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Groups vary, in that sometimes an entire family may book a trip… or a few friends may vacation together and find themselves in a group with another couple and perhaps a single traveler as well. Oftentimes, Jackie finds that her niche is providing the single person or couple an opportunity to travel within a small group, thus enjoying the inherent benefits: lower costs, visiting Europe in the company of a guide familiar with the area and fluent with the language, seeing the sights within the security of a group that is intimate enough to offer flexibility but large enough to provide a sense of camaraderie. Recently Jackie booked a trip for a group of women who were all related but whose husbands were not interested in the adventure. “So eight of the women in the family -a grandmother, daughter, cousins- all got together to go to Europe,” Jackie recounts. “But generally we offer trips for women-only, gays and lesbians, gay men only and some that are available for everyone. 60-70% turn out to be women-only.” Many on the guest-list are returning clients, she says. When asked about the issues concerning gays and lesbians, as they travel through small villages and stroll through rural Europe, Jackie offers, “Belgium is a country where you can marry legally, so Belgium is very liberal. Except if you really go into the deep countryside, but they’re not homophobic. They just might think it is a little strange to see two women holding hands. In France, the metropolitan areas like Paris are quite liberal, of course, but we don’t tend to visit those areas; we focus on the countryside. But we really have never had any problems. Once, at a castle,” she recalls, “a guide there spent the morning with us and she asked why the group was mostly women… I told her it was a trip for lesbians and she happily suggested that we go to the nearby town for lunch and visit a particular restaurant – it was owned by two gay guys.”

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The travel experience Jackie wishes to provide is not necessarily a visit to the tourist hotspots. As she emphasizes, her goal is to allow her guests to participate in the everyday culture as they explore the landscape and history. “Bruges,” she points out, “is a favorite with all the travelers. Not so much because it’s gay-friendly, but because it’s quaint and wonderful.” She adds, “Most of the time, as an American traveling abroad, you can go by yourself or with your family to Paris or to the other big cities. But traveling in the countryside becomes more complicated. That is the niche we offer at French Escapade.”

One of Jackie’s favorite travel moments took place unexpectedly, during a trip in which a lesbian couple happened to be celebrating their 25th anniversary. “We didn’t know about it prior,” Jackie explains, “and they saw this vintage car one day –a Deux Chevaux, which exists only in France. One of the women said, ‘Oh I love this car! It’s one of my dreams to drive one!’” Discovering it was the couple’s anniversary, Jackie and Valerie planned to make a cake and organize a sweet celebration, but then Valerie realized she knew someone who owned a Deux Chevaux. “So,” Jackie continues, “we borrowed the car and we decorated it with balloons and a sign that said ‘Deux Chevaux are for Lovers…’ The American women couldn’t drive in France of course, so Valerie drove them… Then all of our guests wanted a ride too, so everyone switched off, with my little minivan following along behind.” She smiles brightly, remembering, “Everyone who was on that trip even now (four years later) says that this was their best souvenir.” Since 2003, Jackie Grandchamps has been offering a multitude of travelers unique and joyful excursions through

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The Village of Gordes, perched on a rocky hillside with an incredible view overlooking vineyards and the surrounding countryside. Mer de Glace, a glacier on the northern slopes of the Mont Blanc massif, in the Alps. Virieu castle, built over eight centuries ago. Photos provided courtesy: Jackie Grandchamps

Volume 4, Issue 2 (Summer/Autumn 2009)  

Heartland in Gay America

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