France May 2014 - summary. Brilliant, and one to tick off my bucket list.
A few days in Paris - blustery and cold but just gorgeous - loaded with cafes, old buildings, history, markets, breads, cheeses, patisseries, chocolates and more….. a must to stay close to the heart of the city in the old Paris and immerse yourself in Paris language and people. Be a tourist yes, but don't do it in the big hotel chains and certainly don't eat there - you have to get out and eat in the cafes.
We next followed a World War One Battlefield tour in northern France and Belgium - something I was not quite so sure about but now believe everyone should at some stage in their lives make an efforts to do. It was a true eye-opener and one of many emotions, disbelief, non comprehension, awe, all those words I can't even think of. How could so many lose their lives in such vast numbers for reasons we can never never quite come to terms with?
Bordeaux - south west of France and known for it's wines and vineyards. We didn't stay in the huge city of Bordeaux itself, but out in a wine growing region of Blaye. Did a guided tour of St Emilion with a tour through one of the older Chateaux's and underground into the cellars. So much to learn by paying for a guided tour - well worth the extra money. Vineyards everywhere in this part of the world and regular sampling of the wines confirmed with us that yes, they are still making good wine here!!!
Across the south of France via Carcassone - another village stop but one with an amazing Citadel (a medieval fortress) / a walled city that protects itself from the outside world. Perched up high on a hill and brilliantly lit up at night.
On to the region of Provence. Stayed in Aix-en-Provence with a family who gave us some lovely ideas for touring around and where to go. The city of Aix itself I loved, full of history, art, soaps, lavender, cafes, breads, tiny shops and narrow streets full of character. A day visit to the coastal port of Cassis, on the Mediterranean west of Marseille and a boat ride through the Calanques was fabulous and for a few Euros, well worth the money. It was a lovely sunny day of course which made a huge difference. A drive the next day up through the Vaucluse area and to medieval towns perched high up on hillsides, once again with their tiny narrow winding streets but gorgeous little shops and cafes.
Headed north to Bourgogne (Burgundy as we know it) - this area we both loved, probably the favourite stay for us both. A home amongst the vineyards was absolutely lovely but the whole area is just very pretty. I could lean out my window with a glass of wine and overlook the vineyards with their little tractors and men and women working away tending to the vines. Cyclists every day leisurely meandered through the narrow laneways stopping as we always did, to take pictures of the landscape. Just gorgeous!
Headed further north again to Reims, the Champagne region of France. Once again a guided day trip highly recommended - visited a smaller champagne house and were shown the methods of how champagne is made and the history of champagne discussed. Followed up with a delightful lunch at another champagne house then the highlight of the day, a guided tour through the cellars of Moet and Chandon. Just wow!
Driving in France. Stressful to say the least! In the cities and villages - narrow streets, right side of the road, right hand drive car, manual, gears on the right hand side - but taking it slow and carefully meant I was able to hand the car back unscathed at the end of the holiday. Highways here are mostly 130km speed limit, trucks are quite simply not allowed in the fast lane, passing motorists always seems to pull back to the left lanes as soon as they pass and very smooth travelling even at such high speeds. Roadworks speed?? Carry on at 130km! None of this 80, 60, 40 km stuff. It all just works and very few go over the 130km. Most tend to travel at around 120- 125 as we did most of the time. Roadhouses every 20-40kms are huge - automated coffee machines - and REAL coffee, not instant stuff!!! Merging back onto the 130km roads, not a problem, people just move out and let you in. We were very surprised at how courteous the drivers were in general.
Must haves for driving - a GPS and a patient and understanding passenger/navigator! And that he was!
So it's all over. We're in 'going home mode' now and when you're ready for that, you just want to get there! A great trip.