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The Château-Going Begins

Chateau de la Roche Courbon, France

We couldn’t resist.

We had resolved that our château-going wouldn’t begin until we reached the Loire Valley, where we planned to unleash our energy, enthusiasm, and admission dollars. In that enchanted land of lavish castles, we had old favorites to return to and a lengthy list of new places to seek out.

And yet there we were, heading through the countryside in France’s Poitou-Charentes region a few hours south of the Loire Valley. All it took was a recommendation from an area resident and a glance at a glossy brochure flaunting a large, exquisite-looking castle accented with round, turreted towers and a sprawling formal garden at its feet. We were in the car faster than you can say magnifique.

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Winging it in Wine Country

Place de la Bourse in Bordeaux

Place de la Bourse in Bordeaux, the wine capital of the world.

There was a time when a trip to Bordeaux for us would have meant booking tours and tastings at some of France’s biggest named Châteaux. But back then we were young and inexperienced in both the ways of the world and in the ways of wine. Some hundred gallons of vin later, the allure of French “First Growths” is mostly lost on us now.

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Basilica of St. Nazaire Gargoyle

Basilica of St. Nazaire Gargoyle, Carcassonne, France

Carcassonne: Thank God it’s Touristy

Carcassonne, France

“No one goes there any more. It’s too crowded.” –Yogi Berra

When did tourism become such a bad word, especially among – you know – tourists? I always find it a little strange to hear tourists complain that a place is too touristy. It sounds a bit like golfers complaining that the fairway is unnatural.

Of course it’s touristy, you’re here to tour the place aren’t you?

It’s also hard to miss the underlying snobbery that implies “things were so much better before all of THESE people arrived.” The delicious irony is that those people are thinking the same thing about us. While we may see ourselves as sophisticated travelers, to everyone else we’re just another lowly tourist taking up space. 

That’s not to say there aren’t legitimate complaints. Mass tourism does have the capacity to homogenize a place. And none of us enjoy fighting our way through crowds. Certainly we’d all prefer to have the world’s most amazing destinations to ourselves. But that begs a somewhat philosophical question: if nobody visited these popular places, would they still exist?

Sometimes the answer is no.

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B&B Amateur Hour

Nice view but nobody is home

So far this year we’ve slept in sixty-three different beds. That’s a lot of sleeping around. Naturally, not all of those places were winners even though most were perfectly adequate for our needs and some were even stellar. We don’t really ask for that much. Give us a clean room at a decent price in a good location and we’re pretty much set.

Lately, though, we’ve hit a string of pretty annoying bed-and-breakfasts that have made us wonder whether they’re really the right kind of accommodation for our current style of travel. It wasn’t always that way. We used to prioritize quaint, family run B&B’s over soullessly homogenized hotels. Now we’re not so sure.

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