The limestone cliffs of Etretat

The limestone cliffs and arches of Etretat at dusk

The limestone cliffs and arches of Etretat at dusk

Monet's "End of the day" painting of Etretat

Monet’s “End of the day” painting of Etretat

Monet has immortalized in his canvas the limestone arches and cliffs of Etretat over a century ago. I can imagine why this fishing village along the Atlantic coast fascinated him then and why its charm still draws many to this day.

Almost five years ago, in late summer and my daughter was still a baby of just 10 months, we spent a week in this lovely seaside town. It was me and my husband’s second time to be in Normandy but a first for my parents-in-law who joined us in this holiday. We stayed in a pretty much secluded but lovely house owned by a French farmer perched on the hilltop that’s about two kms from Etretat’s town center.

Etretat is a town with character still intact in terms of those lovely half-timbered houses apart from its ever famous limestone arches and cliffs. While commercialism has unavoidably taken its root as well, the old charm still prevails. We had days spent on its pebbled beach watching just about everything — fishing boats coming onshore and the seemingly timeless manner of auctioning off the fishermen’s catch to restaurant buyers who boast of fresh catch of the day on their menus, busy cockle gatherers at low tide when the bottom of the shallow part of the Atlantic gets exposed, to magical sunsets that brought us a good understanding of why Monet fell in love with Etretat in the first place.

Etretat despite being romanticized most times, is like the rest of Normandy which has not been spared from the scourge of WWII. Along its picture-perfect coast, one cannot miss the heavily-fortified and macabre looking German bunker which must have seen some of the fiercest battles back then.

At the far end of Etretat’s picturesque limestone cliff is a quaint chapel which we visited in late afternoon just close to sunset time. It is not a real chapel but a folly, its placement there was more for aesthetic to further Etretat’s charm. Despite that discovery, this part of Etretat is simply spectacular with the most amazing vantage point to see the waters of the Atlantic as it stretches far into the horizon on one side, the town of Etretat below and the limestone arches further on.

We had a wonderful time during this holiday exploring not just Etretat but other historic places in Normandy as well.

The rocky cliffs of Étretat by Monet

The rocky cliffs of Étretat by Monet

Monet's painting

Monet’s painting

On our arrival in Etretat, we were treated to this wonderful sunset

On our arrival in Etretat, we were treated to this wonderful sunset

Our family minus Francesca who was already fast asleep

Our family minus Francesca who was already fast asleep

The pretty much secluded holiday home we stayed in

The pretty much secluded holiday home we stayed in

Etretat's pebbled beach and limestone cliffs

Etretat’s pebbled beach and limestone cliffs

Our family

Our family

Our family

Our family

View from atop the limestone cliffs of Etretat

View from atop the limestone cliffs of Etretat

Me and my little girl

Me and my little girl

The Atlantic at sunset from atop the limestone cliffs of Etretat

The Atlantic at sunset from atop the limestone cliffs of Etretat

The town of Etretat

The town of Etretat

The folly chapel

The folly chapel

Etretat's limestone cliffs

Etretat’s limestone cliffs

The folly chapel and the Atlantic at sunset

The folly chapel and the Atlantic at sunset

Our family

Our family

Mom and Dad

Mom and Dad

Our family minus me (the photographer)

Our family minus me (the photographer)

Etretat at dusk

Etretat at dusk

Francesca in Etretat

Francesca in Etretat

Father and daughter

Father and daughter

Francesca with opa and oma

Francesca with opa and oma

At the shores of Etretat.  Behind them is the partial view of the sinister-looking German bunker from WWII

At the shores of Etretat. Behind them is the partial view of the sinister-looking German bunker from WWII

One sunny day in Etretat

One sunny day in Etretat

Our family

Our family

Cockle gatherers hard at work during low tide

Cockle gatherers hard at work during low tide

Etretat at dusk

Etretat at dusk

Picnic and fishing at the Dordogne River

Picnic under the shade of trees by the river bank makes for perfect summer memories

Picnic under the shade of trees by the river bank makes for perfect summer memories

Fishing for baby trout in the Dordogne River

Fishing for baby trout in the Dordogne River

It was yet again another very warm summer day and my parents-in-law’s last day in the Dordogne. After checking out from Le Chambellan which has been their home away from home in the last few days, we all headed to the nearby Dordogne River for one last visit to this idyllic place from where we all had a great time — having picnic and fishing before driving to Bergerac for their flight back to Holland.

With her pink net and just slathered with a thick layer of sunblock, Francesca together with her father spent a great deal of time netting baby and juvenile trouts in the shallow waters of Dordogne while me, Opa and Oma watched with delight in the shades by the river bank. Lunch was a picnic of French goodies which can never be any nicer than in such a setting.

Picnic of French bread accompanied by creamy butter, cheese and terrine

Picnic of French bread accompanied by creamy butter, cheese and terrine

Opa and Oma

Opa and Oma

Father and daughter fishing for baby trouts

Father and daughter fishing for baby trouts

Francesca with her catch of trout that went into the bottle filled with water (she later released them back in the river)

Francesca with her catch of trout that went into the bottle filled with water (she later released them back in the river)

This boy joined her in the fishing expedition

This boy joined her in the fishing expedition

The fish catchers

The fish catchers

Fishing in action -- the trouts were quite fast

Fishing in action — the trouts were quite fast

Two excited fish catchers

Two excited fish catchers

Birds in the sky

Birds in the sky

Other holiday makers

Other holiday makers

Aiming for the baby trouts

Aiming for the baby trouts

The fish catchers

The fish catchers

Chateau de Hautefort and its gardens

Chateau de Hautefort

Chateau de Hautefort

The day before my parents-in-law were due to fly back to Holland, we went to visit yet another castle — the Chateau de Hautefort.

This castle was about an hour’s drive from our base so we brought our picnic basket. One thing that we loved in this holiday was having a picnic lunch which was just so ideal when visiting places like this castle so we avoid long queues and waiting in the restaurant. Our French picnic basket consisted of French bread, pate, cheese and a very succulent melon which we ate under the walnut trees at the foot of the castle’s ground.

The castle was an amazing revelation although it has seen some untoward development in its history like fire but has since then, been rebuilt and restored to its former glory. Not all parts of the castle was open to the public but there was enough to see. The gardens — left me at a loss to describe beauty in its purest sense.

This chateau has also graced the silver screen when it was used as one of the locations for the movie Ever After directed by Andy Tenant and starred by Drew Barrymore.

We enjoyed our picnic lunch at the foothills of this chateau -- under the shade of walnut trees.

We enjoyed our picnic lunch at the foothills of this chateau — under the shade of walnut trees.

Impressive gardens of the chateau -- geometric shapes, topiaries...

Impressive gardens of the chateau — geometric shapes, topiaries…

Parterre garden of Chateau de Hautefort

Parterre garden of Chateau de Hautefort

Chateau de Hautefort

Chateau de Hautefort

Our family

Our family

Francesca's idea of family picture

Francesca’s idea of family picture

Another angle of the chateau

Another angle of the chateau

Topiaries

Topiaries

Topiaries

Topiaries

Chateau de Hautefort

Chateau de Hautefort

One facet of the garden and the village of Hautefort below

One facet of the garden and the village of Hautefort below

At the chateau's entrance

At the chateau’s entrance

Our family

Our family

Another angle of the garden

Another angle of the garden

The garden

The garden

Mam Sil smelling the flowers

Mam Sil smelling the flowers

Beautiful dahlias were in bloom during our visit

Beautiful dahlias were in bloom during our visit

Opa and Francesca

Opa and Francesca

Oma and Francesca

Oma and Francesca

The chateau

The chateau

Chateau de Hautefort

Chateau de Hautefort

One of the bedrooms open for public viewing

One of the bedrooms open for public viewing

Another accessible room at the chateau

Another accessible room at the chateau

A peek into the bygone era

A peek into the bygone era

A tunnel inside the chateau

A tunnel inside the chateau

The chateau's door

The chateau’s door

Chateau de Hautefort

Chateau de Hautefort

Opa and Francesca at the chateau's gift shop

Opa and Francesca at the chateau’s gift shop

Opa's present from the chateau's shop

Opa’s present from the chateau’s shop

Opa and oma

Opa and oma

Roses

Roses

Pink bloom

Pink bloom

Butterfly

Butterfly

Red roses

Red roses

Yellow blooms

Yellow blooms

Pink blooms

Pink blooms

Blue flowers

Blue flowers

French summer basket

French summer basket

Wishing well???

Wishing well???

My little girl

My little girl

Market day in Sarlat-la-Canéda

Lunch in Sarlat-la-Caneda

Lunch in Sarlat-la-Caneda

On this particular warm summer day, we were celebrating a special day, my father-in-law’s birthday. In earlier years when they still live up north in Holland in the Friesian farm house which has a very beautiful garden that my mom-in-law lovingly tended, this birthday celebration was usually on home ground with a barbeque party. For the first time, we celebrated this happy occasion abroad and on a completely different atmosphere.

Not wanting to waste opportunity to see as much during their few days in Dordogne, we decided to visit Sarlat-la-Caneda which on a Saturday in summer, also has its open market. Sarlat is a very alluring town, still well-preserved and very much representative of 14th century France. Being there is like taking a step back in time given its many impeccably restored stone buildings from that bygone era. No wonder then why it is the third most popular location for movies in France after Paris and Cannes.

Comparing the open market in Sarlat to that of Le Bugue which we visited earlier, Sarlat has more to offer and there was more to see too. I enjoyed checking out the stuffs on offer from stall to stall but resisted the urge to do my usual panic buying especially of those wonderful dried sausages, terrine, macaroons, cheeses, etc.

As with any birthday celebration, cake and coffee are a must so the first item on our itinerary was to find a nice pattisserie. We found one along the busy main street and enjoyed our cake and cappuccino. Then it was off to see more of the city and for my mom-in-law to also buy her French basket.

Lunch was a simple fare. We found a quaint little restaurant in the city centre where it was amazingly cool on this very warm day. They opted for omelets and salad while I found the prawn flambee in brandy more appealing especially with the little rice on the side.

Dordogne as we experienced it was spectacular. On the trip back, we were beckoned by the picturesque sunflower fields to make a stop for a few pictures.

Sarlat's city centre

Sarlat’s city centre

Sarlat's city centre

Sarlat’s city centre

Sarlat's city centre

Sarlat’s city centre

Cake and coffee celebration of Dad's birthday

Cake and coffee celebration of Dad’s birthday

My little girl wanted this toy so much

My little girl wanted this toy so much

Walnut cake

Walnut cake

Raspberry cake

Raspberry cake

Lemon cake

Lemon cake

Dordogne's cakes and pastries

Dordogne’s cakes and pastries

Dordogne's cakes and pastries

Dordogne’s cakes and pastries

Admiring the macaroons

Admiring the macaroons

Cakes and pastries

Cakes and pastries

A stall selling dried sausages

A stall selling dried sausages

Dried herbs and spices

Dried herbs and spices

Spices

Spices

Dried spices

Dried spices

Bags

Bags

And more bags

And more bags

Walnuts

Walnuts

And nutcracker

And nutcracker

Cheeses

Cheeses

Bamboo-based utensils

Bamboo-based utensils

Old books

Old books

Dried fruits

Dried fruits

Honey

Honey

A local artist

A local artist

Sarlat Cathedral

Sarlat Cathedral

Ivy-covered old house

Ivy-covered old house

Sarlat

Sarlat

Sarlat

Sarlat

Pink roses

Pink roses

Outdoor restaurants

Outdoor restaurants

My little girl

My little girl

Ivy-covered building

Ivy-covered building

Narrow streets

Narrow streets

Outdoor restaurant

Outdoor restaurant

Former church turned market place

Former church turned market place

Narrow street

Narrow street

Sarlat

Sarlat

Facade of an old building

Facade of an old building

Sarlat

Sarlat

Sarlat

Sarlat

My little girl

My little girl

A taste of Holland in Sarlat

A taste of Holland in Sarlat

Summer outfit

Summer outfit

My little girl

My little girl

French bread

French bread

French omelet

French omelet

My prawn flambee

My prawn flambee

Father and daughter

Father and daughter

Dad buying mom's French basket

Dad buying mom’s French basket

Sunflowers

Sunflowers

Sunflower and its bee friend

Sunflower and its bee friend

Sunflowers

Sunflowers

Me and my little girl

Me and my little girl

Sunflowers

Sunflowers

The overhanging gardens of Chateau de Marqueyssac

Carved boxwood trees - Chateau de Marqueyssac

Carved boxwood trees – Chateau de Marqueyssac

Dordogne is reputed to be the land of a thousand chateaus (castles) so it is mecca to a castle fanatic like me. Further to that reputation are its many amazing parterre (formal) gardens which have behind them centuries of history.

On this post, let me take you to the lovely Chateau de Marqueyssac and its amazing gardens of boxwood trees carved in fantastic shapes. Certainly well worth a visit if you happen to be in Dordogne, this chateau and garden is nestled on a hill with splendid views of the medieval Chateau de Castelnaud and its fierce rival, the Chateau de Beynac as well as the lovely medieval villages along the Dordogne river.

We had a great time exploring this garden, even taking the five kilometer walk to explore every nook and corner of this lovely place. At the end of that walk, we enjoyed a lovely picnic at the chateau’s grounds with amazing view of the farmlands below the hill and the Chateau de Beynac in the distance.

By the way, Chateau de Beynac has served as location for several films, among them Ever After by Andy Tennant in 1998 and Jeanne d’Arc by Luc Besson, in 1999. The village of Beynac below the chateau, also served as a location for the film Chocolat by Lasse Hallström, in 2000.

Chateau de Marqueyssac

Chateau de Marqueyssac

Chateau de Marqueyssac

Chateau de Marqueyssac

Carved boxwood trees

Carved boxwood trees

Among the carved boxwood trees

Among the carved boxwood trees

Trees and carved boxwood trees

Trees and carved boxwood trees

My little girl

My little girl

Chateau de Marqueyssac

Chateau de Marqueyssac

Carved boxwood trees

Carved boxwood trees

Chateau de Marqueyssac

Chateau de Marqueyssac

Chateau de Marqueyssac

Chateau de Marqueyssac

Chateau de Marqueyssac

Chateau de Marqueyssac

Chateau de Marqueyssac

Chateau de Marqueyssac

Chateau de Marqueyssac

Chateau de Marqueyssac

My little girl

My little girl

Inside the chateau

Inside the chateau

Inside the chateau

Inside the chateau

Inside the chateau

Inside the chateau

Oma and Francesca

Oma and Francesca

Opa and Francesca

Opa and Francesca

Chateau de Beynac in the distance

Chateau de Beynac in the distance

The medieval fortress of Chateau de Castelnaud

The medieval fortress of Chateau de Castelnaud

Lovely medieval villages along the Dordogne River

Lovely medieval villages along the Dordogne River

Playground

Playground

Playground

Playground

Chapel at the chateau's ground

Chapel at the chateau’s ground

Oma ensuring that Francesca does not fall over the cliff

Oma ensuring that Francesca does not fall over the cliff

Curious visitors checking out what's inside the chapel

Curious visitors checking out what’s inside the chapel

Alley of santolina and rosemary

Alley of santolina and rosemary

Another chateau as seen from Marqueyssac

Another chateau as seen from Marqueyssac

Hut made of stones

Hut made of stones

Tree house

Tree house

Tree house

Tree house

Water system to maintain the gardens

Water system to maintain the gardens

wooden shop articles

wooden shop articles

wooden shop articles

wooden shop articles

shop articles

shop articles

Lovely shop articles

Lovely shop articles

Family picnic

Family picnic

Francesca with Opa and Oma

Francesca with Opa and Oma

Opa and Oma joins us on holiday

Oma!!!!

Oma!!!!

To a little girl who have her grandparents a constant presence from day 1, three weeks feel like eternity to not see them for that length of time. Thus, when we were planning our summer holiday last year, we took into account that opa (grandfather) and oma (grandmother) can also join us for a few days.

As driving the over 1,000 kilometers distance is not my father-in-law’s idea of driving pleasure especially at the height of the European summer holidays when highways are filled to the brim with traffic, we arranged for them to fly from Rotterdam Airport to Bergerac Airport which was a good hour’s drive from where we were camping. Though we have quite a spacious six-person tent, camping is no longer their idea of holiday convenience so through booking.com, we found a cozy two-star hotel in the village of Le Coux et Bigaroux, about 10-minutes drive from our camping place. My mom-in-law fell in love at first sight with the charms of Le Chambellan. Nothing fancy, the hotel’s magic is woven from its gardens filled with many lovely plants, canopies of grapes under which we would have our dinner on a balmy summer night and its close proximity to the Dordogne River from where we would enjoy carefree moments throwing stones and snaring little trouts in later days.

It was a very hectic day for opa and oma who had to start early with their trip starting with a bus ride from their place in Dronten to the train station in Kampen from where they could take the train to Rotterdam. From the train station in Rotterdam, they then took a bus to Rotterdam Airport and then boarded the Transavia flight to Bergerac. Weary but happy, it was a wonderful moment for all of us to see each other again. The little girl was overjoyed to see her beloved opa and oma and could hardly wait to keep them up to speed on what to do and see in the coming days.

Oma!!!

Oma!!!

So happy to have you here, Oma!

So happy to have you here, Oma!

"Opa, you are here at last!"

“Opa, you are here at last!”

Can't wait to check out presents from the grandparents.

Can’t wait to check out presents from the grandparents.

Le Chambellan

Le Chambellan

Canopy of grapes under which we would later have a lovely dinner

Canopy of grapes under which we would later have a lovely dinner

Charming Le Chambellan

Charming Le Chambellan

Cozy window panes and lavender in bloom

Cozy window panes and lavender in bloom

Beautiful skies

Beautiful skies

Cozy nook and corner at Le Chambellan

Cozy nook and corner at Le Chambellan

Le Chambellan courtyard

Le Chambellan courtyard

Summer blooms

Summer blooms

Le Chambellan courtyard

Le Chambellan courtyard

Oma and Francesca at our camping

Oma and Francesca at our camping

Oma and Opa

Oma and Opa

Opa and oma with Francesca at our camping place

Opa and oma with Francesca at our camping place

Oma and Francesca

Oma and Francesca

Stone-throwing

Stone-throwing

Stone-throwing

Stone-throwing

Opa and Oma at the Dordogne River

Opa and Oma at the Dordogne River

Oma and Francesca at the playground beside the Dordogne River

Oma and Francesca at the playground beside the Dordogne River

Shallow waters of the Dordogne River

Shallow waters of the Dordogne River

Dordogne River

Dordogne River

Stone-throwing

Stone-throwing

Looking for flat stones

Looking for flat stones

Waiting for dinner

Waiting for dinner

Steak and fries

Steak and fries

Typical Dordogne dish -- Duck

Typical Dordogne dish — Duck

Chocolate dessert

Chocolate dessert

Strawberry dessert

Strawberry dessert

Dessert

Dessert

Francesca

Francesca

Our family

Our family

Weary but happy after the long trip -- bus, train, plane and car all in one day to reach France

Weary but happy after the long trip — bus, train, plane and car all in one day to reach France

This cat at Le Chambellan is a cutie.

This cat at Le Chambellan is a cutie.

Francesca find this cat a real cutie.

Francesca find this cat a real cutie.

The gardens of the Manor of Eyrignac

Topiaries at Eyrignac

Topiaries at Eyrignac

Dordogne was the logical option for us to go to after spending the first part of our camping holiday in the Bordeaux area as it was just a good three hours drive eastward. I had no clue as to what can be expected in this part of France. The husband went camping here with his parents and older brother when he was small (that was over 3 decades ago) and his memory were only of the caves for which he became claustrophobic. He still dreams of those stalagmites and stalactites and how they would grow into monsters that would suck the life out of him. Another friend from Scotland (we became friends when we stayed in the same agriturismo in Tuscany two summers earlier) holidayed in Dordogne the year before and only had horror stories to tell from unending bad weather and compounded by car breakdown. Thus, to be honest, I had my worries too that this might not be the place to go for summer holiday.

What a pleasant surprise! Our whole stay of 1.5 weeks in Dordogne were only characterized by blue skies and warm temperature. We skipped the caves but there were so much to see from markets to Medieval castles and parterre gardens. We were able to enjoy as well a step back in time, a kind of re-living of childhood memories when we spent wonderful idyllic moments fishing in the Dordogne River, having picnic most times in the best of surroundings, swimming in the pool at the camping, etc.

One of the many gardens that caught my eye was the French gardens of the Manor of Eyrignac. It was about an hour’s drive from our camping and was well worth the visit. Nestled in the heart of Perigord Noir, these gardens feature plant sculptures, box embroideries, fountains and fields of wild blooms.

Sculptured plants at the Gardens of the Manor of Eyrignac

Sculptured plants at the Gardens of the Manor of Eyrignac

Sculptured plants at Eyrignac

Sculptured plants at Eyrignac

Fruit-bearing trees

Fruit-bearing trees

Father and daughter

Father and daughter

Shop and entrance to the gardens

Shop and entrance to the gardens

Restaurant at the manor

Restaurant at the manor

Topiaries and box embroideries

Topiaries and box embroideries

Star corner

Star corner

The gardens of the Manor of Eyrignac

The gardens of the Manor of Eyrignac

Sculptured plants

Sculptured plants

Topiaries and plant boxes

Topiaries and plant boxes

Ivy-covered building

Ivy-covered building

Centuries-old chapel

Centuries-old chapel

View from inside the chapel

View from inside the chapel

The chapel's altar

The chapel’s altar

The little girl inside the chapel

The little girl inside the chapel

Sculptured plants

Sculptured plants

Plant sculptures

Plant sculptures

The little girl among sculptured plant boxes

The little girl among sculptured plant boxes

Our family

Our family

Chinese pagoda

Chinese pagoda

Sculptured arches

Sculptured arches

My idea of a countryside home and garden

My idea of a countryside home and garden

Plant arches and flower garden

Plant arches and flower garden

I can spend hours here in pure delight

I can spend hours here in pure delight

Field of wild blooms

Field of wild blooms

My little girl

My little girl

Our family

Our family

My little girl

My little girl

Wild blooms

Wild blooms

zinnia

zinnia

Dahlia

Dahlia

Lilly

Lilly

Butterfly

Butterfly

Not sure what this flower is called but was pretty interesting

Not sure what this flower is called but was pretty interesting

Bee

Bee

Busy bee

Busy bee

Butterfly among wild blooms

Butterfly among wild blooms

Pruned apple trees

Pruned apple trees

Wild blooms

Wild blooms

Dahlias

Dahlias

Fountains

Fountains

Perigord Noir countryside from the Eyrignac gardens

Perigord Noir countryside from the Eyrignac gardens

My little girl

My little girl

Father and daughter

Father and daughter

Enjoying the pricey milkshake on a very warm day

Enjoying the pricey milkshake on a very warm day

Our family

Our family

Goodies from the gardens' shop

Goodies from the gardens’ shop

Goodies from the gardens' shop

Goodies from the gardens’ shop

Market day in Le Bugue

Fresh produce

Fresh produce

Open markets never fail to cast their charm on me and I won’t give them a miss if I can find one on any given day. Checking what are on offer from different stalls will make me lost my sense of time as my mind wanders off to what nice meals I can make from the many fresh produce that I can get my hands into. Unfortunately, I don’t have a big family to feed so I always have to try to control the urge to overbuy and overstock especially on those stuffs with limited shelf life.

When we arrived in Dordogne for the second half of our camping holiday, we got some info on what to do and see in the area. The suggestion of open markets in the nearby towns and cities came in handy especially as I was really looking so much forward to exploring a few during this holiday. The nearest to our camping was the town of Le Bugue, a 15-minute drive and where most times we will also get our groceries.

The open market in Le Bugue as compared to the open markets I’ve seen in the west of France has less seafoods and was more oriented to the produce of the land and wood crafts which was pretty understandable from a geographic perspective. We had a great time exploring this market, my little girl so especially loved the trinkets, toys and also the hat that we got her for protection from the strong sun. I enjoyed admiring the fresh vegetables and other food stuffs on offer as well as got myself a nice typical French basket which would later came handy when we get groceries or go on picnics.

Le Bugue

Le Bugue

Le Bugue

Le Bugue

The Vezere River

The Vezere River

Bridge spanning the Vezere River in Le Bugue

Bridge spanning the Vezere River in Le Bugue

The Vezere River

The Vezere River

Admiring the trinkets

Admiring the trinkets

Trying out a hat

Trying out a hat

Checking out the toys

Checking out the toys

Wood-carved slingshots -- I played with them a lot as a child

Wood-carved slingshots — I played with them a lot as a child

Wood crafts

Wood crafts

Wood crafts

Wood crafts

Bread stall

Bread stall

Stall for roast chicken

Stall for roast chicken

Artichokes

Artichokes

Sun-riped tomatoes

Sun-riped tomatoes

Radishes

Radishes

Paprikas

Paprikas

Red paprikas

Red paprikas

Green plums

Green plums

Preserved lemons

Preserved lemons

Olives

Olives

Garlic in herbs and olive oil

Garlic in herbs and olive oil

Olives

Olives

Black olives

Black olives

Sun-dried tomatoes in herbs and olive oil

Sun-dried tomatoes in herbs and olive oil

Seafood stall

Seafood stall

Snails

Snails

Mussels

Mussels

Fish

Fish

Baskets

Baskets

Baskets

Baskets

Got myself a French basket

Got myself a French basket

Exploring Paulliac and the Medoc wine areas

The little girl among the wild flowers

The little girl among the wild flowers

The wines of Paulliac came highly recommended from the marquis of the chateau where we stayed in Alencon. Since it was our first time to be in the area, we had no clue as to what can be expected. We were pleasantly surprised during the drive to Paulliac as we passed through scenic vineyards, lovely wine chateaus and fields of wild blooms.

Paulliac lies on the banks of the Gironde estuary and it could this crucial geographical location and geological phenomenon that account for the special quality of red wines from this area.

We took our time savoring a lovely lunch of seafoods in one of the many nice restaurants along the harbor. On the way back, we stop by a lovely wine chateau along the way and just took our time to savor the blissful atmosphere under the blue skies. We also made a short stop at a field of wild blooms and really had a great time savoring nature’s incredible ability to create beauty that pleases the senses.

One of the many vineyards and wine chateaus

One of the many vineyards and wine chateaus

Paulliac

Paulliac

Seafood paella

Seafood paella

Seafood lunch

Seafood lunch

The harbor of Paulliac

The harbor of Paulliac

The Gironde Estuary - it's mineral-rich waters could be the reason why the wine in this area is special.

The Gironde Estuary – it’s mineral-rich waters could be the reason why the wine in this area is special.

Our family

Our family

She's one little comic

She’s one little comic

Also a good tattoo artist

Also a good tattoo artist

And an acrobat

And an acrobat

Father and daughter

Father and daughter

Father and daughter

Father and daughter

Paulliac

Paulliac

Wine chateau

Wine chateau

Me and my little girl

Me and my little girl

Prized grapes

Prized grapes

Vineyards

Vineyards

Father and daughter

Father and daughter

Father and daughter

Father and daughter

Wine chateau

Wine chateau

A little girl in the vineyard

A little girl in the vineyard

A cross structure in the middle of the vineyard

A cross structure in the middle of the vineyard

Field of wild blooms

Field of wild blooms

Can't resist to do flower-picking

Can’t resist to do flower-picking

My little girl among wild blooms

My little girl among wild blooms

Flower girl

Flower girl

Father and daughter

Father and daughter

Our family

Our family

Flower girl

Flower girl

Of course, she loves lady bugs

Of course, she loves lady bugs

Fort Medoc

Fort Medoc

Entrance of Fort Medoc

Entrance of Fort Medoc

Display of period costumes inside the main building of Fort Medoc

Display of period costumes inside the main building of Fort Medoc

A bit of history on Fort Medoc

A bit of history on Fort Medoc

Wines and macaroons in Saint-Emilion

Saint-Emilion

Saint-Emilion

France is simply one country which has everything for any traveler. To those who love the water, there is the cold Atlantic coast on the west side and the balmy Mediterranean in the south. Height lovers can go for either the Alps or the Pyrenees, those who love the cosmopolitan life had choices of Paris or the Riviera and those who love the tranquil life in the countryside had plenty of choices too. Vineyards, orchards, gardens, lavender fields, flower fields are endless and so are the chateaus and manors.

On this post, let me take you to the lovely town of Saint-Emilion. Listed on UNESCO’s World Heritage List, Saint-Emilion’s history goes back to prehistoric times with fascinating Romanesque churches and ruins. About 32 kilometers northeast of Bordeaux, it is a very popular tourist destination because aside from having that step back in time, it is also famous for its red wines and macaroons.

The drive to Saint-Emilion was a very pleasant experience, passing through gentle hills of vineyards and bewitching sunflower fields. Parking was quite a challenge in this small town but despite a bit of a walk from the parking to the town centre, we enjoyed the stroll through its narrow streets that seemed as old as time.

We did not have a fix agenda of things to do so we had a leisurely lunch at a restaurant on the foot of the hill leading to the King’s Castle Keep. Nothing fancy, we had the “plat du jour” on offer which consisted of a salad, main course and dessert. French meal never disappoint for even in their simplest, they are still top notch.

After lunch, we were off to do the sightseeing bit with hubby and daughter opting to climb the King’s Castle Keep which with its 118 steps was quite something for the little girl. She was so proud of this accomplishment.

Before leaving town, I made sure to get myself a dozen of various flavored macaroons. While Laduree is being extolled in Paris as the mecca for macaroons, Saint-Emilion is said to be the birth place of this simple almond biscuit when they were first made in 1620 by Les Ursulines, a small community of nuns who resided in the village.

Saint-Emilion

Saint-Emilion

One of the many wine cellars

One of the many wine cellars

The road leading to "The King's Castle's Keep"

The road leading to “The King’s Castle’s Keep”

Father and daughter climbed this well-preserved 13th century keep.

Father and daughter climbed this well-preserved 13th century keep.

Father and daughter climbing the King's Castle Keep

Father and daughter climbing the King’s Castle Keep

Our family

Our family

Sunflower fields along the way

Sunflower fields along the way

Vineyards

Vineyards

Me and my little girl

Me and my little girl

Salad

Salad

Entrecote steak with fries

Entrecote steak with fries

Main course of the plat du jour

Main course of the plat du jour

Warm chocolate cake with summer fruit compote

Warm chocolate cake with summer fruit compote

Ice cream dessert

Ice cream dessert

Father and daughter

Father and daughter

Saint-Emilion

Saint-Emilion

Father and daughter

Father and daughter

The Bell Tower of the Monolithic Church

The Bell Tower of the Monolithic Church

Church interior

Church interior

Taking a peak of the church courtyard

Taking a peak of the church courtyard

The Mr. always finds interesting the geological history of the stone blocks used for this church

The Mr. always finds interesting the geological history of the stone blocks used for this church

Narrow street

Narrow street

Saint-Emilion

Saint-Emilion

Museum

Museum

My little girl

My little girl

Me and my little girl

Me and my little girl

Raspberry macaroons

Raspberry macaroons

Passion fruit macaroons

Passion fruit macaroons

Rose macaroons

Rose macaroons

Monet’s home and garden in Giverny

Monet's home in Giverny

Monet’s home in Giverny

Monet entered my consciousness as a college freshman taking up the elective subject of Humanities.  His paintings of water lilies from his garden in Giverny were special favorites.

Fast forward to over two decades later I would be in Giverny, admiring his amazing gardens and being inside his home which gave me a glimpse of his life way back then.  Unfortunately, taking pictures inside his home was forbidden so I could only commit to memory the lovely and cozy atmosphere of his family home.

Giverny is a short distance from Paris and a one day side trip is what many visitors to the City of Lights do. Pretty popular, it is advisable to go there a bit early in the morning to avoid the big crowd of tourists who come in huge touring buses. We took a lazy approach to our sightseeing, staying two nights at a lovely bed and breakfast in a village that’s about 10 minutes drive from Giverny.

Water lilies at Monet's garden in Giverny

Water lilies at Monet’s garden in Giverny

Bridge over a pond of water lilies

Bridge over a pond of water lilies

Water lilies - inspiration for his many paintings

Water lilies – inspiration for his many paintings

Yellow water lilies

Yellow water lilies

Our family

Our family

Well tended garden with flowers carefully organized to bloom from spring to fall

Well tended garden with flowers carefully organized to bloom from spring to fall

Monet's garden is paradise to butterflies

Monet’s garden is paradise to butterflies

My little girl

My little girl

Pink blooms

Pink blooms

zinnia

zinnia

Roses

Roses

One of the many summer blooms

One of the many summer blooms

Monet's home from his garden

Monet’s home from his garden

Flowers everywhere

Flowers everywhere

Water lilies

Water lilies

Pink zinnia

Pink zinnia

Dahlias

Dahlias

Monet's home from the garden

Monet’s home from the garden

My little girl

My little girl

The Mr. outside Monet's home

The Mr. outside Monet’s home

Moi

Moi

Water lilies pond

Water lilies pond

Monet's garden

Monet’s garden

Yellow blooms

Yellow blooms

Monet's garden

Monet’s garden

Bamboos

Bamboos

Monet's garden in Giverny

Monet’s garden in Giverny

Discovering the Atlantic

First glimpse of the Atlantic Ocean

I grew up in a country bounded on one side by the Pacific and the other side by the South China Sea. Imagine turquoise blue waters and coconut-tree lined beaches with powdery white sand… yes, the classic definition of paradise.

The Atlantic on the other hand, paints a totally different picture. Forget the coconut trees (this place is too cold for that) but there is certainly lots of charm in its beaches whose sheer breadth is astounding, its golden sand that’s an amazing contrast to its turquoise blue waters and the dunes dotted with amazing flora.

We had a lovely time discovering this piece of paradise on earth. No busy structures along the beach, no ships or boats in the horizon and save for a few others soaking in the sun, this place was totally our own.

Wide beach and hilly dunes

The road leading to the ocean – tough on the calves but the sheer beauty of this place was worth the hard walk

The Atlantic Ocean from the dunes

The dunes with its amazing flora and the blue waters of the Atlantic

One of the many interesting floras in the dunes

The beach, the dunes and the immense sky

The ocean, beach and dunes underneath the immense sky

The beach, the ocean and the immense sky

Golden sand, turquoise water and blue skies

The dunes and the Atlantic Ocean

Father and daughter heading to the beach

Footprints in the sand

Despite the absence of coconut trees, the Atlantic has other charms like this dune teeming with amazing flora

The Atlantic and its dunes

Shells…

Father and daughter all poised to test the water

The little girl attempting to surf (inspired by a Barbie film she’d seen)

The little girl with her Dora floater

Our shelter from the sun and wind in this very empty beach

Our family

Our family

Fun in the sand

Sheer delight for the little girl

Father and daughter

Papa’s girl

Papa’s girl

Father and daughter enjoying the water

Camping life

Dinner time – our simple dinner fare consisted of rice, fried mackerel and salad

 

From the chateau to the tent — that’s many notches downgrade to our accommodation but we truly love going to the basics.  To our little girl, the tent is more fun than the chateau and she can do a trade-in anytime.  She was actually least happy at the chateau because the other guests were all senior people so aside from the dogs, she had no one to play with.  At the camp, she was in her best element having made friends easily with the other kids, notwithstanding the language barrier.

 

Dinner preparation — rice and fried mackerel

Fried mackerel

Fresh salad

Card game and warm drinks while waiting for the fresh bread that will be available at 8:30 am.

Sampling the croissant

Our little camper

At the camp playground with other children

Lots of fun between these two girls though one speaks Dutch and the other one is French

A friendship is born despite the language barrier

Two girls enjoying a beautiful friendship

These two girls tried table tennis but …. most times were busy picking the ball from the ground

Very determined table tennis players

French pride on their local products

I envy the French on their pride for everything French and it is no wonder that the local industry is alive and well. Local markets and shops selling traditional French products are everywhere and I am always drawn to them. There are times that I need to remind myself that my eyes seem bigger than my tummy at those mouthwatering goodies of theirs.

Every region takes pride of their local products which also show what are endemic in the area.  Wines, pates, cheeses, sweets, sausages, honey, hand-painted chinas, baskets, etc. are just among the many things that can be found in these shops.

Here are some snapshots of the local goods on one of the local shops beside a petrol station along the French peage.

I could have taken more pictures but I was later told that it was actually forbidden to take pictures inside the shop. ;-)

French wines

French wines and spirits

Various types of honey

Various sorts of caramels

Caramels

Cookies and sweets

French hand-painted chinas

Hand-painted ceramics

Hand-painted ceramics

Various shop merchandise

Our first foray exploring the area around Arcachon Bay

The little princess gathering oyster shells on the shores of Arcachon Bay (Cap Ferret)

Heading to the west coast of France further down Brittany proved to be a pleasant surprise. For one, it was not as busy as what we had experienced the previous year in the South of France. Even at the height of the summer season, there was enough room to move around.

Our camping place in Lege, Cap Ferret was a location where we had the best of two worlds — the mighty Atlantic Ocean with its wide empty beaches on one side and the Arcachon Bay on the other which is ringed by many quaint oyster fishing villages.

On our first foray to explore the area around Arcachon Bay, we wanted to see the lighthouse in Cap Ferret but Francesca was more excited to check out the beach. She immediately headed to the water and before soon, was taking her clothes off to be able to swim. Unfortunately, it was low tide and still a bit chilly and we were not prepared with towels and all that so we promised her that that was something that we will do another time.

We then embarked on a search for a restaurant to have lunch but got a bit sidetracked by the wet market that we passed by which as always, charmed me to bits. I could have stayed there forever ogling the fresh produce especially the seafoods that I normally don’t get to see in Holland. My mind was already churning with ideas as to how I would prepare those crabs, lobsters and shrimps which I really miss from my life in the Philippines. Unfortunately, my two bosses were getting so impatient and hungry that we have to stick back to the plan of finding a restaurant for lunch. I thought that we would return to the market before we head back to our camp.

We found a simple restaurant with seafood as its specialty in the town centre. For starter, we shared the pate which was great with the fresh bread. For the main course, the Mr. had mussels and fries while I settled for the lovely sauteed squid served with rice and fennel. Our little girl who’s very picky only had bread and fries as well as her fave chocolate ice cream with lots of whipped cream. The Mr. and I again shared the dessert of tiramisu.

We went back to the wet market after lunch but unfortunately, it was already closing. I was very disappointed especially as I already had dinner figured out in my head. We then dropped by the supermarket and had to make do with the seafood display they had. I settled for a kilo of sardines which for dinner I fried and served with boiled rice and salad.

Arcachon Bay on a cloudy day which would later clear up

The little princess with her haul of oyster shells

Giving her haul of oyster shells to her father for safekeeping

Excitedly rushing to the water

Time to go swimming

A little stop at the playground near the beach

Waiting for our order at the restaurant

Fresh bread

Very yummy “Pate de maison”

Mussels and fries

Sauteed squid served with rice and fennel

Tiramisu

Chocolate ice cream with whipped cream

Savoring her ice cream

She charmed the waiter at the restaurant so she got this foldable hat as a present

She got sidetracked by this picture

Father and daughter

Flower of passion fruit

Dill flowers

Peach colored oleanders

One of the many blooms common in the area

Supermarket scene — langostines

Supermarket scene – snails

Supermarket scene – lobsters

Supermarket scene – crabs

Supermarket scene – lobsters

Supermarket scene – lobsters

Supermarket scene – sardines

Supermarket scene – crabs

Supermarket scene – shrimps

Supermarket scene – oysters

Supermarket scene – squid

Supermarket scene – snails

Supermarket scene – mackerels

Supermarket scene – fish

Supermarket scene – 1-kilo steak cuts

Supermarket scene – dried sausages

A lovely stay in a French chateau

The Chateau de Sarceaux as viewed from the little lake in its sprawling grounds

I must have been a royal in previous life to have this extreme fascination for castles and palaces and anything royal and regal. Looking for a place to spend overnight somewhere in France, midway to our camping destination came easy with the many choices available through Booking.com. My husband outright told me that we should choose for something outside town because of parking consideration — our car is full with stuffs and we cannot take them out except for the overnight bag.

The chateau we’ve chosen was pretty secluded, with a good amount of wooded area and meadows to be traversed before we could reach it. Not a huge chateau but pretty cozy, we learned from its owners (a marquis and marquise) that they are already the 6th generation of inhabitants to this chateau. We were led to our reserved room which was really charming especially given the fact that the furnishings were still all original. It felt like a step back in time for us. The only seemingly modern feature in the room was the bathroom which was updated to modern times and had plenty of warm water, something uncharacteristic of typically spartan chateaus.

The marquis asked if we would like to have dinner at the chateau so we immediately said, “Oui”. Who wouldn’t want to dine in such a setting? Dinner was at 7:45pm but we first assembled in the living room where together with the other guests, were served aperitif and little snacks. It was nice to meet the other guests — an English couple who live near Cambridge and two old ladies (one Dutch and her English friend who was married to a Dutch man).

It was a lovely evening with lively conversation flowing over drinks and food. Dinner was served in the stately dining room which Francesca found wonderful especially with her faux jewels, feeling every inch the princess of the chateau. ;-)

If you want to know more about this chateau, here’s link to some information: http://www.france-hotel-guide.com/en/14878-chateau-de-sarceaux-valframbert-en.php?langue=en

Another angle of the chateau

Father and daughter

Me and the chateau in the background

Our little princess

She became friends with this lovely dog

Lots of open spaces and new friends to make ;-)

Good boy!

Chase me Mam!

I love the simplicity of this chateau

Very old rose vines and the roses with the most amazing scent I’ve ever smelled

The living room where we assembled for aperitif and small bites later

The small room for Francesca which was connected to our bedroom

The fireplace in our bedroom — not in use anymore because the room in updated with modern heating system

Our bedroom

The bathroom

Simple and cozy feature of the bathroom

The scent from these fresh roses filled the room

The hallway at the first floor

Ground floor hallway

Another living room in the chateau

Small bites

Original pieces of period furniture

Father and daughter playing cards at the living room before dinner

The little princess at the dining room, feeling pretty much at home ;-)

The dinner guests

Salad of greens, avocado and shrimps

Dinner of veal stewed in white wine with chervil served with baked potatoes, tomatoes and mushrooms

Dessert of green apple sorbet drizzled with Calvados

The marquis serving the cheese platter

After dinner entertainment — we all went back to the living room for a bit of singing while the marquise played the music on the piano

The very enthusiastic marquise also led us into acapella singing of “Auld lang syne”

At the breakfast table with the other guests the next morning

French breakfast fare

Father and daughter

The chateau just before we left

Bitter sweet parting

Holiday afterthoughts

Chateau de Sarceaux from the distance

My sincere apologies for the long absence on this space. First, both work and home fronts went haywire in the weeks preceding our holiday and then our holiday for almost 3 weeks in France kicked off but internet connection then became a precious commodity.

Lots of stories to tell — which would take me a while to do together with the pictures that I also enjoyed taking along the way. Just when I thought I’ve seen it all from the many travels I’ve done in the past, this recent holiday brought in new and amazing surprises.

I will take you along to a French chateau where we spent one lovely evening wining and dining with the marquis and the marquise and to our camping experience in Cap Ferret where we had the best of both the Arcachon Bay and the Atlantic Coast as well as some of the amazing vineyards which produce some of the best French wines. Then we will move on to the Dordogne Valley which at first I thought was some backwaters of France but whose charm would hook me forever from its many amazing surprises that run from its many feudal castles to spectacular gardens, sunflower fields, Medieval villages, lively markets and so much more. Capping our holiday was a side trip to Monet’s garden in Giverny complemented by a lovely stay in a very cozy bed and breakfast where we felt very much at home.

Francesca became friends with the family dog right away

Our bedroom with original period furnishings — felt like a step back in time.

The little princess at the dining room

The Atlantic coast

Father and daughter are such water lovers — this place is paradise for them.

Our family

One of the many games to enjoy in the almost empty beach front along the Atlantic coast

Oyster stalls in Gujan Mestras along the Arcachon Bay

Father and daughter with the Medieval city of Saint Emilion in the background

The little girl in Saint Emilion

Our family in Saint Emilion

Saw lots of macarons in Saint Emilion and had to buy a dozen of different flavors.

Wine chateaux abound in Saint Emilion and this is just one of the many that we saw along the way. The little girl is showing off her tumbling skills here.

Wild flower fields we passed by in the Medoc area

Vineyards in the Medoc area oftentimes stretching to as far as the eyes can see

Sunflower fields

Sunflowers

Our family in a field of wild blooms

The little girl with her haul of dead crabs in Gujan Mestras

The Dordogne river in the afternoon

Netting young trouts in the Dordogne

Opa and Oma flew in through Bergerac for a few days, much to our delight. They stayed at a very cozy hotel in nearby Le Coux et Bigaroux.

We celebrated Dad’s birthday with lunch in Sarlat and dinner in Audrix.

Together we visited the Chateau de Hautefort and were very impressed by its gardens

Our family in Chateau de Hautefort

Monet’s home in Giverny

Monet’s pond of lillies

Lillies in Giverny

Holiday at last

20120709-180025.jpg

After leaving a very wet Holland, we arrived in Normandy for an overnight stay in this lovely chateau just outside Alencon. Wonderful experience!

Disneyland and a side trip to the Chateau de Fonteinbleau

The upside of a trip to Disneyland Paris is that it is possible to combine other activities in the visit which we did. No, it is not a sightseeing of Paris itself because that deserves a separate and dedicated trip but some shopping and a castle visit can be on the itinerary. We took a side trip to Chateau de Fontainebleau which was just a half hour’s drive and then we also went to La Vallee Village, a chic outlet shopping complex just a mere 5-minute drive from Disney park.

Our little princess in Chateau de Fonteinebleau

Our family

Trees in full bloom

The little princess inside the chateau (we just went to the loo)


Being not such big theme park enthusiasts, we were soon bored by Disneyland. The little girl was also intimidated by most of the rides and the park started to become very busy as the day progressed. Long queues to the rides were also very discouraging. Thus, we opted to drive to Fonteinebleau to see the castle which I have read about in Catherine de Medici’s biography by Leonie Frieda. I’m very curious of the Renaissance French chateaus and palaces.

The town of Fonteinebleau was very charming especially in spring when the trees are in bloom and so are the many spring flowers. The weather was pretty pleasant when we arrived in the afternoon though later it became a bit chilly and cloudy.

We went to the chateau but debated whether to take the guided tour or just explore the castle grounds. Guided castle tours were of no interest to a 3-year old girl so we opted to just explore the castle grounds. Our little girl in her princess outfit was just so happy to run around, feeling ever bit the princess of this former royal haunt. We will definitely be back to this place another time and will explore every nook and corner of this castle.

Inner courtyard

She's fond of picking flowers

The horse-drawn carriage

The driver of the horse-drawn carriage has this well-groomed moustache

Inside the carriage while waiting for more passengers

The little princess fell asleep during the carriage ride

The garden looks pretty bare but this must be spectacular in late spring to summer

The chateau was huge and it has a garden which must be spectacular in late spring and summer and a lovely lake. We rode in a horse-drawn carriage that took us around the sprawling estate that also leads to a adjoining forest. My daughter loved the ride (but eventually fell asleep). Later we just went around the castle and viewed it from across the lake. It was a picture-perfect sight!

The chateau from across the lake

Found this sight of the boat with the chateau in the background so enchanting

Disneyland Paris in spring

My husband and I love to travel but before our daughter came, theme parks were off our radar screen. It is amazing how parenthood changes perspective. The places that we avoided then are the places that we seek out now. We’ve gone mainstream!

It was early spring last year when we went to Disneyland for a long weekend. Actually, going there was a last minute decision that crystallized after our little girl hinted of Mickey Mouse and Goofy. We were supposed to head south of The Netherlands for a 2-night stay in a castle close to Maastrict but cancelled that in lieu of Disneyland. We were able to find a good deal for 4d/3n stay in a 4-star hotel inclusive of the 3-day pass to Disneyland and Walt Disney Studio.

Spring blooms

Trees in bloom

The journey to France took a bit over 5 hours including the short rest room break that we took for Francesca mid-way. Spring is already very much on its way as we drove south. From Belgium to France, the sights of trees and shrubs exploding in pink, white and yellow blooms are simply enthralling.

We spent the first day of our French sojourn just relaxing a bit considering that Siefko did all the driving. He actually enjoyed driving through the French motorway (peage) because the speed limit at 130 kilometers is just great for those who love a bit of speed and hate the traffic jams that’s so common to small countries like Holland.

The hotel turned out to be nicely situated in the middle of a sprawling golf course. We simply loved the greens as European hotels are normally cramped and located in busy areas while this one turned out to be quite secluded.
We had a very pleasant stay at the Radisson Blu and will definitely chose it again next time that we go to Disneyland.

Radisson Blu @ Disneyland

Playing at the hotel's sprawling ground

Running around and hiding

Playing hide and seek at the hotel grounds

At the hotel's bar for drinks

The ever enthusiastic little dancer trying some of her moves at the hotel ;-)

Some of the buffet breakfast choices

Some of the buffet breakfast choices on my plate

The little girl at breakfast

In entering Disney, Francesca was immediately impressed by the princess outfits that many girls were wearing. Those dresses became an obsession that we ended up getting a princess gown for her too. That would be the only stuff that she would wear in the coming days.

First glimpse of Disneyland

Disneyland

Carousel ride

Carousel ride

Train ride

Train ride

My castle obsession did not go away altogether. From Disneyland, we also made a side trip to the stately Chateau de Fontainebleau which was a mere half hour’s drive. (This beautiful chateau will be a subject of my next post).

Our little princess at Chateau de Fontainebleau

A peek at glitzy St. Tropez

Who says dreams don’t come true? Growing up, places like St. Tropez, French Riviera, Provence and the South of France came to my consciousness from reading too much Mills & Boon novels. The impressions from those romantic novels never really left me and although I knew then that I’ll never travel to these places in my lifetime, the dream remained alive in my heart.


It’s kind of funny and weird to finally be in places that used to be figments in my imagination. The M&B novels had of course, over-romanticized these places for the reality was far from what I had conceived about in my mind. St. Tropez was over-rated to my assessment. Yes, everyone wants to be seen there but all because of its reputation as the playground of the rich and famous, the jetsetters, fashion models, Hollywood stars and millionaires. The harbor itself was oozing with those uber expensive futuristic-looking yachts that did not blend in with the centuries-old buildings in the backdrop and its streets were choked with expensive sports cars which actually cannot drive any faster than a few kilometers an hour.

Well, it’s one place that we should see at least once in our lifetime if we have the chance…all for the sake of experience. In summer last year, we camped in Roquebrune sur Argens which is part of the municipality of Ste. Maxime. Ste. Maxime is a municipality in the department (province) Var on the French Riviera and is very close to St. Tropez. The road to St. Tropez is a known nightmare especially in summer months and the 16 km drive can take 1-2 hours so we parked our car at Avenue General Leclerc near the port and took the shuttle ferry from St. Maxime to St. Tropez which was a pleasant experience especially on a warm and lovely summer day. The boat trip all but took 15 minutes.

My first impression of St. Tropez was not that all wonderful. It was busy and the shops and cafes especially those along the harbor were real tourist traps.

Am I just too old fashioned that I found distasteful the glitter, glamour and decadence of today’s modern times that did not match with the town’s architecture? One thing though was that St. Tropez was a place to indulge in people-watching especially of those socialites and wannabes who were regulars for botox or facelifts. Trendy shops were all over like Hermes, Prada, etc. and that was expected if the likes of Naomi Campbell, Kate Moss, Georgio Armani, Elton John, etc. were the regular visitors to the place.

St. Tropez was not really to our liking as we’ve been to far better places where culture and history were still intact. Anyway, we went around and found the fish market more fun to explore. That was an unbelievably amazing but uber expensive fish market with seafoods flown from all over the world to cater to the discriminating palate of St. Tropez visitors.

We got a warning from other Dutch campers we met at the camping site to avoid restaurants close to the harbour for they were real tourist traps. With that in mind, we found a small nice restaurant that was a block away from the usual tourist route. The day’s menu or “plat du jour” was grilled calamares served with rice so we ordered that and half a bottle of wine. The calamares was wonderful! The funny part was that in our whole stay in the South if France, our cheapest lunch was in St. Tropez, the swankiest of places.

We did a bit more of sightseeing after lunch, saw the VIP bar that caters to the rich and famous, and found a merry go round which thrilled our little girl to no end.

After lunch, St. Tropez just became busier and with the mercury rising further, we decided to head back to our camping site. The overpriced shops were really not that fun to explore. Even simple candies from the candy shop were priced 4x more.

We were relieved to finally leave St. Tropez. The place was really nothing special. I prefer the picturesque harbour of Honfleur in Normandy or the Medieval mountaintop village of Bormes les Mimosas. Well, some may disagree with me but this is a personal opinion.


























The charming village of Bormes les Mimosas

It’s another snowless winter day here in Holland so allow me to indulge in my memories of warm and sunny summer days. Let me take you to this lovely village that we stumbled upon on our holiday in the South of France in summer last year.

The medieval village of Bormes les Mimosas


It was my quest for open markets that led us to Bormes les Mimosas. Lonely Planet mentioned that there was an open market there on a Monday but that turned out to be incorrect. On hindsight, that was for the best as the open market would have distracted us from exploring this lovely Medieval village on the mountaintop with a commanding view of the azure blue waters of the Mediterranean. The village is so named after the mimosas that abound in the area. We were there at off- season for mimosas (they bloom profusely in spring and its vanilla-like scent fills the air) but the village was exploding in bloom from bougainvilleas to oleanders, hibiscus, irises and many more. The air was also filled by the lovely scent emanating from the many eucalyptus trees.

We enjoyed exploring the narrow streets, from time to time stepping into the many quaint little shops selling typical Provence items from herbs to soaps, olive oils, wines, hand-woven bags, hand-crafted kitchen utensils, potteries, etc.

This is one place that I’d love to visit again in the future. I prefer this more than the glitzy and ritzy St. Tropez as it is more real and the old world charm is still very much well-preserved. We enjoyed a very nice lunch in a restaurant with an amazing view of the village below. When in France, the food will always be wonderful so we ordered the simple “plat du jour” or the day’s menu.

Maybe Bormes les Mimosas is an open secret for the French. I didn’t know till I was back in Holland that the official presidential summer residence of the French president is at Fort Breganson in Bormes les Mimosas. A few days after we left, I saw these articles on Hello Magazine:

Bumping along nicely: Carla Bruni on holiday






























In the footsteps of French Kings and Leonardo da Vinci

The chateau from across the Loire River


You may after sometime have an overdose of my castle madness but this is just the second castle in my Loire Valley adventure. At some point, the hubby told me that if he never ever see a castle in his life again, he can live with that. He has seen enough…. Not me!

Hubby and me at the chateau's ground


at the chateau


From the chateau with view of the Loire River

My royal fascination continues. From Chenonceau Castle, we drove to Amboise which was about 15 kilometers away. The 15th century Royale Chateau of Amboise belonged to Louise d’Amboise who was convicted of plotting agains Louis XI and condemned to be executed in 1431. He was pardoned by the king but his chateau was confiscated. The chateau became a favorite of French Kings from Charles VIII, Louis XII, Francis I to Henry II. It would, however, figured infamously in the Tumult of Amboise, the failed attempt by the Huguenots in 1560 to gain power of France by abducting the young king, Francis II and arresting Francis, Duke of Guise and his brother, the Cardinal of Lorraine. This event would lead to the Wars of Religion that divided France from 1562 to 1598.

The Huguenots led by La Renaudie attempted to storm the chateau. When he was caught, he was drawn and quartered and his flesh displayed at the gates of the town. In the presence of the King and Queen, La Renaudie’s followers (between 1,200 and 1,500) were also killed and their corpses hung on iron hooks on the facade of the chateau and from nearby trees. Others were drowned in the Loire or exposed to the fury of the townspeople of Amboise.

Castles are not that all glitter and glamor, huh!

What is then the connection of this chateau to Leonardo da Vinci?

King Francis I who was known as “The Builder” was raised at Amboise and during the first few years of his reign, the chateau reached the pinnacle of its glory. Leonardo da Vinci as his guest came to the chateau in December 1515 and lived and worked in the nearby Clos Luce which is connected to the chateau by an underground passage. Leonardo is buried in the Chapel of Saint Hubert on the castle’s ground.

Resting place of Leonardo da Vinci


The chateau is built on a promontory overlooking the Loire River. On the other side, we got to peer down at the lovely town of Amboise. Too bad that we didn’t have sufficient time to linger and explore the old town which is reputed to be loveliest town in the Loire. That’s what castle madness and greed did to me on this holiday — I wanted to see as many castles as possible that I set aside the chance to savor every moment and absorb the beauty that was around me. Next time, I’ll devote a longer time here, explore the town and have dinner in one of the fancy restaurants…someday.

View of the town of Amboise from the chateau


Picture-taking was not allowed inside the chateau so I don’t have indoor shots. It was nice to explore the chateau’s garden. I was so impressed by the centuries-old cedars of Lebanon with the huge scented pine cones. Those cones would have made fantastic home decorations for my mom-in-law.

Huge cones from the centuries-old cedar of Lebanon trees on the castle ground

Hubby with the chateau and the centuries-old cedar of Lebanon

Me and the cedar of Lebanon with the chateau in the background

Exploring Chenonceau, the castle of the ladies

Behind the beauty of this castle in such a splendid setting lies the story of a king, his long-suffering wife and his favored mistress which would make a perfect basis for a soap opera in today’s time and age.

Chenonceau Castle


Chenonceau Castle is known as the “Chateau of the Ladies” in obvious reference to Catherine de Medici, wife of King Henry II and Diane de Poitiers, his favorite mistress. The king who was so attached to this woman who was 20 years his senior, showered her with gifts from jewelries to properties and the most known of course was Chenonceau, the castle she so coveted. Built in 1513 by Katherine Briconnet, Diane lavishly had the castle embellished and had the arched bridge constructed, joining the chateau to its opposite bank. She then oversaw the planting of extensive flower and vegetable gardens along with a variety of fruit trees. Set along the banks of the river, but buttressed from flooding by stone terraces, the exquisite gardens were laid out in four triangles.

The garden of Diane de Poitiers


Diane de Poitiers was the unquestioned mistress of the castle , but ownership remained with the crown until 1555, when years of delicate legal maneuvers finally yielded possession to her. King Henry II would die in a jousting accident in 1559 and his strong-willed widow and regent Catherine de Medici had Diane expelled. It was her time to exact revenge on the woman who had the king’s affection for which she could never be first place despite bearing him 10 children. Because the estate no longer belonged to the crown, she could not seize it outright but forced Diane to exchange it for the Chateau Chaumont. Catherine de Medici then made Chenonceau her own favorite residence, adding a new series of gardens.

View of the chateau from Catherine's garden


Of all the castles which I’ve visited in the Loire Valley which I can say is the castle mecca in the world (castles were at a close distance of few kilometers from each other), Chenonceau was my favorite. The 2 gardens were simply astounding, competing with each other just like the two ladies who vied for the affection of the king.

We explored the gardens and the castle’s interior. I was pretty curious of Diane’s bedroom, thinking of her and the king ;-) We also saw Catherine’s bedroom but she was already a lonely widow when she went to live in this castle.

Diane de Poitiers' bedroom


At Catherine de Medici's bedroom

I was curious as well of the arched bridge spanning the river Cher. Catherine de Medici actually had a magnificent ballroom gallery built upon the bridge of Diane de Poitiers. It is 60 meters long, 6 meters wide, lit by 18 windows, with a sandy chalk tiled and slate floor and exposed joist ceiling.

We also went to see the kitchen which I found very interesting. I loved those copper pots and pans and I can’t help but imagine how food must have been prepared in those days.

We had lunch at the castle’s restaurant L’Orangerie which had amazing haute cuisine. Too bad that I couldn’t do wine tasting in their cellar because of my condition. I’d love to someday come back again and camp in the same camping site along the banks of river Cher which is a tributary of the Loire River.

Summer is a great time to be there. The gardens are just at their gorgeous best and on weekends, there is a music festival at the chateau which we could listen to from the comforts of our tent.

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Pregnant and camping: Why not?

The camping holiday we took in early summer of 2007 raised a few eyebrows for obvious reason — I was five months on the family way. Hubby and I are so fond of camping that my condition did not deter me then to enjoy the pleasure of an outdoor holiday. We’ve camped in a few countries in Europe, spent our honeymoon camping in Denmark and we even went on holiday in the United States camping in five states (Colorado, Utah, Nevada, Arizona and New Mexico).

With our new tent, I could stand inside

Our tent

Enjoying a drink before dinner (I abstained from alcohol though)

We made a few adjustments though from our usual camping routine. First, we bought a bigger and taller tent to replace our small tent so that I can stand inside it and need not crawl to get in. Next, we plan the camping trip in such a way that we camped in just 3 places during the entire holiday instead of hopping from one camping site to the next on a daily basis like what we used to do in the past. In that way, we didn’t have to set up the tent in the afternoon and dismantle it in the morning as we move on.

We opted to go camping in France as on the holidays we’ve spent there in the past, we either stayed in hotels or holiday houses. It is also one popular camping destination for the Dutch which we’ve never validated if deserving of its popularity.

At Chateau Chenonceau which spans the river Cher

At Chateau de Chenonceau with the garden of Catherine de Medici in the background

My tummy looks like the topiaries at Chateau du Amboise

Our first camping stop was in the Loire Valley. As I love castles and is such a history and royalty buff, the Loire Valley was an obvious choice. More so, I’ve just finished reading Catherine de Medici’s biography by Leonie Frieda which with all the intrigues and drama of Renaissance France, made the desire to visit the castles of Chenonceau , Amboise, Chaumont sur Loire, etc. so compelling. We camped in the town of Chenonceaux itself, on the banks of the river Cher. Camping Le Moulin Fort was just 15 minutes walk from Chenonceaux Castle and literally almost a stone’s throw because we could even hear the outdoor music from the castle during the weekend’s music festival.

We enjoyed our stay in this camping site. What we also learned is that we can have electricity in our tent, we just needed to pay an extra Eur 2.00 per day and place a deposit on the special electrical cable and socket. This was a big improvement compared to our previous camping experiences were we literally have to rely on gas lamps and flashlights. Now, we can charge our mobile phones and even use the laptop.

Because of my condition, we also chose to set up the tent not so far from the toilet/bathroom. That’s another thing that we took into account and for the rest, it was business as usual.

Oh, I loved our breakfasts out there. The nice thing about camping in France was that we could place our orders of croissants and French bread in the evening at the camp shop. Hubby would pick them up there fresh from the oven at 8:30 in the morning. That was really heaven for me. I was eating like a construction worker according to him as I would eat between 3 to 4 of those lovely croissants slathered with butter and strawberry jam.

The Loire Valley must be the castle capital in the world with the highest number of castles per few square kilometers. In the beginning, we were visiting 3 to 4 castles a day (can you imagine that?) and that was because there were just so many of them and all with their own special attractions. At one point, I guess that castle fatigue knocked me off big time. Each castle especially from the inside started to look the same ;-)

Anyway, I will try to cover the castles in my upcoming blogs and give you a bit more insight into each and every one of them.

We stayed at the Loire Valley for 5 days before moving to the Drome which hubby wanted to show me. He spent a few weeks in the area doing field work many years ago as an Engineering Geology student. We would stay there for another 4 days and then it was the choice of driving further to the Provence in the south or heading to the French Alps. The latter prevailed because we didn’t have to drive a lot further and the weather forecast was excellent weather on the French side of the Alps.

At the Drome having fun


At one of the passes in the Drome

Rocky cliffs in the Drome were such breathtaking attractions

At the Alps

At the Alps, with snow still left in early summer

Life is about taking chances and thinking outside the box. I did not allow myself to be restricted by my pregnancy to enjoy a great holiday. Camping is fun and it is an adventure that we will carry on.

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