If you read my last post, I may have mentioned sometimes disregarding parental direction, thus resulting in going on my first solo trip. But I regress, as there are times when your parents tell you to do something and you just can’t say no. Especially when that means catching up for a week in France.
Forget “Paris in the Spring” because Paris in the fall is truly a dream. The end of October landed us in the most beautiful weather for a week filled with crisp, fresh mornings, clear sunny days and a wonderful time of year to experience the autumn colors and senses in full.
To celebrate our mini family reunion, we began our culinary journey with dinner at Au Petit Sud Ouest, one of Paris’ best restaurants focused on one of the many staples of French cuisine, duck. Ironically enough, it was the same restaurant my mom had raved about on her return from Paris last fall and I think her excitement had tripled since then concurrently transferring to us. If you like duck, go here, if not, still go here. Duck breast, duck leg, and of course their famous foie gras are a fantastic start, middle, and end to one’s list of must-eat Parisian restaurants.
Waking up in the centrally-located Hotel Relais du Louvre, we headed to Versailles. Less than an hour away, Versailles is best known for the Palace of Versailles, the former French royal residence and center of government now turned indulgent, luxurious, and extravagant chateau including but not limited to 250 acres of landscaped lawn, the Hall of Mirrors, the Le Petit Trianon, and Marie Antoinette’s Palace. The Chateau de Versailles is an extremely popular landmark and can get busy, but a visit is worth it just to see its intricate and grandeur opulence. Lunch at the nearby Restaurant Saudade whose all French menu and somewhat higher prices proved their worth in their intricate and flavorful Mediterranean-inspired dishes.
With the time we had, this particular trip to France we decided to focus on the Loire Valley region of France. This stretch over the Loire River in central France spans 170 miles and is referred to as the Cradle of France or the Garden of France due to its abundance of orchards and vineyards, interspersed with historic towns, castles, palaces, wine and French gastronomy, pleasing to those searching for the ultimate French splendor and style.
Being the foodie I am, I’ve always wanted to go to a Michelin-starred restaurant and what better time to go to my first one than in France? Dinner at La Table des Blots was truly an experience, from the homemade bread and Coquilles St. Jacques for appetizers, tender rabbit for mains, and chocolate souffle and apple tarte for dessert, there is no doubt why this restaurant is so highly rated. Not only the tastes, but also the details in the presentation made it a worthwhile meal to remember. Conveniently located a few kilometers away was our lovely stay at the Abbaye des Vaux de Cernay, which was formerly a cloister, chapter house, mill, and reading gallery which has now been transformed into an elegant estate to relax and roam the wide, gorgeous monastic grounds.
Out of all the chateaus, the most famous is the Chateau Chambord. Due to its very distinctive French renaissance architecture, Chambord is the largest building in the Loire Valley and if you plan on touring a chateau, this should be your one. After an afternoon visiting Chambord, we ended the day in the quaint town of Amboise with the best buckwheat crepes at Creperie Anne de Bretagne for dinner(go for the duck, fromage, and sweet potato one, you won’t be disappointed.)
The next day, we drove along the Loire, stopping along the way at the mushroom caves to Saumur. Being that is was a public holiday, much of what would have been open was closed but with great luck, we stumbled across one of two restaurants open in the center of Saumur and were more than pleasantly surprised. At Auberge Saint Pierre, you can find hearty portions, good service, and the absolute best French ice cream (which is much different from American ice cream… and better in my opinion). Being in the Loire Valley and traveling with my dad, it would be a complete trip if we didn’t stop at some wineries. Along the outskirts of town and surrounding areas, you can find winery after winery, though take note that many are often closed during lunch hours, about 1-4 p.m. As recommended by our restaurant, we went to Clos de Cartelnois where good wine, homemade grape juice, and friendly owners shared their business and time with us. And as if one chateau wasn’t enough, the ol’pops wanted to treat his girls like queens and so we did like so at Chateau d’Artigny. This 18th century style mansion is a majestic castle set in a 65-acre private estate with lavish architecture, impressive cuisine and luxury service that made us feel like true royalty for our night’s stay.
The next day we headed back to Paris, where we checked into the top-rated and most friendly of hotels Grand Hotel Saint Michel and enjoyed a nearby lunch sitting at a cafe outside facing the street and enjoying the beautiful fall day. A walk through the Luxembourg Gardens full of people reading, relaxing, sleeping, and soaking up the sun to see the rest of For our final “farewell” dinner, I scoped out Le Petit Pontoise where dishes like homemade artichoke and parmesan tart, pig cheeks with honey and sweet spices, and magret de canard with apples left us with satisfied palettes and full bellies.
With an au revoir until my return home, my parents left the next morning and I had the rest of the day to myself. Since it wasn’t my first time in Paris, I opted for a nice stroll past the classic sights like the Eiffel Tower, Arc de Triumph, Tuileries Garden, and down the busy Champs Élysées, but my favorite part was just walking and exploring city streets — and finding the best croissant. After a week in France, I have to say that in reality, it seemed that all patisseries end up making their pastries somewhat the same —perfectly. There is a reason the art of pastry-making are left to the French for every macaron, creme brulee, and paris-brest I saw looked to good to be true. Despite this, I’d have to say beginning our trip with the sweet, almond croissant at Le Fournil du Maine and ending with the famous Eric Kayser’s blissful balance of buttery, flaky croissants left me with heavenly tastes and thoughts of my time in France.
If you count my stop in Italy for 12 hours, within a period of ten days I had been to five different countries. Even for me, that’s a new record of traveling. And while it’s fun traveling, it makes you realize how comforting it is to have a place you can call home to come back to. And of course, home that comes to visit you. So thanks mom and dad for a great week and bringing a part of home here, and to Milan, my other happy home.
“We don’t come home to places; we return to the people we love.”- Bob Goff