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Destinations

Creating a new life in the South of France

Photo by MR WONG on Unsplash

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I caught up with Twitter buddy The Pink Agendist about life in the South of France.

How long have you lived in the South of France?

We moved to France in December of 2014. We rented a little cottage smack in the centre of the country, outside of Bourges, and used that as our base for house-hounting. As we work from home, there was nothing tying us to any particular area, so we were open to moving anywhere in France that met our needs.

What took you to the South of France?

We had some very particular criteria. We’d been talking about leaving Spain for quite a while. Sotogrande, where we lived, went from being a small charming community of a few hundred homes to a place where 40,000 tourists come through every year. That wasn’t the sort of lifestyle we were into at all, as both of us had chosen that region of Spain when it was still off the beaten path.

At the beginning of our search I was inclined to more dramatic change. I pushed for somewhere on the Yucatán Peninsula in Mexico. At first Mike, my partner, indulged me but ultimately he didn’t want to leave Europe — because of the conveniences, the health services and all that. Also, he wanted to live somewhere where we already spoke the language, and that narrowed the choices down to five countries in Europe.

Why did you choose Mazamet as your home?

I did a very, very nerdy comparative study of towns and villages in France. We wanted to find a balance between a reasonably peaceful country life but where we still had access to every service we might want or need. We’d both lived in isolated places before so the idea of one little shop in a village which sells bread, chicken and also rat poison was not something we wanted at this stage of our lives. The hustle and bustle of a city was also not on our list.

Mazamet combines being in the Haute Languedoc Natural Park with having a population of around 18,000 people in the Canton — the town and surrounding areas. That means we’re in a gorgeous valley with green landscapes and mountains everywhere you look, but we’re also a small market town with every type of service one could want. Supermarkets, shops, open markets on Saturday morning, and very charming farmers’ markets through summer and winter. There are restaurants, a cultural centre with a cinema, a museum — we don’t feel isolated or left out in any way.

Was it easy enough to settle into a small village?

When I started researching Mazamet, one of the first things that came up was a beautiful bijoux hotel called La Villa de Mazamet — it happened to be owned by a British gay couple, Mark and Peter. I emailed them before we arrived and they were just fabulous. They helped us with everything — gave us the rundown of where to get what and how, and even put us in touch with the people we’ve used to do up the house.

Mike and I are natural outsiders, so I don’t think we’ve ever felt like locals anywhere, but Mazamet is certainly our home. I wouldn’t dream of living anywhere else. I love everything about it.

What makes the South of France a great place to live?

We’re in a very special part of the Southwest. One that’s still very much the ‘real’ thing. We’re also an hour-and-a-half away from the nearest major airport — in Toulouse — that means we’re insulated from mass tourism. We only get visitors who are interested in the bucolic lifestyle a place like Mazamet has to offer. There are beautiful pink and orange sunsets, some of the most beautiful clear starry skies I’ve ever seen, and wonderfully clean air.

The weather is also fantastic. We do get all four seasons, and our autumns are more often than not Indian Summers, which is lovely and my favorite time of year. Between January and March it can get very cold and there can be snow, that’s when we enjoy a nice big brandy by the fire.

What are some of the down-sides of living in the South of France?

The good points are double edged swords. Having to pick someone up at the airport in Toulouse can be a nightmare. There’s often horrendous traffic. We were once stuck in a bumper-to-bumper jam for over three hours.

The winters are colder, longer, and wetter than people imagine. No sitting outside with a gin and tonic in late January. You might get concussion from hail the size of cricket balls.

What hints or tips would you give to someone visiting the South of France?

Avoid the usual tourist traps as they tend to be crowded and overpriced. There are extraordinary gems to be discovered. The brick cathedral in Albi is glorious. The Goya museum in Castres is as small as it is wonderful. The Montagne Noir — the Black Mountain — which I see from my bedroom window is an exceptional bit of entirely un-spoilt nature.

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What are some of the things that you’re currently getting excited about?

I’m very excited about finishing the major renovations in our house! If all goes to plan, we’ll be back to having a completely functional house in the next few months.

What are some of the things that you’re currently getting angry about?

Like many, I find the current political climate in the world profoundly depressing.

What are some of your priorities for the remainder of 2018?

After finishing the house, there’ll still be some important landscaping work that needs to be done in the garden, and then I’m going to take a few months off to just relax and enjoy this new life we’ve been trying to put together.

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Destinations

Which are the gay travel hot spots?

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Photo by JESHOOTS.COM on Unsplash
Photo by JESHOOTS.COM on Unsplash

Need some inspiration for your travel plans?

We ran a survey of Mainly Male readers to ask gay men about their expeditions and adventures.

108 guys responded to our survey.

Here’s what they told us.

When you go on vacation, who do you generally travel with?

  • By myself: 23%
  • With a partner: 49%
  • With friends: 14%
  • With family: 11%
  • I don’t travel: 3%

Which is your favourite type of vacation?

  • Beach: 23%
  • Somewhere warm: 15%
  • Winter sports: 3%
  • City-break: 12%
  • Something active or outdoorsy: 9%
  • Something cultural: 16%
  • Something relaxing: 22%

“Some holidays that have been the best of times start with staying at a B&B and being able to go sky diving, canoeing, and a range of outdoor activities, then relaxing at night in a warm house and great dinner and bed.” — anonymous survey respondent

“Combination of someplace warm where we can explore and then have a few down days to relax on the beach.” — anonymous survey respondent

“Tend to do a mix — city to party, relax, somewhere warm, cultural, and active. Our trip this year is San Francisco to party, relax on boat travelling up the west coast, Napa, hike in the red wood forest, and Palm Springs.” — anonymous survey respondent

“Cruise!” — anonymous survey respondent

When you’re on vacation, are you interested in checking out gay bars, venues, or events?

  • Yes: 62%
  • No: 14%
  • It depends who I’m with: 24%

When you’re on vacation, are you interested in staying in a gay-friendly hotel or accommodation?

  • Yes: 58%
  • No: 19%
  • It depends who I’m with: 23%

Which destinations are at the top of your travel wish-list?

  • Responses to this question weren’t particularly cut and dried, as people listed both countries and specific cities in their answers — in some cases respondents listed entire continents. We’ve manually reviewed the answers to draw together the common themes.
  • Spain featured prominently on the wish-list of a lot of our respondents. When we include beach-side destinations such as Sitges, Ibiza, and Gran Canaria, 8% of respondents had Spain on their wish-list
  • Italy polled strongly, with 4% of respondents reporting that Italy was on their wish-list. As did Australia, and Germany — both of these destinations also appeared on the travel wish-list of 4% of respondents.
  • An additional 4% of respondents simply nominated Europe as being on their wish-list, which would translate to further interest in destinations such as Spain, Italy, and Germany.
  • Iceland polled strongly — featuring on the travel wish-list of 3% of survey respondents.
  • Other destinations that respondents had high on their wish-list included New York City, Greece, Mexico, London, South America, France, Chicago, Japan, New Zealand, and San Francisco.
  • Key take-out: Australia, Iceland, and European destinations are at the top of mind for gay travellers. When it comes to the US, gay travellers tend to focus on the specific cities that they want to visit, such as New York City and San Francisco.

Which destination will you be going to for your next vacation?

  • Looking at the specific destinations that respondents reported, the big winner was Paris — however it’s clear that this was influenced by the timing of the survey. Respondents were completing the survey just ahead of the Gay Games hosted by Paris.
  • When we look at the results at a country level, somewhere in the United States was where a large proportion (21%) of respondents were spending their next vacation — most of this seemed to be fuelled by domestic travel. Australia (9%)is a popular destination for gay travellers, as is Spain (12%) and Italy (8%).
  • Key take-out: Like all travel, there are seasonal factors that influence the choices of gay travellers — for example, the beach resorts of Spain are popular in Summer. What we’d perhaps underestimated is how event-driven travel is a big factor in the choices being made by gay men.

Where do you get your travel inspirations?

  • Friends and family: 29%
  • Personal research: 49%
  • Travel articles or features: 19%
  • Advertising: 3%

“A lot of it depends on price as well, I use Skyscanner and see what cheap flights are available so if there’s a cheap flight to be taken advantage of, then why not?” — anonymous survey respondent
“I also love to read about history, so that too give me ideas about travelling.” — anonymous survey respondent

Key take-outs

  • Gay travellers are influenced by seasonal and event-driven considerations when planning their vacation destinations. Although winter sports options seem to be fairly low on the priority list.
  • European destinations are popular with gay travellers, as well as destinations such as Australia, Iceland, and North American cities such as San Francisco and New York City.
  • We were surprised by the number of gay men who reported that they generally travel by themselves — 23% of respondents.
  • Gay travellers are interested in staying in accommodation that demonstrates that it is gay-friendly.
  • On vacation, gay travellers are interested in experiencing the local gay nightlife of bars, clubs, and venues.
  • The most effective way to draw a gay traveller’s attention to a specific destination is to help them feel that it’s their idea. In sci-fi terms, it’s inception — supporting the initial ‘discovery’ with positive reinforcement from friends and family, travel articles, and advertising.

Methodology

  • The survey was conducted across a four-week period in July 2018.
  • Respondents were recruited via Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn. No incentives were offered for respondents to complete the survey.
  • We used Survey Monkey to collect the survey responses, and then analysed the results manually
  • Comments from respondents were captured during the survey process.

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