Author Archives: debbie

Arrived in Provence

Our drive from Monaco to Aix-en-Provence was a great learning experience. By the time we went through the second of at least ten toll stations, we had figured out what the lane headings meant. We only needed to use the call for assistance the first time. Between toll station two and three I found a great web site, “How to Pay Highway Tolls in France”, that explained everything we needed to know and greatly reduced our stress level.

Julie, our Aix-en-Provence hostess, met us at our apartment. Our location is perfect, right off the Cours Mirabeau, the Champs Elysees of Aix and across from the  beautiful Fountaine de la Rotonde.

The view from our apartment window

We are also in a great place to observe life on the street below us. Before we finished unpacking Paul noticed policemen gathering on the plaza below our window. Stepping out on our little balcony, we noticed a parade of yellow-vest protesters walking down the street. It all seemed quite peaceful until we heard a loud sound and saw the police running in to the Apple store. They evacuated the store and closed for a few hours. We still don’t know the whole story, but it was interesting to watch it unfold right below our apartment.

Off to the airport to pick up our friend Scott, and we were ready for our first night in Provence. Paul found a great restaurant with wonderful karma. Incontournable, a short walk from our apartment.

Perfect weather,friendly staff,  a beautiful setting,

and fabulous food equaled a lovely start to our week in Provence.

 

 

Monaco

Our experiment was a success! We loved flying non-stop from Miami to Milan, even factoring in the three-hour drive from our home to the Miami airport. Our plane arrived on time, but a broken jet-way delayed our deplaning by thirty minutes. We did not worry about a missed connection.  All we had to do was get our rental car and drive to Monaco. Although getting to Monaco was a little longer and chaotic than we planned due to major traffic congestion and winding roads, we were instantly charmed by the beauty of this little country of only 499 acres. Buildings in densely populated Monaco stretch from the Mediterranean Sea up the sides of surrounding mountains.

We enjoyed the balcony off our hotel room that offered a partial view of the marina.

We did not have a lot of time to explore Monaco, but we loved looking at the beautiful boats in the marina and felt lucky to be here when they were celebrating the 14th Monaco Classic Week. Organized by the Monaco Yacht club, the event is the first in the world to showcase sailing and motorboats from the past.

The sailboats were especially beautiful.

Exploring Monaco felt like being in a movie. Members of the Monaco Yacht Club were walking around the marina in their ivory pants and blue blazers and offering champagne toasts. Paul said seeing the famous Monte Carlo Casino made him think of James Bond. And beautiful people in beautiful clothes were everywhere.

Three Weeks, Three Countries (with one night in a fourth)

Aix-en-Provence, France

We are experimenting on this trip to determine if driving farther to the airport for a non-stop flight is worth the extra driving time. Many of our trips start with where we can get good airfare on ScottsCheapFlights.  When a non-stop flight at a good price to an area we were considering from a close-enough airport appeared on this site, we decided to try it. So in a few hours we are driving three hours to Miami International Airport for a non-stop flight to Milan, Italy.

In Milan, we pick up our rental car and head to Aix-en-Provence in southern France with a one-night stay in Monaco along the way.  We thought it would be fun to combine a break from the six-hour drive to Aix with a visit to a new country.

Our friend Scott is meeting us in Aix for six days and  then we all go to Alba and Verona, Italy. After we bid Scott farewell, Paul and I go to Ljubljana, Slovenia. I was in Aix fourteen years ago on the way to visit my daughter who was doing a study-abroad in Toledo, Spain, but every other destination is new for me and all of them are new for Paul and Scott.

Southern France and northern Italy were easy choices, but we wanted to try something more off the beaten path for our final week.  We chose Ljubljana, Slovenia after Paul listened to an Extra Pack of Peanuts podcast that raved about the appeal of Slovenia, a place that had never been on our travel radar.

Lake Bled. Slovenia

We are looking forward to great wine tasting, fabulous food, beautiful sights, invigorating hikes and interesting people and culture.

Lac du Bourget

Last stop before going home-visiting our dear friend Aurelie and her adorable family in the Savoie region in southeastern France. Aurelie was a Rotary Youth Exchange student when I coordinated the program for our Rotary club in Bemidji, MN and we enjoy chances to connect with each other. She lives in Chambery, an Alpine city surrounded by beautiful mountains. Her home overlooks beautiful  Lac du Bourget, the largest natural lake  in France.

We were disappointed that Jeremy, Aurelie’s husband, was away, but we had a wonderful time touring the area with her two daughters. We drove to a ski area atop the highest peak on the other side of the lake.

The area attracts outdoor enthusiasts year round.  It is a popular spot for boaters in the summer and skiers in the winter.

We enjoyed watching the para gliders taking off over the valley and saw a young woman going on her first glide with an instructor.

We ended our lovely day with a delightful dinner at Beaurivage, one of Chambery’s oldest gastronmique (gourmet) restaurants.

Paul put together a little video of our last few days in France.

 

Chateau de Beynac

We spent our final day in Sarlat at the impressive Chateau de Beynac, a 12th century castle about ten miles southwest of Sarlat. Exploring the amazingly well-preserved 900 year-old building and grounds was one of our favorite Sarlat experiences.

Originally designed to be a fortress, the castle sits against rock cliffs looking out over the Dordogne river and provides amazing views of the beautiful surrounding countryside.

The audio guide information about the castle and life in the 12th century was so compelling that I listened to all the supplemental segments before returning the guide.

Like many of the places we have visited on this trip, there were surprisingly few people around. It was great to tour the inside of the castle and have it almost to ourselves. The kitchen was added during a renovation in the 13th century.

After our visit to the castle, we hiked a little trail that led down the hill away from the castle.

On a whim, we decided to drive through the nearby town of Beynac on our way home. I am so happy we did not miss seeing this charming town with its narrow streets  and hilltop-hugging buildings.

We like to buy a piece of artwork from our trips but we hadn’t seen anything we wanted on this trip-until today. While on a little before-dinner walk we passed a gallery and found a water color of Sarlat that we loved. The only downside was that we found the gallery at the beginning of our walk, so the picture went on our walk with us.

As we left our apartment for dinner I noticed the rising moon and a beautiful blue sky.

Our last dinner in Sarlat at Le Presidial was one of the best of our trip. I had salmon in sorrel sauce with perfectly prepared vegetables.

The beautiful and delicious profiteroles were a perfect ending to our delightful stay in Serlat.

 

 

 

Sarlat Market, Gardens and Walnut Oil

Wednesday is one of two market days in Sarlat, and we went to the market with a mission-find the best bread, cheese, vegetables and fruit to make dinner at home.

It was fun to look at all the beautiful products.

Our favorite encounter was with the cheese vendor who told us cheese made by his grandparents tasted like new love. Who could resist that?

The friendly baker selling walnut bread made buying his bread fun.

Carrots, green beans, olives, melon and apples completed our dinner shopping. Our fruit vendor asked if we wanted to eat our melon today or tomorrow and chose the best melon accordingly.

After a quick trip home to stow our purchases, we drove about fifteen miles east of Sarlat to visit the lovely Eyrignanc et ses Jardins, billed as the most beautiful gardens in the Perigord region of France.

The same family has owned these gardens for 500 years.

It was another hot day in Sarlat, and the loveliest part of the visit may have been relaxing in comfortable chairs on a cool and shady hill.

On the way back to Sarlat, we visited Moulin de la Tour, a 16th century mill producing natural walnut oil in their ancestral way. The ancient mill is powered solely by the L’Enea river.

A charming couple own and operate the mill along with their daughter and son-in-law. The husband, who gave the tour, spoke only French, but prior to the tour his wife gave us an information sheet in English, and I could translate a little bit of the tour for Paul.

They purchase walnuts shelled by hand and then grind and process them.

In spite of the wife’s limited English and my limited French, we had a delightful conversation about walnut oil, family, Florida and hurricanes.

After a lovely day in the Perigord countryside, we returned to our apartment and made our market dinner. Phillipe, our host, had to come over and show us how to turn on the gas oven so I could roast the vegetables. And then we couldn’t turn off the oven because the knob was broken. With a little phone guidance from Phillipe, Paul figured out a hack to turn off the oven and all was good.

A lovely walnut tartlette was the perfect finishing touch to our market dinner.

 

 

 

Sarlat-la-Caneda

Sarlat-la-Caneda, a medieval town is southwestern France, is cute, cute, cute. Exploring the narrow streets that meander between golden stone buildings is like stepping back into 14th century France.

Our two-story apartment is in an 17th century building and has an outside stairway to get from first level to the second.

Every window in our apartment opens to a beautiful view.

When the sun sets the city offers beautiful new scenes.

Sarlat is a paradise for lovers of foie gras, one of the three main products of the area along with truffles and Perigord walnuts. Foie gras is made from the liver of a duck or goose that has been forced fed corn. A statue of geese figures prominently in the middle of the Place des Oies, Square of the Geese and Sarlat holds a geese fair every year on the third Sunday of February.

I think this is cruel and won’t eat foie gras which makes it a bit challenging to order a meal because foie gras dominates most of the menus here. Duck, in all its many preparations, also figures heavily in the local cuisine. A positive outcome of this dining challenge is that we have improved our ability to translate menus and have eaten some great meals.

 

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Amboise Market and a Lovely Walk

I love going to French markets. The flowers and produce are beautiful; the prepared foods are enticing; and the people watching is the best. I almost always see some unfamiliar food item, and I am constantly amazed that people will buy clothes without being able to try them on. The Sunday market in Amboise, the largest in the Loire Valley, met all my market expectations today.

It was an absolutely perfect day to stroll the market and enjoy the beautiful sights and smells. After trying some delicious cheese, we chose two, one an old favorite and one brand new to us, for our lunch. We got a fresh baguette and a beautiful lettuce at other stands and were set for a great lunch from the market.

In some ways the market reminded us of the Minnesota State Fair. There were interesting live animals

and a vendor selling the exact same “magic” egg beater we bought at the state fair years earlier.

After lunch and a brief nap to recover from our great market lunch and local wine, we set off on one of Paul’s famous walks. We love walking explorations of new cities. Paul does a great job plotting routes that take us to areas we would never see otherwise. In the past he used the CityWalks app, but this time he used a new app, MapMyWalk.

In a very short time we were out of the city and heading down a dirt road.

We walked through a vineyard,

and saw a beautiful view of Amboise below.

Part of our walk was outside the city limits.

I am a sucker for gadgets and was excited to try out my scarf with a hidden pouch for keys and phone. It sounded like a great idea when I ordered it, but in reality, it was hard to get my phone out of the pouch. I will go back to using my trusty cross-body travel bag that I have had for more than twenty-five years.

I will be sad to leave this charming city tomorrow, but I know I will return and plan to stay longer on my next visit.

 

Chateau Chaumont-Sur-Loire

Many of my favorite travel experiences are unplanned; we discover something while on a walk or notice a poster or pick up a pamphlet. We decided to visit the Chateau Chaumont-Sur-Loire because I picked up a pamphlet when we were in a cheese shop yesterday about an international garden festival and contemporary art installation at the chateau.

Upon arriving at the chateau, about ten miles east of Amboise, we learned that there was a classical music festival on the grounds, so our serendipitous day just kept getting better and better. On our way to listen to a Brahms performance we passed the first of many beautiful art pieces we would see on the grounds and in the buildings.

After the musical performance we walked around both the permanent and festival gardens.

Patrick Dougherty, who had an installation at the Sarasota Museum of Art, had an installation in the historic garden.

The stables were nicer than many homes, and the harnesses were made by luxury designer Hermes.

The chateau was founded in the 10th century and most of the rooms were in need of repair. Few of the restored rooms were furnished. The art installations in the chateau were an interesting contrast with the neglected rooms.

It was a wonderful day of beautiful nature, music, art and design. Paul put together a sampling of our day.

 

Amboise

We are so thankful that a friend who lived in France for thirty-five years suggested that we put Amboise, a town in central France’s Loire Valley, on our itinerary. As soon as we drove in to the charming city, we knew we would love it. Our adorable apartment is on Rue National, a pedestrian street in the heart of the historic district.

Our first visit of the day was to the Chateau d’Amboise, a residence for French kings from the 15th to the 19th century.

Located right in the city, its towers offered us amazing views of the Loire River and city below.

Although the rooms were not as lavishly furnished as some chateaus, the building and grounds were beautiful, and it was fun to imagine how people lived there.

In the 16th century, King Francis I invited Leonardo da Vinci to to come to the chateau where he lived and worked in nearby Clos Luc until his death three years later in 1519. His remains are supposedly buried in the Chapel of Saint-Hubert on the chateau grounds, but there is some question about their authenticity.

I discovered a new favorite food at lunch. A Breton galette is a type of buckwheat flour pancake with a savory filling. My galette was filled with three cheeses and Paul’s had the kind of Mexican ingredients found in a taco.

Our lunch waiter recommended that we visit Caveau des Vignerons d’Amboise a wine shop across the street that is located under the chateau that specializes in local, small-production wines. I later read a review that said they no longer offer tastings, but we were able to taste a number of wines and learned a lot about the area.

Wine with lunch, wine tasting right after lunch, and then on to our next stop, wine tasting at Les Caves Duhard.  Our scenic route to the caves took us by the river, up hills and through narrow streets.

The winery is located in caves that were left as a result of excavating limestone used to build the chateau and other buildings. The caves provide consistently perfect 50 degree temperature and 80 percent humidity for storing wine.

We were lucky to have a private tour from two very knowledgeable and charming sommeliers. Our tour felt like a mini-lesson in wine tasting. We had a great experience trying to identify common wine scents.

After I asked some questions about champagne, our sommelier opened two bottles of champagne for us to compare, one from 2015 and one from 1997.