P’tit Weekend in the Loire Valley

France, Photography, Travel

“Parisians all get sick of Paris after a while. So they regularly choose to leave the city for a few days. Those expeditions are called p’tits weekends…

It is important to realize that in the Parisian’s mind, le p’tit weekend is not a luxury or treat. It is a necessity. A need he feels deep inside his body. A sound door to escape momentarily the oppression of the big, fast, and loud city: J’en peux plus, faut que je parte m’aérer. Tu veux pas qu’on se fasse un p’tit weekend? (‘I’ve had enough, I need to leave the city to get some air. You want to go on a p’tit weekend?’)”

Olivier Magny, Stuff Parisians Like: Discovering the Quoi in the Je Ne Sais Quoi

The idea of a p’tit weekend is a universal one. A long weekend, quick escape, weekend getaway, short vacation… whatever you call it, the idea behind it is the same.

Jacob and I know all too well the importance of a p’tit weekend. When we first moved to Boston back in 2011, as excited as we were to be there, it didn’t take long for us to desperately crave a weekend away. We were newlyweds, newly employed, newly in graduate school, and biggest of all, newly living in a big city. After just the first few weeks of settling into our new routines, we needed some time away. A time to rest. A time to reset. A time to step away from our new norm, and as Magny says, “to leave the city to get some air.”

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Though city life quickly grew on us, we still deeply valued those long weekends each time we were able to sneak away. We’d leave Friday after work or bright and early Saturday morning, and head back to the city late Sunday night. Every chance we got we were leaving the city. Not because we hated where we lived, but instead, because we understood just how much of a necessity those weekends away truly were.

Now, living in a new, and even bigger city, we value p’tits weekends all the same, if not even just a little bit more.

I think this time around we handled the transition into city life a bit more easily, however, I will say that our first p’tit weekend in Normandy, taken shortly after we arrived in France, was just as refreshing as that first trip we took out of Boston quickly after rolling into town. Arriving in Paris was exciting, yes, but after a summer full of stressful planning to get us here, and then an overwhelming first few weeks once we finally arrived, a relaxing weekend away was called for. (Belated blog post about Normandy coming soon…)

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Having traveled back to the states early October, then fighting jet lag and a nasty cold for the week or so after I returned, by the end of the month, I was eager to get out and explore somewhere new. Not wanting to throw off Heidi’s routine now that she finally seemed settled, we decided on an easy dog friendly destination that could quickly(ish) be reached by car so that we didn’t have to introduce her to another new and potentially scary mode of transportation, the train, so soon after flying.

Jacob and I had already spent some time in the eastern portion of the Loire Valley on our last trip to France, but being a large area, we figured there was still plenty left to discover. This time around we headed to the western side of the region which was just as lovely as the area we had already explored.  It was geographically similar with the Loire River gracefully meandering through the region and a number of stunning châteaux littering the countryside, but what was different this time were all of the golden vineyards decorating the hillsides.

Following a quick trip into town to pick up provisions for lunch, our weekend kicked off with a visit to one of these beautiful vineyards, where we were able to take a peaceful, self guided tour around the property, and walk through the rows of vines. Being the only two on the tour, we took our time, enjoying the lovely, cool morning and stunning views, while Heidi sniffed around for the cat. After the tour we enjoyed a generous tasting and left with three bottles of organic wine. It’s easy to do when the wine is delicious, and incredibly cheap… (Or at least comparatively. One bottle we bought, a nice 2011 Cabernet Franc, was only €15, or about $18. Maybe we should have purchased a few more… 😉

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After our winery tour we enjoyed one of our new bottles of wine and a simple picnic lunch on the banks of the River Cher, a tributary of the Loire. It was slightly chilly, but sunny, and really such a perfect day to be outdoors. From lunch we headed to the nearby town of Villandry, where we spent the rest of our afternoon walking through the impressive château gardens.

Finally, after a long day of exploring, we headed back to our Airbnb to finish off our lunch wine and watch the sunset from our balcony. Heidi, exhausted from such a big day, quickly fell asleep while Jacob and I snuck away to a local farm for dinner where we enjoyed more local wine, wild boar, venison, and cheese from the goats next door. Eaten in a lovely old farmhouse warmed by a crackling fire in the fireplace, this meal was the perfect way to end our relaxing, yet busy day.

On Sunday, we got an early start and drove 45 minutes west to tour a monastery. It wouldn’t be a weekend away with Jacob if we didn’t do such a thing… After a few hours at Fontevraud we headed back to our Airbnb to pick up Heidi and our bags, and moved on to the final stop of our weekend getaway, the lovely town of Chartres, where we toured the massive Chartres Cathedral. We had to tour it in turns since we had Heidi, and the stained glass wasn’t at its best since we arrived after dark thanks to daylight savings (which comes earlier here than in the states), but still, we were both blown away by this Gothic masterpiece.

After some annoyingly heavy traffic, we returned home late Sunday night a bit tired but also so glad for a nice weekend away. I love living in Paris, but Magny says it best when he says “Le p’tit weekend is not a luxury or a treat. It is a necessity. A need he feels deep inside his body.”

Two p’tit weekends down for us, one for Heidi. We look forward to where our next journey will take us next!

Until next time!

Road Trip Through France, Part 1

Culture, Photography, Travel

It was nearly three years ago that I first experienced France, in the city of lights, in a city I had never visited, but yet a city I already deeply loved.

I talk here about how nervous I was about our first visit to Paris. I had played it up so much in my head that the thought of it being anything less than magnificent was a scary one. Well, to my great pleasure, it was everything I had ever hoped it would be. The food was memorable, the people were lovely, the sites were breathtaking, and our overall experience was one I will never forget.

Wanting to experience this perfection all over again, for this trip abroad, instead of zipping all around Europe, we put roots down in one country and spent two weeks exploring some of the best sites and landscapes that France has to offer.

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Our trip started in the stunning Loire Valley where we spent our time château hopping and exploring the lovely town of Amboise. Arriving in Amboise we were greeted by the cold and rain, but we made the best of our first night in France, bundled up in sweaters walking around town, and dropping into a small cafe for crepes and onion soup. After a good night’s rest we started our Loire Valley adventure with pastries and hot chocolate at our lovely little inn, and set off to the first château of our journey, the 17th-century mansion of Cheverny.

Arriving mid morning on a Monday we had Cheverny mostly to ourselves. Along with a few other tourists and roughly 110 dogs, we toured this grand establishment and walked the spacious grounds. After our tour around the estate, we enjoyed a visit with the Cheverny hunting dogs, and then moved on to continue our day.

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We left the property to find picnic supplies and settled down in front of an old church to enjoy our meal. We had been in France for less than 24 hours, but already, it was just as lovely as we remembered.

From Cheverny we headed to the largest château in the Loire Valley and explored the massive palace of Chambord. Originally built as a hunting lodge, this 440-room palace has a fireplace for every day of the year and is surrounded by Europe’s largest enclosed forest park, a game preserve defined by a 20-mile long wall. 

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We spent a couple of hours wandering the grounds and exploring the château’s many empty rooms. We played around on the property’s famous spiral staircase, and then, growing tired of Chambord’s massiveness, moved on to discover my favorite château, the dreamy and romantic Château de Chenonceau. Gracefully arching over the Cher River, this 16th-century Renaissance dwelling is the kind of place I would happily call home.

As the most popular château in the Loire Valley, Chenonceau is well-known for crowds, but thanks to a chill in the air and a perfectly-timed rainstorm, we nearly had the whole place to ourselves, which only added to Chenonceau’s charm.

We were welcomed into the château by a crackling fire in the entry fireplace, and greeted in each room by stunning arrangements of flowers put together from the property’s gardens. Each room we entered not only gave us a well-preserved look back into time, but also flooded our senses with the smell of peonies, roses, and lilies. Jacob would chuckle at my excitement not for the centuries old art or architecture all around us, but instead, over the exquisite flower arrangements that adorned each room.

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Flowers aside, the architecture and history of this manor did not fail to wow me. We loved the views of the river and gardens which could be seen from almost every room, the creepy mourning room of Louise de Lorraine,  and most of all, the beautiful and historic kitchen.

Most other kitchens during this time were in a separate or semi-detached building to reduce the risk of fire, but because of its location, Chenonceau was one of the only châteaux in the 16th-century to have a kitchen within the château itself, and while that was cool and all, if I am really being honest, it was really all of the copper pots and pans and the gigantic butcher block that still has me swooning over that kitchen today…

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Once the rain cleared we checked out the gardens and took a stroll around the tourist-abandoned farm. We watched ducks and smelled more flowers, and stumbled across sections of the property that very well could have used as movie settings for The Secret Garden. 

Having had enough châteaux for one day, we headed back to Amboise where we enjoyed a bottle of local wine and a picnic before taking a bright, late-night stroll along the Loire. Hugging tight to stay warm, we watched the city lights twinkle, reminiscing about our day, and looking forward to the wonderful adventures in France still to come.