Just returned from three, très exhilarating weeks in France.  Where to begin?

The journey began in Paris.  Ahh, Paris…  Who hasn’t daydreamed about running off to Paris?  The gardens, the sculptures, the architecture, endless museums (okay, I admit, didn’t make it to many museums — was too busy eating), streets lined with restaurants, cafes, and countless boulangeries and fromageries (every other storefront seems to be a boulangerie, patisserie, fromagerie, or other food-centric place) — even shops devoted solely to macaroons…what’s not to like?  It’s fun to simply  wander around and take it all in; literally, to stop and smell the flowers [in the Jardin de Luxembourg], pop into a wine bar for a glass of vin rouge or a plate of oysters, or, perhaps, enjoy a picnic in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower.

Next, the French countryside (Bordeaux, Dordogne, Basque, and Provence).  Thoroughly enjoyed getting lost in the French countryside, stopping for a leisurely lunch after a morning of meandering through the farmers’ market, visiting a vineyard or two along the way to sample the local wine…couldn’t ask for a more enjoyable and relaxing day.

You simply cannot go to France without visiting the farmers’ markets.  Otherwise sleepy, medieval towns come to life on market day.  From early in the morning ’til mid-afternoon, these towns are a frenzy of activity, packed elbow-to-elbow with people in search of culinary treasures (trust me, you won’t be disappointed); farmers and vendors are eager to share a taste of their craft with you.  Come mid-afternoon, as people begin to funnel out, the towns once again become quiet and serene; that is, until the next market day rolls around.

Was in awe of the abundance and variety of fruit, vegetables, mushrooms, fromage, bread, fish/seafood (oysters with a glass of rose for breakfast, delicieux), meat/sausage/pâté, wine, oils (olive, walnut, chestnut), nuts, and pastries at the farmers’ markets.  Can’t begin to tell you how much foie gras, sausage, cheese, and wine I sampled along the way.  Wanted to buy everything in site; you just don’t find markets like this back in the States (you would laugh if you saw how much we crammed into our bags — see photo below).

While access to a kitchen would have been nice (really missed cooking), we prepared quite a few grande salades in a bowl purchased (for 1 euro) at a flea market.  These weren’t just any old salads.  We loaded up with all sorts of wonderful, fresh produce (and topped the salads with cured anchovies and/or sardines) and, of course, plenty of crusty bread, stinky/smelly fromage, and saucisson (my new favorite French word that means “sausage”).

As a big fan of French wine, it was great to finally put a place to the name.  I now have a much better understanding and appreciation of how different varietals taste depending on whether you’re standing in Bordeaux, the Languedoc, or the Luberon.  Needless to say, I just scratched the surface over the course of three weeks.  So much more wine to meet my acquaintance; a task that I eagerly welcome and await.  I hope to return to France soon!

“Wine is a part of the food chain.  In France and Italy, people don’t drink wine to get drunk, they drink wine as part of a meal, it makes it more pleasant…there’s not anything evil about it, it’s part of the food.” — Julia Child

This collage of photos highlights that which I could not possibly begin to express in words…

Three weeks ago, it all started in the City of Light...


Thereafter, hopped on the TGV to Bordeaux, where we rented a car and left the big city behind in search of greener and purpler (i.e., grapes) pastures.

Around Bordeaux…

I’ve seen plenty of stunning photos of fields of sunflowers, but to actually stand in such a field, on French soil, is a whole different story.  Had to stop and get a few shots.  Unfortunately, it was a tad  late in the season for sunflowers, lavender, and poppies.  Most of the sunflowers were a bit droopy and the lavender had already been harvested.  A definite reason to return soon (next spring sounds good to me; how can I make that happen?).
But, no shortage of grapes — row upon row of grapes…everywhere you look, as far as the eye can see — grapes.

Next stop, Saint-Emilion…

Just east of Saint-Emilion lies the Dordogne…


On to Sarlat…

All I can say is, foie gras, foie gras, foie gras…

And, oh my, what a wonderful market.

French Basque Country…

I think the sheep (brebis) were asking me to set them free.  I looked for them in the following days, but the gates were always open and the brebis were nowhere to be found.  Perhaps they escaped?

The lovely beach town of Saint-Jean-de-Luz…

Espellete…

Not surprisingly, Espellete is known for the Espellete pepper, which you see displayed just about everywhere, including hanging from buildings to dry in the sun.

 Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port…
 

On the route of the El Camino de Santiago

Just over the Spanish border, San Sebastian, Spain

Stopped for some pintxos (small Basque plates) and txakoli (local Basque wine) in San Sebastian.  I’ve also heard lots of good things about Bilbao (just west of San Sebastian) from fellow travelers (adding Bilbao to my long list of places to visit).





 Headed east, next stop Collioure (on the Mediterranean side)…

Numerous artists reside in Collioure.  Given the array of vibrant hues and shades that make up the town, it’s no wonder that one would feel inspired to get out a swirl of paint and paintbrush and create a masterpiece.

A quick bite to eat — oysters, fish soup, grilled sardines, and a little wine — in Sete…

Pont du Gard, an ancient and stunning Roman aqueduct bridge…

The villages of the Luberon (Provence wine country)…

L’Isle-Sur-la-Sorgue…

A charming chambre h’hote (similar to a bed and breakfast) called Chambres Sous l’Olivier, where we rested our heads for a few nights in L’Isle-Sur-la-Sorgue…

Stay for dinner, Julien, our host, is a skilled cook.

The Market in Coustellet (one of my favorite markets), just a few kilometers east of L’Isle-Sur-la-Sorgue.

Seguret…

Gordes…

Roussillon…

The hilltop village of Roussillon is defined by its color.  Ochre (iron- and clay-sand deposits) in 40 different shades, ranging from beige to purple to yellow, orange, and red, are required by law to be used on the facades of buildings.

 

Lunch in Buoux, at Auberge de la Loube

  
 Bonnieux…
 

About an hour’s drive north to Vaison-la-Romaine…

Yet another magnificent market (Vaison-la-Romaine)…

Lastly, (and sadly) our final stop, Marseille, before heading home…

Just a few things that made it back home with me (I guess that explains why my bag was just a touch heavier on the way back).

After a few nights rest back home, am ready to head to the international terminal and hop on another plane…where to next?

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You take the best trips and capture such stunning photos! Can I go in your suitcase next time??

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