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Posts Tagged ‘France’

Parispic Image Source

So I’ll conclude my french escape recaps with one last post on accommodations and general tips.  First up is accommodations.  The first 2 times I visited Paris, I stayed in hotels in the Montparnasse (14th arrondissement) and Montmartre (18th arrondissement) districts.  Both are located a bit further from the centre of Paris but offer good deals.

Montparnasse was famous in the early part of the 20th century as the heart of intellectual life.  As such there’s many historic cafes and bars located there, famous for serving the likes of Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald (sounds like “A Midnight in Paris”).  That said, the area is less touristy than the other arrondissements, with some good neighborhood restaurants, however I found myself taking the metro quite a bit since it is far from most famous attractions.

Montmartre is the bohemian enclave of Paris, made even more famous by the movies “Amelie” and “Moulin Rouge”.  It’s where the Sacre-Coeur Basilica is located and is very quaint and picturesque.  Similar to Montparnasse it is located far from most attractions.  It’s a bit more touristy, especially the area around the Sacre-Coeur and is hilly, so can make coming home a bit of a  chore after a long day. I didn’t spend much time eating in this area,  however if you are here, one fun place I would recommend is Le Refuge des Fondues.  For a set price, you get unlimited fondue with meat and bread and red wine served in a baby bottle.  It’s definitely touristy, a little grungy, but way fun!

This recent trip, the hubs and I opted to rent an apartment in the Marais (4th arrondissement) district.  First off, I looved this neighborhood.  It’s walking distance to the Seine and therefore close to most sights, making it a very convenient home base.  This lively and charming district is also full of great restaurants, shopping, and parks.  Secondly, I would highly recommend renting an apartment.  Oftentimes it’s cheaper than a hotel, you end up staying in more desirable neighborhoods, and you really get to experience what it’s like to be a Parisian.  I’ve rented apartments in Madrid, Barcelona, Buenas Aires, Vancouver and now Paris, and I’ve had great experiences in each city.  Check out some these Parisian apartments!

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And for those who want a little more luxury or need a bigger apartment.  Check out this 2 bedroom.  Imagine having breakfast or midday wine and cheese on that rooftop terrace?!

paris apt4 Image Source

In terms of where to stay, my picks would be either Le Marais (4th arr.), the Latin Quarter (5th arr.), or St. Germain des Pres (6th arr.) because they are all centrally located, great walking neighborhoods, and full of restaurants and shops.  The Eiffel Tower (7th arr.) area is also really nice however a bit of a trek from the city centre so you’ll have to hop on the Metro quite a bit.

Finally, here are my general tips on making your vacation as fun and memorable as possible:

  • Research what sights you have to see, no more than 1-2 per day so you leave plenty of time for enjoying meals and wandering around.  Make note of the opening hours (many museums are closed on Mondays or Tuesdays) so you won’t be disappointed.
  • Research restaurants.  Paris has an abundance of really great restaurants and also really mediocre overpriced restaurants aimed at tourists.  Doing a little bit of research ahead of time can really make your experience that much more enjoyable if you’re not wandering around trying to find a decent place to eat.  Also make note of opening hours, I found many of the restaurants I wanted to go to were closed on the weekends.
  • Make reservations! Most restaurants are small and may not be able to accommodate you without a reservation.  You only need to call 1-2 weeks in advance, but at least it’ll guarantee you a table.
  • Try to group your activities and meals in the same arrondissements so you’re  not criss crossing all over the city.
  • Make time for a picnic.  Buy some wine, fresh bread, cheese and salami, head to a pretty park for a picnic and enjoy the people watching.
  • When booking train tickets, buy as early as possible for the cheapest rates.
  • Learn a few french phrases.  The french are much nicer when you start off with a “Bonjour, parlez-vous francais?” than if you just start talking to them in English.   Think of how you would feel if a tourist came to your country and just started talking to you in their language?

So this is the end of my recaps! I hope this was helpful to many of you in planning your own trips and help inspire others to visit Paris. I know I can’t wait to go back there again!

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Mont-Saint-Michel--1050x1680 Image Source

I’ve been wanting to visit Mont Saint-Michel ever since I saw pictures of it.  I mean, look at the picture above, it looks like it would only exist in a fantasy movie.  Actually, the hubs claims it looks like a set out of the Lord of the Rings trilogy!  So with 5 days in Paris, I knew we had to spend one day visiting Mont Saint Michel.

There are numerous companies that plan day trips from Paris and some of them even combine Mont St. Michel with other tourist destinations like the Normandy beaches and the Brittany coast.  Most of the tours I looked into were reviewed favorably, span approx. 15 hours, typically making pit stops for lunch, with 3 hours of free time at Mont St. Michel and cost at a minimum $200 per person.  You can do it yourself however, which is what we opted for since we liked being in charge of our own schedule.

If you plan to see Mont St. Michel on your own, just know that it takes a little bit of advanced planning and the day can be tiring since there’s quite a bit of transfers involved.  It does however give you the flexibility of going at your own pace and is certainly cheaper than booking a tour.

The Basics:

Take the TGV from Gare Montparnasse in Paris to either Dol or Rennes.  We chose Rennes because the timing was better for us and Rennes is a much bigger city than Dol and we figured we’d spend a few hours checking out the city prior to coming back to Paris.  The train prices will vary depending on when you purchase, generally the earlier you buy the tickets, the cheaper they will be.  We ended up paying approx. 86 Euros each for round trip tickets but easily could have paid less had we purchased it earlier.  Total train time is approx. 2 hours and 15 minutes.

Once you arrive in Dol or Rennes, you board a bus that will take you directly to the entrance of Mont St. Michel (the bus schedule corresponds with the train schedule so you won’t have to worry about getting the timing right).  The bus is located right outside the train station and you can purchase tickets as you board.  The bus ticket from Rennes to Mont St. Michel is 12.40 Euros each way and takes approx. 1.5 hours.  Make sure to pick up the bus schedule so you know the departure times for the bus going back to Rennes.

This is the official site for bus to Mont St. Michel and provides the train and bus timetables and pricing:  http://www.destination-montsaintmichel.com/

Overall, it took us approx. 4.5 hours to get to Mont St. Michel.  We ended up spending 1.5 hours walking around the abbey and another 1 hour eating lunch and checking out the city.  The city itself is pretty since it’s a cobblestone medieval village at the base of the abbey, however aside from being very picturesque, we didn’t feel the city had much else to offer.  It’s rather touristy and is mostly full of souvenir shops and restaurants.  One reason why we decided to DIY the trip is that most of the tours allot only 3 hours of free time to visit the abbey and the city which I wasn’t sure was sufficient, however it’s actually more than enough.  In fact, we ended up taking an earlier bus back to Rennes, giving us more than 5 hours in Rennes before taking the train back to Paris, which was another problem since we also felt that was too much time in Rennes.

In summary, I would say visiting Mont St. Michel is a must for any tourist.  If I were to do it again, I’d highly consider doing a tour and combining it with a visit to the Normandy beaches.  While the tour is more expensive, it involves less transfers and seems a more comfortable and enjoyable way of doing the trip.  I would recommend the DIY route if you’re looking to control your own schedule, are on a budget, and want to spend time in Rennes or Dol in addition to Mont St. Michel.  One thing to keep in mind though is you do buy your train ticket in advance and your departure times are set so you won’t be able to hop on an earlier train if you’re done sightseeing unless you buy a refundable ticket which costs more.

Also, don’t let me deter you from visiting Rennes.  The city is worth visiting and has a wonderfully preserved city centre, full of medieval buildings.  There’s plenty of shops and restaurants in the city centre and parks scattered throughout the city.  The hubs and I just felt that 2-3 hours were enough for us and given that we already had a long day, we were ready to get back to Paris.

Paris rennes Image Source

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Paris jacques-genin-paris-brest-1 Image Source

Hello looover…. oh, excuse me while I wipe the drool off my keyboard.  So, did I get your attention? That my friend is my favorite new discovery in Paris…the Paris-Brest.  Created to commemorate the Paris-Brest-Paris bike race (the circular shape is representative of a wheel), the Paris-Brest is made of choux pastry, filled with praline cream, and topped with toasted hazelnuts.  This popular dessert is found in many patisseries all over Paris but the best one I’ve had is by Jacques Genin.  I have never been to his patisserie, located in the Maris district, but I have had the pleasure of trying his creations at La Cuisine de Bar.

So this post may very well be my favorite to write and which I hold near and dear to my heart.  Needless to say, the hubs and I love food.  Knowing that we were visiting one of the best food cities in the world, I wanted to make sure we took advantage of our time there and tried as much delicious food as possible.  I have done a lot of research on the restaurants in this post and we loved every single place.  The following are notes of all the restaurants we visited, a list of our favorites, and a list of places we wanted to try but did not have enough time/room in our stomach.  I’ll begin with the restaurants and then go into snacks.  I hope this helps anyone out there trying to plan their Parisian trip and also inspire others to take a food journey to Paris.

Paris a la biche Image Source

A la Biche du Bois – 45 Ledru-Rollin 12th arr., close to the Opera Bastille and not far from Le Marais district, closed Saturdays and Sundays but open until 11pm Monday through Friday.  A traditional Paris bistro, it serves many Parisian classics in a lively atmosphere.  They are known for their game meats (duck, deer, etc.), but are especially known for their Coq au Vin (some say the best in Paris) and Foie Gras with Fleur de Sel.  We had both famed dishes, as well as a simple steak for the hubs and felt the food was delicious, hearty (good portions) and a great value.

Paris le-comptoir-du-relais Image Source

Le Comptoir du Relais – 9 Carrefour de l’Odeon 6th arr., open daily from noon.  This famous bistro is difficult to score a dinner reservation unless you stay in the hotel it’s located, Hotel le Relais St. Germain, or book way in advance.  My suggestion is to go for lunch, arriving 15-20 minutes before noon and you will likely score a table in the first seating, or else be prepared to wait.  I had been looking forward to this restaurant for a long time and it did not disappoint.  The menu is extensive and in French so come prepared with a translation guide and the food is reasonably price for being prepared by such a renowned chef (Yves Camdeborde).  We had the escargots, tripe (hubs’ is a fan of offal), seafood croquettes, some other dishes that I don’t quite remember but all were delicious.  We probably would’ve gone back for a 2nd visit if we had more time.

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Huiterie Regis – 3 rue Monfaucon 6th arr., open Tuesday through Sunday from noon-3pm and 6:30-11pm.  This small eatery serves a simple menu of raw oysters, shrimp, and sausage, with a side of bread.  Known as one of the best places in Paris for fresh oysters, this place did not disappoint.  Living in San Francisco, we’ve had our share of great oysters, and this place was on par with the quality found in SF.  Some may argue that SF oysters are even better but the lively atmosphere, coupled with great wine, makes this place a must try for any oyster enthusiast.  They don’t take reservations and the restaurant is small (~20 seats) so again, go early.  We went towards the end of their lunch time, right before 3pm and got seated right away.

Paris l'ami jean Image Source

Chez l’Ami Jean – 27 rue Malar 7th arr. close to the Eiffel Tower, open for lunch and dinner Tuesday through Saturday.  Serving modern bistro food, this celebrated restaurant offers 3 menu options as well as a la carte, 42 Euro for 3 courses (your selection), 55 Euro for 5 courses (chef selection), and 80 Euro for 8 courses (chef selection).  We went with the 55 Euro menu, le petit voyageur, and were completely stuffed, I’d highly recommend the set menus since it was good value for the money.  We had fish soup, turbot, lamb, and 2 desserts, one of which was their famous rice pudding (above picture).  The turbot was one of the best fishes I’ve ever had, so delicate and flavorful.  The rice pudding reputation was justifiable, it was delicious and not too sweet.  The rice pudding came in a large bowl for sharing (easily could’ve fed 4 people) and even though we were stuffed, both hubs and I could not resist licking every last morsel of it.

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L’Atelier Saint-Germain de Joel Robuchon – 5 rue de Montalembert 7th arr., located in the heart of St. Germain des Pres and open daily.  Hailed as one of the world’s top 50 restaurants and boasting 2 michelin stars, hubs and I decided to make this our one special dinner in Paris.  The restaurant only accepts reservations for the first seatings, noon or 6:30pm, the rest is first come first serve.  We had the prix fix menu, 199 euro for ~10 courses.  The food was as expected, delicious and inventive.  The service was prompt and friendly enough.  While we did enjoy the food, we weren’t blown away by it, which is what we were expecting considering the high cost.  Both hubs and I felt that it was a good once in a lifetime experience, but compared to all the other amazing food we had at reasonable prices, L’Atelier just did not live up to expectation.  That said, we would definitely go back to the restaurant for their a la carte menu.

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Les Cocottes de Christian Constant – 135 rue Saint-Dominique 7th arr., close to Eiffel Tower, open daily for lunch and dinner.  Cocotte is the cookware in which many of the main dishes are cooked in, in this case staub cookware.  This restaurant doesn’t take reservations but it’s counter-seating and I’ve read that the wait is quick.  Hubs and I went for lunch on a weekday and there was no wait at all.  The menu is made up of a bunch of smaller plates, tapas style, and larger mains that are casserole style.  It’s heartier fare and decent prices.  Unfortunately we were still full from our meal the night before and didn’t try too many dishes, but what we had was good.  The restaurant is decorated tastefully and has a homey feeling.  I would equate it to comfort food and I would not hesitate to visit this restaurant again, although with an empty stomach so I can try more of the menu.

Paris chez dumonet Image Source

Chez Dumonet-Josephine – 117 rue du Cherche-Midi 6th arr., closed Saturday and Sunday.  Another quintessential traditional French bistro, Chez Dumonet is known for really old school French food.  I was looking for a place that serves really good boeuf bourguignon for the hubs and this restaurant came up repeatedly.  They are also known for the duck confit, seared foie gras, and grand marnier souffle, all of which we ordered and thoroughly enjoyed.  Also good is their monkfish and mille feuille.

Paris la cuisine Image Source

La Cuisine de Bar – 8 rue Debelleyme 3rd arr. in Le Marais neighborhood, open Tuesday through Saturday.  This little gem of a place is a great lunch spot.  They serve open-faced sandwiches on bread from next door Poilane Bakery, which many consider to make the best bread in the world.  They serve a prix fix lunch for 14.50 Euro which includes a starter (really fresh and tasty carrot soup when we went), a tartine, and a drink or coffee.  The other draw to this place? They also offer an array of pastries by Jacques Genin (see above Paris-Brest picture)!

Paris falafel

L’As du Fallafel – 34 rue des Rossiers 4th arr., open Sunday through Thursday until midnight and Friday until 5pm.  The name says it all, this hole in the wall joint is known for it’s falafel, served with hummus and roasted eggplant.  It is by far one of the best falafel’s I’ve ever had.  It’s cheap and tasty, what more can you ask for! Rue des Rossiers is an alleyway in the Jewish quarter of Le Marais.  There’s multiple falafel joints there but this one is the most famous.  It’s so good, we went twice in one day!  Another famous joint on the same street is Chez Hanna at 54 rue des Rossiers.  It’s open Tuesday through Sunday and is also a local favorite, rivaling L’As du Fallafel.

Paris robert

 Robert et Louise – 64 rue Vieille du Temple 3rd arr., open daily Tuesday through Sunday.  This locals restaurant serves quality meat and offal in a no frills environment.  I knew hubs would be keen to try this place as soon as I mentioned that they served black blood sausage and tripe sausage.  We ordered foie gras, blood sausage, steak and pork ribs.  All the food was prepared simply, letting the taste and texture of the meat shine through and it was very reasonably priced.  If you are a fan of no frills meat, as my Argentinian husband is, then you would love this place.

Onto the snacks!

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Le Berthillon – 31 rue Saint-Louise en Ille, open Wednesday through Sunday.  This is the most famous ice cream in Paris so be prepared to wait.  The ice cream flavors range from creamy classics to seasonal fruit flavors.  The texture is more reminiscent of gelato and the flavors are really quite intense.  There are many ice cream shops in the area that supply Berthillon ice cream so if you don’t feel like waiting or are not in the neighborhood, just pop into a local shop that advertises Berthillon.  You may not get the wide variety of flavors but it’ll still be yummy!

Paris macarons Image Source

Macarons –  Ahhh macarons, so delicate, so flavorful, and so hard to get just right.  Below are the most famous places for macarons:

Laduree – multiple locations.  This world famous brand really has gotten it just right, from the packaging to the beautiful store displays.  Laduree is a must visit for any macaron lover.  They have a wide variety of flavors and really, who doesn’t love the luxurious, pretty packaging??!

Pierre Herme – multiple locations.  I hadn’t heard of Pierre Herme until I researched “best macarons in Paris” and this came up repeatedly.  The storefront and packaging is the opposite of Laduree, sleek and minimalist.  They have less flavors to choose from, but their macarons, in my opinion, really are the best.  They are perfectly light and fluffy, slightly chewy, and pack intense flavor.

Lenotre and Gerard Mulot – multiple locations.  Both of these names came up when I was researching macarons.  While certainly good and still better than most macarons you can find in the States, I would not go out of my way to visit these two after having visited the holy grail of macarons (above 2).  That said, if you find yourself passing by, it’s worth a visit since their pastries are wonderful.

Patisserie Aoki Sadaharu – multiple locations.  Although not widely known, this patisserie makes macarons in asian inspired flavors like black sesame, wasabi, and matcha green tea.  The quality is quite good and this patisserie is definitely worth a visit if you’re looking to try something different.

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Patisserie Stohrer – 51 rue Montorgueil 2nd arr., open daily.  Paris’ oldest pastry shop, Stohrer serves a wide variety of mouth watering desserts.  Definitely worth a visit, but be warned, you won’t be able to leave the shop without purchasing at least 5 items! Also, rue Montorgueil is a great street to walk down if you’re looking for something to eat.  It’s filled with many decent locals type restaurants.

Paris kayser Image Source

Eric Kayser/Maison Kayser – multiple locations.  Known for the best breads and great pastries, this place is great for picking up provisions for a picnic.

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Le Grande Epicerie Paris – Located in Le Bon March, this is a gourmet grocery store with everything you can imagine.  There’s fresh baked breads, beautiful pastries, ready-made food, and fresh produce.  It’s really a great place to pick up snacks for a picnic.

Paris rotisserie Image Source

“The Chicken Lady” – Located at the Bastille Sunday Open Market, this specific “chicken lady” stall is famous for juicy rotisserie chicken.  The directions I got were to take the Metro line 5 to Breguet-Sebin, take the Saint Sebin exit to be at the north end of the market.  Take a right down the first row of food stalls and the “chicken lady” is the 3rd stall on the left past Vollailles du Gotinais and La Boule d’Anges des Marches bread stand.  You must get there before 1pm or else she sells out.  Hubs and I never found her, but the Bastille market is large and full of food stands so we were able to get rotisserie chicken from another stand.  It was juicy and good, although maybe not as wow as the chicken lady’s chicken might be.  We walked to nearby Place des Vosges and ate the chicken there, and then went to nearby Gerard Mulot for some pastries (Paris-Brest of course!) for dessert.

Okay, so I think I covered all the food we tried (not including a few crepe street stalls we stopped at), which we managed to pack in 5.5 days!  Now on to our absolute favorites:

My favorites: Chez l’Ami Jean, Le Comptoir du Relais, and La Cuisine de Bar.

Hubs’ favorites: All of mine, plus Chez Dumonet for the boeuf bourguignon, and Robert et Louise.

Other restaurants that looked especially good but we didn’t have a chance to try:

Le Gaigne – 12 rue Pecquay 4th arr., open Tuesday through Saturday.  Small bistro known for inventive cuisine that does not disappoint.

Breizh Cafe – 109 rue Vieille du Temple 3rd arr., open Wednesday through Sunday.  Known for Bretagne style crepes and buckwheat galettes.

Le Cinq Mars – 51 rue de Verneuil 7th arr., open Monday through Sunday.  Cozy, affordable locals restaurant that serves ratatouille, mussels and seabass.

Bistrot Paul Bert – 18 rue Paul Bert, 11th arr., open Tuesday through Saturday.  Offers a reasonable prix fixe (34 Euro) and is a quintessential bistro serving good steak frites.

Le Baratin – 3 rue Jouye-Rouve 4th arr., open Tuesday through Saturday.  Opened by Argentinians (who knows meat better than them?) and Pierre Herme dines here, need I say more?

Les Papilles – 30 rue Gay Lussac 5th arr., open Tuesday through Saturday.  Great value prix fixe menu restaurant.

Tips:

If the restaurant allows it, MAKE RESERVATIONS!  Most of these restaurants are small and the French tend to make reservations so if you don’t, there may not even be seating for walk-ins.  Unlike the States, even at popular restaurants, you won’t have to call more than a week or two in advance so it’s not too much trouble.  It’s as simple as calling them, asking in french first if they spoke english (Bonjour, parlez-vous francais?), most of them do, and telling them what day you’d like to come.

Make note of restaurant opening hours.  Many restaurants are closed Sundays and some are closed certain days during lunch so make sure you plan accordingly to avoid disappointment.  I first made a list of all my must-eats and then I looked up each of their opening hours to make sure I juggled my schedule right.

When in Rome… if you can, eat at a later hour.  Dinner hours are typically from 7pm through 11pm with the earlier time slots taken by tourists and the later taken by locals.  You’ll have a more enjoyable experience if you eat when the locals do, but take into consideration that if you’re eating at 9pm, you typically won’t be done until midnight (the French really take their time) and oftentimes the meal is heavy so you may have trouble sleeping right afterwards, which can delay your schedule for the next day.  But you’re on vacation so just take it easy!

Go with the flow.  The French really do take their time and enjoy their meal, as such the waiters typically will take longer to come around.  Don’t get impatient.  Take into account that meals can last 3 hours and plan your itinerary accordingly.

Pick restaurants close to the sites you will be visiting.  I included the arrondissements the restaurants are located in to help with planning.  If you plan on seeing the Eiffel Tower, plan lunch or dinner at one of the restaurants in the 7th arr.  This will make your trip go more smoothly if you’re not constantly criss crossing town to go to restaurants.

Whew, so this was a long post but I hope helpful!  If you have any questions, feel free to comment and I’ll try my best to help you out!

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Paris1

Hello? Is anyone still there? So I know it’s been a while since my last post and I don’t really have an excuse but I hope to post on a more regular basis from now on, so please stick with me!

So last we left off I had just finished posting about Loire Valley.  After 4 days in France, the hubs and I were more than happy to get on with the Paris part of our trip.  Don’t get me wrong, Loire Valley was beautiful and a lovely place to visit but we were just so darn excited for all the great restaurants I booked in Paris, which I’ll go over in my next post.

While the focus of our Paris trip was food, we still had to plan some activities to space out our meals so this post will focus on all the sights we visited.  The hubs and I had already visited Paris before (twice for me, once for him) and had done the major attractions like the Louvre, Eiffel Tower, the Sacre Coeur, and Musee D’orsey so this time we focused on the lesser known attractions.

Paris Rodin Image Source 

Musee Rodin – Dedicated to the works of Auguste Rodin, this museum and surrounding gardens was used primarily as Rodin’s workshop during his life.  The house itself is manageable and includes lesser known works of his as well as from Camille Claudel, another french sculptor who was Rodin’s model and lover.  What is special about this museum is the serene gardens with Rodin’s sculptures scattered throughout, including the famous The Thinker, The Kiss, The Gates of Hell (inspired by Dante’s Inferno)and The Burghers of Calais.

Paris garnier Image Source

Palais Garnier – Known as the Opera Garnier or the Opera de Paris, this was the premier Opera house during 19th century Paris and was famous for its opulence and grandeur.  Being a huge fan of Phantom of the Opera, I had to visit the famous opera house that was the inspiration for the novel and later the musical.  I’d highly recommend taking the guided tour of this opera house to gain a better appreciation of the architecture.  The guides are wonderful in their descriptions and do a great job letting the visitors imagine what it was like to be a member of the elite going to watch an opera and walking up the grand staircase.  The Opera house is absolutely beautiful and a must see for anyone who appreciates great architecture and storytelling.

paris musee-de-l-orangerie Image Source

Musee de l’Orangerie – This intimate museum permanently houses Monet’s famous Water Lilies murals.  Located in 2 rooms are 4 giant panels of the Water Lillies canvas, each panel depicting a different time of day and season.  The rest of the museum has a good collection of other impressionist works.  I particularly liked this museum because of the well curated impressionist paintings and the size of it was very manageable.  The museum is also located at one corner of the Tuileries Gardens, which is a lovely place to stroll afterwards on a nice day.

Paris2 Arc de Triomphe – While the Arc is one of the most well known landmarks in Paris and we certainly saw it each of the previous times we were in Paris, we never actually climbed to the top.  The climb to the top is slightly strenuous but well worth it for the views.  You get a wonderful view of the layout of the city with the avenues radiating out from the arch.  You can even see the new arch from up there, the Grande Arche de la Defense, which is the 20th century version of the Arc de Triomphe.

Paris deportation Image Source

Memorial des Martyrs de la Deportation – This site won’t take much of your time but is worth a visit.  It’s located right across the street from the backside of the Cathedrale Notre Dame de Paris and is free so please stop by if you are already in the area.  It’s a memorial dedicated to the 200,000 French citizens that were sent to Nazi camps and murdered during World War II.  Each of the 200,000 lights in the above picture represents a victim.

Paris4 Pont des Arts “Paris Locks Bridge” – While not an attraction per se, this pedestrian bridge is still worth a visit for the beautiful sunsets.  Come half an hour before sunset with a blanket and some wine and snacks and enjoy the sunset amidst Parisians and tourists.  And if you happen to be there with your loved one, consider purchasing a padlock, affixing it to the bridge, and throwing the key into the river as a symbol of your everlasting love!

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It seems like we didn’t see a whole lot for being in Paris for 4 days but we did do a lot of walking around neighborhoods and of course we also spent lots of time dining as well.  We particularly enjoyed walking in the St. Germain de Pres (6th arrondissement) and Le Marais (3rd and 4th arrondissement) neighborhoods for the lively cafes and shops.  We also spent some downtime resting at various neighborhood parks, which was a wonderful way to people watch and catch a glimpse of daily Parisian life.  Also, I’d highly recommend visiting the famous sights in the evening as well to see them all lit up.  It’s a great way to 1) digest after a heavy dinner 2) take beautiful night pictures, and 3) enjoy the sights without all the crowds.

Paris eiffel Image Source

Lastly, for a great unobstructed full view of the Eiffel Tower, day or night, head to Place du Trocadero.

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I first heard of Loire Valley a year and a half ago from a classmate who had studied abroad and visited.  As soon as he said it was a beautiful region full of chateaus, I was sold.  Aside from just seeing the chateaus, another thing I had really wanted to try at least once in my life was a multi-day bike tour.  So a few internet searches later, I found myself booking a 2 day self guided bike tour through Loire Valley with Detours de Loire.  While I really wanted to book the 4 day tour since it would allow us to bike to the major chateaus, I’m really glad that the hubs insisted on the shorter tour.  My butt totally did not want to get back on that bike the second day so I can imagine how painful it would have been on the 3rd and 4th day!

As a compromise, I ended up booking a full day Loire Valley Castle minibus tour to make sure we got to visit all the major chateaus that I’ve read so much about.  It was the best decision ever since it was a small group of just 8 people, we got to spend approximately 1-1.5 hours on our own at each chateau, and our driver was extremely nice and informative.  We then went on our 2 day bike tour and got to visit the smaller and in my opinion, more charming chateaus completely on our own time and with the added benefit of very little crowds (partly due to the scattered showers).

For those of you contemplating visiting Loire Valley, here’s our itinerary to help you plan out your visit.

Day 1 – Arrive in Tours by train from Paris.  Tours was a great base for exploring Loire Valley.  It’s one of the larger cities in Loire Valley so there’s plenty of restaurants, unique shops, and charming architecture to keep you occupied for a day or two.  **Tip: stay in a hotel close to the train station** We stayed at Hotel De L’Europe which was right across from the train station, 1 block from the tourist office where all the tours depart from, and 2 blocks from the Detours de Loire bike shop.  It’s small and bare bones but economical and most importantly convenient.

Day 2 – Full day castle sightseeing.  Visited Chateau de Chenonceau, Chateau de Chambord, Chateau de Cheverny, and had a choice of either Chateau d’Amboise or the Clos Luce gardens, with lunch in Amboise.

Day 3 – Start of bike tour in Tours.  Visited Chateau de Villandry and then biked to Azay-le-Rideau for overnight stay.  The hotel that Detours de Loire booked us in was a 2* hotel, although seemed more like a boutique hotel, and it was absolutely charming!  Azay-le-Rideau is a very small village but oozes countryside charm.  I highly recommend staying at Hotel de Biencourt and having dinner at Cote Cour which was just a few storefronts away from the hotel.  The restaurant had a daily menu based on seasonal ingredients and the staff was extremely friendly and attentive.

Day 4 – Visit Chateau d’Azay-le-Rideau.  Bike to Chateau d’Usse and end bike tour in Chinon.  **Tip: Make sure to spend a few hours in Chinon, a beautifully preserved medieval village**

Okay, so now to the good stuff!  Loire Valley is chock full of chateaus and it can be difficult to narrow down so I’ll post pictures of each chateau and my general thoughts on each one.

Chateau de Chenonceau, aka ‘the ladies chateau’ due to the women who’ve influenced the architecture and surrounding gardens.  It has an interesting history of first being bequeathed by King Henri II to his mistress, Diane de Poitiers and then forcibly taken away from her by his widow Catherine de Medici.  As such there are two gardens on the grounds, named for each of the ladies, beautifully maintained and offers great views of the enchanting castle.  This castle is one of the most famous in Loire Valley and is certainly one of the prettiest.  The interior is also well maintained and offers a glimpse of 16th century life.  I particularly enjoyed viewing the kitchen.

Clos Luce is most famous for being the residence where Leonardo da Vinci stayed for the last few years of his life.  Not so much a chateau as it is a mansion, the main draw is really the garden full of da Vinci’s inventions.  The basement showcases miniature models  of da Vinci’s various mechanical machines, which are then reproduced full scale in the gardens.  The hubs and I really enjoyed seeing how each machine worked and some of them were even interactive.  It was also full of families as the kids really loved running around to all of the structures.  It really brought out the inner nerd and inner kid in all of us!

 Chateau de Chambord is probably the most recognized chateau in Loire Valley and certainly the grandest of them all.  The size of the chateau was just absolutely immense.  We had about an hour to tour it and I don’t even think we went to every room.  Not that we really wanted to since the inside was quite bare.  Apparently the chateau was used mainly as a hunting lodge when the King would travel through in the summer.  As such, the interiors were decorated minimally since the King’s party would travel with all the furnishings.  Nonetheless, the exterior really is quite magnificent and impressive so no trip to Loire Valley would be complete without visiting this chateau.

 Chateau de Cheverny is a stately home owned and still inhabited by a Marquis and his family.  Although much smaller than the other chateaus, this elegant home is warmer, meticulously decorated, and just feels like the home of a wealthy family.  Since the family still lives there, the entire staff, from the grounds keeper to the tour guides, have been interviewed by the Marquis.  Another interesting and fun fact, the creator of “The Adventures of Tintin” used this chateau as a model for the chateau in the series.  One of the outhouses even has a gallery of Tintin artwork.  The family also breeds hounds used for hunting so the grounds has a kennel of over 100 hounds!

Sadly here is where I lost all my pictures so the following pictures have been taken from the internet.  Sources below pictures.

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Chateau and gardens of Villandry is most known for the gardens.  The gardens really are vast and magnificent.  There’s multiple sections of meticulously groomed flower and vegetable gardens, a water garden, a sun garden, and even a children’s maze.  You can spend a good hour just walking and admiring the beautiful gardens and the view from the chateau overlooking the garden is just breathtaking.

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Chateau d’Azay-le-Rideau was also unexpected for me.  I did not have this on my “must-see” list so I was really pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed visiting this fairytale-like castle.  It’s one of the smaller chateaus but it’s one of the more enchanting ones being situated on the water amidst a dreamy wooded area.

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Chateau d’Usse is known as the inspiration and model for Sleeping Beauty’s castle.  Unfortunately out of all the chateaus, I liked this the least.  Maybe because it was the last castle we saw and by then we were just castled-out but while the exterior was pretty enough, it was just not impressive compared to the others.  The interior however was the most disappointing.  It was rather cheesy as they used mannequins to depict scenes of daily life and they even depicted scenes from Sleeping Beauty.

While there are many more chateaus in the region, I felt that the full day tour plus the bike tour really gave us a good taste of Loire Valley.  We managed to cover all the major chateaus as well as visit some lesser known ones.  The bike tour also gave us the opportunity to stop by little villages along the Loire River.  While the bike trail was mostly flat, we rode approximately 40 miles per day so you do have to be in fairly good shape in order to enjoy yourself.  Over the 4 days, we also had the opportunity to visit Tours, Amboise, Azay-le-Rideau, and Chinon, all of which are charming in their own way and warrant a brief visit.

Lastly, while I don’t regret booking the bike tour through Detours de Loire (they provided quality bikes, helmets, guide maps and recommendations of sites and restaurants, hotel, and luggage transfers), it is possible to bike on your own for much less since the bike path through Loire Valley is well marked (La Loire a Velo).  The only thing to worry about would be luggage but that can be easily remedied if you backpack lightly.

Up next, Paris!

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May can’t come soon enough.  Hubs and I just booked our flight to France and I’m so excited, I just can’t hide it! (Saved by the Bell anyone???)  Although we’ve been to Paris before, it was only for a long weekend and we were new college grads with little funds so this time we are doing it right!  There’s going to be shopping, lots of walking and exploring off the beaten path neighborhoods, and of course TONS of eating.  From wine and cheese picnics in the park to Michelin starred restaurants, from fresh out of the oven croissants to ham sandwiches, from macarons to rotisserie chicken, we want to try it all!  We’ll have 10 days there but we want to explore other parts of France too so here’s where the real work begins.  The more I research, the more places I want to see, but we only have about 5 days to explore since we want to spend about 4-5 days enjoying Paris.  I’m totally going to sound like an ignorant American but boy did I not realize how many unique cities there are in France.  Here are a few places I’m considering.

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I’ve seen numerous photos of Mont Saint Michel and would love to actually see this beautiful island in person.  It’s a well preserved medieval town and I can imagine wandering the winding alleyways.  It’s about a 4.5 hour drive from Paris though, and although beautiful, I don’t think we would spend more than a day there.  An alternative would be to spend a night or two in Rennes, Brittany and try their famous crepes, seafood, and galettes, and then head to Mont Saint Michel for a day trip.

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Loire Valley is on my bucket list of places to visit in the near future, full of enchanting chateaus and gardens.  I’d love to bike through the region, taking in the beautiful vistas.  We’d tour numerous chateaus, go wine-tasting, and try the delicious cuisine.  It’s only about an hour away from Paris by train so it’s easy to get to and we would ideally stay for 2 nights so we don’t rush our time there.

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Beaune is the wine capital of Burgundy, need I say more?  This city is one of the key wine centers in France and as such has multiple caves offering FREE wine tastings!  It’s also known as a gastronome’s paradise and has a major food market on Saturdays.  The city is  approximately 2.5 hours southeast of Paris so it’s not too far out for a 2 day trip.

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Um, how cute is the architecture??  Colmar is located in Alsace, France and is right on the border of Germany and Switzerland and as such is influenced by those countries.  It’s a beautifully well-preserved city and has unique food that sounds more German than French, like bretzels with melted cheese, sauerkraut with fish, and quiches!

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Reims is the main city of the Champagne region!  It’s only 45 minutes from Paris by train so this would make a great day trip.  While there we would visit the impressive Cathedral where almost all the French kings have been crowned for 1,000 years.  And of course we can’t leave without touring the most famous champagne producers like Veuve Cliquot and Taittinger.

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Giverny, the home of Monet’s garden’s where he was inspired to paint his series of waterlilies and other dreamy landscapes.  Although there’s not much there other than Monet’s home and gardens, it’s only 45 minutes from Paris, totally worth it to see his paintings come to life.

Have you been to any of these places?  Are any of these must see’s?

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