Wining and Dining in Paris and the French Countryside

Bonjour to all! After completing the Bronx 10 Mile with a personal best time, and then stuffing my face with frozen wedding cake in celebration of one year of marriage, Mr. CN and I departed for our trip to France, which we had anxiously been awaiting for months!

The last time I traveled to France was when I was going into 5th grade as a part of a foreign exchange program, and I had the WORST time. I had broken my foot in gymnastics a mere three days before leaving, sticking me with a clunky metal boot as a sidekick for touristing. On top of that, I didn’t speak French, decided to become a picky eater and only have baguettes and Nutella (although that sounds like the BEST Parisian diet now), and was homesick the entire time.

I was REALLY not feeling France back then.

Needless to say, I was hoping and expecting to have a different, and better, experience this time around with my one-year hubby by my side. This post shares some of our favorite sites and bites, as well as some food and culinary insights we gained along the way. Bon appetit!

Bonjour from the banks of the Seine!

For our trip we spent essentially 3 full days in Paris and 5 days in the Loire Valley. Since we live in NYC we tend to prioritize time in the country over city exploring, especially since it is vacation and we are able to get deeper into relaxation mode outside the hustle and bustle. With that being said, I’ll start with the Loire.

The Loire Valley is a rather large region to the South of Paris, most well known for its wine production and historical chateaus. I’ll give you two guesses what we spent our time doing there…

Taking a tour of some wine caves near Amboise

We first stayed in the town of Amboise for 3 days and traveled around the area visiting the chateaus and gardens of Chenonceau, Villandry, and Chambord. We ended up keeping mornings for the castles and the afternoons for visits to vineyards and exploring other towns along the river, such as Blois (never learned how to pronounce this one, so we settled for calling it Blah, which it was anything but).

One thing that started to strike us was the abundance of produce at the local Sunday market in Amboise and the lavish, overflowing produce gardens at each chateau, yet when it came to our own restaurant dining experiences whole vegetables were tough to find.

Our dishes would come with say, a garnish of 1 small roasted carrot, a few sliced mushrooms, or hidden veggies in the form of purees and sauces. So, yes, there were vegetables, but we missed the “crunch!” of a raw salad or a simply prepared side of roasted/steamed/sautéed vegetable. We weren’t totally stressing about it, as we were overall enjoying exploring new flavors and local foods, but our last night in the country did call for a self-prepared grocery store picnic, complete with fresh produce.

If you find yourself in this part of the world, here are some of the yummy places we dined at that are worth recommending:

  • L’Epicerie- charming tasting menu and mind-blowing cheese course, in Amboise
  • Sunday market in Amboise- taste all the things and get yourself some beef stew and a hunk of bread for an overly pleasing lunch
  • Auberge L’Ecurie- a traditional French country bistro in the town of Sancerre
  • Patisserie Bigot- for the most amazing pastries, quiche, and everything chocolate, in Amboise

*Note: there were MANY other restaurants that we would have wanted to dine at in this area; however, we found the hours of operation to be very, very limited. Restaurants were often closed Sundays and Mondays (or other random days for seemingly no good reason, or for extended holiday), and the lunch hours are restricted to 12pm-2pm, which, when sightseeing, was sometimes a challenge. Alas, we always found something to eat and it just means we may have to go back for round 2!

After days of boozy relaxation, we headed off to the city of love- Paris!

Of course, we hit the big tourist to-dos: Arc de Triomphe, Notre Dame, the Louvre, and the Eiffel Tower (take my word for it and take the stairs up, the climb isn’t so tough!).

We also made time to venture outside the city to Versailles to see the oppulent chateau and (my favorite) the hamlet established by Marie Antoinette. Seeing as this is where I stayed when I visited as a 5th grader you would think my memory would’ve been jogged slightly as we walked around the town of Versailles- nope! Better to leave my memories as baguettes and nutella I suppose.

The sights are quite magnificent, but the food- oh the food! Here’s a sampling of our eats and treats:

  • Pierre Sang Oberkampf- a menu-less 5 course tasting menu that keeps you on your toes, this was our favorite meal by far! Even a skeptical eater will be pleased.
  • Le Petit Vendome- exceptional meat and cheese boards, sandwiches to-go also available
  • La Place- cute cafe for crepes, galletes, and big SALADS for your post-Versailles refuel
  • Juste- for when you need a break from meat, unique made to order seafood concept
  • L’as du Falafel- a tahini-drenched falafel in the heart of the Jewish Quarter
  • Breizh Cafe- seasonally prepared galletes, a bit pricey but deliciously buttery and crispy
  • Pain Pain- reward yourself with pastries from here as you head up the hill to Montmarte
  • Pierre Herme- macarons that will blow your mind, worth the splurge of dough
  • Aux Merveilleux de Fred- the window display alone pulled us in here and we didn’t even realize we were eating a meringue until we took a bite
  • Berthillon- legendary gelato for when you need to refuel after the Notre Dame

 

We felt very fortunate that this was our second trip to Europe this year and it’s difficult to choose one highlight among the many great days we spent in France. For me, I feel most alive on trips when we step off the beaten path and get a taste of the true culture of a place. I loved talking (using exaggerated hand gestures, rather) with cheesemongers at the Amboise Sunday market and goat farm owner in Crezancy. I felt like a true Parisian strolling the streets of trendy but gritty Montmarte the morning before we left. And even though I likely had steam coming out of my ears at the time due to language barrier frustration, I look back with fondness on our interactions at supermarkets, gas stations, and wine tastings with the French locals.

If your travels aren’t filled with new foods, expensive drinks, translation struggles, and most importantly fun times, then what’s the point? Until next time, bon voyage!

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