Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Like a local

We have found travelling is most rewarding when you live like a local. Staying in upmarket hotels and eating out at Michelin star restaurants is one way of seeing a city but it is very artificial. You don't get to see how the real people live, where they shop, where they eat. During our recent holiday in France we found that staying in self contained accommodation gave us the opportunity to see the other side of travel. The side that says, yes, I could live here. It also means that it is quite affordable to stay for extended periods of time so that you get a real feel of what life could be like if you decided to make a life changing decision to move here.
Our Paris accommodation was a well equipped apartment in the 6th arrondissement, just metres from the Seine and near to Boulevard Saint Germain and it's designer shops. This district is an eclectic mix of people - tourists, students, locals - thus giving lots of options for shopping, eating out or dining in. The local market at Rue de Buci offers an array of shops selling food and wine but, remember, that like most of France (and Europe) not many shops are open on a Sunday. Wandering around the back streets to the Luxemburg Gardens, window shopping at some of the amazing antique shops or strolling along the Left Bank of the Seine to Isle St Louis are some activities that can be done on a Sunday. The other thing that we really enjoyed was the number of talented buskers that wander around the streets in the evening, particularly near restaurants and bars. Some of the jazz players were exceptional.

In the countryside, the benefits of living like a local are even greater. The lower cost of accommodation and the ability to shop at markets at a different town or village every day means that your holiday suddenly becomes really affordable. To be able to buy direct from the producer means you get the freshest produce at the best price and you know that the producer is getting all the profit - a win-win situation. When we stayed at Vitrac on the Dordogne River we were surrounded by market towns, where they sold not only fresh produce but local arts and crafts. Sarlat has the biggest market but we also found St Cyprien, Domme and Cenac had good choices for a quick, fresh lunch or a gourmet dinner. In fact, the foie gras and duck, bread and cheese, lovely fresh asparagus and the most amazingly cheap cherries became our staple diet for this part of our holiday.

Add to that the amazing history of the area and you have, what we believed was the best place to holiday. Not only are there the usual chateaux and cathedrals but there are prehistoric caves and modern troglodytes, beautiful gardens and quaint villages. Entry prices to tourist attractions were really reasonable so you left feeling that this was an experience everyone could enjoy - it was not an exercise in ripping off the tourist.
A few years ago, I had read a book called Europe through the Back Door by Rick Steves. His philosophy about living like a local, trying to learn a few words of the language and not advertising the fact that you are a tourist made so much sense that we have adopted this. We enjoy blending in and soaking up the ambience of every place we stay.

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