Date of stay: August and September 2011
Where you stayed: In hostels and on farms
Tour or pre planned: Grape picking through Appellation Controlee
With all the talk of South east Asia or Australia among friends, on a shoe string budget I knew these were unfortunately out of the equation. Ultimately I thought my dream of travelling was out the window for another year but trying not to be dismayed by the numerous websites I had already trawled through offering me the great opportunity and paying thousands of pounds to essentially be a volunteer. Note the sarcasm. I eventually stumbled upon grape picking in the south of France. It basically offered board, food and a daily wage in return for 8 hours of work a day. It sounded too good to be true, and my dream of travelling was back on. Now bearing in mind my last visit to France involved an autograph book and euro Disney I was excited to see what it now had to offer as a 22 year old and maybe have a slightly more authentic experience. I spoke to my friend who was in the same boat as me and he agreed and within a month we were on our way. We took the risk of buying an old rover cabriolet with 97000 miles on the clock from EBay for 300 pounds and took off for Dover (Ferry Terminal to cross the channel into France).
We’d decided on a rough route before we left, which basically consisted of driving through Paris. With neither of us having been to Paris since our childhood it was pretty much a new experience of the city. We didn’t know what to expect, except from what people had told us which was that it was rather expensive. We arrived and although parking cost a little more than anticipated I was overwhelmed by how cool a city it was, it just oozed character. The beautiful and varied architecture captures the eyes whilst the bookstalls running alongside the alluring seine river add to the excitement of the city. Add to that the street performers opposite Place St Michel who encapsulate their audiences and as we heard one tourist say “even the street performers have class.”
What I loved about Paris was the fact that taking a stroll and taking in the sights didn’t cost a penny or should I say cent. Needless to say you could spend money if you wanted to, for example you can go up the Eiffel tower or go on a seine day cruise or even blow hundreds in all the boutique shops. On a tight budget and only a day to take in the city these were out of the question for us but on seeing the queues it would seem they are a popular choice. We did have time to find a nice little restaurant in one of the many backstreets which offered a three course meal with wine for 15 Euros. Which we deemed very reasonable plus the fact we’d spent the last two nights sleeping in the car we had some money to spare. The food was good if not spectacular but it hit the spot. We only had another 2 days to make it to the farm before the grape picking season started so sadly needed to think about leaving Paris come nightfall. Cutting two forlorn figures after a very brief love affair with the city we wished au revoir to Paris. We both swore to return to the city when time and money were not in such short supply. Although we took in the main sights of the Eiffel tower, the arc du triumph, the Notre dame cathedral we knew we had also missed an awful lot too. On the long drive down we came to the conclusion that a city is only really as expensive as you make it, as long as you’re sensible and stick to your own budget then you’ll be fine.
We then decided to head to France’s third city Lyon with the farm being just north of Lyon we thought this was the best idea. We set off on the back roads with Lyon in our minds. Already impressed with what we had come to find in France we were energized to reach our new destination. We did not regret our decision to avoid toll roads as we passed through many cute and idyllic villages and crossed beautiful landscapes with the sun shining down its blessing. We felt a freedom on the road which Kerouac would have been proud of. Days in which no plans or obligations have to be fulfilled are often the most fulfilling, was a little saying I came up with whilst away. We were waking up with the freedom to go where we wanted and see what we wanted; the lack of planning beforehand was proving to be most fruitful. When we arrived in Lyon our first plan of action was to find a hostel but unfortunately our lack of planning came back to bite us as the hostel was at full capacity. We did have a beer at the hostel and enjoyed the stunning views of the city from its balcony, although it was a great disappointment to us as it seemed a lively hostel and at 22 Euros a night wasn’t a bad price either. Our advice to travellers visiting Lyon would be to try and book the Youth Hostel in advance, we were greatly disappointed it was full when we tried to get in there. It’s called Lyon Youth Hostel.
Onwards and upwards we had to find a place to stay for the night, that didn’t take too long and we found a room at Hotel Victoria, located in the city centre for 55 Euros shared between the two of us. It was slightly more expensive than the hostel but we did have our own bathroom. It was everything that was needed from a cheap hotel room; it had a bed, a shower was clean and in a great location. We dumped our bags, cleaned ourselves up and went to explore the city. Again we were not disappointed, it had so much beautiful architecture to admire especially the Basilique Notre Dame, which was very striking. There was also a market going on next to the river Rhone which was selling everything from flowers to chocolates to little souvenirs. We decided to venture out that night to see what Lyons nightlife had to offer. We bumped into a couple of Spanish students living in Lyon who took us on a bar crawl. The night was very enjoyable with everyone we crossed paths with were very friendly and interested in why we were in Lyon. Plus the drinks were cheap enough around 3 euros 50 cents for a beer. The night ended with an amble back to our room through La Place Bellecour which looked even more charming at night. Again our time in the city was short and we were left ruing the lack of days we had left ourselves to explore. So the next morning we again had to head off, this time to Ville Sur Jarnioux to begin work as la vendage was nearly upon us.
Farm life was simple, and that was the beauty of it. If you’re willing to work hard there are great benefits to be reaped. The work was physically taxing but there was so much fun and enjoyment to be had. It gave you the chance to meet people from all different backgrounds, different nationalities and age ranges, all with their own reasons for packing their bags and coming along. Wine was served from 10 a.m with a siesta to take you out of the midday sun. Also all three meals were provided and a bed which was not dissimilar to many hostels in which you would pay 20 Euros a night for, and I can guarantee it had a much better view. The area of Ville Sur Jarnioux was a beauty to behold with breath taking scenery all around. I felt I was really seeing France rather than just seeing the things you would see on a holiday brochure. Another positive was I found my GCSE French finally coming in handy with one word usually ringing in my ears ‘allez’ ‘allez’. GO Go a familiar mantra from the farmer but when you consider his whole livelihood was on the line you begin to understand his passion and drive to work. But as soon as your 8 hour day had finished you had the evening to relax. A meal would be served approximately an hour after finishing with plenty of wine and cheese to enjoy. Usually people would then sit around and indulge in the dying art of conversation. Others would play guitar or read or as my friend did take lessons in how to complete a Rubix cube from a German girl. With wine from the farmer fuelling conversation it is needless to say bonds where formed and plans started to be hatched as to what and where people would go afterwards. With payment of 55 Euros a day people were using this as a stepping stone to fund their travels afterwards and also finding travel companions, we took three lads from Lincoln on our travels afterwards. With all your costs covered and being right out in the sticks there was little need and little chance to spend your money.
After 16 days of work our time on the farm drew to a close and although a break was definitely needed it was with a heavy heart we left. I would definitely recommend the experience of grape picking and for people to see the beauty of France, so much so I’m returning again this summer.
Applying to be a grape picker was fairly easy, once you sign up you need to pay a 99 euro up front payment which in turn gets you placed on a farm offering a wage, food and board. The website we applied through was http://www.apcon.nl/docs_uk/frankrijk.html
Would you recommend this destination: Yes
Would you recommend your tour: I would definitely recommend grape picking to anyone
Would you recommend your hotel: Yes, Hotel Victoria Lyon
Overall rating destination: 5 out of 5