French Blog

There’s More France Outside of Paris

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“The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.” – Saint Augustine.

 

If I could make any wish for my friends, right after health and happiness (and of course, world peace), would be traveling.

I know it can sometimes be hard to justify, allocating hard-earned dollars for that one or two weeks of pleasure. But think about it – we only get a certain number of spins around the sun and you just never know what that number is going to be. And if in life a problem arises you rise to the occasion and handle it, right? So why not rise to the occasion of travel? Anyway, that’s how I justify it.

The most expensive aspect of travel is often the airfare, which is why I fly for free. Taking a lesson from my son, Mr. Cash Back, I make every purchase – gas, groceries, you name it – on my American Express Delta SkyMiles card, and pay it off in full each month with the real dollars that I would have otherwise spent (just be careful that you don’t spend your AmEx and your real dollars – that would backfire).

I pay for my shorter flights, always on Delta even if it’s a few dollars more (and with my Delta AmEx – double points y’all), and use my reward miles where it counts, flying to Paris. Choose whatever airline you prefer, just stay consistent and take advantage of the rewards.

 

I try to make it to Paris at least once a year, because I feel it’s my duty … to keep my readers informed (yes my tongue is in my cheek).  But this year we took a slight detour, to the Vallee de la Dordogne. I had read this terrific blog on the Dordogne Valley and immediately told my husband “we’re doing this!”

Arriving in Paris, we had reserved a cute little Fiat for scooting around France. Although he really wanted to be driving around southern France in a convertible, at around 20 Euros a day it was a real bargain and I was proud of my his wise and frugal choice.   Unfortunately the Fiat that was available did not have a GPS and so, after a bit of negotiating and working our way up from a sedan to a mini-van to an SUV, we had no choice but to take the Land Rover Evoque convertible, a totally impractical and outrageously fun car. The weather was unseasonably warm for October and the top was open the entire time. Sometimes you just have to suffer through with what you’ve got.

 

 

Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Chartres

Our first stop en route to the Dordogne Valley was the village of Chartres, best known for its Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Chartres which is one of the best-preserved Gothic cathedrals in France. The intricate stained glass windows feature a color of blue known as Chartres blue. No one knows how it was created or has been able to replicate it since. Kind of like me.

 

After touring the cathedral we stopped into a little café across the street for lunch. Now here’s the thing about lunch in France – it really only happens at lunch time. Most restaurants and cafes are open from around noon until 2:00 for lunch, and then open again at around 7:00 (or later) for dinner. And although the café did state “service continu” on the sign (meaning they do not close between lunch and dinner), our hostess seemed a little annoyed with us for ordering only a cheese plate and wine in the middle of the afternoon. We increased our order, I spoke my best bad French, my husband told the proprietor he reminded him of Lino Ventura in the French film Money Money Money, and harmony was restored.

 

Following lunch and a stroll around the village, we were back on the road to our first night’s destination, Orleans.

I’m not one for enjoying long car rides (husband is, as long as he has a convertible), but this one was spectacular.

 

When one thinks of France, they usually think of Paris, naturally. But outside the snail-shaped arrondissements of Paris lies an expanse of breathtaking fields of green and gold and brown and more green, dotted with cows and sheep and stone houses dating back to the 1700’s. The skies were clear French blue, decorated with pillows of white clouds, and the air was cool and crisp and smelled of dried leaves just starting to turn and fall.

 

Completely absent along the roads are billboards advertising … anything, nor graffiti or litter. Just the pristine countryside of a simpler time.

 

 

The first challenge of our trip was putting gas in the car. First, who knew “gazole” is diesel in French? Doesn’t it sound like gas? Well, it’s not. It’s diesel. Second, we had a hard time paying for our gas before we pumped it because, guess what? In France you pay after you pump! They trust that you will pay for what you take. How civilized.

 

Orleans is a significant city in the history of France. Here’s a little “French History for Dummies” – Orleans was considered the intellectual center of France under Charlemagne, and was second to Paris as the most important city in France. After being besieged by England for several months during the Hundred Years War, Joan of Arc, known as the Maid of Orleans, rallied her troops in what would be essentially the first offensive military action in France (the French are lovers, not fighters), reclaiming the city.

Before her battle, she attended mass at the Cathedral Sainte Croix where she prayed for her country. And so I felt it only fitting to go to the Cathedral and pray for mine.

 

We checked into our hotel, the Hotel de l’Abeille (the Bee Hotel). Bees are used in, um,  swarms (sorry – bad pun) in France. They are a symbol of resurrection and immortality and as one of the oldest emblems of sovereigns are sort of the template for the fleur-de-lis (in case you wondered what all the bees are about).

The boutique hotel, opened in 1919, has 25 charming rooms (reduced from the original 32 to allow for private bathrooms – thank you), all up a steeply winding staircase with no lift.
After a long day of travel and an (annoyingly) late lunch, and with a purchased bottle of wine and a salvaged chocolate bar left over from travel, we enjoyed the evening on our small balcony.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Early the next day, after visiting several of the ubiquitous monuments to Saint Joan, we hauled our oversized luggage down the undersized stairs and set off for the village of Terrasson-Lavilledeau, roughly 500 km (300 miles) south of Paris, in the Dordogne Valley.

 

Following the recommendation of the aforementioned blog, we arrived at our hotel, L’Imaginaire Terrasson, in the late afternoon. The rather massive 17th century stone hotel has only 7 rooms, which in Paris would rent for at least 5 times the price.
I was happy (and a little disappointed, but mostly happy) that our concierge Audrey spoke perfect English, and helped us find a wonderful restaurant for our first night’s dinner (having missed the lunching hour yet again), owned and operated by a delightful couple for over 20 years.
Waiting for what would be the best foie gras I have ever eaten.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The village of Terrasson is truly deserving of the word idyllic.

 

The town is divided by the River Vezere.  It’s old bridge was built by 12th century Benedictine monks. We stopped to take a photo and a gentleman in a truck pulled over and asked “Es-tu perdu?” (Are you lost?). Such wonderful people!

The emblem of Terrasson laid in stone in the street. It’s a world of texture and amazing to think that every stone in every building and street was placed by hand.

We set out the next day to the village of Sarlat la Caneda. Sarlat is considered the “Jewel of the Dordogne”, and for good cause.

The 17th century medieval village could have easily been the opening scene for Beauty and the Beast, and I kept playing Bonjour! Bonjour! Bonjour, bonjour, bonjour! in my head as we walked through the marketplace in the center of the village.

 

Stone buildings jut out at irregular angles, opening to narrow passages lined with shops and cafes.
Booths along the main street sell everything from cheese to sausages to duck in all forms (as my husband noted often that France is a really bad place to be a duck).

 

On our way back to Terrasson we made a short stop in Brive-la-Gaillarde where we drank coffee and talked American politics with some of the locals, and stopped into Denoix for a taste of walnut liqueur.

The Denoix family has been making noix (walnut) liqueur for over 100 years. The Supreme Denoix, the signature aperitif, has a woody, caramelized flavor and we only wished we could bring a bottle home with us. We settled for a jar of Moutarde Violette de Brive, a sweet and tangy grape mustard which has been a family recipe since 1839.

 

Our last night in Terrasson was spent enjoying a memorable nine course meal at the hotel’s Michelin-starred restaurant. Each course was of course small tastings and we kept telling ourselves was not an excessive amount of food. I was taking photos of each course up until around 6 or 7, at which point I think I was in a food coma. When the waiter brought the second dessert course, my husband and I simultaneously moaned.

The Dordogne Valley is an area that even few Parisians are familiar with, and we were so glad we made this road less traveled part of our itinerary. Tomorrow off to Paris for French holiday part deux.

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3 Comments

  1. Regan

    Wow that all looks so magical!!!

  2. maureen

    Kelly,
    So glad you posted your trip. I was in Paris for a week a few weeks ago and loved it but now but I’m always looking for something more unusual and unique and you found it. Next time i go back, I want to recreate your wonderful adventure. Thanks for posting.
    Bonjour,
    Maureen

    1. KelleyPom

      Thank you for reading Maureen! It really was the best vacation ever – I want to hear about your trip when you go!

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