THE ROAD TRIP - PART 3
Ever since my first trip to France in 1998 (when I was fourteen) I've been enamored by how the French seem to prioritize lifestyle over pretty much everything else. I've devoured books about how the French eat for pleasure, and why French children don't throw food. What's not to love about more life and less work?
I love the French obsession with quality over quantity and their rituals associated with wine, dining, and cooking. I really resonate with their passion for shared family meals, and their deliberate enjoyment of simple pleasures. Their phrase 'joie de vivre' really sums it up.
So rather than ticking boxes on a checklist of 'things to see', most our time in France was spent enjoying life with pause, like a local. We visited the occasional tourist attraction, like the incredible Château de Chenonceau, but mostly we spent our time driving around the countryside, shopping for groceries at local farmer's markets, cooking, and wine tasting... we did do quite a lot of wine tasting!
We caught a car ferry from Newhaven in England to Dieppe in France. I'm a bit of a sucker for boats, trains and planes (the journey really can be half the fun if you do it right) and this ride was the perfect choice for speed-crawling Rosie. We had a little cabin to rest in, ate beef bourguignon for dinner, and drove off in our car at the other end.
From Dieppe we drove to Rouen, then through the Loire Valley, and into Burgundy. The Loire Valley is particularly beautiful, with an abundance of impressive châteaux dotting the landscape. Many buildings are made from Tuffeau stone, a striking local limestone that gives Loire villages their characteristic sand color.
We then made our way through Cahors, and into the Aveyron where we hung out for a few weeks. Justin's Dad has a home there, so it was lovely to have some family time in amongst our adventuring.
Dining out is fabulous in France, but we also really enjoyed cooking at home because food shopping is a joy and the local produce just speaks for itself. We made this delicious Roquefort & walnut salad for lunch one day and it was a knockout.
SOME OF OUR FOODIE SHOPPING & COOKING ADVENTURES...
It might sound a bit clichéd, but it was lovely just being outside in the countryside. There was so much natural beauty - from sunflower farms in bloom as far as the eye could see, to vineyards heavy with ripe grapes, to fruit orchards, and even the occasional farm animal. Both our stomachs and our souls were nourished.
In addition to our own adventures in the kitchen, we had some pretty incredible meals out while we were in France. The absolute best of which was dinner at the 3 Michelin starred Restaurant Bras. I could write an entire post about that meal, particularly the signature dish which is a salad that incorporates 60-80 ingredients. Spending the night in their amazing hotel was the icing on the cake.
SOME OF THE DELICIOUS PLATES WE DEVOURED!
AND NOW FOR THE WINE...
Justin and I both adore French wines, so we also had a lot of fun exploring different wine regions. We were really lucky on a couple of occasions to have the opportunity to wine taste with the wine-makers themselves. These were some of our favorite afternoons. I'm still amazed by how much the wine making process varies from one wine-maker to the next. There really is no set recipe for creating beautiful wine, and the philosophy and priorities of the wine-maker hugely impact the wine that they create.
I'll never forget seeing a group of teenagers sitting around an outdoor dining table, in the garden of a wine maker in Chablis, swirling and smelling glasses of wine. I didn't notice them tasting the wine, but rather devouring the smell and color for quite some time. Where else in the world would you happen upon this sight?
IN THE MINERVOIS WITH SOME PASSIONATE WINE MAKERS...
Our experiences varied enormously between wineries - from tasting wines in the wine-maker's living room surrounded by kids and family pets, to visiting more mainstream vineyards. Generally we enjoyed the more personal interactions the most, but we also enjoyed the variety.
Bordeaux was a surprise. Some of the wineries had unfortunately succumbed to the effects of mass tourism and felt a bit 'Disney', but the city itself was a lot more hip and youthful than I expected.