Review: Country chic at Les Vieilles Tours

Where it is: Lafage, 46500 Rocamadour (Le Lot department, France)

 

Website: http://www.vtrocamadour.com/

Who is it suitable for: couples, families.

Thumbs up for…: friendly staff, amazing food

Thumbs down for…: the outdated furniture/decor in our room.

**

As we entered the lobby, we were completely alone. No one at the front desk, and only a dog – a calm and quiet Labrador – was guarding the driveway. We searched high and low for anyone, any person at all, who worked there and could check us in.

…That was until we realized how little we had paid attention to the small but quite  obvious details on the reception desk. A button to push and something in the lines of “call me” written on it. We blamed our ignorance on being tired after a long drive. Only seconds after we’d pushed that button, the hostess arrived and welcomed us.

Welcome to a charming 17th-century manor house and its 2 annex buildings, located in a tranquil environment. Each room is individually decorated in the style of country chic and features en suite bathrooms. Our room had an extra bed in a separate room, which is nice for those who travel with a third companion. Families with one child, for example.

I like country chic decor and vintage interior. But our particular guest room could need a change of furniture and textiles. The brick wall, however, gives the room a rustic and cool look, and the exterior of the annex is idyllic and gorgeous.

It was too chilly outside to try the outdoor swimming pool. I was – for a brief moment – considering giving it a try, until I realized I’d probably catch a cold if I did.

The restaurant was my highlight of the stay. The atmosphere was relaxing and perfect for a romantic evening. The decor was simple and classic – as classic as the menu. Those who love French gastronomy will appreciate everything served here. Those who don’t really know the French kitchen that well; give the menu a try and you’ll be in for a pleasant surprise!

Our waiter was a lovely man, always with a smile on his face. We weren’t sure which red wine to choose and asked him for advice. He recommended one that tasted absolutely exquisite. A little fruity, not too dry, not too strong – it was perfect for us.

The breakfast served the following morning was as French as the meal we enjoyed the night before. A glass of juice, a cup of coffee and a few pastries later  and it was time to get back on the road and leave the country chic environment – for now.

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Incredible Caverns in France

When we first made plans to visit Dordogne, we had two main purposes in mind. One was the obvious food and wine tasting. The other is obvious only to those who already have a bit of knowledge about this region and know what makes it so unique as a destination for both local and international tourists.

The Dordogne department has hundreds of caverns. Some of them were discovered quite recently, while others were known as a tourist attraction already in the early 19th century. While some caverns are not open to the public, others have become popular tourist attractions and attract curious visitors from all over the world.

I visited four different caverns during our week in Dordogne and nearby. All four were unique and fascinating in their own way. The first cavern I got to explore was the Gouffre de Proumeyssac . We were given the option to walk down a tunnel together with a guide, or pay extra to be lowered down in a basket from the ceiling – the way the explorers did when they first discovered the cavern. As much as I would have wanted to choose the basket, my fear of heights made me chose the tunnel instead. The first sight that met me as I entered the cavern was a sign that said “No photos allowed”. How disappointing. The tour itself was no disappointment, though. In complete darkness, we were guided to a view point inside of the cavern. A light show entertained us as it illuminated the cavern and its different formations, in harmony with relaxing music.

The second one on the list was Les Grottes de Maxange . These two caverns were named after the man who discovered them, whose name was Angel – and in honor of his father; Maximilien. Les Grottes de Maxange was without a doubt my favorite visit. All along the narrow cavern are thousands of very small eccentric concretions. They are tiny stalactite-formations which instead of growing vertically, they grow in all directions. A display like this is very rare, and it’s as beautiful as it is unusual.

Third one up was supposed to be the prehistorical famous Lascaux , but unorganized as we were, we forgot to check the opening hours before arrival, and got there almost two hours before the first tour. We changed our plans and visited castles and nearby villages instead of caverns that day. However, the following day was a new opportunity to explore another cavern: Gouffre de Padirac .

To enter the Gouffre de Padirac, we were given the choice between a whole lot of stairs, or an elevator. As I’m terrified of heights, I chose the stairs – as it gives me a stronger feeling of control. A feeling of exhaustion and relief as I descended what I thought was the bottom of the cavern. But then there was another set of stairs. People had already gotten in line for the gondolas and we spent perhaps forty minutes in line, waiting for our turn. But it was worth every minute of the wait.  The gondola ride on the lake (completely formed by rain) was romantic and felt somewhat supernatural. What a unique way of exploring a cavern!

The final cavern we visited was Les Grottes de Lacave . The cavern is entered on a small electric train, which itself was a fun experience. Inside of this large natural cavern, there’s an incredible display of stalactites and stalagmites. During one part of the tour, visitors enter an area where there’s no light except from ultraviolet – displaying the incredible formations in a whole different way. A magical way.

I never thought I’d ever see anything as supernatural looking and incredible as the things I saw while visiting these caverns. And yet, there they are, underground, in the southwest of France.

Les Grottes de Maxange

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Gouffre de Padirac

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Les Grottes de Lacave

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Review: A night at the elegant Château de la Cazine (Limousin region, France)

Where it is:  Domaine de la Fôt, 23300 Noth, rural Limousin region (France)

Website: http://www.chateaudelacazine.fr/en/

Who it is suitable for: romantic getaway, weddings, those who want to pamper themselves with spa-treatments and need a break from everyday stress

Thumbs up for…:  friendly staff, lovely room with gorgeous decor

Thumbs down for…: the swimming pool. It was supposed to be heated, but I got myself an ice-cold surprise as I entered

**

Ah, those romantic weekend-getaways. People have different ways of spicing up their relationship. Castles, spa-treatments and local gastronomy is ours. Fortunately,  me and my significant other live in France, where  there’s plenty of charming chateau-hotels to choose from and the restaurants will (most likely) not disappoint you. A lot of these classy chateaus offer bicycle rental, spa-treatments or have their own swimming pool and maybe even a tennis court.

Château de la Cazine offer all those things – and more. The chateau offers relaxing spa treatments and has an outdoor swimming pool for those who want to relax in the nice, supposedly heated water. It was freezing cold when we were there, though.

If swimming pools and spa-treatments don’t interest you, then what about horse riding? Fishing? Or maybe you’d like to play tennis, rent a bicycle – go mountain biking if you’re more of an adventurous type – or maybe you’d like to use the chateau’s own gym? Remember, if you need a soothing sports massage after a good workout, you can get one of those here too!

Although the chateau is located in a rather remote area, it’s safe to say you won’t get bored. This beautiful venue is also frequently used for weddings and as a honeymoon location. In case you’re a bride or groom to be; this place is perfect for that idyllic wedding in the french countryside. Just perfect.

And what are the rooms like? Sophisticated, old-fashioned and elegant en-suites, designed and decorated with a modern twist to the style of Louis XIV. You enter the room and immediately feel like a royal. I wore my invisible crown all day that day.

Now, let’s talk about the restaurant.

At first I was slightly disappointed. We spent a long time waiting for the server to take our order. A very long time. So long, in fact, that we decided not to order any cheese or dessert, as we were afraid we’d be stuck there waiting impatiently for something that possibly wouldn’t even arrive. The rest of the evening was fine. The meal was nice, the wine was good, the atmosphere was lovely. The breakfast the following morning was the typical french breakfast with bread, jam, pastries, coffee/tea and juice. They also served other things like ham and different kinds of cheese, to cater to the international crowd, I guess. That’s a big plus.

After a lovely breakfast and a nice little chat with the lovely receptionist, it was time to check out and remove my invisible princess crown.

 

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Humane and enjoyable ZooParc de Beauval (Loire Valley, France)

I love animals. There’s no doubt about that. Zoo’s, however, is something I have mixed feelings about – depending on the zoo in question. There are those who force animals to live in small cages in terrible conditions and keep them on display from morning until late evening. With nowhere to hide. And who knows whatever happens when darkness falls? Only the staff knows.

BUT. There are humane zoo’s too. Zoo’s that truly care for animals and promote wildlife conservation and rehabilitation. Where the outdoor areas looks exactly like the animals’ natural habitat. Where they have plenty of space to run free and hide away from the public whenever they want to. ZooParc de Beauval in the Centre-Val de Loire region (France) is one of those zoo’s. It was a joy to visit this place after having watched their documentary on TV, and seeing how well they take care of their animals. They care a lot more about the well-being of the animals than profiting from the zoo. Which means I have no problem recommending it to you, your friends and anyone else who happens to be in the Loire Valley in France and is in need of something fun to do.

ZooParc de Beauval is more than just your average zoo. I had a fantastic time watching their bird show. In fact, it’s one of my top five highlights this year. I’m kind of obsessed with owls, and to have great grand dukes flying inches above my head, back and forth, was spectacular! The entire audience was amazed by the owls, the eagles and all the other majestic creatures that were flying right above us. It was an experience unlike any other.

The sea lion show was fun too, but it’s something I have seen before, elsewhere, so it didn’t blow me away as much as the bird show did. However, it was still fun to watch the sea lions doing tricks, getting fed and playing in the water with the trainers.

One of the most popular sights in ZooParc de Beauval was the new hippo pool. The water was crystal clear and you could see absolutely everything. We made it in time for feeding, and got a great view of the hippos enjoying their lunch in the water.

Did you know that in ZooParc de Beauval you can adopt an animal? Your donations will pay towards the care and treatment of your adopted animal.

One person can not save the world, but if you can help one animal, one organization or one person, then that’s a whole lot more than doing nothing at all!

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The Vegans Guide to Paris

I came up with the idea of writing a vegans guide to Paris after having spent a week exploring that side of Paris with a friend who is vegan. My friend had never been to Paris  or even France before and had been told and/or read online that she’d have a hard time finding anything to eat in France. After all, France is known for its Foie Gras, Boeuf Tartare and creamy pastries and buttered croissants. France is not exactly famous for being a veggie haven. But I did my research. And I got results. Needless to say, vegans won’t starve in Paris. Quite the contrary. I found several restaurants, a few coffee shops and even a 100% vegan supermarket!

Where To Get Your Vegan Coffee

Oatmeal Paris in the 5th arrondissement (metro: Censier-Daubenton, line 7) is a 100% vegan cafe. They offer coffee-drinks and other hot drinks, “sandwich du moment”, oatmeal of the week and different desserts. I tried their tarte tout chocolat, a rich chocolate mousse tarte. It was delicious! My cappuccino was good too, and so was the matcha latte that my friend ordered. Besides, this place is great for Instagram-snapshots!

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Las Vegans in the 10th arrondissement (metro: Bonne Nouvelle, line 8 and 9) is a 100% vegan take-out place. They offer hot coffee drinks, smoothies and are mostly known for their delicious doughnuts and ice cream. They also offer salads and vegan kebabs if you’d rather have something savory. Both me and my friend ordered a banana caramel doughnut. Good place for a quick takeout!

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Le Pain Quotidien is a restaurant and bakery franchise located in different parts of Paris. I didn’t take my friend there, but I’ve been there several times on my own and I know they have a lot of vegan options on the menu. They offer coffee, pastries, salads, fruit juice, tasty sandwiches and more. I usually order the hummus or the avocado tartine (open sandwich) when I’m there. They’re both vegan and delicious!

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Where To Get Your Vegan Sweet Treats

Vegan Folie’s in the 5th arrondissement (metro: Place Monge, line 7) is a 100% vegan bakery. I have heard a lot of positive things about this place, but was unable to go there as they were closed for the week while my friend was here. I’ll definitely check it out one day, though!

Ara Chocolat in the 9th arrondissement (metro: Anvers, line 2) is a vegan-friendly artisan chocolate shop. I only found out about this place today – so it’s yet another place I need to visit.

Where To Have Lunch/Dinner

Gentle Gourmet in the 12th arrondissement (metro: Bastille 1, 5 and 8) is a 100% vegan bistro-style restaurant. This restaurant is a perfect place for a date/romantic meal and for those of you who love and appreciate modern french gastronomy. I started with a faux gras with raspberry jelly and sauce, accompanied with bread and decorative, eatable flowers. The server recommended the portobello mushroom burger with polenta sticks as a main course, so I ordered it. Sadly, I didn’t order any dessert as I was too full. I will definitely return to this restaurant….and order a dessert – no matter how full I am.

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42 Degrés in the 9th arrondissement (metro: Poissonnière, line 7) is the first 100% raw food restaurant in France. This vegan raw food restaurant is – like Gentle Gourmet – for those who appreciate modern bistro-style dining. I haven’t been to this chic raw food place just yet, but would love to go one day!

Hank Burger in the 3rd arrondissement (metro: Rambuteau, line 11) is a 100% vegan burger restaurant. If you’re in the mood for fast food rather than fine dining, you should definitely check out this place!

Végét’Halles in the 1st arrondissement (metro: Châtelet, line 1, 4, 7 and 14) is a vegan/vegetarian restaurant that I’ve heard great things about, but have yet to visit. They have a large menu with plenty of options and I’m sure even the pickiest eater will find something they like there.

Where To Get Your Vegan Groceries

Un Monde Vegan in the 3rd arrondissement (metro: Strasbourg – Saint-Denis, line 4, 8 and 9) is a 100% vegan supermarket. It doesn’t look that big from the outside, but they have absolutely everything you need. And more. Everything you need for a vegan barbecue, cookbooks (in French), cereals and oatmeal, cheese and spreads, faux gras, vegan rillette, pizzas, different kinds of pasta and sauces, candy and chocolate, biscuits, ice cream – you name it.

…And last but not least, tips to non-vegans like myself, who are planning to host a vegan friend:

  • Cater to their needs. All supermarkets have basic things like soy milk and cereals without honey or traces of milk. And obviously fruit and fruit juice. So even if you don’t want to cook a proper vegan dinner, at least serve them a good breakfast.
  • However, if you do want to cook them dinner, ask them what they like. Just because someone is vegan, doesn’t mean they like absolutely every single vegetable. And it doesn’t mean it’s okay for you to serve them dry lettuce just because you want steak and they can’t eat it. Be nice. Make an effort.
  • Don’t ask them annoying questions like “Why did you go vegan? Do you think you’ll be able to stay that way for a long time? Don’t you think it’s just a phase?”. I got the exact same questions about having tattoos, and about moving to France. And I’m sure vegans get those questions even more often than I did, and I’m sure they’re sick and tired of hearing it.
  • Be open-minded. Take your friend to a vegan restaurant. Have a good time!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Northwestern France (francophiles, you’ll love it!)

In my diary I’ve already written about the little road-trip I made with my boyfriend, and how we spent Bastille Day, and where we ate, what we did – everything worth mentioning about this beautiful journey through the northwest of France. Oh, how I love to go on these adventurous road-trips in France. There are hidden gems in every region. Picturesque villages, historical buildings and medieval castles, beautiful old architecture and local products worth your attention, worth tasting and definitely worth taking home as souvenirs.

Bretagne is a region I had already visited before, but only for a weekend – and only to visit a friend and her family (in Brest). There were so many places I had never discovered in this region, and I was finally on my way to visit at least a few of those places. And still – I have so much more to see!

Our first destination was Saint-Malo, a gorgeous coastal city. We went there to see the fireworks on Bastille Day. Which, by the way, was great!

Saint-Malo

This is a city historically known for its privateers, which were basically pirates – but “good ones” as they were approved by the king.

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Saint-Malo was way more crowded than it looks. We literally spent 45 minutes trying to find somewhere to park, as all the spots in the city center were taken by people who came to the city to watch the fireworks in the evening.

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Saint-Malo Hotel de Ville is way nicer than a lot of other City Hall buildings, right?

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Saint-Malo is quite famous for these tall granite walls that surround the Old Town.

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Mont Saint-Michel

This island is located in the bay where Bretagne and Normandie merge, and many people are confused with what region it belongs to. Well, as much as I think the Bretons would have loved to claim it their own, it’s actually in Normandie. And what a beautiful treasure it is, this island and its monastery!

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The main source of income for the residents on Le Mont Saint-Michel is tourism, and with over 3 million visitors pr year they’re definitely keeping themselves busy!

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The monastery seen from the viewpoint – and a sneaky seagull!

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The Cloister

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Dinan

….And we were back in Bretagne! Visiting Dinan was a spontaneous decision. And quite a pleasant surprise. It’s an old idyllic town that will make any francophile start daydreaming.

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Many walls like these are decorated with gorgeous flowers

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One of the many restaurants in Dinan

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The river Rance

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The river Rance from a different perspective. Taken during our boat trip on the river.

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Basilique Saint Sauveur

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Rennes

Our final destination was the young and vibrant city Rennes, also in Bretagne. This city has a reputation for being a party central for students, and it’s easy to understand why. There’s a bar on pretty much every single corner. If you’re not really into the bar-scene, there’s a gorgeous park worth checking out for those lazy days in the sun, for the ones who love flowers, and for the photographers in need of a beautiful backdrop or fantastic close-ups of colorful flowers.

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Here it is…The beautiful Parc du Thabor.

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