adventures down south

In mid-August my Italian and I decided to do like the Parisians, leave Paris to the tourists, and venture south. I had heard a lot about the unpretentious charm of France’s Cap Ferret, and was eager to discover it for myself. It has been likened to Montauk, the most unspoilt part of the Hamptons, where I grew up. Our first stop was lunch in a rainy but elegant Bordeaux. I know little of this city, this being my second visit, but look forward to becoming better acquainted in the future.

IMG_5619Rather than head directly to this trendy enclave, we stopped in Arcachon for a few days. Just enough time to meet with friends and climb the highest sand dunes in all of Europe.

IMG_5737The Dune du Pilat measures 107 meters high and I felt rather accomplished reaching the top!

IMG_5697We spent the afternoon climbing, jumping, running… and sitting beneath the late summer sun.

IMG_5968Our next stop was Cap Ferret. We settled in with a plate of oysters, local wine, and a view.

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The dominant mode of transport is by bike. And that is how we explored this little French paradise.

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I could immediately understand why it was compared to Montauk with it’s chic yet relaxed vibe.

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After many great meals including at the highly revered Chez Hortense, it was time to bid adieu.

IMG_6006Via boat and train we made our way back to Paris filled with sounds and tastes of the sea.

Auvers-sur-Oise

This past spring when my mom came to visit, I thought about where to bring her. Last year we had explored Chantilly, and while it would have been a lovely time of year to visit Giverny, I opted to be more creative and we ventured to Auvers-sur-Oise. This commune, only about 27 kilometers northwest of Paris, was once home to the Impressionists. More specifically, Paul Cézanne, Charles-François Daubigny, Camille Pissarro, Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot and, Vincent van Gogh.

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IMG_1742This was a trip into Van Gogh’s life. It was incredible to be amidst the church that he once painted.

IMG_1744It is here that he rests alongside his brother Theo, who passed away only 6 months after Vincent.

IMG_1750The next stop was Château d’Auvers where we discovered a most insightful interactive journey into the lives of the Impressionists. A unique experience! Not to mention the breathtaking gardens…

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As the sun was setting we walked the length of the estate, reflecting on years long gone.

IMG_1820It was time to bid farewell to Auvers-sur-Oise. Like the artists before us, we headed back to Paris.

fit for a king

A few weeks ago a dear family friend was in town. Since she’s already seen much of Paris, I planned a day of historic elegance in a landscape not too far away. We boarded a bus on an overcast morning, and soon arrived to the legendary, and now private estate, Château de Vaux le Vicomte.

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Here began our adventure into the life of Nicolas Fouquet, who created this 17th century castle.

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This majestic masterpiece was a collaboration between architect Louis Le Vau, the painter Charles Le Brun and the landscape gardener André Le Nôtre. A ‘home and garden’ to be admired by all.

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Yet the story behind Monsieur Fouquet and his château is a unique and tragic one.

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In brief, after throwing a lavish party in his new home, Fouquet was arrested by Louis XIV (who had plotted against him out of jealousy), and spent his remaining days behind bars, unlawfully so.

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In the famous words of Voltaire, “On 17 August at 6 in the evening, Fouquet was King of France; at 2 in the morning, he was nobody”.

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As we wandered the château and landscape, the gray sky set a sobering mood. At once in awe and aghast at the history lesson upon us. Certainly a castle fit for a king, perhaps even too much so.

Château de Chantilly

During my mom’s recent visit to Paris, we decided to take her for a day trip. Where else but to a château? Less than 30 minutes by train lies the town of Chantilly, home to a spectacular château spanning the 14th to 19th centuries, not to mention chantilly cream, which in itself is worth the trip!

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Our first stop was the Grand Stables. Yes, horses do still live within this admirable structure!

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At first sight the Château de Chantilly exhibits an air of serene magnificence.

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The Musée Condé boasts the grandest collection of paintings in France, after the Louvre of course.

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I could not stop admiring (and photographing) the château from every angle, both near and far.

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Chantilly

A idyllically regal day spent beneath blue skies and the historic charm of France.

36 hours in Lille

I decided to visit Lille on a whim, to meet a dear friend and her 5 month old baby who were traveling via Eurostar from London. What better place for a rendezvous, a city I knew little about, and a place often referred to for it’s history and art. Only one hour by train yet worlds away.

Upon arrival, I forgot that I was in France. The locals of Lille are a friendly people, and the architecture of the old city reminded me much of Brussels, regal and replete with color. I was free of the gray hues of Paris and reveled in this change of scene. Much time was spent exploring these charming cobbled streets, which even a stroller could manage.

Though Lille is the only city in France where beer versus wine is the drink of choice, we skipped both and headed for tea and waffles at Charles de Gaulle’s favorite spot, Meert. This tearoom-sweets-shop which served kings and generals since 1761 is a must! I even took a few gaufres to go…

Somehow lunch followed dessert. It is next door to Lille, in the town of Croix, where the famous boulangerie and patisserie Paul first opened it’s doors, just over 120 years ago. Still a hotspot!

The rain prolonged our explorations of the Palais des Beaux-Arts, housing impressive collections of 19th century art. Well worth a rainy afternoon, this being the largest museum outside of Paris.

The following day the sun joined us, leading the way to the charming Rue de Gand where many an estaminet, a traditional Flemish eatery, was found. It was here where we enjoyed our best meal, in the company of the friendly French. 36 hours very well spent, in a city that pleasantly surprised.

lost in Normandy

Several weeks ago my Italian and I decided to explore the coast of Normandy, beginning (with umbrellas) in Cherbourg. At the exact spot where the Titanic left port exactly 100 years prior.

Guided by a rainbow beneath a gray sky, our adventure began.

Our last trip to Normandy was to the D Day beaches and Honfleur. This was quite a different experience, as we were soon to discover.

Alone on the open road, with only the cows to provide direction.

Until we reached a view that left us speechless.

Still without food and shelter we drove along many an empty street until we reached our gastronomic haven. Along with which came a place to call home, just for the night.

The charm of Auderville was undeniable as we drove all along the coast to Barneville.

We even stopped to visit the home of poet and screenwriter Jacques Prévert in Omonville-la-Petite.

What impressed me most of all were the landscapes.

One of the highest cliffs in Europe with views to eternity.

A terrain wild and uniquely beautiful. Reason enough to become lost in Normandy.

weekend away

I’m a great fan of surprises. Particularly when they have to do with travel. For a recent birthday my Italian surprised me with a trip to Tuscany. Now it was my turn. Where did I choose? The Loire of course, one of our favorite getaway destinations. Beneath a moody sky and through fields reminiscent of Rothko paintings, our journey began.

Until we reached our destination, Saumur. May the wine tasting begin!

A regal afternoon spent at the castle…

…overlooking the village.

With a trip to Cadre Noir to visit the horses.

Another memorable weekend amidst the vines. Until the next time…

weekend in the Loire

The Loire Valley is quickly becoming one of my most beloved areas of France. Ever since our first Loire by bike trip amidst the grand château earlier in the year. Last weekend we planned another Loire adventure, this one to the scenic village of Amboise, festive and calm in it’s off-season charm. A perfect escape from the pre-Christmas chaos of Paris.

We arrived to a scene reminiscent of a painting.

And there it was, the Château d’Amboise, nestled into the skyline, awaiting our arrival.

But first, a quaint village waiting to be explored. (Would we find a restaurant open? Barely.)

A tour of the Château d’Amboise, home to many of France’s nobility, proved a regal experience.

To say nothing of it’s grounds. Enchanting!

Our last day, guided by the sunshine we visited the Château du Clos Lucé, where Leonardo da Vinci, along with Mona Lisa, had spent the last four years of his life. It was here that we entered not simply the home but the mind of this genius. Within the château and it’s gardens are displayed many of da Vinci’s creations. I was struck by how advanced he was for his time. A painter, sculptor, architect, engineer, botanist, musician, writer… My Italian smiled proudly at the brilliance of one of his own.

It was an ideal weekend. Already we are planning the next trip… a château or two remain.

down south

Last weekend, after spending several days with my dear cousins from Poland, both in the sea and on land (I dared yet again to hike from Vernazza to Monterosso, this time with 3 kids under 7), my Italian and I left Italy and headed back to France. All along the coast, via train. A journey I had last taken solo. Once in Cannes we embarked on the open road via cabriolet (my idea). Heaven!

Our destination was a village on the Côte d’Azur by the name of Bormes les Mimosas. Here is where I would experience my first French marriage. A couple from the North to wed in the South.

We were immediately smitten. My Italian thinking that we could easily have been in Tuscany.

The stone facades revealed an assortment of candy-colored pastels.

I very quickly understood why the village was named after mimosas.

The view from this hilltop village was magical. A perfect setting for a wedding.

Loire by bike

Last weekend we set off to explore the Loire Valley. A regal French landscape rich in history and architectural splendors. What better way to breath the royal air and discover the hidden treasures and grand Châteaux than by bike? Our journey began in Blois, a quick 2 hour TGV ride from Paris. A charming city to call home for a few days. With some of the best French food I have ever tasted. Not to mention how welcoming and friendly the people are. (Note to self: leave Paris more often!)

Our journey began beneath an overcast sky, over the bridge and into the colors of the countryside.

Occasionally we passed a small village with barely a soul in sight.

We continued on the path into the woods… almost 25 kilometers behind us.

And there it was, looming in the distance. One of the grandest structures of all.

The Châteaux de Chambord. This sight alone made the journey by bike worth it.

Here we stayed to explore the interior of this Franco-Italian masterpiece. In awe.

Needless to say (though my untrained muscles were in denial), the journey was only half complete.

We followed the Loire river back. Passing a private châteaux or two along the way.

The late afternoon sun provided strength for the remaining 10 kilometers.

Until the bridge was again in sight. Magnificent in it’s reflection.

A total of 45 kilometers later, we returned to Blois filled with the energy of accomplishment. Deserving of a feast and a glass or two of wine. And ready to plan the bike route for day two…

Click here to plan your own Loire by bike adventure. Enjoy the ride!