Researching a Guidebook Off-Season

March 30, 2009
St-Tropez by Michael Gwyther-Jones

St-Tropez by Michael Gwyther-Jones

In a tourist-hot region like Provence there is one enormous advantage (bar the obvious) of travelling out of season – or rather on the cusp of the season as I have done for the past fortnight. Come Easter, this fabled part of southern France will burst into mad-busy life. But for the moment many hotels and restaurants are in a sleepy state of anticipation – painting woodwork, doing up shop fronts. Or they are simply shut full-stop … zero sign of life.


For me, researching a guidebook, this poses an interesting phenomenon. Instinct says ‘Pain in the neck! Have to come back!’ Selective judgment says ‘Great, easy as pie to spot where people who live here go!’.



Take St-Tropez. All those flashy, high-flyer celebrity addresses – Club 55, La Voile Rouge et al – are shut: summer’s jet set hadn’t arrived yet. Rather, it is down-to-earth, gutsy, simple bars and bistros like Brasserie des Arts, Le Sporting, La Dame de Coeur that are open, busy and buzzing. And have been all winter. That’s where I’ll send you, where the locals are.



  1. Fully agree – there are nearly only advantages. It’s especially nice when the owners of hotels, cafes etc can take the time to chat to you.
    The cooler weather and the cheaper and readily available hotels and rental cars are also major reasons for avoiding high(er) season. The one problem is in some beach resorts where so much can be closed out of season that’s it’s tricky to do any research before May.

  2. Good point. I’m not even trying to research the Iles d’Hyères before early June. So few people live there, these three gorgeous islands blow my ‘follow the locals’ theory straight out the window!

  3. I wasn’t researching but we did make a little jaunt to St Trop and the Var last year. It was lovely but St Trop STILL had traffic jams! My account is here: http://frenchrivieratraveller.com/blog/?p=10

    We really loved the B&B. Could certainly have used some restaurant suggestions.

  4. I love researching books off season! Early last year we updated books on Cyprus and Crete for AA Publishing and Thomas Cook, and also wrote a first edition on Calabria – and it was winter time and it was absolutely wonderful! Far better than LP, who always seemed to send us places peak season when they were so ridiculously expensive and crowded. You might not be able to look at hotel rooms in the popular beach resorts – but those beachy places are far more appealling when they’re tranquil off-season. We also but you can always phone up and check info, and snoop around from the outside and chat to locals. The one thing I love is the fact that locals are so much more relaxed and giving of their time.

    P.S finally got around to updating my blogroll and added you – thanks for the msg.

  5. For those who tire of running around the south of France, in any season, many second-home owners offer their properties as weekly rentals. As we do. So this note is a tad biased. Take Seillans for example, where we own a 400-year-old maison de village that can be rented off season for a song (in this economy, we are dealing). Park your car along the periphery (no vehicles inside the village) and savor life on foot for a few days. Walk to at least three good restaurants, cafes, galleries, shops, a local marche on Wednesdays, and, to repent for all that road rage as you drove up from Nice or St Tropez (less than an hour away), a quiet moment at church will do wonders. L’Eglise St Leger is just up the lane. Oh, did I mention the church bells? You won’t need that expensive Piaget wrist watch to tell you what time it is. Pretty hard to miss the bell ringing on the hour and half hour when you are at home. If you forget to pay attention the first time around, the bell rings once again a minute later … in case you were lost in thought, watching the swallows overhead up on the terrace.

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