“ Country: France / World Region: Europe „
I have always loved france and from my experience people either love it or hate it. Having recently returned from a short break to the south west region, namely a place called Carcassone I felt I had to recount my little tale which to me epitomises why france and french people are so quirky and fascinating.
We had been travelling around Carcassonne and for our last night had booked into a rather swanky chateau on the outskirts of the town. Having checked in we booked for dinner in the very expensive restaurant for that evening and went out for an explore. The chateau was in a small village. I noticed that there was a local fete on that day which centred around the local village school. Although not strictly sure whether we were allowed in we ventured into the grounds of the school. The children were playing all the old fashioned games I used to love so much as a child, little obstacle races, egg and spoon etc. There were litle stalls selling beautiful crafty things and local delicacies. What amused me most was the hook a trout stall. Like our hook a duck but involving live trout in a big tank. Putting aside your feelings for the fish, I just thought how typically rural french. when the children caught a trout it was duly despatched and they took it home for tea !!!!!!
We were approached by some of the locals and fortunately I speak reasonable french so after some friendly chat they explained that there was a bbq that evening in a nearby barn and would we like to attend. Both my partner and I were dying to attend. We cancelled our swanky restaurant reservation and in the early evening went off to the barn. To our suprise we were treated like guests of honour and sat opposite the mayor on the main table. All the parents of the school seemed to be involved in some way with either serving food or drinks and the sense of real community was overwhelming as was the french peoples friendliness to us not to mention their generosity. It came up in conversation that my partner liked good brandy. The mayor promptly dissapeared and it transpired he went back to his house to fetch his treasured and very old bottle of best brandy so that we could try it. It was a night neither of us will ever forget and I wished we lived somewhere as unpretentious and lovely as this little village.
This is just one tale from my travels in france but I have many other equally as lovely and thats why I would say to anyone who thinks that france is not for them, maybe try again and get out into rural france. I guess it helps a lot if you can speak the language a little but my partner speaks what i call Del boy french and he got by and had a whale of a time.
Vive la france !!!!!!!
If you want to bemuse a foreigner, send them to the bit of France from which Ive just returned. Not satisfied with the usual one name per place rule, youll find references to the areas of Vias, Vias Plage and Vias sur Mer (on post cards, in brochures, on the internet) but, confusingly, only 2 different parts of town, the touristy end and the old French bit.
We drove Manchester to Liverpool, flew Liverpool to Nimes, taxied to Nimes town centre, caught a train to Agde and then taxied to Vias Plage. Travelling days were long in excess of 8 hours but if you live in other parts of the UK, or are happy to pay a little more for your flights you can reduce the trip quite significantly by flying to Montpellier and then grabbing a cab from there. We chose the fun long way round instead, and paid £100 each for return flights (in August), about £20 return per person on trains and around £50 in total on all the taxis.
Vias itself is quite isolated. The old town part has a station but is served by only local trains and not very frequent ones at that. Busses link the tourist areas with larger towns nearby like Beziers, but these are equally infrequent in the height of summer there are just 3 per day, between 7.30am and 11am so if you want to travel on one you need to get up and go. Taxis have to be called from the nearby town of Agde and can take over half an hour to arrive. Vias is, therefore, best suited to people wiling to take or hire a car and as most of the accommodation is camping, this is what visitors tend to do.
****** The beach putting the Plage in Vias
The Beach in Vias is gorgeous. Lots of long, sandy stretches split into numerous bays by jutting out rocks. Lots of these had life guards on duty which is rare for the bits of the Med Im used to. The water was ideal for swimming with no fish or rocky parts and just a few crashing waves on the more windy days. The beaches were popular without being too crowded there was always room to lay out a towel or five. Some of the areas were commercialised with a bar and a sunbed / umbrella / pedalo peddling man and some were empty of the above, populated only by usually French children playing bat and ball. The beach was bordered by some camp sites but the shopping stretch pulled down from it at a right angle so you couldnt wander along the beach looking for somewhere to lunch or to shop, you had to actually leave it.
****** The Shops + Eateries
At first glance Vias was like a small Vegas or at least Blackpool lots of throbbing lights, cheap and tacky eateries and shops selling things you never knew you wanted. However as you walk along the main road to the sea (aptly called Avenue de la Mer) there are some little gems tucked away. La Tratorria Restaurant was a pleasure to dine in real wooden tables and chairs (not the plastic tat most of the places boasted), a pleasantly decorated dining area, delicious food and real restaurant touches like water and bread being brought to your table automatically. At under 20 for 2 it was also a bargain.
For snacks the range was vast along the strip, from crepes to waffles to ice cream, with some savoury stuff scattered in. For ice cream by far the best places were the two Artisan Glaciers on either side of the street. The two outlets were of a company that have won numerous awards for their icy creations, and its easy to see why. We tried everything from Profiterole to Kinder Egg to Watermelon to Cookies and still went back for more.
There was not one place anywhere that was advertising a full English fry up which was a lovely change from most tourist places, and showed the clientele they expect, and aspire, to attract French holidaymakers from the north and middle of the country rather than an whos who of international trash. Thats not to say the place was all French Brits, Germans and the Dutch were all in attendance but they were there in a much smaller quantity than in other places.
Most people in the town are there on a self catering basis but there was a distinct lack of supermarkets. On the main road there were just 2 a tiny spar and the Huit a Huit which is like a 7/11 but open, as the name would suggest, 8 til 8. Aside from these you were restricted to the shop on your complex or a neighbouring one. Luckily these were well-stocked and delightfully French with fresh bread and cake and meat counters.
Shopping in the tourist bit is limited to souvenirs (mainly pottery items) or high fashion pieces that you know are so because it tells you on the label. They werent all as bad as you might imagine, though, and I picked up some jewellery and a skirt for work without handing over too much money.
****** The Old Town
There are 2 main areas here, separated by a large interchange that is hard to cross unless you know the hidden route. If you do you can make your way to the old bit of Vias which is much more the sort of thing youd imagine if thinking of a French town. Theres not a lot here a church, some squares and a lot of old buildings to look at but its worth a visit. We took a break in a café in the main square and were entertained by a young man in a wet suit and flippers who chose to jump into the very small fountain and thrash about a bit while cheered on by his mates. Its charming things like that you only get in real France.
Vias is a strange one for attractions. Between the two parts, and opposite the tourist office, there is a reasonably large theme park that looks a bit bare and dated to me, but then I grew up in Blackpool. Its the type where you pay for rides, not on the gate so could be worth a visit just to see if its as bad as I believed. In addition, there are numerous mini-golf places and most of the camp sites are well equipped with trampolines and pools and sporting activities.
If you have a car there are all sorts of things nearby to entertain yourself with, from caves to museums to the Perrier factory, their equivalent of Atlantas fab World of Coca Cola.
Walking locally there is the Canal du Midi which is slightly famous (it was in an issue of Womens Own recently for example) and has nice walks along side it though theres not much to do when you get wherever but turn round and come back.
Though there are hotels and apartments in the town, the vast majority of beds are of the tent or mobile home variety. Several British tour operators have sites there and most have walk-in rates too if youre in the area and fell like stopping. In general prices are reasonable from £20 per unit per night in mid summer.
Vias was a strange little place, but quite pleasant for a weeks rest. It wasnt as overtly down market as some of the costas and canaries, with no raucous drinkers spilling out of bars at all hours after catching the latest sports game, or children running havoc on the streets as parents enjoy that 8th beer while admiring their new shade of lobster pink. It wasnt the quiet sleepy village the brochures might have you believe, but this was a good thing as there were places to go to eat or shop within walking distance. As a break from somewhere Spanish or Greek its worth a look for the lovely beach if nothing else.
OK, not saying there is anything wrong with France or anything, well, actually, I am. Without trying to offend, France is the worst place that I have ever been on holiday. After spending 24 hours there I wanted to go home, unfortunately I couldn't. It started off bad really, I always get ill on ferrys. Not just ill but constantly puking and not even being able to walk without help, so I guess going on a hovercraft was a stupid idea. I started to get a little bit worried when they straped the cars down. I didn't see much else of the hovercraft because I spend the rest of the time in the toilets which they had kindly placed on the outside of the ship for maximum uppy downy movement. After the ferry trip we had to find the campsite, fair enough, but you have to pay to use the roads!!!! It's not cheap either but it's a choice of paying or using the dirt tracks by the side. On finding the campsite the tent was in that much of a state with mould growing up it, damp, smelly, we had to pay extra for a caravan. When we were told that it was the luxury was of camping we really didn't know what to say. Trip to Paris - good idea? No. It was dirty, smelly and over rated. I know England isn't perfect but compared to Paris, London is really clean. The underground, well, whoever designed that needs shooting. They only put the names of the stations on the actual platform so you have to walk all the way down there just to find out that you are on the wrong side and have to walk all the way up again. If you are planning to go on the underground keep hold of your belongings - we had a lot of trouble with pickpockets. Disneyland Paris - what a waste of money. If you are going with kids, fair enough, there's a lot there for kids. However, if you have been lucky enough to visit California or Florida it's a waste of time going to Paris. And don't expect any translations for any language, if you don't
speak French, tough. If you are planning a holiday, I would advise staying at home for a week rather than go to France. It's not a place I would return to. And if you're wondering, no, it was not a good holiday.