The Peach and the Pit: Tour de France in Numbers and Superlatives

There many reasons why I love my sister. (Yes, she’s technically Michael’s sister, but I believe when you luck out with great in-laws, you can just freely claim them as your own family.) One reason is that she shares the same enthusiasm I have at the end of a trip for reflecting back on the ups and downs. After an adventure with Dawn, we sit down over a meal and rehash the “peach and the pit” of the vacation. Each time we realize at some point that this exercise is really called the “peak and the pit,” but we inevitably decide that the peach and the pit sounds cuter anyway. We continue mentally narrowing down the experiences until each person arrives at one highlight and one lowlight of the trip that s/he shares with the group.

Last week, I began to recap our month-long road trip around France as seen through our various accommodations. This week is a different way of stepping back and taking a sweeping survey of the trip as a whole before examining each stop in sharp focus. (I warned you, I love reflection time!) Whether you’re more math-oriented like my hubby or a lover of language like me, I think both approaches give a sense of how this journey through France was an emotional release as we ran around the country with open arms, trying to embrace all that we could in our last month before moving back to the US.

Ready for the big picture of our Tour de France? 

Our #TourDepazFrance in numbers:

29 nights
5147 kilometers driven (3198 miles)
11 cities/towns stayed in (Orléans, Castelnaud-la-Chapelle, St. Jean-de-Luz, Toulouse, Port-la-Nouvelle, St. Remy-de-Provence, Cassis, Annecy, Besançon, Colmar, Epernay)

1 parade observed

1 public pool swam in (more on that experience in this guest post)

2 abbeys visited

2 borders crossed (Spain and Switzerland)

3 beaches sat on

San Sebastián, Spain // Its beach was one we were unprepared for - I'm not sure what we were expected, but it certainly wasn't this, as we did not pack swim suits, towels, nor even sunscreen for the day trip!

3 caves + 1 former stone quarry entered

The stone quarry may seem like an odd addition to the list - but the Carrières de Lumières exhibition in the town of  Les Baux-de-Provence gives a twist to walking around some mines.

The stone quarry may seem like an odd addition to the list - but the Carrières de Lumières exhibition in the town of  Les Baux-de-Provence gives a twist to walking around some mines.

4 boat rides taken

5 chateaux / fortresses toured

Most notable of the fortresses visited has to be iconic Carcassonne. It's as if those medieval builders subscribed to the good 'ole American "supersize me" mentality, and its UNESCO status and grand stature make it one of France's top tourist attractions.

6 picnics enjoyed

8 vineyards sipped at

11 markets attended

Markets draw in crowds, but factor in one that takes place on the weekend, and in an adorable old town like Annecy, and expect to find the streets looking like this!

218.33 euros spent on tolls

Countless roundabouts circled

And for the #TourDepazFrance superlatives to further define the trip: 

Most overplayed songs (as heard on French radio): “Cheerleader” by OMI and “I Really Like You” by Carly Rae Jepsen

Favorite Museum: Musée Toulouse-Lautrec (in Albi)

Coolest sightseeing activity: Hiking the Calanques

More than half of this hike was done despite great hunger (we were holding out to eat our picnic lunch on the third of the Calanques, named En Vau) - and even though it was hard to push on, with views like this, it still easily was the top on our list out all ALL the sightseeing we did in a month!

Best Vineyard:  Domaine du Cerbier (in Languedoc) 

Favorite meal: Solides in Toulouse (and remember how we had to be pried away from burgers to discover this restaurant?!)

Best lunch: Tie for the lunches we ate in Perigeaux at L’Epicurean (Dordogne) and in Fabrezan at Les Calicots (Languedoc)
    Honorable mention: Tapas lunch in Spain [pictured below] 

#TourDepazFrance goes to Spain! // My tapas heart is so full right now! 💓

A photo posted by Sara DePasquale (@simplysaratravel) on

Best markets: Toulouse’s Victor Hugo covered market and St Jean-de-Luz’s outdoor Friday marché

Most unexpected: Les Orgues d'Ille-sur-Têt

Can you believe this exists in France? It looks a bit like Utah's Bryce Canyon, but this is Les Orgues d'Ille-sur-Têt, over in Languedoc.

Best beach: The beach we hiked to in the Calanques (on En Vau)

Best picnic: In the village of Sare (which, incidentally, in the Basque dialect, is known as "Sara")
    Honorable mention: our “pink” picnic in Annecy, and Toulouse, and in the "secret meadow" outside of Aix-en-Provence - do you get the picture that we dined al fresco a bit?

Honestly, we didn't realize we had selected all pink-colored edibles until we placed the strawberries, cherries, and rosé wine from the market in Annecy onto our red picnic blanket!

Best place we stayed: Undecided - how can you compare a farm to a view of champagne vineyards to everything in between?!

Best host: Thibault in Toulouse

Most visited restaurant: La Petite Tonnelle (enjoyed 3 dinners here) in Beynac-et-Cazenac, Dordogne

Michael has accused me many a time of being too excited to rehash a vacation as I try to reflect on a journey mid-way through the experience. So this time I waited until the car ride back to Paris, when we were trapped in the car together with no other entertainment but to laugh and dream up these superlatives. 

The above got us into brainstorming mode, getting those gears turning so we could ultimately make the determination. As per the rules, one high and low of the trip, had to be reached. Ready for the reveal?
The peach and the pit, of the entire 29 night-extravaganza through France, as unanimously agreed upon by Michael and me on said return trip to Paris:

The Pit: Making the mistake of crossing into Switzerland

We should have known that leaving France on our Tour de France would amount to no good, but Spain was such a positive experience that we jumped at the chance to drive through Switzerland on our way to Besançon. We soon after learned that there is a steep price to pay to drive through that country.

Imagine our surprise and confusion when we were stopped at the border and told we had to pay the toll. We assured ourselves that surely we misunderstood the woman’s French as we handed over a 50 euro bill. She handed back two measly coins, which amounted to 7 Swiss francs, and gave us a sticker to affix to the windshield. If you had been wondering why our toll tally was a bit high, this accounted for a sudden jump in the grand total!

Apparently, there is an annual fee to drive on the roads of Switzerland. It doesn’t matter if you drive in-country for 1 hour or for 365 days - there is no proration, and no exceptions for tourists with rental cars.

The hemorrhaging of money at the border would have been less painful if we had an amazing visit to Lausanne, but that sadly wasn’t the case. It was a national holiday (Whit Monday) that both Switzerland and France were observing, and this town was as quiet as can be. A few hours later, we relinquished those remaining 7 francs to pay for parking, and booked it out of the country as fast as we could. That taught us not to leave France again! 

The Peach: Getting to visit with Carol, our favorite winemaker in the world

We first met Carol and her husband at the biannual Salon des Vins des Vignerons Indépendants in Paris - an event where hundreds of independent winemakers (many small family-run operations) from all over the country converge for a massive exhibition and wine-tasting event. Michael and I spoke little French, but the couple at Domaine du Cerbier's vineyard stand patiently walked us through each of their wines despite the crowds swirling around us.

We really liked their wine, and made it a point to seek out their stand at the next salon, and then the next. By this past March, we had stopped by to sip and chat across the span of six consecutive salons, each time bringing new friends along to try out the wine of our favorite stand from Languedoc.

To understand the momentous occasion when we at last got to set foot in Languedoc and survey the plants that produced the grapes we enjoy year after year deserves a full post. To grasp the amazing hospitality of Carol and her kindness requires much more space. I will leave it at this for today - we had the opportunity to tour the facilities where the wine is produced, walk through the vineyards, and have a private wine tasting with Carol in her kitchen at the end. Nothing on our Tour de France can compete with this peach of an experience, because to us, it represents a very special friendship we fostered over our three years living abroad.

Though Carol does most of the work at her vineyard herself, there are of course a few more helping hands - and paws - with this friendly guy watching over daily operations.

So that's the overview! More to come on a closer look at the adventure - is there anything in particular you are interested to hear more about?

Lou Messugo

Linking up with #AllAboutFrance!