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The steady rise of slow tourism in rural France

Every edition we assess an aspect of the French zeitgeist. This month: the trend towards less frantic holidays

The way to holiday in 2018 is all about taking time to appreciate your surroundings and getting to know an area well rather than frenetically leafing through the tourist book and putting the kilometres in to see as much as possible in a very short time.

The key word in French is Slowtourisme, and it is becoming increasingly popular and accessible in France, a country with ideal facilities to welcome people who want to take their time discovering a new part of the world, stress free and at a leisurely pace.

Atout France, the France Tourism Development Agency, has created a series of free videos on YouTube to encourage and give tutorials for professionals in the industry to tailor their activities to this form of tourism.

In the introduction, the tutor Guillaume Delacour, head of open air and mountain tourism for Atout France, explains that the movement began in Italy at the end of the 1980s with Slow Food.

In the 1990’s the principles of sustainable development and ecological living became popular and holidaymakers began to change the way in which they took their holidays, so that Slow Tourism has now become a concept, which is highly
marketable.

Research shows that putting the brakes on living in the fast lane is a profound and international social movement. A study by market research company Ipsos found that eight out of 10 Europeans want to slow down and that 53% of those questioned in France say they want to take their time when they visit a country, a town or a region.

Mr Delacour gives a definition of slow tourism: “Slow tourists take the time to discover places, rather than let the kilometres race by with their foot on the fast pedal. Instead they travel by bike, on foot, on horseback or by boat and have the time to meet other people.”

80% of France is rural. There are 8,500kms of navigable rivers and canals, 65,000 footpaths, 2,500 equestrian tourist centres and nearly 14,000 kms of cycle paths, making the country ideal for people who want to travel slowly.

Claire Bourgeois, spokesperson for Tourisme et Territoires, the umbrella organisation for Departmental Tourist Offices, says slow tourism has always existed but is now more fashionable: “You have always been able to bike, walk or rent a gîte and relax and do very little if that was your choice, but now there are definitely more and more people choosing this type of holiday. Cycling in particular is increasingly popular.”

In fact, cycling tourism is one of the most dynamic sectors of French tourism. In Alsace it is particularly important. Laure Herrmann is responsible for communications at Alsace Destination Tourisme: “In Alsace we have 2,500km of cycle paths attracting sports and leisure cyclists. We have produced booklets, which give detailed circuits for anyone on holiday who wants to spend just a day cycling with places to explore, where to eat, hire bikes etc.

“Every year we have an event in June called SlowUp and it has become the biggest event in the calendar. Last year 40,000 people took part, which is amazing. It is a really friendly event where people can cycle along the whole, or just a small part, of a 30km circuit through picture postcard villages and vineyards with activities for children along the way, and plenty of places to stop and drink and eat. The idea is to come and participate and enjoy the event at your own pace and without any competitive element. It is free and you don’t have to sign up in advance.”

Boating; riding on horseback; visiting a national park and observing the flora and fauna; hiking; staying in an éco-gîte; eating local regional food in season; meeting local people by taking part in the tour
of a city organised by a Greeter (who will guide you round their city free of charge); and visiting a vineyard and tasting wine – these are all ways to relax, unwind and enjoy the good things in life and be part
of the Slow Tourism movement.

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