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Trip Report: tedgale in Rome, Tuscany, Normandy and Paris

Trip Report: tedgale in Rome, Tuscany, Normandy and Paris

Apr 4th, 2008, 03:50 AM
  #21  
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Time to move on to Tuscany.

We picked up our car from Hertz in the via Gregorio VII, beyond the Vatican. We had rented (through AutoEurope) from that location before and knew it was a fairly easy drive out of the city.

Traffic is heavy and undisciplined in Rome, of course, but we were doing fine -- until we reached the junction of the via Aurelia and the ring road (GRA). There the signposting let us down in a big way and we found ourselves on the via Aurelia heading to Civitavecchia, instead of being on the GRA!

We realized our error only after about 10 minutes, at which point I said To Hell with it, let's continue this way and cut across country further along by Lago di Bracciano, to get to Viterbo and the via Cassia (SS 2).

A bit harrowing, as our tiny map was pretty deficient. But we made it.

Along the via Cassia, we saw some great countryside and I definitely preferred the scenery -- in parts, anyway -- to the EXTREME dullness of the A1 motorway.

Highpoints: Montefiascone (I like the local wine Est!Est!Est!), Lago di Bolsena and the area just south of San Quirico. We were anxious to make up lost time, so did not detour to picturesque medieval Pitigliano, an omission I later regretted intensely.

We turned off onto a backroad south of San Quirico and cut across country again, approaching Montepulciano via Castelluccio and La Foce.

For anyone who does not know it: La Foce is a great estate and garden, re-developed in the 20s by the Marchese Origo and his wife Iris, a writer and gardener. Many buildings on the property are now rented out on a weekly basis.

We have never stayed there -- it is a little too remote for a winter holiday, IMO, though you are only 10 km from Montepulciano. But the website photos and what I've seen on TV suggest this is a property in a thousand. The units, especially the smaller ones, offer very romantic and VERY posh accommodation at competitive rates.

There is a restaurant just outside the gates of the estate. It is called Oasi della Foce, I believe, and was recommended by our Montepulciano hosts.

The gardens of La Foce (developed by the same Italophile Englishman who re-designed the house for the Origo) are open to the public on Wednesdays.

We pushed on to Montepulciano, where we had rented this property:

http://www.vrbo.com/33620

For $900/ week we got a fully renovated apartment -- really a small townhouse. It has 2 beds and 2 baths on 2 different floors, plus a spacious living room and a kitchen/ dining room with very nice cupboards and fittings. Travertine stairs, "cotto" floors, beamed ceilings, fireplace -- the website does not do it justice.

The only drawbacks of the place: 1. parking is a bit remote and 2. the building is on a narrow "vicolo" (lane or alley), so there is simply no view.

However, a couple of doors down, the "vicolo" opens up into a small and virtually unused square with benches and a wonderful view across the valley. And if you are travelling all day, the lack of view would matter less. Could be gloomy on a rainy day, however.

The Canadian owners are... well, Canadian, ie: polite, responsive, reliable.

No damage deposit, "Just mail us back the keys" etc.

Montepulciano, the loveliest town I have seen in Tuscany, north or south, has lots of great restaurants, though you may want to cook for yourself, given the fine local products available at the well-stocked if proletarian-looking Conad/ UPIM, near the main gate of the town.

More on restaurants in my next post.
tedgale is offline  
Apr 4th, 2008, 04:16 AM
  #22  
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kmowatt: I see I have neglected to reply to your question about our Rome apartment.

RE the agency: I had no complaints, though I have seen grumbles on slowtrav. In those cases, however, the problem seems to have started with the unit or the unit's owner.

By contrast, we had a well-maintained unit and the owners live in the building (though we did not meet them -- the extended family seems to occupy about half the units in this 6 story building).

RE sharing the space: The living room is largeish and someone could sleep on the sofa, if that is permitted. Note that the bedroom is separated from the living room only by sliding wood panels -- no sound privacy. That said, the square footage is certainly adequate.
tedgale is offline  
Apr 4th, 2008, 02:03 PM
  #23  
 
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tedgale, I agree completely with you about Dar Pallaro, and also about Osteria del Pegno. I'll have to try Cantina del Vecchio next time.

Great pictures. I also have lots of pictures of doors in Italy.
SusanP is offline  
Apr 4th, 2008, 03:54 PM
  #24  
 
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Waiting for Normandy and Paris, tedgale!
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Apr 4th, 2008, 05:53 PM
  #25  
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Will get to Normandy and Paris ASAP but first I must marshall my recollections of Tuscany!

I promised restaurants. In Montepulciano, we had no bad meals. Our taste gravitates to simple, authentic local cooking, in small restaurants with few concessions to tourists and a preponderance of local clients.

In Montepulciano, we ate at:

1. Diveo e Maceo: I had seen negative posts about this place but we had no complaints. The food was a bit plain. I would call it a success... but a middling one. Not a huge amount of atmosphere. Hearty cooking e.g. : tagliatelle with sugo al cinghiale (wild boar sauce); ribollito with ceci, cabbage and tomatoes; lamb chop with wilted spinach as contorno.

2. Osteria del Conte: Lovely room, very nice service. Its rather remote location to one side of the Piazza Grande, high atop Montepulciano, may be a disincentive. Anyway, it was not overfull the night we dined there.

They do nice grills, eg grigliata di maiale (sausage, chops and ribs) served with a green salad. With 2 course, wine, water, cantucci (NA = biscotti) and vin santo, we paid 61 Euros.

3. Osteria del Cagnano: Super-popular place -- many go for the pizzas but this is a full-service restaurant with great food.

I salivate on re-reading what we ate the first night: Tagliatelle all anatra (with artichokes + large chips of duck); pici all aglione (very garlicky pasta);

(NOTE: sthg has gone wrong with my keyboard and it has switched over to French, hence I have no access to apostrophes; Yes, I know all aglione needs an apostrophe)

Seconds: Stracciate di manzo -- strips of beef with tiny tomatoes and arugula; Abbachio al forno.

With these seconds, we ordered grilled melanzane (eggplant), zucchini and peperoncini + cipolle glissate (sp. -- perhaps glassate) -- onions in a rich vinegary brown broth.

Another night our main course was a mixed grill for two: chicken, beef, lamb chops and pork sausage -- again we ordered the contorni listed above.

Two abundant courses, wine, water, 2 contorni + a digestif offered by the owner = 53 Euros.

3. Le Logge del Vignola: Some say it is the best food in town. This is a little temple of gastronomy -- very serious, very correct but not at all stuffy, in fact very friendly and solicitous.

You start with sparkling wine before the meal and an amuse-bouche (a tiny cup of cauliflower chowder with a minute crisp or tuile).

Sample main course: Carre of lamb on a bed of black Venere rice, cooked with black olives + a sformata (flan) of zucchini.

4. Acquachetta: Well, everyone has heard of this outlandish place, where the ponytailed owner does-says-serves what he likes and locals and tourists alike flock to enjoy it.

The place was packed; we found ourselves at a table for 4 with a nice local couple, who were enjoying themselves but were not overwhelmed by the food. Neither was I -- except for an exceptional side-dish of fennel in a Bechamel sauce.

But it is very well run, lively, inexpensive -- a fun evening, especially in a group.
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Apr 5th, 2008, 04:47 AM
  #26  
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Tuscan meanderings (geographic and epistolary):

Southern Tuscany has been so thoroughly explored, recorded and commented on by others that I will limit myself to listing my favourite places (and a couple of non-favourite ones), with minimal detail:

1. First, I want to mention that on the third visit Montepulciano seems only more interesting and richer in history and architecture. And we still have not visited the local museum, nor entered all the local churches. Every twisty alley conceals, then reveals a new vista over the countryside or some building worth exploring.

2. Pienza, which I had not much liked on a first visit, revealed itself to us in all its beauty this time. The cathedral is a stunner as is the adjacent palazzo. But it's enough to walk along the town walls and enjoy the view west to the Monte Amiata.

3. Montalcino, frequently and extravagantly extolled on this site, still seems ho-hum to me. The castle remnants are okay, nothing else appeals. I admit I have not visited the museum. (I'm indifferent to fine wines, so the Brunello angle doesn't grab me.)

4. San Quirico, by contrast! I always thought of it as "the place you turn right for Siena" (the town centre is bypassed). For some reason we had never penetrated the town itself. So it was a surprise to discover -- empty on a sunny noontime -- its beautiful palazzo municipale and the incredible central church, with its three extravagant doorways -- quite unlike anything I had ever seen before, in their primitive exuberance.

We had a flat tire there, which might have coloured our view of the place. Not at all.

5. The monastery of Sant' Antimo, beyond Montalcino, is an absolute must. The monastery stands alone in open fields, the scene as removed and silent as it must have been 800 years ago.

The romanesque architecture and decoration are so pure and unspoiled that I could transport myself back centuries...

The monks were singing a brief plainsong (if I have this term right) when we entered the church at 3 pm,. It was all too brief.

6. Also around Montepulciano, the following tiny places all merit a visit:
Montichiello
Montefollonico (shuttered and grey -- I thought of Wuthering Heights)
Lucignano (to the east in the Val di Chiana -- definitely the best small town we saw)
Torrita di Siena (we were just a week too early for their palio but each "contrada", if they indeed use that term, was hung with flags)

...and of course we visited and admired -- more perhaps than in the past: Perugia, Cortona, Siena

...and wandered the backroads SW of Montepulciano as far as Radicofani (seen on a very blustery day -- I am not sure I would go back in anything but perfect conditions).
tedgale is offline  
Apr 5th, 2008, 06:38 AM
  #27  
 
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"As for "authentic Roman atmosphere", that would be hard to achieve with a middle-aged waitress who refuses to speak Italian, which I speak it correctly and with a very moderate accent. "

Well, maybe she spoke Latin but not Italian? (they don't say to what era of Rome they promise to be authentic)

Also, Julius Caesar, surely an authentic Roman, was middle-aged (57 or thereabouts) at the time of his assassination. (Maybe if he had waited tables instead of trying to lead the empire, he would have survived the 15th of March 44 BC.)

I'm giving you a hard time, when you are already suffering post-trip depression.

Welcome back. Sorry (truly) that the dinner was a bust.

As for your tips - that was truly a great tip about the AF fare to Rome from Paris.

As I am fresh from a long debate on another thread about the advantages and perils of separate tickets, may I ask how much time you left between arrival and departure? (not, of course, that your answer will resolve the debate one way or the other, which suits a debate hound like me just fine, but it will still be interesting to know....)
Sue_xx_yy is offline  
Apr 5th, 2008, 08:00 AM
  #28  
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We had more time than I would have preferred because our choices were so limited: 45 minutes (obviously impossible) or 3+ hours. So we had to go with 3+ hours.

NOTE that the 2 tkts bought separately were both with AF and when we checked in at Dorval, they automatically routed our luggage through to our final destination.

I'm guessing that if a delay from Montreal had affected our connection, they would have treated us as they would any passenger with a missed connection and a through tkt.

The delay did not much bother us because we had access to the AF lounge at CDG. There are FAR worse places to spend a couple of hours!!
_____________
PS: I agree the waitress' age is irrelevant. I'm middle-aged myself and don't care to have it referred to. I guess what was at the back of my mind was that she was way too old for the stupid HAT she was wearing. Did not mention it in my post because it sounds so damn bitchy.

(It was one of those floppy golf-hats, such as Britney Spears or Janet Jackson wears -- a retro 60s Carnaby Street look. Every woman who wears one looks like a dolt, IMO.)

OK I will sit back now and wait for the pile-on from other readers.
tedgale is offline  
Apr 5th, 2008, 04:05 PM
  #29  
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On re-reading my Tuscany notes, there seems to be so much that we did NOT manage to do. I wold have liked to penetrate further into area between Montepulciano and Siena.

We actually went cross-country from Siena (leaving the quasi-motorway that runs from Siena to Perugia) to Montevarchi.

Our reasons for so doing were ignoble -- I decided I wanted to hit the Prada outlet shop. But en route, we traversed really lovely, unspoiled countryside -- Tuscany as it used to be, I guess...

BTW: the Prada outlet in Levanelle, just outside Montevarchi, really is ...dynamite! I bought only 1 pair of trousers (50 Euros) but that is largely because I had bought SOOO much (Prada, Miu Miu etc) at the post-Christmas fire sales in NYC.

I found that "The Mall" at Incisa, 25 minutes north, has more selection but the prices are really rather high, at least for menswear.

Gucci used to have the odd bargain especially for odd sizes ... but now everything is smoothed out, homogenized, hence no big bargains.
But I did buy a killer pair of brown boots ...and a satchel "for work".

In many of the "Mall" shops, I found myself saying "Cheaper in NYC". Burberry was a low-point: This stuff is scarcely "hard to find" elsewhere and at better prices. Fendi had some deals but it was WEIRD stuff that remained unsold for good reasons.

The best menswear shops?

Definitely Armani -- lots of the stock is odds and ends but that's how it should be at an outlet store! And the prices for these one-off items are VERY good.

Zegna had the nicest sales staff; we ended up chatting lengthily to 2 salesmen there.

As with other shops, their deeply discounted stuff was stuck at the back -- up front the prices are high. We found several choice items in that discounted stock!
tedgale is offline  
Apr 6th, 2008, 04:48 AM
  #30  
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FINALLY, I have organized photos of the accommodation we had in Rome, Tuscany, Normandy and Paris.

Here is a link to my Accommodation album:
http://www.facebook.com/album.php?ai...&id=1126123095

...Not sure anyone else is still reading at this point. But it's useful for me to record all this for posterity, so I can refer others to it in future. So I'll soldier on!
tedgale is offline  
Apr 6th, 2008, 06:37 AM
  #31  
 
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Still reading here. Eagerly anticipating Paris. I know it is discouraging when people don't comment, as these reports take a lot of time and thought, but I believe many more people read them than comment on them.
Nikki is offline  
Apr 6th, 2008, 07:27 AM
  #32  
 
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I'm still here too, and have just encouraged Margriet to read this thread.

Loved the accommodation album, tedgale.

By the way, about the reading traffic: I think your comment about more reading than commenting is bang on, Nikki. Whenever I post a link here to my travel photos on PBase, I notice that there are about 20 hits for every comment posted back on Fodor's (Pbase has a hit counter). In other words, there are lots of people reading and enjoying the trip report who don't post a comment, which is fine by me.

AA
AnselmAdorne is offline  
Apr 6th, 2008, 07:36 AM
  #33  
 
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Hello, I am reading too, you aredoing a great job, so thorough, I too am waiting for Paris portion.

I might suggest you do a serperate thread for it , since a person will have to scroll down each time to find you post on which area each time.

Keep solidering on ted, we are really here in cyberspace, reading and enjoying away, LOL
bozama is offline  
Apr 6th, 2008, 07:37 AM
  #34  
 
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Ted, Thanks so much for your informative report. You have whet my appetite for our excursion to France next summer and recalled my fond memories of our time in Rome.

Thank you so much for the photo album link. I'm always interested in accommodations. My husband says when we travel, its my preoccupation whereas his focus is on the activities. Guess that means we cover all the bases. I can't wait to show him the chateau.
ChicagoDallasGirl is offline  
Apr 6th, 2008, 12:20 PM
  #35  
 
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I am really enjoying your tale, Ted Gale. It is well organized and thorough. Can't wait for Brittany and Normandy as that is my next plan. (Alas, exterior housepainting, dead refrigerator, etc. put off spring plans till next spring.)

I hope you'll share some of your other photos with us.
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Apr 10th, 2008, 06:13 AM
  #36  
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From Tuscany we made our way to Normandy, via CDG.

Thank goodness we had allowed ourselves so much time to get to the airport. The Rome ring road (GRA) is under reconstruction from Flaminia to Aurelia. The northbound traffic is fine but the southbound was beyond horrible. We lost upwards of 45 minutes, when travelling about 5 miles of road.

A stopped police car a few miles on created another blockage.

Definitely a road to be avoided -- in that particular stretch. This reconstruction has been underway for a couple of years already. Heavens knows how regular commuters manage.

On arrival at CDG we picked up a car from Europcar (reserved though AutoEurope) to drive to Normandy.

Note that we had the same experience as others, when dropping off the car: the so-called comprehensive rate turned out NOT to include the surcharge for airport pick-up, nor did it include a surcharge applied to diesel cars.

The former I had at least heard of before -- the latter was a complete surprise. However, I doubt we would get anywhere if we tried to fight it. The sums were not large -- about $65 -- but on a 4 day rental the increment on the daily rate was proportionally high.

Anyway, our first night at Les Fontaines, in the village of Barbery near Caen (see my accommodation album ABOVE for photos) was memorable for the table d'hote. For $38 apiece we had:

Kir for 2
Gruyere omelette with lardons
Duck "au vin" -- with carrots, whole boiled potatoes and other vegetables (chardonnay with these courses)
A round of Camembert heated in the embers of the livingroom fire, served with a variety of breads (and red wine)
A coconut ring served with clotted cream
Calvados and coffee

Needless to say, it was around this point in our trip that the swelling and softening of my rock-hard sixpack and the overall blurring of my previously trim silhouette first became apparent......

Highlights of the next day were:

1. The nearby Canadian war cemetery -- remarkably well designed and maintained; I doubt you would find any public space in Canada as well done. And very moving of course.

2. Bayeux, which is just the right size -- we knew we should be visiting Caen but we just couldn't face it, esp with a car to pilot through that enormous city.

Bayeux's cathedral, half-timbered houses, riverside mill and canals and very fine old houses are delightful. Not to mention the Tapestry -- a revelation!

RE the Tapestry: Other visitors, who were not numerous that day, allowed themselves to be propelled along non-stop by the narration of the audio-guide. We stopped at each panel and found sthg to linger over in each.

All visitors should acquaint themselves with the STOP button; it's not a race and it IS worth the time to absorb the nuances of this great work.

3. An impromptu circuit of discovery that we did after visiting Bayeux and Arromanches: the Chateau de Vaussieux (in Esquay sur Celles), the Chateau de Brecy, the Prieure St Gabriel (now a horticulture school -- the monastic remains are stunning), the Chateau de Lantheuil and the Chateau de Crully.

The prieure can be visited but the chateaux were not open to the public.

4. En route to Bayeux we also visited a delightful Romanesque church (at Secqueville en Bessin) whose graveyard monuments were among the most lavish I have ever seen. Quite a surprise, given that it is a tiny hamlet undistinguished in any other way.

Lots of arty photos were taken that day.
tedgale is offline  
Apr 10th, 2008, 02:49 PM
  #37  
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The next day, we made our way through Normandy back-roads to the Chateau de la Ferte Fresnel (see accommodation album ABOVE).

En route, we visited:

1. A bit of the Suisse Normande -- ie "Switzerland in Normandy". Ummm, not really. Some nice hilly country, is all. Not really worth a detour.

2.Chateau de Carrouges. They were closed for lunch when we arrived and we could not stay the 2 hours until they re-opened. Which was heart-rending because this early Renaissance moated red-brick chateau is exquisite. Worth driving many miles to see.

3. Cathedral of Sees. We were alone -- or almost -- in this huge and impressive medieval church. Who knew?

4. Prieure of St Evrout. Eerie and evocative. Little remains of the main church but the footings of the columns: Imagine a perfectly preserved nave with columns only 3 feet high. I assume the place was sold off and demolished during the Revolution, just like Cluny (one of the largest cathedrals in Christendom sold off as scrap building materials).

Finally we got to the Ch. de la Ferte Fresnel, a mad 19th C extravaganza of psuedo-17th C. architecture. Check out my accommodation album above. It wasn't perfect... but our hostess -- mother of one of the two owners -- was charming and cosmpolitan, as were the other (Swiss and Belgian) guests.

That evening we dined in the village at the Hotel Le Paradis. My ideal: a country hotel, a well run restaurant, "pas de chi-chi", excellent "rapport qualite-prix", local ingredients...all on a 22 Euro menu:

Mise en appetit: Terrine de porc en croute
Entree (ie starter): Salade d'andouille de Vire with melted Livarot cheese, walnuts, chopped tomatoes, purple onion
Main course: Cuisse de pintadeau (Leg of guinea-fowl) in a cream sauce with boudin noir (blood pudding -- my favourite!!) on a choux pastry base and caramelized apple slices
Cheese course: Camembert, Livarot, Pont l'Eveque and "Chevrotin" (marinated chevre with garlic)
Dessert: Tarte Tatin with clotted cream.

The light fruity Bourgueil we drank with it was 15 E.
tedgale is offline  
Apr 10th, 2008, 03:04 PM
  #38  
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Here is a nice photo of the gatehouse of the Ch de Carrouges:

http://www.pbase.com/ericdeparis/image/64014736
tedgale is offline  
Apr 11th, 2008, 05:28 AM
  #39  
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On a day-trip from the Ch de la Ferte Fresnel (the town spells its name "Ferte-Frenel"), we did a really great circuit of tiny backroads, equipped with a guide that our hostess lent us.

It reminded me that, while many areas of France are painfully dull, there are also unsung districts that are rich with undiscovered treasures.

The Haras du Pin (a national stud-farm) was established in the time of the Louis; the buildings frame a magnificent quadrangle -- there's a chateau-like main building. Open to visitors.

Argentan cathedral: A remarkable restoration of a noble cathedral heavily, heavily damaged in WW2 -- though you'd never guess it now

Bourg St Leonard, whose magnificent 18th C chateau is open only in warmer weather -- but we wandered through the park and up to the chateau with no interference.

Fels/ Chambois: 2 villages that run together: the ruins of a huge old donjon dominate the landscape

Manoir d'Argentelles: just a house, 15th C I think, tucked away in the countryside

Notre Dame du Repos, near Medavy -- A Romanesque chapel open to passersby. Check out my album of photos. I was entranced by its semi-ruined splendour:
http://www.facebook.com/album.php?ai...&id=1126123095

The Chateau d'O -- we thought it was open but it was not, alas. One of the grandest of late medieval/ early Renaissance chateaux. Definitely worth driving miles for, had we been able to get inside!

Back to the Hotel du Paradis for dinner -- we were hooked.
tedgale is offline  
Apr 11th, 2008, 02:43 PM
  #40  
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Onward to Paris on a brilliant and relatively mild Easter Sunday. We took the N 12 -- virtually a motorway but no tolls.

I had printed out our directions on mappy.com -- a valuable exercise even for a simple route, as mappy.com TELLS YOU WHERE THE PHOTO RADAR IS along the entire route. No wonder you never see any police on the road -- those speed traps are everywhere!

On Easter Sunday, the road into Paris was a snap, the peripherique was "fluide" and the main boulevards -- we entered at the Porte d'Italie -- could have taken the proverbial cannonball shot down the centre.

As we approached the centre, we did see street markets but otherwise the city seemed half-empty (and indeed it likely was -- so many people leave town).

We had arranged our car rental so that we could drop off the car in central Paris, a few streets from where we were staying.

HINT: The great thing about AutoEurope is that you can select your supplier by pick up or drop off location -- they had a huge list of Paris locations, which we winnowed first by dropping any location that was closed on Sundays.

So we headed to the rue de Charenton, dropped the car, begged the management to let us leave our luggage there for a while, then walked over to 56, rue du Faubourg St Antoine, the entrance to the charming Cour du Bel Air.

There we met our landlady Charlotte, a retired prof from the University of Paris, now a writer. She rents her apartment when she can or when she chooses and moves to her large house in Saumur, in the Loire.

For pictures of the apartment we rented and Charlotte's contact information, open the Accommodation photo album whose link is ABOVE.

The Fg. St. Antoine area was once a centre of small trades -- menuisiers and rembourreurs (furniture-makers and upholsterers). Their businesses were housed in the multiple courtyards that, typically, stretch back from a single front-entrance.

Those quiet, cobblestoned courtyards have been taken over and renovated in recent years and now house boutiques, designers, artisans and the inevitable Internet whatevers...

The Cour du Bel Air is a particularly nice courtyard, leading onto a main street of no special charm -- but only 4 minutes' walk from the Bastille.

Charlotte's apartment has its pluses and minuses but I think it fair to say there is no comparable accommodation that I know of for that price.

Charlotte told us "I prefer to charge less and rent to writers and intellectuals."

Which seemed -- despite the national reputation for avarice -- a very French attitude.
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