It’s tourism, Jim – but not as you may know it...

Every edition we assess an emerging aspect of French zeitgeist. This month: Jane Hanks learns about the lengths tourism firms go to in order to give their customers much more than sun, sea, and sand...

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Creative Tourism, in which holidaymakers take part and learn a local traditional activity is the latest trend in the tourism industry.

According to the Creative Tourism Network, which was set up in 2011 as an international platform to showcase groups offering this kind of holiday experience, it is not just about going on a writing, pottery or painting holiday: “That kind of holiday has always existed,” said network director Caroline Couret. “But this is different because the person is learning something traditional and relevant to the area he or she is in and it is an authentic meeting with the locals who share their knowledge and skills with the visitor.”

Shortly before Mrs Couret spoke to Connexion, she had taken part in a conference organised by the Minister of Culture at the Musée du Louvre-Lens where one of the key subjects discussed was le tourisme créatif.

She said tourists today no longer want to sit back and be entertained but want to feel involved in the destination’s daily life. France has great potential for this kind of tourism with its huge diversity of places to visit, she added.

“The idea started in 2005, when we wanted to invite tourists to ‘live the city’ in Barcelona in a new way. It was so successful that seven years ago we launched an international network.

“In the first year we had to really go out to find holidays which matched our criteria. Since then the idea has really taken off so that we can find them everywhere.”

It appeals to all kind of tourist: “It can include singles, couples, families or groups of travellers. It can be for the whole holiday, or a family in a gîte who spend an afternoon at a mosaic making class to experience the local traditions.”

“An example of this type of holiday would be a cooking course, to learn how to make a baguette or a regional dish.”

Every year there is a Creative Tourism Award. This year first prize for the Best Creative Travel Agency went to B-Holidays in France which creates tailor-made holidays for visitors to Northern Catalonia, Pyrénées-Orientales.

Activities include wine tasting, making pâté, discovering an oyster farm, making soap, glass making and having a go at wheelchair rugby.

A young French company, set up seven years ago by three women who wanted to introduce a new way of visiting cities in France and Europe have also found that this type of tourism is popular. Their Pop in the City events for 550 people a time sell out within two weeks.

They organise urban races in different cities with 30 challenges divided into five categories: art, sport, extreme, culture and solidarity. Participants work in teams of two and at 8am each day, they are given a book of riddles which will lead them to each of the activities.

Clémentine Charles, one of the co-founders, said: “They have cleaned beaches, played poker in a casino, taken part in a jazz dance, learned how to fight like a Roman gladiator, painted boats, and even learned fire eating. People on a break now want to do things you wouldn’t normally be able to do and get to talk to local people at the same time.”

Two people work full time for five months in a city to find the best partners, coach them and create the 30 challenges.

In 2019 there will be seven events, one of which is for both men and women. You can enrol from February but places sell out fast. You can also sign up as a volunteer helping out on the day, for which you would need to speak both French and English and can find details on their website.