French Countryside

Times flies when you are living a wonderful life together. Our 20th anniversary crept up on us quicker than expected, but nevertheless we knew we wanted to something special. After a bit of globe dart throwing, we settled on France and a deeper dive into the countryside. Someone recommended a barge trip and looking over the possibilities, it seemed to be a relaxing way to capture the countryside feeling. So off we went to our French neighbors to get some advise. And the first bit of it was, you are not going to see much of the countryside that way! Their recommendation: Fly to Paris, rent a car and visit a region. Loire Valley, Carcassonne and Annecy were all suggested places to visit, so in our typical fashion we decided on all three. The plan was to fly to London, stay with our relatives, catch the Eurostar to Paris and delve into French food, culture and history.

Paris

Just a few days at the Westin, with a Paris Walk through Le Marais old the Jewish quarter, a sampling of city cuisine and getting ready for our countryside adventure. Picking up the rental was an adventure in itself. First of all, the GPS was in French but even with Betsey's mastery of the language, it was going to be difficult. The next issue to tackle was locating the drive/reverse controls. Fortunately, the Hertz rep that checked us in showed up at the garage and was able to change language to English and show me where the drive controls were. Off we went in our Citroen into the Paris streets and we finally slingshot out to our first destination, Blois in the Lorie Valley.

Lorie Valley Chateaus

Blois was our base of operation at Le Relais de la Tour B&B, hands down one of the best places we have ever stayed at. We cannot say enough about the gracious hosts, the beautifully decorated rooms and grounds, along with scrumptious cuisine at breakfast and dinner. An 11 out of 10 from Betsey & Mark

This area is rich in history as the Cradle of France with its countless chateaus and recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is also a central agricultural area with vineyards, fruit orchards and artichoke and asparagus fields lining the banks of the Loire River. We dove in and spent our 3 days visiting five chateaus and taking in the local scenery. Betsey's favorite was Chenonceau and mine was Du Clos Luce, where Leonardo da Vinci spent his last days. The site is a testament to his inventive genius.

Carcasonne & Cathar Castles

Next stop was to the south of France to the only medieval castle that was restored by the architect Eugène Viollet-le-Duc in 1853 and added to the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites in 1997. This was my favorite spot as we crawled around the castle day and night, finding some excellent dining options. Our B&B, L'Orangerie, also found on Trip Advisor, was another gem located close to the castle. The property was a nice combination of old and new, had a wonderful breakfast and neatly kept grounds. What made this a memorable place was the hospitality from Erik and Jeannette whom welcomed us into their restored home.

The terrain changes in the Languedoc-Roussillon region as you get closer to the Pyrenees. A strategic point since Roman days, the countryside holds many Cathar Castle eagle nests that were used over the centuries to hold back invading forces and were built to withstand a siege. We visited Chateau de Peyrepertuse and Chateau de Queribus, hiking in and around some amazing ruins. The winding country roads, small towns and views from the castles is time well spent.

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Annecy Lake Region

Our last city to visit took us close to the French Alps, Annecy. You maybe wondering about all the driving we did and how we fared. The French highway and road system puts the US to shame. From the back streets of the back streets to the national freeway system, all are in great condition, no potholes and services every 17 miles on the motorways. You do have tolls to pay, but it is worth it.

Our stay was short, but we got a taste of the local famers market (about 20 blocks by my reckoning), a chocolatier extraordinaire, lake tour and a knock us down dinner. Le Denti was rated high and delivered at every step. The wife knew we were coming for dinner that night and spent time during the day brushing up on her English to assure we had a good experience. We decided it was the best meal we have ever had!!! Local ingredients, served with perfect timing, great wine pairings and just pure bliss.

And so our tale ends. We head for Lyon to catch our flight back to London to spend more time with our relatives @ the world famous Amherst B&B. A most memorable trip for a most memorable occasion. Cheers...

May our paths and errands meet...