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France, Discovering Belgium...

with a new perspective!

by Marianne Puechl co-founder & senior editor

and in hand with your partner… venture by train through

woodland forests and breathtaking overlooks to the heart of the French Alps, taking in a view of Mont Blanc, the highest peak in Europe. Brave the gondola ride down into the glacier of Mer de Glace, where the ice is stunningly blue and an amazing exhibit of ice sculptures await you. Leisurely wander through the narrow medieval roadways of Bruges – Belgium’s quaint ‘Venice of the North.’ Surround yourself with the history of landmark stone buildings erected during the Renaissance and the simple wonder of the Flemish windmills at the outskirts of the village. Stroll along one of many picturesque canals, taking in views witnessed by travelers for centuries. Indulge in the art of dining, Europeanstyle, while enjoying leisurely conversation and sampling a variety of French cheeses after the main course and before dessert. Familiarize yourself with local wines, Belgian beers, breads and delectable hand-made chocolates... Escape!

These are the quaint and inviting excursions that come to mind for many gay & lesbian travelers, as they consider a trip to la

Canal in the village of Chanaz, along the Rhone River / France Photos provided courtesy: Jackie Grandchamps

Republique Francaise or to the countryside of Belgium. Yet imagine enjoying these moments not so much as a tourist, but as a visitor immersing him or herself for a week or two in the culture and activities of everyday locals. Imagine experiencing Europe as a native. This is the travel concept offered by Jackie Grandchamps, a Belgian scientist now living in the San Francisco area, who realized in 2003 that her love of travel was indeed her true passion. “Don’t be a tourist, be our guest,” is the tagline she chose for her business: French Escapade. “With every trip, the common point is that we’re looking to give an authentic travel experience to people,” Jackie explains. “I don’t like to say that I offer tours. –People get the idea they’ll be on a big bus, with scheduled activities. We don’t do that. We limit our

groups to eight people, many of them gay and oftentimes lesbian-only groups, and although I do have an itinerary and I do have a minivan,” she says jokingly, “...we’re able to provide flexibility and a truly unique experience where our guests actually meet locals and get a taste of the everyday culture, firsthand.” A highlight for many who travel with Jackie is the opportunity to visit with European residents in their own homes. “For example,” Jackie says, “during our trips we don’t tend to visit a lot of museums, but in Belgium one of the itineraries does include a visit to a museum dedicated to the Battle of the Bulge. Afterward we stroll through a nearby cemetery where many of the Americans are buried...” Several years ago, Jackie had a chance meeting with a woman in the area who ●● cont’d

Vol. 4 Issue 2 Summer/Autumn 2009 45

Volume 4, Issue 2 (Summer/Autumn 2009)  

Heartland in Gay America

Volume 4, Issue 2 (Summer/Autumn 2009)  

Heartland in Gay America