Tag 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 Not only did we watch a 20-minute movie with unpublished archive footages retracing the 100-day battle that took place at Port Winston, but because of the theatre’s location, we were also able to take in the views of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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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

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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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