I am hooked on off-season travel. A whirlwind trip to Paris over Thanksgiving weekend in 1994 convinced me of the charm of an uncrowded Louvre museum, easy dining reservations and even the romance of the city under “la grisaille de Paris” (the grey skies of Paris) in the late fall and winter.
Since then my family and I have traveled to Paris in November a number of times and the season has retained its merits. Accommodations are plentiful and reasonably priced (for Paris anyway), public transportation runs smoothly and attractions are accessible. The ever-looming threat of a French rail or taxi strike is reduced – why strike if there are fewer tourists to impact? In late November, Paris decks out its “vitrines” or shop windows with Christmas displays. The windows of Les Galleries Lafayettes rival those of Macy’s in New York. European shops, even the small ones, know how to do a window display.
You might be asking yourself “what are the downsides?” Well, they are subjective. For some, the weather is certainly a drawback. I have to admit that I hail from a region with some of the best weather in the world, so I don’t mind bundling up for a few days. Grey skies and some rain is a good tradeoff for moving through the Louvre with ease. Preparation is key too. If you are traveling in the winter, go prepared with boots, an umbrella, hat, and gloves cause if you stay warm and dry, life is good. And there is no more quintessential Parisian experience than sitting in a café watching the world go by, all the more appealing if you’re escaping wet weather. Some attractions and restaurants have shorter hours or even close their doors in the off-season, and a few desirable activities are limited to warmer weather but again, the trade off value is a personal decision.
Off-season travel may present you with some welcome surprises and discoveries as well. I recently spent a weekend in Lake Tahoe in October and the weather was balmy, in the mid 70s. Hanging out at the pool was fantastic, the biking was ideal and while it could have easily been a Sierra snowstorm in October, the weather was a pleasant surprise. During a recent visit to Melbourne, Australia in July, which is the dead of winter down under, I was struck by how I kept expecting to see Christmas trees in shop windows, and I had to remind myself it was July.
Traveling in the off-season is a great way to see a locale in a more natural and relaxed state. Think about the effort and money spent by a city to superficially spiff itself up when it hosts the Olympic games, only to fall back into its normal state once the crowds depart. Beijing comes to mind as an example. I constantly read about and hear clients talk about wanting authentic experiences when they travel. I’m not sure they will get that in St. Bart’s at Christmas or Rio da Janeiro during Carnival.
I am long past the days of being able to withstand a long weekend trip to Paris. But November will always be my family’s “go to” month for travel to Europe. And if the trip occurs over Thanksgiving? I’ve gone both the traditional route by preparing a little turkey and roasted potatoes in our favorite 5th arrondissement rental apartment, as well as enjoying a Lebanese feast in London, each with equal success and satisfaction. But pumpkin pie, forget. That’s still an acquired taste reserved for us Yankees.
[Written by Donna Dyer]
[Images by Mark Rippstein]