Category Archives: France

Provence, Pyrenees & Pays Basque Road Trip

Last August, Rio and I embarked on a road trip to explore the South of France. While we’re here, we want to see as much of France as we can and decided that a road trip commencing from Avignon to Saint-Jean-de-Luz via the Pyrenees mountains sounded like just the way to do it. What we didn’t anticipate is that we would have to do this in a Smart car. Our favorite memories of the trip include experiencing a jai alai match, hiking, visiting our friend Steeve and his family in his hometown, walking through the red ochre town of Roussillon, driving through the hills of Luberon, and, of course, wine tasting!

So despite driving through some death-defying cols, we wouldn’t change a thing about this two-week adventure…actually, we really would have liked having a normal-sized car.

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A Day in Normandy

With “I want to see the countryside” about as much direction as my parents gave me when they came to visit, I decided to rent a car for their first weekend so we could have complete flexibility on what they wanted to see. Plus, when I looked up trains to go to Normandy, it was about 75 euros each way, which would end up costing a lot more than a rental car. Here are some photos from our day trip. We started off by the D-Day beaches and ended the night at Honfleur before returning to Paris.
Arromanches
Approximately a three-hour drive northwest of Paris, we began our journey in the heart of the D-Day beaches where the Normandy landings took place on June 6, 1944 – Arromanches. After a quick lunch at Restaurant Le Pappagall (the mussels are highly recommended), we walked to Port Winston. This is not only where the Allied troops managed to move 600,000 tons of concrete and equipment across the English Channel to create an attack base against the Nazis, but it’s also where thousands died. You’ll see in the photo above that there was some sort of exhibit where human-shaped stencils were laid out along the beach to symbolize all the lost lives at this location during WWII. After taking this in, we walked about 20 minutes uphill to  Arromanches 360, a circular theatre with nine screens that sits on the Arromanches cliff tops. Not only did we watch a 20-minute movie with unpublished archive footages retracing the 100-day battle that took place at Port Winston, but because of the theatre’s location, we were also able to take in the views of the town below.
D Day Beaches

Parents in Normandy Arromanches View Arromanches
After Arromanches, Rio and I would’ve probably gone to the American Cemetery, but my parents were ready to move on. So we headed about an hour east to Honfleur for a completely different take on Normandy. I can see why Parisians call Honfleur the 21st arrondissement of Paris. A quaint harbor town, Honfleur is lined with narrow cobblestone streets, timber-framed houses, small art galleries and shops, and a bustling port area packed with boats, bars and restaurants. Upon arrival, we bypassed the town and drove straight uphill to see the views overhead, but having done that, I feel inclined to tell you that it’s not worth it. The views are quite industrial, and there’s not a natural viewpoint (at least that we could find) along the street to see the rooftops of the town. So I recommend heading straight to the center of Honfleur (after parking near the outskirts of town). In Honfleur, you can easily spend a few hours getting lost in the snug streets and taking in the dockside activity. But be sure to pop in a store for a Calvados tasting (the local apple brandy), gaze up at the ceiling of France’s largest wooden church, Church of Saint Catherine, which resembles a ship if turned upside down, and see what inspired artists like Monet and Boudin to paint this small maritime city. That’s exactly what we did before eating a filling dinner at Le Hamelin, even for American standards, before making our two hour-plus drive back to Paris.
Honfleur

Honfleur

Honfleur

Honfleur

Honfleur

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Une Petite Pause

Between traveling to Spain last week with my parents, hosting two sets of guests back-to-back, working and being mildly obsessed with watching all the seasons of Breaking Bad, I’ve been a bit on a blog hiatus. However, with one week to myself before my next set of visitors arrive, I hope I’ll be able to share and post some of my recent adventures soon.

In the meantime, here are two pictures of recent travels. The first one is the Pont du Gard, which is 25 minutes west of Avignon in Provence. I still have to do a full write-up about this two-week road trip Rio and I took in August! The second one is of the Aqueduct in Segovia, which I saw during a day trip from Madrid with my parents. Don’t they look a bit similar?
Pont du Gard

Aqueduct of Segovia

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Financiers from La Maison du Biscuit

La Maison du Biscuit
We’ve become friendly with one of our neighbors who happens to frequently travel to Normandy for the weekend. During one of their recent getaways, they surprised us with a box of delicious petit four “financiers” from patisserie-biscuiterie La Maison du Biscuit.

Founded in 1903 and still run by the Burnouf family after five generations, La Maison du Biscuit is apparently a household name in Normandy that serves up a signature petit four “financier”. Composed of almonds, sugar, egg whites, flour and butter, these two-bite pastries are surprisingly light and soft, yet just slightly dense…if that makes sense. Not surprisingly, I would plan to eat two along with my afternoon coffee or as breakfast, but end up adding an extra one because, honestly, you can’t stop at just two.

If you’re not planning on visiting Normandy anytime soon, you can order these petit four “financiers” and other pastries online. And if you do have a trip planned, make sure you stop by their salon de thé for une petite pause during the afternoon.

La Maison du Biscuit

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La Raison De Ma Petite Pause: Provence, Pyrenees & Basque Country Road Trip

IMG_3381

A view of the Pyrenees from Pic du Midi, the most easily accessible peak at nearly 10,000 feet.

I haven’t posted in a while because I was on vacation – a vacation that I had really been looking forward to for quite some time. It was a Provence to Basque Country road trip that wound all the way through the Pyrenees Mountains, a mountain range in Southwest Europe that essentially forms a natural border between France and Spain.

One of the things I regretted when studying abroad in Paris 13 years ago was not traveling within France enough. At the time, exploring the many nearby countries and ticking them off my “travel list” was more important to me. Living in Paris the second time around, and having seen quite a number of European countries by now, I knew I wanted to explore every bit of France as much as I could. This recent vacation provided that opportunity.

From August 14 to 25, Rio and I embarked on our first real road trip. With Avignon as our home base, we spent the first few nights exploring Provence before making our way to the beachside town of Collioure where the Mediterranean Sea meets the beginning of the Pyrenees Mountains. It was at this point where the intense portion of our road trip began as we drove the 300-plus mile stretch of mountainous roads over the course of five days until we reached the Bay of Biscay in the Atlantic Ocean. Settling in Saint-Jean-de-Luz for the last few nights, it would be an understatement to say we appreciated the less intimidating roads of Basque Country. If you’ve ever driven through any of the D-numbered roads in the Pyrenees – what I like to affectionally say stands for “death-defying” – then you won’t be surprised to know there were many times I was clenching my seat hoping we wouldn’t drop off the narrow winding roads that somehow rarely ever seemed to have a guardrail and thinking thank goodness I had already asked my brother to take care of Tyler if death decided to meet us then and there.

On that cheery note, I’ll be posting photos, an itinerary, tips and hopefully some hotel and restaurant recommendations soon. Right now, I have some major errands (I’m on the fifth load of laundry today) and work to do. Oh, and did I mention, tending to Tyler’s wound?  Yes, more to come on that. Let’s just say he has two staples in his back leg right now. Mon pauvre bébé!

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Une Bonne Bastille Day

Bastille Day 2013
Just as we did last year, we capped the weekend with a Bastille Day celebration underneath the fireworks last night and it was magical as always. Is there anything better than celebrating with good friends, old and new, while you take in the fireworks, music and the Eiffel Tower that surrounds you? Je crois que non, mes amis, je crois que non.Bastille Day 2013

Bastille Day 2013
Bastille Day 2013
Bastille Day 2013 - 2
There was a lot of blue, white and red going on. Vive la France!
Bastille Day 2013 - 3
Eiffel Tower
Bastille Day 2013

Bastille Day 2013

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Animals in the Dordogne Region

“Ahh, madam! You are more interested in fauna than flora,” said our guide Yata during our Sri Lankan vacation last year. Yes, yes, I am. Wherever there are animals, I naturally gravitate towards them. Buying crackers so I can feed stray dogs in Sri Lanka, who then followed us all the way up to Adam’s Peak during a monsoon? Check. Inching slowly towards bulls blocking a dirt road in Corsica? Check. Riding elephants in Zambia, camels in Dubai, and horses in Vieques? Check, check, check.

Thus, here are a couple photos of the animals we encountered while in the Dordogne region earlier this month. They’re not quite as exotic as the ones mentioned above, but seeing (almost) any four-legged creature always puts a smile on my face. I was particularly excited about the donkeys that were at a pop-up farm in Sarlat-la-Canéda. On my list of “must dos” before I die has been to ride a donkey in Greece – yes, kind of like in Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2. And yes, I am a weirdo.
Animals in Sarlat
And some sheep we saw munching away.
Sheep Sheep

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Drinking in… Bordeaux & Dordogne

Bordeaux Wine
11 bottles. That’s how many bottles of wine we bought during our Bordeaux & Dordogne trip this weekend. I would’ve bought more if Rio would’ve let me – but considering we were train-ing it back to Paris and 11 bottles is pretty heavy to lug around, it was probably best that we didn’t. Or if I’m being completely honest, we also didn’t have time to go to any more chateaus for wine tastings. We went to a total of four “châteaus” during this trip, as well as a wine museum that offers free tastings. And here’s a fun fact – as long as a place grows wine, it can be called a château. A place doesn’t have to have majestic mansion-size proportions to be called a “château” in the Bordeaux/Dordogne region – they just have to actually produce wine.

Below is the list of châteaus (and the museum) I visited in case you’re ever in the area. The first two were part of a Bordovino Wine Tour we took.

Chateau Siaurac
Château Siaurac
33500 Néac
Tél: 05 57 51 65 20
*Wine Tastings: By reservation only. However, a few couples wandered in for a tasting and they let them join in, so they’re not strict about it.
**This château has been in the family since 1837 and is owned by a friendly bourgeois couple who even lets you wander around their house. It was interesting to see a chateau “in use” amongst antique artwork and and an adorable dog who roams the land, as seen above. During the visit, the owner will personally walk you around the vineyard property to point out the grapes and also show you his tulip tree in the “English Garden”.

Château de Ferrand
Saint-Hippolyte, 3330 Saint-Emilion
Tél: 05 57 74 47 11
*Wine Tastings: By reservation only. Closed Mondays during peak season.
**Located near Saint-Emilion, this is a large-estate château owned by the BIC family – you know, the maker of those lighters and pens? You’ll notice that they also sell Moët & Chandon champagne here. Why? Because the daughter in the BIC family recently married the son in the Moët family. This was a perfectly fine château to visit – but wasn’t to my taste as it was too big and commercialized.
Chateau Haut-Garrique
Château Haut-Garrique
24240 Saussignac
Tél: 05 53 22 72 71 / caroline@hautgarrigue.com
*Wine Tastings: By reservation only.
**This was by far my favorite of all the châteaus. South African owner Caro Feely provides self-guided vineyard walks where you get to wander about her organic-farmed land, and then enjoy a wine & food pairing. I was only expecting a small plate of cheese for this, but along with a tasting of five wines, we enjoyed a small salad, cheeses, variety of breads, homemade jam and butter. She even serves you coffee and a chocolate tasting afterwards! If you’re heading to Bergerac or Sarlat from Bordeaux, this is the perfect place to stop at on the way. I highly, highly recommend Terroir Feely wines at Château Haut-Garrique and can see us returning. We even bought Caro’s book Grape Expectations as a souvenir, which she signed, of course.

Musée des Vins
5 rue des Conférences, 24100 Bergerac
Tél: 05 53 57 80 92 / civrb.poletouristique@vins-bergerac.fr
*Wine Tasting: No reservations needed.
**Although this is a wine museum and not a chateau, you can enjoy free tastings of any open bottles of wine. It’s also a good destination to ask any questions about surrounding châteaus and the overall wine region.

Château Roque-Peyre

33220 Fougueyrolles
Tél: 05 53 24 77 98
*Wine Tasting: No reservations needed. We just randomly drove here on our way back to Bordeaux and asked the owner if we could come in for a tasting.
**Located in the Montravel wine region, this château has been in the family for approximately six generations. They also own some hectares of land in the Médoc wine region.

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Miroir d’Eau in Bordeaux

Miroir d'Eau
One of my favorite landmarks in Bordeaux was the Miror d’Eau. Situated by Place de la Bourse (the stock exchange) and the river, this fountain would fill up with two centimeters of water every few minutes to create a mirror effect. You can tell it’s a popular area as every time we passed by there were tons of locals and tourists enjoying romping around the water. We circled back here a couple times as it was right by our hotel and made for some good people-watching.

If you ever visit and want to take a picture, the best way to get a “mirror” effect for photos is to wait for the water to be nearly drained so the wind won’t blow the water about.
Miroir d'Eau
Quite the talent here.
Miroir d'Eau
Lots of kiddies enjoying the water.
Miror d'Eau at Night - 2
Miroir d’Eau à nuit.

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