"What you guys are doing is crazy." This is one of the many iterations our kids in their
late 20s and early 30s kept repeating when they learned of our decision to book a two-week trip to France in the middle of Europe's busiest season, Summer, with less than three weeks to go. But if life has taught me anything, it is that nothing is impossible. Now, crazy… well, that's another subject altogether.
Airplane tickets were my first hurdle to overcome. I found that buying straight from airlines is better than going through third-party vendors. I have one of those airline credit cards where I accumulate miles. I needed more than my miles to purchase half a ticket in economy class, nevertheless economy plus, which is our seat of choice. We are in our 50s and 60s, and joints hurt after sitting in a cramped space for long periods of time. So after some research, I discovered that I could buy miles from the airline at a discounted price (check the airline's mileage program you are associated with, and you will see the discounts to buy mileage). For a reasonable rate, I purchased two roundtrips, one-stop tickets from California to France, with the longer legs of the trip in economy plus. One feat down, many to go.
Outlining an itinerary was next, and here I sat with countless windows opened on my laptop for the many French regions on my wish list and one on Google Maps to determine the mileage/ kilometers from one point to the other. When visiting France, the possibilities are endless. Paris is the first point of reference. Yes! Paris is beautiful, busy, and delicious, and three days there were more than enough for us to walk it through and visit all the famous landmarks. Lodging in a centralized zone can be expensive, but there are options. It was my husband's first time in the city, and I wanted him to see it all and in its splendor. When I saw that hotel rooms exceeded my set budget per night, I opted to look for an Airbnb. The search resulted in a lovely studio apartment located 300 meters from the Eiffel Tower in a quiet street and close to absolutely everything and for half the price of the hotels in the area.
An important tip: If you want to visit the Louvre Museum or Versailles Palace during a busy season, purchase tickets from the official websites beforehand. Otherwise, you might encounter long lines and filled-to-capacity venues. We were lucky to snag last-minute tickets online while in Paris, but in my experience, this was unusual.
With Paris on the map and all set and done, I moved the arrow to the direction of the
Champagne region. We took a 40' train ride from Paris to Reims, where we spent the first night. We sampled Champagnes and ate at a quaint restaurant with the locals. It was a wonderful experience where we mingled with the other patrons and the witty restaurant chef.
The next day we picked up a rental car, booked ahead of time, and started our road trip. Instead of taking the motorway, as the French call it, we took the longer roads through the towns. Oh, what a beautiful and great way to see France and its countryside while discovering small bakeries, three blocks long medieval villages, and kilometers on end of green and gold beauty. To add to the magic of the visit to the Champagne region, I booked a one-night stay at Domaine De La Creuse, a Bed and Breakfast housed on the grounds of a stone farmhouse dated 1742. Homemade jams and yogurts, decadent croissants, and a friendly dog added to the charm of this unforgettable experience.
Two nights and three days later, we headed off to
Dijon, where we stayed for two nights. Having the car allowed us to explore the stunning Bourgeoise region, the historic wine country, and we discovered that Chardonnay is an actual town. And when in Chardonnay… you get the gist.
The Haute-Savoie département, Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes région, was next on my wish list. We approached the area by spending two nights in beautiful Annecy, where we ate the most delicious cheese fondue and walked through the city's historic village and around the lake.
We then drove to Chamonix, the French Alps. Breathtaking does not describe the beauty of this place. We stayed at an aparthotel which allowed us a break from restaurants for two nights, and we had the opportunity to shop for the local delicacies such as their famous salamis, cheeses, and bread… lots and lots of bread. While there, we went up to the top of the Aiguille Du Midi, 3842 meters high, hiked halfway through, and enjoyed the majestic views.
The last region on our itinerary was Alsace. To get to the Northeast of France, we had to drive out of France and into Switzerland. The drive was gorgeous while descending from The French Alps and going into lower elevations where large, crystalline lakes and green farmlands outline the roads. If the map took us through Switzerland, stopping at some point was the next thing to do, even if unplanned.
A sign with the name of Gruyeres, yes, the cheese, called us in. We took the exit, leading us to the old seat of the Count of Gruyere, dating back to the 12th century. An enchanting village with arches, cobblestone streets, a castle, and cheese. Could this trip get any better? The answer is YES.
Driving into Colmar, our first city to visit in the Alsace region, was like stepping into a storybook.
During our three-day stay in the area, we explored the Alsatian towns, drank their delicious wines, ate Munster cheese, had their famous choucroute garnie, learned about the Witch of Riquewihr, and feasted on the idyllic sights.
At the end of our stay, we returned the car and hopped on a train to Paris to spend our last night walking around the city, eating and drinking one last glass of French wine in France.
In the poem Troilus and Criseyde, Geoffrey Chaucer wrote, "All good things must come to an end," but I beg to differ. Although the trip is over, the beauty of the country and its people will forever stay with us. Be it a last-minute travel plan or one scheduled months in advance, there's nothing like exploring what the world has to offer. This was not our last-minute trip, nor will it be our last.
Book directly from hotel websites. They match third-party vendor prices or better. If any problems arise with a reservation, dealing directly with the source is better.
Travel light. A carry-on luggage should suffice. When traveling, we do laundry at a laundromat every five days or so. There's always a café nearby where you can wait.
Look for local indoor or open-air markets whenever visiting a village. It is a great way to mingle with the local culture and taste regional delicacies.
Kipling: Their bags are light and have functional compartments and pocket zippers. I travel with a medium size shoulder bag on the airplane, which comfortably carries a cosmetics bag, my Kindle, passport, snacks for the plane, etc. A mini crossbody Kipling bag in metallic gold for daily use that can be dressed up or down does the trick. It holds my phone, wallet, passport, sunglasses, and reading glasses.
Birkenstock: Our longer trips are in the summer when I'm off work, so I never leave home without my pair of Arizona.
Converse: White sneakers go with everything. My personal choice is Converse Chuck 70 Vintage Canvas—a classic with a cushy insole made to be walked on.