Recap: Michael and I lived in Paris for three years, and moved back to where we grew up and previously lived (in the northeastern US) in June. But before we said au revoir, we went on a month-long road trip through France as a part of the transition process.
That was back in May. It’s October, and it’s finally time to start talking about our Tour de France.
There are so many ways to start telling about the adventure we went on. I’m going to start with perhaps an unconventional one, by first sharing about our accommodations during the trip.
Often when I travel, accommodations are just a necessity to a trip. I often view it as a place to rest my head - especially when it’s just Michael and me traveling together. I would rather spend my money on a decadent meal than a luxurious room. This trip though was largely enhanced by our accommodations - and it’s not even necessarily because we dished out the last of our euros (in many cases, quite the contrary!). Here’s a first look at our Tour de France, as told by the places that became home at a time when we were wandering without a permanent address.
We moved out of our apartment in Paris on a rainy Thursday morning, packed up our car, and drove to the city of Orléans where we spent the night. The next morning we set out and continued to where, in our minds, our trip really got started. We needed a place to get our heart rates down a bit after the stress of moving out, and what does that better than some four-legged friends and a dose of lush countryside?
Dordogne was a must-see on the Tour de France because I couldn’t bear to leave the country without showing Michael the region I fell in love with on a past trip with my parents. When I had visited with Mom and Dad, we rented the perfect place - a 16th-century stone house in the quaint village of Beynac-et-Cazenac. I knew I wanted to stay in or nearby that village again, but accommodations for 2 people on Airbnb proved to be a bit limited in the sparse area. Thankfully, I found a viable option at last.
The only thing that could have made it better was if there were a herd of sheep at my doorstep. (In case you missed it, I LOVE SHEEP!) But in any case, peacocks wandering up to our doorstep was pretty idyllic, and each time we parked our car on the grounds, we had our own personal welcoming committee. The two dogs were happy to see us and play, while the geese were a little more protective of the territory.
It was the quirkiest of our accommodations, so I was sad to leave our furry and feathered friends behind when our four nights were up. But our next stop in St. Jean-de-Luz down in Basque Country proved that there was plenty ahead to look forward to for the month.
La Ferme du Bost
Airbnb rental - private room (like a traditional B&B)
$78.25 per night (USD), breakfast included
Accommodation-wise, Dordogne was a return to simplicity. Food-wise, it was a decadent. We likely ate most parts of the duck, every day, which was probably why those geese greeted us with a pissed-off squawk each time we returned to the farm, foie gras still on our breath. That’s why we rented a full apartment which included access to a kitchen for our next stop, at....
At our next stop in St. Jean-de-Luz, we warmly welcomed the benefit of having a full kitchen again, even though it had only been a few nights without. Not only did we need some opportunities during the month to be able to take breaks from eating out constantly, but it greatly enhanced our range of options. It allowed me to thoroughly enjoy the French market scene, and gave Michael and me the opportunity to cook together. I think I would have cried if I couldn’t go wild in St. Jean-de-Luz, because their Friday marché that surrounded the covered market was a delightful maze of outdoor vendors, selling fresh foods begging to be savored.
Besides the kitchen, we enjoyed the ability to walk into the center of town and to the water. Our place didn’t overlook the Atlantic, but because we weren’t right in the centre-ville, it was easier to find parking and get in and out of town with our car.
St. Jean-de-Luz, France
Airbnb rental - entire apartment
$67.50 per night (USD)
Note that for this apartment, there was a rental fee for bed sheets and towels (we choose to bring our own) - this is another example of things to look out for and note as you are booking an Airbnb
We left the southwest corner of France to start heading eastward to one of the bigger cities on our trip: Toulouse. We have two dear friends (who we met in Paris) from this city, and I figured that if we were going to ever try out renting a room within a house on Airbnb, Toulousains seemed to be a good bunch. Three nights later, and that was certainly an understatement.
We rented a bedroom that had a shower and sink installed within the room in a beautiful apartment overlooking the Garonne river. We shared the living space, including the kitchen, with the owners. Thibault, and his one-year-old son, Lucien, were the friendliest hosts (unfortunately we didn’t get to meet the Mrs. as she was away on business). We felt welcomed immediately, and any apprehensions I had about the living arrangements vanished upon setting foot inside.
Thibault clearly understood and spoke English well, but he patiently conversed with us in French. On the first night, after we came in for the night, he excitedly asked us where we dined that evening. He was waiting to hear about the hearty French meal we had, a meal that did his city proud - a dinner perhaps punctuated with some saucisse de Toulouse (sausages from the region) - when all we came up with was burgers. Michael had visited Toulouse once before to visit a co-worker and his family in the area, and his very American-mannered French friend introduced him to his favorite Toulouse spot, a hamburger joint called Coyote Burger. The American 50’s decor aside, it was as French as they come. When Michael went to order their signature Coyote burger, we learned if you don’t pronounce it "coyot" (without the “tee” at the end), you just get blank stares. This was not pulling the American-going-to-McDonald’s card while abroad.
By our final evening, Thibault didn’t feel quite satisfied that we had eaten well in his city. (And what he didn’t know was the previous day, we ate more burgers because we had such a large picnic, we had no room for a full-on French feast!) When we expressed no concrete dinner plans that night, he announced he would call in to a friend to get us a table at his restaurant, Solides. I was half listening as I was playing with little Lucien, but when we sat down to dinner, I snapped to attention. We had a fabulous dinner for €32 each (wine not included) that consisted of inventive plates based on what was fresh at the market that day. Thanks to our caring host, we left Toulouse with a good taste in our mouths and the realization that renting a room within someone’s home didn’t inhibit our travel style, but rather enhanced it and connected us even more to the city via its residents.
Airbnb rental - private room within an apartment, breakfast included
€47.30 per night (euros)
Considering that we had one bedroom and shared living space in Toulouse, it’s almost comical how our digs changed in Port-la-Nouvelle. Languedoc was a mandatory stop on the Tour de France because it is home to our favorite vineyard, and is our most loved wine region in the country. But I didn’t have a preference on a town to stay in, and when I spotted this apartment overlooking the water, I was sold. It didn’t matter that it was a two bedroom apartment for only us - we tried to convince friends to join along, but it wasn’t convenient to public transport.
To be clear, the view of the Mediterranean was the highlight of Port-la-Nouvelle. That and its lighthouse - other than that, the town laid low, waiting for the excitement of summer to stir some life.
The benefit of having a car was that we just needed a location convenient enough to places of interest. The well-decorated apartment and promise of lots of space caught my attention, with its two bedrooms, a living room, a full kitchen, a washer AND dryer, and a massive enclosed patio. You might think that seeing photos of this gorgeous place got my heart set on renting it. But the honest truth is that I was pushed over when I read the reviews that (for an additional fee) you could ask Nhung to cook a Vietnamese dinner served in the comfort of the apartment. It was the perfect ending to our time in Languedoc, and we resolved to come back and rent the space again one day either with friends or family, or make a few children of our own to bring along.
Airbnb rental - entire apartment, breakfast included
€108.75 per night (euros)
Our four nights in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence really define what kind of trip our Tour de France was. Our journey was about seeing more of France, of course, but also one of relaxing and savoring the country. When I look back on our first four days in Provence, the thing that stands out aren’t the cool ancient ruins or pretty Provincial towns. It’s barbecuing in the backyard of Jen and Eric’s house.
We rented a private room that was separate from the house, equipped with its own bathroom. But our host invited us to use the grill (or the barbie, to be more precise - the most Australian Frenchman I’ve met to date!) and enjoy the backyard whenever we wanted. We didn’t want to eat out every night, and after we visited a vineyard or two in the area, we just wanted to sit out and sip rosé.
So we did. Three out of four nights, Michael manned the grill and I prepared the apero. We ended each day of sightseeing with a few hours of sitting out back, watching the sun go down, and nibbling on olives and cherries. Somewhere between the sunshine, the Mediterranean food, access to a grill, and the charming towns, we changed our retirement plans. Check in with us in thirty years to see if we run a guest house in Provence, and if we do, you’ll know that dream was birthed over a bottle of rosé in Eric and Jen’s backyard.
Above left: Michael demonstrating the proper French technique of manning the grill. | Above right: Wine from the Mas de Rey vineyard which we visited (we first tried their wine in Paris at the annual Salon des Vins des Vignerons Indépendants)
Airbnb rental: private room
$71.50 per night (USD)
The Natural Beauty:
We decided to stay in Provence for a full week, but wanted to change accommodations mid-way to see a different part of the region. Next up was an apartment rental in Cassis, the one place that multiple people concurred was an absolute must-see on our trip.
To everyone that insisted that Cassis would blow us away with its beauty -- you were right. Thank you. I can tell you that we enjoyed having an apartment with a kitchen to avoid overpriced meals in this touristy town, and that it facilitated a lovely dinner with friends from the US who happened to be crossing paths with us. But the highlight is that our accommodations were within walking distance to this. If we had stayed in a mansion with five swimming pools, it still couldn’t compete with the stunning beauty of this place.
Airbnb rental: entire apartment
€175.30 per night (euros)
All of the above accommodations were spread over a three week period of time. The final part of the loop back to Paris called for a northern ascent, followed by trekking westward back to the capital. Since we didn’t allot much time to linger, we decided to make a break from the apartment rentals and stay in hotels and B&B’s for the remaining week.
I have a history of picking great Airbnb’s, but my hotel picks have sometimes been less satisfactory. It’s largely due to my cheap tendencies when I’m traveling just with Michael - and sometimes I learn and relearn the old adage “you get what you pay for.”
I had a good feeling about the hotel I selected outside of Annecy. The hotel was across from the lake, and it offered a “half-board.” I learned about half-boards when I found the best Christmas hotel ever in Austria. A half-board means you get a full breakfast, plus a full dinner. And when I say dinner, I’m not referring to a fill-up-a-plate-at-the-buffet type ordeal. It’s a four-course, plated event. After all, this is Europe, not America.
I followed my instinct, and Hôtel Restaurant Les Grillons did not let me down. As with the apartment find in Languedoc, following my gut often leads to delicious things.
Pro-tip: You can order a bottle of wine to go with dinner, for an extra charge of course. It's perfectly acceptable to purchase a bottle and enjoy it over a few meals. It will be corked and labeled, and brought out for the next meal, if you choose not to finish it in one sitting.
Hôtel Restaurant Les Grillons
€164 per night (in euros) - included breakfast and a four course meal each night, lake view room
The Romantic Getaway:
From Annecy, we drove north to a small city called Besançon. I would have never thought to stop here if it hadn’t been for blogger Elena’s posts about her experience living here (check out her guest post on the area here). I really was more about finding small hotels or family-run B&B’s, which is how I selected Le Repère des Anges as our next “home.”
If Michael ever accuses me in the future of picking a bad hotel, I’m going to rebut with a reminder of this place. There were three rooms (one was under construction at the time), and we were the only guests there. Dennis treated us to a fabulous breakfast every morning, and our room was huge. But the highlight was each night, Dennis set up the private spa for our use. We decompressed in the hot tub, dried off a bit in the sauna, and made our way back to the room for the soundest sleep we’ve had in years. (Granted, it was very dark and absolutely silent in this quiet corner of the country!) If the first three weeks of the trip slowed us down into relaxation mode, Le Repère des Anges practically left us in a coma.
Le Repère des Anges - chambre d'hôtes (guest house / traditional B&B)
€110 per night (in euros) - breakfast included
This room selection goes to Michael for the win - he was in charge of finding accommodations for our single night stay in Colmar. I kept reading people from all corners of the internet proclaim Colmar as one of the prettiest, most charming, towns in all of France. I wanted to work it into our trip, but was bracing myself for some disappointment solely because there was so much hype surrounding this place.
There is much to say about Colmar, but the short of it is - well, just look at the view from the room. It had canals, flower boxes everywhere, medieval structures, timbered houses - it was like walking in a fairytale. Our hotel room was smack in the center of the action, and for that alone, it was a great choice for our short visit.
Hotel Saint Martin
€115 per night (euros)
What better place to end an epic month-long trip than in Champagne? We had previously visited Reims, the largest city in the region, via train from Paris. But with a car, Epernay was easy to reach this time around, so we took advantage and booked our final evening in a B&B slightly outside of the center of town.
As we were shown to our room, our hostess brought us out onto our private terrace and give us a lay of the land. Out that way, we could see the vineyards of the prestigious Moët & Chandon. And inside the room was just the prettiest decor.
Above left: Our dreamy cream and white-toned bedroom | Above right: From the terrace, the vineyards of Moët & Chandon are up on that hill behind the buildings
I commented at breakfast to the proprietress that the meticulous details of the estate seemed like something straight out of an interior design magazine. “But of course, we have been featured in magazines!” she replied back. And there were at least three articles she opened up to, to show me that her elegantly-crafted manor had been recognized by professional eyes.
Our only regret was that we only stayed one night in Epernay at this serene spot. But we only had a few more days before the international move, and it was time to head back to Paris and cherish our last days with the dear friends we were about to leave.
Manoir des Charmes
€125 per night (euros) - breakfast included
Of course, this is just the beginning of our wrap-up trip through France. These home-bases throughout the country gave us access to so many different regions to explore - and those stories will be coming soon!
And just so you know...
*Prices of Airbnb’s take into account all service / cleaning fees into the nightly rate
**I included the prices in the currency we were charged in, so some rates are in USD and some in euros (currency is indicated in the quote)
***Please note that this trip took place in May, in the shoulder season. Prices of these accommodations are likely to be higher in the summer months, and with less availability. These places also may have additional restrictions on the minimum number of nights one can book for during high season as well.
****I hope it goes without saying, but just to explicitly state it, we paid for all the accommodations and all opinions are my own, in exchange for nothing!
Have you been on a trip where the accommodations really enhanced your vacation and was much more than just a place to sleep?
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