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STIMULATOR OF MODERN EUROPEAN TRAVEL
BENEFITS THE AMERICAN
GROWTH OF THE CLUB
NATIONAL GOVERNMENT INSTITUTION
WORK OF THE T. C. F.
INFLUENCE OUTSIDE FRANCE
ORGANIZATION OF THE T. C. F.
BENEFITS TO THE WOMAN TRAVELLER
SCHOOL FOR THE FRENCH HOTEL KEEPER
CAMPAIGN OF HYGIENE
T. C. F. THE TRAVELLER'S FRIEND
ITS HELP TO THE AUTOMOBILIST
THREE THOUSAND T. C. F. HOTELS
ITS PARIS CLUBHOUSE
TRANSFORMING FRENCH HOTELS
SIGN OF THE GOOD HOTEL
PRESERVATION OF LANDMARKS
AID TO GOOD ROADS
BUILDING A ROADWAY
T. C. F. AND THE SMALL HOTEL
THE WOMAN MEMBER
GUIDE MAPS, ETC.
THE TOURING CLUB DE FRANCE AND HOW IT AIDS THE TRAVELLER
THE famous Touring Club de France has been the great stimulator of modern travel in that happy land. Incidentally it has encouraged and braced up the languishing fortunes of the country innkeeper by a beneficent administration whose blessings have fallen upon the traveller and Boniface alike in a manner that gives each much to be thankful for. It was quick to see that the custom of travel by road of the days of the malle-poste and the post-chaise was returning with the advent of the bicycle and the automobile, and forthwith the innkeeper of the country town was encouraged to meet the conditions imposed by his new clientele in an adequate manner.
The innkeeper himself might not have known how to read the signs of the times unless the formula was given him, but he embraced the opportunity that offered gladly, and to-day three thousand of him and his fellows scattered all over the country have a ready, new-made set of customers calling at their doors, and paying liberally, though not extravagantly, for the good cheer that is offered them. With the coming of his new fortunes there might have been danger that he would kill the goose that had just begun to lay golden eggs again, but he was encouraged to believe that his best advertisement would come from this new clientele, and up to now he has treated his members more fairly than the hoteliers of any other nation.
The Touring Club de France is an association of public-spirited Frenchmen whose prime devotion is the development of le tourisme in their own delightful land, though by no means do their efforts stop there, for they seek to make plain sailing for their fellow-Frenchmen when they go beyond the frontiers and across the seas. In this connection it may be interesting to note that Americans, by a simple formula, may affiliate with this admirable organisation, with the result that they will have reason to bless the genius who instigated it for the real service that it will offer them, whether they be mere tourists or dwellers in the country.
Originally the club was of most modest proportions, but, with the avowed object of making travelling easy and economical for its members, it has, in twenty years, grown like the proverbial snowball, from a meagre three thousand members at the end of its first year of existence, to a membership of nearly one hundred and fifty thousand. It has for its honorific head the President of the French Republic, and has become a national government-recognised institution by decree, by which it is known as an Association for the Public Good. This means that it has all the backing and political influence which is, or ever will be, necessary in order to make known the glories of France to travellers of all the world. The paternalism of the French Government is much to be appreciated as a noble motive, but actually the sagacious French know that it will return its cost tenfold. France, outside of Paris, the "château country" and the Riviera resorts, has not been "toured" to the limit as have Switzerland and Italy, though the uttermost corners are fast becoming known to genuine vagabond travellers, until to-day one is as likely to see at Saint Jean Pied du Port, in the heart of the Basque country, Americans singly or in couples, as they are to find them footing it over the Tuscan hills.
The paternal interest of the Government in encouraging the development of the T. C. F. is not a phase of communism, but a sort of national backing-up of the projects of a nation-wide institution, even though it was born in the brain of an individual.
The club owns to a virtual government organisation in miniature, with a Cabinet of Executives, who set the machinery of various departments in motion and launch from time to time projects tending to ameliorate touring conditions in France, going so far even at times as to enter the field of politics and do a little lobbying in legislative halls. There has never been a suspicion of graft attached to its methods, and this is in its favour, too. The club was one of the prime movers in establishing that French classical school for hotel keepers which is intended to forestall the rising wave of German-Swiss methods, which are fast engulfing the hotels of many of the resorts even in France. This it combats also in another way, handing out freely much practical advice and assistance intended to better conditions for the country hotel keeper, and add to the satisfaction and comfort of the traveller who lodges beneath his roof.
It suggests and aids in the betterment and upkeep of roads, going so far in some instances as to actually designate a prolongation of a mountain road which would add considerably to the prosperity of the region, but which has hitherto been neglected, owing to less needed but more insistent demands elsewhere. The preservation of historic sights and monuments has been not the least commendable of its works, and solely by its own initiative the club has caused to be developed that famous National Park of the Esterels, bounded by a forty kilometre strip of ocean side roadway on the Riviera, known as the Corniche d'Or, a shelf-like, cornice-built roadway, overlooking the blue waters of the Mediterranean between Saint Raphael and Cannes in southern France. This roadway is the paradise of automobilists in the region of the world's most famous winter playground.
The club has recently published the detailed plans of a mountain chalet, a hotel of modest proportions, which may be readily erected in any undeveloped Alpine beauty spot. It is hoped that the ultimate adoption of the scheme will some day result in the Alps of Dauphiny and Savoy rivalling Switzerland in the facilities and accommodations offered the tourist. Three prime features impose themselves upon such a scheme; that these modern mountain rest-houses shall be frequent, reasonable in price and excellent in what they have to offer, if not luxurious. To this end the club has often gone to the trouble to find capital for some enterprise which hitherto lacked funds for exploitation.
It is readily seen from this that the labours of this formidable organisation are not for the benefit of one class of individuals alone, but for all, not for the innkeepers of one region, nor for travellers of French nationality alone, but for the benefit of all France and for the traveller from the utmost corners of the world when he crosses the land by rail or road or aëroplane. The ramifications of the influence of the club go to the farthermost French colonies and, if you are a member therof, you will reap the benefits as greatly in Cambodia as in Touraine; furthermore, its affiliated hotels and delegates are found in all the chief centres of Continental Europe, even at Cairo and in Constantinople.
The various club committees are so numerous and potent that they are doing the work which in many other lands is being done, or ought to be done, by Governmental Departments devoted to the same end. The spirit is national through and through. There is never a question of local interest arising in France but that the T. C. F. will voluntarily lend its aid in furthering that solidarity of patriotism and the love of "la belle France" which shall assure its ultimate success.
The woman traveller benefits as largely as any other class from the good work that the Touring Club de France has done with respect to putting the country hotels on a plane where they are wholly to be appreciated. Their best aspect has ever been that their fare was admirable as to quality, excellently cooked and the price therefor most reasonable; when it came to the accommodations offered the wayfarer, the lone woman traveller often had misgivings as to the propriety of lodging beneath its roof. This was born of misunderstanding, which was in part justifiable, though actually the question of propriety with respect to a French country hotel ought never to have been raised. A certain disorderliness, not to say shabbiness, was often apparent, and this worked to the detriment of many a really excellently endowed small hotel. The T. C. F., seizing upon this, sought to bring the various attributes of the century-old hotel of compromising countenance up to the level of the product so temptingly prepared in the great hooded fireplace of its kitchen. The problem was solved in the twinkling of an eye, and very few small hotels of France to-day on the beaten track, and not many off, will offend the most exacting of travellers, who will make due allowance for the fact that things are not as they are at home, nor can they be expected to be.
One department of the club studies the question of the hygienic fitting up and installation of the country hotel. In this respect it had practically virgin soil to work on in France, for the deficiencies of the small country hotel were a marvel of disgust to the much travelled person of a generation or so ago. The club has invented, or at least developed, the "chambre hygiénique," a sleeping apartment furnished on the most modern of sanitary lines as contrasted with what it was before. Gone is the old-fashioned cotton-like bed, heavy-draped windows and mantelpieces which were depressing even in design, and doubly so when faded, old and dirty – and they were impossible to keep clean. There was perhaps not filthiness, but there was a disorderly aspect that amounted to about the same thing as far as its effect upon one was concerned.
The hotel correspondence bureau of the club turns out twenty thousand letters a year in response to inquiries, and also prints an enamelled tin sign which it presents gratis to any hotelier who may ask for it, admonishing the users of the toilet rooms to leave them "aussi propre" as they may have found them. This may seem ridiculous to the American at home, but not so to he or she who has travelled in France.
The T. C. F. sign hanging before the doors of more than three thousand affiliated French hotels is an eloquent argument of the principles laid down by the club.
To pass to the sentimental side, no historic spot is desecrated by vandal pick-nickers, no celebrated shrine of history or art is torn down or turned into a rag-shop or a bar-room, nor are the great trees of some classic wildwood, where roam the stag and boar yet, as they did in the reigns of Henri IV and Francois Premier, pillaged to make firewood or cottage furniture, but that the T. C. F. protests and puts a stop thereto. The extent to which the club may yet go with regard to proposing, or solving, burning questions which seem to concern the various departments of the national government little or not at all, can hardly be foreseen if its powers gain strength in the next decade as rapidly as they have in the past, and the membership reaches the quarter of a million mark, as is likely.
The Touring Club de France offers its members for a dollar a year the privilege of patronising its three thousand affiliated hotels at a special "prix de faveur," a certain discount varying from five to fifteen per cent being allowed members in good standing. It secures also certain reductions for its members on trains and boats, eliminates Custom House difficulties and dues when crossing the frontiers, and by the celebrated "tryptich" – which it invented – passes the automobilist across first one European frontier and then another, after his once having deposited the "guarantee" with the club that he will ultimately bring his machine back again.
The club publishes a series of beautifully designed and printed road maps, perhaps the finest works of their kind ever produced, and supplies, at a substantial discount, any and all maps, plans and guides wherever published.
Its Guide-Annuaire, or hotel directory, is a most
book for the traveller in France. It is worth all the Baedekers,
and Murrays rolled into one so far as the quality and quantity of
as to French hotels is concerned. It gives prices in detail of all the
hotels, a little zig-zag imitation of a ray of lightning signifies that
is electricity, a little black rectangle that there is a dark room for
photographer, a monkey-wrench that there is a pit and a work-shop and
at the disposition of the autoist, and a crossed knife and fork that
hotel is noted for the excellence of the table, with a similar
mark denoting good beds.
It notes further where certain specialties among the good things of the table for which France is noted are to be had. One may, by the aid of this excellent guide, before starting out, make up a sort of gastronomic tour of France. One goes to Rouen for duck and peas, to Dieppe for fried sole, to Toulon for mussels, to Concarneau for fried fresh sardines, Bayonne for its famous hams, Marseilles for bouillabaisse, Toulouse for capons, Pithiviers for lark pies and Perigueux for truffles, and so on. It is another reason for being for the little tour in France which was made popular by Henry James a quarter of a century ago, and is in no way of losing its popularity.
Besides all this the club, by the means of its magnificent library and its stag of librarians at its imposing club house on the Avenue de la Grande Armée at Paris, can give one world-wide travel information, or may consult yourself its exceedingly complete collection of road maps and guides in a manner far more comfortable than in any other library in the world, more comfortably even than in the British Museum in London or at the Bibliothéque Nationale in Paris.
A few years since the gossiping world of Paris was in an uproar over the notorious "Humbert affair," wherein one known as "La Grande Thérèse," got inextricably mixed up with a certain number of mythical millions, and became so involved that her magnificent town house, her hôtel privé in the Avenue de la Grande Armée, was forced upon the market by an unfeeling decree of the court, and actually went begging for a purchaser. This was perhaps caused by the fact that the decree went into operation during the silly season of August, when everybody but three and three-quarter millions of the population were out of town. A few of the club officials happened to be enjoying Paris in summer, and as at a meeting held just previously it had been decided to look for a new location, as a change from its crowded quarters in a couple of tiny rooms over a café in the Place de la Bourse, they bethought themselves of acquiring this pretentious but very elegantly appointed Paris mansion.
It was rather a large and soiled parcel of linen that the court set about to bundle up, and thus, with a little ready cash to spare, the club was able to buy in the property for a mere nothing. Actually, the creditors of the Humberts got very little, but the court fees and the lawyers were paid, and the Touring Club de France, with membership at a dollar a year, came to be housed more luxuriously than many a club that has difficulty in collecting its hundred-dollar-a-year dues from delinquent members.
To-day where once the pseudo-fashionable crowd of Humbert hangers-on once stalked through marble halls, the plebeian members of the T. C. F. assemble and call their own town house. You may be a mere globe-trotter, a bicyclist, an automobilist or a yachtsman, but all the same, once elected a member, you may get here for five francs a year, or six if you are a foreigner, what you may not get elsewhere on earth.
France is the land of good cooks, and we know it and love it for that, if not for other things as well, and to this end the Touring Club de France is making it more attractive than ever with the precepts which it is distributing broadcast to the innkeeper. It was not enough to counsel him to keep up the traditions of the table. The doctrine of cleanliness and airiness is being preached on all sides, and reasonableness in price; above all, not to exploit the stranger because he is a stranger and may not come that way again.
With all his ability at turning out a meal of excellence the French country chef often did it formerly under most disagreeable, uncomfortable and inconvenient conditions. Now all is changed in the French countryside, and in many of the large towns as well, where deficiencies were often quite as much to be remarked.
The good work of the club has made itself felt in many quarters, and often in the tiniest of towns one or more innkeepers vie with one another as being privileged to hang out the sign of the T. C. F., before their portes-cochères. This has made competing establishments brace up, too, and now the ill-kept, dingy and unappealing inn frequently met with in the French town as late as a decade ago is a thing of the past on the beaten track, and mostly is this true farther afield as well.
The hygienic sleeping-rooms (the chambres hygiéniques popularised by the T. C. F.) were needed badly all over France, both in the cities and towns alike, where only too often a bedroom was but a mere cupboard opening on some dingy, unsanitary courtyard. Now, where the club's admonitions have been followed, all is white lacquer on the wails, scrim curtains at the windows, with iron or brass beds replacing the upholstered abominations of other days. The housewife will appreciate all this, and those who have studied the necessity of well-living as an adjunct to well-being will appreciate the fact that the club has printed for free distribution a series of specific rules for hotel keepers who can be induced to remodel their establishments as to the volume of cubic contents of each sleeping-room as well as the area and position of the windows, the height to ceiling, nature of wall decorations, floor coverings and even the size of the wash-basins. Frequently an old hotel has built on an addition conforming to these requirements, or, as far as possible, remodelled its old form.
Trade follows the flag as well in the hotel business as in the affairs of the nation, and let a good country inn be found midway between Macon and Dijon in the famous Burgundy wine district, and the touring automobilist bound for Switzerland or Rivierawards will stop there for his déjeuner instead of pushing on to the next large town, which he often wrongly assumes as able to supply something more to his liking than can be found in a place lettered less large on the maps.
The hotel industry all over France is, by the earnestness of the efforts of the Touring Club de France, conforming to the new order of things, and prosperity which had languished for generations is now coming to many a quaint old posting inn of some market town in the Cote d'Or or by the banks of the Rhone, which since the advent of the railway and the days of Monte Cristo had fallen into desuetude.
Sometimes, where the thing was needed badly, the Touring Club has gone ahead at its own expense and established up-to-date sanitary fittings in some likely hotel in a much-travelled region, as in some little town in the "château country" of the Loire, with the result that the knowledge of the existence of these things in their midst has given other innkeepers an inducement to brace up for fear that business would pass them by if they, too, did not meet the new conditions and demands of twentieth-century travel. The bathroom is still chiefly wanting in French hotels, excepting those of the cities, the big towns and the resorts. Beyond these it is still considered as a sort of super-luxury, and when found, wherever found in France, in fact, one pays the price, almost the level of American prices. There is nothing cheap about a bath in France. Perhaps it is for this that one still sees an occasional Englishman crossing Paris from the Gare de Nord to the Gare de Lyon, with his tin dish bath-tub strapped tightly down with his trunks on top of his taxi-auto. This is not exaggerated fancy; one may see the same ludicrous sight almost any day.
The force of example was never better exemplified than in the transformation of a certain aspect of the French hotel industry as brought about by the T. C. F. Its sign before the door of a hotel means to the traveller, even though he be a stranger in a strange land, good beds, good cooking, cleanliness, reasonable prices and generous treatment. And all this without the loss of the picturesque element of local character, which is what many of us travel for. The ancient posting inn has been cleaned up, repainted and remodelled a bit, but its artistic outlines are still there, and the stable yard and the stables, if peopled less romantically by automobiles of steel and brass and aluminum than in the days of the coach and four and the berlin-de-voyage in which our grandfathers travelled, serves its purpose quite as well as of old.
This came but slowly, but the ultimate transformation, or at least modernising, of the old houses which bore such names as the "Ecu d'Or," "Grand Monarque," or "Belle Étoile," which abounded in the good old monarchial days of the empire, has banished stuffed chairs and sofas of horse-hair or mangy red plush or green rep, as well as the moth-eaten bear or wolf skins which served for descents de lit, for something more hygienic and more cleanly and pleasing to gaze upon. As before mentioned, the wash-basins even have been given a thought. A certain size sufficiently ample to be useful has been ordained to replace the diminutive chocolate service which once did duty, but which can no longer serve to clean off the dirt and grime of travel by the new locomotion.
Carpets on the floors and fuzzy wall-papers have been banished, and heavy window lambrequins, through which only filtered a dim religious light not strong enough to show the microbes to a former generation, who, to tell the truth, thought little enough about such things. To-day we are more enlightened, but in France the educating process is still in its busiest stage, and the Touring Club de France is in the thick of the fight.
The three thousand Touring Club signs are posted before the doors of as many hotels all over France, from Douarnenez in Finistère – where the sardines come from – to Biarritz, the playground of princes, and Nice and Cannes and Monte Carlo on the Riviera. One and all of these signs stand for the platform upon which the T. C. F. is founded. Let one of these hotels so much as take the slightest undue advantage of a member of the T. C. F. in good standing, and the full force of the influence of a quarter-century old organisation, a hundred and fifty thousand members strong, falls upon him, with the ultimate result that perhaps the sign which has drawn to him the bulk of his business is taken away and rehung on the porte-coterie of his competitor across the way.
Occasionally in travelling about France one sees in some famous viewpoint, where a widespread panorama of sea and sky unfolds, a great massive oaken and iron bench with the initials T. C. F. graven deep therein, and a further intimation that it is delivered to the care of the public. This is another of the public-spirited innovations of the club, and on a more elaborate scale are the Tables d'Orientation, great circular tables of porcelain, or enamel ware, whereon the striking topographical characteristics of the horizon are graven. They are an admirable aid to the tourist, and much appreciated, as for instance, the one on Mont Boron at Nice, on the Riviera, which in one direction points out that Corsica may be seen, on the other the Maritime Alps, etc. Another of these wonderfully interesting aërial signboards, as they may be called, has recently been placed on the terrace of Henri Quatre's natal chateau at Pau, overlooking the colline of Jurançon, from whose vineyards came that famous wine which the infant Prince of Bearn was made to drink within twenty-four hours of his birth. There is another on the height of Bon Secours, near Rouen. In all, there are some fifty of these plaques scattered about France.
The greatest monument of all to the initiative and powers of the Touring Club de France is, however, the magnificent Corniche d'Or of the Esterels, a forty kilometre stretch of superb roadway on the French Riviera following the contours of the coast line, up hill and down dale from Fréjus to Cannes, through Saint Raphael, a municipality which has done the club the honour of naming its principal thoroughfare the Boulevard du Touring Club. At least two great and prosperous hotels, non-existent a decade ago, owe their establishment, and the trade which keeps them going, to this new-born idea of making a new entrance by road to the beauties of the Riviera.
Each month the club issues, gratis to members, a monthly illustrated magazine giving information as to hotels, innovations of travel of interest to its members, sketch maps, illustrated itineraries and what not.
It has recently instituted a competition for hotel keepers who are conducting an establishment for tourists at an all-in price not to exceed nine francs a day, about one dollar and eighty cents. This should sound good to the traveller who has already been plucked at some popular super-luxurious resort and bring home again more forcibly than ever that the best of the good things of this world are not to be found in the footsteps of the throng.
With such inducements the hotel industry in France, so far as many of the establishments of the small towns are concerned, is on the qui vive as it never has been before.
The nautical section of the club, recently founded, has undertaken to build landing stages for automobile boats along the Seine and some other of the French rivers, and has appointed, here and there, waterside hotels as headquarters, with the result that motorboat touring in France is a growing pastime, an ideal way of travelling, by the way, reasonable in price (even to the acquiring of the motor-boat), with ever the assurance of finding a Touring Club hotel at convenient distances on the chiefly travelled French waterways. Thus another source of revenue for the hotel keeper has been tapped. He could not have done it alone, but the club, as much for his benefit as that of its lay members, has encouraged the thing, and thus it was born.
Who can now say that the French know not how to travel? When indeed will Anglo-Saxons know so well how to play the game of the comfortable non-conventional method of travel, the kind that does not mean blowing yourself at the first hostelry that you come to, the kind that means that the traveller and the innkeeper who caters for him are bound together by a common lien, the one not to expect too much and the other to make the way easy and the price reasonable for what he has to offer the traveller on his way.
Abroad, on the Continent, the American and English traveller usually rushes about madly and demands bath- and sitting- and smoking-rooms in most unlikely places, whereas our Gallic brothers and sisters take things easy, pay a great deal more care to the kind of food that is served and how, and above all, how it is cooked, and thus gets the maximum of pleasure and satisfaction as a result.
The participation of the woman traveller in the benefits to accrue from association with this admirably conducted, indeed well-nigh omnipotent, Touring Club de France, and contact, as occasion presents itself, with the exceedingly affable corps of librarians and officials, will give her a better source for the procuring of reliable information about many of the things that matter to the woman abroad than all the renting agencies and ticket offices that were ever conceived to befuddle the person of modest desires and means.
In its contact with the stranger the part played by the T. C. F. is, first of all, to be as well-informed as possible on the ways and means of getting about France. For a stranger in a strange land there is no other source of supply at all to be compared to this. Bureaus of one kind or another there are in Germany, but as they are charged chiefly with local interests they can never hope to fill as plentiful a róle as that played by the Touring Club de France, which, recognising that France is at once the best and the least known of all foreign lands to the English-speaking peoples, seeks to make its delights better known.