Dossier Les vacances autrement

It's Vacation time !  Time to forget everything....A recent victory for everyone

24 juin 2019

Vacations have existed since Roman antiquity, but only in the 20th century have they become an almost universal reality

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A time for doing nothing (farniente in Italian) and fleeing the hubbub of cities during the summer is certainly not a new idea.  Roman nobility, taking their example from Hadrian, escaped from the heat and pestilence of the capitol during the warmest days of the year. All over Europe nobles and bishops alike  possessed summer residences in the country, seeking cooler temperatures and fresh air.

But in the Middle Ages the Church officialized feast days for religious reasons :  there were so many  that days out of work  outnumbered days worked ! At the same time the development of pilgrimages incited many Europeans to undertake long travels.  The seasons dictated their rhythm and students, for example, used their vacation time to lend a hand in the fields. 

From the Extended  Tour to the Deauville Baths

During the Renaissance pilgrimages lost their attraction.  But a rebirth of interest in Antiquity   gave rise to a new travel model : the «  Tour » in Italy or the « Extended Tour » throughout  Europe and the East, a model popular with young bourgeois and aristocratic youths up until the 19th century, as witnessed by Montaigne, Goethe, Lord Byron or Stendhal. 

A new form or tourism bas born in Great Britain in the 18th century. Baths and hot springs developed on the other side of the Channel as well as on the European continent, with names to fit the function :  Bath in England or Spa in Belgium.  In France this sort of tourism thrived in the 19th century, and saw the birth of such cities as Biarritz, Nice, Deauville....In Germany, the number of towns whose name ends in « bad » gives an idea of the popularity of thermal tourism.  During this period the Swiss Horace-Benedict de Saussure reached the summit of Mont Blanc.  His feat gave the kick-off to Alpine Tourism.


Moving toward vacations for everyone

If the pure mountain air and the benefits of « taking the waters » enchanted High Society, its members also acclaimed  a form of tourism based on sanitary or medical questions.  In 1841 Thomas Cook created the first travel agency after bringing over 500 people from Leicester to Loughborough for a stay organised by several temperance associations.  In 1876 pastor Hermann Walter Bion took 60 children out of the most impoverished sections of Zurich for what is today considered the first summer camp.

In the late 19th century the development of the railroad spurred the rise of tourism.

Then, in the early 20th century the automobile took over.  Even if the wealthy still had a corner on vacations, the first red Michelin Guide was printed in over 15000 copies in 1900.

The first paid vacations were proclaimed in Germany in l905, but only in June l936 did France follow the example,  and by the end of the month it was Belgium's turn. 

After World War 2 more and more Europeans began to take holidays.  Mass tourism grew sharply at the end of the 1960's.  In 1970 the « Bison Futé » system was created in order to guide drivers through bottlenecks during France's  impressive summer migrations.

If paid « time off » has conditioned the development of structured « vacations », the latter remain a visible status symbol.  In France, in 2019, one out of every 5 families will not be able to « leave » on a vacation for economic reasons.  And as for the winter holidays, they only concern 28% of the population !

Gérald Machabert,
Journal Réveil.