France the French way


France in the Frame

Posted: 2013-03-19

French travel specialist John Reese has invested two decades in changing the way Kiwis feel about France, he tells Cameron Williamson of the Dominion Post Wellington (NZ)

To sit in the garden of Renoir’s house, sketching 1000 year old olive trees and hearing the stories of the land, is John Reese’s kind of travel.

Twenty years into a plan to develop an international business that involved his family, the proprietor of France-The French Way is flushed with success. He and his wife Andrea, a Christchurch caterer, organise French travel for their New Zealand clientele and spend European summers based at their central Paris apartment overlooking Notre Dame.

An Evening with Renoir

He’s as much a storyteller as a tour guide: “The history-histoire is a French word- behind the landscapes and buildings and countryside is the lifeblood of France” he says.

Establishing his travel business in a pre-internet world with a dearth of quality information about exploring France, Reese found his challenge was to confront the “not another bloody Cathedral” scepticism of Kiwi travellers. As a bilingual guide with a deep understanding of la vie francaise, Reese gets his kicks from seeing travellers listening, in a café or pub, to stories of France and thinking “that’s really interesting”.

France-The French Way has grown dramatically in 20 years, but has never stopped being a specialist. While travel agents constantly badger Reese to expand into Spain or Italy, his French speciality is his strength. “Some tours we go past Monaco to Venice and down the coast of Croatia, but it’s Franc we know, and a style of holiday we sell,” he says.

Having lived through Christchurch’s earthquakes, John Reese has seen a change in the way New Zealanders want to holiday: ”It’s a kind of post-depression, post-apocalypse mentality which says “Life’s too short, we want to live well now”. “So rather than being miserable, with money that they were going to give to the kids, they’re looking to spend a month, or two months, or six months in a comfortable village, using the language, eating local produce, living well.”

The Reeses infected their kids with the travel bug early, and at 21 and 23, both are confirmed internationalists. While their son Alexander pursues a cricket business in India, daughter Sarah studied arts and film at Louis Lumière College in Paris, and now directs New Zealand’s resurgent French Film Festival, showing in Wellington until Sunday.

She has invited her father to address the audience at Renoir tomorrow evening to give them a feeling for the inspiration a sojourn in the South of France can offer.

The film is set on the Cote d’Azur in 1915 and visits Pierre-Auguste Renoir in his twilight years, arthritic and sad. When a young girl miraculously enters his world, the old painter is filled with a new energy. The film is reportedly a visual delight and captures the Mediterranean light and landscapes, says Sarah. “It’s the cheapest and easiest way to enjoy a trip to France.”