I had hoped to achieve many things by spending one year in France and now, here we are—almost on the other side. We’re older, we’re wiser. Most importantly, we’ve seen more of the French countryside than I ever thought I would in one lifetime.
I mean, fine. We’re not much more fluent in French than the day we moved in. I never did learn how to make croissants from scratch. And yes, fine, the metric system continues to stump me in both the kitchen and on the road. But we made it.
Luckily, as far as personal goals go, there is one thing we definitely ticked off the list. We repeatedly escaped Paris to explore the French countryside.
Prior to moving to Montigny-sur-Loing, our experiences in France were limited to Paris and the Côte d’Azur. I am definitely not complaining! These are still my top two places I’d recommend visiting in this surprisingly huge country. (FUN FACT: France is a few thousand square miles short of being the size equivalent of Texas, thanks Google.) Even so, there’s so much more to France! And, as it turns out, some of our favorites weren’t even that far from the City of Light herself.
Some highlights, you ask? Let’s review.
BURGUNDY & CHABLIS
We had always planned to go to Bordeaux. But, as we got closer and closer to our move-out date, the five-hour drive seemed daunting. Instead, on the recommendation of a friend, we hightailed it to Burgundy for a late spring escape.
eat // Thanks to a dramatic bought of hanger, we stopped at the first place we found in Pommard, which was Hôtel du Pont. It ended up being the best meal of the trip, naturally. Sit outside, get the burger, and smile at all the super athletic cyclists while you stuff your face with frites. Très bon. We unfortunately didn’t do any of the grand gastronomical experiences that everyone raves about. But that sounds like a pretty good reason to return, non?
see // Though the town of Beaune is the true wine capital of Burgundy, we found the surrounding villages to be far more charming.
We stayed in Mont Saint-Jean, which we we loved — even morseo after hiking up to the Château de Mont Saint-Jean.
On our way home, we stopped in Chablis… a mere HOUR from our house. We felt a little silly realizing this just a few weeks before we moved out. But at least we learned that Chablis is a very adorable town! Plus, while white wine is not generally my jam, we had a few delicious glasses.
drink // Burgundy! Err, sorry Bourgogne, mais oui. We fell in love with Pinot Noir while in New Zealand’s Central Otago last year, and were excited to compare. NZ might still win this round, if I’m being honest. I prefer my pinot noir peppery, I’ve come to understand?
We also did a few small tastings in Chablis and some were really terrible. I know the petite chablis, in particular, made me gag across the board. But because I am the worst, I can’t remember if we LOVED the premier crus and HATED the grand crus? Or vice versa? But one is gross and one is yum and neither will ever replace red wine, so what can you really do?
sleep // IN A GYPSY WAGON. No, seriously. This could not have been more charming, and pugs were allowed, so I loved the whole experience, natch.
With Champagne located only about three hours from our house, there was no way we were missing this region. Back in May, immediately upon return from Ireland, we hightailed it for Epernay for a few days.
eat // We did some quick pre-dins research upon arrival and landed a reservation on our first night at La Cave à Champagne. For €19/person, we each had a seriously delicious and very traditional three-course meal. Tack on a bottle of champagne, and you can’t beat it.
see // You can’t visit Champagne without touring a few caves. It’s hard not to be dazzled by some of the big names, so our very first stop was Moët & Chandon. Holy CRAP, were we disappointed. After waiting for about 35 minutes, we were crammed together with a giant group. We had the most lackluster overview of the champagne house you can imagine. It even included a video intro which made me want to die. Is there anything worse than video supplements during a guided tour?
Our guide seemed equally as bored by her own retelling of the history of Dom Perignon. You would think that touring the supposed birthplace of champagne IN Champagne would be a bit more riveting, right? False. After a quick tasting, we were shuffled through the gift shop and sent on our not-so-merry ways.
It was a bummer, but here, boutique is definitely better. If you are insistent on touring one of the larger labels, check out Pommery. It captures the essence of the brand from the second you walk in the door, and the caves are intertwined with art installations. Louise Pommery, the founder’s widow and the real brains behind the whole operation, was extremely passionate about this aspect.
Aside from Epernay, I also recommend a drive around to some of the nearby villages, and to Reims. We didn’t do much! Just strolled around the cathedral and explored a few cobblestoned pedestrian streets. But it was cute and we enjoyed the break from the countryside.
drink // Ok, so the what is obvious here (champagne, guys, keep up), but the where, as we learned at Moët, is just as important. We decided to seek out something a little more boutique feeling and ended up at Champagne A. Bergere on the Avenue de Champagne.
Later, we drove out to Louis de Sacy in Verzy, where we enjoyed the whole experience so much that we finally bought a few bottles. Our host here advised us we check out Le One, which was the perfect spot for a bubbly nightcap.
After our trip, we had the pleasure of meeting up with Fabian Gay, one of the co-founders of Artéis&Co. Though the label doesn’t have a cellar door offering tastings in Champagne, meeting with Fabian was a direct result of our trip here and one of our favorites.
sleep // Le Clos Raymi was a last minute find, and at first seemed like a punishment. We unknowingly planned to travel on a crazy busy weekend due to some French holiday (shocking, JE KNOW), which meant that all of our first choices were booked. And then all of our second choices were booked, too. By the time we found Le Clos Raymi, they only had one room with two twin beds available.
But, as they say, everything happens for a reason because it ended up being completely perfect (minus the beds, though. I’m a snuggler.) Great location and a quick walk to the Avenue de Champagne, adorably decorated from top to bottom, a fluffy cat to accidentally let out of the B&B kitchen whilst on a late night hunt for a champagne bucket. All standard practice, really.
Wrangling that cat was a bitch, though.
NORMANDY & MONT ST. MICHEL
eat // When we found our rental for the night via AirBnb (more on that in a sec), all of the reviews mentioned a seafood market that was completely and totally to die for. Situated right on the beach, you walked into La Ferme des Nielles-Ostrea, pick out your fresh seafood, and they cook it on the spot. We sat outside, threw the pug a taste or two, and enjoyed our best meal in France to date.
We also made crepes a priority while in Mont St. Michel, and can fully recommend Crêperie La Cloche. We ordered a bottle of La Bolée d’Armorique Loïc Raison and both went savory instead of sweet and don’t regret it for a second! Except now that I’m typing about crêpes, I would die for a nutella and banana… but anyway. In the moment, pure bliss.
see // The entire reason for driving here is to see the beaches at Normandy and Mont St. Michel, so if you miss either, you’re a dud. A dud, I say! No but, seriously, both were amazing for different reasons.
We realized the day before our departure that we would be in town over the 7oth anniversary of D-Day, so we decided to hit Normandy first. Talk about complete and total madness! But, I was genuinely surprised to find that it was hard to walk around the American Cemetery and not feel completely patriotic. I got more than a little teary eyed when a row of veterans were wheeled and walked down to the 1st US Infantry Division memorial obelisk. After a brief ceremony, a band started playing a medley of the UK, French, and US national anthems.
Though we weren’t going to go to Mont St. Michel until the next day, we decided we should probably drive a little bit out of the way to see her at night time, in all her glory. If there’s one thing I can say, it’s that this was the absolute best decision ever. Parker, however, had zero fucks to give about the whole experience:
Despite the bug’s indifference, it was stunning at night, and made our visit and the hike to the abbey the next day all the more enjoyable.
We woke bright and early, drove back to Mont St. Michel, and planned for about half a day. It took us less time, mostly because the place was PACKED with tourists.
For some reason, I didn’t really have any idea of what to expect once we actually arrived on the Mont — I had only anticipated the views from afar. Turns out, it was adorable! Despite the throngs of people, It was well worth the hike and the visit, I promise. Though if you prefer to skip the 20 minute walk, there is a shuttle available — they just don’t allow dogs, so we were SOL. All’s well that end’s well, though, because this happened:
drink // Drink your way along La Route du Cidre! Man, we did a lot on this trip, huh? Apparently it’s very popular to rent bikes and ride along the route. Instead, we opted to stay responsible, split our tastings, and drive. Because I am scared of bikes.
Our very favorite experience was Marie-Louise Foucher, where a little old woman who only spoke French took us into a cellar and poured a few glasses. She didn’t remotely mind that we could only understand every other word. I think she just found the hubs extremely charming.
Our very favorite cider, however, was from Patrice Giard, which might have been even more delicious because we got stuck behind a herd of cows for awhile and weren’t sure if we were going to die waiting for them to moooooove along.
sleep // IN A WINDMILL. I don’t know, things got weird at the end here and we rented a windmill from AirBnb. Also, don’t sleep in a windmill, it was actually terrible. But the owner was nice and I don’t want to throw her under the bus… I can’t tell you it was worth it, except now I can say I slept in a windmill. Plus, it led us to La Ferme des Nielles-Ostrea. I would probably sleep in a lobster trap for a repeat of that meal. Also, we had this view if you zoomed in reeaaaal close:
And this sunset, no zoom required:
FONTAINEBLEAU & ÎLE-DE-FRANCE
I’d be remiss to ignore the fact that Fontainebleau and the surrounding villages are a tourist destination, easily accessible from Paris. Though we didn’t take advantage of living in both the bouldering AND horseback riding capital of France, we did take advantage of the very best boulangerie, right on our street in Montigny-sur-Loing. Almond croissants and viking bread, I’ll always love you most of all.
We also fell in love with the art galleries and restaurants in Barbizon, ate artisanal ice cream along the banks of the Loing in Moret-sur-Loing, and had picnics and walks in the gardens of Napolean’s final castle on a near-regular basis (until the weather turned because then all bets were off; ain’t nobody got time for February.) Now, we’re spending our last few nights in Thomery, which the hubs just told me is the raisin capital of France? Unclear, but we have until Thursday to find out, so stay tuned.
OTHERS… er, AUTRES
Last but never least, check out these other Parisian excursions that might be worth your time, linked below!
Les Calanques (Cassis & Marseilles) // This was about an 8 hour drive from Paris, with a pitstop in Lyon on the way there and one in Avignon on the way back.
Colmar & The Alsace Wine Route // 4 hours from Paris by car and hands down, my very favorite French road trip to date. Full disclosure: I might be partial because it was my birthday.
The Loire Valley // 4 hours from Paris by car and you must sleep in a château. Rules are rules.
And here we are, mes amies! I can’t believe our year in France has come and gone so quickly. Honestly, to say I’m ready to move on is a bit of an understatement.
…but more on that later.