I started out really excited to write this post, and then, I’m not going to lie, I got a little overwhelmed. In ~10 days on the ground in France, we packed so much into our days, while still having plenty of leisure time. I could give you the play by play, but I don’t think that’s entirely why you’re reading the post. Or maybe it is?
Anyway, I’ve broken this post down by each city we visited, what type of accommodation we booked, a few favorite things/attractions, and other tips. I’m hoping that will be the easiest to digest & most helpful.
Paris (Days 1-3)
We were blessed to stay with a family friend’s, family friend’s daughter (a mouthful, I know) and she was gracious enough to give up her flat in the Tròcadero district, WITH A VIEW OF THE EIFFEL TOWER from her bedroom. I don’t even think we realized how spoiled we were with that until we came back to Paris the last two nights of our trip.
Some of our favorite things we did in Paris:
- Eiffel Tower (Obviously. Is it touristy? Yes. But you just have to do it and the views from the top are worth it to just see the way the whole city is laid out!)
- Picnic on Champs de Mars Gardens with views of the Eiffel Tower (We stocked up at a nearby ‘Franprix’ market, brought a blanket with us, and it was all we needed for a couple hours. The best.)
- Arc de Triomphe & the Champs de Elysses (Also very touristy, but fun to see if it’s your first time and walk down this famous shopping street. There was legit a line to enter the flagship Louis Vuitton. We didn’t wait and went to other locations throughout the city. Just don’t say I didn’t warn you about selfie stick central!)
- Tròcadero Gardens (We grabbed a crepe after a light dinner and ate it on the gardens while looking at the Tower, from the opposite direction, while it lit up at night. The Tower lights up every hour on the hour for 5 minutes in evenings. It is all the entertainment you need.)
- Montmartre (This older village, famous for the Sacre de Coeur church, was better than I thought it would be. We loved just walking around the old town – there were tons of things that stopped our eye. Our morning there ended with grabbing a mimosa at Le Refuge and croissants at Patisserie: Artisan Boulanger La Renaissance, followed by taking the Metro back into the city.)
- Tuileries Gardens (After walking miles upon miles throughout the city each day, stumbling across these gorgeous gardens close to a lot of the popular museums was a welcome retreat. There are chairs all around the fountain and throughout the gardens, so don’t be shy to just take a seat, close your eyes and soak up the warm Parisian sunshine.)
- Place de la Concorde (One of the largest and most famed squares in Europe, this landmark has all the energy and hustle and bustle you’d expect from Paris. The fountains are beautiful and if you look off to the side, you can see down the Champs de Elysees and get a view of Arc de Triomphe. You may also recognize this square from the movie The Devil Wears Prada.) 🙂
- The Lourve (I’ll go ahead and address the fact that yes, the Lourve Museum is perhaps the most famed, the exterior pyramid is pretty amazing, and we did get to see the original Mona Lisa, but it is HUGE and overwhelming and often very crowded. If you are short on time and not a huge art / history buff, dare I say skip it.)
- Musee de la Orangerie (This museum, however, is much smaller and right next to the Tuileries Gardens. There are Picasso’s famous Water Lilies and other works by Cezanne, Matisse, etc. We really enjoyed browsing through this one.)
- Angelina (Known for being Coco Chanel’s favorite place to get a cup of hot chocolate, it did not disappoint. It tasted like we were drinking brownie batter. Paired with their signature Mont Blanc pastry in the speculoos [cookie butter] flavor, I was in the biggest, yet happiest sugar coma of my life.)
- St. Germain (This was one of our favorite neighborhoods / arrondissements of Paris. A friend from high school recommended we grab drinks at Bar du Marche one night and she definitely didn’t lead us astray. When we got out of the UBER, it was clear we were in a very lively part of the city. The energy was contagious and every street was just filled with bistro tables & chairs and couples & friends just dining, drinking, and chatting the night away. I really haven’t experienced a cultural feel quite like it. I also don’t have many pictures from it, so that’s how you know you were having a good time.)
- The High-End Fashion Houses – (Louis Vuitton, Hermes, Dior … the list goes on. Even if you’re not buying, and it’s easy to be intimidated by all the guards and staff lining the door when you walk in, it’s worth the experience of browsing. Fashion, and particularly designer fashion houses, are such a hallmark of Paris, that you just have to embrace it. When people watching, you’ll also notice the prevalence of designer handbags on almost every woman far exceeds what you might see throughout the U.S. All the talk about Parisian women and their fashion is dead on.)
Reims & Èpernay – Champagne Region (Day 4)
After 3 magical, yet very jet-lagged days in Paris, it was time for our next adventure to the Champagne region. We both love bubbly & wine in general, so this was at the top of our list when planning our France itinerary. I’d read a bit about Champagne houses (yes, they call them “houses”!) and how they differ from some of the wineries we’d visited in the U.S, but we really hadn’t planned too much in advance.
As in, I literally was Googling places from our rental car en route to Reims. Since you do need to have reservations for most of them, I began calling places with, “Bonjur! Parlez vous anglais?” (or Do you speak English?). Thankfully, they all did, so we were able to make reservations for a cellar tour + tasting at the below houses with little notice.
- Veuve Cliquot (Reims) – (This was the first one we visited and hands-down our favorite. We only did about a 15-minute cellar tour but loved its story and both of the classic and reserve glasses of champagne we got to try. It had a very fun, modern feel so I think we connected with the Veuve Cliquot brand the most, too.)
- Moët and Chandon (Èpernay) – (We took a short drive over to Reims’ sister city, Èpernay. Although we loved, Veuve, Moët & Chandon was amazing, too, of course. The cellar tour was much longer and even included a walk down a Dom Perignon-filled hallway. The tasting room was really bright and fancy feeling, too. There was definitely an air of luxury in the Moët brand.)
- Mercier (Èpernay) – (Close by but very different was the house of Mercier. The story of this brand is unique in that its founder’s mission was to make champagne more approachable and available to the masses. On the mini train-car tour through the cellar, they share how one year they brought this massive barrel of champagne, pulled by horses, into Paris for the World Fair. It was so big that roads and homes had to be rebuilt. This house felt like a bit more of a production than the two others, but the champagne was still good and we enjoyed it overall.)
That evening we checked in to our Airbnb in Reims at the home of a very nice French couple. We wandered for dinner, before finally finding the city centre later that evening for a nightcap and dessert! We had a great traditional French breakfast in the morning with our hosts before heading south for Dijon!
Dijon (Bourgogne [Burgundy] Region) (Day 5)
I really had no idea what to expect from Dijon, as it was sort of our halfway point between the more Northern part of the country and Aix-en-Provence. But Connor seemed excited about it, so I trusted we’d stumble across things as we had everywhere else!
Our Airbnb was just as pictured and one of the comfiest beds we had the whole trip! Most of the beds were very thin and simple, so we quickly became all the more grateful for our bed at home. I was starving this day and in need of a good meal, and absolutely loved the Salmon & Risotto dish I had at a nearby brasserie. Other things we loved:
- Porte Guillaume (It’s basically the Arc de Triomphe of Dijon and surrounded by a stunningly beautiful open-air square with tons of shops and restaurants. It felt so different than Paris but still distinctly French. Maybe because I didn’t have high expectations, but I truly wandered around starry-eyed and chin-dropped. And even here, the shopping is unparalleled.)
- Notre Dame & the Owl (We also had fun discovering Dijon’s Notre Dome and the owl figure on its north side of the church. People have been making a wish here while rubbing the owl’s head for hundreds of years. You’ll see little gold plating on the stone leading you to it like a treasure hunt.)
- Kir Royals (This tasty cocktail made with an aperitif known as Cremé de Cassis, or a blackcurrant liqueur, is popular in Dijon and became our go-to throughout the trip. A Kir is made with Cremé de Cassis and white wine, whereas a Kir Royal is made with champagne. Most of our waiters couldn’t understand what we were saying while ordering it because their pronunciation of it is very different, but we eventually got it figured out – ha!)
Aix-en-Provence [Provence] (Day 6-8)
After a night in Dijon, we drove a few more hours south to the city of Aix-en-Provence. A very old town feel but with a renewed energy, there were so many things in Provence I’d heard about or seen on Instagram, that made it all the more exciting to see with our own eyes. Some of those things being:
- The Main Square / Cours Mirabeau – (There are lots of little squares throughout the sprawling city centre. It’s almost impossible to drive anywhere. There are just tons of people on foot and little scooters slicing in and out of thin alley ways. Thankfully, our cute Airbnb was about a 10-15 minute walk from it all. We would walk for miles and miles just looking at all the architecture, doing some more browsing of all the shops, and popping in and out cafés for an au lait and a croissant.
- Open Air Markets – (Most days of the week there are also tons of open-air farmer’s markets with incredible items like lavender, fruits and vegetables, soaps and scents, bakeries, and of course, the amazing florals that are practically the main attraction. I wish there was something like it back home. A lot of the women and locals had their big straw bags they’d fill-up with items for dinner that evening, as they definitely don’t shop in bulk as we do in the states.)
- Vineyards / Châteaus – (Considering Provence is like the rosé capital of the world, we had to do some more wine tasting. We looked up a few châteaus, which we quickly gathered is what they call their ‘vineyards’ – and ended up stopping at a larger one, Henri Bouttard, and smaller one, Châteaud Crémade. Both of which made wines from the “Appellation Palette” and our eyes were opened to a whole new world of wine. Here’s Connor and one of the winemakers…)
- Les Lodges Sainte Victoire – (We received a tip from one of the associates at the Compagnie de Provence store that I was so excited to shop in (they invented liquid hand soap and have the coolest bottles) to visit this luxury hotel/spa/restaurant for the day. It was rainy and quiet, but the perfect hideaway for relaxing and enjoying yet another Kir Royal with a stunning view. We would definitely go back at some point when the weather is nicer to enjoy their other amenities. And ya know, there’s a house cat … #normal.
I could easily keep going about Provence but I’ll move on for now! 🙂
Cassis (Day 7)
Ready for some adventure and curious to see more of the south, we drove the ~1 hour down to Cassis, in hopes of hiking the Calanques – which are a sort of naturally formed expanse of limestone cliffs where the bright blue Mediterranean Sea juts in and out. I had high hopes and was so bummed when we started our drive down and were greeted with a wall of rain. Determined to make the best of it, we drove on anyway. The day ended up looking different than planned, but it truly made the trip for me. Being a water child at heart, I LOVED the little old fishing town of Cassis, the stunning beaches with these black rocks we brought home by the handfuls, the cliffs, the sea, the shops…ugh, It was one of the dreamiest places I’d ever been, even on an ugly day. A few bullets of where / what we visited on our quick day trip are below.
- Centre Ville – (We did some shopping here, including finding Connor a raincoat at JOTT since he didn’t bring one.)
- Bar De La Marine – (We ate here for brunch!)
- Calanques National Park – (We hiked what we could given the weather, but would 100% come back in summer and do some of the hiking + swimming you see all over Pinterest!)
Back to Paris Paris (Day 8-10)
On our return, we really started to embrace the je nais se quoi of Paris. After getting a bit more of our bearings and having had over a week in the country, I think we started to feel a lot more comfortable.
We went back to St. Germain one night, tried macarons from all the most popular places, picked up a splurge-worthy little treat at Louis Vuitton, drank plenty of Aperol Spritzes, dined by the Seine River, and saw a few more landmarks. On our last night, I literally wanted to cry I was so thankful for the experience and did not want to leave.
To us, Paris – and even France, was everything people say it is in the best way.
Since this post has become rather lengthy (to say the least), I’m going to save my general travel tips and our life-saving ‘bag of tricks’ in a second post. Once it’s published, I’ll link to it from here, so stay tuned!
And if you have the chance to go on a trip of your own…GO! Bon Voyage! 🇫🇷