France: day 3 & 4


We had a few nervous moments with the car but, after a tasty (local and organic) breakfast we got underway with all systems go. Knowing we might not have time to stop for lunch (or, if we do, much time to eat dinner that night) we swung by a Leclerc store and bought the essentials: ham, cheese, jam, wine and baguette. By the way, in our first 48 in France we saw half a dozen people walking down the street carrying only a baguette. We’d see a dozen more over the next week. The French really do like their baguette.

We decided to stop at Chateau de Villandry, famous for its lovely gardens. In fact, we didn’t even visit the inside of the chateau, we just walked around in the massive gardens outside. There were lots of ornamental gardens, including a maze, but there’s an actual working farm portion too…they were harvesting vegetables when we visited. There were also piles of fish in their moat, which was weird…they come right out of the water looking for food, with their dead eyes, like a doll’s eyes…uh, ahem.


We kept driving, now right along the Loire. We saw a heron and the odd roadside cat and some kind of nuclear steam cloud (don’t ask) and navigated around a detour. That was to become a recurring theme. We finally reached the tiny town of Candes-St-Martin at the confluence of the Loire and the Vienne, and parked the car so we could walk to the hill above the town for a great view of the surrounding countryside. We got another great view when we walked down the riverside.

We kept heading west along the Loire and realized, just as we’d reached the town of Saumur, that we’d somehow missed the Chateau D’Ussé entirely. We didn’t spend much time in Saumur as we were tired and hungry and late and lost, so we ate lunch at some awful touristy place right next to the chateau.

We decided to skip the rest of the drive along the Loire, to Angers, and just bust north toward our next B&B. Carmen took us a crazy route (we told her to avoid toll highways, but still…she had us on some pretty hardcore back roads), and it didn’t help that we kept hitting detours, including a visit from the Gendarmerie. Eventually we got on to progressively bigger highways, and after a few minutes on our first autoroute we were in love. After driving 40 km/h through driveways and farm lanes all day, doing 140km/h in a straight line was pretty sweet. After a long day of driving we finally reached Les Blotteries.

This was probably my favourite place of the whole trip. The house and farm were lovely, but the owner, Jean-Malo, and his dog (Madame Plume) made us feel like family the minute we arrived. We didn’t linger long that night as we decided to drive the 10 minutes to Mont Saint-Michel so we could take pictures of it at sunset.  We had to stop along the way to let a herd of sheep cross the road. Jean-Malo later insisted with a smirk that they just do that for the tourists.

We made our way back to Saint-James for dinner at the Lion D’Or, where we sampled wine from Saumur (the town redeemed itself!) before returning to Les Blotteries for a good night’s sleep. I actually didn’t want to leave the next morning after breakfast (and great conversation with his other house guest) but when the time came Jean-Malo sent us off with two bottles of locally-made apple juice, directions for a much prettier drive than we’d planned and a fresh croissant for the road. I missed he and Plume the moment we pulled away.


However, we had new adventures to get to. We took the scenic route Jean-Malo suggested, driving up the Atlantic coast toward Granville (with a semi-frantic detour in search of diesel) before turning northeast.

We stopped in Bayeux to see the famous Bayeux Tapestry and have lunch. It is at this lunch that I got myself a baddass mofo sunburn. From there we drove the short distance north to the Juno Beach Centre, a museum dedicated to the Canadian participation in the D-Day landing as well as all Canadian troops who served in WWII.

We arrived just in time to make the 3:00 tour, which is good, since it included a tour of the bunker on the beach. We find out about the museum, the sculptures, the bunker, the town and the beach itself. It’s not a bad little tour, and I have to admit to some chills when standing on the beach. There were tourists and fishermen walking up and down it when we were there, but standing at the water’s edge and looking toward the beach, it’s hard to believe someone actually mounted a successful attack that way. I couldn’t even imagine what it must have been like.

Tour finished, we called ahead to the next B&B to let them know we were coming. I had that conversation entirely in French, and realized I must be getting better at this. Five minutes later we were at the Le Mas Normand, meeting Christian and Mylene and their dogs.

Our room was tiny, but wonderful…we could see cows out one window, dogs out the other and the courtyard through our little dutch door. We didn’t have a chance to sample Christian’s cooking, so we had dinner at some bistrot in the town. When we got back to the B&B we weren’t tired, so we bundled up and sat in the courtyard and drank a bottle of wine like the party animals we are. The Belgian couple and American couple went to bed early; the two Canadian couples rolled home last, and we slept like the dead.

France: day 1 & 2


After a long and unpleasant flight (I couldn’t sleep and the food was rubbish) we landed in Paris. I was trying to stay lucid long enough to pick up the rental car and let Nellie, who’d at least managed a few hours of shut-eye on the flight, drive to Chartres. All went well and we got on the road soon enough, thankfully with a GPS to show us the way. We named it Carmen. Carmen the Garmin.

After fighting through Paris traffic we took the relatively smooth road to Chartres, about 90 minutes from Paris, and parked the car. We had several hours to kill before we could backtrack to our B&B (because really, all we wanted to do at this point was sleep) so we had some lunch at a brasserie on a square, struggling to adapt to having to speak French all of a sudden. After lunch we found the famous Chartres Cathedral.

It’s an impressive building, both inside and out, and one of only two I was interested in seeing on this trip. After seeing it we wandered around Chartres a little more, picking up some food for the evening since we knew we wouldn’t stay awake long enough to eat a proper dinner. We got back to the car and drove the half hour or so to our B&B, La Ferme de Bouchement.

When we arrived there was no one there to answer the door, teaching us a valuable lesson for the rest of the trip: always call ahead to a B&B. We waited for a while, knocking on various doors and windows, until finally one of the owners arrived. This is where my cloudy brain really had to switch back to French mode, as Didier didn’t speak very much English at all. However, I understood everything he said and we managed to get the car parked and bags up to the room. The grounds were lovely with cats, a dog and several ducks inhabiting the back yard. We snapped some pictures, then laid our weary bones on the wonderful bed and went to sleep.


Nellie and I being the planners that we are, we’d begun adjusting our body clocks a week before leaving, so that (sleepless transatlantic flights aside) we wouldn’t have jet lag. Thus, we sprung from our beds ready to bust south toward the Loire Valley. However, after eating breakfast and meeting Didier’s wife, we learned another valuable lesson: B&Bs in the middle of nowhere don’t often accept credit cards. Duh. So we drove about fifteen minutes north to a little town (and sadly forgot to bring one of our cameras as we parked right next to a half-standing medieval tower…hard to describe but it was very cool) to find an ATM, took out some cash and sallied forth, nearly an hour later than we’d planned. No matter, we didn’t have far to go that day. We took the scenic route (through Beaugency) to Chateau de Chambord.

Chambord is one of the largest and most magnificent chateaux along the Loire valley. We took our time there, getting plenty of good shots inside and out, including the double-helix staircase in the centre of the chateau.

In that picture I was shooting up through the center of the staircases, toward the sunlight. Speaking of sunlight, it’s worth mentioning: for the entire two weeks we were in France the weather was spectacular. The first week it was sunny and in the mid- to high-20s, and only in the last few days did it become overcast and go as low as the mid-teens. The only rain we saw was light mist one day while driving. We never got a drop of rain on us the whole time.

Anyway, from Chambord we drove to Blois for some lunch. It was a lovely city, at least the small bit that we saw from our touristy cafe and the ramparts overlooking the river. We accidentally ordered too much wine, so Nellie had to drive the rest of the way whilst I got good and tipsy in the afternoon sun. Good times. Anyway, from there it was a short drive along the Loire to our next B&B, which wasn’t very easy to find, but was well worth it.

The Chateau de Nazelles, across the river from Amboise and at the top of a hill, is actually a reconstructed old castle. Our room, the Troglodyte suite, was carved into the side of a hill, so I guess that means we slept in a cave. The place was lovely, lots of greenery and old walls and animals about, and modern luxuries like wi-fi and a place to keep drinks cold. With a great recommendation from one of the owners, we had a fantastic dinner just down the road at the Auberge de Launay. It set the bar very, very high for the rest of the trip, and establishes a go-to wine region for the rest of our time in France: Chinon.

The next day promised to be a bad-ass haul along the Loire and all the way up to Basse-Normandie, so we digested our food as quickly as we could and hit the sack.

I swear, every single town in France has a Notre Dame Cathedral

Back in January I mentioned that our big trip this year would consist of two weeks in France. We’ve now hammered out our plan some more:


The plan is as follows. Follow along on the map for extra fun!

  1. Land in Paris (trust me, the ‘A’ is hidden behind the ‘K’) and jump in a car
  2. Visit Chartres
  3. Visit the Chateau de Chambord and start driving along the Loire valley
  4. Visit Tours, and other small towns along the way like Amboise and Candes-St-Martin
  5. Visit Angers, and from there turn north
  6. See Mont-Saint-Michel, though after the experience we had at Rocamadour I think we’ll just take pictures from the outside
  7. Visit Juno Beach
  8. Visit the Vimy Memorial
  9. Visit Reims
  10. Spend a few days in and around Epernay and Troyes, sampling Champagne and meeting up with my brother
  11. Drive back to Paris, drop the car and spend about five days there…probably visiting the Louvre a couple of times, the Musee D’Orsay, Versailles, maybe the catacombs, maybe just hanging out in St-Germain or Montparnasse.

So that’s the plan.We’ll cover A through I in first six days, then as our energy wears off we’ll start to wind down in Champagne and take the better part of the final week in Paris.

Anybody have any tips for those areas? Any can’t-misses?