A Travellerspoint blog

By this Author: Beausoleil

Starting in Paris

We didn't yet know you can't see it all . . .

Notre Dame de Paris

Notre Dame de Paris

We were young and restless and wanted to see France, all of it. We quickly learned you can't do that on one trip. However, if you're planning a longer trip in France and want to see more than major cities, here are some good ideas. It also gives you an idea of how to time a longer more rural trip.

Medici Fountain in the Luxembourg Gardens

Medici Fountain in the Luxembourg Gardens


If you come from the USA as we did, you will land in CDG or Orly. Take the train into town to your hotel and stay as centrally as possible. We planned 3 days in Paris at the beginning and 2 days at the end of our trip. The first time, we'd never been to Europe so it was a real adventure. We were also young enough to be poor enough to have to camp which turned out to our advantage. You experience an entirely different country when you get into the campgrounds. Country folks are not city folks in any country . . . and country folks are very friendly and helpful. This was our first experience of France and we've absolutely loved it ever since.

So . . . start in Paris.

Posted by Beausoleil 14:55 Archived in France Comments (0)

Next comes the Loire Valley - Valley of Kings

After Paris, you want to see castles . . . lots of them.

Cathedral Notre Dame de Chartres

Cathedral Notre Dame de Chartres


We had leased a Peugeot so on day 4 we drove southwest to the town of Chartres. You must stop and visit the famous and beautiful cathedral in Chartres. It was a lovely sunny day so the stained glass windows were spectacular but I was even more impressed by the sunlight on the ancient stone floors. This started a lifelong love affair with Notre Dame de Chartres and we've returned many times over the years.

Azay-le-Rideau with a cute car

Azay-le-Rideau with a cute car


We left Chartres and drove south to Chateaudun where we stopped for lunch on the town square. It was market day so that was a nice plus. We found a bank and got money from the ATM . . . a first on the trip. Then we visited La Poste and bought postage stamps. At that point I think we really believed we could survive in a foreign country on our own. We found a tiny restaurant behind a fish market (so ate inside) and discovered we couldn't read the menu. Croque Monsieur sounded like something I'd heard on a language tape I'd studied so we ordered it. Loved it! We've gotten much better at menus over the years.

Château Azay-le-Rideau

Château Azay-le-Rideau


After lunch and feeling much better about our survival skills, we continued south to near Poitiers. Here we encountered our first French campground. It was near Futuroscope but we took our 3 days and visited Loire chateaus, abbeys and quaint villages. It was heavenly and the staff at the campground were wonderful.

Château Chenonceau

Château Chenonceau


We have returned often to a couple favorite chateaus, Azay-le-Rideau and Villandry. Chenonceau, the chateau of women, is also a must-see.

Posted by Beausoleil 15:34 Archived in France Comments (0)

Moving south toward Toulouse

After Paris and the Loire Valley, move on to the less-famous France.

Carcassonne from a distance

Carcassonne from a distance


After exploring the Loire Valley, we drove south again, getting hopelessly lost in Brive. We ended up at an athletic field several times (with a map!) and finally managed to hail a passing bicyclist who gave us careful directions in French. Each of us understood about half the directions . . . but it worked and we were back on the road again.

Our tent and leased Peugeot for the trip

Our tent and leased Peugeot for the trip


We camped outside a tiny village called Belflou at a country Auberge / campground. It was cold (in July) and raining but we had our tent so we pitched it. The campgrounds in France have nice little restaurants and this particular auberge had a fabulous restaurant. Here we ate our first cassoulet and loved it. When Madame brought it to our table, we thought it was for the entire room and took only a small portion each. To our surprise, the casserole was set on the table and was just for us. It was delicious and hot, real comfort food. We ate more than we should have and waddled back to our wet tent.

Entrance to La Cité at Carcassonne

Entrance to La Cité at Carcassonne


We spent our time in this area visiting Carcassonne, Mirepoix and Foix and when we realized we needed reservations for the cave we wanted to visit and didn't have them, we substituted a visit to Parc Pyrénéen de l’Art Préhistorique, a really fun French theme park on prehistory. We acted like little kids and had a great time. We have since gotten to a real cave!

Posted by Beausoleil 16:05 Archived in France Comments (0)

On to the Mediterranean Coast

Languedoc-Roussillon has joined with Midi-Pyrénées and together they are now named Occitanie with Toulouse as capital.

Fontefroide Abbey

Fontefroide Abbey


We loved the Languedoc-Roussillon region but we had our schedule so we headed south yet again to a campground near Narbonne. We had a terrible time finding the campground and later discovered there are two roads with the exact same number. We did find it and pitched our tent on an incredibly windy cold day (yes, still in July in southern France). The French restaurants seem to all close at 2 PM and we had passed the lunch witching hour so had to settle for Buffalo Grill with a very bad country western theme . . . and equally bad food. We've never gone there again but have often joked about it.

We did our first laundry in France at the campground. That was when we discovered laundry takes a LOT longer in Europe than at home. The clothes did get clean (very clean) and the wind quickly dried them.

Coast of Spain

Coast of Spain


We drove along the coast into Spain just to say we'd been there and it was a beautiful trip albeit very windy. Back in France we ate lunch and then stopped to wade in the Mediterranean. That was fun!

Canet Plage, our favorite beach

Canet Plage, our favorite beach


We discovered Canet-Plage and vowed to return. We have and it's one of our favorite places in France. The beach is lovely soft sand and the views are incredible. On a clear day you can see Mt. Canigou. Beautiful . . .

Posted by Beausoleil 16:22 Archived in France Tagged landscapes mountains beaches castles Comments (0)

It's time to turn east . . .

Pont du Gard, the Roman Aqueduct

Pont du Gard, the Roman Aqueduct

We were trying to get a feel for the entire country in a month . . . an impossible feat, but we didn't know it then. Any experience in France must include Provence so we left our campground and headed east to Grasse in Provence.

The Roman Arena in Arles

The Roman Arena in Arles

This was our first experience on the AutoRoute of France as we had been avoiding it because of the tolls. Today we wanted to get to Grasse quickly so decided to use the AutoRoute. It's an excellent highway but they drive very fast! We zipped along, stopping in Arles for lunch and some sightseeing. We fell in love with Arles and have returned many times. There is history, scenery, friendly townspeople and great shopping. I always plan to do major gift shopping in Arles.

The Molinard Perfumerie in Grasse

The Molinard Perfumerie in Grasse

We arrived in Grasse on Bastille Day weekend and a warning light went on in the car. We took a wrong turn, fortunately, and ended up in a gas station. Ed opened the hood and discovered our oil cap completely gone and oil covering the engine . . . and dripping onto the very clean pavement of the station. The people at the station were very nice, even telephoning the Peugeot 24-hour assistance line and telling them the problem. I was still looking for the word for oil cap in my dictionary. Within 30 minutes, the man from Peugeot arrived with a new oil cap and several liters of oil. He fixed everything, cleaned up the engine and we were on our way. Good experience with Peugeot and we've used them ever since.

We splurged and spent a night at a pension run by an order of nuns. It was up on a hill and you could see all the way to the Mediterranean. We ate with the nuns and other guests. It was the priest's birthday so we joined the celebration. One of the waitresses spoke a bit of English so we knew what was happening. The birthday cake would have been a good hint though.

The Fragonard Perfume Museum

The Fragonard Perfume Museum

The next morning we visited the marvelous street market in Grasse and then the Fragonard perfume factory to which I have become addicted. It is another great place for gifts. There is expensive perfume but there are lots of inexpensive soaps and novelty items too.

We had a week at a timeshare in Jausiers in the French Alps and so left Grasse to head up into the mountains. The scenery that had been lovely became spectacular.

The Mercantour National Park

The Mercantour National Park

We easily found Jausiers and spent a wonderful dry week there visiting the Mercantour National Park, the Italian Alps, the Citadelle in Sisteron, the Penitants at Les Mées, taking long walks along the Ubaye River beside our timeshare and finally had to leave this idyllic place. Great week!

This is a very old photo but I love it. The Mercantour is an amazing place. You see all kinds of wildflowers, strange little animals, stunning vistas and even charming villages. Highly recommended.

Posted by Beausoleil 15:39 Archived in France Tagged landscapes mountains churches castles scenery Comments (0)

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