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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: Aubagne cultive la différence

by Christophe Deroubaix

Published in l'Humanité on 14 May 2005

Aubagne: a New Direction in Tourism

Translated by Carol Gullidge

Translated Sunday 7 May 2006, by Carol Gullidge

Set in the landscape of Cézanne and Pagnol, Aubagne is ideally situated to host the World Congress on Social Tourism from May 10-13, 2006: not only for its stunning scenery, but also the fact that its whole community has become engaged in developing discovery tourism.

This thousand-year-old town at the heart of the golden triangle is placing its bets on discovery tourism.

Lounging around may well have its fans, but discovery tourism is riding the crest of a wave. And Aubagne is the proof. At the foot of the Sainte-Baume and the Garlaban massif and its five surrounding districts at the heart of the Garlaban-Huveaune-Sainte-Baume (GHB) urban community, Aubagne, with its population of 40,000, receives 700,000 visitors each year - 80% of whom are French.

“This has been a growing tendency for several years. Only 12 kilometres from the coast and 17 from the Old Port of Marseilles, all is peace and quiet here in the heart of the magic triangle of Aix-Marseilles-the Calanques. And swimming isn’t the only activity we offer,” explained Geneviève Roubaud, director of the Aubagne tourist office. “On top of that, our pricing policy is more attractive, especially for families, with accommodation rates remaining constant throughout the year.”

Aubagne is well known, of course, as the birthplace of Marcel Pagnol. Walks around the town centre and excursions to Pagnol’s “beloved hills” are in great demand, even during the heat of the summer.

Clay and pottery are the second major attraction that Aubagne has to offer. This was especially the case last year, when “Albanae, Aubagne” held an all-year-round celebration for its millennial anniversary, devoting the summer to the “arts of the earth”. With the eighth Argilla − the biggest potters’ market in France (183 exhibitors last year) − August 20 and 21 were the high point. A santon fair - these clay figurines being another local speciality - was held from mid-July to the end of August. Pottery courses and exhibitions completed the picture.

And the visitors’ stomachs have also been provided for. Until just recently, fast food was the only choice available to visitors wishing to spend the least possible time eating. But, starting last year, moderately priced regional dishes can now be found in several local restaurants. Restaurant owners taking part in the scheme have also agreed to tell their customers how to locate their suppliers. In the same spirit, “welcome vouchers” are provided to visitors staying in local accommodation, inviting them to visit local producers and handicraft-makers. “Our aim is to cater for the visitor’s every need”, Geneviève Roubaud pointed out.

To take full advantage of this new approach to tourism, the community of Garlaban-Huveaune-Sainte-Baume (GHB) has prepared some new offers. Alain Belviso, GHB’s president, explained: “We had several advantages to start off with: our privileged geographical situation; a growing love of the countryside; and the demand for “green” tourism. Our aim is to increase this demand over the whole area covered by our community."

This year, Aubagne and GHB are setting up a new excursion in the Marseilles area: a helicopter ride over the Garlaban massif, and the famous creeks and the cliffs of Cassis. “We’ll be unique in offering this type of activity”, they proudly announced in the GHB community, where they hope to capture clientele from the cruise passengers stopping off at Marseilles. “Cruise passengers are an ever-replenishing source of supply for the tourism market, and the travel agencies needed to take a fresh look at what they were offering”, explained an official of the inter-community structure. So Aubagne, with its own heliport, jumped at the opportunity.

The second path to be explored by GHB, which will soon have its own tourist office, is management-workers’ committees in private and public corporations, who, in France, play a major part in supporting employees’ leisure-time activities. Since last September, GHB sent delegates to four major gatherings of representatives of these “comités d’entreprise”: in Paris, Lyon, Montpellier and Marseilles. Finally, in a bid to encourage green fingers, GHB has bought a piece of land known as the “Font de Mai” (the May Fountain), to transform it into a tourist attraction geared towards local agriculture and local produce.

Christophe Deroubaix

Original French text on l’Humanité’s Website:

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