As promised, here are a few pictures and recommendations from France. One item will await a posting in our series “Things That Tick Me Off.” While October and November are part of the low tourism period, I do not know why. Paris and the French countryside are ablaze in color and the weather is mild. No lines at museums or restaurants. Forget Spring in Paris, think Fall.
My favorite restaurants were Le Grand Colbert and La Duramee. Le Grand Colbert is a quaint classic French restaurant near the Louvre. The food is amazing and the ambience is pure (non-touristy Paris). Try the oysters and escargot. Laduree is famous for its “macarons” in a beautiful small café in a gilded room with a fantastic painted ceiling. I particularly liked the Pistache macaron.
For a less expensive meal with Parisian regulars, I recommend Relais de Venise L’Entrecôte. There is no menu. You order dinner and they serve you steaks and frites. It is a classic Paris experience – not fancy but good wine, small tables, and terrific food.
Our hotel, The Waldolf Madeleine, was in the perfect location near the Avenue des Champs-Élysées and walking distance to the Lourve and the Seine. It was not, however, what one would expect from a Waldorf or a four-star hotel. Having said that, the staff at the front desk were incredibly helpful (except for a grumpy guy in the evening who was best to avoid). The rooms are very Parisian and quaint (but you need to get one of the deluxe rooms). The hotel could use a good work over and additional staff, however. It is, at best, a three star hotel.
Since I did not have to get back until Monday to teach after the conference, we rented a car and made for Loire Valley. It was a great way to end the trip to France. We enjoyed the challenge of a drive out of Paris, but it probably makes more sense to take the train and rent a car in a city like Ambroise or Tours. (Fortunately, the French insistence on doing everything opposite from the English means that they drive on “the right side” of the road for Americans.) The gas is quite expensive, most companies only give limited free miles, and A10 to Loire adds around 20 euros in toll fees.
While I have reservations about the Waldorf in Paris, I would recommend wholeheartedly a stay at the Chateau D’Artigny in the Loire Valley in the tiny village of Montbazon. The Chateau was truly a storybook experience with 20 foot ceilings, ancient tapestries, and a five-star restaurant. While pricey, it is worth every euro.
The rooms overlook the large estate that looks like a Monet with its slow-moving river meandering through the French countryside. The rooms are filled with antiques. We went with a deluxe room, which again I would recommend. This is the “chateau country” and you can see other impressive chateaux in the distance. Leslie and I had dinner at the Chateau, which was the finest meal we had in France. They featured the white wines of the area, which include such better known wines as Vouray and lesser known labels that are not widely available in the United States. They had to pry the wine list from my clenched fingers. I particularly enjoyed the wine from Chinon, which is nearby. It was slightly sweet but on the dry side. You have dinner in a huge gilded dining room that is hundreds of years old. We virtually had the entire Chateau to ourselves with only two other couples. The staff was incredibly knowledgable, spoke beautiful English, and very solicitous to meet any need or demand.
We drove to Montbazon, which is almost three hours out of Paris. Driving is a bit harrowing as an experience in Paris where lanes are practically non-existent, but it was fun. My highlight was going to the small town of Ambroise, which was built around a wonderful castle with cute shops and cafes. Again, they love Americans and seem to enjoy trying to communicate. I particularly loved a tiny Basque butcher shop off of the main square. The owner was a wonderful man who loves to practice English. I bought some boar sausage (which they call “Black Pig Sausage”), which was probably the best sausage I have ever tasted. If you go to Loire, go to Ambroise for an authentic experience – particularly at dusk.
Frankly, you cannot miss in Loire Valley. Every turn seems to have a beautiful French village and its own small wine production. The wine in Loire is often overlooked by wine lovers – overshadowed by the wine in Bourdeaux or Champagne. It is a mistake. For wine lovers, Loire is filled with surprises of wonderful still white wines. I am a wine enthusiast but I favor reds. For that reason, Loire was an incredible learning experience.