Toujours France

A friend was asking today for suggestions for books to make her laugh having woken up feeling those autumnal blues. I gave my usual suggestions, but thought afterwards that sometimes when you're feeling down you need something a bit more than laughter. What you really need is a book that can totally engage you and take you to somewhere different. Somewhere far away from the blues that are currently hitting you.

I was lucky enough last week, having a bit of a fit of the blues myself, to come across Travelers Tales : France. The copy I was reading was the first edition, there are other later editions which may be substantially different from the copy that's reviewed here.

Travelers Tales are a series of travellers' guides (unsurprisingly) to various countries. But having said that they are quite unlike any other travel guide you can pick up. There's no information here on suitable hotels to stay in Paris, the right way to ask for a piece of fromage, or how much it costs to visit Versailles. What you will find is an anthology of travel writing on France with large chunks of text, and some tasty treats in the side-bar. The authors are primarily American with a good handful of British writers also represented; and the writing ranges from France between the wars to the late 1990s. Writers are of every kind too from novelists to seasoned travellers, old French hands to the novice Francophile.

If you're looking to spend a holiday in a specific area this book is probably not for you, these are more experiential than strictly factual guides; but as a general overview giving you a flavour of the country, and with lots of suggestions about where might be a good place to go you can't do much better than this. I found out lots about France that I never knew before - did you know, for instance, that Merlin is allegedly buried in Brittany in a natty barrow-tomb?

As with any anthology some writing you are going to love, some you will hate. There's some downright xenophobia, and the odd startling moment (a walk in the red-light district of St. Denis taken from a book entitled Romantic Paris seemed a little odd). While vegetarians are encouraged to look away during the eulogies on foie gras (this carnivore wasn't too keen on it either). But most of the writing is wonderful bringing France and the French gloriously and robustly to life. Just for a moment I was transported back to a country that I love and haven't seen for a long time, I could smell and taste the air of France, and feel the breeze in the mountains of the Cevennes.

Not a guide book to show you around France, but one that will show you the heart of this fabulous country.


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