Belated France Trip Report

Aug 31st, 2007, 03:12 PM
  #1  
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Join Date: May 2004
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Belated France Trip Report

I realize this trip report is way overdue, having returned from France on August 7th, but this is really the first moment I've had to put it all together.

Let me start by saying that this was a trip I'd been dreaming about my entire life, and it more than lived up to that promise.

There were some questions posted on this board before we took the trip, so I'll address them now: We rented from National through AutoEurope, and got a phenomenal deal - cheaper than anyone else. We don't drive a stick, so an automatic was absolutely essential. We picked up the car in Aix-en-Provence and returned it in Avignon. Many people on this board recommended going through AutoEurope, and you were all so right! They were amazing, the car we'd booked was there waiting for us, no problem. Others had answered my question about the Citroen C3 Pluriel and the Sensodrive system. Thank goodness I'd asked beforehand: having only driven completely automatic cars in the past, we would have been scratching our heads about this pseudo semi-automatic system. But since I'd read here that it was simple (just clicking an "A" for automatic and it changes gears automatically) we were fine. I would suggest anyone wanting to rent this adorable, inexpensive convertible email the Citroen company directly and request an instruction manual in English. Glance at it beforehand, take it with you. You'll need it. Once you embrace the idea, the car is easy to drive. But pay extra attention to how to configure the boot (trunk), because we never really figured it out!

Stu Dudley: Thanks to you in particular for your Provence Itinerary. You were right about everything. I know you're a "foodie" (so are we), so if you haven't been to Atelier Jean-Luc Rabanel in Arles (described later in this report), please check it out on your next trip. You won't be sorry.

Cell rental: we're not sure yet what the final tally was in terms of our phone calls, but they made it so easy for us and it was essential. We got a special deal through AutoEurope. If you're renting a car, I would definitely get a cell. We'd considered using a phone card in Paris, but it was unnecessary since we had the France-only cell.

TGV and booking guidance: thanks so much to all of you. We took two trips on the TGV: Paris to Aix-en-Provence and later, Avignon to Antibes. Knowing ahead of time when to look for the PREM specials and when to book really helped and saved us a lot of money - and worry.

Museum pass: We were in Paris the last week of July and let me tell you, the lines to some of the museums were really long! Knowing about the pass ahead of time and buying one at the Pantheon right across from our hotel saved us so much time and money. Plus, bypassing the lines and seeing the questioning looks of other tourists made us laugh. Thanks to all of you who suggested we buy this.

What women wore in Paris: since everyone's always posting about that, this is my take on it - pretty much what women wear in New York City (where I live), just one step up: a little dressier and more stylish. We saw everything from nice crop pants, summer dresses, some kids in jeans. And like most of you said, no sneakers.

Weather: we just recently learned that this has been the worst summer France has experienced, with lots of rain. Somebody must've been looking out for us, because in our two weeks there (July 23-August 7), we had about a minute of rain in Paris (unheard of!) and about an hour or so of rain on a travel day from Chateauneuf-du-Pape to Avignon. Amazing!

Now for the actual Trip Report:

Paris - Flew into CDG, arrived on July 24. Stayed at Hotel Pantheon in the 5th (very nice, high floor, balcony room - good service, helpful staff and an absolutely gorgeous view of the Pantheon. Very clean, room was charming, very French-decorated)

Restaurant highlights include: For dinner - Le Pamphlet (fantastic food & ambiance in the 3rd), Christian Constant's "Violon d'Ingres" (we saved that for our last night because we thought it would be special, and indeed, it was); For lunch - Chez L'Ami Jean (wonderful Basque food and a ridiculous rice pudding that we're still dreaming about), Les Papilles (also Basque and adorable). Atelier Maitre Albert was our first night's dinner (not bad, but nothing very special).

If you have a chance to check out the Cezanne to Picasso Exhibit at the d'Orsay, do it. Encroyable! Ongoing till Sept. 16. And don't even think of leaving Paris without seeing the Rodin Museum. Seeing The Thinker and The Gates of Hell in the sculpture garden is an experience you'll never forget.

Thanks to everyone who suggested that instead of going up in the Eiffel Tower, to climb the Arc de Triomphe instead, by night. The view of the twinkling Tower in the distance took our breath away. We had to videotape it, it was so gorgeous. BTW, be aware that they have an elevator. It is quite a climb otherwise, and we discovered the elevator on the way down.

Overall, Paris for us was about speaking French (and being understood!), amazing meals, incredible museums...and ladies, the sales were to die for! As to comfortable shoes, I bought a couple pair of Minelli's and the flat sandals were so comfortable, they became my favorite walking shoes throughout the trip. Not expensive, and adorable to look at - quite a combination.

Onto Provence:

July 28, took the TGV to Aix-en-Provence. Loved the train ride, the experience. Three hours later and we were in Aix. Picked up our rental car, drove to our hotel, Bastide de la Pierre de Feu. Very pretty, very nice, wish the owners had tried a little bit harder to show us where we were on a map and give us directions back and forth to Aix because it was a little remote, on a country road and and they were very "busy" and really didn't take the time they needed to to make sure we could find our way home that first night. People who run guest houses have a responsibility that goes beyond a nice breakfast and a clean room. It's unfortunate because the place was lovely. Took day trips to Les Beaux de Provence (so beautiful!), Arles, among others. Drove to Arles mostly for the lunch! Probably our fav meal of the trip here, at Atelier Jean-Luc Rabanel - an absolutely amazing 15-course lunch we can't stop thinking about. Check out www.rabanel.com and see for yourself. Aix restaurants include: L'Amphyitryon (beautiful dinner our first night), La Passage (lovely inside and out). This was the beginning of our love affair with Provencal rose wines. Aix-en-Provence was a beautiful and fun town to explore. We wanted to really see it so instead of checking out more of the perched villages as originally planned, we took an extra day and checked out Aix instead. We weren't sorry.

July 31 - onto Grignan, a walled city, in the Drome area in Northern Provence. We were about three weeks late for the lavender, but even harvested, the purple fields were still so pretty. We saw so much beauty there that we have no regrets. Had a lovely lunch at Le Claire de la Plume, in the garden. Stayed at La Demeure du Chateau. Click on this for our review: http://www.tripadvisor.com/ShowUserR...one_Alpes.html Dont even think of missing out on a meal with your hoteliers if you're in a small hotel like this - it's not about the meal, but about the French experience (as long as one of your hoteliers speaks English, if you're not fluent, which we aren't). We were very nervous about having dinner with the other few guests and our hotelier, but we did it anyway, and it stands out as one of our favorite memories of the trip. Amazing to speak in French, listen to others' conversations at the table and begin to understand what they're saying, even though it's not your language!

August 1 - Onto Chateauneuf-du-Pape. We'd heard about this vineyard town and drank their wines for years (it's our favorite). Stayed at La Sommellerie just outside of town for one night, had an amazing romantic gourmet dinner there. Lunch was at Le Verger des Papes (beautiful food and view) and bought incredible wine at their cave (Cave du Verger des Papes). Very knowledgeable, quite attentive. Chocolates on the way out of town at Bernard Castelain. OMG!!! Thought we'd died and gone to heaven.

August 2 - Always wanted to see Avignon, but it wasn't on our itinerary, except to drop off our car and get on the TGV. The boot of our car was too small to hide our luggage and there was nowhere to drop it off, so we just drove around inside the ramparts for a little while and took in what we could, then drove outside the walls of the city and saw Le Pont d'Avignon, the bridge I'd sung about since I was a little girl. It was really moving. Made a mental note to stay in Avignon the next time we're in Provence.

Took the TGV to the Cote d'Azur. Got off at Antibes, hopped a taxi to Juan-les-Pins. While the water was amazing and the beach was sandy and not pebbly, this town was not a highlight. Perhaps it was because we were there in August, but the town was overrun with screaming children and strollers everywhere, even on the private beaches. It was our biggest nightmare. We managed to find a quieter and less-packed private beach on the ritzier side of town and so this leg of our trip wasn't ruined, but if you're looking to find a sandy beach that's not crazy overrun, this ain't the place. Not sure if anywhere else on the Riviera would've been different; I only know our experience here, at this particular time. Our favorite memories of this town are actually little day trips we took elsewhere: Nice (pebbly beach - ow!), much bigger town than I'd expected, and an adorable little carousel-decor retaurant (Brasserie la Rotunde) at the Negresco Hotel on the Promenade des Anglais; Antibes, an amazing old walled city, so much fun to walk around and a fabulous find of a Provencal restaurant Au Pied Dans Le Plat (at 6, Rue Thuret in Old Town); and Monaco (lovely vodka cocktails with ICE!!!!! at the bar, very nice dinner at Cafe de Paris, and I won at the Casino!!!!). Especially loved Monte Carlo.

We finished up our trip by flying from Nice to Paris, then Paris to New York. Jet-lagged but oh so very happy.

Only a couple of hiccups which I'll include just as a a head's up (but please don't think for a second that they impacted on our trip, because they really didn't): our flights to and from Paris were on American. There was absolutely no leg room in coach, and we're both only 5'4"! So I can't imagine how much pain tall people were in. On our return flight, when we asked for nuts or something to accompany our cocktails that we purchased, our stewardess told us we had to wait for the snack boxes to be distributed (not until 7 am). Her only suggestion was "you should email the airline" but we didn't think we'd get a response before we finished our cocktails ;-) On our Air France flight, from Nice to Paris, we were delayed for two hours, almost making us lose our luggage and miss our Paris flight home. Absolutely no one was helpful. Would seriously rethink ever flying AA internationally again, and Air France, too. Also, the postal service in France in general and in Aix-en-Provence specifically: while the postal people were quite helpful in helping me put a box together (of assorted clothing and souvenirs that were too heavy to carry anymore) and mail it to myself in the States, it took fully three weeks for it to arrive, and despite numerous emails to them and tracking our package via internet, no one was helpful. We thought for sure our stuff was gone for good...and even after it arrived, their website still hadn't been updated. Seems it went awry just outside of Orly Airport in Paris, and then they just forgot about us. Not good. Would seriously consider using UPS or DHL in the future.

Overall, the trip was absolutely beyond our wildest expectations and the few things that weren't perfect didn't even begin to dampen our spirits. We're beginning to finagle how we can manage to sneak off to France again sometime soon.
hiho322 is offline  
Aug 31st, 2007, 03:35 PM
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Hi Hiho, I'm so happy everything was as great as you expected. How was the weather in Provenc? I'll be back there very soon.
cigalechanta is offline  
Aug 31st, 2007, 04:11 PM
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Join Date: Mar 2004
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Thanks for sharing just the right amount of info about everywhere you went. (I don't need pictures of the food on peoples' plates).

I'm glad the post office was helpful for you. The only p.o. I tried (Gordes) was very UNhelpful. Maybe the town was too small.
hopingtotravel is offline  
Aug 31st, 2007, 04:40 PM
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Dear Cigalechanta,

The weather in Provence was hot and dry...not quite as hot as the Riviera, but beautiful. I got a tan one day just sitting at an outdoor cafe! You can check the weather just before you go at: freemeteo.com. They'll even email it to you daily if you sign up.

Dear Hoping To Travel,

I hope you Travel too! Thanks for your input.
hiho322 is offline  
Sep 1st, 2007, 01:46 AM
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I think your point about beaches is to the point in August. The problem is the French (all of them) insist on holidaying in August and to make matters worse they insist on going to France. I have met French men on holiday who have never left the country!

The trick to this is French holiday in July or September
bilboburgler is offline  
Sep 1st, 2007, 07:54 AM
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Thanks so much hiho for taking the time to post your report. I saved some of your tips for our trip next Sept. to this area.

I'm glad to hear you had great weather. We watch the French news nearly every evening, and by the looks of it the weather has been just horrible all summer. We'll be in the Languedoc this Sept. and are hoping for decent weather!
Images2 is offline  
Sep 1st, 2007, 07:58 AM
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Join Date: Aug 2007
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Thanks for the info.

We are flying AIr France from San Francisco I hope we don't have problems!!

Loved hearing about shoe sales. ANy particular place where you bought your comfortable flats shoes. How were the prices. thanks
Shergia is offline  
Sep 1st, 2007, 01:25 PM
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Dear Shergia,

We went to Minelli for shoes. They're located all over Paris, as well as in many other French cities, but we only went to three or four of them (can I tell I love to shop???). We were there the last week of July, so there were major sales (Soldes) in each store, as well as in most stores all over Paris. They're probably showing their fall line now, so I don't know how inexpensive they'd be, but they're not super-expensive shoes to begin with, just nicely made, especially for their price range. Check it out when you're there!

And images2,

I'm so glad my trip report helped you! After your trip, be sure to post a report. I'd love to read it.

All the Best,

Annie
hiho322 is offline  
Sep 1st, 2007, 02:53 PM
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Join Date: Oct 2004
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hiho - glad you made it to L'Atelier in Arles. Isn't it fantastic! It was our favourite meal ever in France.
robjame is offline  
Sep 2nd, 2007, 06:21 AM
  #10  
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Robjame,

OMG, I'm still dreaming about the Atelier. If you go to their website at rabanel.com, they have pictures up now of most of the courses, so you can drool all over again.
hiho322 is offline  
Sep 2nd, 2007, 07:15 AM
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Join Date: Oct 2004
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I have pictures of our visit to L'Atelier within my food photos:
http://tinyurl.com/k7sta
robjame is offline  
Sep 2nd, 2007, 11:03 AM
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robjame,

You're killing me here! ;-)

Thanks for sharing the pics - I feel like I put on weight just looking at all the food. Thanks for taking all those pics at the Atelier.
hiho322 is offline  
Sep 4th, 2007, 07:33 AM
  #13  
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Just bumping my own thread in case anyone missed it because of the long holiday weekend. Hope you enjoy!

All the Best,

Annie
hiho322 is offline  

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