Monday, 20 April 2015

When French locals get their tourism wrong.

I was in a bus filled with retired folks, fellow members of the Association Patrimoine d'Epernon et alentours heading through damp countryside into Normandy. We are all interested in history and culture but I was the only non-French person on the trip; the annual bus trip for members of this heritage group who usually only meet each other once a year on a trip, unless they are on the organising committee.

The trip took a couple of hours to get to our first stop; slightly longer than it should have because our bus driver got lost. I wondered why he didn't use GPS. We sat patiently in the bus, on the side of a quiet country road just waking up to Spring. Temperatures were chilly but I'd come prepared with gloves, scarf, warm coat and a flask of hot chocolate. JC scoffed at that but I was determined not to get 'caught out' with nothing to drink or warm me up.

Back on track we discovered ourselves trundling slowly along a very narrow trail with the trees so close they scratched the sides of the bus. There was an unkempt air to the place. The road opened up to a grassy space and there was the old mill, the Moulin de Prey at Broglie.

JC and I looked at it and ourselves, thinking  hmm, let's hope it's better than it looks. It wasn't. France does tourist visits really well, usually, but I was about to experience a visit designed for locals by folks of an amateurish and lackadaisical  persuasion.

We split into two groups and queued a long time for the one toilet. The first thing I saw in the mill was a lot of old cheese packages stuck on a board. This mill may have started its life grinding grain but there was no evidence of that. Instead, it seems the mill had been used for many other industries. It had processed many brands of cheese and also been a jam factory.

We saw the pots where the jam was heated. Workers wore special aprons to protect them from nasty burns from hot jam spitting out. The pots had handles for tipping them.

We also saw ancient autoclaves used for sterilising jars and other things but over everything was a reek of decay and dust, dust, dust. There was no professional signage. I wasn't expecting anything in English but this place charges money for entry and a small guided tour so I thought there might have been a better standard of presentation. Clearly everything just sits there from year to year hoping you'll be impressed. No, it's amateurish and filthy.

It calls itself an ecomuseum but anglophones beware, there's nothing ecological about it. Apparently this means it's a mishmash of different things. I just couldn't see why the French would add eco to something that had nothing to do with ecology or economics. There was a facsimile of an old schoolroom but the plastic dolls and general rundown-attic ambiance didn't really fire my interest.

Upstairs we were told we were in for a treat; viewing hundreds of bugs and butterflies impaled and displayed on boards. Someone's hobby. Photos were forbidden but I've no idea why. In an alcove was a collection of stuff from pharmacies gone by. Rundown, dusty, no signage. It looked like a forgotten garage sale. In the final adjoining room we could look at lots of boring, rusty and dusty tools once used in carpentry or other similar trades. After looking at 50 hammers or chisels it all gets a bit ho-hum. JC wasn't impressed either and he's a  handyman DIYer.

For light relief I looked out the window. The stream leading to the mill was so polluted you couldn't see the water. It gave the impression you could walk on it. Brown, swirly streaky stationary water. Feeling a bit irritated and frustrated by the state of things I asked why the stream was polluted. I was told, nonchalantly, it was because of runoff from houses' sewage up steam. But why is it allowed? Why doesn't the Mairie do something about this? It's bad for the animals and insects, I said.

He just shrugged and said, yeah it wasn't good. I added that it didn't make for a good image of the mill, but my observations fell on deaf ears. A very unsatisfying and scarcely interesting visit.

After lunch in a neighbouring restaurant we climbed back on the bus where I desperately opened my flask for some warming liquid calories. I'm all for encouraging local tourism and pride in heritage but it should be of  a standard that respects the visitor. This one doesn't and is not worth the time and money. It may not be very profitable and suffering from lack of money (i don't know) but I think it would be better to have less stuff in a better condition than the musty magpie effect it currently has.

If you want to read more about this property and see pictures of poor beasties stabbed on boards go to


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