Patrick Vidal is the prefect antidote to the "aloof Frenchman" stereotype. He's got more energy than that famous battery bunny, smiles effortlessly, and has an insatiable curiosity about the world. We discovered Patrick (pa-treek) in Burgundy more than a decade ago, driving buses for a "canal hotel barge" company. It didn't take long to see that he had the right stuff for guiding. In practically no time he learned the ropes of leading our tours, and he's been turning our tour members on to the joys of all things French — on Wine Regions of Eastern France, Loire to the South of France, and Paris & the Heart of France — ever since.
What is it about "presenting France" to travelers that you find so energizing?A
The mix of people I get on a Rick Steves tour, the energy they bring and the questions they ask are always so different. I am constantly seeing new ways to teach about my country. My tour members really keep me on my toes! I am also careful not to take on too many weeks of touring in any year (about 14 weeks is maximum for me), so that I am always fresh for every group. I do other work to supplement my income, but nothing brings me as much pleasure as tour guiding!
How has France changed for travelers since you began guiding tours?
I think French businesses that deal with travelers have really tried to improve their hospitality. But don't get carried away yet! The French service principle is still the same: the customer is not king (unless you are touring with me, of course)! This isn't an anti-American or anti-traveler thing. Even the French can get uninspired customer service in France.
In your opinion, who is the most interesting French person alive today?
To me, José Bové is the man of the moment. He's part of a political party that wants to offer a more traditionally French alternative to a society based on money, profit and selfishness. He's big on green issues, local trade, local democracy and sheep-milk cheese (that he makes himself, as a farmer).
You've been lucky to live in several regions of France. Is there another you'd like to try?
I was born and raised in Laon (45 kms from Reims) — and then I moved as soon as I could, and often! I attended the University of Strasbourg, and spent seasons in the Vosges Mountains, Chamonix and Quiberon. From there I moved to St Brieuc, Megeve, and then to work with hotel barges in Paris and Burgundy, where I lived with my wife and two children before moving to Brittany.
If I had to move now, it might be to the area of Perpignan in the south. It's close to the Mediterranean, to the Pyrenees ski resorts, and to Spain where my family originally came from. Houses are still affordable and the weather is great.
If an American can visit just one region in France, besides Paris, what would you recommend?
Brittany! Because it's out of the way, the region is not often included in tours. But it has marvels to offer culturally as well as geographically.
You guide Rick Steves' tours in France for several months each year. What do you do the rest of the time?
For a few years now, I've been working on renovating an old stone house that I own in Brittany, which was built in 1682! Last year my wife started a new business selling sandwiches, ice cream and crêpes on the seaside, and I work with her during the summer months. My latest idea is to train myself to be a qualified electrician. Is that enough to keep me busy?
What Patrick won't tell you — here's how his tour alums rave about him:
"Patrick Vidal was wonderful! He was the perfect guide full of boundless energy, able to troubleshoot situations in a flash, and filled with stories and anecdotes about every place we visited. When the Louvre's opening was delayed because of a union issue, he simply gathered us all together for a great little walking tour of the environs around the Place de la Bastille. Without this little diversion, I would never have seen the gorgeous Place des Vosges."
—Karen in Shoreline, WA
"You know, I am probably gushing a bit in this review (hard not to), but we believe that Patrick is a total credit to the Rick Steves organization (as well as France). He is so friendly, helpful, disarming and competent as a guide that I couldn't imagine a better one. I honestly couldn't think of a single improvement — I'm being honest here!"
— Bob in Seattle, WA