France-Amérique: This heritage show has no hosts or voiceovers, but rather “ambassadors.” Who are they?
Vincent Dupouy: There are three in each episode. They are people with unique ties to a region, who have lived there for a long time, and who show us around. Often, they have had to leave for their studies or for work, but have ended up coming back after experiencing life elsewhere. There are also locals through and through, those who are deeply attached to their region, and others who simply fell in love with a place and decided to move there. I remember a mountain-biking enthusiast who had taken a trip to the Lozère region. As soon as he got back to Paris, he told his family that they were all going to move there – the following week! They have now been there for ten years, and he couldn’t be happier!
What do you try to show audiences?
We try to tell stories. In order to achieve this, our ambassadors meet other locals who take them to discover their château, their traditional dishes, or their way of working. We don’t focus on the cooking techniques, for example, but rather what the food says about the region. In an episode filmed in the Vercors foothills, a chef cooked up some chicken and crawfish. Our ambassador had tears in her eyes as she reconnected with the flavors of her childhood and memories of her family. I think we all experience “Proustian madeleine” moments like that in places that move us more for the emotions they inspire than the beauty of the surroundings.
Do you offer unexpected tourist sites?
Yes! Our passionate ambassador-guides share their favorite places and secret spots – that’s what makes the show so exciting! Thanks to them, we have the luxury of being able to portray something other than the idealized image of each region. For example, we have just filmed an episode in Guadeloupe. Of course, we hiked to the top of the Soufrière volcano, which is the most visited site of all the islands. But we also met a group that restores grenats, mopeds used in the 1960s and 1970s by fathers taking their children to school before going to work in the fields. This fan club now rehabilitates these scooters to preserve a piece of collective memory.
The show features architecture, cuisine, nature, and more. How do you strike a balance?
If viewers think “I’d like to take a vacation there,” at the end of the show, then I have done my job. We show people the places, buildings, natural heritage, artisanry, and gastronomy that embody a region and its traditions. The rest is dictated by wherever we find ourselves. In Sologne, we would have more nature shots, while we would focus more on splendid châteaux in the Loire Valley. Each region defines its own reality.
Have you produced an episode about your native region?
I grew up near Arcachon Bay. I know the area like the back of my hand, and I was lucky enough to return to the Banc d’Arguin nature reserve, were my father and I used to pick cockles. We all have our own secret places, a little creek, a dune, or a patch of forest that brings memories flooding back… But I also learned a lot! I spent my whole childhood in Arcachon and my parents even met each other there. But I had never wondered why there were no perpendicular streets in the Ville d’Hiver neighborhood. As it happens, there are no right angles because it is a thermal resort where people come to treat lung conditions. It was built like that to avoid the winds from the sea blowing through the streets!
The show is already into its eighth season. How do you keep innovating and surprising viewers?
I think that places change, and so does our perspective of them. With the public health crisis we have just been through, fewer people have traveled abroad and many have decided to take advantage of their own national heritage. Technological changes also play a role, as we are now able to use drones to take more and more beautiful images. Over time, we have shifted the regional format to offer more adventures within the same area, such as the coastal walking routes of Brittany and the Canal du Midi. We are focusing on former territorial borders while seeking out places with a coherent identity. Lastly, we are trying to portray more young people, as it is not just the old-timers who love their region! There are those in their twenties and thirties who have a passion for local heritage; it is a very deep-rooted movement.
Which place was the most memorable?
I discovered an incredible story in Perche, an area of Normandy about an hour and a half from Paris. When Louis XVI was building Versailles, he wanted it to feature lots of fountains. His engineers started diverting a distributary that fed into the Château de Pontgouin, via an aqueduct that runs alongside the Château de Maintenon. Some 30,000 soldiers were brought in to work on the project, but war broke out and they were sent away to fight. Today, nature has taken back control of the aqueduct – which was never completed – and it is covered with small trees. Their roots have grown right down to the water, 80 feet below!