France (slightly) off the beaten path: Paris, Loire, Burgundy, Alps

We returned earlier this month from a two week trip to France with out 7-year-old son. We went to well-known areas, for the most part, but tried to avoid the staying in the crowded, well-known spots. I'm going to post some of my experiences with specific reviews of places to stay and restaurants. I have some pictures of each place up at my flickr account in a France set if you want to see what some of these places look like. We started in Paris, but I don't have much to add. We stayed in the Montparnasse area, and it was nice. There is a very fun flea market on Sunday's right in front of the Montparnasse cemetery. Mainly "antiques". They have a food market on Tuesday mornings in the same place. It's along Blvd. Edgar Quinet. I did find on a foodie blog from Paris a Google map of the winners of the Best Baguette in Paris competition they have every year. These are worth hunting down. There is a difference. Traveling with a kid, gardens are important. Luxembourg were great, as were the Champ de Mars (nice playground overlooked by the Eiffel Tower). Speaking of which, a great dinner for the first night was to walk down Rue Cler, pick up picnic supplies, and then picnic in the Champ de Mars. Very iconic way to spend your first night. Next, Getting There

Posted by Andrew
Durham, USA
71 posts

Sorry for not continuing right away. I wrote the Loire section and it failed in upload, then my machine crashed, then my photo management tool uploaded 600+ photos to my Flickr site that I didn't want. The good news is that now my Flickr site has lots more pictures of France. :-) First let me talk about getting out of Paris, renting a car, maps, etc. Getting around. We brought our own GPS, a Garmin, which worked quite well. (except for the pronunciation of the French street names which could be hilarious at times. Rue de l'Eglise became "Rue de Leg-lice") We also bought maps for the small roads we would be driving on. If you're leaving from Paris, a great place to buy maps is the Gibert Jeune at Place St. Michel across from Notre Dame. There are several stores in that spot, each specializing in one topic area. The one with the travel books is on your left as you're facing the fountain with St. Michel on it. A huge ion of Micheln as well as the very useful iGN road maps. We rented a car from Hertz (I had coupons from a credit card that knocked a lot off the price) and we rented from Orly. That worked quite well since we were heading south. They bumped us up to a little larger car. The car had it's own GPS, but we used ours as well as theirs. We used ours for the destination, as I knew how to use it better, and theirs would show small streets in the immediate vicinity better in case we wanted a detour. (like seeing how we might get down by the river which is how we found a cool cemetery outside of Blois, right on the Loire) For most of our driving we set our GPS to avoid toll roads and look for shortest distance, not shortest time. This took us on some amazing small roads and I'd do it again. Toll roads, when we used them, were no trouble as long as we had plenty of cash. Just stay to the right. Next, Loire

Posted by Andrew
Durham, USA
71 posts

Loire Valley, east of Tours
We only had a few days in this area and I wanted to avoid cities if I could. I was looking to experience rural France. I chose a small gite just outside of Fougeres-sur-Bievre. A very small town with its own Chateau right in the heart of the chateau country. http://www.entre-vignes-et-chateaux.fr/ The gite is really nice. The owners were very sweet, and helpful. Not much English, but we managed. Breakfast was great, it was in the middle of the countryside. (the next door neighbor has a pet donkey and a couple of sheep in his backyard. They have a pool and big yard in back with lots to do. It's very centrally located, only about 35 minutes to Amboise, 25 to Chenonceau, closer to Blois, ... We ended up staying in the Suite which was huge, very modern and very nice. It has a large covered porch overlooking the back yard and plenty of place to stretch out. We ate the first night at a great hotel nearby in Contres. http://www.manoirdecontres.com/ Beautiful location, wonderful dinner, great service. We almost stayed here, but they weren't available all nights. Chateau. We ended up seeing just two. My wife loves gardening so we went to Chaumont-sur-Loire. Wonderful castle, but amazing gardens. Even my wife got gardened-out. They have a garden festival every year that's amazing. We spent most of the day here, then went to Chenonceau for the night walk. Highly recommended. Walking around the gardens at night, with lights and music. Wonderful, even in the rain, which we had. Came back the next day to see Chenonceau inside. Really one of the most beautiful buildings I've ever seen. Would love to see more of the valley. Try the chevre and the white wine while there. Get out of Amboise and drive through the countryside. You won't regret it. Next, Burgundy

Posted by Andrew
Durham, USA
71 posts

My main reason to go to Burgundy was to see Guedelon, the 13th century construction site. That, and I had heard so much about the beautiful countryside, and the history, food, wine, etc... After some confusion with one hotel reservation I ended up finding a gite for us to rent. This gite was more traditional in that it was a house for rent. http://www.moulin-chaumont.com/ (also available through homeaway.com as "Mill from the 17th Century") I cannot say enough in favor of this charming, charming place. It was France Profound, in spades! The owner was fabulous, not much English, and Monsieur Blond, the charming older gentleman across the street with the marvelous garden, had even less, but their welcome could not have been more warm. I could write a whole post about the converted moulin. Clamecy, the nearest town, is a nice little town, not many tourists, with a beautiful little medieval section of town around the nice church. (high gothic, with very little renovation to spoil the old parts) Hotel Poste is a very nice place to eat, and to stay, I would imagine. There's a laundromat just up the hill and around the corner from Hotel Poste. Small, but functional, and very much a neighborhood place. (see my photos on flickr, link below, to see pictures of the neighborhood) http://flic.kr/s/aHsjAbW143

Posted by Andrew
Durham, USA
71 posts

(cont'd) The full day we were there it rained, so we did laundry, then it was too late to go to Guedelon so we headed over to Vezelay. The town was charming, and the basilica was definitely worth it. We got there around Vespers and to hear the singing, and seeing the light in this romanesque beauty as dusk came was really magical. There are a lot of great little restaurants on the road back down from the basilica and it would be easy to spend half a day there. The next day we swung by Guedelon before heading to the alps and suffered our first, and only, real disappointment. It's closed on Wednesday. So, we decided to head south to our next stop in the Alps. BTW, if you're in Burgundy and see Cherries advertised by the side of the road, BUY THEM! We passed the first roadside stand, but the second one we stopped (just outside of Auxerre) and we are so glad we did. When we asked the kid minding the stand where the cherries came from, he pointed to an orchard just across the road on the other side of the valley. Auxerre looked like an interesting small city, but we had a long way to go to our next destination. We did stop for lunch, and when looking for a place for our picnic along the river ran into an outdoors kids dance performance from the local arts school. It was a fun way to spend our lunch time. Next, the alps.

Posted by Susan
Sausalito, California
3209 posts

Really enjoying your trip report Andrew, thanks!

Posted by Andrew
Durham, USA
71 posts

There were two places we wanted to make sure we saw in the Alps: Chamonix, and Annecy. I ended up looking around for someplace in-between and chose Megeve. It was a sleepy village until about the 1920's when the Rothchilds decided that San Moritz was getting just too, too, and they were looking for a place in France to turn into a resort. Today, it's a beautiful little resort town that is busy in the winter. We were there at the perfect time, at least for the way I like to travel. In June and early July, after skiing and before school ends, the place is very quiet and peaceful. Several of the restaurants and hotels are closed for the shoulder season, but there are still plenty open. The weather is perfect and the rooms are cheaper. The restaurants aren't too crowded, and the town is quite walkable. We stayed at a very nice small hotel called Chalet Antoine. It has great reviews, and they're right on the mark. It's run by a group of Brits and Australians who offer skiing lessons included with your hotel room in the winter. It's nicely decorated in mountain chalet style, the people were fantastic and very friendly and the breakfast was quite good. (their yogurt with local myrtle berry jam was the highlight) They were advertising single rooms for 68 euro while we were there. (off season) Our room looked out onto trees and mountains and was spacious, for a hotel room, and nicely fitted up. The hotel is on a main side street and has some parking, but the main parking lot is just down the street, and the main square is easy walking distance. Good places to eat: Brasserie Central, and next to it is the Deli are fine for a relaxed and casual meal on the central square. The Bistrot Savoyard had the best food in a cozy local place. Not the greatest location (busy road) but worth the walk. Next Chamonix

Posted by Eileen
Texan in CA
3584 posts

I laughed at your 600+ photos, but I really laughed at Rue de Leg-lice LOL! What can I say? I'm very easily amused...;-) I might have spent a disproportionate amount of time scouring the map, looking for good candidates for the GPS! I'm sooo bummed about your Guedelon 8^( I'm eagerly awaiting your next entry(ies). Gotta go; I've got 600+ photos to look at :-)

Posted by Andrew
Durham, USA
71 posts

I think I have the 600+ photos under control. (wasn't THAT fun!) I have been adding more and more photos so that most of my trip is up there documented in some way. I still need to get more pictures of the mill in Burgundy, but I did just upload some of the Chamonix Mer de Glace. Reminder, the pictures are here. They include Paris, Loire chateau described above, the gite in Fougères-sur-Bièvre, Vezelay, Clamecy, Annecy and now some of Chamonix. More from Chamonix, Megeve and the mill in Burgundy still to come. There aren't 600+, but there are 225, so plenty to see. Thanks for all your positive comments! I benefited so much from all y'all (as we'd say in North Carolina), so I'm more than happy to try and give back in even a modest way.

Posted by Andrea
Sacramento, CA
4877 posts

I love your trip report and you have some amazing pictures! Just curious if you have ever taken a photography class? You have a very good eye for composition.

Posted by Andrew
Durham, USA
71 posts

Thank you very much for the complement. No, I haven't taken a class, I just like taking pictures. I learned some of what I know about composition studying Chinese and Japanese painting in my Chinese Art History degree, and from looking at lots and lots of photographs, including mine. (learn from your mistakes!) I also come from the school of "take a lot of pictures, and inevitably, some will be quite good." Thank you digital photography! LOL

Posted by kurt
sheffield lake, ohio
18 posts

Ditto to all the compliments, Andrew. You and your family definatly have the art of traveling to a tee.

Posted by Andrew
Durham, USA
71 posts

I finally have a few more photos of Megeve, and couple of the Cher river and one of its locks, and many more of the wonderful Moulin (mill) in Burgundy. My France set of pictures on Flickr is now up to 250 photos. Sheesh!

Posted by Andrew
Durham, USA
71 posts

Chamonix is a beautiful little town, just like Rick describes. Parking is a huge pain, but just find one of the parking garages and walk. It's better than driving around and around the small streets, many of which are one-way. Just make sure you pay at the kiosk, usually on the ground floor, before trying to leave. There usually aren't any people at the exits, and if you've not paid, you're not going to have fun backing up and out. Also, don't lose the ticket, and take it with you, otherwise you'll have to go to your car to get the ticket then go back down to the kiosk. The mountains are stunning and I'm sure there are a ton of wonderful hikes in the area. Rick does a good job of talking about the place. Because my wife is afraid of heights, we didn't attempt the main needle, but instead went for the Mere de Glace. It is a more modest trip, but still lots of fun. Take the incline, cog train up to the top, then you take a small gondola down to the top of the stairs. This year there were 400 steps down (and 400 up) to reach the glacier from the top platform. It used to be half that amount, and who knows how many next year? The ice cave is not earth-shattering, but is fun with the LED lights in the ice changing color, the few simple sculptures and the novelty of it. Not something I'd need to do again, but definitely recommend it once. There is a nice little hotel at the top where you can get refreshments, and a great view for a picnic if you want to self-cater. There are trails that start/end up there and they look like they'd have spectacular views. Overall, Chamonix is a touristy, beautiful town chock full of outdoorsy stuff to do, some good shopping and I'm sure it's much nicer when the tourists leave at night. I'd love to go back and spend more time hiking. Next, Annecy

Posted by Grier
Carmel, IN
1058 posts

Great pictures and report, Andrew. Can't wait to hear more.

Posted by Carroll
Pittsburgh, PA, USA
1349 posts

Loved your pictures, Andrew. What kind of camera do you have? I'm enjoying your trip report too.

Posted by Andrew
Durham, USA
71 posts

Thanks! For the pictures of France which I took, the majority of them, I used my Sony Alpha A55V. It's like a slightly smaller DSLR with interchangeable lenses. The ones taken with a Canon Powershot are my wife's and the Nikon Coolpix are from my son. He took some pretty cool pictures for a 7-year-old. My favorite picture of the Louvre pyramid is his. I also like the picture he took outside the laundromat in Clamecy. He discovered that his camera had different color settings and he was playing with that. You cal tell which camera was used by looking to the right of the picture, just above the map. Speaking of the map, just about all of them are accurately mapped.

Posted by Eileen
Texan in CA
3584 posts

Andrew, that cutie took some great pics! Now I'm inspired to play with my point-and-shoot camera settings!!!

Posted by Diane
Ft. Worth, TX, USA
45 posts

Andrew, LOVED your photos! I agree, you have a very good eye. I'm going to steal some of your ideas for our upcoming trip! I look forward to more trip reports and you getting more pics posted! Thanks for sharing both.

Posted by Andrew
Durham, USA
71 posts

Thank you all so much for the kind words. Lake Annecy. RS talks about it as a picturesque lake town, which it most certainly is. It's also a long lake surrounded by a host of quaint little villages, many with small hotels, some fine restaurants, and some swimming spots. We started out in the town of Annecy first, bought supplies for a nice picnic lunch out on the field next to the lake. It was our hottest day and seemed like a good day to go swimming. Our helpful host at the Chalet d'Antoine in Megeve had suggested we take the boat that stopps at various places around the lake (Compagnie des Bateaux du Lac d'Annecy). His recommendation for a nice spot for swimming was the small village of Talloires. It's a very nice ride around the lake, and even if you don't get off, the boat that stops (Circuit Omnibus) goes much further down the lake than the one that makes an uninterrupted tour. We did get off at Talloires, a very cute village which also sports a world-class restaurant that has hosted English royalty, and other grandees. Get off the boat at the dock, walk to the first road and turn right. Not too far along you'll find a sign for the Plage de Talloires. There's a small charge to get in, but it's a very nicely run swimming "beach." Most of it is a long gently sloping grassy hill with the water at the bottom, and a restaurant/cafe/bar/changing rooms at the top. You could either swim in an enclosed section of lake over on the right, or go down a ladder into deeper water on the left. There's a small slide out in the water, and a platform that was a popular place for the young people to hang out. There's also a very shallow kiddie pool at the top of the hill. The water is cold, but it was 90-degrees, so it felt good. Beautiful scenery, and fun people watching. Next, Annecy town

Posted by Andrew
Durham, USA
71 posts

The town of Annecy is at the west end of the lake and is a small city. Most of the touristy part is down by the lake and they've done a good job of making a nice park and some nice strolling paths along the lake. BTW, it may not be clear, but the TI is actually inside a building that houses a small mall of shops. There's not external sign, you have to go into the building. After a day swimming and touring the lake by boat, we were ready for dinner. We walked down along the river and ended up eating at one of the touristy restaurants near the lake only because we were starving, tired and the kid was ready to sit immediately. It was sufficient and the views of the river and the people watching were compensations for the tourist-quality food. After dinner we walked further up the river and saw plenty of much more interesting restaurants. Perhaps next time. It's a beautiful walk with lots of interesting buildings. We ended up climbing the hill to the castle, which was closed but had a nice view of the sunset. By that time it was getting late and time to be driving back to Megeve. It was an interesting drive through the winding road of the gorge at night, but pretty empty so we could take our time. I wouldn't recommend it if you had more than a glass or two of wine. Overall, Lake Annecy is quite a beautiful destination, and I'd love to explore the surrounding villages more. One of the interesting little places right on the lake was a small hotel called the Pavillon de Fleurs in Menthon. It looked really cute and like it would be a great place to stay, sail, swim and explore the area. Next, Goodbye Megeve, hello Paris

Posted by Dawn
Denver, CO
259 posts

Hi Andrew, Really, really, really enjoyed your trip report and your gorgeous photos!!! I felt like I was tagging along on your wonderful vacation. I like how you added descriptions with the photos - it made it much more meaningful and was easy to follow along with your trip report.

Posted by Andrew
Durham, USA
71 posts

The day after Annecy we wanted to take a short hike up to see a waterfall above Mageve we learned about from the guy at the hotel. (I told you they were friendly and helpful) The walk is easy to find, you walk up a small street (Chemin du Maz) until it turns into a dirt track and look for the sign to the waterfall off to your left. It's a lot of walking up and up and up but the surface is not at all rough until you get to the trail. And the views are pretty spectacular. The waterfall is pretty, and some people even climb down and swim in the pool below. It was a bit of a rough climb down, and my son's not quite up for it (thought he was quite willing to try) so we left. We took a last walk through town, ate a very nice lunch at the Bistro Savoyard (see entry on Mageve above) and drove off for Paris. It's a rather long drive, especially getting such a late start, and by the time we dropped off our car at Orly and got a cab into our hotel is was quite late. We then spent the next few days in Paris before leaving for home.

Posted by BG
Albany, CA, USA
1410 posts

Andrew,
Thank you for posting links to your photos. They are great. I am living in France this year and just returned from a tour of the Loire Valley. I have many photos of this area, and Paris that are similar to yours (we seem to have a similar eye for composition and subject matter) but you have a much better camera than I do. Your photo quality is outstanding. I use a Nikon Coolpix, because I like the convenience of a point and shoot, and I get some decent photos --- but I may have to seriously consider upgrading!

Posted by Sarah
Stuttgart, Germany
2012 posts

Oh my gosh those pictures! Wonderful! I'm pricing my trip to Annecy as we speak!!!

Posted by Andrew
Durham, USA
71 posts

Perhaps I should get a commission from the TI. LOL I so glad people have found the pictures to be helpful. Before we left I looked for pictures of places I wanted to visit and was often at least somewhat successful. They helped so much to get an idea of what it might look like. Google street view was also amazingly helpful in getting an idea of what even small villages were like, and just how far away that cafe was from the hotel, or what the surroundings of a hotel really looked like.

Posted by Trishia
Vancouver, Washington, United States
41 posts

Andrew, I just looked through your entire French album:) LOVED it!! I have been to France 6 times, but have had my wings clipped for the past decade. Fingers crossed -- planning a trip in May 2013. Your photos reinforce why I keep going back:)

Posted by Chad
Rochester Hills, MI, United States
1 posts

Andrew, really enjoyed your post, thank you! I'm headed to Paris for the first time next month and really appreciate the down to earth way you describe how to do things.

Posted by Andrew
Durham, USA
71 posts

Thanks so much. I had a couple of more bits and pieces to share Digging through receipts and papers, I did find the mysterious laundromat's address in Clamecy. (not easy to find any other way) Laverie Automatic 4 rue Claude Tillier
Clamecy I also wanted to mention that Chenonceau has a free iPhone app. Have fun in Paris!

Posted by Robert
Portland
629 posts

I see several references to Annecy, and some people with an interest in going there. I heartily endorse that. Here's several links to what I wrote about Annecy over a 3-year period: http://www.mainelywinenews.blogspot.com/2012_03_01_archive.html http://www.mainelywinenews.blogspot.com/2010/04/ice-cream-in-annecy-fondue-in-geneva.html http://www.mainelywinenews.blogspot.com/2010/04/wine-and-cheese-of-day.html http://www.mainelywinenews.blogspot.com/2010/04/back-in-annecy-again.html http://www.mainelywinenews.blogspot.com/2010/04/back-in-annecy-france.html http://www.mainelywinenews.blogspot.com/2009/04/annecy-second-half-of-week-more-flowers.html http://www.mainelywinenews.blogspot.com/2009/04/little-more-from-annecy.html http://www.mainelywinenews.blogspot.com/2009/04/annecy-flower-village-and-recap.html
Although the guidelines frown upon links to a travel blog, it's easier than cutting and pasting the text, and no one needs to see what i wrote unless they're interested. And I get no benefits from people visiting my blog except the satisfaction of knowing that someone might enjoy reading it.

Posted by Andrew
Durham, USA
71 posts

It's been a while, but I thought I'd add to the pictures I've posted (see my response above). I finally got around to putting my short video of Vespers in Vezelay Basilica up on youtube. http://youtu.be/EAyQpNHddkI We got there just before the tour buses left. By the time we walked up through the town and into the basilica, the religious and the pilgrims were gathering for something. We walked through the cloisters and outside and when we came back in they were just starting to chant Vespers. We believe it was augmented by a recording, but they were definitely chanting, and the sound, even if a recording, was haunting and beautiful in the romanesque nave with the light fading. Really magical moment. Dinner in the town was very good as well. Hopefully it will encourage some to stay after the buses. Andrew

Posted by Andrew
Durham, USA
71 posts

And one more . In Clamecy, there was a pastry shop. I took pictures of his very creative little meringue dogs. I finally tracked down his name and info. If you're heading into Clamecy, his shop is definitely worth a short stroll up into the medieval part of town. (which is wonderful even without the sweets) Emmanuel Portal Patissier - Chocolatier - Glacier 22, rue de la Monnaie
58500 Clamecy http://emmanuelportal.canalblog.com/