Visit Charente-Maritime

réWelcome in Charente-Maritime !!!  This French area is just fantastic. Charente-Maritime is located between Bordeaux and Nantes. If you love sea, long beach with white sand, oysters, islands, stuff to visit with your kids, I can tell you : you will just love it.

 la rochelle

The main town to visit is La Rochelle, with the old port where you can eat seafood in a nice restaurant, in front of wonderful boats : in the same place, you can see very old sailboats, yachts and race boats from the « Vendée Globe Challenge« . On the other side of the port, you really should visit the biggest and fantastic Aquarium with fishes and sharks as you would never see in an other place (except in the Bahamas 😉 ). My older kid love to visit that aquarium. I invite you to taste the aquarium’s restaurant. It’s on the roof, with a fantastic view on the port and the boats : it’s not too expensive and the food is really good. If you arrive on a touristic day, I suggest you to buy your aquarium entrance tickets at the Tourist office, at the old port, it’s a 5 minutes walk and you avoid to queue up during two or three hours, in front of the aquarium …

 aquarium

After that first stop in La Rochelle, you should take a boat and go to visit the three islands : Ré Island, Oléron Island and Aix Island. The two first one can be visited with a car because there is a bridge connecting it to the continent. On the way, you should take a picture of the famous Fort Boyard (use for a TV show). On the islands, take a bike for a best view and don’t forget to visit the typical fisherman’s hut with the blue shutters, the lighthouses, smell the hollyhocks, take time on the beaches and eat oysters. The best ones you can find are Gillardeau’s oysters, just at the foot of the bridge connecting the continent in the Oléron Island. It is the ones which are served to the Elysee Palace and in the best restaurants in Paris.

boyard

 

oléronrose trémière

aix

phare

If you prefer to fish oysters by yourself, you should go in my best spot : Meschers, Beach of the Nonnes. When there is a spring tide discovering rocks, you could fish really good oysters and sometimes, little shrimps too. If you like animals, don’t forget to visit La Palmyre Zoo, the biggest in Europe. The kids will be really surprised. If you prefer to have a walk in a typical old village, you really should go and visit Talmont. You will feel living two centuries behind : no cars, old stones houses… After that day, I invite you to go to a fantastic restaurant with an incredible view on the sea : « Le Cardinal des Mers » at Saint Georges de Didonne (very close from Meschers). The food (very fresh seafood and roasted meat in a big chimney in front of you) and cocktails are just amazing.

cardinal
huîtres zoo
talmont

moulinvaldeseugne2

To sleep, I advice you to leave the seaside and drive to the spa town, Jonzac. Make a stop at « le Moulin du Val de Seugne » in Mosnac. It’s an old water mill with a big park, where you can see some animals (goat, donkey, gooses, ducks and rabbits) having a walk in front of the river. The service is really good, bedrooms are comfortable and quiet so you can have a nice lunch or dinner in that place. It’s one of my favorite address.

alambicDuring the time you are around Jonzac, drive until Champagnac to go and visit Tanguidet Cognac Fabric, with their very old « alambic ». You will taste one of the best Cognac from the area. After that, you should have fun with your kids in a huge aquatic park, « Les Antilles de Jonzac », in the center of the town. There is also a Casino on the side of the pool (bring your passport  if you want to get in).

antilles

château2

To finish, if you like to visit old french castles, you should go to Pons, 20 minutes from Jonzac, and visit the « Castle of the riddles ». Usually, visiting castles is boring for kids but not here. Kids have riddles to find all along the visit of the park and castle. You will just have fun, for sure. And, if you really like the place, you can sleep in the park : there is huts in the trees.

Have fun and don’t hesitate to write comments !!

Switzerland

Switzerland may be a tiny country on the map, but it is really a big country for gastronomy, culture and mountain landscapes. In Switzerland, you can speak French in the South, German in the North and Italian on the East side. I’ve visited twice and really enjoyed it each time.

You should visit Lausanne for the beautiful mountain lake, Leman and the fabulous Olympics museum (the IOC offices are in Lausanne). Teenagers will love it because they will see the real bar of High Jump World Record holder Javier Sotomayor and Carl Lewis’s golden shoes, with which he has done the 100 m world record time.

You should also go to Geneva to taste the fabulous Swiss Chocolate and buy a nice watch. The most important concentration of watch factories are in Geneva.

The capital city is Bern. Here you can see the castle where the government is located. You should also visit the museum about one of the most famous Swiss scientists, Albert Einstein.

Don’t forget to visit the biggest town in Switzerland, Zürich. The old city center is wonderful, with the churches, old houses and castles. You can also visit the headquarters of the International Federation of Soccer. Here you have some good addresses in or around Zürich :

Café Schober : http://peclard-zurich.ch/ You should absolutely taste the famous hot chocolate. You would love the intimist and felted atmosphere, wonderful for a comfortable break in winter.

Juckerfarm : http://www.juckerfarmart.ch/ Nice place for kids and their parents, 20 minutes of Zürich, in the picturesque little village of Seegräben. You’ve got a fantastic view on the Pfäffiker See’s lake and you would found biologic store and goats park. You should also pick fruits in spring and autumn. Fabulous for brunch, lunch or dinner with friends or family in the countryside.

Babu’s Backery and Coffeehouse :  http://www.bobo-l-escargot.ch/De/CafeBabu. A nice place for all the family, where you can have a brunch or just drink a coffee.

Chäsalp Restaurant : http://www.chaesalp.ch/ One of my Swiss friends favorite restaurant, very closed from Zürich but in the countryside. The place is situated in 2025 ft over the sea level ! It’s a major restaurant to go if you want to taste Swiss food specialties. The prices are specified in Rappen, that means in Swiss francs cents and you would pay the built according to your size !! That’s just unbelievable and very funny for the kids, who would love also meet the nice rabbits in the restaurant.

A fabulous place to stay during your vacations : http://www.thedoldergrand.com/ Try this hotel, it’s just amazing.

To taste a good swiss cheese, make a stop in a little mountain village and try is with the wonderful view in the background, just before you start a little mountain walk. After all the effort, you can relax in a fabulous balneotherapy center. There is a lot in that country and it’s just amazing.

If you want to learn more about Swiss culture, how the Swiss people live, and have fun, you really should watch the movie « Welcome in Switzerland », with the french actor Vincent Perez. It’s a really good one, I love it. I think you can watch it on VOD in the US.

Discovered the Basque country

Basque country is a territory of tradition, history and Basque culture located between France and Spain. It sits in the western extremity of the chain of Pyrénée Mountains and the Atlantic Ocean. In France, it occupies a part of the country called the, « department » of the Atlantic Pyrénées, around Biarritz. You will think you’re in a completely different country than France because the Basque people have their own language. It’s a really beautiful area to visit when you come to France, because you can manage at the same time, to go to the beach or to the mountain, with wonderful landscapes to see everywhere. I will suggest some really nice places to visit for their attractiveness, their scenery or their food.
When you are on the ocean side, you should go to three nice towns : Bayonne, Biarritz and Saint Jean de Luz.


Bayonne is an old town with picturesque houses in the city center, a great castle, and the cathedral. Don’t forget to taste the most famous cured ham in France, Jambon de Bayonne « the one from Bayonne ». You will also discover two famous sports : Basque pelota and rugby.

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Biarritz is the best spot in France for surfing but you will also find some really good places for thalassotherapy and golf. Take time to walk on the sea front up to the rock of the virgin, and in the pedestrian street for some shopping. Make a stop at « La Maison du Chocolat » (Chocolate’s house) (www.lamaisonduchocolat.fr) and buy their fantastic chocolate’s bunch. You will also want to visit the wonderful chocolate museum (www.planetemuseeduchocolat.com). At evening time, have fun in the casino, or in front of the ocean, where you can see the waves exploding on the rocks at your feet. To sleep, you should try the luxury « Hotel du Palais » (www.hotel-du-palais.com), which was the vacation house of Eugénie, the wife of Napoleon III.

Saint Jean de Luz is a really nice harbor with a fantastic historic city center. You should visit Saint Jean Baptiste church where the wedding of King Louis XIV was held, and the house of the king. You should also have a walk along the port. I suggest eating in a « cidreria », a traditional Basque restaurant where the food is cooked in a huge chimney and you can taste some good cider. I invite you to visit the restaurant Arroenia in Urrugne (www.arroenia.com). You can also reserve an apartment in the hotel « La Réserve » (www.hotel-lareserve.com), in front of the ocean. I have already tried it for you and it’s a nice place to stay with a lot of activities for all the family.

When you are on the mountain side, you should visit the cute little village of Espelette and taste their famous hot pepper. Close to Espelette, you should make a stop in Saint Jean Pied de Port, a medieval city with a fantastic view of the landscape from the citadel. If you like to hike in the mountains (but not too long a hike, like me !!), I suggest you visit the Kakuetta gorges (www.sainte-engrace.com/tourisme-pays-basque.html), one of the greatest in Europe with a fantastic waterfall, in a cooler time (even if the weather is extremely hot out of the gorges). To end the day, I suggest you drive up to Barcus, a little mountain flowery village, where you can visit the colorful little church, listen to some Basque songs and dances, and taste the mountain cheese « Ossau Iraty » and book a bedroom with a spa bath in the charming hotel « Chilo » (www.hotel-chilo.com). Their restaurant serves authentic food and the vegetables are really fresh because it comes from the farm of my friends Joël and Claire who live in Barcus too. Their job is to grow vegetables and flowers.

 

Trip in Bordeaux (3/3)

WHERE TO STAY DURING VACATIONS ?

I will just suggest some nice hotels in or around Bordeaux but I must warn you that I have not stayed at all of them myself, because I live here!

Very nice, beautiful and … expensive : « Le grand hôtel » (www.ghbordeaux.com/fr/index.php), in front of the big theater, in the center of Bordeaux. It’s a five star hotel with pool and spa, amazing, with everything to do in the town just at your feet.

If you prefer to be a little bit out of Bordeaux but stay in a charming hotel, I suggest 2 different addresses : « Le Saint James » in Bouliac (3 miles from Bordeaux) with an excellent view of the town (www.saintjames-bouliac.com/fr/index.php) or « La réserve du pavillon chateau raba » in Talence (3 miles from Bordeaux) in a beautiful old house (www.hotel-bordeaux-raba.com).

If you prefer to stay out of town in the vineyards, I suggest 4 hotels, about 20 miles from Bordeaux.

If you love to play golf on vacation, you should go and stay in one of these two hotels, in Medoc’s vineyards :

www.hotel-golf-du-medoc.com or www.relais-margaux.fr

If you aren’t a golfer, I suggest two wonderful hotels close to the very famous vineyards like Smith Haut Lafitte for the first one and Saint Emilion for the second one :

 www.sources-caudalie.com or www.grand-barrail.com

If you don’t want to spend all your money in the hotel, I can give you some advices. First, I always surf on a french web site, www.fr.lastminute.com,  before going somewhere on vacation to see if they have a top secret hotel in the town. What is it ? The best hotels in France have usually some free bedrooms but, because of their standing (4 or 5 stars), they can’t say openly that they sell those bedrooms for 50% less than the real price, especially during the low season. So, check it first. You will know the name of your hotel just some days before the arrival but for sure it will be a really good one for the price of a 2 stars hotel.

My second bit of advice is to go and sleep in a very original place : in a tree. I’ve tried it for you and it’s fantastic. You will be in your second childhood and  the kids love that (over 4 years old for best security)! It’s less expensive than a classic charming hotel and you will take pleasure to find your breakfast outside after a good night in the middle of the nature. Well, it’s true, except if there is a storm during the night like I had… for my wedding’s anniversary !! www.naturacabana.fr.

My last advice is to go and sleep in a nice holiday cottage in a wine castle, where you can have a wine tasting in front of a beautiful castle. For that solution, my choice is for my friends, Nathalie and Hubert in their wine castle « Chateau Courtade Dubuc »  (www.courtade-dubuc.com) in Camblanes et Meynac, located 10 minutes from Bordeaux. Hubert is an enthusiastic wine maker and he will explain how he creates merlots and cabernets from start to ending….in your glass! He and Nathalie gave us a wine tasting of his vintages and then showed us his vats, barrels and warehouse where he actually produces Bordeaux wine. You can take home some excellent bottles for around 8 Euros and you’ll be able to tell your friends you met the winemaker!

Trip in Bordeaux (2/3)

THE VINEYARDS

There are three areas you should visit : Saint Emilion, Sauternes and the Medoc.

Saint Emilion is a medieval village classified by UNESCO as humanity world heritage, located just 28 miles from Bordeaux. It’s a really picturesque place where you can walk on cobblestoned streets, see a monolithic church, a hidden convent behind the tourist office, the old wash house (laverie), the kings tower, a panoramic view from bell tower square and, of course, all the wonderful vineyards of red wine like Cheval Blanc or La Tour Grand Faurie. You should taste the other specialty of Saint Emilion, a small cake made of almonds. Stop at the Laguiole store to buy some hand made knives made in the store. my last advice is not to go in the village with a stroller but instead to carry your baby, it’s less sport… (My arms remembered it).

To eat, I suggest going to try « Le Clos du Roy » (www.leclosduroy.fr). The food is fantastic, especially Bordeaux’s « canelés » (it’s a little cake to eat with your coffee or tea) and the strawberry macaroon dessert. It’s not too expensive as long as you stick with the set menu for around 30 Euros. In France, all the restaurants offer « le Menu » which from the Carte (what we call a Menu) you have a set price for an appetizer (entree in French), Plat (main dish) and dessert or cheese for one price. It is alot of delicious, gourmet food  at a really great price. They also serve it in 3 courses so your stomach has some time to digest properly and you won’t feel full after your meal. Just really happy….!

If you want to buy some good bottles of wine, go to the museum and wine store just behind the tourist office or, for the best way, go and visit a wine castle around the village. My favorite is Laniote Castle (www.laniote.com), because the wine is fantastic, it’s a « Grand Cru « , and the owner is really funny. Your kids will not be annoyed during the visit, because he loves making magical tricks and he will give you a rebus card. If you want to see more about Saint Emilion, I suggest you check out this video about this wonderful village : http://www.saint-emilion-tourisme.com/fr/videos.html

Sauternes is a cute little village in the south of Bordeaux where you can find the most famous syrupy white wine like Yquem (www.yquem.fr). Like almost every village in France, Sauternes has its perfectly picturesque church and limestone fountain. You can walk around the village in the vineyard or on hiking trails. I recommnend eating at the restaurant Le Saprien (www.saprien.free.fr). If you like sport, you can also arrange a boat tour on the river.

The Medoc between Bordeaux and the Atlantic Ocean is a really famous vineyard with famous castles like Margaux, Saint Julien or Saint Estèphe. More than the wine tastings, you should arrange for a cultural tour to go and visit Margaux castle (www.chateau-margaux.com) and Beychevelle castle which is known as a little Versailles (www.beychevelle.com). If you have more time, take a day to go to Lacanau and see the stunning beaches of the Atlantic coastline, and you can even try surfing in the glamourous seaside resort of Biarritz.

Trips and visits

Here, I want to tell you about places you would only find out from a french local, not the things you read in an american travel magazine or blog. I’m going to offer you some places to visit in France, where you can take the kids and it will be interesting for the whole  family! I show you my favorite web sites that we use to find the most interesting trips and the best deals to save money.

 

Trip in Bordeaux (1/3)

Have you already heard of Bordeaux’s wines ? I’m sure you have. I invite you to follow me in a trip around Bordeaux and its vineyards. As I have a lot of things to show you, I will write 3 articles on that subject. You will first find some good places to visit in the town (1/3) and, in a second time, I will suggest you some really nice spots in the vineyards to discover (2/3). To finish, you will see some nice places to stay for your vacations (3/3).

BORDEAUX

Bordeaux is an amazing town classified by the UNESCO as world heritage, where you will have a really good time. I live in this urban area of 840 000 inhabitants for 12 years now and there is so many things to do and see here that I can’t imagine leave the south west of France. When you arrived in Bordeaux by plane or by train, take the tram and go directly in the center of Bordeaux. Stop at « Place de la Bourse ». You can discover this wonderful place with the Haussman buildings and the fountain in the middle and, on the other side of the road, the quays, the moon port. You can have a nice walk in front of the Garonne river in the middle of the gardens from the Stone Bridge (built at Napoleon’s reign) to the water mirror,  where you can play with kids. If you like to walk, you can follow the way until the outlet stores for shopping. If not, stay around the Place de la Bourse and visit the Porte Cailhau, one of the old door to enter the historic heart of Bordeaux. Walk in the old and tinny streets until the Place Saint Pierre and the Place du Parlement. If you are hungry, I suggest you to stop at The french restaurant « Le Parlement des Graves » (www.leparlementdesgraves.fr), where you will find a very good food, a nice selection of wines and it’s not too expensive. After lunch, you can continue the visit with the Sainte Catherine street, which is the longest pedestrian street in Europe for shopping (1.24 miles). At the end of Sainte Catherine street, you will arrive on Place Tourny with an amazing view on the big theater, builded in 1780. After that, follow your way until the Place des Quinconces with the Girondins’ fountain. If you haven’t eat yet, I suggest you to enter in a french brasserie, just like in Paris, « La brasserie l’Orléans » (www.brasserie-lorleans.fr), where you can eat very good food with a very good service. When you come in Bordeaux, don’t forget to go and visit the cathedrale, in front of the city hall, the wine world city with its museum and the Palais Gallien, a Roman arena of the third century. To end that fantastic day, I invite you to have dinner on the other side of the river, in the french restaurant « La petite gironde » (www.lapetitegironde.fr) where you will have very good meals with a fantastic view on Bordeaux in a nice garden.

If you want to have a first good idea of the city, you should watch that video by the touristic office of Bordeaux : http://www.bordeaux-tourisme.com and clic on « Voir la video de Bordeaux » at the left bottom of the web site.