Going Off Season
This November, I went on an architectural tour of Italy and Southeastern France. It included Venice, then La Tourette by Le Corbusier and astounding mines of Ronchamp.
This tour was first real off-season vacation I’ve ever taken and after it, I’ve decided the off-season is the only season! Especially you’re a bit of a seasoned and cynical traveller like me.
And having a vacation where I could truly relax and enjoy my surroundings, unfettered by other tourists, I was reminded of three important lessons.
- Timing is Everything
I normally travel in the summer and end up resenting fellow tourists almost as much as the locals. But France in November? No lines, no long waits, easy to nab reservations at great restaurants. On one of our last nights, we even had an 11th century Chateau all to ourselves!
It is a different experience, being in an almost-empty museum or taking a guided tour with no other tourists. There is more time for contemplation and pure appreciation. Your experienced isn’t marred or affected by others.
That being said, no matter what the travel snobs say, some places are worth seeing, even if the tourists outnumber the locals 20:1 and the line is 30 minutes long. I went to Venice because despite the constant tourist crowd (Venice doesn’t have an off season) the city is immutably magical. There’s something strong and inspirational about Venice, It is a reminder of whimsy and human ingenuity, which is so often forgotten in building.
- Une journée sans vin est une journée sans soleil.
You’ve had great wine, I’ve had great wine but sometimes we forget how important atmosphere is. How taste can be affected by the air and surroundings. One of my favorite afternoons was spent at Domaine des Malandes, where they make a Grand Crus Chablis. There was something electric and delectable about drinking from the casket after a 2 hour tour from the winery’s matriarch. Terroir lives!
- Seeing is believing
Photos can never do the real thing justice. I had spent years studying and writing about these structures but it could never compare to the spent 10 days in France exploring the great architectural feats hidden in small, remote villages.
Corbusier’s La Tourette near Lyon is a masterpiece and a convent. You have to see in person, there is nothing like it, it will leave you humbled and in awe. And the Royal Saltworks by Ledoux and Ronchamp by Le Corbusier are exquisite (minus the less-than-desirable Renzo Piano addition).
Tourism is a staple of our global society and history. A Roman friend of mine says you can even find texts dating back to Cicero’s age (over 2100 years ago!) where the locals complain about the number of tourists in Rome! It’s good to know that even with all of mankind’s amazing advancements in the last two millennia, we’re still the same at heart: hating every tourist group but our own.