Travel Destinations

Anyone interested in World War II history who finds themselves in the area before October 2013 should travel to the Musée du Pays de la Zorn at Hochfelden in Alsace where they will discover memorabilia of one of M16’s most secret operations, the Sussex Plan. At the beginning of 2014, it will be relocated to the Association de Sauvegarde du Patrimoine Historique Militaire in La Wanteznau 12 miles from Strasbourg.

The Plan was conceived in 1943 when the Allies needed every bit of information about the enemy’s movements in Northern France as they planned the D-Day landings. Most intelligence gathering networks including SOE and French Intelligence had, by this time been infiltrated or overrun and although the Allies had cracked the German codes and by destroying the telephone system, had forced the enemy to communicate by wireless, there was always the fear that the Germans might change the ciphers just before the invasion.

Thus it was decided to create an entirely fresh network using agents new to clandestine work. It was a tripartite initiative; Kenneth Cohen of British SIS and Frances Pickens Miller of American OSS were joined by Officers of the French B.C.RA ( Bureau Central de Renseignement et d’Action) set up by the leader of the Free French, General de Gaulle, in London.

Gilbert Renault, known as Colonel Rémy was responsible for finding French-speaking recruits for the operation. These were mainly men who had escaped from occupied France to North Africa and Spain. They were brought to England where they all had to pass through the rigorous checks of the Victoria School Intelligence Centre otherwise known as the ‘Patriotic School’ in London before moving on to special training at St Alban"s.

The late Captain Guy Wingate had served as a liaison officer at St Alban"s. He had been selected for this job because he spoke perfect French, having been born in Paris where his father had an interior decoration business. He had trained as an architect before joining the British Army at the outbreak of war, where he served as part of the British Expeditionary Force which was evacuated from Dunkirk.
Some years ago while compiling a programme for BBC Radio 4, I visited St Albans to meet Guy Wingate. We went first to Glenalmond, now an old people’s home which had then been used as the operation’s administrative center during the war and Guy told me something of the training the recruits received.

“There were about 120 Frenchmen and women here under the command of my skipper, the late Colonel Malcolm Henderson,” he said, “ They lived at Praewood, another large house just up the road and most of their field training took place in the grounds.”

The training included codes, enemy recognition and identification, civilian disguises, unarmed combat, gun handling and grenade throwing.
“I remember going to pick up the grenades which hadn’t gone off,” Guy reminisced. “We couldn’t afford to waste them.”

Each recruit was issued with a bicycle and taught to drive both cars and motorbikes. Night map reading was also on the syllabus, which at first alarmed the local populace who through these young people roaring around on motorbikes were German spies. Generally, however, relations with the locals were good, a couple of them even married local girls. Some of these Frenchmen worked under the aegis of the Americans and some under the British which resulted in an amount of friendly rivalry, with the local pubs, the Fighting Cocks and the White Hart becoming unofficial HQs for each side.

Capt. Wingate & Col. Henderson

The agents were to work in two-man teams, one mission chief, and one radio operator. Each team was given a specific mission to perform and expected to recruit sub-agents in the field. Each man was equipped with a cyanide pill to use in case of capture.
Initially, it had been decided to parachute the agents to their locations “blind”, that is without any sort of reception committee. Rémy, who had run his own resistance network considered this far too dangerous and proposed some of his own ex-agents who had escaped to England as “pathfinders” to go ahead and prepare the ground.

One of these was Jeanette Guyot who, with three companions was parachuted into France early in 1944. She made her way to Paris where she had a friend whose husband had just been taken prisoner by the Germans. This was the young Andrée Goubillon who owned a café in the fifth arrondissement. “I remember when she first came into the bar,” she told me when I visited her in her in Paris, “I knew she did this sort of work and I agreed at once although there was a Gestapo post just down the road.” So began Goubillon’s task of running a safe house to say nothing of feeding “her boys” as they passed through Paris.

One of the “boys” who remembered these days was William Bechtel, 93 years old when I visited him in Les Invalides. He told me of his adventures in Rouen where he and his brave radio operator Vallande transmitted information about General von Kluger’s 7th Army for the RAF bombing until he could signal “ Apart from me and my equipment there was not a military objective left in Rouen.”
The Sussex Plan did suffer several tragedies; one of the most poignant because it happened right at the end of the war involved five agents including the young Evelyne Clopet. Three Sussex teams procured a German lorry which was subsequently stopped by fleeing Germans who were surprised to see it driven by civilians. Even then the young people might have got away with it but as they were forced out of the lorry at gunpoint a case fell open revealing transmitters and arms. One agent escaped but four were tortured and then taken to a quarry and shot.

Most of the missions, however, were successful. The Sussex team at Evereux relayed Field Marshall Rommel’s movements from la Roche Guyon which resulted in an RAF raid within minutes. Information was also relayed about V1 rocket sites in Northern France.

After the war, the surviving agents used to meet for a monthly reunion dinner at Madame Goubillon’s café which they repainted and re-named it Café du Reseau Sussex. Sadly the café is no more as, after Madame Goubillon’s death, it was transformed into a piano bar although a plaque commemorating the role the café and its owner played during the war has been erected on what was its wall at rue Tournefort.

Guy Wingate, Andrée Goubillon and the majority of the agents involved have since died and it is in order to preserve the memories of these brave people, together with the some of their documents, uniforms, and equipment that Dominique Soulier, son of a fortunately surviving agent Georges Soulier, had the idea of creating a museum as a lasting memorial to all who had participated in this little-known but vital operation.

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A new French revolution has occurred! By permission of the French authorities, you too can stay in one of the new “palaces.” At the beginning of 2010, they created a new five- star hotel category that, curiously, did not exist before. Yes prior to that date, France did not have a single five-star hotel.

The tourism ministry induced the French hotel business to improve the quality of facilities and services and many hotels have worked hard to obtain this five-star label that puts them on a level playing field with the rest of the world. Now the choice will be easier for incoming tourists and gone will be the annoyances that were always possible when, in the same category, you weren’t able to tell the difference between standard four-star hotels and luxury ones.

But, what about the most famous French luxury hotels which are already a cut above others? Apart from the few traditional glamorous ones, a new wave of prestigious establishments from international hotel chains is changing the landscape of the top hotels on offer, mainly in Paris and Provence-Côte d’Azur. By the end of 2012, Paris will have doubled the capacity of luxury hotel rooms. In order to highlight the best of the best and to promote the excellence of these high-class hotels a new label – the Palace – has been recently created by the French Tourism Ministry.

The level of quality to achieve this ‘Palace’ label has led a few people to talk about a ‘seven-star label’. It goes without saying that all hotels aspiring to become ‘palaces’ have to be exceptional establishments, “la crème de la crème” as the French say. They must be atypical and beyond the ordinary standards of a luxury hotel. Not only must the services be outstanding but the facilities including restaurants and spas have to be the first rate too. In award to achieve this status, location, architecture and the history of the hotel, are also very important to the official jury. And new hotels have to wait for a minimum of 12 months after opening before any status is to be awarded.

In late May 2011, the first eight awarded Palaces were announced by Frederic Lefebvre, the French Tourism State Secretary who declared: “These hotels must be a dream. The word ‘palace’ takes place inside the imagination of everyone and it’s an invitation to travel”. Four hotels in Paris, two in the French Alps, and two on the seaside were allowed to carry the Palace label. And in October, the George V in Paris, which seemed to have been forgotten in the first round, became the ninth.

The Parisian Palaces are the Bristol, the Meurice, the Park-Hyatt Paris-Vendôme, the Plaza-Athénée and the George V. In the country, the Cheval Blanc and Les Airelles, both located in the Alps in the famous ski resort of Courchevel, received this label. Finally, the Hotel du Palais in Biarritz on the Atlantic Ocean, and the Grand Hotel du Cap at St Jean-Cap-Ferrat on the Mediterranean seaside received “palace” awards.

In Paris, the Raffles Royal Monceau which has re-opened after a long renovation, the Shangri-La and the Mandarin Oriental which recently opened, as well as the Peninsula which will open later this year, is among those who must wait before they can make an application for the label.

But this new revolution is stronger than anyone could have imagined. Even though prices in such ‘palaces’ are very high, the demand still exists. Sometimes it is hard to get a booking. Paris is the most visited town in the world and attracts upscale tourism. So to be able to withstand these newer hotels that have attracted ‘palace’ status, a lot of well-known establishments have chosen to close and be completely renovated in order to try and win the coveted award. It’s a tsunami that has shaken the small world of the French luxury hotel business.

The Carlton in Cannes will be closed for eight months from September 2012 to May 2013, ditto the Negresco in Nice which will close for six months from January to June 2012. In Paris, the Ritz (owned by Mohamed Al-Fayed) will close its doors and won’t re-open until the beginning of 2015. The management of the Crillon in Paris, which was voted the best city hotel in the world by The Daily Telegraph last May, recently revealed that “The Crillon faces renovation works in 2012″, but hasn’t yet specified dates or whether it will be a partial or full closing.

Finally, the birth of the ‘Palace label’ is a wonderful opportunity to improve the French hotels and to remind staff and hoteliers that you cannot afford to rest on your laurels. France, being the first tourism destination of choice in the world has to make permanent and continuous efforts to keep this position.

So soon, Paris will present a more fabulous choice of accommodation for Parisians and for all those who have already fallen in love with this city of gastronomy, culture and romanticism. And for those who are still hesitant about visiting Paris, spend this weekend watching Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris – a true love letter to Paris.

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Travel Destinations

Whether you’re a novice or seasoned traveler, France will steal your heart. Each month, Frederic – our French correspondent – gives us the low-down on what to see and do across the channel

February 2012: A Selection of Exhibitions and New Cultural Events

Ending soon:

Until Feb 12: Pompeii, an art de vivre
A walk through the rooms of a typical private home of Pompeii, filled with furniture and artefacts from the houses buried under the ashes of Vesuvius in 79 AD, to discover the art-de-vivre of the Roman times.
Musée Maillol, Paris

Until Feb 17: La France en Relief: from Louis XIV to Napoleon III
A military purpose leading to the creation of this tremendous collection of relief maps, models of fortified towns and fortresses, of an incredible quality and size.
Musée du Grand Palais, Paris

Until Feb 26: Cezanne and Paris
An exhibition of about 80 Cezanne’s works, all linked to Paris and its environs where the painter although more famous for his Provence works, stayed and worked quite all of his artist’s life.
Musée du Luxembourg, Paris

Until March 5: Erre, variations labyrinthiques
A collective exhibition around the labyrinth’s theme, in architecture, in time, in the man’s spirit, in modern town, as well as in the Minautore’s maze and finally in works of art breaking the traditional laws of perspective.
Centre Pompidou-Metz, Metz-57, Moselle

Until March 5: Napoleon III and Eugenie at the Fontainebleau Castle, a Second Empire French Art-de-Vivre
An evocation of the Second Empire art-de-vivre, with the presentation of numerous objects belonging to the private apartments of the last French emperor Napoleon III and his wife Eugenie, a loan by the Fontainebleau castle. Musée des Arts Décoratifs, Bordeaux, 33, Gironde

Running now:

From Feb 17 to March 4: the Carnival of Nice
During more than two weeks the town of Nice shelters the biggest French Carnival attracting tourists from over the world to the Cote d’Azur to attend the unique Carnival and Flower Parades. This year the theme is King of Sport, a tribute to the 2012 London Olympic Games.
Nice 06, Alpes Maritimes

From Feb 21 until April 29: Ai Weiwei – Interlacing
The first major exhibition of the Chinese conceptual artist, showing photographies and videos that offer a critical overview of the everyday social realities in a urban setting mainly in China, that works sending him to prison during 80 days in April, 2011, the artist being still on bail in Bejing.
Musée du Jeu de Paume, Paris

From Feb 21 until April 29: Berenice Abbott
A retrospective of the works of the successful photographer Berenice Abbott (1898-1991), presenting 140 vintage prints including portraits of famous artists in Paris in the 1920s, images of Changing New York, her project in the 1930s, and a selection of experimental abstract photos produced for the M.I.T. in the 1950s.
Musée du Jeu de Paume, Paris

Until March 31: La Fabrique Sonore, Pommery Experiment
A presentation inside the spectacular ancient chalk pits now used as champagne cellars, of the works of thirty international artists working on various sound nuances, from noise to music.
Domaine Pommery, Reims-51, Marne

Until April 1: Rodin, 300 Drawings, Capturing the Model
An exhibition of a few series of drawings of women’s bodies, quite unknown works of the worldwide known sculptor, Auguste Rodin.
Paris, Musée Rodin

Until April 2: Danser sa Vie
An exhibition of around 450 art works, paintings, drawings, choreographies, from the1900s until today dedicated to discover how visual arts and dance share the same passion for bodies in movement. The title of this exhibition is a tribute to Isadora Duncan, the famous dancer, who said that her art was only “to dance her life”.
Centre Pompidou, Paris

Until May 12: Napoleon’sWars, by Louis Francois Lejeune, general and painter
A precious eyewitness account of the main Napoleon’s battles through the works of an extremely accurate painter who was also a general who fought all over Europe and who later on wrote for posterity his Souvenirs.
Chateau de Versailles, Versailles 78, Les Yvelines

Until June 10: The Mayan Jade Masks
Seven tombs of Mayan dignitaries and almost all incredible jade masks already found and many others pieces like amazing carved stones and various potteries, are exposed for the first time out of Mexico, highlighting the main last Mexican archaeological discoveries.
Paris, Pinacotheque de Paris

Until July 30: Histoire de l’Atelier Brancusi
A reconstitution of the Paris workshop where Brancusi, a famous modern sculptor lived and worked.
Centre Pompidou, Paris

Until July 30: Ronan and Erwan Bouroullec, Bivouac
An illustration of the current state of the work of the two designers, who last September for the London Design Festival, exposed at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London. Centre Pompidou-Metz, Metz-57, Moselle


Jean Cocteau-Collection Severin Wunderman
The widest in the world and a must-to-see collection of the works of Jean Cocteau, given to the town of Menton, by the private collector Severin Wunderman.
Musée Jean Cocteau, Menton-06, Alpes Maritimes

Up coming:

From March 6 to May 13: The Rain
Expectation, desire, fear, hate, protection, need… are part of the emotions and feelings released from symbolic or ordinary objects coming from Asia, Africa, Americas and Oceania.
Musée du Quai Branly, Paris

From March 6 to May 13: Patagonia, Images from World End
A parallel between fiction and reality through various documents, pictures, maps of Patagonia from 16th century to nowadays.
Musée du Quai Branly, Paris

From March 7 to June 18: Matisse
The Centre Pompidou presents around 60 Matisse’s works displayed in pairs or short series, to investigate a very special aspect of the artist works who tried all his life long to produce simultaneously the same motif by different techniques.
Centre Pompidou, Paris

From March 7 to July 8: La berline de Napoleon, the mystery of Waterloo loot
The result of an incredible treasure hunt to bring together all the personal belongings of Emperor Napoleon, that have been looted on the night of Waterloo defeat, and then scattered through Europe where they disappeared until recently. That includes all the personal medals of the Emperor, hidden in the cellars of the Moscow Historic Museum until 2000.
Paris, Musée de la Légion d’honneur

From March 23 to July 23: The Twilight of the Pharaons, Masterpieces of the last Egyptian Dynasties
The best masterpieces from Pharaonic Egypt during ten centuries until the last dynasty, the Ptolemaic’s one, the display inside the fabulous setting of the townhouse sheltering the Jacquemart-André Museum.
Musée Jacquemart-André, Paris

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Featured, Travel Destinations

What do you like to do on holiday?

I like to combine periods of complete sloth with sudden bursts of activity – for example, lazing on the beach or by a river with a book, and then spending a day cycling or hiking.

Where did you last travel?

I visited the south of France a couple of weeks ago on a property-viewing trip as part of my work. My last big holiday was to Thailand this summer, but I always visit France several times a year – anything from hiking in the Alps to cycling along the Canal du Midi, or exploring the chateaux of the Loire, or simply spending some quality time at my family’s holiday home in Carcassonne.

Do you know where you’re going next?

I tend to plan trips on the spur of the moment – my next jaunt to France will be a springtime long weekend in Paris.

Of all the places you’ve been to, what was your favorite and why?

Long-haul Thailand and Australia are hard to beat, while close to home France clearly has a special place in my heart.

Which destination do you wish to travel to but haven’t been there yet?

I’d like to take six months out to explore South America.

In your own area, what would you recommend tourists see that isn’t in the travel guides?

In France, I would recommend people get off the beaten track a little, and use their own two feet, or two wheels, to explore the huge tracts of unspoiled and breathtaking countryside. France has mountains, gently rolling hills, vast plains, vineyards, sunflower and lavender fields, a hugely varied coastline, meandering rivers, lakes big and small and dramatic gorges, not to mention the countless charming villages and towns, offering a rich cultural heritage – it is truly a country to get lost in.

How do you plan a vacation?

Generally a mixture of online and guidebook research, but you can’t beat a personal recommendation.

Where do you see tourism in France in 10 years time?

The British have an enduring love affair with France, which isn’t affected by trends, so I’d expect it to be quite similar to the present situation. Eco-tourism in France is becoming more popular, with increasing numbers of ‘green’ gites, for example, and wine tourism is also on the up. It will be interesting to see which low-cost flight routes will be in existence in 10 years’ time – but as 60% of Brits travel to France by car, I doubt this will have much of an effect on the holiday market.

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What do you like to do on holiday?

Anything that involves seeing the country behind the holiday brochures – but this doesn’t have to mean lots of earnest sightseeing! Understanding what makes a country tick is a key to having a good holiday, as it means that you can fully appreciate your surroundings.

Where did you last travel?

It was Fontainebleau, just outside Paris. The enormous forest was where the kings of France used to hunt when they were away from the political business in the capital – the stunning Château de Fontainebleau, which originally began life as a hunting lodge, stands in the center of the forest as a testament to France’s history.

Do you know where you’re going next?

To Megève, in the Haute-Savoie département that forms part of the Rhône-Alpes region. It’s known as a ski resort but we’ll be trying a little of everything to get an overview of what Megève has to offer, including dog-sledding and a tour around the peak of Mont Blanc in a small airplane.

Of all the places you’ve been to, what was your favorite and why?

Probably a small village called Ars-en-Ré. It’s one of ten villages on the Île de Ré in the Atlantic off the coast of the Charente-Maritime département. Not only is it beautiful, but the majority of people get around on bicycles as the island is flat, so it’s very peaceful and there are very few cars.

Which destination do you wish to travel to but haven’t been there yet?

Probably the Camargue in southern France; it has wide open skies and a feeling of space. The spectacular wetlands are home to flamingoes and wild horses. It really is a completely unique place.

In your own area, what would you recommend tourists see that isn’t in the travel guides?

Cheltenham is a very elegant town, and there’s a lot going on here. It depends on when you want to visit – the Cheltenham Festivals (Literature, Music, Jazz, and Science) take place year-round, as do the horse races at Cheltenham racecourse. Cheltenham Art Gallery is free and has one of the country’s most comprehensive collection of pieces from the Arts and Crafts movement

How do you plan a vacation?

It depends – sometimes it’s a friend’s suggestion, or sometimes it’s after researching articles for FRANCE Magazine that inspire me.

Where do you see tourism in 10 years time?

I think there’ll still be the same level of interest – even though the French and the British have had an often fractious relationship there’s still a deep-held affection for our Gallic neighbors across the Channel.
Eve Middleton will be attending The France Show at Earls Court 14-16 January

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