French tourism and pilgrim walks
It was a strange feeling to be at a press luncheon in San Francisco—an event hosted by tourist offices of the region of Aquitaine and the city of Bordeaux, France. I felt like a fish out of water. Ralph and I have been to France many times, but don’t fly premier class or 5-star hotels. We generally stay in small hotels, gites (B & B’s), gîtes d’étapes (hostels), pensions, and spare bedrooms in private homes.
We carry backpacks rather than matched pieces of luggage, and we buy only a few souvenirs rather than go on extensive shopping sprees. The biggest difference between our vacations in France and that of most tourists, however, is that we spend the majority of our time hiking—usually a couple of hundred miles—along one of the French Grande Randonnée (GR) routes.
Eyes glazing over
As I talked to the hosts at the San Francisco event, I watched as their eyes glazed over as I tried to explain my mode of travel. I’m not a good enough salesperson to sell most people on the notion of long-distance hiking, but I am pretty good at describing where they might enjoy hiking if they are already of the mindset to go. In this case, the vendors of tours for oenophiles (wine connoisseurs) and of accommodations on the beaches of Biarritz were probably more interested in talking to well-heeled tourists than to one who often wears trail runners or boots.
Not that anyone was rude (they weren’t) and don’t think for a moment that I think that the French are the only people who look at long-distance hikers askance. I often feel like “a stranger in a strange land” here. When I am around “regular” people here at home, I often sense that they don’t “get it.” Why would anyone deliberately walk rather than ride? Couch surf rather than stay in a hotel? and so forth. Even my mother always thought that what I do is a strange obsession (but is probably happy that it keeps me out of trouble.) Luckily, we have many friends and acquaintances that hike and can lend support for our mutual addiction.
Love French cuisine
At this particular lunch, we enjoyed good wines, a fine and creamy mushroom soup, a delightful filet mignon, and Crème caramel for dessert. Even though I wasn’t representative of who French tourism most likely wants to reach, I was happy to spend my early afternoon studying the maps of Aquitaine looking up the towns that we have visited on a couple of our French hikes. I was also delighted to be treated to wine and food that reminded me of the dozens of delectable meals that I have had while on the French pilgrimage trails.
Vive la France!
As always, French tourism, thank you for your hospitality here and abroad!
Note: Our Camino routes completed in France: LePuy route starting back in Geneva, SW (GR65), Arles, and soon—the last 130 miles of the Vezelay.