A journey of a thousand miles through France begins with … a reservation

HitchhikingEven though it’s one of the most visited regions on the planet, the South of France is a geographical oddity in the minds of would-be travellers – “just a couple of hours” from any part of France.

As a tourist attraction with a Provençal farm (Les Pastras), we can’t count the number of requests from Americans who would like to “pop in” for a truffle hunt just after lunch at La Tour d’Argent in Paris, or from Japanese couples who want to stop by between visits to vineyards in the Champagne region.

Compounding this delusion is the romantic image of France’s rail system. Foreigners imagine fast and hassle-free cheap trains, that they can walk right onto with no advance notice, arriving at their destination within a few hours.

Passengers often find out the hard way that things are not so easy or efficient. Recent guests who planned to travel from Paris to Nice but hadn’t actually made any such plans were shocked to find that a last-minute ticket on Air France cost just €80 while train fare was €300.

It was lucky they hadn’t chosen the train. As the SNCF strikes in June 2014 proved, you don’t just need a plan, you need a backup plan. With a worthless train ticket in hand, they tried to no avail to hire a car. When their concierge’s search came up dry, he found them “a guy.” They say a Paris concierge can get you anything, and this one really did. The “guy” was an executive who didn’t need both his Land Rover and his Lamborghini for the week in question. For a hefty fee, he lent his Land Rover for the couple’s trip to Nice, a voyage that took a very unanticipated seven hours.

And while the South of France is known for being the second home to many of the world’s rich and famous, their paths don’t cross with those of mere mortals like us as often as tourists seem to think. How many of us were asked how close we lived to Brangelina when they moved here? My nearest celebrity sighting was the day my friend Amanda told me her friend thought she might have seen Paris Hilton shopping in Aix. So someone I never met almost saw Paris Hilton … Quite a brush with fame.