Lifestyle

Viva la France!

Bill Morton
On Travel

Daily non-stop flights between Sea-Tac and Paris now offered

Great news for Europe travelers and especially Francophiles: Starting June 11 — and for the first time ever — direct daily non-stop flights will be offered between Sea-Tac and Paris on a new carrier for Seattle, Air France.

There’s no better, faster way to get to the heart of Europe this summer. Plus, the world’s fastest train, the TGV, connects conveniently at Charles de Gaulle Airport, meaning favorite destinations like Avignon in Provence, Strasbourg on the German border in Alsace and Bordeaux are easier than ever to access.

While we dither here in Seattle about light rail across Lake Washington, the French are creating integrated transportation systems that make getting to Normandy a breeze.

The new daily Air France flights depart Sea-Tac for Paris (CDG is the de Gaulle airport nomenclature) at 4:55 p.m. and arrives at 11:40 a.m. the next day. That leaves plenty of time to freshen up at your hotel for your fashionably late lunch at your favorite Parisian brasserie — or to hop a high speed to Provence.

Air France return flights depart Paris at 1:20 in the afternoon and arrive at Sea-Tac at 2:35 p.m. the same day. Amazingly fast, those Air France jets. Also, their service has received top scores among the carriers that jump the Atlantic pond. The bar has been raised now for British Airways, KLM, SAS, as well as the American carriers to Europe.

Haven’t been to France for awhile? Let me start your juices flowing:

France for wine lovers? Bordeaux for cabernets. Burgundy (the town of Beaune is a great starting point) for pinot noir and chardonnay. But why not zip over to Alsace at Strasbourg and motor south to Colmar, down one of the best touring wine roads in the world? The wines of Alsace are unusual, with sylvaners, gewurtztraminers, rieslings and muscat d’Alsace heading a long list.

France for antiquity lovers? Provence is full of Roman ruins. St. Remy de Provence, near Avignon, is one of France’s jewel-like towns and is within an hour’s drive of the Roman amphitheater at Arles, the famed Pont du Gard and a five-minute walk to the Roman ruins of Glarum.

France for Mercer Islanders? What a coup for Islanders to forge a sister city relationship with the lovely town of Thonon-les-bains on Lake Geneva. The area is gorgeous in summer or winter, since the French Alps are closer to Thonon than Mt. Rainier is to us. If you would like to get involved with meeting a French family on your next trip, contact Jane Meyer Brahm of the Sister City Association at 232-0701. Another idea: Mayor Brian Cairns is leading a delegation to Thonon Aug. 4-11. Why not join them?

France for campers? The green hills and lush valleys of the Perigord region that stretches east of Bordeaux along the Dordogne River has exceptional Euro-camping. In case you haven’t tried it, most camping resorts there have heated pools, volleyball courts, hyper-clean toilets and showers and very acceptable restaurants. While the camp plats are closer than our state park campsites, and the fees somewhat higher there, the value is a fair trade-off.

France for art classes and cooking schools? E-mail Maison de la France (the French way of saying “National Office of Tourism”) and request this year’s France Guide. You’ll discover lots of enticing learning experiences for adults.

France for artists? Of course! Anywhere in France is inspiration, but let me offer two suggestions: Follow Monet to his home in Normandy in the village of Giverny near Vernon. Besides the tour of his gardens and home, be sure to visit the American Impressionist Museum a few hundred yards away. Then head to Honfleur or Deaville along the Atlantic Coast and get out your easel.

Idea two: Follow Van Gogh, Cezanne and Renoir to Provence. You’ll find the sunlight a little more intense, the skies much bluer and the lavender and poppy fields, interlaced with vineyards, irresistible. Provence’s historical colors are red and yellow, with splashes of blue. Anyone can paint in Provence.

France for boaters? The boat building center of France is La Rochelle on the Atlantique side, south of Nantes. Besides providing safe harbor, the Isle of Re and Oleron offer sailing destinations as does the entire broken coast of Brittany. La Baule, Belle Ille, Quiberon, Concarneau are true boater destinations. The Mediterranean is a safe lake, but boating there is 10 percent seamanship and 90 percent looking good. France’s true sea-lovers prefer the Atlantic.

France for something different? The Basque people are different, and in a good way. If you think Basque means bombs and cultural tensions, you are thinking about the wrong side of the Pyrenees — the Spanish side. The foothills on the French side from Biarritz to Lourdes are peopled by men wearing red berets and streets paved in near antiseptically clean cobblestones. Thermal hot springs, green and red shutters, fields of cows and sheep with high mountain backdrops, it is France — but different.

France for military historians? The D-Day beach memorials have been improved even more with detailed maps and commemorative statues. The north coast of Normandy is a reminder of the price of freedom for each of us.

France for the best hotels and restaurants? One source for finding excellence for years has been the green Michelin Guide. I prefer Relais & Chateaux for identifying the very, very best (and yes, usually expensive) hotel properties and restaurants in France. Relais & Chateaux is a 50-year-old association of independent, unique and usually intimate (somewhere between eight and 80 rooms or suites) hotels. Started in France and headquartered in Paris, it is not surprising that almost one-third of their more than 450 worldwide property members are located in France. Check out their vast array of hotel and restaurant choices by visiting www.relaischateaux.com. I’ve enjoyed six or seven of the R&C properties in France and found each one to be as good as any I’ve ever experienced in my life. Pampering doesn’t get any better.

France for drivers? I like to drive. I don’t like driving in the British Isles. They are sadly mistaken about which side of the road is best for driving. I don’t like driving in Italy. Italians are very uncomfortable with any more than three feet of space between them and the car immediately ahead. But driving in France is a pleasure. Their Autoroute toll roads take credit cards. Their highways allow speeds up to 130 KPH (that’s 80 MPH). Their roads are exceptionally well-signed. The road surfaces are smoother and in better repair than ours. And while French drivers are typically Euro-assertive, I’ve found them to be a bit tamer than the Germans, the Italians or the Spanish.

France for bikers? France is hilly, and yet there are some Class A bike routes for two-wheelers. Paralleling the Loire River from Orleans to Seattle’s Sister City of Nantes is a pleasant downstream plan, with grand chateaus Chambord, Cour-Cheverny, Amboise, Chenoceaux and Azay-le-Rideau en route.

An alternative to the Loire is to bike the meandering Dordogne River from Bretenoux to Sarlat and Bergerac. While the chateaus are not as grand, the tiny villages of La Roque Gageac, Domme, with side trips to the Grotto of Padirac and the caves of Lascaux make up for it.

A third itinerary for bicyclists is the flatter countryside of Burgundy, especially between Macon and Dijon. The vineyards, the mustard fields, the multi-colored roof tiles are eye-candy, all the better as the bike trails are straighter here in this land that may boast France’s best cuisine.

France for champagne? Reims and Epernay headline here, both just over an hour to the east from Paris by train or car. In summer, it’s especially pleasant to go underground and visit the caves for knowledge as well as cooling refreshment. I recommend morning champagne tours, a big lunch and an afternoon of no plans and nowhere to go, except perhaps for a nap.

France for a group getaway? Ever want to rent a French farmhouse for a week or a month? Something that sleeps eight and has a big kitchen and maybe even a swimming pool? A place where you can park four cars and watch cows grazing while you are sipping your morning coffee? It’s all possible with the French “Gites” program of renting cottages and farmhouses that are “self-catered” for a minimum of one week. To find out more, simply visit the Web site, www.gitelink.com. Depending on the month, prices average between 400 and 800 euros per week. Not bad if you divide that price by four, six or eight people.

Bill Morton can be reached at www.secondhalf.net.

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