© BK media systems 1995-2009
With the 1981 presidential elections in France the famous socialist years under the 'chef de resistance' Francois Mitterand began. At the time I only spoke three words of french but I found fellow french speaking travellers to talk with the authorities and we managed to obtain a certain degree of acceptance. In the early 1980s beachsleeping was a huge youth movement, I'd been sleeping on beaches all around the Mediteranean, from Greece to Portugal - and never any bad experience except for the odd police hassle.
Encouraged by the very positive 1981 experience I started printing flyers in 1982. The aim was to promote exclusive JahTours International beach holidays among the fanzine reading youth! Matter of bad luck I could not come myself in the summer of 1982. I was withheld in northern Germany because of stupid military service - protect western civilization from the eastern invadors - what a hoax! If only we had Internet at the time ...
1983 became the first operational year for JahTours International. That must have been the tenth time that I came to Menton and I knew the place already well enough to be guide, activities advisor and beach patron. Many visitors from the last years came back in the spirit of summer adventure camp. My organisational tools were up to date, I used an early personal computer at home and my university's mainframe, a machine called 'Cyber'!
With the computerized system I have all kinds of statistics at my fingertips: Between 20 and 30 people were sleeping on the central beach in the late 70's. The numbers were up after 1981: between 15 and 40 with JahTours and a total of 30 to 80 people on the whole beach!
The JahTours International section was situated in front of the popular 'Helios' bar/restaurant - Menton's meeting place for the warm Summer nights. Well, the 'Helios' is no longer, it was demolished in 1991, to make place for a faceless appartment building built for investors from Italy. But the beach is still there! You arrive in Menton by train - take a walk through the park towards the beach. Place yourself in front of the famous Casino landmark building. Now walk about 100 meters towards Italy, there, just down the stairs, that was the original JahTours International beach!
Our first visitor from the East - 1984!
With this prime location and my computerized lists I had the leading edge over other competing youth travel organizers. EF language holidays were bigger in size since they used expensive media promotion for their overpriced homestay-vacations. Basically EF was a rip-off, they had no repeat customers, worse, some of their customers preferred spending the better part of their holidays with the JahTours crew!
In 1985 we held daily linguistic classes on the beach and it was a lot more fun! Our multilingual assistance - we had Swedish, German, French, English, Italian and Spanish speaking staff - and really exciting activities were certainly in for something. Also the beach with JahTours was safer than some backcountry housing with EF. None of my customers ever complained or even considered to spend holidays with any other organisation. Even the EF people told their friends about JahTours International! We made appointments for the following year and those who came back were overly satisfied.
Between the holidays on the Riviera I also coordinated meetings in West Germany where Baden-Baden became the center of our activities. Baden-Baden is the official twin-town of Menton and well situated on the roads from northern Germany to Menton. Other meetings were held in Hamburg, Bremen, Düsseldorf and Munich. A pity that East Germany was still closed at the time, they sure would have appreciated the unbelievable cheap beach holidays with JahTours International.
Secret JTI Beach ... Menton 1986
During the Winter 1985/86 not only Menton got a lot of snow for the first time in 20 years but also the local elections in France brought back the conservatives to the power in Menton. No big surprise, really, the average age during Winter is way above 60 years. The new authorities were firmly opposed to any form of uncommercial beach culture hence JahTours International was declared illegal! In 1986 we still outsmarted the police and had a few peaceful weeks on a slightly different part of the beach. But for JahTours International the aquisition of new customers became impossible because the new place was limited in size and I had to serve old friends first.
Hanging dead at the Helios, Menton 1986
One year later, in 1987 , CRS (Compagnie Republicaine de Securite, famous for cracking up demonstrations) were used to clear the beaches. The remaining JahTours deciples moved up to the municipal campground St Michel. It was not a big difference to sleeping on the beach: someone planted a tent and the whole group slept in the area around it. Logistics and cost were not much different from the beach. Only walking up the 300 stairs to the campground was a little nuisance.
From about that time we noted that Menton was loosing its sandy beaches. Once being cut off from its prime location JahTours washed away as much as the beaches we once slept upon. 1988 still was a good fun year, we polished our friendships with local youth and were eagerly learning French! One last big event, we were 25 persons for the large dinner in the Embuscade restaurant of campground St Michel.
Somehow JahTours missed out on younger generations (i.e. those born after 1970), demographically they are less numerous and also more wealthy - they had more money on their hands and were less interested in the JahTours real low cost holidays. The older hardcore beachsleepers grew up, got busy with professional activites, founded families and went overseas for their holidays. I already made it to the USA in 1987 and late 1988. In 1989 I had little time to keep up the spirit, the end of my study years was near. In 1990 I barely made it to Menton and by 1991 not only the Helios was to be demolished but also the good vibes seemed to have left our favorite place. The last common meeting date was the weekend of the Grand Prix of Monaco in 1992. We were a group of ten and ever since the numbers are stable.
From Dusk Till Dawn: Menton
Early 1994 I moved to the French Riviera, just 40 Kilometers west of Menton, to Villeneuve-Loubet, between Sophia Antipolis high-tech park and the outskirts of Nice. No question I visited my favorite town of Menton as often as I could, just to walk the promenade or the Boulevard de Garavan, meet local friends and watch the progress of the new buildings behind the original JahTours beach. The town has changed considerably over the years, not long after JahTours also EF language school packed it, a matter of unfavorable demographics. Perhaps there will be a renaissance for Menton's central beach soon! Over the Winter 95/96 the beach was renewed from the base! 25 meters wide it looks more like a project for a new airport and in Summer it is difficult to walk barefoot on the hot pebbles but it was well accepted from the start. Perhaps one day there'll be bars and restaurants in the not yet finished buildings behind it...
Later in 1996 I had to leave the Riviera for professional reasons and ever since I dream of warm waters, abundant sunshine and subtropical vegetation. Because, all year round Menton is the flower corner of the Riviera. It's lush vegetation is unrivaled outside the tropics. June is the month of the garden in France, Menton shows several exciting gardens which will be exceptionally open to the public - see the tourist office for details.
New millenium for JahTours in Menton ;-)
For the last days of the old century I visited [ Menton with Elena ] what a pleasure with the warm Winter light of the Riviera!
Back to Europe in 2001 the Trip to Menton only takes a few hours now. In late summer 2002 we spent a few sunny days in Menton, September really is the best time to visit!
2004 brought us back to Menton a couple of times, our preferred residence is Camping St Michel otherwise the Etap-Hotel is our favorite, our Pierre et Vacances appartment experience in 2003 was not really exciting.
2008 looks like the last year with Etap-Hotel, in September we got back to the Pierre et Vacances appartment, which is just better situated while hardly more spacious.
25 years of Jahtours international in 2004!
interesting story? please contact Jah Bernhard of JahTours International at exanova.com for more information.
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