[PARIS] — I was scared to death on my first trips to Paris — I started going B.I., Before the Internet — totally intimidated about finding the best cool restaurants. The mere thought of a) figuring out how to use a phone in France and b) people not understanding a single syllable of my Bad French just made the whole process unbearable. On top of that, I’d tried many times to ask some un-listening concierge — in those days of “Snooty France” — who would just shunt ALL Americans to some crappy brasserie around the corner with surly waiters and lame food. So I rarely trusted them…despite giving them big tips. So then I developed my default restaurant-picking technique: Walking Until Finding Something Cool. WUFSC™️.
[Caen, France] — The cold morning wind was biting our faces as we walked up to the big bronze plaque. Our incredible guide Mathias Leclère, whom we just met ten minutes ago, pulled us over to chat in the protection of a wall dug into the hill. “Over along that ridge, German troops lined the tree lines, all the way to that bell tower in that village over there. Below us, all of these fields had been flooded by the Germans in anticipation of an invasion.” Mathias calmly shouted amidst the blowing winter wind, a little sleet stinging our faces. “Just behind us, 13,000 U.S. paratroopers had just landed in the middle of the night. It was pitch black, no moon. The ack-ack anti-aircraft fire
(Normandie, France) — You can spend a day, a week or a month in Normandie and never get enough. We only had a couple of days on our own to explore the province after taking a D-Day tour, so didn’t get to see a lot, but here are my favorite finds. Normandie is really really old. Certainly there were neolithic settlements, but it was settled by the Vikings long ago –“Northmen land” is basically what the name translates to — who in the 800s rowed up the Seine in their longboats all the way up to Paris — long before the Viking Longboats were even conceived — pillaging along the way and eventually seizing the province from France. Then the Celts, William the Conqueror, the
[PYLA-SUR-MER, FRANCE] — I didn’t even know this beast was here. Never heard a squeak of it before. I actually came here in search of a beautiful hotel which mentioned its prime location next to the Dune du Pilat, about an hour south of Bordeaux. Okay. So can I get room? But when I pulled up, holy cow! My dumb fortunate luck led me to yet another amazing natural phenomenon — the largest sand dune in Europe. Almost 3km long and about 110m (300 ft) high, this giant Gibraltar of sand stands between the shimmering Atlantic and an inland pine forest, with fierce winds that add to its height every year, shoving it inland, swallowing up houses and forests in its path. In the 1700s, maps show
[TOURRETTES-SUR-LOUP, FRANCE] — I was on my way back from nine blissful days in Greece, heading toward the southwest of France. Having already done most of the coast, I wanted to find a new place to explore. I opened a new travel website I kept hearing about i-escape.com and started scouring pictures for something that grabbed my eye. And then BOOM. This is what I saw. That was it. This is in France? Looks more like Italy, or maybe Corsica. An ancient village perched high above the Côte d’Azur in the mountainy Alpes-Maritime region of France. I’ve always heard about this region, but had never been. So that’s where I pointed my car as I hopped off the plane in Nice. It’s really not
[MONTRÉAL, LANGUEDOC] — Finally. Finally I’m here. For over a year I’ve been following Annie Moore on Instagram, the amazingly talented owner/renovator/designer/chef of the remarkable Camellas-Lloret design hotel in France. Like a voyeur peeking through an IG peephole into a glorious life in a quiet village in Languedoc. I flew to France just to stay here. Along with her Zen Master husband Colin (more about him later), they welcome adventurous people into their five bedroom maison d’hôtes design hotel they’ve spent the last five years restoring with love. Every single corner of the place is an elegant and evolving tableau of findings from their daily hunts through the local brocantes, put together in ways you could never think of, but are works of art. Little dioramas. Like a magazine spread
[MOUSTIERS-SAINTE-MARIE, FRANCE] — Moustiers in eastern Provence is the gateway to the great Gorge du Verdon. The Grand Canyon of France. And an Adventureland of fun, with trekking, boating, canyoning, climbing and just plain gawking at all the natural beauty. Driving up from southern Provence, you first drive over the high and flat Valensole plateau, home to some of the largest and most stunning lavender fields in France. Miles and miles of sweet purple flowers, as far as the eye can see. After driving across the plateau, you dip down into some of the most luscious, golden wheat fields you’ve ever seen. Picture perfect, dancing in the breeze Moustiers is freakishly cool. Surreal. Almost looks like painted illustrations in
[GORGE DU VERDON, FRANCE] — All along the skinny serpentine road that follows each side of the Gorge due Verdon canyon rim are cool slot canyons to explore. Canyons like this awesome hike below the jaw dropping Point Sublime. I wasn’t planning on this hike. Just stumbled on it and kept going. The path descends to follow along the water, climbing up ladders and disappearing into cool dark tunnels, emerging on the other side. When I say tunnels, I mean pitch black tunnels. “Signs warn you should have a headlamp. “Hahaha, we don’t need no stinking torchiers.” I mumbled to myself as I entered that last and longest tunnel.” Okay, click this video, turn your sound up and then start reading: Well, they were serious.
[SARTÈNE, CORSICA] — I was having dinner by myself the first night in Corsica at Domaine du Murtoli — one of the most exclusive resorts in France — sitting back and grinning at all the natural wonder before me in this candle-lit treehouse of a restaurant hidden under the maquis trees. Barefoot waitresses in linen frocks darted under the leaves, bring drinks, appetizers and cute smiles. Around the corner came a vision, the most perfectly tanned specimen on this planet. Valérie, the proprietress of this magical haven (and a former model and mother to four beautiful children). She floated on a cloud up to my table and I gulped. “Bon soir, my name is Valérie. How was your dinner? Did you see your little friend?”
[CORSICA, FRANCE] — You know when you’re in a rental car in a foreign land and you’re on a steep impossible skinny one lane road with dropoffs of hundreds of feet and wondering “what the hell am going to do if another car comes the other way???” I was in exactly in that situation, on a steep rocky road, barely wider than my car, pointing downdowndown on my way to the a sleepy fishing village I was told was a gem. The crazy road was a bunch of zig-zags all the way down to the sea, each turn more precarious than the last. My clutch skills failing on the steep hill, killing the car as I rounded the tightest bends. When you’re traveling with someone else, you kinda
[SCANDOLA NATURE RESERVE, CORSICA] — Okay, who’s been to the Scandola Nature Reserve in Corsica? Non? Strap in. You’re about to see something really amazing. You gotta gotta go do this. A huge natural preserve in the northwest of Corsica, with the most dramatic rock formations, canyons and wildly shaped rocks you’ve ever seen, plunging right into the sea. Dwarfing everything in their midst, namely you. It’s like being in a one-armed Grand Canyon, with the deep blue Mediterranean sea on the right side, and every color and shape of rock you’ve ever seen. On the northwest corner of Corsica, you can really only see it from a boat, dramatic jagged cliffs of every shape and size and color, changing from cove to cove, none of
[CORSICA, FRANCE] — “Emmm, Monsieur Dan, please be careful. The water is deep enough, but there ees a big rock down there. So you must jump out from the cliff to not hit it, but not too far. Or you will hit the beeg rock.” That was my super-cute young French guide, shouting above the roar. I was canyoning in Corsica for the first time. We were standing on top of a huge stack of elephant rocks, a swift stream was zooming under our feet, funneled into a torrent off the edge of this cliff, crashing twenty feet five below. We were high, high up in the raspy mean mountains of inner Corsica, a lush island in the middle of the Mediterranean, that thrusts out of the
[CORSICA, FRANCE] — Smack in the middle of the deep blue Mediterranean Sea are two big islands, Sardinia and Corsica. Almost like twins, ripped apart, both jut out of the sea like breeching whales, with huge mountains in the middle and some of the best beaches in all of Europe, if not the world, ringing their rocking shores. Corsica is a magical adventure land, with an infinite amount of sporty things to do. Hiking. Climbing. Canyoning. Snorkeling. Sailing. Boating. Or just sit on the beach. The middle is spiked with enormous shark-toothed mountains, some as high as the Alps, often dotted with snow year-round. It’s only 200km long, but with a wild spread of geography that would rival entire countries 100x its size. And we’re talking
[GÈDRE, FRANCE] — I always wanted to go on some great hikes in the French Pyrénées, but I could never figure out where. As I finally figured out after all these years, the Pyrénées aren’t just a single group of mountains, but a bunch of groups of Pyrénées spread all along the French/Spanish border. So when you think, as I stupidly did, “Oh I’ll just go hike in the Pyrénées” you’re instantly in over your head when you finally try to Google it and figure out where to go. There’s the Pyrénées-Orientales in French Catalonia (which I wrote briefly about in another earlier post), the Pyrénées-Atlantiques in Basque country near San Sebastian, the Midi-Pyrénées, the Haute-Pyrénées and several other subparts. And then there’s the complementary Spanish Pyrénées on the very other side and
[EUGENIE-LES-BAINS, FRANCE] — I had the best intensions… Looking to break up my random drive across France, I decided to sneak in to the famed Les Prés d’Eugénie hotel for a taste of what made Michel Guérard world famous — one of the pioneers of Nouvelle Cuisine that changed French cooking forever. 🍽 Chef and his wife Christine built this magical spa hotel in the country as a destination for his 3 Michelin star restaurant. We’re talking 3 stars for 30 years! I’m a food icon idiot, I just like to eat. But I learned about Les Prés d’Eugénie when I was staying at Le Chateau de Riell, their sweet little sister hotel in French Catalonia. (Scroll down a little on my page and you
[DORDOGNE & PERIGORD, FRANCE] — It has been since high school I’ve wanted to see this exact spot. Madame Zemkuznekov’s High School French Class, to be exact. She was super hot, no doubt made hotter because she was probably the first non-nun (or non-former-nun) teacher we had. And in an all-boys school, at that. She had us all at “Bonjour” (and the sexy way she wore linen). Her French class was the only class in school that was absolutely pin-quiet. All 44 of us big-nosed and pimpled boys rapt with attention, hanging on every Imparfait thing she’d say, because she was… plus-perfect. Anyway, back to the video below. It started out as a picture in our French text book, a prominent chapter page, I think. I
[MOLTIG-LES-BAINS, FRANCE] — So, here I was last April sitting in Skoura, an oasis town in Morocco, and I had to make a choice. Fed up with my stupid job, I’d quit and left for a little sabbatical for a month in Portugal and Morocco. My plane to the States left the next day, but I wasn’t ready to go back. So I cancelled it. I flew back to Barcelona, walked up to the Hertz desk and asked “Can I rent a car for a long time? Like two months?” “Si!” So they hooked me up with a sweet little upgraded BMV and I headed towards the Pyrénées. I had no plans, no goals; just no big cities, only small towns. Places I’d never been. My compass
(Paris) — It’s a river, so nothing ever gets old. The scenery floats by. And the light changes by the hour. Instead of taking a nap, start around dusk, when the grey Paris skies turn pink and the lights come up. Get down on the water, it’s almost your very own Paris.
(Paris) — Right on the north tip of Ile Saint-Louis are four restaurants all together. And to me, the Cafe St Regis is about as perfect of an incarnation of a classic brasseries. Subway tile, cool lights, snoof waiters, beer and big windows to watch Paris go by. This is so perfect, it looks like Keith McNally made it. I’m sure they get a lot of tourists, but don’t act like one and they treat you right. Here’s what all the cranks on Trip Advisor say. Tartare, please. View Larger Map
Here’s a great great blog I subscribe to called HiP Paris blog. And there’s a great post on The Best Places To People Watch in Paris. Check it out.