Teen Travel To France: From Paris to Coastal Charms
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Teen Travel To France: From Paris to Coastal Charms

When Rustic Pathways students arrive in France, their first views may be what they’ve seen in paintings and postcards. The new program City of Light to Coastal Delight begins in the most visited areas of Paris. There students stroll down one of the world’s most famous roads – Champs Elysées. They’ll see the Arc de Triomphe, Louvre park and French pâtisseries. But then things change as they get off the beaten path.

Rustic Pathways students will have a chance to view La Rhune Mountain from a panoramic wooden railway.

Rustic Pathways students will have a chance to view La Rhune Mountain from a panoramic wooden railway.

Program planner Alice Kestell focuses on the word “variety” when she talks about what students will experience. They’ll explore the City of Light, hang out at the beach, and learn about countryside life during a village fête. Along the way, they’ll do many hands-on activities and see why France is known for its food.

“You’re going to eat really well. You’re going to cook and learn about local food. You’ll go on a tapas hunt on the Spanish border and taste oysters on a boat with an oyster farmer… You’ll also do art in Montmartre. So it’s like a real introduction to France in two weeks,” Alice said.

That introduction comes with some surprises. One of them may be the level of food insecurity in the country and how France is responding to it.

Tackling Hunger in the Land of Food

France is often listed as one of the best nations for food. Two hour lunches and three course meals are the norm. It’s where the Michelin Guide was born, and there are rules about whether a bakery can be called a pâtisserie or a boulangerie.

French bakery, Photo by: Siebe Warmoeskerken

Photo: Siebe Warmoeskerken

But if you walk past a food distribution area, you’ll see the challenges a number of French citizens are currently facing, including teens.

“This is the country of food. And yet there are lines of students trying to access something that is so tied up with the culture,” Alice said.

One key way France is tackling this problem is by sourcing food locally. The nation has launched what’s called the “locavore” movement, which is like carnivore or herbivore but local instead. Country manager Delphine Lacaille says this movement has well-defined goals and guidelines.

“We will choose really local food. The guidance is that the food products will come in from an area less than 200 kilometers away,” Delphine said.

To do this, local residents eat fruits and vegetables that are in season and create distribution channels that go directly from producer to consumer. Adherents also focus on ensuring that high quality ingredients are used during food production.

Rustic students will learn about this concept from the GoodPlanet Foundation. They’ll visit the foundation’s vegetable garden and learn about the environmental footprint of what we eat. During a cooking class, local experts will show them how to use locally grown options.

Later the teens will distribute food to French students in need. The volunteer project is organized by a group called Linkee, which provides sustenance to students. Rustic teens will work side-by-side with French teens who are also volunteering to help their peers.

“The students benefiting are just like them in many ways, but they just don’t have enough money to make themselves food,” Alice said.

Oysters are among the important locally-sourced foods that may be on the menu. During the program, Rustic students will meet oyster farmers to see what’s involved in harvesting this popular food option in France.

Inspired by the rich culture of France’s immigrant population, the students also will try dishes from around the world. At each stop, there’ll be ample opportunities to engage with the people preparing and serving the food. This is part of what Alice calls the French concept of solidaire.

“It’s more than just having a meal. It’s learning about the community serving you,” Alice said.

This concept extends to other aspects of the journey. The students will also explore different parts of French life in the same way.

Delving into the Arts, Architecture, and Culture

No visit to France would be complete without experiencing French art. A big part of this is a visit to the renowned Louvre Museum. However, the program also includes opportunities to explore lesser known art treasures. In the famous Parisian district of Montmartre, the teens will attend a workshop led by a South American art historian.

“Her aim is to get them to discover the history of art in the area and expose them to female artists they’re not usually hearing about,” Alice said.

The workshop includes stops in three locations to see a variety of artworks. Afterwards, the students will get busy creating. Like artists in the past, they’ll set up outside in a scenic spot in Paris and paint postcards for their families.

Along the way, the teens will be surrounded by head-turning architecture everywhere they go. That includes a visit to Versailles Castle – a jewel in French Baroque architecture. There they’ll explore the palace and its gardens, and at night take in a musical light show.

The fountains light up in a musically choreographed display. That’s followed by fireworks orchestrated with music from the time of Louis XIV. Later, the students will head southwest to the UNESCO site of Bordeaux near the coast.

This city was constructed during the age of the Enlightenment. It’s noted for being a place where cultural values were exchanged across more than 2,000 years, while it served as a commercial link between regions. Today Bordeaux’s architecture is filled with examples of innovative classical and neoclassical trends.

Bordeaux, France

Bordeaux, France

Outside of Bordeaux, the students will also explore Saint Emilion, which is known for its traditional streets, city gate, fortifications and underground monuments.

In all these locations, the students will be immersed in French culture. France has a number of festivities during the summer. In Paris, some students will enjoy a free music festival called Fête de la Musique. It features live bands, musicians and singers on stages all over Paris. Other students will experience Bastille Day in Bordeaux, and all the students will take part in a fête in the countryside.

Exploring France’s Natural Wonders

Throughout the journey, the natural beauty of France will be evident at every turn. In Paris the students will stroll along the Seine River and visit the islands of Île de la Cité and Île Saint-Louis.

Students pause to watch the sunset over the Seine River.

Students pause to watch the sunset over the Seine River.

In Biarritz the teens will surf and soak up the sun on the beaches. In Arcachon they’ll bike through the coastal region and climb the sand dune – Dune du Pilat.

While they’re in the coastal region, a morning will be dedicated to learning about the local environment. Delphine says they’ll spend time with the Surfrider Foundation, which works on water preservation projects.

Arcachon, France

Arcachon, France

“The students will learn how water progresses from the mountains to the ocean and how urban pollution and construction impacts it along the way,” Delphine said.

The lesson will include a walk along a lake to see how the water flows and a beach cleanup. When they aren’t working or learning, the students can kick back and soak in the experience. Whether they’re gazing at Paris from the Eiffel Tower or sitting on the beach, there will be moments to just reflect.

Delphine says they designed the program to showcase the French way of life. That includes food, art, culture and the environment. But it also means moments you can just enjoy having chill time.

“There are places you just want to relax and not specifically have something organized,” Delphine said. “It’s also very typical of the French way of life – just doing nothing and enjoying doing nothing. So overall the program is a mix of the way the French really live during the summer.”

About the Author

Scott Ingram

Scott is the Director of Admissions at Rustic Pathways. He has spent the last 15 years in the student travel and experiential education world. Before helping families find the perfect Rustic Pathways program, he led gap year programs that took students around the world and spent three years teaching English in Japan.