NUMBER ONE RULE OF TRAVEL:
Don't move so fast you miss the good stuff.
NUMBER TWO RULE OF TRAVEL:
Your first choice isn't necessarily the best.
Reflecting on past experience, I realize that some of our
favorite adventures have been in "the places in-between".
These are the stops that tie your itinerary together, sometimes just a quick
pause, other times a few nights in a town that's not necessarily your first choice.
Case in point.
On a rather long journey from Nice to Annecy, I presented my case
for a stop in Entrevaux, a sleepy village with a fantastic legacy
left by the great Vauban, legendary military engineer who advanced
some of the best fortified urban architecture of the 17th century.
Vauban's work contributed in large part to Louis XVI's legacy, boosting
the Sun King's long-term vision -- France, cultural leader of the world.
In an old book of black and white photos of ancient French
villages, the town practically called my name.
The moment I spied the zig zag trail that led to its famous
landmark -- a citadel perched high on the plateau -- I knew
it was meant to be conquered (by moi).
Situated in the beautiful Alpes-Haute-de-Provence -- the key word being
Alps -- you need to be part billy-goat if you hope to spend a lot of time here.
You enter the village through a gate house, crossing a
pretty bridge into the town's medieval heart.
It's everything you hope for in an ancient town -- fountains, squares,
drawbridges & canals, tall houses, several of them covered with decorative tile.
they'd be as smitten as me, ready for the thrill of the climb.
I was wrong.
They stayed in the valley, promising to have a sandwich
and a glass of wine ready for my return.
Up, up, up I climbed, seemingly the only person crazy enough
to take the rocky path on such a hot summer day.
I kept turning around to see the village grow smaller and smaller,
all the while worrying about stumbling and injuring my ever
graceful self, never to be heard from again.....
When I reached the top, my anxiety quickly vanished,
all thoughts turning to the impressive fortress.
Without question, the views from here are the best part but once inside,
the place quickly induces goosebumps -- medieval shock & awe --
the creepy-crawler kind for those of us with over-ripe imaginations.
The dungeon, used as recently as WWI, was dark and menacing --
a place where you could be locked up and forever forgotten.
From there I made my hasty escape, suddenly
longing to see my loved ones at the bottom of the hill.
On the way back down, I finally ran into one other lonesome traveler
who appeared too absorbed in his climb to stop and chat.
My rather sheepish daughter was happy to see me, feeling guilty
about hanging back and wondering what was taking so long.
After all that drama and the accompanying workout, I was ready
for what was possibly the best sandwich of my life.
Entrevaux was a sensational choice and proof that spending a few hours
in-between our home base and final destination was the smart thing to do.
The best part -- it wasn't anything like where we had just been (NIce) or like
where we were heading (Annecy) so it felt like an extra day of recreation.
takes over a vacation -- if you let it.
I was determined to stay in Quimper,
picturesquely christened the oldest city in Brittany.
But for whatever reason, I couldn't find the right accommodations.
Frustrated that my taste and budget rarely match, I began to look at nearby towns.
I finally settled on Bénodet, a resort village less than 15 miles away.
It looked nice enough but left me feeling a bit peeved since I didn't see
any great historical treasures or hidden landmarks.
I assumed I was settling for second best.
Little did I know my runner-up was anything but second-rate.
In fact, Bénodet turned out to be a first-rate champion.
Right from the start, we noticed it's filled with french vacationers -- those
in the "know" about where to find the best distractions and the most pleasure.
It's the perfect spot to watch the sun set on "top" of gently bobbing boats,
engage in endless people watching and enjoy crepes in a gorgeous old villa.
Ice cream, oysters, and a sparkling sea make for a healthy marriage of satisfied, smiling visitors -- not necessarily the norm in occasionally aloof France.
the reason we were in this neck of the woods.
Its wonderfully tipsy buildings and atmospheric St-Corentin Church
were worth the frustrating adjustments we had to make.
Luckily we arrived on a Saturday, Quimper's big market day
so the pedestrianized medieval quarter was really hopping.
I still love to wear my now badly stained Quimper apron and its
equally blemished kitchen towels purchased that day from the market.
It takes me back in an instant.
We visited faience champion H-B Henriot, touring the impressive factory
and even managed a quick trip to Paul Gauguin's little slice of
heaven -- Pont Aven, stopping to admire the pretty Moulin de Rosmadec.
Yes still, with all that heart-stopping Breton flavor, it was
little Bénodet and their romantic port that stole our hearts,
proof that when you take a chance, you might surprise yourself.
The Loire Region is teeming with famous towns that are also
jam-packed with too many day-trippers.
So it's lovely to get off the typical tourist route and find something a bit different.
Chinon is a town best known for its chateau,
notably the meeting place (in 1429) of Joan of Arc and
the Dauphin Charles -- soon to be King Charles VII.
Visiting the restored royal fortress, it's easy to imagine the scene where young
Charles hid from the future saint, testing her -- willing her -- to find him.
As they say, the rest is history and soon enough the troops rallied
to fight the British and re-write the history of France.
True, Chinon as an historical city is impressive enough
but we stopped there for a different reason.
Chinon is spectacularly situated, surrounded by some of the most
glorious vineyards in the Loire Valley.
This is the perfect place to let your free and easy side kick in for a few days.
Delicious Chinon wine and a nice array of restaurants
featuring fine Loire cuisine made for a lovely couple of quiet
days for a pair of lazybones in the mid-point of their vacation.
- : to go on a trip or journey : to go to a place and especially one that is far away
- : to go through or over (a place) during a trip or journey
- : to move from one place to another
Source: Merriam-Webster's Learner's Dictionary
into thinking we always need to go one better - achieve greatness,
fulfill every dream -- dot every "i" and cross every "t" on our itinerary...
That's what I called an ego trip, not a vacation.
Wouldn't it be better to look for a little pleasure,
a little peace of mind, a little enlightenment?
Try, instead, to go through a door where you're not
entirely sure what's on the other side.
And if it turns out it's not a great fit, there's always another door....
The enchanted setting -- miles of plane trees, a shadowy river (the Vienne)
and a café on every corner -- is the answer to a weary travelers' prayers.
This is where you let happy-go-lucky you kick in and make like
Jimmy Buffet -- except trade in his margarita for the local Chinon
or next-door-neighbor Bourgueil, two incredible sips of red.
And for you white wine lovers, try the nearby Vouvray
or a sparkling Cremant de Loire.
You'll be so glad you're not a wine snob.
Chinon wine is terrific, certainly as good a reason as any
to spend a few days kicking back and enjoying life.
And when you pair it with the fine local cuisine, you'll soon
understand why the Loire is know as the "Garden of France."
Feast on the local goat cheese and rillettes (local interpretation of paté),
the superb seasonal vegetables and unforgettable local fish and game.
Or consider visiting a mushroom cave museum in nearby
St-Hillaire-St-Florent to get your Loire appetite gloriously in gear.
This is chateau country so it's hard to decide where to spend your time.
With dozens of choices, don't get too caught up in a classic blunder
of travel -- a forced agenda designed to consummate a castle-crazed course
where you can't tell one chateau from the other at the end of the day.
Sure, we saw our fair share of castles in the area.
But we also visited troglodyte caves, mushroom farms and
a well-rounded mix of vineyards, tasting rooms and churches
with plenty of lazy lunches -- and a nap or two -- in-between.
"The time to relax is when you don't have time for it."
Sydney J. Harris, American Journalist
nothing less than the sun, the moon and the stars.
While it's good to aim high, it's an attitude that
puts a lot of pressure on a traveler.
So when it comes to places like chateau country in the Loire -- or long drives
in between destinations -- or mainstream towns where you can't quite
book the right accommodation -- the choice is simple.
Open the door to a new experience
and you just might find the crown jewel of them all.
Give yourself a chance to connect with an environment you weren't expecting,
one with its own "language" and off-the-beaten-path fun.
Bien sûr, the places in-between are special.
Though you may only have time to scratch the surface,
these are the touchstones that expand your "big picture"
of France and make for a happier experience.
"Happiness is a direction, not a place."
Sydney J. Harris, American Journalist