To make a long story short, John lost his dad very unexpectedly in January of 2016 and had a deep need to travel to France. You know how that feeling comes over you when you realize that life is both short and completely out of our control? Well it hit John like a ton of bricks and thankfully he wanted to work out that emotion in a healthy way-travel. France had always been at the very top of his bucket list. A love of wine and history combined to make France a top destination in his mind. So, in less than 60 days I planned a trip for the two of us.
How We Did (parts of) France in 8 Days
Day 1: We flew an overnight flight into Paris, landing torturously early in the morning. As you may know, the airport is rather distant from the city center so we freshened ourselves up and hopped on the train to head into the city. We took the train from the airport all the way to one of the many train stations, Gare de Lyon, where we stored our luggage for the day and we could pick them up before our train out of the city later that night.
From there we made our way to Notre Dame and sat in on a very early Good Friday mass, then made our way on foot to Sainte-Chapelle. Two big sights and all before 10:00 am! We managed the subway to the Musee d’ Orsay and spent about 2 hours absorbing some of the most incredible and famous artwork ever known. We lunched at a lovely little cafe we had researched ahead of time across from the gardens and walked across one of the many bridges lined with lovers locks. After a leisurely lunch we trounced over to the Montmartre neighborhood to visit the Sacre Coeur with great vistas of the city. Our final endeavor in the city was to visit the Musee Rodin and wow what a joy for us! Our feet dragging and our eyes drooping we made our way back to the train station for a quick snack, pick up our luggage and to get on the train to Lyon!
Day 2: Lyon, the gastronomy capital of the world. I know that’s a strong statement, but our experience made it so true. We loved walking through Vieux Lyon and the UNESCO World Heritage areas, getting lost in all the silk traboules (secret tunnels) and climbing up to the Roman amphitheater for a good dose of history and wonderful views of the city. Our day consisted of an amazing lunch at Daniel et Denise and walking off all the calories afterward. We had made reservations there a month in advance and I’m glad we did because it was Easter weekend. One thing we were surprised by was the beauty of Lyon at night. Apparently the city is well known for their lighting expertise. Most of the buildings and fountains have professional lighting features that make the city just gorgeous.
Day 3: Easter Sunday! We attended a wonderful church that offered English translation and it was a beautiful thing to worship in another country and culture with other followers of Jesus. After church we had made reservations for a special lunch at Burgundy by Matthieu that knocked our socks off and absolutely solidified our love for French food and the event of eating in France. After lunch we hopped on the TGV to Nice. We arrived a bit late on a Sunday holiday, so we had a little trouble finding a restaurant that was open, but after a little calling around we dined on seafood pasta at a lovely place near our hotel, Hotel Suisse Nice.
Day 4: We enjoyed a self-guided walking tour of Nice that we followed from Rick Steves guide to France, which took us to many areas of the quaint coastal city. We adored the cobblestone side streets of the old city where we ate mussels outside in one of the courtyards. We walked up and down the promenade soaking in the sunshine and people watching. After that we hiked up to Castle Hill where there were countless families enjoying time outside on a beautiful holiday. As the sun began to go down, we hopped back on the train to Avignon.
Day 5 & 6: Our time in this area was all about experiencing the wine and the food and the countryside. While we enjoyed the city of Avignon, we spent the bulk of our time visiting wineries and restaurants tasting and indulging in the flavors of the region. Some of the highlights of our time in the area were Gigondas and Chateauneuf du Pape, learning all about the history of the area and understanding the lifestyle of the wine makers.
Day 7: We decided on a day trip to Arles because we had read about a wonderful walking tour that encompasses the actual sites of many famous paintings by Vincent Van Gogh. Each stop on the walking tour coincides with location of a well known work by the artist and a plaque showing the work. It’s so great because you can stand there and see for yourself what Van Gogh saw and interpreted into a beautiful piece including Le Jardin de la Maison de Santa A Arles, and Le Cafe. Arles is a bit dumpy and dirty, but there is an impressive Roman theater and Roman arena there as well.
Day 8: Back to Paris on the TGV. We had tickets to go up in the Eiffel Tower on this last evening to enjoy the sunset, but the mechanics that operate the elevators were on strike so the tower was closed to tourists. What a total bummer! It ended up being a rainy evening anyway so we didn’t miss the sunset views we had wanted so badly. Our last goal was to eat at a wonderful French brasserie for roasted chicken, French onion soup, and the MOST delicious profiteroles you could ever imagine. It was the perfect end to our whirlwind trip.