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Offbeat tour of France

France is truly a sublime and irresistible place to visit.

Tours of France

People sometimes ask me, "What's your favorite country?"  That's impossible to answer.  How do you compare apples with oranges - and plums and grapes and peaches and....well, you get the idea.  No one, however, has ever asked me, "If I had the chance to visit just one foreign country in my lifetime, what would you recommend?"  Should someone pose that question to me, I would say France.

    

Why, you ask.  Because like millions of others who have gone before me, I find so many things about this country sublime and irresistible.  To go into detail would be gilding the lily, so let's just leave it at that.


Having traveled widely around France on four visits, though not to every nook and cranny, and able to speak French, though not fluently, it's a country I feel comfortable in.  France has so many diverse regions, which are all charming and fascinating in their own way, that the only way to do it properly on a short trip is to base yourself in one place.  In this manner you can easily schedule a visit to a small town on market day, such an ancient and colorful French tradition, and a great way to interact with the people and speak the language; yet this is something few foreigners and none of the other student tours do.  Now of course everyone wants to see Paris, and everyone should see Paris, despite the massive throngs that descend on this magnificent city.  What I would do would be to spend two days in Paris, then take a train to Beaune in Burgundy or Avignon in Provence, for example, and slow it down.  There are many pleasant walking and cycling opportunities in the surrounding countryside.  I once did an outstanding small group hiking trip in Provence, far from the crowds, which took us across rolling hills from one picturesque village to the next.  That's the way to soak up the real France.

    

If I had to pick one area and one activity that really stands out, it would be Perigord, gliding for hours in a canoe down the gentle Dordogne River, past storybook medieval villages and sunbaked castles perched on towering cliffs.  This area is within easy reach of Sarlat, an ideal base, and itself one of France's loveliest old towns with a fantastic Saturday market.

    

On this same visit, my most recent one in 2011, I went to a medieval fair in a small town called Cadouin.  There are hundreds of such festivals throughout the year in towns and villages across the country, which is one way the French preserve their proud history.  All day long the townspeople, dressed like their forebears of the 13th and 14th centuries, and playing musical instruments of that era, marched through the streets, while others, young and old, were engaged in work and play as one would have seen it eight hundred years ago.  It was magic, and best of all, I don't think ten foreign tourists were there.  If seeing one of these events is high on your wish list, it should be no problem scheduling a tour accordingly.

   

It's no secret that France is one of the most popular destinations for American high school groups.  There are many excellent reasons for that.  Nothing would give me more pleasure than creating the proverbial "trip of a lifetime" to this wonderful land.