la france profonde

As we said in the 'teaser', La France Profonde -- 'deep France' -- is where we live. We don't regret the move, which we made between 2001 and 2004 (it was a slow process). A year or more after we bought our house, about 10 miles/15km from Loudun (as in the famous 'Devils of Loudun'), one of us said to the other, 'Living here is like drowning in beauty'. Of course familiarity has blunted the edge of this somewhat, but it is still a beautiful part of the world, even if it isn't always as easy to photograph as it might seem.


Shutter, St. Jouin de Marnes

We amazed ourselves with how many of the pictures in this module were shot close to home. Out of the 33 images here, five were shot literally at home, in the back yard; another three in the village we live in; and three more within an hour's walk of where we live now, or lived while we were looking for our present house. You can just stick a camera in your pocket -- Roger shot this on Paterson Acupan 200/Fomapan 200 with his old Retina IIa with the 50/2 fixed lens -- and go for a walk, and be virtually certain of finding plenty to photograph. The film was developed in Paterson FX39 and the print is on Ilford Multigrade Warmtone.

Forget what you may have heard about the French hating British and Americans. The older generation remembers La Liberation and the Allies, and the younger generation is sometimes unhealthily keen on things like McDonalds. It's true that at least one McDonalds has been fire-bombed, but McDonalds is a symbol to many French of all that is worst in the United States. If you are a true fan of McDonalds, you probably won't like France very much anyway.

D-Day Beaches, Normandy

The debris in the sea is the remains of the D-Day landings, the Mulberry harbours and all the rest of the paraphernalia that made the invasion possible. Older French people remember the Allies... Roger shot this with his Leica M4P and 35/1.4 Summilux on Fuji RFP ISO 50.

There is a lot more practical travel advice in the France section of Motorcycle Touring in Europe, to which you automatically have access either as a subscriber or as a result of buying this module. You'll find all kinds of useful information there, including a capsule vocabulary, translations of road signs, and more.

what is there to photograph?

This is where the only real problem comes in -- and then, only if you want to publish your photographs. A series of inexplicable legal decisions has made it more than a little risky to photograph people in France. But this is only important if you intend to publish your pictures. It is disputable whether an exhibition constitutes 'publication'. Strictly legally, it does. In reality, the likelihood of undesirable repercussions is vanishingly small. But this explains why we take some efforts not to have pictures of identifiable people from France in our modern magazine articles, books or of course web modules.

Le vendage

'Identifiable' is always a wobbly question: there have even been examples of people suing photographers of famous images with entirely false claims that they were the people in the picture. But the only people who know who this is are ourselves and our neighbours, who fortunately gave us permission to use the pictures. Here, one of our neighbours is walking to the wine-press at the time of the vendage, the grape harvest. In rural France, many people really do still make their own wine (in tiny quantities, a few hundred bottles at most) and a few of the older citizens still have distilling licences for making eaux de vie such as marc distilled from grape skins, seeds and stems, or plum brandies.

Roger shot this with the Voigtländer Bessa R2 and 35/1.7 Ultron on the (now discontinued) Paterson Acupan 200, still available as Foma 200, processed in Paterson FX39. Frances printed it on Ilford Multigrade Warmtone, toning it in sulphide toner.

A further observation on the same point is that time and again, when we have asked if we can publish pictures we have taken of people in La France Profonde, the response has been 'Of course. They are your pictures.&' When we point out that not all French people feel the same way, the reply is as often as not a Gallic shrug and something along the the lines of "Well, what do you expect from Parisians?" Outside Paris, Parisians are not regarded as decent, typical Frenchmen, though the Parisians themselves of course regard Paris as the epitome of France and Frenchness. In Brittany, by contrast, where there are lots of second (holiday) homes, the feeling among Bretons is more often than not, "Mieux un anglais qu'un parisien," better an Englishman than a Parisian. Paris isn't France; and La France Profonde most assuredly is not Paris.

War Memorial, Noirterre

Ask most Europeans -- not the English -- why the European Union exists and they will look at you with genuine surprise. "To avoid another European war, of course." They don't pretend it's perfect, but it's a lot better than the alternative. On the war memorial in our own little village, current population maybe 1200, there are 12 names from World War One and one from World War Two. Roger shot this on Kodak Elite Chrome 100 EBX using his Leica MP and 75/2 Summicron.

So: after the warning against photographing people (and even against Parisian street scenes with identifiable cafes in them -- one postcard maker was sued by a cafe owner who wanted a share of the profits), the remainder of the subjects available is all but boundless. Landscapes are the obvious starting point, ranging from the reclaimed wetland where we live to the snowy peaks of the Alps and Pyrenees.

History is what we love, and here, our 'reclaimed wetlands' are a good example: the initial reclamation was done by the monks of St. Jouin de Marnes, the next village along, rather over a thousand years ago. Honey-coloured stone; ruins; a few 1100- and 1200-year-old-churches, and many that are 600 to 1000 years old; picturesque villages; isolated farms; the list goes on and on. Or wildlife. Our friends David and Annie live about 4 km away, under 3 miles, but on a single one-way trip to their house we saw three deer, two hares, and more rabbits and pheasant than we could easily count. Raptors abound: kites, even eagles. A while back there was a nasty accident between here and Poitiers when a wild boar wandered onto the road. One motorist, swerving to avoid it, crashed head-on into another. We have only ever seen wild boars twice: a wild boar piglet on one occasion, and a sow surrounded by her piglets on another. But they are there. So are flowers, trees, rivers. Within reason, there's just about anything you could want.

Pump, stable yard.

This is our own private pump in our stable yard but countless other such pumps, public and private, are to be found throughout rural France. In order to make this one work we would need to replace the pump washer -- the old leather one has perished -- and repair the pipe that goes into the well, which has rusted through. Roger shot this on 5x7 inch Ilford FP4 Plus using his Linhof Technika V and printed the negative on Centennial Printing-Out Paper (POP)

where is it?

We won't insult you by pointing out where France is, but La France Profonde is generally just 10-15km (5-10 miles) from urban France -- except perhaps Paris and a few other big cities, where you might have to go as much as 30-50km (20-30 miles) to get away from the dormitory towns and industrial rings and all that sort of thing. Your own transport is all but essential, though this can take a wide variety of forms. We usually travel by Land Rover or motorcycle, though Roger's father used to travel a lot by canal boat, with a couple of folding bicycles on board for further exploration. Some people walk. Others cycle. There are plenty of little-used roads, and a surprisingly large network of dedicated cycle paths (some, as in England, on disused railway rights-of-way).

Pissoir publique

'Les anglo-saxons' find the French attitude to public toilets, and their willingness to bypass them, hard to handle. The sign on the left (from Pont en Royans) translates as 'Absolute prohibition of pissing, dumping rubbish or sticking bills, on pain of a fine.'

The traditional

pissoir publique without any modesty-shield at all is ever rarer, but there are still plenty where the amount of privacy afforded is minimal. One of the more surreal experiences of Roger's life was using a pissoir publique right next to a mixed-sex high-school; there was not even the minimal shielding that this one affords. Teenage girls walked past twenty yards away, without a glance or a giggle. Roger took the big picture in Pont en Royans; Frances (for obvious reasons) shot the one on the right. Cameras were a Leica MP and M4P respectively (what else?) with 35/1.4 Summilux. The big picture is on Kodak Elite Chrome EBX ISO 100, the one on the right, on Fuji RFP ISO 50.

What you can't appreciate, until you have seen it, is how incredibly different

La France Profonde is from urban France. The long lunch hour is still normal: in most towns, and the smaller cities, even the supermarkets close for a couple of hours, from 12:00 or 12:30 to 2:00, 2:30 or even 3:00 -- though to make life more interesting, many use the 24-hour clock so 2:00 in the afternoon is 14:00, 2:30 is 14:30, etc. They then re-open until 19:00 (7 pm) or occasionally later.

Remember too that it can be misleading to think of France as one country. Brittany (Bretagne) in the north-west is a Celtic land akin to Cornwall (the two languages are virtually identical). All along the Spanish border, there are mixed cultures from Basque in the north (a completely different language and culture from French, though Basque separatists are less of a problem in France than in Spain) to Catalan in the south. The Mediterranean coast segues from Catalan into Provencal; if Catalunya is Spanish/French, then Provence is Italian/French. And there's always Alsace/Elsass in the north-east, which is German/French.


Chateau, Bressuire

The endless castles that dot the French countryside are a reminder that France is not really one country; or more accurately, that it is a country that has been nailed together, sometimes with considerable bloodshed, over the last 600 years or so. For every fairytale chateau there is another that is a solid, brutal piece of mediaeval fortification, clearly designed with the sole purpose of protecting the wealth and strength of its owner.

Frances shot this one with our Leica MP and 75/2 Summicron on Kodak Tri-X, then printed the negative on Ilford Multigrade Warmtone which she toned in home-made sulphide toner. True sulphide toners always seem to us to give a better sepia than the odourless thiourea variety. The camera was tripod-mounted.


We generally pick our favourite places to shoot on the basis of history, because we love old villages, and landscape: the more rugged, the better, provided there are old villages. We will however live with quite modest landscapes if the villages are pretty enough.

maps and tourist information

The most basic tool for navigation is the Michelin atlas. This is at a scale of 1:200,000 or a little over 3 miles to the inch (3.1565 for obsessives). Armed with one of these, which are a lot cheaper in France than in other countries, you can plan your journey with a high degree of detail. Be wary, though, of the green-edged roads. These are supposed to be exceptionally scenic. If they are, it's by pure chance. After decades of using Michelin maps, we have always found at least as many non-green-edged roads that are stunningly beautiful, and we have also found green-edged roads that are as dull as the ditchwater that lies beside them. For further detail, the IGN 1:25,000 maps are amazing. This is a scale of approximately 4 inches to the mile, not miles to the inch.

If you are cycling, or walking, or indeed exploring an area with a four-wheel-drive as we sometimes do, the IGN maps are wonderful, but it is not a good idea to buy too many of them. Both the expense and the bulk rapidly become discouraging, and of course you would need hundreds to cover all France. They are available from most bookstores, some shops specializing in sporting goods and (amazingly enough) many supermarkets: a good deal easier to find than their Ordnance Survey equivalents in Britain or their USGS equivalents in the United States.

Land Rover on woodland track

IGN 1:25,000 maps show all the small tracks -- and unless otherwise marked, all are open to vehicles. This was before we got the French registration. Frances shot it with her Bessa-T and 50/1.5 Nokton on Kodak Tri-X and printed on Multigrade Warmtone.

Otherwise, there's plenty of free information from French tourist offices (both printed and on the internet -- a Google search will turn up plenty of the latter) or on the ground look out for the local syndicat d'initiative, of which the best translation is Chamber of Commerce. Remember too that the Mairie or Hotel de Ville (different sizes of town hall) will either provide tourist information or can direct you to where you will get it. Local government in France is regarded as a resource, rather than a threat.

And, of course, there are countless guide-books. We cheerfully buy ones that are years or even decades out of date, because the attractions that we like are unlikely to change much: it's not like Florida where the vast majority of things to see are amusement parks and the like, with yearly changes of emphasis and new features. When it comes to food and accommodation, if you are very rich, there's Michelin -- we've never eaten in even a one-star Michelin restaurant, let alone two- or three-star -- or you can simply trust to luck, supplemented by the internet. We almost never pre-book, because if you don't, you can form an opinion of a place by looking at it for yourself, rather than relying on an often overly rosy prospectus.


Bus crammed with bushes

You never know what you are going to find in rural France. Land is so little valued that there is plenty of storage space and things just get left where they were last used.

Frankly, we've forgotten where this was. It was somewhere in the south, around Lyon way. We were on the motorcycle and saw this extraordinary sight, so we stopped and Roger got off to photograph it with a Leica (probably M4P and 35/1.4 Summilux) on Kodak Elite Chrome 100 EBX.

when to go

Avoid August. This is when most of France -- at least, the part that isn't involved in the tourist business -- takes its holidays. The cities are empty, except of foreign (mostly American) tourists, and the countryside (including La France Profonde) is jammed solid and prices are through the roof. Besides, much of the south of the country will then be too hot to take pictures: daytime temperatures of 38C/100F and over are not common where we live, but they occur on a few days a year, and we're 700km/400 miles north of the Mediterranean.

July is a lot less crowded, but we'd recommend May/June and September/October above July: these may be the best times to visit France. Springtime in April can be wonderful too: who can forget the Goon Show rendering of "April in Pareee...eee...eee"?

Depending on where you are, the winter may be no more than December to early February (the Mediterranean coast) or it may run from October clear through March and even much of April (especially in the mountains). Where we live, winter is normally early-to-mid-November through to mid-to-late March, though there can be shirt-sleeve days even in late November (rare) or early March (not so rare).


Llo (pronounced 'Yo') is in the Pyrenees near the Spanish border, maybe 80km/50 miles from the Mediterranean. This was February 2003, the first time we went there. Although it wasn't snowing, the snow was so dry and the wind was so strong that twice we had to stop because of 'white-outs' where we literally could not see a thing. Roger shot this on Kodak Elite Chrome 100 EBX using his Leica M4P and 35/1.4 Summilux.

public holidays

France is still an officially Catholic country, despite ever-falling church attendance and a crisis of recruitment to to the priesthood, so quite a lot of church holidays are observed. Bastille Day is of course the national day, and November 11th and May 8th commemorate the end of the First World War and VE day (the end of the Second World War in Europe) respectively. There may also be local holidays and saints' days but these are nothing like as prevalent as in some countries. Here is the official list:

January 1st

May 1st

May 8th (VE Day)

Easter Monday

Ascension Day

Whit Monday

July 14 (Bastille Day)

August 15 (Assumption)

November 1 (All Saints/Toussaint)

November 11 (Armistice Day)

25 December


Church, south of France

In rural France, many churches are still open and unlocked, and even when they are not, it is usually quite easy to get the key; either an address is posted on the door, or you can ask around in nearby shops (one of which may actually have the key). Although graffiti, and to a much less extent vandalism, can be found even in quite small cities, in towns and villages they are hardly a serious problem. Also, rural policing is efficient. Recently, when a gang of youths burned out five cars near Loudun in less than five hours (an extremely rare sort of occurrence), they were in custody by 3 a.m., about two hours after the last car was torched. Roger shot this church and square on Kodak Elite Chrome 100 EBX with his 35/1.4 Summilux and M4P (it was before we got the MP).


Something else that is worth knowing is that in most villages in La France Profonde there will be one Saturday or Sunday, usually between late March and mid-September, dedicated to a vide-grenier. Literally an attic-emptying (un grenier is an attic and vider is 'to empty'), these are giant yard sales/car boot fairs where you will find villagers unloading their own junk and professional junk/antique sellers. Whole villages may be closed off for these, with surprisingly elaborate traffic diversions. There may also be other festivals that close the village: in Taize near us, for example, there is a round-the-streets pedal-car race, which is part of the all-France championships.

practicalities and papers

France is a part of the European Union -- indeed, one of the founder members -- so visitors from anywhere else in the EU will need no visas or other formalities: your passport alone, presented at the frontier of whichever EU state you first enter, is all you need. If you are an EU citizen and your country has identity cards, you don't even need a passport (except to get into the UK). Once you are inside the EU, you will rarely be asked to show your passport or other identity when crossing from one country to another except at some of the borders with newer Eastern European member states where there may be a threat of illegal immigration via Russia, the Ukraine and other non-EU states.

Jack at the Atelier du Buissonier

The Atelier du Buissonier is a little workshop (atelier) just off the back road between Moncontour and Loudun. There are a few basic tools, and instructions for making simple, old-fashioned toys from raw materials picked up in the woods and fields nearby. The workshop isn't locked; there's no supervision; there's no light, except natural; theft doesn't seem to be a problem; and for children like young Jack (five at the time this picture was taken) it's as different from locked-down, graffiti-ridden England as can readily be imagined. Most young children love rural France, where they can play the way children used to play, using their imagination and being allowed to roam free. Frances shot this on Ilford XP2 Super using her Voigtländer Bessa-T with our 75/2 Summicron. She printed it on Ilford Multigrade Warmtone.

Citizens of most rich 'Western' countries (including the United States, Australia and New Zealand) need a passport but no visa to enter the EU. Like the rest of the European Union the French are however suspicious of nationals of countries where there is any likelihood of illegal immigration, so some Eastern Europeans, many Asians and most Africans can expect more or less bureaucracy. As a general rule, visas for these countries are not granted at the border but must be applied for in your own country.

An International Driving Permit (IDP) is not required -- most national licences are acceptable -- but it may be a good idea to get one anyway as they are not expensive and are internationally recognized. They also provide something for the police to read in French, which may reassure them.



Pont en Royans

This village in the South of France is built in a narrow river valley and is famous for its 'suspended' houses that rise sheer from the river and indeed in many cases project out over it. Roger shot this on Kodak Elite Chrome ISO 100 EBX using his Leica MP and our 50/2.5 Voigtländer Color-Skopar.

currency and prices

Currency is the euro (rarely capitalized) which is like a rather valuable dollar (call it $1.10 to $1.25 most of the time, up from 90-95 cents when Dubbya first came to power) or a rather weak pound (around GBP 1.40 to 1.50). Prices for food and accommodation are comparable with the United States, though both are often of better quality. They are a good deal cheaper than Britain.

Petrol (gas) is slightly cheaper than the UK -- maybe 10 per cent, with the best deals available at supermarkets -- and of course a great deal more expensive than the United States: in early 2006, around a buck and a half a litre. As a US or short or wine gallon is 3.96 litres this is around 6 euros or 7 dollars a gallon. An imperial or full-sized gallon is 4.54 litres.


Frances shot this on Kodak Tri-X using her Bessa-T and 28/1.9 Ultron with a yellow filter, printing on Ilford Multigrade Warmtone. To a Briton, distances in France are large: we are about equidistant from Calais and the Mediterranean, 700 km/400 miles from each. Americans may be more comfortable with the scale. Either way, it's a lot of petrol to drive from one end of France to the other in our ancient Land Rover.


As in most countries, the best value for money in food and accommodation is to be found at a level somewhat above the minimum: at the very bottom end, the poor have to take what they can get. Pay ten to twenty per cent above the minimum, and you will get a much better deal.




France uses the international standard of 220-240V so if you have anything 120V you will need an adapter. Fortunately most camera and lap-top chargers are auto-sensing, 100-250V.

Plugs are European standard, two male pins and an (optional) female earth socket, with the earth pin in the wall-socket. This means you need adapters both for the British fused plug (theoretically superior, but bulky and inconvenient) and the American two- or three-pin.


Windmill, Mazeuil

Although the French use hydroelectric power as well as (rather more modern) windmills to generate electricity, the vast majority of electricity in France is generated by nuclear power. As a result, French electricity is among the cheapest in Western Europe and indeed France exports some of her electricity across the Channel to Britain. Frances shot this on Kodak Tri-X using her Bessa-T and our 75/2 Summicron with an orange filter. The print, as ever, is on Ilford Multigrade Warmtone.

photographic equipment

What can we say? Because we live here, we use just about everything from half-frame upwards, though at the time of writing we still had not made the necessary repairs to our early 20th century Gandolfi 12x15.

Donjon de Moncontour

Frances is still not satisfied with any of the pictures she has taken of this castle, built in about 1020 by Fulk de Nerval. It tops the hill into which our house is built; our stables may also be mediaeval.

This is what we mean about things not always being as easy to photograph as they might look: the sheer size of the donjon is so great that it makes photography difficult, quite apart from the fact that you are always looking up at it.

Her latest idea is to try to shoot a series of pictures, anything between half a dozen and twenty, to see if that better conveys the spirit of the place.

The picture on the left was taken with out 13x18cm Linhof Technika V on Ilford HP5, contact printed on Multigrade Warmtone. The picture above was taken with a Voigtländer NHS with standard 50/3.5 lens on Ilford XP2 Super and is enlarged onto the same paper.


Many of our favourite shots of la France profonde are in black and white, often sepia-toned, because so much of the countryside is so timeless, but as you can see from this module, we also shoot a fair amount of colour. We are fond of medium format, for the excellent quality that it delivers for so little effort, but we mostly use 35mm (Leica for Roger, Voigtländer for Frances) for the optimum balance of cost, portability and quality.

If you want to use large format, be aware that the trick of loading and unloading cut film in a hotel bathroom at night, with the room light off, may or may not be feasible: surprisingly many bathrooms do, in fact, have their own windows. Check before you take a room if this is important to you.

film, processing and memory

In la France profonde the best advice is pretty much 'forget it', except perhaps for colour negative film and minilab processing: the latter is as variable here as anywhere else in the world. Sure, you can go to Paris or other major cities for processing -- but it's probably easier (and cheaper, and quicker) to wait until you get home.

In a few of the bigger towns you may find a limited and expensive range of colour slide and black and white films, but a better idea is to carry with you whatever you are going to need. Similar considerations apply to card memory for digital cameras.

Flowers, back garden

In the spring and summer, rural France is pretty verdant, and many villages are ornamented with flowers. Roger shot this with the semi-legendary 90/2.2 Leitz Thambar soft-focus lens on Kodak EBX Elite Chrome 100; with soft-focus lenses, either transparencies or digital imaging give the best results though negative films are easier.

Dolmen, Taize

Taize is a few kilometres from us and has been settled for literally thousands of years, as this dolmen illustrates. Roger shot this on Kodak Elite Chrome EBX ISO 100 using a Leica -- probably his MP -- and a 35/1.4 Summilux.

how to get there

Not much to say here. Fly in. Take a ship (rare, nowadays, except for ferries). Take your car across any land border, or across the Channel via ferry, Seacat (hydrofoil) or the Channel Tunnel. The last is by far our preference.

getting around

As we have already intimated, seeing la France profonde really necessitates having your own vehicle. Buses run as little as once or twice a day and the rural train network has pretty much vanished, so there's not much choice. Keen cyclists can pedal their way around, but careful planning and pre-booking accommodation are all but essential: even when villages are only 5-10 km apart (3 to 6 miles), they don't all have their own hotels any more. Otherwise it's car or motorcycle. We use both, more or less impartially. Car hire can be quite expensive, but prices vary very widely, so check carefully. You can often get better deals by booking outside France, before you arrive. We'd recommend

Chapel and oil-seed rape

We had driven past this chapel dozens of times before we stopped to take a picture, and even more times before we made an effort to get closer to it: it's actually a rather dull 19th century building when you do get there, but from a distance it's lovely. You can however see that rural France is often over-endowed with telegraph poles, power cables, and the like. Avoiding these is part of the challenge of getting good pictures. Roger used a Leica MP and 35/1.4 Summilux to shoot on his usual Kodak Elite Chrome 100, EBX.

Some people say the French are crazy drivers. We can't see it. The worst drivers in the world, in our experience, are Italian. And that's by comparison with Mexico, Greece, China, India, Malta -- all the places often held up as 'really bad'. The French don't even feature on our 'bad driving' register.

Driving on the wrong side of the road can be awkward for those brought up in countries that drive on the proper side (the UK, Japan, India, Malta, Bermuda, Cyprus and others) but won't worry most Europeans or Americans.

Road qualities vary widely. Autoroutes (motorways, superhighways) are as good as any, anywhere, but are often toll roads (peage, pronounced pay-arj). If they are not marked as peage on the access signs, you shouldn't have to pay. On the map, autoroutes are prefaced with an A, so the A10 is a motorway. Signs for autoroutes are normally blue.

Routes nationales national roads -- who said French was difficult?) are standard highways, prefaced with an N: the N20 is a route nationale.

There will often be a choice between the autoroute or the route nationale, especially if the autoroute is peage. Signs for these roads are normally green, and at the beginning of a peage motorway there is usually a green sign saying (for example) 'Toulouse via RN'. We prefer the RNs as they are more scenic, but as they often pass through towns and the maximum speed limit is usually 90 km/h, they are a lot slower than autoroutes where speed limits are 110 to 130 km/h (71 to 82 mph).

Next down from the RNs come the routes departementales (departmental roads) that range from motorway standard to frankly abysmal (narrow, potholed and winding). Lowest on the tree are routes communales prefaced with a C: some of these are not even surfaced. In la France profonde you'll be on departmental roads most of the time.

For petrol prices, see 'currency and prices' above.

Eroded, sculpted head, Marnes

Many villages are less populous today than they were 100 or more years ago, and most have their mediaeval churches. These have been rebuilt so often over the centuries that it is a question of dating individual features rather than the whole building -- but it's a fairly safe bet that this haunting head is over 500 years old. Roger shot it on Kodak Elite Chrome 100 EBX with his Leica MP and a 90/4 Makro-Elmar.

where to stay

France offers an unbelievable range of accommodation, from tired, run-down (but very cheap) hotels that have seen far better days to some of the finest in the world. Prices in rural France have risen over the last few years but it is still possible to find good rooms at under 40 euros ($50, thirty quid) and we regard 50 euros (60 bucks, 35 quid) as a normal maximum. That's for en-suite facilities including a bath-tub (we are no great fans of showers).

Having said this, standards vary widely in the 35 to 50 euro range. Don't be afraid to ask to see the room -- if they won't let you, they probably have something to hide -- and check carefully to be sure there is a WC. The French have a bizarre habit of providing all other sanitary facilities, even a bath-tub and a bidet, but no loo except the one down the hall.

An intriguing option is provided by several chains of fully automated hotels where you stick your credit card in a slot and follow the instructions on the screen (an English-language option is usually available). Rooms hold two or (sometimes) three people and have a basic toilet/shower module in the corner of each room. They are always clean, though the cheaper ones may be a little shabby if they have not recently been redecorated. The only real disadvantages are that they are seldom near anywhere attractive to eat (solve this with a picnic in your room), and almost all have only showers, not bath-tubs. There are several chains, including Formule 1, Villages Hotels and others, and prices run from around 20 euros in the cheapest chains in the cheapest places to 60 euros and more for the high-end chains in expensive locations. Reckon on 35 euros or less as a general rule.

Water butt, Moncontour

This is outside the Atelier de Buissonier which is seen earlier in this module (about ten pictures back); Frances shot it on Ilford XP2 Super using her Bessa-T with our 75/2 Summicron. The only connexion with 'where to stay' is that the local hotel-restaurant, the Coligny, has five rooms with private WC for 29 to 31 euros. Their repas is 10 euros.

Rooms without private facilities are quite often encountered below 30 euros, and may even go below 20 euros, so those who are young and do not need to visit the WC during the night can stay very cheaply.

Some parts of France offer far more accommodation than others, and we haven't really worked out whether there is any pattern to this. The north-east (nearest the UK) seems to have a lot less than where we live (the Loire valley) but parts of central France are pretty ill-served too. A useful resource is a list of hotels from one of the automatic chains, supplied free as a booklet by most.


Well, yes, it's French. But as long as you are prepared to make the slightest effort, most French people outside Paris will be delighted. Even if it's really awful school French, it will suffice in most of la France profonde. You may even find people who are prepared to exercise their equally awful school English rather than listen to your fractured attempts at their language -- but don't bet on it. In rural France, English speakers are definitely the exception rather than the rule, so if you speak no French at all, you are likely to have to resort to a phrase book.

It's also worth remembering that the French you were taught at school may be quite a bit different from the French that is actually spoken in rural France. Accents go all over the place: if you think you have a bad accent, don't worry, so will the people you are talking to, and they will be more or less used to trying to understand 'foreign' French accents as well as non-French.


In Forcalquier, as in much of the south-west of France, more and more signs are bilingual in both French and Provencal. The latter is closer than conventional modern French to Latin. Visitors don't actually need to speak any of the minor languages of France -- Basque, Breton, Catalan, Provencal and the like -- but they are a useful reminder of the truth that there is no such thing as a single, correct French accent. Roger used a Voigtländer R2 and 35/1.7 Ultron to shoot this on Kodak Elite Chrome 100 EBX.

To put linguistic concerns in perspective, think of a Frenchman in the United States. In New York, a lot of people (though far from all) would be dismissive to the point of rudeness. We apologize to the many New Yorkers we have met who are not like that, but even the most dedicated defender of the Big Apple will admit there is some truth in what we say. But in rural America, although you wouldn't expect to find many who spoke French, most people would be intrigued that someone had sought out their little corner, and they would do their best to help. Rural France is like that.


This is of course one of the reasons for going to France. Even people who don't like the French are often willing to go there just for the food. There are however a few things worth knowing.

The first is that the food isn't necessarily expensive. It can be, but it doesn't have to be.

The second is that the French for 'menu' is carte: a menu is a set meal, with more or less choice at each course. Usually the minimum will be three courses (starter, main dish, cheese or dessert) but you occasionally find only two (main dish and either starter or dessert) and you may find as many as five (charcuterie or egg with salad, fish, meat, cheese, dessert -- the French eat their cheese before the dessert). The plat du jour is the main dish of the day, on its own, as a single course. You'll rarely find an evening menu under 9 euros today; most start at around 12 to 17 euros ($15 to $20, ten or twelve pounds); and there are normally two, three or more expensive options. There will usually be one or two in the 20-30 euro range and another one or two in the 30-50 euro range; over 50 euros is unusual in rural France. A menu is normally far better value than ordering the same things a la carte or from what English-speakers would call the menu: the same dishes, ordered a la carte, can easily cost twice as much.



There are countless villages on hills in France, many of them highly picturesque. Frances chose to put Llo (pronounced 'Yo') in the context of the fields and roads that surround it, shooting on Ilford XP2 Super using her Voigtländer Bessa-T with 28/1.9 Ultron and strong red filtration. The print is on Ilford Multigrade Warmtone, as usual. There is a three-star hotel-restaurabt in Llo but we've not tried it.

The third thing to remember is that quality and price are not especially closely related. As in most parts of the world, you can pay quite a lot for pretentiousness. Certainly, while we were doing the final research for this piece, we had better food with a three-course 31-euro menu in one place than with a five-course 41-euro menu in another. The two extra courses were a tiny bowl of rather ordinary soup and a small amount of indifferent cheese, while the three courses were a stunning ravioli of foie gras in a sauce of Banyuls (a sweet wine); the best mixed grill Roger has ever had, and excellent gambas (big prawns) for Frances; and a superb creme Catalane, a creme brulee on this occasion flavoured with orange-flower water, the first time we had encountered such a trick. By and large, in most restaurants, the cheapest menu will be competent but unremarkable, and the next up in price, or the one above that, will be the best value. 

Roman ruins

France is awash with Roman ruins, some in much better order than others. This is at Sanxay, about an hour from where we live. There are baths (no longer functioning!) and a theatre which they say was also used as an amphitheatre. We are not convinced that the latter is correct: the two were normally separated and the layout of this one is far from ideal for an amphitheatre. Admission is a few euros; after that, you can wander around, using your imagination and your knowledge in whatever proportions you like. Frances shot this on Ilford HP5 plus using her Voigtländer Bessa-T and 50/2.5 Color-Skopar, then printed it on Ilford Multigrade Warmtone, toned in a home-made sulphide toner. While we were there, we saw two families eating picnics.

The fourth thing to note is that the cheapest way to get a good meal of three to five courses, often with wine included (anything from a quarter-litre to unlimited quantities, depending on the establishment), is to eat the standard repas. This is a menu that is normally only served at lunch-time, often only on week-days at that. A repas usually costs 9 to 12 euros a head -- $10 to $15, or around eight quid -- and there is often little or no choice: you eat what you're given. You are however deeply unlikely to be given anything you can't eat: forget about horse, snails, etc., which are actually quite expensive.

The big drawback to a lunchtime repas is that it writes off a lot of the afternoon. A picnic may save you surprisingly little money, as compared with a repas, at least if you buy good ingredients; but it won't be as heavy. Or you can do as we do. Buy a sausage: we favour the ones with hazlenuts (noisettes). Every hour or two, have a couple of slices of sausage and a tiny plastic cup (maybe 2-3 ounces, 60-90ml) of red wine, plus some water. You can work all day on this sort of diet, saving your funds and your taste-buds for dinner in the evening.

At the other end of the day, beware of French breakfasts, which are almost never included in the price of the room. For anything from 5 to 9 euros a head ($6 to $11, around a fiver) you will get a croissant or two, a couple of small slices of bread or toast, butter, jam, and coffee or chocolate. It's not a lot of food, and it is disproportionately expensive. Many hotels look disappointed if you say you don't want breakfast. At those prices, no wonder. But tough: we won't pay it. If you like that sort of thing, stick your nose into a cafe; see if they have any croissants or pains au chocolat; and if they don't, go and buy some from the nearest patisserie (at most a euro and a half a piece). Then go back and order a coffee (1.50-2 euros) and eat your patisserie with that, at a cafe table on the pavement (sidewalk).

There's a lot more about food in the France section of Motorcycle Touring in Europe.

Misty morning on the river, South of France

We'll quite often shoot for an hour or two before breakfast, whether it's a picnic brunch or the coffee-and-croissant (or for Roger, kir-and-pain au chocolat) described above. Besides, we like maximum flexibility in the mornings: if we wake up very early, and it's a beautiful day, we don't want to have to wait for breakfast, let alone spend time eating it, before we can go out and start taking pictures. Roger shot this on Kodak Elite Chrome 100 EBX with a Leica (M4P -- it was before we got the MP) and of course his 35/1.4 Summilux.


A bizarre point here is that prices may (but don't always) vary within the cafe or bar, depending on where you drink. Posted prices are for the counter, le zinc, so called because it used to be covered with zinc. Inside tables may cost 10 per cent (or 20 centimes) a drink more; outside tables, another few centimes again. But all may be the same price. The variations are usually posted, and drinks prices are almost always posted, so you know what you are getting into.

The French are principally wine drinkers, but they drink a lot less than they used to. A glass of wine (un verre de vin) at a cafe-bar should cost a euro or two; at a restaurant, bottles may start at less than 10 euros, but maximum prices are in the tens or even hundreds. Point to what you want to avoid confusion! Better still, look for wines by the carafe or pichet (pee-shay = jug). Often these are marked only as 1/4, 1/2 and 1, the numbers referring to litres. Prices may be as low as 5 or 6 euros a litre and the wine is almost always (though not absolutely always) perfectly drinkable.

Beer is expensive and for the most part indifferent. It also comes in quantities that look absurdly small to an Englishman: 250ml (about 8 ounces) or 330 ml (12 ounces).

Maize drying on the stalk

Despite the enormous exodus from the countryside to the towns and cities, there is still a great deal of agriculture in France -- much of it supported, it must be said, by the Common Agricultural Policy of the European Union, which is better at subsidizing picturesque but inefficient French farms than at producing cheap food. On the other hand, maybe there is something to be said for spending public money to preserve beautiful countryside. It certainly benefits photographers! Roger shot this on Fujichrome RD 100, probably with a Leica M4P and 90/2 Summicron though frankly the camera and lens have been forgotten (it dates from the late 80s).

If you want water with your meal, ask for un pichet d'eau normale or une carafe d'eau normale -- 'normal' water being tap water, which is perfectly safe to drink except perhaps in some of the more casual parts of the far south, and even there, they'll bring you safe drinking water in a jug if you ask. Otherwise, bottled water can be absurdly expensive, anything from two to five times what you would pay in the supermarket.

On the road, Perrier is one of the least unpleasant waters to drink warm -- or if you are travelling by car you can do as we did, and invest in a small electric cooler to keep water (and film, and other things) cool. Just don't leave it plugged in overnight. We did once (and only once), and had to start the Land Rover with the starting handle next day.

Cliffs, Normandy

For the reasons given above, we often prefer picnics in the middle of the day. Except in August (and to a lesser extent July) most of France is incredibly uncrowded. This was a warm sunny week-day, and you can see that there are hardly any people here. Roger shot this on Kodak Elite Chrome 100 EBX with his Leica MP and 35/1.4 Summilux.

shopping and tipping

We're not the best people to give advice on shopping. First, we don't do much of it, and second, because we live here, we tend not to notice what's unusual. Clothes, cosmetics, the usual things people buy in France: we're not particularly interested. But there is one idea we'd promote wholeheartedly. Look in the local paper (or search on the internet) for any vide-grenier in the area you are visiting. We have already described these: a sort of communal yard sale that takes over a whole village. You literally never know what you are going to find. We bought a first-class microscope (Krauss) with three eyepieces, three objectives and a substage condenser for 65 euros (under $80, just over forty quid), but we've probably spent more than that over the years on beautiful old farm and hand tools that make the most marvellous props. These are the sort of things that are used to decorate rural pubs in England, but prices are a fraction of what they would be in the UK: block planes for a few euros, water stoups at a euro or two each, the same for blacksmiths' tongs or pitchfork heads, fire jacks at ten or twenty euros the piece, a huge augur for sinking fence posts at four or five euros... After a while we had to restrain ourselves before we ran out of room to store them.

Tools, etc.

Our house is built into the side of a hill. The oldest part is the stables, with the studio above. The studio has been reclaimed from a ruin: the walls are probably 18th century at the newest, and quite possibly mediaeval, while the roof is corrugated asbestos from the 1970s or 80s. Half the studio overhangs the stable wall, giving a sort of three-sided open room, one side to the stables and the opposite side open to the stable yard. On the retaining wall against the side of the hill, we have hung all kinds of things we found in the house; or have been given; or have bought at vide-greniers. This is the other side from the pump pictured above (picture number 5, about 10 per cent of the way through the module). It is one of our standard test subjects, so we are not sure what camera, lens, etc. might have been used here.

As for tipping, while ten per cent is always appreciated and accepted, look for the words 'Service Compris' at the foot of a menu (carte). It means what it says: service included, and if you pay by credit card, they won't even leave space for the tip in most cases.

the bottom line

The bottom line is the top line. We live here. We have lived in many places, and could go back to most of them, or choose somewhere else entirely: India was a serious contender when we considered leaving the UK in 2001, and we also looked at Malta, Hungary and Greece. But we chose France, and we don't regret it.

Sure, France is not perfect. No country is. You always have to put up with a down-side in return for what you want. We wanted a tranquil life with plenty of beautiful things to photograph, and we found both.

The only real drawback, as far as we are concerned, is the French attitude towards photographing people -- and even then, that's only for publication, and really only in the big cities. Again, as we were putting the final touches to this module, we went down to Llo on the Spanish border. There's a spa there we particularly like. It was a week-end, so there were lots of children there. We took pictures in the spa -- and no-one raised an eyebrow, let alone a hue and cry. Try that in the UK nowadays and you'd be arrested for paedophilia.

Garlic vendor

Garlic? In France? Surely not...

But by selective focus we believe we have rendered this garlic vendor sufficiently unidentifiable to get around even Parisian problems (this was in the deep south) and besides it concentrates attention better on the garlic.

Roger shot it on Kodak EBX Elite Chrome 100 using either a Leica or a Voigtländer Bessa but cannot remember the lens. It looks, though, like the 35/1.4 Summilux or 35/1.7 Ultron at its closest focusing distance and the widest aperture compatible with 1/1000 or 1/2000 second top speed,


Steps, back yard

Our house is built into the side of a hill, so the garden and studio are up a flight of stone steps from the stable yard behind the house. These steps are probably several hundred years old. We scrub them occasionally to stop them becoming slippery but we haven't the heart to pull up the plants that grow all over them. Roger shot this with our KowaSIX and 85/2.8 lens on Maco Cube 400; Frances printed it on Ilford Multigrade Warmtone. Below is a more general view of the steps; camera, lens, etc., forgotten, but the print is on Multigrade Warmtone as usual.



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© 2005 Roger W. Hicks