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”.
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!