Gay City News , July 18-24, 2003
Very Gai Paris and Beyond
A destination dedicated to indulgence opens its arms to gay & lesbian travelers.
Forget all the silly bickering currently raging between our governments-French and American-Gai Paris, as well as spots north and south, are simply too delicious to pass up. Factor in France’s desire to woo gay travelers and the travails currently depressing the travel industry, and you are sure to find that attractive deals abound.
Led by its gay mayor, Bertrand Delanoe, Paris this year attracted more than a million people-gay, straight, children and old folks-to march in support of gay rights. The theme of the parade was equal opportunity for all-and that’s the way Paris tries to live.
Paris is a city for lovers, for lusters, and all of us in between. You can not walk down a boulevard wide and leafy, flanked by Haussmann’s classic architecture and rung with divine shops, without thinking, “Oh, I could live here.”
The Parisians, although haughty, have an unbeatable affliction for style that makes walking, gawking, and window shopping-which poetically in French slang is “licking the windows”-all world-class sports.
Add to the beautiful people a sense of culinary style and ever more vibrant nightlife and the seduction is complete. The French really do not gobble-they savor, they indulge, they drink wine and aperitifs, cognac and champagne, and they usually do it twice a day whether they need it or not. And imagine, the majority of them are trim and more than a few of them are out and outrageously gorgeous. The magic of visiting France is powerful.
When in France, you do as the French whether you can parlez Francais or not. Everyone can say Merci and smile. That will allow you to ask someone to dance or to order wonderful food by pointing to menus and still be very much in the wonderful moment that you have before you. You can dine on fois gras, velvety sauces, snails with garlic, or desserts that resemble perfectly constructed edible sculptures and are displayed in endless patisserie windows. At every turn, you should indulge whatever you desire because that is the essence of a French vacation.
If you keep walking, “licking those windows,” dancing till dawn, gawking at the churches, and meandering in languorous gardens and amazing museums, when you return home you may find that you have lost pounds on the unlikely pate and pastry diet; plus you are so soul satisfied.
In Paris pick your district, or arrondisement, and then explore, circle out from the hotel and then ride the Metro to your next destination of desire. The Gay Pride celebration produced a feeling in the city of one huge joyous festival. There were no protests, and no angry drivers caught in the tempest of traffic that clogged the Marais, Paris’ gayest neighborhood.
After the Pride Parade in Paris, when we all took to the bars, outside the COX club, the techno music blared and nuns in leather coifed their thirst with beer, while Vikings looked on with orange juice and vodka. The crowd pulsed, as beautiful beaded blondes necked with dusky beauties, as the edges of gender and authority melted into a sweltering night. You could dance in the streets, lounge against the wall in the tiny lesbian bar Bliss that wonderfully enough used to be a patisserie and still sports the sign for tarts right next to the bar sign. Perfect, a city full of every tart you could ever desire.
Even at the height of summer heat, forget about air conditioning in most small restaurants and bars, so prepare to sweat and then retire to a hotel where you can find cool air and a refreshing shower. At the city’s better hotels, you will find a signature high fluff terry robe and a tray of heart-starting black coffee and a basket of enough croissants and goodies to stop Atkins and all his devotees right in their damn protein tracks. Among the swankiest hotels in Paris are the George V, the Ambassador, and the Hyatt Madeleine. All have gay-friendly staffs and managers looking to seduce gay travelers into the beauty and elegance of their hotels. And even at this high end, deals can be made by everyone. Do not settle for the first price proffered either from the hotel directly or your travel agent.
Now for the drawback-Paris really does require a commitment to self-indulgence. When your Puritan, American ethos kicks in and you’ve had enough, hightail it over to one of the city’s justly famous gares, or train stations, and head for the hills (well… not literally)-to the sud. We recommend Provence; in the nord, Normandy.
Saint Tropez is the famed heart of Provence, but a smaller town like Saint Remy has much to recommend it. Hotel Les Ateliers de l’image, a former movie theater, is now a trendy upscale hotel with movies projected in the bar and a private pool that requires no dress code by night (OK, so much for that Puritanism!) This sweet spot even offers photo classes throughout the year so you can photograph in the light made famous by Cezanne and Van Gogh. If your bank account is fat, reserve the tree house suite and play Tarzan and Tarzan or Jane and Jane. No one will hear you.
If you make it out of the room, explore the tiny town that is home to celebs from royalty to film stars. You can wander into perfect shops offering swimwear, pottery, more pastry, candied fruit, and exquisite tableware. Wander down Boulevard Mirabeau to Sette e Mezzo, a garden restaurant and put yourself in the hands of the chef. You may not wander back to your hotel for at least three hours, but you’ll be in heaven.
In Normandy, famed for rolling farms, incredible cheeses, and calvados, a liquor made from apples, we were surprised to find the small city of Le Mans has adopted a Rainbow Hospitality Charter. The gays and lesbians of the city have banded together to create an organization that both supports their needs as citizens and seeks to increase tourism from the gay community worldwide. On many shops, restaurants, and hotels, you will find a rainbow-striped sticker saying Bienvenue.
Le Mans, a medieval town famous for the 24-hour road race that courses though the streets every year, and soon to be renowned for the new 24-hour roller blade race now happening every June, might seem an unlikely haven for a huge Gay Pride celebration. Imagine Gay Pride meets the Indianapolis 500 and you’ll understand our incredulity when we were told that this city it a go-to site for gay travel.
Le Mans has plenty to see. The immense St. Julien Cathedral where you can still climb to the top and venture out on the roof is probably the premiere site. Please note: this excursion is not for the faint of heart. In the same day, you can tour the museum at Le Mans race track and see Bugattis, Ferraris, Jaguars, and Fords––all winners of past races––then leave and take a twisting tour in your own go carts at Circuit Alain Prost cart course. Later, head out for your nightly infusion of fois gras and––just to make sure you ward off the pounds––take a midnight tour of the medieval town illuminated by ridiculously huge torches.
On our midnight jaunt, everyone was light with alcohol and we worried that our very breath might ignite this old town, but the French seem to have few fire codes. We trudged along, burning down nothing, and returned to dream of rooftops, race cars, torchlights, and our very warm welcome.
In traversing France, we took the train nearly everywhere, having purchased a pass from Rail Europe; available only in the U.S.A. and only to Americans. If your partner is not American, he or she must buy individual tickets. The deal given Americans is truly amazing. Figure out how many times you plan to switch cities, talk to a travel rep, and it could save you a bundle. In Paris, there are buses, taxis, or rental cars, but if you travel beyond the metropolis, you will want to take a train, if for no other reason than to see the vaulted, Old World stations. Of course, you will also avoid the crazy French traffic.
Foreign travel can make you forget the wicked ways back home. It lets you adopt to the rhythm and patterns of another culture and revel in delicacies and luxury that are often forgotten. France is a country for lovers––and sybarites––so indulge.
French Travel Tips
Hotel Ambassador Concorde
16 Blvd Haussmann, 75008 Paris
Tel: 01.44.83.40.40; Fax: 01.42.96.19.84
Contact: Herve de Gouvion Saint Cyr,
director of sales
Hotel Four Seasons George V
31 Avenue George V, 75008 Paris
Tel: 01.49.52.70.01; Fax: 01.49.52.70.11
Hotel Hyatt Regency Madeleine
24 Boulevard Malesherbes, 75008 Paris
Tel: 01.55.27.12.07;Fax: 01.55.27.12.10
Get your own Parisian Pad
Provence Regional Tourist Board
444 Madison Avenue, 16th fl., New York, NY 10022
Tel: 212.745.0980; Fax: 212.838.7855
Hotel Les Ateliers de l’image
San Remy de Provence
www.hotelphoto.com or 011.33.0.490.92.51.50
Le Mans Tourist Office
Rue de l’Etoile, 72000 Le Mans
Tel: 011.33.02.43.28.17.22; Fax: 011.33.02.43.28.12.14
Paris Revisited: The Guide for
the Return Traveler by Gary Lee Kraut
Guide ZURBan: Le Guide gay et lesbien de la
capitale Paris, www.Gayvox.com
Les Mots a la Bouche:
a gay bookstore at www.motsbouche.com
Gay and lesbian travel specialists