I love Paris, but sometimes you have to get outside the city
to experience the real France.
(Though a Parisian may tell you otherwise.)
While Paris does offer a lot of gorgeous moments,
the quintessential France is most often times
most approachable in quieter villages and small quiet towns.
Boulangeries with freshly baked bread,
small cafes with waiters lazily leaning nearby,
and artisan shops with unique (and mainly odd) trinkets
line the shelves...
This is the France that makes me weak in the knees.
This famous area has vineyards and chateaus dotted along almost every mile of every road. While you can do this in a day, it's quite rushed. I think the best way to see this area is relaxed and at leisure. We did 3 nights and it felt just about perfect- paired on to a few nights in Paris, this combo of city and country could make for a perfect week in France.
Le Manoir Champfreau: If you're going to stay in the Loire Valley, you may as well stay in a previous residence of kings. (After all, the saying does go, "When in Rome...") We stayed at this amazing home with the most gracious hosts for the most unbelievable rates. Read more about our stay here.
Le Cafe de la Promenade, Bourgueil: This small restaurant looks unassuming enough as you pass by with its simple outside and faded colorful chairs scattered about in the front, but go in for one of the most indulgent treats I've ever tasted: le hambourgueil. A hamburger with foie gras layered on top. Their wine cellar is quite the scene, too. Read more here, but make sure not to miss out.
The Chateaux: Speaking of living like a king, the Loire didn't earn its nickname ("Valley of the Kings") without good cause. The region is rich with gorgeous palaces and it can be overwhelming to chose which to go see. I'd recommend these three- and I think most people who know the area would agree.
Chateau de Chambord: This isn't Versailles, but it's the next best thing. With its endless topping of unique spires and intricate design, Chateau Chambord is a must. The palace, grounds and surrounding forests make up an area roughly the size of Paris.
Chateau de Chenonceau: With it's arches over the adjacent river, Chenonceau is one of the most photogenic places you'll ever be. (Read: Bring your good camera.) The tree-lined entrance to the chateau and the gardens add to the gorgeousness of the visit. Don't skip the maze for some added fun and lunch at The Orangery for a gorgeous bite.
Chateau d'Amboise: I love this chateau for it's stunning views of the valley and how it sits within the charming city. Plus, a visit here allows you to wander to Leonardo's DaVinci's nearby home in the town.
Patisserie Bigot: Sitting just across from the entrance to the Chateau in Amboise, this patisserie is one of my favorite stops in the Loire. With endless sweets and light lunch options, you'll dine like a queen.
If you can't make it down to Champagne for longer than a day visit, I've taken this Viator day trip from Paris. It's a long day, but you do get a chance to see many highlights of the region.
Reims Cathedral: This gorgeous cathedral sits in the center of Reims. While the architecture is stunning, the real significance of this building is that it's where the kings of France were crowned and where the stained-glass window designed by Marc Chagall can be seen.
Champagne Cellar Tour at Moet & Chandon: When you come to Champagne, you should probably pay respects to the regions namesake drink. The tour here not only sits on gorgeous property- but offers the full, pristine experience of Champagne making in France.
LA TABLE ANNA: This little local spot is just off the main cathedral square (maybe about a three minute walk?) and their daily menu for €17 is too good to miss. With three courses of delicious French cuisine, you'll be missing out on the real Reims experience by not stopping by for lunch.
BISCUIT ROSE DE REIMS: These pink cookies are the slightly-less-famous product of the Champagne region, but if you're in Reims, you'll see them dotting the storefronts of shops everywhere. Apparently, you're supposed to dip the cookies in champagne. How decadent! Get a bag from the famous Fossiers for the "original" recipe.
Wow. I can't say enough about Normandy. Not only will your visit be steeped in the emotion and history of WWII, but it's also astonishingly gorgeous. If I could ever describe a place as "stereotypically French," it would be Normandy (... okay, and the edges of Brittany that are too good to miss). I can't wait to go back.
To be honest, getting around isn't as easy as I would have guessed. To really get the most out of your visit, I'd recommend renting a car. The roads are mainly empty and the scenery is stunning. The drive approaching Mont Saint Michel at sunset is, without a doubt, one of the most breathtaking moments of travel I've ever had.
D-DAY BEACHES: As an American, getting to see these places in person was humbling. I won't try to cheapen the experience by typing it out here- but I'll only reaffirm that every American should see this at some point. More details on where to go here.
OVERLORD TOURS: If you're not up for driving yourself and willing to splurge a little, book a tour with Overlord. The tours start in Bayeaux and take you to all the major interest spots (Omaha, Pont du Hoc, American Cemetary, St. Mere Eglise, etc). Plus, you've got great guides to talk you through what happened there on June 6.
HOTEL CHURCHILL: Again a great option if you don't want to rent a car. Take the direct train from Paris St. Lazare (2 hours). Walk 10 minutes from the station to this cute hotel sitting below the gorgeous Bayeux Cathedral. It's a sweet hotel with a passion for WWII history. Plus, the friendly staff can help arrange a spot for you on their daily shuttle to Mont Saint Michel.
LE MOULIN DE LA GALETTE: This tiny restaurant is owned by a cute couple, and you'll often see their three children mingling around the restaurant or cautiously walking out a tray of food to a table in the garden. Get the L'Aure galette (sub out the gizzards for ham) and the Speculoos Crepe for dessert. Don't forget the bowl of cidre... it's important.
MONT SAINT MICHEL: This rocky island commune that sat on the coast of France is stunning. Make a trip to visit for pictures, but give yourself a couple of hours to get drawn in to the small town when you get there. Our visit here.
TAILLEPIEDS: This is the sweet bed & breakfast we stayed in near Mont Saint Michel- about a 15 minute drive from the landmark island. The two owners of this house, Patrick & Denis, rent out their quaint home by room or by the entire house, and their cooking is not to be missed.
MONET'S HOUSE IN GIVERNY: For a girl that had Monet postcards taped up around her bathtub at the age of five, getting to see Claude Monet's home in Giverny was a dream come true. This trek is an easy one from Paris' St Lazare Station. Arrive at Vernon and take the bus from there. Read more about our visit here.
Ah, Provence is such a relaxing escape. With small towns that are easily connected to each other, you'll have a great time spending your time there relaxing with great food, gorgeous weather and lazy trips between the small towns of this beloved picturesque region.
DOMAINE DE FONTENILLE: We lucked out on this place with some outstanding rates on Tablet. Not only is the hotel luxurious and gorgeous, but the staff is so kind, too. The perfect location for Provence- as it sits in Lauris, just in the middle of Avignon, Aix En Provence & Arles. Plus, the incredibly-crafted food by the Michelin-starred chef on-site will be the perfect compliment to your stay in Provence. (Don't forget to book a massage for yourself, too!)
ST REMY DE PROVENCE: This small town is the town that Van Gogh featured in his legendary painting, "Starry Night." The tiny town has a small Wednesday market that floods the streets, as well as plenty of family run restaurants that will give you an authentic taste of the region. It's location within Provence is ideal for soaking up the true experience, and it's proximity to Arles and Avignon make it a convenient for seeing more of Provence.
JAMES VILLA: We stayed in this villa just outside of St. Remy de Provence. We had a great experience with James Villas, and I highly recommend staying in one of their comfy (and reasonably priced!) properties while in Provence.
AIX-EN-PROVENCE: Aix-En-Provence ticks all the boxes for what Provence feels like it should be. With pedestrian streets, like the Cours Mirabeau who is gorgeously jeweled with mossy fountains and adorned with classic bistro chairs full of locals meeting throughout the day, Aix is a Provencal dream. Don't miss the Atelier Cezanne for a peek at Cezanne's workshop (take a taxi!).
AVIGNON: I really need to stress that a trip to Provence without going to Avignon is a tragedy. This town offers a great balance of historical sites (Papal Palace, Pont D'Avignon, and historic city walls) with small town French charm.
PALAIS DES PAPES: Unless you're a big history buff or debut Catholic, you may not know that the Papacy was moved out of the Vatican for a brief stint in history. And where was it moved to? Avignon, France! Visit the Papal Palace for a remarkable tour of this period of the church's history.
HOTEL IBIS, AVIGNON: I won't pretend that this hotel is a luxury getaway, but it is, literally, out site the TBV station making it really easy to find. The rooms are decent- but the prices are extremely affordable. The buffet breakfast is a nice way to start the day, too. This is a good hotel for those on a budget or wanting to keep the travel plans easy.
CHEZ GINETTE ET MARCEL: If you're looking for a picturesque place for lunch in Avignon, Chez Ginette et Marcel is a great stop. The hip eatery has a menu limited to "les tar tines" (read: open face sandwiches). I recommend the rosette and cornichons for a very French treat, though Tyler would suggest his favorite: goats cheese baked and drizzled with local honey. You can't go wrong with the food... especially, if you order dessert. Sit outside in the square if the weather is nice for the ultimate experience.
Find my posts on Southwest France, the Languedoc, & the Riviera here.
Find my posts on Provence here.
*photography by noah darnell