January 31, 2012

THE GUIDED TOUR

In July last year we paid a second visit to Palluau-sur-Indre, a village with a lovely privately owned château – I wrote about it first in 2010 here.

palluau1

The château at Palluau-sur-Indre.

The château had been sold in (I believe) 2010 and the new owner was carrying out major improvements and opening it for visitors.  As it happened, we turned up only a couple of weeks after it had re-opened in 2011.  You can read more about the history of the château here.

palluau2

There was a modest entrance fee and we could see that things were not really too well organised yet but in we went, dying to have a closer look in the courtyard and hopefully inside as well.

 palluau3

Unfortunately, we dropped a clanger and ended up on a tour guidée, the last one of the day.

palluau4

We have a general rule that we don’t do guided tours, only those where you can wander round freely at your own pace, the tour libre.  This is because our French is not good enough to keep up with most of the tour guides.

If they are aware they have non-French speakers in the group, some guides will make an effort to speak more slowly and clearly, or even repeat some of the information in English at the end of each section.  This is always most helpful and very much appreciated.

However, we have endured many a miserable hour trapped inside a château, having been locked into the room with the rest of the group, well out of our depth in terms of understanding anything.  The guide will open the door with a key, herd all the visitors in and lock the door again so no-one can escape!!  Presumably this is to prevent visitors from wandering around by themselves and getting up to some sort of mischief.

 palluau5 palluau6

Unfortunately, on this day the lady who meets and greets visitors led us briskly towards the little chapel where a tour was already under way.  As we sped across the courtyard we said that we didn’t realise it was not a visite libre and couldn’t we please just wander around by ourselves.

palluau7 palluau8

She assured us that not only was this out of the question but it was no problem, the guide spoke good English so we would be in good hands.

palluau9

Well, if he spoke any English at all he certainly didn’t try while we were there.  There were only four other visitors, all French, and he completely and totally ignored us, making no contact with us at all, not even a welcome, never mind establishing whether or not we could understand anything.

palluau9a

The walls of the chapel were painted with a beautiful fresco, depicting the story of the nativity and the life of Christ in chronological order.  The guide spoke very quickly and directly to the other visitors, completely ignoring us and answered interminable questions such as what kind of paint was used, how the painting survived the damp and so on.  After spending thirty minutes listening to him explain every brushstroke in great detail we were losing the will to live and whilst his back was momentarily turned, we made our escape.  We couldn’t face having to struggle our way through the rest of the tour.

 palluau9b

We wandered around the courtyard and enjoyed the beauty of the place and the peace and quiet of its lovely setting but we were disappointed we had lost out on the opportunity to see inside the château.  It’s a shame, because the inside looked from the outside as though it would be really interesting.

After a while the “meeter and greeter” strode purposefully in our direction and enquired exactly what we were up to.

So we will be a bit more canny next time we visit a château, remembering to enquire whether the visit is by guided tour or free visit - until our French is a lot better anyway !!

16 comments:

  1. Far from a satisfying experience. Sorry to hear that.

    ReplyDelete
  2. A shame that; the outside looks interesting.

    ReplyDelete
  3. I'm totally with you when it comes to guided tours, even when the language isn't an issue. We simply hate being herded around the premises like a flock of sheep. We prefer to explore the site at our own pace; stopping at things that tickle our curiosity and moving on when there is another 'here slept King XYZ' story. Give us a free tour anytime!

    ReplyDelete
  4. Super photos, Jean, but a shame about being herded round like that and ignored into the bargain.

    ReplyDelete
  5. How very rude! We have been on a few -- very few -- where the guide did make a concerted effort to speak English. What is most appreciated is when the place we are visiting has gone to the trouble of posting explanations in English -- it makes all the difference as to whether you feel welcome or not...

    ReplyDelete
  6. I have found that most of these places expect tourists and try to accommodate. I agree though I would rather walk around on my own as we do at La Rochefoucauld. Only the library is a tour and open at certain hours. Diane

    ReplyDelete
  7. WV is "grail"... 'nuff said!

    ReplyDelete
  8. Maybe you could approach the new owners and suggest that they have an English hand out for non French visitors.

    SP

    ReplyDelete
  9. That's one of the places you see from afar and assume, because of the roofline and the extent of the whole place, that it's one of the big name chateaux, but of course it isn't.

    I'm glad to see your photos. It does look like if they get their act together it could be a really interesting place to visit.

    ReplyDelete
  10. Lovely looking chateau, so perhaps one day the owners might actually get their act together in regards to showing respect to their paying visitors. Hosting the public is a craft in itself!

    ReplyDelete
  11. I ocne went a guided tour of a stone age (re-constructed) village by the shores of Lake Constance. It was with my ex wife and we listened for an age as the young guide (a man) spouted on in academic German. This was well beyond my comphrension and Ann (my ex) understood nothing but thought I was grapsing it. At the end of the hour long tour she turned and said to me 'what was he saying?' I said 'Spring' as freuhling was the only word I understood. Hilarious!

    ReplyDelete
  12. I wonder if French tourists in the U.K. have the same kinds of language issues. In the U.S., they certainly would. Oh well. I agree that guided tours are not the best way to see a place. Even if you understand the language of the tour, sometimes you can't hear well.

    ReplyDelete
  13. Rob-bear - we were unlucky that day.

    N&A - it's a lovely chateau and it's a pity we didn't get to see the inside.

    Martine - exactly !!

    Perpetua - we fell foul of having a poorly trained guide, I think.

    The Broad - we don't EXPECT the guides to speak English but just like to know what we are letting ourselves in for. It was our mistake. We should have asked (or have been told).

    Diane - I think they were not yet prepared for foreign visitors. Which is odd in a part of France which is inundated with them in the summer.

    Tim - good word !!

    SP - that was the obvious solution and we did think about saying something but did not feel feedback was welcome.

    Carolyn - it's a beautiful place and well worth a visit if your French is up to it.

    Vera - I think they were just finding their feet in terms of opening for visitors.

    Phil - we have experienced similar many times in France, which is why we usually check what is on offer.

    Ken - much the same as in France, I think, if not worse, depending where you are.
    Here in Derbyshire we are swamped with tourists but very few of them would be French I think. The "free" visit is the norm, with hand-outs or audio guides which would be available in several languages in the larger tourist attractions. In the smaller ones it would be a lottery, rather like our experience at this place. As you say, it must be just as bad if you have hearing problems.

    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

    Generally, we feel the onus is on us to learn the language, and would never normally complain if we can't understand what's going on. In this case it was not made clear what the routine was; we assumed it was a free visit but it turned out to be a guided tour, which we would normally avoid, so the problem was really of our own making.
    The guide was just doing what all guides do, explaining in great detail every aspect of the interior, which is really not our cup of tea. We like to do what Martine said - wander round and get the ambience, enjoy a bit of daydreaming about life in previous centuries, and dip into bits in more detail if we feel like it.

    In this case we had a guide who was definitely well informed on the history of the chateau but was as much out of his depth with foreign visitors as we were with the language. But there is no excuse for him being so rude.

    ReplyDelete
  14. Trouble makers! So sorry for the disappointing explorations. Beautiful photos.

    ReplyDelete
  15. Just enjoying catching up with you. It does look a lovely Chateau. xxxx

    ReplyDelete
  16. Mitch - thanks!

    Diane - It is lovely. We may well go back this year and see if they are better organised so we can get a look at the inside.

    ReplyDelete