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Trip Report Two-week trip to France: Paris, Loire Valley & Ile d'Oleron

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We just returned from a fabulous two-week vacation in France! The primary purpose of our trip was to meet our daughter’s fiance’s parents for the first time. So, naturally, we turned this invitation into a vacation! I have never been to France before, and my husband was in Paris for a night or two in the 1970’s. My husband and I spent 7 nights in Paris; then our daughter, C, and her fiancé, R, picked us up in his car, and we drove to the Loire Valley, where we spent 3 nights. Then we drove to his parents’ vacation home on the Ile d’Oleron on the Atlantic coast, south of Normandy and Brittany. Oleron is an island that is connected to the mainland by a bridge.

Regarding dining out, at the beginning of our trip, I was pretty good about writing down details of what we ate, but as we got into the second week, I wasn’t as detailed. Also, while in Paris, we were more on the look-out for less expensive restaurants because we were treating C & R during the Loire Valley trip. So I do feel we had better food in the Loire Valley for two reasons: R is a French citizen and was great help in choosing restaurants, and we wanted to spend more money on dining out while we were with C & R. Every meal in the Loire Valley was excellent! In Paris, we had some good to very good meals, and one or two that I wouldn’t recommend.

Regarding weather, the weather in Paris & Loire Valley were perfect for sightseeing: mid to high 70’s every day, mostly sunny, with a little bit of rain. When we were on Ile d’Oleron, the weather was warmer and sunnier, & perfect for taking a dip in the Atlantic!

We walked everywhere & rarely used the Metro. The Metro is easy to use, but we prefer being above ground instead of underground. It’s so much fun & more meaningful to walk on the streets, stop at cafes, window shop & explore neighborhoods.

We left on AF 321, which left at 10:55 pm. Food was pretty decent for airline food, & we definitely appreciated the complimentary wine, beer, champagne, & appertifs!

We arrived in Paris at 11:35AM. After asking questions on this forum & receiving lots of helpful advice, I was planning on taking the Air France shuttle bus. However, honestly, when we arrived, we were tired from jet lag, I saw the taxi signs first, so we decided to take a taxi from CDG to our hotel in the 6th. The AF shuttle bus would have dropped us off at Montparnasse train station & we would have to take a taxi to our hotel. We are healthy but in our early to mid 60’s, & honestly, at our ages, I am more inclined to spend a little bit more money for comfort and convenience. The taxi was 60 Euros, including tip, which we didn’t think was bad.
HOTEL: Hotel Bonaparte, 61 Rue du Bonaparte
We loved the Hotel Bonaparte, & I would recommend it without reservation. It is in an excellent location, next to St. Sulpice Square, St. Germain Blvd, and 5-10 minute walk from Luxembourg Gardens. The staff were all very friendly & helpful, the hotel has an elevator (very small, but typical), air conditioning, and our room was a decent size. We had a double bed with about 4 – 5 feet of space on either size of the bed. The bathroom was very modern, & a good size.

After checking in, we walked over to St. Germain Blvd., where we had lunch at Croissanterie. Because we were tired from jet lag, we didn’t want to spend a lot of money on a lunch that we were probably too tired to appreciate. We had a bacon & cheese sandwich, veggie & cheese sandwich, 2 beers, & an apple custard tart, all for 15 euros.
There were vendors selling their wares, so I bought some scented soaps & honey with lavender.

We walked around the neighborhood, then made our way over the Seine, to the Louvre & sat by the Pyramid for awhile, then walked through the Tuileries Gardens, & back to St. Germain. On our way, we got caught in a rainstorm, so we stopped in at Café Bonaparte, sat under the awning & had double espressos & listened to music & church bells ringing from ST. Germain des Pres church. Walking back to Hotel Bonaparte it started raining again & we were cold & wet, so we stopped at a Japanese restaurant for Japanese Udon noodles! I know it sounds weird eating Japanese food on our first night in Paris, but my husband is Asian & he has to have some Asian food while traveling, regardless of where we are  So, if you want to try something other than French food, I recommend Ushi on Rue des Ciseaux. The food was very good & reasonable & just what we needed. Then we headed back to Hotel Bonaparte for a good night’s sleep!

We woke up to beautiful weather, sunny & in the 70’s, perfect for sightseeing and walking. We had a coffee and croissant at Mairie Café, around the corner from our hotel on St. Sulpice Square. We walked to the MUSEUM DE CLUNY, and bought our 4-day Paris Museum Pass here. I don’t remember which Fodorites told me about this museum, but I want to thank them, whoever they are, because the Cluny is a hidden gem. This museum encompasses the 15th century mansion residence of the abbots of Cluny, the ancient ruins of Roman baths & a collection of medieval arts. We loved this museum! I loved the area of the baths where the heads from statues from Notre Dame are displayed. The Lady and the Unicorn tapestries are also a highlight, well worth seeing. One of them (I forgot which one) is being restored. They are restoring each tapestry between now and 2013. We spent about 2 hours at the Cluny.

Then we walked over to NOTRE DAME, which doesn’t have a special entry for Museum Pass holders, so we had to wait in line for one hour to climb the tower, but it was well worth it!! This was one of the highlights of our trip to Paris! You do have to climb about 400 stairs in a spiral staircase, & I did have to rest a few times, but the views of Paris and close-ups of the gargoyles are well worth it. And don’t forget the bell that Quasimodo rang!

After Notre Dame, we walked to Ile de St. Louis & had lunch at AU LYS D’ARGENT, 90 RUE SAINT LOUIS. I had a salad with goat cheese & nuts, & my husband had a salad with salmon & toast, & we both had crepes with chicken, tomato & cream sauce. Lunch was delicious & I recommend this restaurant.

After lunch, we walked around Ile de St. Louis, then we returned to Notre Dame to see the interior. We didn’t realize Mass was starting soon, so we decided to stay for the Mass, which was a real treat & nice surprise.

For dinner we ate at FISH LA BOISSONNERIE, 69 Rue de Seine. This is one of my favorite restaurants. My husband had duck which he liked but he thought the portions were too small for the price. I didn’t write down what I ate, but I do remember enjoying everything I had and thinking it was prepared perfectly. So I do recommend this restaurant.

This morning we had coffee & croissants at a café on St. Germain Blvd. Forgot to write down the name, but there are so many to choose from. Then we walked to the MUSEE D’ORSAY, which is one of my favorites & located in a beautiful 19th century former railway station. The D’Orsay is a fine arts museum with collections from 1848 to 1914. The building itself is impressive and the art collection is magnificent. I have always been a fan of Monet, but after visiting the D’Orsay, I am now in love with Renoir!! I love his paintings!! I notice the majority of his paintings contain women! One of my favorites is The Swing. There is a lot of blue and white, which I love, & it’s all about glances and looks, with a young man trying to win the affection of the lady on the swing. We spent 4 hours in the D’Orsay, and the Museum Pass came in very handy here as the regular line was very, very long, & the line for pass holders was non-existent. We just walked right in!

We had a late lunch (most of our lunches were late & dinners were late, too) at CAFÉ DE L’EMPIRE, 17 Rue de Bac. Food is good & prices are reasonable. My husband loved his duck, & I ordered steak & fries. The steak was ok, but the fries were delicious. I saw several people eating HUGE salads which looked delicious, too, but I decided I wanted something hot.

Then from there we walked to the EIFFEL TOWER, walked around, took photos. I think the Eiffel Tower is beautiful! It has a lacy appearance from afar, & I love the 3 shades of brown. We decided not to go to the top because we didn’t want to spend 2-3 hours waiting in line. Instead, we decided to find some stores & buy a picnic lunch. We stopped at a market & boulangerie, & bought ham, bread, desserts, fruit salad & a bottle of wine & sat on the Champ de Mars for several hours waiting for the lights of the Eiffel to come on. It was spectacular! It probably sounds like a cliché, but the Eiffel when illuminated is awesome!

We walked back to our hotel after the tower was illuminated. We made a couple wrong turns but found our way back to the Bonaparte. Our route took us down Rue de Babylone, across Blvd Raspail & down Rue de Sevres.

For breakfast we decided we wanted something more substantial than coffee & croissants, so we went to CAFÉ DE PARIS which is on a side street off of Rue de Seine. I wish I wrote down the exact address because this was the best breakfast we had. We both decided to order the full breakfast for 12 euros each, which consisted of excellent cheese & ham omelets, croissants, baquettes, coffee & freshly squeezed orange juice. It’s a little pricey for breakfast but well worth it for a splurge.

Then we walked to the LOUVRE and spent 5 hours there. There is something that I was confused about from my research. People suggested entering the Louvre from Rue de Rivoli, under the red awning. I thought they meant we could enter from there with the Museum Pass, but it was very crowded & chaotic. We asked several people who told us one line (very long) was for buying regular tickets & the other line was for buying the pass, but if we already had the pass, we had to go upstairs to the Pyramid & enter that way. So we walked back up to the Pyramid, & the line there was huge & snaking all around, so the line for museum pass holders was not obvious. We asked a staff person, who told us where our line was, & it was barely non-existent, so once again, because of the museum pass, we walked right in. It was just a little confusing trying to find the right line.

First we made our way to the Mona Lisa, of course! When my husband saw how crowded the room was, he wanted to leave that gallery right away. I told him we should wait because I assumed people in front of us would leave soon. And I was right! Within minutes, we were right at the rope barrier, and very close to Mona! So we got some good close-up shots! We also saw Winged Victory, the Greek Antiquities (one of my favorites), the large Italian paintings, & the galleries about the history of the Louvre & the medieval Louvre. Also saw Napoleon III apartments. At some point we took a break & had drinks & a lemon tart at Café Richleieu. I highly recommend buying the Michelin Green Guide on Paris, which gives detailed information on the Louvre & helps you plot out your course of action. It’s a HUGE museum, so you do need a plan before you enter, IMO.

After leaving the Louvre, we walked through the Tuileries Gardens to the MUSEE L’ORANGERIE to see Monet’s huge water lilies. We also enjoyed the other paintings on the lower level. We had about 1 ½ hours at the Orangerie before they closed.

We had dinner at LE CAFÉ DE DAUPHIN on Blvd St. Germain near Rue de Lille (near the Seine). This was another one of my favorite restaurants. Our meals were excellent. I had rack of lamb, green beans & fries. My husband had Steak Tartare (not my cup of tea, but he is more adventurous than me). We shared the best French Onion Soup I’ve ever had, and a rabbit pate. My peach tart with raspberry coulis & sorbet was excellent, too!

At night we decided to take a boat ride on the Seine. We chose VEDETTES because their location is a closer walk for us, at the tip of Ile de le Cite. We chose the 9:30PM boat ride because it was light enough to take photos but dark enough for the buildings & monuments to be illuminated. This was another highlight of our trip! The Eiffel Tower is magnificent at night all lit up!

On our way back to our hotel, we stopped at Le Grom on Rue de Seine (next to Filles & Peres) for delicious gelato. I had 2 scoops, blueberry & peach. My husband had chocolate & peach. A great way to end another perfect day in Paris!

This morning we had breakfast at the NEO CAFÉ on Blvd St. Germain. We ordered the full breakfast, cost was 11 euros, but we were disappointed in the breakfast. The omelets were dry & not very tasty, and the orange juice was not freshly squeezed. The breakfast we had at Café de Paris the morning before was much, much better.

Then we took the RER C to VERSAILLES. We did not have to buy tickets because you can use the Paris Museum Pass for Versailles; however, Versailles does not have a separate security line/entrance line for pass holders, so we had to wait in line for one hour with everyone else. The line snaked around & around, & we thought the wait would be much worse, but the line moved fairly quickly, so one hour wasn’t too bad. We have seen many palaces, mansions, & castles over the years, and Versailles is the most opulent I have ever seen, especially the Hall of Mirrors. The gardens & grounds are beautiful too! We had a late lunch at LE RESTO DU ROY, 1 Avenue de Saint-Cloud, in Versailles, and dined outside. I had a very filling ham & cheese omelet with a salad & the best French Fries I have ever had. We have also been drinking a lot of wine on this trip! The house wines are good & reasonable!

After we returned to Paris, we popped into the RODIN MUSEUM for an hour before they closed, but that’s what is so great about the Museum Pass. I didn’t mind going there for an hour because we already had the pass. The sculpture garden is amazing & the mansion Rodin lived and died in is worth seeing & holds more sculptures.

My husband did some research on Chinatowns in Paris (we have to try a Chinese restaurant wherever we travel ), so we took the metro to the Chinatown in the 13th. We thought it was nicer & cleaner than the Chinatown in Boston & NYC. We decided to try a restaurant that was more upscale but we were disappointed in the way the food was prepared. Didn’t write down the name, but wouldn’t recommend it. We did see a lot of Vietnamese noodle cafes with people eating outside & they looked very good, but my husband wasn’t in the mood for noodles that night, although that probably would have been a better choice.

On our way back to our hotel, we stopped at a BERTHILLON ice cream cart on Rue de Seine & I had a raspberry & rose sorbet. It was heavenly!!! The rose sorbet smelled like a rose & tasted like a rose smells, if that makes sense! I’ve never eaten a rose before, it tasted like I would expect a rose to taste. My husband was too full to have some sorbet but I couldn’t pass it up, especially after that disappointing dinner. Another perfect way to end a perfect day!!!

This morning we had the best almond croissants we’ve ever had at a café near Luxembourg Gardens. Wish I wrote down the name of the café. I know, I know, there are many cafes there, but this one was one of the best, at the junction of Rue Vaugirard & Rue de Medicis, probably at Place Odeon.

Our 4-day Museum Pass ended, so the next two days are our days to do the things we haven’t had time for, with no particular plan in mind. So, we walked over to Luxembourg Gardens for the first time on this trip, even though it ‘s only 5-10 minutes from our hotel. These gardens are beautiful!!! I love the view of the flower gardens, & fountain with pool for sailing the toy boats, with the Palace in the background. Just gorgeous. I could have stayed here all day. There are probably several hundred chairs placed all around the park, but more in this sunny spot, for people to sit, relax, read, eat, etc. We did just that for about half an hour. There are tennis courts, a playground, puppet theater, etc. What a wonderful park that Napoleon dedicated to children!!

Then I was on a mission to find ST. ETIENNE DU MONT, the church from Midnight in Paris, Woody Allen’s movie. I watched this movie 3 times before we left for Paris & love it!!! The church is behind the Pantheon on Place St. Genevieve. The Gothic façade is lovely & very unique. We took photos of ourselves sitting on the steps Gil sat on. There were a few other people doing the same thing. Then we walked some more through the Latin Quarter, & had lunch at L’Atlantide on a side street off Rue Mouffetard. The prices in the Latin Quarter are lower than in the 6th & my husband ranks this restaurant as very high. I thought the food was good but enjoyed Fish and Café du Dauphin better.

We then continued walking across the Seine to the Marais neighborhood on the right bank, which we haven’t explored until today. By this time we were exhausted, so we rested on benches at PLACE DES VOSGES, a beautiful square that is the oldest square in Paris. The square is surrounded by lovely two-story buildings with arcades on the ground level. After walking back to Hotel Bonaparte, we rested, got ready for dinner, & walked back to the Latin Quarter for a very good seafood dinner. Unfortunately, I forgot to write down the name of this restaurant but it’s on Rue Descartes. We finished eating close to midnight, so we walked back to St. Etienne, of course, & sat on the steps waiting for the 1920’s car to pick us up & transport us back to the 20’s but no one came 

I have one more day left in Paris to write about, and then I have to write about the Loire Valley and Ile d'Oleron. I've been unpacking and doing laundry in between writing this report, & now I'm exhausted & ready for bed. Unfortunately, I have to return to work tomorrow. Back to reality.

I will hopefully finish writing this report during the week! I hope my information will help newcomers to Paris.

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