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Travel to France and Belgium as a Guest

by Jackie Grandchamps, PhD

There are many ways to travel. First class or economy, with the crowd or out of the beaten paths, in luxurious hotels or in quaint B&Bs…but there is only one way you will come back with a real life experience.

Traveling is now my job but when it used to be only my vacation activity, I can say I tried it all! I would always come back with a traveling experience, great pictures and exotic souvenirs but something was missing. I thought this awkward feeling was inevitable, a kind of tourist blues. But there was more to it and one day, I found out…

In 2001, I took a break from the hectic life in the Silicon Valley in California, and decided to visit a friend in Madagascar, an island south of Africa. I stayed there for 1 month and when I came back, I knew what I had been missing on my previous trips.

I lived with my friend, volunteered in one of Mother Teresa’s orphanage run by Indian nuns and worked with natives when taking care of the kids. I came back a different person and I knew by then: in all my other travels, I had been missing the genuine contact with local people.

It occurred to me as a shock … I had only been a mere tourist for all these years!  Traveling could be so much more. Traveling could make you grow, could put long-lasting colors in your life. Traveling could be a real philosophy!

When I came back from Madagascar, I knew I would never be satisfied if I kept traveling as I had done before. Yet I didn’t want to travel alone nor do all the troublesome research to find interesting places to visit by myself. I needed to find a travel operator who would present me a trip where I could travel in a friendly atmosphere, discover the country through native people, learn about the culture of the country and experience their customs in an authentic way. But I could not find anything that would encompass all my wishes.

I finally had to take a huge step. I decided I would organize these kinds of trips myself!! I opened my travel business, French Escapade (www.frenchescapade.com), in 2003 and I put all the things I believe make a trip a genuine life experience in it. I have been a very happy person since then, offering hundreds of people different vacations in France, and lately in Belgium.

As the company grows, we are now partners with AAA (American Automobile Association) sojourns. We are about to start a tour in Northern California with the same format. A tour that will address not only your eyes but also mainly your heart.

Our recipe?

  1. We limit our tours to 8 persons to create an intimate group and family atmosphere.
  2. We stay in a charming villa (in France and Belgium) or small size boutique hotels
  3. We plan dining experiencess that reflect the culture, tradition and local specialties.
  4. Our tours always include a visit at some natives’ homes where we are invited for lunch or to talk about special interests.
  5. Every day, we immerse ourselves in the authentic unspoiled countryside learning about history, nature, visiting local artisans, and exploring local wonders.
  6. Local product tasting (chocolate, wine, olive-oil, Chartreuse liqueur, beer, truffles…) are very much appreciated by our guests and our hands-on activities such as cookie-making in Belgium (Speculoos) or cooking in Provence, France are also very popular.

We treat our clients not as tourists but as guests. I am personally in contact with them before the trip and see them as friends visiting me. I always go on the tour with them, and we often stay friends after the trip. My biggest reward is that many have been returning customers.

We have diversified the type of tours we offer as well as the destinations.

  1. We offer several painting trips with different English-speaking artists/ teachers who specialize in watercolor, oil or sketches.
  2. We also have golf trips for golfers who want to play on the best golf courses in Provence and spa trips in the French Alps.
  3. We have several destinations in France and Belgium with about 10 tours a year.
  4. Our newest products are Honeymoon/ Anniversary Trips.
  5. Some of our tours are for women only, some people come with their own group of 8 people- families, golf clubs- but we also welcome many solo travelers who like the safe and cozy environment we provide.

Not only have I changed my vision of being a tourist, but this new way of traveling has brought a new dimension into my life and into the lives of my guests, as the result of a wonderful human encounter.

To find out more, visit www.frenchescapade.com or call Jackie, toll free 1-866-483 5713


Jackie Grandchamps, PhD is the Founder and Owner of French Escapade.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the businesses in question before making your plans.

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