"...In the early days, touristes were almost exclusively British and were found mainly in the Alps and Pyrenees and at various overnight stops on the three routes south from Paris to Lyon and Italy. In apparent defiance of common sense and physical possibility, the touriste travelled for pleasure, edification or health. Unlike explorers, they were not interested in mere discovery. Instead of simply observing and recording, they transformed the objects of their curiosity. They recreated the past, dressed the natives in colours that matched their prejudices and, eventually, constructed their own towns and landscapes. Almost as soon as it appeared, the new breed of traveller began to proliferate and diversify, growing weaker in the individual and mightier in the mass. However, the original type of touriste was still quite prevalent when the philosopher and historian Hippolyte Taine defined it in 1858:
Long legs, thin body, head bent forward, broad feet, strong hands, excellently suited to snatching and gripping. It has sticks, umbrellas, cloaks and rubber overcoats. . . . It covers the ground in an admirable fashion. . . . At Eaux-Bonnes, one of them dropped its journal. I picked it up. The title was "My Impressions":
> 3rd August. Crossed the glacier. Tore right shoe. Reached summit of Maladetta. Saw 3 bottles left by earlier tourists. . . . On return, am fêted by the guides. In the evening, cornemuses [bagpipes] at my door, large bouquet with ribbon. Total: 168 francs. 15th August. Leave Pyrenees. 391 leagues in 1 month, by foot, horse and carriage; 11 ascents, 18 excursions. Wore out 2 walking-sticks, 1 overcoat, 3 pairs trousers, 5 pairs shoes. A good year. P.S. Sublime country; my mind is buckling under the weight of great emotions.
William Windham's great contribution to the development of tourism was not his discovery of the glaciers but his imported Romantic sensibility. His account of the expedition was passed around the salons of Geneva. When it was published in journals all over Europe in 1744, it caused a sensation. Mountains suddenly came into fashion. To most people, icy crags were about as attractive as a filthy village or a decaying Gothic church. 'What did you think of the horrors?' Jean Dusaulx was asked by a lady when he arrived in the Pyrenees in 1788. She was referring to what was later called the scenery. Mountains were wasteland that happened to be vertical. Until the late eighteenth century, few accounts of travelling through Provence even mention Mont Ventoux, which now seems to dominate and coordinate the landscape. Few people knew what a mountain was. In 1792, a priest fleeing from the Terror was amazed to find enormous rocky masses that could scarcely be climbed in half a day: 'I had imagined a mountain to be a huge but isolated prominence.' To those who gave the matter any thought, mountains - and the people who lived there - were remnants of the primitive world. The Earth, like the human race, was creeping towards a state of perfection 'when gradients shall be such that landslides are impossible and vegetation shall sit peacefully on the corpses of the mountains' (Louis Ramond, Observations faites dans les Pyrénées, 1789). 'Such uncouth rocks, and such uncomely inhabitants!' wrote Horace Walpole after spending four days crossing the Alps and seeing his little pet spaniel abducted by a wolf in broad daylight. 'I hope I shall never see them again.' After the Windham expedition, the Alps of Savoy were invaded by tourists. The Scottish doctor John Moore complained in 1779 that 'one could hardly mention any thing curious or singular, without being told . . . Dear Sir, - that is pretty well; but, take my word for it, it is nothing to the Glaciers of Savoy.' By the end of the century, the Mer de Glace could be reached on horseback and tourists could sleep in a mountain refuge known as 'The Temple of Nature'. There might even have been a proper road if Napoleon had not refused the Chamoniards' request: 'Those people don't understand their own interests. What tales would ladies have to tell if one could reach the Mer de Glace in a carriage?'
Seven centuries later, guidebooks were still being written along similar lines. The reader was assumed to be Parisian or at least to have begun the journey in Paris, because, according to Le Nouveau voyage de France (1740), 'in order to form one's taste and to gain a sound knowledge of the customs and government of a Province, one should first of all study the Capital and the Court'. For obvious reasons, most books confined themselves to whatever could be seen along the post roads. Jean Ogée's 1769 guide to Brittany was subtitled, typically: 'including all the remarkable Objects that occur Half a League [just over a mile] to the Right and Left of the Road'. The sights themselves were not expected to be the aim of the trip. To make a long journey less boring, the guide would supply the historical details that a traveller might need to lighten the tedium and bore his fellow passengers...Many writers clearly never expected anyone to follow their directions and painted detailed pictures of imaginary provincial towns. Franc¸ois Marlin travelled with Robert de Hesseln's compact Dictionnaire universel de la France (1771) because it was 'useful to have the whole country in six volumes in the pockets of one's carriage'. Unfortunately, Hesseln's local informers sometimes let him down, as Marlin discovered when he reached the capital of the Lozère département in 1790. 'M. Robert went to the trouble of placing Mende on a mountain, giving it a triangular shape and a large population. There are only three errors in this statement.' Even at the end of the nineteenth century, there were many guidebooks that described the 'eternal snow' on the summit of Mont Ventoux (the 'snow' is white stones). One of those books, published in 1888, also mentioned 'thick clumps of bulrushes growing in a desolate marsh' on the summit of the Gerbier de Jonc, which is completely arid. (Its name comes from two words meaning 'rock' and 'mountain' but, in modern French, suggests a sheaf of rushes.) Most of those authors had never strayed beyond the outer boulevards of Paris, except on a train...Some of the tourist sights of France had been famous since the Middle Ages and were beginning to show their age. The province of Dauphiné even had an early form of tourist trail called 'The Seven Wonders of the Dauphiné', of which there were fifteen.
The saviour of many of the churches and monuments that are now fixtures on the tourist trail was Prosper Mérimée, the author of Carmen. In 1834, he was appointed to the recently created post of Inspector General of Historic Monuments. Between 1834 and 1852, Mérimée spent almost three years on the road, discovering what is now called 'the patrimony' and arguing with local authorities who saw demolition hammers as the instruments of progress. He endured long, boring evenings in 'wretched holes' and attended ceremonial dinners that prevented him from appraising the beauties of the local women. He travelled to the Auvergne and Corsica. He badgered politicians in Paris and eventually had almost four thousand buildings classified as historic monuments. Without Mérimée, the bridge at Avignon would have been demolished by a railway company. The basilicas of Vézelay and Saint-Denis, the cathedrals of Strasbourg and Laon and large parts of many medieval towns would have disappeared forever. Since everyone now agrees with Mérimée, it is hard to imagine what a lonely path he trod. As late as 1870, a popular magazine noted that medieval houses with pointy gables and timber frames could still be seen in many Norman towns but that very few 'merit conservation':
They no longer suit the needs of modern life. . . . True, they provide relief from the platitude of plaster and the monotony of masonry, but they bring to mind periods of history that were less than happy and lives that were shrivelled and wizened.
Most of those old houses would be destroyed in the Allied bombing raids of the Second World War. The few that remain are objects of almost fetishistic veneration...Mérimée recalled the destruction wrought by the Catholic Church on these symbols of pagan worship, but he also observed a more recent form of iconoclasm which had a long, inglorious career ahead of it:
The Highways and Bridges department has persecuted them more rigorously than the synods. Since my journey to the Morbihan, the beautiful menhirs of Erdeven have been smashed to pieces so as not to force a road to take a detour of a few metres.
Single bedrooms were usually available only in grand hotels. Many travellers found themselves climbing into bed with a member of the innkeeper's family or one of the passengers from the stagecoach. A book on etiquette published in 1728 devoted several paragraphs to this delicate situation: 'If poor lodging oblige one to sleep in the bedroom of a person to whom one owes respect', allow the person to undress first, then slip into the bed and 'sleep without making a sound'. In the morning, do not allow yourself to be seen naked, do not use a mirror and do not comb your hair, especially if the bed is in the kitchen, 'where hair may fly into the plates'. Away from the main roads, the 'inn' might be nothing more than a farmhouse whose owner had been asked for shelter so often that he had installed a few flea-infested beds in an outbuilding. Well into the nineteenth century, travellers were often forced to accept free food and hospitality and caused great offence if they tried to pay. Tourists - especially French tourists - in the wilder parts seem to have expected their adventurousness to be rewarded and complained bitterly about innkeepers who tried to make a profit. The 'two friends' who published an 'artistic' guide to the Pyrenees in 1835 warned against 'typical mountain people, who are inquisitive, greedy, selfish, crude and ignorant'. To their disgust, the people of Sainte-Marie-de-Campan claimed to be too poor to take them in. The cobbler who kindly let them sleep on the floor of his shop must have been surprised by the growing numbers of people who knocked at his door after the visit of the 'two friends': the guide gives his name and address in the list of hotels, along with Don Farlo at Panticosa, just across the Spanish border, who, 'without exactly being an innkeeper, is generous and hospitable and asks only that visitors pay the cost of their board and lodging'.
Later tourists would be baffled by bidets and daunted by the porcelain foot-pads on either side of a small dark hole, but even in simpler days there were mysteries to solve. A traveller in Béarn in 1812 who slept on the third tier of a four-tier bunk bed was woken in the night by a smell and a noise of ropes and pulleys. A voice in the darkness whispered, 'Don't worry, sir, it's just the vicar going up.' 'Vicaire' turned out to be a local name for 'chamber pot'. Little fuss was made about the matter in a country which still respects the right to relieve oneself, if necessary, in public. Anyone was welcome to use the designated corner of a farmyard. In villages, sheltered areas such as bridges and covered alleys were 'the water closets of several generations, with the open air as disinfectant' ('Fosse d'aisances',Grand Dictionnaire universel). In towns, public facilities could be surprisingly pleasant. Richard's 1828 guide to Paris made a special point of mentioning 'the cabinets d'aisances that are most in vogue'. Some of these cabinets, like the toilet at the entrance to the Louvre museum, were cleaner than toilets in private apartments and cost only fifteen centimes. One shining example, in the Rue du Faubourg du Temple, '[deserved] to be seen from a technical point of view'. Doors to conceal the occupant of the cabinet became increasingly common, often marked simply '100' (from a feeble pun on 'cent' and 'sent', 'smells'). In Provence, town dwellers sometimes opened a convenient little cubicle in the corner of the house and sold the contents to a manure collector. By the 1860s, this mutually profitable arrangement had spread along the stony roads around Nice, Antibes and Saint-Raphae¨l. Coach travellers who had once had to duck behind bushes found little huts adorned with climbing plants and notices written prettily in French or Nissard by peasants competing for fertilizer: 'Ici on est bien' ('It's nice here'), 'Ici on est mieux' ('It's nicer here'), or 'Ma questo è necessario'.
The standard fare was usually too dull to be mentioned, unless it was spectacularly bad, which is why, in early nineteenth-century novels, great meals are usually on a par with outstanding events like orgies, with which they often coincide. Few people would have guessed that France would one day be the goal of gastro-tourists. Beyond the homes of the rich and a few restaurants, recipes were unusual. The word 'recette' referred primarily to the preparation of pharmaceutical remedies. Most popular 'recipes' were magical cures - 'Slice a pigeon down the middle; remove the heart; place it on the child's head', etc. - or snippets of peasant wisdom. In Roussillon, ducks were thought to say 'Naps! Naps!' because they were best served with turnips ('nap' in Catalan). Interesting combinations of food appear not to have exercised the minds of people for whom the height of culinary pleasure was a full stomach. A story was told of four young men from Saint-Brieuc in Brittany discussing what they would eat if imagination was the only limit. One suggested an unusually long sausage, another imagined 'beans the size of toes' boiled with bacon, the third chose a sea of fat with a giant ladle to cream it off and the fourth complained that the others had 'already picked all the good things'.
Many towns now promote themselves with a 'traditional' specialty which, more often than not, is a form of andouille ('charcuterie composed of pig or boar intestines, chopped, strongly spiced and enclosed in another intestine'). Most modern versions of the andouille, like the Scottish haggis, are deceptively refined versions of their rugged ancestors. The pungent andouille was a rare treat in any case. For tourists who ventured beyond Paris, the true taste of France was stale bread. The degree of staleness reflected the availability of fuel. A manual of rural architecture published in Toulouse in 1820 stated that the public oven should be large enough to allow the week's bread to be baked in a single twenty-four-hour period. In the Alps, enough bread was produced in a single batch for a year and sometimes two or three years. It was baked, at least once, then hung above a smoky fire or dried in the sun. Sometimes, the 'loaf' was just a thin barley and bean-flour biscuit. To make it edible and to improve the colour, it was softened in buttermilk or whey. Rich people used white wine...Most travellers quailed at the thought of eating local bread and took their own supply of biscuits. In the Auvergne, rye flour mixed with bran produced a heavy black gloop that was helped down with water and whey. In the south-west, where maize gradually replaced millet, the dough was sliced and fried in fat or cooked under the ashes of a fire. With salted sardines or nettle soup, it was considered delicious, but only by people who ate it every day of their lives.
Many diets described in memoirs or in the 'pensions alimentaires' of wills suggest a fatal lack of vitamins and proteins. In some cases, almost all the calories came from cereals in the form of bread. It turns out, however, that Proudhon also spent much of the day grazing like the cows he tended, filling himself with corn, poppy seeds, peas, rampion, salsify, cherries, grapes, rosehips, blackberries and sloes. In warmer parts of France, the informal diet could be even more nutritious. Near Avignon, Agricol Perdiguier (p. 158) gorged himself on peaches, grapes, apricots and figs, and more varieties of wild fruit than he could name in French. The fact that there were over three million beehives in France in 1862 (one for every thirteen inhabitants) shows that the diet was not always as dire as it sounds. In a plain culinary landscape, a quince crystallized in honey and roasted in the embers of a fire could be an unforgettable feast...Good wine was often hard to find in wine-growing regions. A connoisseur of French wines was better off in London, Paris or Tours (because of the large English community) than in French provinces where people who could afford to drink wine preferred eau de marc with their meals (water passed through the mash of grape-skins left by the wine-making process)...By 1889, there were said to be a hundred restaurants for every bookshop in the capital. 'A nutritional tour of Paris, which would once have been a non-event, would now take almost as long as a voyage around the world.' It was from Paris that many 'provincial' dishes reached the provinces. The Bourbonnais family described by the peasant novelist Émile Guillaumin are shocked (in 1880) to see their visiting Parisian relatives crouching on the edge of ponds and dropping frogs into a bag: 'Since no one knew how to prepare them, the nephew was forced to cook them himself.'...One of the most revealing voyages of discovery made by a Frenchman was Alexandre Dumas's trip to Roscoff on the north Breton coast in 1869. Roscoff was the market-gardening capital of western France. By the 1860s, hundreds of boats carrying onions and artichokes left the little harbour every year for England, apparently because one brave man had once successfully sold his onions in London with a board marked 'The English onion is not good'. But when Dumas settled in Roscoff to write his Dictionnaire de cuisine, he was fuelled by imagination more than by food: 'We had fish in abundance, but very little else: bullethard artichokes, water-filled haricots verts and no fresh butter.' His cook Marie had predicted that nothing good would come of the expedition. She left in disgust and returned to Paris, where all the culinary wonders of France could be discovered and enjoyed.