It’s been more than a year since the last terror attack in Paris, less than a year since the tragic hit in Nice. And yet, despite these attacks beginning in 2015, France managed that year to record a record year in welcoming 84.5 million foreign visitors, 3.6 million of whom were Americans, according to Atout France. Further, the country’s tourism development agency reports that while in 2016 there was a falloff of visitor numbers to Paris and Nice, cities such as Bordeaux (with the opening of the Cite du Vin museum), Marseilles (with its extensive makeover during its reign as Cultural Capital of Europe), and Lyon (with its prominent position in river cruising) enjoyed visitor increases.
And there is more good news for 2017, delivered during a press conference in New York City by Matthias Fekl, minister for foreign trade and promotion of tourism. “Even in difficult times, France remains the #1 destination in visitor numbers, and we are pleased to report that advance bookings for the first quarter of 2017 are up 24 percent over last year.” Additionally, said Fekl, “we intend to remain an open and hospitable country, investing one billion euros on infrastructure [safety] upgrades ranging from increased security around tourist sites to the reorganizing of transport around the iconic Eiffel Tower, shielded by a plexiglass wall that will not spoil the view.”
Minister Fekl also pointed out many of the special reasons for Americans to come visit in 2017: The opening of Lascaux IV, a complete facsimile of the most famous prehistoric cave in the world; a major Vermeer Retrospective on exhibition at the Louvre until May 22; the opening of the Yves Saint Laurent Museum; and the 500th anniversary of the founding of Le Havre, the port city almost completely rebuilt after its terrible destruction during World War II and now a UNESCO World Heritage site. In September 2018, the Ryder Cup will take place at Le Golf National outside Paris.
The major event for 2017 has to do with another war as France honors the Centennial Anniversary of World War I and salutes the anniversary year of the entry of the United States into the conflict, with an eventual commitment of two million troops and a final death toll of 126,000 U.S. soldiers, now buried in American cemeteries along the war’s Western Front. In late summer, the Franco-American Museum at the Chateau de Blerancourt in Picardy, France will reopen after a significant expansion and re-organization.
No other museum in the country focuses on the relationship of France with another country; through artwork, documents and memorabilia, it highlights the centuries-old strategic relationship between France and the U.S., and depicts the critical aid France gave to the insurgents during the American Revolution and that of the Americans during both World Wars. The art collection stars works by American artists who have studied and mastered their art in France—Alexander Calder, for one—and French artists inspired by America—take Fernand Leger, for example.
American visitors will be amazed to learn how the buildings on the Chateau de Blerancourt’s site served as headquarters for Anne Morgan (daughter of James Pierpont Morgan) and her American women volunteers, who during WWI coordinated ambulances (with the American Field Service) and supervised the care of wounded soldiers. After the war, she and her volunteers made the Chateau the seat of operations to assist in the rebuilding of Picardy, and today’s estate attractions include gardens flowering in patterns of red, white and blue.
Clients will also find that Picardy offers a new region for off-the-beaten-track discovery: Amiens, whose medieval cathedral is the largest in the world; the Chateau de Chantilly, considered one of the gems of French heritage; the historic town of Senlis; and the new World War I Museum in Meaux. More extensive client itineraries might include more of France’s WWI’s “Western Front,” an area that embraces the city of Lille and its Lens Louvre Museum in the north, all the way south through Reims, the Champagne country and Alsace. For more information, visit us.france.fr.
CroisiEurope is already on board for this centennial celebration with a 7-day The Great War, A Commemorative Cruise between Lille and Ostend, departing Sept. 19 and priced from $2,048; and two departures, Sept. 13 and Oct. 3, reversing the itinerary Ostend to Lille and priced from $1,838. From Lille, the 96-passenger M/S Victor Hugo makes overnight ports of call in Comines, France, and Kortrijk and Bruges in Belgium before the final night in Ostend. En route passenger excursions will include such WWI sites as Wellington Quarry, an underground network of tunnels used by the British forces; the military cemetery at Lijssenthoek; and the Flanders Fields Museum. For more information, visit croisieuroperivercruises.com.