THE VOLCANO HAS JUST ERUPTED – that was the news that reached my ears around 15 hours before my first flight to Bali after 10 years. After more than 50 years, Mount Agung decided to erupt just before my departure to attend the Douce France 2017 workshop organised by Atout France (France Tourism Development Agency). Though I was apprehensive at first, after reassurances from the organiser, I eventually agreed to visit the fabled island of the gods where everything seems to be magical and colourful. The eruption did not affect my trip to Bali, and I was glad that I attended the workshop.

Prior to attending Douce France 2017 and never been to France, I have this burning question in my head: what can I do in France? And after attending the workshop, the answer is MORE THAN YOU CAN FIT INTO YOUR ENTIRE LIFETIME.

For the second consecutive year, Atout France (atout-france.fr/content/about-us) organised the annual Douce France workshop from 22 until 24 November 2017. Founded in 2009, Atout France is the organisation that is responsible for promoting France as a tourism destination, contributing towards the development of the French tourism industry through various missions.

Morad Tayebi, the ASEAN Regional Director of Atout France giving his speech during the Gala Dinner at Club Med Bali.F

Since the country is targeting 100 million annual tourist arrivals by 2020 from 83 million in 2016, France has been ramping up its promotional efforts worldwide by staging international promotions through its network of 33 offices in 30 countries.

According to the organiser, the format for 2017 differed from the previous year. Instead of holding roadshows in several major cities in Southeast Asia, Atout France opted on the workshop format specifically for selected hosted buyers, including travel and tourism journalists and influencers from Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam, and the Philippines to meet up with Atout France’s partners: Club Med; Air France; La Vallee Village shopping outlets; McArthur Glenn designer outlets; Groupe Monge in charge of beauty and health tourism; RailEurope; and Monaco Tourism.

As an introduction to French hospitality, travellers in various parts of the world could easily experience it by heading to any one of Club Med’s properties closest to them. Founded in 1950, Club Méditerranée SA (www.clubmed.com.my), popularly known as Club Med, is a pioneering French hospitality group that specialises in all-inclusive holidays at dedicated ‘vacation villages’ owned and operated by the group in a number of usually exotic locations around the world. One such village is Club Med Bali, the venue for Douce France 2017. The property, like the other all-inclusive vacation villages around the world, is the place where guests can munch and drink all they want throughout their waking hours, and join in various activities ranging from archery all the way to trapeze-flying. There are also 25 Club Med ski resorts throughout Europe that offers free skiing lessons and free gear rental to its guests, including sleigh-riding, snow-biking, and everything else we South East Asians love to try! The only setback that guests might face is TIME (which they would find never enough in trying all of the activities) or ENERGY (if you’re middle-aged like me).

The well-manicured grounds of Club Med Bali.

To actually experience France the country, foreign travellers need to be transported there first. But how? By flying on Air France-KLM (www.airfranceklm.com/en) of course! Combined, both airlines carry over 93.4 million passengers in 2016 and are connected to over 30 destinations in France alone. Adding a sense of joie de vivre and style to travelling, Air France serves free champagne in its Economy class, known to be the only airline that does so. On top of that, KLM’s World Business Class also sports seats designed by top Dutch designer Hella Jongerius that help to increase passengers’ comfort when flying. By the way, in case you didn’t know, KLM originated from the Netherlands and is THE oldest airline in the world.

Besides flying, travellers are also urged to embrace the romance of travel by opting for Rail Europe (www.raileurope.com), the largest distributor of European rail products worldwide that offers new high-speed rail travel on the newest train lines in 2018 connecting travellers to many parts of the continent, making the cities in France, Switzerland, Germany and Spain more accessible. One can simply book a pass for unlimited travelling on all those lines within a day!

Once travellers have arrived in France, they are bound to be lured by what the country is known for: French cuisine, listed as a world heritage by UNESCO. The country boasts over 616 restaurants that carries the Michelin star, a prestigious rating system much coveted by chefs and restaurant owners to indicate their stature in the highly competitive world of culinary.

Douce France

Besides food, France is also known as the shopping haven and home to celebrated global fashion brands such as Louis Vuitton, Chanel, YSL, Hermes, and Jean Paul Gaultier, among others. In getting their hands on the French branded items, shopping enthusiasts and shopaholics could simply head to La Vallee Village (www.lavalleevillage.com/en/home), a famous one-stop luxury shopping centre that is 35 minutes from Paris and five minutes from Disney® Parks. This village comprises 110 luxury fashionF and lifestyle brands boutiques that offer savings of at least 33% less than retailed prices. Fancy getting these items at a much lower price? Then head to McArthur Glenn Designer Outlets (www.mcarthurglen.com/en/), the first designer outlet in Southern France where shoppers can indulge in designer brands with discounts up to 70%!

If one loves to experience shopping in Paris itself, then Printemps Paris (departmentstoreparis.printemps.com/) is the place to be. Today, Printemps Paris is the world’s leading department store for fashion, luxury and beauty with an astounding 490,000 square feet of retail space.

Besides shopping, Paris is also currently branding itself as a beauty and health destination. Groupe Monge, created in December 2016 based on the success Pharmacy Monge (www.pharmacie-monge.fr) in Paris’ 5th street, specialises in stores dedicated to the largest portfolio of premium brands in medicine, dermatology, cosmetics, dietetics and perfume. It offers brands at among the lowest prices available, between 30% and 60% less expensive than the market prices in France.

Do you know that for every second, 50 bottles of Evian (pure.evian.com/en/UK) natural mineral water are consumed in more than 140 countries worldwide? The water is sourced from Evian-les-Bains, a resort and spa town that has been popular since 1879, nestling between the French side of Lake Geneva and the French Alps, only an hour’s drive from the Geneva airport. More than just a spa destination, Evian-les-Bains is surrounded by an exceptionally pristine natural environment with remarkable cultural heritage. The place is definitely a must-visit when visiting France.

Fiqrie Dahari

The writer, Fiqrie Dahari.

For travellers preferring to trace the footsteps of Grace Kelly or James Bond from the film Casino Royale, Monaco (www.visitmonaco.com) is THE place for them to strut to the hilt. Set along Cote D’Azur and Italy, this cosmopolitan enclave of the elites is an independent city-state located on France’s Mediterranean coastline. It is the playground for the rich and famous, hence it glitters with European history, luxury, excitement and glamour. Enjoying the highest level of security due to the high concentration of wealth, Monaco offers 300 days of sunshine a year with mild temperature, perfect for travellers to enjoy its palate of luxury hotels, internationally acclaimed gastronomic establishments and top of the range well-being centres. On top of that, travellers will never get bored when visiting Monaco because over 700 events are held in the city-state throughout the year, especially the world-renowned Monaco Grand Prix in May.

In conclusion, never have I learned a great deal about France in a short time until I attended the Douce France 2017 two-day seminar. It was indeed an immersive experience that made my heart ache in desire to discover the great nation of France soon – here’s hoping to visit France in 2018! BONNE CHANCE!

Fiqrie Dahari is a radio announcer, emcee, and social media influencer who is now cutting his teeth in travel writing. Gaya Travel Magazine extends our heartfelt gratitude to Atout France for making Fiqrie’s trip to Club Med Bali and participation in Douce France 2017 possible.

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