North to south of France and into Spain
27.04.2012 16 °C
Paris got us off to a great start and it just keeps getting better. We picked up the car in the centre of Paris and decided to do a few laps of the Arc de Triomphe to test out my European driving. Test passed, we headed to the Champagne region and Reims. Catching a tour at Mumm gave us a new appreciation for how real grand crus champagne is made and a chance to taste some of the best examples.
From here we headed north into Normandy to see where the boys landed on d-day. While we're a generation removed and the event has been stylized by Spielberg, standing on the sand is both a somber and inspiring experience. From Omaha Beach we moved west to Mont St. Michel, easily one of the most spectacular slights on the planet. While driving through Norman farmland, she appears on the horizon like a fantasy novel castle. A towering cathedral and battlements rising vertically out of the mud flats makes for a breathtaking scene only matched by walking around it and taking in the view.
Moving south, we entered the Loire Valley and the home of the Chateau. We saw grand and austere, but the favourite was Azay-le-Rideau, a stunning 16th century Chateau surrounded by moat lake, a bubbling river and lush gardens. Winning the European lottery and calling this our weekender is now the plan.
Further south brings us to a favourite so far, the Bordeaux wine region. We got out of the main towns and stayed in a little hilltop B&B / private house at Pujols with home cooked meals and local wine (thanks Jonica for the tip). This was our launching pad to explore the wineries of St.Emilion, taste great wine and meet passionate people.
Overall, the French countryside is stunning, from rolling hills in the north to multi-coloured forrests in the middle and old vine fields in the south. The people have also been much friendlier than we expected, more open and accommodating than their reputation would suggest. We only saw that French 'assertiveness' when an English speaking tourist wanted something in a hurry and got frustrated that everyone didn't speak perfect English - my reaction would have been less pleasant. The French highlight so far however has to be the cuisine: escargot, fois gras, steak tartare, quiche, flambé, croque Monsieur, camonbert, creme brûlée, chocolate eclair and casserole have all featured with the daily intake of croissant, baguette and cafe. Tres magnifique!
Last night, we traversed across the Pyrenees into Spain and had tapas for dinner in San Sebastian. The mother and daugher of our pension took great care in explaining the best places and the best dishes so we were well placed for our late night adventure. As we head south, we're looking forward to the sights and excited about the culinary adventure that awaits.
Adios y hasta Luego,
CP & Lee