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Howard Lewis

Beverly Hills, California Travel Agent

Discovering the Real France

France is more than a destination to me; it is an emotion. I have visited all of the 98 departments that make up the country many times over and have a second home there. For more than 13 years, I was named top France expert by Conde Nast Traveler magazine. I specialize in self-driving car trips, canal boat and river cruises, rail travel, and helping you discover what I call “the real France.”  

France is a dream destination. I can make sure you see everything on your wish list, but I will also offer options to help you touch the heart of the French culture and people. For example, Versailles is spectacular, but you will be surrounded by many thousands of tourists. The 17th century Château de Vaux-le-Vicomte, at the same distance from Paris, offers a far more intimate glimpse of court life, especially in summer, when they have candlelight tours and fireworks.  

In Provence, renting a car lets you explore hidden villages, stay in romantic inns, bask in the beauty of the land, and indulge your curiosity. For example, seeing an intriguing hill town, I got off the main route, and drove up to it. It was lovely and had a wonderful restaurant, so I spent most of the day there. Later, I saw it described in a guidebook as one of the region’s prettiest villages. I now add that to my suggested itineraries, but I stress to everyone that they can make their own discoveries if they take the time. 

After much discussion, a long-time client agreed to let me pare down his must-see list in Normandy. I mapped out a driving itinerary, adding a few suggestions that took him to the heart of what he really wanted to experience—the spirit of D-day, and the warmth of the people. After his trip, he called and said, “We threw away our guidebook; everything you suggested was perfect.” 

No trip to France would be complete without attention to the cuisine. Food is an essential part of travel, and I can suggest restaurants, cooking classes, catered picnics, and other food and wine activities that suit your style.  

France embodies the world I grew up with, and that is part of what I love about it. My family dressed for dinner and lived with an Edwardian-era formality that went out of favor in the U.S. and, to some degree, in England. Years ago, when I felt burnt out by modern life, my wife and sister-in-law sent me to France on a trip changed my life. From the moment the plane landed and the announcement said: “We invite you to pick up your bags,” I felt I had returned home to the courtly past that I loved. 

It is a gracious lifestyle. Lunch is meant to last at least 2½ hours, and to be savored with good conversation. Good manners dictate that you greet shopkeepers when you walk into a store and say good-bye when you leave.  

The French people are reserved and value good manners; once you understand them, they will open their arms to you. As a France specialist and a sincere Francophile, I can introduce you to the real France, a world even better than your dreams. 

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