A friend of mine, a fellow travel writer, not long ago told me about French Escapade Tours and its genial owner and founder, Jackie Grandchamps. She'd gone on one of the company's tours of Belgium (they also specialize in France, Italy, the African nation of Senegal, and California), and she couldn't say enough good things about this operation, which is based in San Leandro, California.
I've since had the chance to talk with Jackie about her company. Here, in her own words, is a summary of what French Escapade tours are all about:
1. First, a few basics about the company:
A: How long are the trips you offer, typically? Most of our tours are 8 days long.
B: How many travelers in a group? We do small group tours up to 8 persons, except for special groups on demand.
C: Do you also offer customized trips for individuals/couples planning their own vacations? Most of our tours are organized tours but we do customized for individuals to France and California; we particularly offer honeymoon trips.
D: What is the pricing for the different kinds of trips you offer? (If you offer multi-day tours, please mention any applicable pricing related to airfare/transportation, meals, accommodations, etc.) Our prices range from $2,590 up to $3,290 (airfare is not included) for trips of 8 days (everything included with exception of a few meals).
2. Please state your name and title:
Jackie Grandchamps, Ph.D., Owner and Founder of French Escapade, Tour Operator.
3. Describe the types of tours or trips you offer - the destinations you serve, and the themes or interests you cover?
We create an authentic travel experience for people who want to discover a new culture. They will not be tourists, they will be our guests. The tours are designed for small groups of 8 in order to immerse our guests in local life; every day, they will not only discover the highlights of a region but they will meet locals in their work place, visit workshops or shops, interact with people in their every day's life. It is an experience more than a tour. They will not only have memories for the eyes but memories for their hearts.
They learn about the visited country through culture, sightseeing but also food, local economy, and local customs.
We offer discovery tours (cultural and immersion in local life) in:
- France : one in the French Alps and one in Provence
- Belgium: in the Flanders and Wallonia
- Italy: Tuscany
- Africa: Senegal
- The USA: California
We offer theme trips:
- Painting tours in France and Belgium
- Golf and Spa in France
- Cooking in Provence
- Workshop Activities in Senegal (African dance/Senegalese cooking in villages)
- Humanitarian Travel in Senegal
4. What's the typical profile of your clientele, in terms of age, background, interests or other demographics you'd care to mention? If you cater primarily to GLBT travelers, please say so.
Most of our discovery tours are women-only tours (a few are LGBT-only), and our theme tours are co-ed (although mostly women).
Our guests are generally 45-65, 85% are women with 50% lesbians and 50% straight women. Our guests on painting tours are 90% straight women.
Our guests are English speakers from the USA and from Canada. In California, our guests are mainly French speakers from Canada, Belgium, and France.
5. Is there anything about your company or the services you offer (or destinations you cover) that are of particular interest to GLBT travelers?
Most of our tours are lesbian-escorted and offer a safe environment for the LGBT community. In California, we offer special tours of San Francisco with an emphasis on the LGBT background and history of the city; plus we organize BBQ and activities with the local LGBT community to give a better knowledge of the local LBGT life.
In France and Belgium, we select shops, restaurants, and workshops that are LGBT-owned whenever it is possible.
6. What are the qualifications or background of the guides who lead your tours? And what's the typical ratio of staff to client on a given tour?
Our guides are professional guides. We always have a French Escapade staff on our tours, plus local guides that we personally know. There is always a bilingual guide 24/7, so our guests can feel secure in any situation.
I personally go on most (90%) of our tours.
In France and Belgium, our additional guides are: Valerie Sans is our local designer and contact (Bilingual/knowledgeable about Americans standards and needs/local culture, history, and food specialist). We also work with local guides and professionals such as Bouvier chocolatier in Belgium, Chrystelle Four (bilingual professional guide in France), and many more that we always personally know.
In Senegal: Abou Ba and his team have professional expertise in travel and tour-leading/Nadine Diop is a French-Senegalese travel professional who owns a resort and has organized themed tours in Senegal for years. We have met and worked with them.
In California where I live, I work with professionals I know and escort most of the tours.
So our group of 8 guests are escorted by at least one bilingual guide 24/7, and sometimes by 2 for daily visits.