Stepping back in time to enjoy the style and leisurely pace of a retro holiday is trending now in France. You can tour the sites in a classic car, camp in a vintage caravan or tent or take to the lanes on an iconic electric Solex bike.
Four years ago Pascal Pannetier started a magazine for retro tourists. He says that a lot of the attraction of this style of tourism is being able to escape the pressures and speed of modern life: “It is now possible to hire vintage cars, old-style motor bikes or Solex bikes throughout France and travel in a different way by taking the back roads rather than rushing down the motorway. As you have to drive more slowly, you inevitably relax and enjoy taking your time to explore and enjoy the scenery.
‘‘To complete the experience there is an increasing number of campsites with vintage caravans. There is a desire, among a sector of the population, to return to the past – to a time when things were simpler and easier.” (retro-tourisme.com)
In the Loire, a couple have based their travel agency on this new way of holidaying. Rétro-émotion (www.retroemotion.fr) offers organised two-to-five-day trips discovering the Loire valley and its chateaux from the seat of a vintage car.
“We have five cars of our own, including a Renault Caravel and a Citroën Traction,” says owner Marquis de Béthune, “but can call on a pool of 100 locally if need be. We suggest itineraries which can be adapted to the desires of the client and the idea is the holidaymaker drives one of these cars during their holiday. It is very sociable as people are attracted to the cars and want to stop and chat.”
Perry and Coline Balfour opened the first-ever retro campsite in France 14 years ago at Manses in the Ariège. Business was slow at first but now it has really picked up: “Retro has been big in the UK for some time”, says Mr Balfour, “And now retro in general has just gone mad in France.”
There are 12 original stylish airstreams to rent at the Belrepayre Trailer Park (www.airstreameurope.com), dating from the 1940s up to the 1980s. “All our facilities are retro in style and we only play vintage music on vinyl records,” says Mr Balfour. “The wi-fi and phone reception is not great and a lot of people like that.
‘‘We want people to be able to enjoy holidays as they did in the past when they were happy with simple things. We are putting an emphasis on the natural side. We’ve planted flowers and unusual plants everywhere and serve organic food and there are lots of walks starting out from the site.”
The La Gambionne campsite in Goudargues in the Gard (www.campingretro.com) is based around the collection of retro caravans and cars belonging to a couple who are passionate about the Sixties.
They bought the campsite five years ago and have dedicated an area to their 23 caravans. Campers can also turn up with their own vintage caravan and car. During the summer, there is an exhibition of their collection of household items from that period and twice a month there is a Sixties-style evening.
Véronique Noreux said they opened their campsite because of their own nostalgia for les belles années but realised that they aren’t alone and it is something which is becoming incredibly popular: “Our guests are of all ages and when they are here they like to enjoy simple pleasures. There are no TVs and people can meet and chat over a game of pétanque.”