This post about France is over a year overdue .. but with reason. It’s taken me this long to share this beautiful trip with you guys because this was my last trip with my mother in law before she passed away unexpectedly. While the trip (as you will see) is full of incredible adventures and memories, it was really too painful to capture in a post until now. The sudden death of a loved one is something we’re never prepared for, and God willing you all will never experience such a horrific thing. Paris (and France) was one of Sarah’s most beloved destinations, and so I dedicate this post to her memory in tribute.
Preparing for the Trip
Okay, I’m admittedly a terrible packer so when I heard we were going for about two weeks I already knew there was no hope. If you’re looking for how to pack in a single suitcase, I am not your gal – sorry to say. BUT to prepare, I scoured the weather forecasts for the cities we were planning to visit and any reviews I could find. Also, if you’re planning any activities, be sure to pack accordingly. We were going to do some cave exploring – so I knew to pack warmly for the caves. Luckily the weather was mostly decent throughout the trip and warm enough to bring my regular summer clothes. I did, of course, pack a cardigan or two – especially for the plane! I recently wrote a post how to avoid jet lag – and man oh man did I wish I had those tips coming back from France – that jet lag was the worst, mostly because I was terribly dehydrated and exhausted. But how was I supposed to avoid all the delicious wine there? That’s just impossible.
How I Pack my Carry-On Tote
I tried to be clever with my carry-on and pack it strategically. I found the most adorable llama tote bag and coordinating zip up bags to take on my travels. I packed a pair of socks to wear on the plane, my kindle, my lap-top, some snack bars, my medications (never want to risk losing those!), a cardigan, and a toothbrush and travel-sized toothpaste. I put all the chargers I needed (iphone, laptop, camera, extra camera battery, etc.) into one of the llama cosmetic bags, and all my medications in the other. I also always pack my favorite lip mask – the airplane dehydrates the crap out of you, including your skin and lips! I also really enjoy crosswords – and buy a crossword book for trips.
We flew American on our way out to France. Funny story – our flight was in the evening. We boarded our plane, had dinner, and were about two and a half hours into the flight when all of a sudden the captain speaks and says, “sorry we have to turn around.” Apparently the radar had completely gone out and there were going to be storms across the Atlantic. I don’t know about you but I don’t want the pilot flying blind through storms over the ocean, no thanks. We flew 2.5 hours BACK to Dallas, and had to find another plane to board and wait on the on-call crew to show up – who were very visibly not pleased. About an hour and a half later, we were air-bound again. The flight went off without a hitch, but the lead flight attendant definitely had a melt down and decided to share with me allll of her current stressors. Maybe she just needed someone to listen but dang, she was stressed. If you want to read a more in-depth account of people I encounter on airplanes, you can find it here.
Hotels and Restaurants
I’ve been to France before, but only to Nice. I was beyond excited to finally see Paris – and let me tell you, it did not disappoint. While in Paris, we stayed at the Hotel Pavillon de la Reine, a quaint and secluded stay filled with charm and history. From their website: The name comes from Anne of Austria, Queen of France who, in the 17 th century, lived in the wing that separated the house from the current Place des Vosges in the Marais district of Paris. It was also on the occasion of his engagement with Louis XIII, in 1612, that the place was inaugurated. It then takes the name of “Place Royale”. In 1800, it is called “Place des Vosges”. It is the oldest place in Paris. Over the centuries, it has hosted many famous residents such as Colette or Victor Hugo. It has thus contributed to the aura of the Marais, a district of which it is partly renowned.
We ate at a number of amazing restaurants while in Paris, but my favorite was in the Eiffel Tower itself, the Restaurant le Jules Verne. The view was exquisite! Be prepared to make a reservation months in advance, and you must request a window seat although that does NOT guarantee you’ll be seated next to a window. The food was mouth-watering and sublime – but seated next to the central window we could see everything!
If you’re a history buff – Paris is your haven. There are SO many incredible museums and historical sites here. From the tomb of Napoleon to the infamous Louvre, and the Musee d’Orsay (a former train station turned art/history museum) the historical artifacts are ALL incredible. Of course we saw the Mona Lisa, but the amount of people trying to see her whilst snugly tucked behind several inches of glass took away from the beauty of it all, in my opinion. I HIGHLY recommend in investing in a Paris Pass – there are so many attractions that you can see with the one ticket – saves lots of time and money!
Places I wish I could’ve seen but didn’t get to: Arc de Triomphe (drove by it), more time at the Louvre, the Pantheon, Tuileries Garden, Luxembourg Palace, the catacombs, and Moulin Rouge. I’d also love to see an opera and a ballet in Paris – wouldn’t that be a dream?
The Sainte-Chapelle (according to tripadvisor) is the finest royal chapel to be built in France and features a truly breath-taking collection of stained-glass windows. It was built in the mid 13th century by Louis IX, at the heart of the royal residence, the Palais de la Cité. It is truly a magnificent portrayal of Gothic architecture and wondrous site to behold. Built in seven years, an impressive feat in the 13th century, the Sainte Chapelle was intended to house precious Christian relics, including Christ’s crown of thorns, acquired by Saint Louis. Can you imagine thinking you were traveling miles upon miles to see what you believed to be a real relic? Sainte Chapelle boasted both political and religious influence by supposedly housing such artifacts – dubbing Louis IX the head of western Christianity. According to the website – arranged across 15 windows, each 15 metres high, the stained glass panes depict 1,113 scenes from the Old and New Testaments recounting the history of the world until the arrival of the relics in Paris. Standing in this incredible building is something I cannot fully describe in words.
Walking through this place was definitely unsettling. This was the place that housed hundreds of prisoners, along with Marie Antoinette in her last days. I walked through her cell (crazy) and tried to imagine the fear she must have felt in her final hours before being taken to the guillotine. There are a number of her possessions housed within the prison to view. Although it was interesting to see from a historical perspective, this place just made me sad – so much terror and pain happened there.
I definitely was on the look-out for Quasimodo, this cathedral is HUGE! Did you know they started building it in 1163 and nearly completed almost 100 years later in 1250? Isn’t that nuts? The history behind this magnificent historical place just blows my mind. From the architecture and stained glass to the art and guardian gargoyles, I loved walking through the cathedral – much of which was under restoration.
Palace de Versailles
Do any of you watch the show? I love the show! Although it’s not ‘historical fact’ it’s still a great way to imagine Versailles in all its glory. While touring – it was PACKED and I’m not exaggerating, it definitely was difficult to take any sort of photos without a zillion other people in them. You’re literally elbow to elbow with people in most of the rooms, but I was told that’s how it was pretty much back in the day. Royalty, nobles, courtesans, etc. were all hustling and bustling around the palace – even urinating in the halls and doing unmentionable things behind the tapestries. Pretty scandalous huh?!
We rented a golf cart to drive around the gardens and tour the Petit Trianon (Marie Antoinette’s private residence). The golf cart was SO fun and saved us incredible amounts of walking. The gardens were immense and immaculate!
Chateau La Cheneviere
This place is full of history – including the place we stayed, Chateau La Cheneviere. We actually were in Normandy on the anniversary of D-Day. Seeing the festivities of the town on this historic day was a sight to see! Reenactments, costumes, and tributes were all part of the celebration.
Chateau La Cheneviere is a historic, elegant mansion situated near Bayeux in Normandy. According to their website: In the seventeenth century, La Chenevière was a place devoted to the farming of hemp, used for the likes of fishermen. In the eighteenth century, the estate became the property of the Gosset family, who built a large house that gradually became the core of a large holding of land. During World War II, the area was occupied by the Germans. In 1940, a stewardship unit resided on the property whose facilities accommodated from 70 to 80 horses. Soldiers of the Third Reich also lived on the grounds, and sometimes officers even stayed in the main house. La Chenevière became the German officer’s headquarter. They installed telecommunication stations and all their trucks, cars and motorbikes. On the night of June 4th, 1944 Armand Lapierre took part in the “Grande Coupure” in order to destroy German communication lines around la Chenevière before the Allied Landing on D-Day 1944.
A memorial plaque was unveiled in Armand’s honor on June 4th 2016, on the hotel’s grounds, where they had a ceremonial tribute while we were staying there! At the time of the D-Day landings, there were no longer any Germans in the house and the Royal Army Service Corps took residence. The town of Port-en-Bessin and La Chenevière became the crossing point for the fuel needed in military operations. Pipelines were installed, including half a dozen around the property, passing through the village to the town of Commes, where the reserve tanks were situated. Behind the house, a pumping station allowed to feed the troops vehicles passing through the artificial harbor at Arromanches.
In 1988 the castle was bought by Marie-Françoise and Thomas Dicker after belonging to the Gosset family for 133 years. Together, they decided to turn it into a luxury hotel. This charming place full of history, which they call “La Chenevière” in honor of the nickname given to the building in the time of hemp fields, “La Chenevrotte”. The same year, the hotel is licensed and rated 4*. Four years later, in 1992, Le Manoir restaurant joins Small Luxury Hotels of the World group. La Chenevière got its 5th star in 2014 and will be celebrating its 30th anniversary in 2018.
Photos from Omaha Beach:
A really cool piece of history I didn’t know was the story of a paratrooper by the name of John Steele. Mr. Steele was parachuting from a plane and caught his parachute on the spires of Sainte-Mère-Église. He hung limply for two hours pretending to be dead before being captured by German troops. He later escaped capture and rejoined his regiment, you can read his entire story here. A parachute still hangs on the church to commemorate him and his efforts in relieving the village of German attack. We bought a magnet that looks exactly like it.
More photos from a WWII Museum:
Best Western Hotel Grand Monarque
This Best Western was no regular motel you might be thinking of. It was GORGEOUS, all the old world feels and charms. Why can’t they all be like that? Anyway.. our overnight stop in Chartres included the infamous Chartres Cathedral or Cathedral of Our Lady of Chartres. This Gothic and Romanesque style cathedral was built between 1194 and 1220. The stained glass was breathtakingly beautiful – an attraction all on its own.
Hotel du Bon Laboureur
Okay do any of yall watch Reign? Because Chenonceaux is real-life Reign! This is the castle gifted to Catherine by King Henry – and then stripped away to be given to Diane. If you watch the show, you’ll remember the scene when Diane wants to change the tiles that have a C – but instead she engraves a D over them. Those are there in real life! Cattiness existed in medieval times – and I laughed so hard seeing it in the flesh! Chenonceaux is gorgeous – from the grounds surrounding it to the decor and architecture – it’s worth making a trip to see. I also thought it interesting that the servants’ entry was a waterway that entered into the kitchens, completely out of the way and unseen on the main entrance – talk about separation of classes! The main entrance is grand and pebbled while the servant entrance is only accessible by rowing through a waterway. Can you imagine bringing up household goods like groceries via boat? I would tip over most definitely.
Le Moulin du Roc
This hotel was once a former mill, and probably one of the cutest stays along our travels. I had loads of homework to do and spent much of my time curled up on the porch with a tray of tea and scones, not a bad life right?
LES EYZIES DE TAYAC
Hotel Les Glycines
Les Eyzies was beautiful – and quite remote. Here we visited the Font-de-Gaume, a prehistoric cave riddled with drawings that absolutely blew my mind. The climb to the cave is quite steep, so be prepared in that regard. Take some water and some good trail shoes. These images were taken from the museum down the street. Although this prehistoric “elk” doesn’t look large in the photo, it was about the size of a bus. FYI we also bought our tickets about six months in advance – and absolutely zero photography is allowed inside the caves. Be sure to pack a jacket and wear warm clothing when cave exploring, the temperature quickly turns rather chilly!
Font-de-Gaume is a cave near Les Eyzies-de-Tayac-Sireuil in the Dordogne départment of south-west France. The cave contains prehistoric polychrome cave paintings and engravings dating to the Magdalenian period. Discovered in 1901, more than 200 images have been identified in Font-de-Gaume. The colors of Font-de-Gaume are amazing, my favorite was seeing the herd of bison cdolored on the wall!
This cave was such an experience for me. I had always heard stories from my in laws about their visits to these prehistoric caves, and they were the main reason I wanted to go on this visit to France. Access to these caves will not remain public forever!
Rouffignac features incredible drawings and infamous stone etchings of mammoths! You ride in an electric train (with French narration) deep inside the cave – you also see prehistoric cave bear dens! Can you imagine being a cave man and seeing wooly mammoths walking around you? Or saber toothed tigers? Standing in the very spot a cave man stood is one of the most humbling and grounding experiences I’ve ever known. I cannot fathom crawling over a mile into a dark cave (I’m super scared of the dark) with nothing but a fat oil lamp. I would’ve been completely convinced a monster (or bear) was lurking in there to eat me. They still don’t know the reason why cave men ventured so far to make this art on the walls – they didn’t actually dwell in the caves. Whether it was boredom, religious – they just aren’t sure. You can read more about Rouffignac here.
Hands down this was my favorite cave. The cave is walkable and features some of the most gorgeous stone I’ve ever seen. Nature really is incredible! In this cave, the colors used are SO vibrant! It’s famous for the spotted ponies decorating the walls, cave pearls shaped by centuries of dripping water, and actual HAND PRINTS blown onto the walls by the ACTUAL artists! The was the first “signing of artwork” ever recorded! Is that not the neatest thing you’ve ever heard!?!
The hand prints were about the size of my hand, and I have tiny hands – so cave men were really kind of hobbit sized when they estimate their height and stature. Read more about Peche Merle here.
From Les Eyzies we travled to Toulousse where we then flew back to Heathrow in London and then to Dallas. Our road trip was one of the most memorable journeys I’ll have by far! Be sure when packing to remember European rental cars are much smaller than at least I am used to and so luggage can quickly fill up the car! My two huge suitcases (I’m a packrat) fortunately fit with everyone else’s luggage but we definitely had to play some Tetris to get them to fit!
If you have any questions about France or traveling through France, please send them my way and I’ll do my best to answer!