On Tour with Jane

Artist and con­firmed Fran­cophile, Jane An­nois, regularly takes small group tours to her favourite places in France. Anna Buck­ley caught up with Jane to find out all about “Zeste French Tours”.

Provincial Living - - Contents - Anna Buck­ley is a Mel­bourne based au­thor. See what she writes at annabuck­ley.com. For more in­for­ma­tion about Zeste French Tours, visit www.zeste­french­tours.com or email jane@zeste­french­tours.com. Tour prices start from $3,900.

Jane An­nois has al­ways been a com­plete and ut­ter Fran­cophile. She learnt to speak flu­ent French at univer­sity and trav­elled to France as a young back­packer, when she im­me­di­ately fell in love with the coun­try and the peo­ple.

Back in 1997, she and her young daugh­ter set off on a big ad­ven­ture. They lived for sev­eral months in a small vil­lage in France. Jane, who is a ce­ramic artist, worked in a lo­cal pot­tery and be­came part of the com­mu­nity, mak­ing life­long friend­ships.

She even­tu­ally re­turned to Aus­tralia, but the siren song of France con­tin­ued to call. When time and money al­lowed, she re­turned, tak­ing part in Pot­ters Mar­kets, ex­hibit­ing, and run­ning work­shops all over France. Her Aus­tralian friends were en­vi­ous so, in 2004, she took a small group of peo­ple on a tour to ex­pe­ri­ence an in­sider’s view of France. It was a huge suc­cess. Word got out, and de­mand grew.

Orig­i­nally, Jane’s tours fo­cussed on ce­ram­ics and in­volved many vis­its to pot­ters’ stu­dios, but they soon broad­ened to in­clude mu­sic fes­ti­vals, winer­ies, art tours, foodie tours and more. Catch­ing up with Jane for Pro­vin­cial Liv­ing, I find that her tour com­pany, Zeste French Tours, has flour­ished in the last ten years, and ask her the se­crets of her suc­cess.

Jane al­ways gets to know her clients first. Over a glass of wine and a meal, she dis­cov­ers their in­ter­ests then cus­tomises a tour to suit them. Her groups are re­stricted to no more than eight guests.

“I meet peo­ple ei­ther at the air­port or ho­tel where they are stay­ing,” Jane tells me. “The tours al­ways start from a ma­jor city – Paris, Lyon or Avi­gnon – and then we head off in the minibus (which I drive) to the coun­try­side.

“The tours are two weeks long and cover a cir­cuit of a re­gion. I pick the high­lights and we im­merse our­selves in [the] cui­sine, land­scapes, cus­toms, history, ar­chi­tec­ture etc. I like to stay in about three main places in the re­gion and use these as our base for daily ex­cur­sions. This al­lows time for get­ting to know places and peo­ple, and even a sleep-in or time out.

“Tour par­tic­i­pants… meet my French friends and con­tacts, go to their homes, visit their stu­dios, have a glass of cham­pagne or din­ner, play pé­tanque, and gen­er­ally gain an in­sight into a French way of life. We stay in cham­bre d’hôtes, or bed and break­fasts with our French hosts, so there is op­por­tu­nity to prac­tise speak­ing French.”

Many tour par­tic­i­pants have re­turned for third, fourth and even fifth tours. Jane rein­vents her tours ev­ery year, ex­plor­ing dif­fer­ent parts of France and of­fer­ing new ex­pe­ri­ences.

is very aware that a rushed itin­er­ary, shut­tling tourists from one crowded venue to another, is no way to see a coun­try. All her tours, whilst highly or­gan­ised, are flex­i­ble enough to ac­com­mo­date any sur­prises that may come up.

“The French have been so wel­com­ing, charm­ing... I love their at­ti­tude to life – they work hard, but there is noth­ing as im­por­tant as good com­pany over great food and wine, and the re­spect for time be­ing set aside to en­joy it. Ev­ery­thing stops for lunch – shops close, tools are downed.”

She tells me of the time she took a group to visit the pot­tery stu­dio of Jean Marc Plantier. Af­ter the tour of Jean Marc’s stu­dio, Jane an­nounced she was tak­ing the group to lunch at a lo­cal café, but Jean Marc would have none of it. In no time, he had seated the whole tour group un­der his vine-cov­ered ar­bour and given them each a glass of chilled lo­cal wine.

While pork roasted and gratin Dauphi­nois bub­bled away in Jean Marc’s kitchen, they all helped to pick salad leaves in his gar­den

and plucked cher­ries for a clafoutis. Jane still re­ceives emails from tour par­tic­i­pants rem­i­nisc­ing about that gor­geous sum­mer af­ter­noon.

Jane’s art-re­lated tours don’t only fo­cus on pot­tery. She has also ar­ranged tours for those who love paint­ing, giv­ing them the op­por­tu­nity to paint en plein air in some of the most in­spi­ra­tional set­tings in France. “…We have painted on moun­tain tops, on the edge of the Dor­dogne River at sunset, sat on a pon­toon in the Loire Val­ley to paint the re­flec­tions of a château, taken a life draw­ing class in Paris where De­gas and Gi­a­cometti had both painted years be­fore…

“This June, we [will] start in Paris and, with [artist] Chris Pit­tard… will guide our trav­ellers through some of its finest gal­leries and ex­hi­bi­tions, be­fore head­ing south into the Dor­dogne re­gion. Our artis­tic en­deav­ours will be in­ter­spersed with tak­ing a boat trip, vis­it­ing Las­caux and Les Eyzies for the an­cient cave paint­ings, ex­plor­ing 12th Cen­tury châteaux, en­joy­ing lo­cal mar­kets and mu­sic in Sar­lat, and of course indulging in lo­cal food and wines – all as in­spi­ra­tion for our mas­ter­pieces, of course.”

What other tours does she have planned for the near fu­ture? “New tours in­clude a trip from Bordeaux to Bil­bao,” Jane says. “Be­gin­ning with a lit­tle wine in­dul­gence, we’ll then fol­low the At­lantic Coast to Biar­ritz, into Spain to San Se­bas­tian, a high­light be­ing the Guggen­heim Mu­seum in Bil­bao.

“Another is a walk­ing tour in 2016. I have de­cided to cover three ar­eas – the Char­treuse Moun­tains, the Route Napoléon and sur­rounds, near Gap and Sis­teron and Provence, in­clud­ing the Luberon and the Mediter­ranean. This gives us a wide va­ri­ety of land­scapes and a taste of di­verse re­gions. We are so spoilt for choice.”

The more I lis­ten to Jane talk about her tours, the more I re­alise it’s time I fi­nally packed my bags and joined her. Au revoir and see you in France!

Photos: Bigstock.com - OSTILL

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.