December 2017

 
About Intimate France — We travel every spring and fall to Europe's most beautiful destinations. Our small groups (usually eight travelers, never more than 16) guarantee you the utmost in personal service and attention to detail. Learn more about us or contact Intimate France.
 

Romance on the Road with Intimate France
Read about the doomed love
of Frances and François

 

 

TWO SPRING TOURS IN 2018
HAVE LIMITED AVAILABILITY
 CONTACT US FOR DETAILS

 

 

 

French Riviera for Art Lovers

April 29-May 11, 2018

 

 

Italian Lakes & Alps, May 13-25, 2018

 

THESE FALL 2018 TOURS ARE FULL

 

 

French & Spanish Basque,
September 2-14, 2018 FULL

 

 

 

Dordogne, France,

September 16-28, 2018 FULL

 

 

 

USE CREDIT CARDS
FOR INTIMATE FRANCE TOURS

 

New for 2018: use Visa-Mastercard-Discover to make tour deposits and final payments. Go to this page for complete signup options. If you would rather just ask us about using a card, please call us at (800 676-1247) or email intimatefrance@gmail.com.

 

NOW LISTED ON TRIPADVISOR

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Our listing is still quite new, but we already have several positive and upbeat reviews. 

 

Read what they're saying about us, and add your own review. Many thanks.

 

 

The doomed love of
Frances and François
— a true story


By George Nevin

Founder-owner, Intimate France

    On my very first group tour, Provence in 1994, on our very first morning, Frances was late for breakfast. 

    The rest of us were tucking into croissants, bread and jam, and coffee. Barbara kept looking up the stairwell, keeping an eye out for her roommate.
    "She got distracted by the worker in Speedos," Barbara said.

 

PagesJaunes France     

Hôtel des Quatre Dauphins (left), and on right, the building where François was laying down new roof tiles.

 

    It seemed that with the coming of dawn, a construction crew arrived at the building across the narrow street. They were roofers, putting down new red tiles.
    On the third floor of our hotel, the Quatre Dauphins, in their attic room tucked under the eves, Frances and Barbara threw open their shutters at 7 o'clock. There they spied the roofers — including one fine specimen of about 45, a strutting banty rooster in T-shirt and a Speedo bathing suit.
    He looked good, and he knew it. Within minutes, the shirt came off. Frances was agog. The roofer (later determined to be named François) worked on.
    Barbara said, "They're up there now hallooing." And now that she mentioned it, I could faintly hear soprano warbling echoing in the urban canyon.
    Frances certainly spoke no French, and the man apparently had barely two words of English, Barbara told us. Middle-aged Mary, her mouth permanently fixed in a disapproving sneer, followed the story raptly; the others in our group were mildly interested. We had priorities, after all — these were really good croissants.

 

Wikipedia Commons   

The Fountain of the Four Dolphins is just down the
street from the hotel and gave it its name.


    We'd almost finished breakfast when Frances drifted down to join us. She had coffee but proclaimed herself uninterested in food. Sustained by love, I supposed, or its cousin, desire.
    "His name is François — can you imagine?" said Frances.
    Yes, I could. Because of that French quirk of turning a masculine name into a feminine one by varying only the ending, I had known couples named Laurent and Laurence, Christian and Christiane, and Daniel and Danielle.

    One unfortunate pair was named Paul and Paule, names that are pronounced identically. Think of the confusion!

   It was our first day in Aix, and we jumped right in. I'd scheduled a stroll through the 17th century Quartier Mazarin, looking more than a little like New Orleans with its wrought-iron balconies, followed by a dip into Old Aix, the medieval town center.

 

Wikipedia Commons   

The Quartier Mazarin. Aix-en-Provence.

 

    At noon we took a lunch break. Then we visited the cathedral, St. Sauveur, a pastiche of styles from the 5th century to the gothic era of the 1700s.

 

Wikipedia Commons   

Cathédrale St. Sauveur, Aix-en-Provence.

 

    Around 4 o'clock, we returned to the hotel. Frances and the others drifted off; I headed for my room for a much-needed break.
    An hour later, feeling refreshed, I was emerging from the Quatre Dauphins when Mary planted herself in front of me. Her body language told me something was up.

    "George," she said, "François wants Frances to go with him to his home, and we don't think she should."

    I tried to be gentle. "Mary, Frances is 45 years old. I think she can take care of herself."

    Mary didn't like that but couldn't disagree. She no sooner walked away, muttering quietly, when Frances materialized, looking agitated.
    "George, François is trying to say something to me and I don't know what it is."

    All right, I told her — I'd translate.

 

Meeting François, at last
    François was standing on the street with some of his buddies, smoking and talking. His car, a red convertible, was parked nearby. Up close, he was indeed a strapping specimen of French manhood — strong and wiry. He must have stood about 5 foot 6, only slightly shorter than Frances.
    I introduced myself and we shook hands. "Frances says you are trying to tell her something," I said to him.
    He nodded. "Abeilles," he said, pronouncing it as the French do: "ah-bay."
    "Abeilles." I repeated the French word for bees. "What about them?"
    "I have bees at my house. I want to show them to her."
    Ah, bees, the new etchings.
    I quickly told Frances what he wanted. François, it seemed, not only had a beehive at his home in the near countryside but also a Provençal garden — grapes, figs, lavender. He was eager to share them with his new American friend.
    "Sure," Frances said. "I'd love to see them."
    That was fine, I told her, but we had to leave the hotel at 7:15 to walk to our dinner reservation.
    "No problem," she said breezily. "I'll be back."
    With a cheery wave, she hopped in the sports car. As they took off around the corner, I shook my head. How could they possibly communicate?
    As it turned out, that too would be "no problem."
    Our group gathered in the lobby of the Quatre Dauphins at 7:15 that evening when the sputter of François' sports car drifted in the window, followed a moment later by Frances. She clutched a parcel to her bosom.
    "Look what he gave me," she said dreamily.
    Unwrapped from its towel shroud, the parcel proved to be a cement statue of an angel.

 

What Frances and François got up to
    The story emerged. They arrived at François' home, which he called a "caravan." Frances thought that sounded like a trailer. It was.
    He'd turned his rented homestead into a micro-Provence. He'd planted one grape vine, one olive tree and a lavender bush. He proudly showed off his domain to the admiring Frances.
    Through mime and a few words gleaned from a French-English dictionary, François communicated that he was not a mere roofer, but a stonemason and sculptor.
    Frances said, "He reached under his kitchen table and pulled out this angel. He gave it to me. Isn't it beautiful?"
    That's not the word I would have used. It was rather simplistic and its surface was flaking away in cement dust.
    She told us that Francis did know a few words of English. "Eye luuuve yew," he told her in that charming way the French have with English. I imagine there was some kissing, though Frances was too much the lady to say so.
    Then, she told our group as we listened raptly, he pantomimed taking an imaginary ring and placing it on Frances' finger. "Eye luuuve yew, we mawwied now," he told her.
    Frances shook her head. "I made it clear that it was too early for that."
    Soon it was time for them to come back to Aix.
    Thrilled to have had this insight into French mating rituals, we set off for our restaurant. Across Cours Mirabeau and into Old Aix we walked, along rue Espariat and into Place Ramus. Frances lagged behind, lost in thought, still hugging her angel.
    When we got to Chez Maxime, she had vanished. "Should I go look for her?" I asked Barbara. She advised against it: "She just needs some time alone."
    Eventually, Frances showed up and explained that she hadn't needed time to herself. She'd gotten lost.

 

Moving on, and the aftermath

    It was time to move on. The next morning we packed up and took off for our next town, Vaison-la-Romaine.
    We were on the road before it developed that Frances was upset. "I thought we had one more day in Aix," she informed me. "I didn't get François' telephone number or even his last name."
    Someone else piped up: "It's not too late. We could drop you off at the next town and you could take a bus back to Aix."

    Eventually, it got to be a standing joke: When we arrived in a new town, someone would say, "You know, Frances, from here it's only an hour to Aix by bus."

 

* * * * * * * * * * * *


    After such a promising start, the story of Frances and François ended conventionally. On our return to California, I faxed the Hôtel des Quatre Dauphins and asked if they could get François' telephone number. They did, and I passed it on to Frances.
    She told me that there followed several unsatisfactory months of communication. First she called the number and a woman answered, so Frances hung up. It turned out that François had no telephone in the caravan; the number belonged to his landlady.
    After they got past this hurdle, they settled into a routine: Frances would write a letter, painstakingly looking up each word in a French-English dictionary. Then, François would telephone and sputter his few English words. I imagine she heard a lot of "Eye luuuve yew." He talked about coming to the States. Frances talked about returning to Nice and meeting him there. Neither trip materialized.
    Eventually, the relationship faded and died, a victim of 6,000 miles of separation.

Trip report & photo essay, fall 2017

JUST BACK FROM ...
BASQUE COUNTRY

 

Village of Getaria in the Spanish Basque country.

 

By George Nevin

Founder-owner, Intimate France

 

Our Intimate France tour of the French & Spanish Basque Country in September 2017 was a big success. That's not just me talking — it's the unanimous conclusion of our eight group members.

 

I enjoyed traveling from one country to another, comparing the Basque culture in each, so much that I have decided to repeat the tour in both 2018 and 2019. The 2018 tour is now full, and details of the 2019 tour aren't online yet, but look for French & Spanish Basque 2019 to take place in May of that year.

 

(If you remain subscribed to this e-newsletter, you'll find my 2019 schedule posted here first — probably around March 2018.)

 

What makes the Basque region so uniquely rewarding to visit? Take a look at some of the sights we encountered there and judge for yourself.

 

The scene just outside our hotel, the Niza, in the beautiful beach resort of San Sebastián, Spain.

 

Seaside promenade, San Sebastián.

 

Cider is a traditional drink in the Basque country. It's customary to dine at cider restaurants (sidrerias) and to draw the beverage directly from the cask into small glasses held at a distance to allow the cider to foam properly.

 

San Sebastián and its bay, viewed from Mt. Igueldo.

 

San Sebastián is renowned for its tapas (here called "pintxos," pronounced peen-choss) bars. Shown here is award-winning Portaletas, its bar groaning with seafood, meat and vegetarian pintxos.

 

This "transporter bridge," a car suspended on cables below a lofty steel crossbeam, spans the Nervión River near BilbaoThe bridge, which carries both foot passengers and vehicles, is inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage list.

 

The Puppy, a 40-foot floral sculpture, graces the entrance to Bilbao's most famous sight, the Guggenheim Bilbao Museum.

 

Inside the Guggenheim — American Richard Serra's rusted steel sculpture. It's generally agreed that the Guggenheim building is more interesting than its collection.

 

One of our favorite hotels — Torre Zumeltzegi, in the small Spanish town of Oñati — is a converted 13th century fortress. 

 

Each room in Torre Zumeltzegi is unique — and all are beautiful, with modern comforts.

 

Crossing from Spain to France, we come to Espelette, with its typical French Basque architecture.

 

The culinary specialty of Espelette is its mild red peppers, here drying on strings in the warm September sun.

 

Piment d'Espelette peppers on the vine.

 

 

Our group enjoys a harbor cruise in pretty St. Jean de Luz, France.

 

Local color in the harbor of St. Jean de Luz.

 

As always, the food was outstanding. This is a shrimp main course at Portaletas, San Sebastián.

 

And for the proper sweet ending, always opt for the "café gourmand" in France. You'll get a coffee or tea, plus three to six mini-desserts. Delicious!