Day 1 & 2 Paris and the Loire
Day 1 – Paris and beyond:
I am turning 50 this year, the BIG birthday!!! I wanted to ask for a really special trip for my big birthday. I wanted it to be something out of the ordinary, and something I have dreamed about for a long time. It wasn’t so difficult to think of. Ever since studying for and passing the WSET advanced course, I have wanted to see, feel, touch and taste the French wine appellations. The wine classifications in France are so difficult to remember by simply studying them, that I felt I needed to stand in the terroir and experience them. This is what I asked of my family and they agreed that we could make it work. (I am so fortunate!!!)
Planning: Once I found a friend, who could travel with me whose schedule and agenda matched mine, I needed to get planning. I contemplated what regions were easily driveable in a short amount of time and which I felt I just could not miss – the hardest regions to understand, the backbone of the history of fine wine.
I concluded that Bordeaux was a must visit, and looking at a map I realized the Champagne region, the Burgundy region and the Loire were all very close to Paris. I would have to leave Alsace, the Dordogne, the Languedoc and Rhone for my next trip (and somehow Chablis in Burgundy)… and also Sauternes and Barsac in Bordeaux. We just couldn’t do it all.
The best way to organize this vacation would have been to start in Champagne, then to Burgundy and then to Bordeaux, but we decided to reverse our trip to avoid the Tour de France as we anticipated traffic and crowds and we had a mission to accomplish.
Our itinerary became Paris through the Loire (a quick taste), to Bordeaux, to Burgundy to Champagne – drive south and then slowly make our way north back to Paris. I had a vision that we would taste at 2-3 wineries a day and get a clear picture of the wines of that region. What I expected and what we could actually accomplish were two different things. The trip was totally worth it and was amazingly awesome and beneficial to my wine teaching plans for the future.
The trip begins: We arrived in Paris and picked up our rental car. I quickly practiced and learned how to drive stick, as most of the rental cars in France are manual. (Luckily they drive on the same side of the road as us Americans). I was out on the streets headed to Paris(!!!). Driving in Paris is a whole different level. I prayed, while the motorcyclists wove in and out of traffic between lanes, sides of the road, between trucks. It was crazy!
After finding a parking garage near our hotel in that crazy traffic, I cut the turn into the garage too short. Michelle and I feverishly tried to shift the car into reverse with no success. American manual cars used to have the driver push down to get into reverse. We tried and tried, with the traffic behind us building. Tiny Michelle offered to get out and push the car, but between panic and laughs, she jumped out of the car and started yelling, “English, does anyone speak English!” A woman came running and we quickly explained the situation to her. She called over a gentleman working in the neighboring café and spoke to him quickly in French. He reached in to the car, pulled up the stick and shifted right in to reverse. We thanked them as profusely as we could with the honking behind us, and most likely someone yelling “damn Americans”. Michelle hopped in the car and we laughed and cried so hard I could barely drive. But drive I did. I pulled into the garage, parked and was a reversing expert the rest of the trip!
We checked in to our little hotel, and spent the day walking around the city, shopping and getting our caffeine fix in little cafes while we people watched. I was very thankful to not have to drive again that day. It was a lovely day. We took in some of the sites but since we had both been to Paris already, we stayed focused on our mission – get to visiting as many wine regions as we could in one vacation.
After our day of touring, we returned to the hotel to freshen up, headed for a quick dinner, not worth noting) and then back to the hotel for a quick sleep.
Tip on exchanging cash: You need cash for tipping at restaurants and cafes, for outdoor parking and for some gas stations. We tried to change money in Paris but couldn’t find a change place and missed out on the one in the airport. Banks do not change in France so be sure to exchange money in Paris at an “exchange” place or use your bank card with a fee. My bank card wasn’t working, so I was happy for my credit cards without international fees, and used those for as much as I could.
Phone coverage: I use ATT, and by simply using your phone in another country, your account adds international service for 24 hours. It was $10 a day and totally worth it. It was almost like we were using our phones and data in the US.
Tips on Tipping: The tip is included in your bill. If you have exceptional service, it is kind to leave a few Euros on the table. They say it isn’t necessary but we did feel a bit like it was expected. We didn’t tip 20% but always left 2-5E’s. They also did split the bill for us in most of the restaurants and were fine with that. We could ask them to add a tip, before they rang in the amount, but be careful that they understand. One night I ended up adding a LOT more money than I intended for a tip, as they waiter mis-understood me. Then it just becomes in inconvenience.
We woke the next morning to a beautiful sunny day. We grabbed coffee and eggs at a local café.
Tip: There really is no grabbing coffee or breakfast in France. Unless you find a Starbucks or McD’s, which happened to both be in our neighborhood, the French pride themselves on enjoying dining time. They take their time, socialize without devices and everything takes time. You need to be aware of that when you sit down. Just relax and enjoy and have a flexible schedule and it will be lovely.
After our stop at the café, we hopped in the car to begin our mission. We headed for the open road – the highway to Bordeaux.
We wanted to visit somewhere in the Loire Valley on the way, as we had heard of its beauty, so we stopped at Chateau Chambord. It was absolutely stunning and we toured the grounds and the castle, which holds a really cool, double helix staircase, stunning views and courtyards and we then headed to the wine bar to find what we were there for – Loire Valley wines.
The wine tasting was included in your entrance to visit the castle and we tasted Gamay, Chardonnay, Semillon, pinot noir, and Romorantin – a local white grape varietal, citrusy but very minerally. I expected the young man hosting the tastings to know about wine and the region, but unfortunately he didn’t. I bought a bottle as a thank you for his assistance and we hopped in our car and continued our journey.
Tip: The highways are great in France with many services. We found all of the amenities on our entire trip – more organized than in the US. I highly recommend driving in France if you can drive a manual car and can skip driving into Paris. Keep in mind the cars are very, very small. We rented a car that said it fit 5 people and 5 bags we barely fit with 2 people and 3 suitcases.
Day 3 – Bordeaux – To Be Continued….