now, after the event, that every one of them surpassed our expectations and nothing we needed was missing.
We stayed in the four regions shown in four different cottages, two weeks in each one to give us time to really settle in and enjoy our little excursions. The accommodation was outstanding. Bryan and David give so much attention to detail it made life and changeover day really simple. All cottages were definitely in living villages and very, very well equipped. We could walk to everything as they were right ‘inside the walls’ so to speak. We only used the car for day trips. We are planning a return trip sometime soon because we didn’t really see half of what was on offer: our ‘bucket list’ only got half emptied!
I can really recommend the itinerary we put together, but of course you may have your own ideas and variations.
At each HUB (red dot) you have dozens of places to visit in easy reach. But of course I underestimated the time it would take, but never mind, we’ll go again to catch the rest.
was my question the first time we went.
I asked Nev to check this out (he’s the practical one) and this is what he discovered. It all turned out to be true too!
Accommodation in your own apartment, cottage or villa (not sharing with any strangers!) Of course we had to arrange our own Airfares, Hire Cars and Local Tours etc but our Travel Agent helped us there and the booklet we were given was really useful.
All accommodations are of an exceptionally high quality, clean, comfortable and fully equipped like a real home with nothing lacking. They even have Australian/NZ power points with USB chargers!
They are all in the historic centres of World Class villages (the HUBS). You can wander out and find cafes, bars, restaurants, mini supermarkets, shops, boutiques, etc within a few steps. All the basics are supplied:
condiments, dishwashing powder, clothes washing liquid, toilet paper.... Local support is there in case of any problems. Free use of phone and internet in each property. Cental heating, air conditioning and much else.
Some of the time we were to have a hire car and I wondered about parking. Nev said this was provided either just outside the property or else in a nearby lock-up private garage. The village where we didn't have a car had plenty of bus/train connections.
A beautifully printed individual directions booklet for locating and settling into each property as well as a local tour guidebook detailing all those nearby sites we wanted to see with suggestions about day tours was provided in our final package. And lots of other things which really made it a special time for us!