We’ve been looking forward to visiting France for quite a while, but we’ve also been a bit nervous, mostly because of our lack of knowledge with the language, and we also hoped the people would be friendly. As it turns out, we’ve never felt so welcomed in a new country before!
We find itinerary planning to be very challenging at times, especially in a place we’ve never been, and France was no exception. In fact, there is so much amazingness in all directions, that it was even more difficult to decide. Questions abound, such as, where should we go, and when, and for how long? It can be surprisingly difficult for us to figure things out by simply researching online. We never know how we’ll feel about a place until we get there and experience it for ourselves. So, our solution this time was to plan our trip around the people who had expressed interest in meeting with us in France, and we’re so glad we did. The wonderful friends we visited made all the difference!
First stop, Bordeaux!
Okay, so we didn’t know anyone in Bordeaux, but it was on our itinerary nonetheless. We arrived by train from San Sebastian and we found ourselves a bit confused about how to get to our apartment on public transport. Luckily, we found a kind man who walked with us all the way to the right tramway stop, and a sweet woman who very attentively helped us know where to step off. We stayed at a gorgeous 17th century period style apartment, which also included a Wii! The girls laughed quite a bit at Brandon and I as we attempted to work as a team playing Mario together. They even gave us lots of great tips, but we still used up all our lives very quickly.
We chose to rent bicycles instead of a car in this city, and enjoyed riding around town, cycling across the bridge, checking out a few shops, seeing some impressive buildings, and playing at a beautiful park. We even stumbled upon the Sunday market, Marche des Quais, where we bought treats like macaroons, canelés, and choquettes! Nearby was the Miroir d’eau, the world’s largest reflecting pool, which also has a system to create fog every 15 minutes, in the summer, which we had fun playing in.
En route to stay with some friends, Millie and Marc, in Saint-Perdoux near Bergerac, we stopped in Saint-Émilion at Chateau Cardinal Villemaurine. We learned all about their process of making wine by using the weight of the berries instead of a press, and they even took us into their huge, centuries-old, underground limestone caves (former quarries), where they keep the wine. We learned that if stored unopened in the proper conditions, fine wine can last for decades, but most is best enjoyed between 5-20 years, depending on the type. The Romans planted vineyards in Saint-Émilion as early as the 2nd century!
Continuing onto Saint-Perdoux, in the charming Dordogne area of France, we made pizza with our friends, including Marc’s son and also Marc’s sister who joined us for dinner with her two young daughters, and we enjoyed a nice evening together. The next day it was discovered that one of the tires on our rental vehicle had gone completely flat, due to a very large and old nail which had somehow become lodged inside. Marc very sweetly took care of the tire for us with the help of some friends, before taking us into Bergerac with Millie, where we had lunch. They took us to Bridoire Castle next, where there were lots of medieval style games to play, scattered all around the grounds and in some of the outbuildings – even a puppet theater! We were also able to explore inside the castle, with its rooms decorated and furnished in period style. We rested at home before going out to dinner nearby, in the really cute medieval village of Issigeac. We had such a wonderful time with our friends, and are really hoping to see them again! Millie has been following us on our blog for a long time, and it was such a pleasure to meet and get to know each other in person. We feel so fortunate and grateful for their hospitality, great conversation, and friendship. What a beautiful couple!
We bid our friends a fond farewell the next morning and drove to Bourges in the Loire Valley region of central France. We stayed in a unique apartment, in an elegant old mansion! This is where we saw our friend, Sophie Larcher and her two children, who we met last year in Barcelona. Sophie grew up in Bourges and was visiting her parents during our time there. We spent an enjoyable day together eating, playing at a park and on a carousel, and exploring the incredible Gothic-style, Bourges Cathedral which was built from 1195-1255. Some new homeschooling friends, a lovely mother and daughter who live in the area, joined us for part of the afternoon as well!
The next day was my birthday and we spent it exploring a fairytale type castle, Chateau de Meillant, dating from the 11th century with beautiful grounds and a miniatures museum. We also ate a delicious French birthday cake from La Patisserie Rossignon, recommended by Sophie. It was a cake with chocolate mousse, caramel, and creme brûlée. Wowee, all my favorite things! Speaking of which, the wines in this region are phenomenal, really fruity, with fresh, crisp flavors. My favorite was the Viognier Pastourou, by Alain Paret, which I enjoyed at Le Guillotine Restaurant, which is also where a fellow customer translated the entire menu for us, when he saw our struggles with the language, and he noticed the staff didn’t speak much English. I also remember eating an especially delicious poached egg at this same restaurant, by the way. I’m so glad Caroline, the manager of our vacation rental, recommended it to us. We really like the size, walkability, beauty, shops, and restaurants in Bourges. What a great town!
We spent Father’s Day driving to Colmar, in the Alsace region of France, where we spent the next few days. We absorbed the festive atmosphere that night as the entire country was celebrating Fête de la Musique, where anyone can come out on the streets and make music! Colmar is very close to the German border and is a ridiculously picturesque, walkable, and quaint place with potfuls of flowers, a gentle river running through, and cute little bridges. Of course we had to take a tranquil and beautiful boat ride together, during which we were graced by the presence of a few cute river otters and ducks. Strolling through town, we enthusiastically tasted some of the baked pretzels and cured meats that are so popular there. One day we even drove about half an hour away to visit the Formagiere Haxaire, which is a Munster cheese factory offering a self-guided tour and some samples of the different varieties of Munster cheese, one of my favorites! We also really appreciated the fancy pastry shop, Gilg, just a few doors down from our vacation rental, where we tried a lemon tart, chocolate tart, chocolate eclair, and some kind of pudding/macaroon dessert. Best pastries ever!
One afternoon, we drove half an hour away to a beautiful park in Mulhouse, for a homeschool meet-up with some local and traveling families. We enjoyed a picnic lunch while everyone played and visited. So amazing to have those opportunities!
After Colmar, we were delighted to meet with some new friends, in their small town of Versonnex, about half an hour from Geneva, Switzerland, with a beautiful view of Mt. Blanc. We met the mother, Dominique, and her daughter through our mutual friend, Elin, while we were all vacationing in La Herradura, Spain. Upon finding out we’d be visiting France, they invited us to come stay with them, which we very happily accepted! The daughter was away on her own adventure, staying with a family in the United States during our visit. So, we missed seeing her, but we all enjoyed her beautiful artwork hanging around the house, which inspired our girls to create some nice drawings of their own. We also enjoyed meeting the father and brother of this wonderful family, and it was so nice to get to know them. They’ve spent a lot of time traveling the world together, in a sailboat, and they took us sailing on Lac Léman one evening! It was a first for us, and we all loved it.
Earlier that day, Dominique took us into Geneva and we saw the UN Building before walking around the park by the lake with gorgeous water and an abundance of swans. We also saw the big jet of water shooting into the sky, the Jet d’Eau, which we got really close to, while simultaneously trying not to get drenched. Dominique made delicious food for us during our visit, such as a really flavorful pork dish with the most amazing mushrooms I’ve ever tasted, which held the creamy sauce in their honeycomb-like ridges very scrumptiously. We sampled many nice cheeses from their collection, as well as wine, and even some mouthwatering chocolate mousse, made by Dominique. We certainly hope to meet up with this family again, maybe in Victoria, Canada? It’s a beautiful place to go sailing!
We’ve never been quite so in awe of the depth of human kindness, generosity, and desire to connect as we have from our experiences in France. There are still many things to write about, including more upcoming gorgeous photos and videos from Brandon, which spill over into another blog post. So, we’re not quite done yet. Please stay tuned for our journey farther south and then up north, to Paris!