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Quitter l’autoroute: a village in southwest France
Quitter l’autoroute: a village in southwest France

France opens up to tourism with a 1986 ‘slow travel’ hit

Quitter l’autoroute, which translates as 'Get off the motorway,' is by the veteran French popster Didier Barbelivien

Simon Calder
Travel Correspondent
Friday 12 June 2020 15:43
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As the world’s most popular nation for tourism strives to recover some of the lost summer, the tourism minister is reaching back to the Eighties for musical inspiration.

France, which normally receives 90 million international visitors a year, fears than many visitors will stay away even when the barriers start coming down later this month.

At present each month without significant international tourism represents around €15bn (£12.5bn) in lost revenue to the industry.

So the tourism minister, Jean-Baptiste Lemoyne, has launched a campaign called Cet été, je visite la France, which translates as “This summer I’m visiting France”.

The aim is to persuade the French to explore their own country rather than travelling abroad.

Mr Lemoyne told the Assemblée nationale in Paris: “We’re working flat out with the various parts of France, in particular the regions.

“The reason I’ve launched an appeal for a ‘blue, white and red’ summer is precisely to encourage French people to rediscover our land.

“You can go round the world by touring France; that’s what is tremendous in our country.”

In a bid to persuade his fellow citizens to explore beyond the usual destinations, he invoked a 1986 hit from veteran French popster Didier Barbelivien: Quitter l’autoroute, which translates as “Get off the motorway”.

“It’s time to get back to our good N and D roads to rediscover France’s gems,” Mr Lemoyne said. These routes nationales and routes departementales are the equivalent of A and B roads in the UK.

As a road anthem, the song has some bizarre lyrics, such as Les trains arrivent toujours à temps, Monsieur le garde-barrière (“The trains always arrive on time, Mr Gatekeeper”).

But fans may claim the hit was positively avant-garde in its portrayal of the concept of “slow travel,” with lines such as Quitter l'autoroute pour voir les ruisseaux, les oiseaux, les châteaux – “Get off the motorway to see the streams, the birds, the castles.”

Mr Lemoyne also set out a timetable for opening up to foreign tourists – indicating that France will join much of the rest of Europe in removing internal EU barriers next Monday, 15 June, and opening up to international visitors from 1 July.

At present France imposes a two-week quarantine for passengers arriving from Britain, in retaliation to the UK’s decision to impose quarantine on all visitors from abroad.

“Travellers arriving from the UK, whatever their nationality, are asked to go into a voluntary 14-day quarantine,” says the French embassy in London.

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