Paris Outskirts: Oise (thrill rides and castles)

Paris is beautiful. No doubt about it. Beautiful parks, amazing Haussmanian architecture, famous monuments, delicious food, fashionable people. But do you know any thing at all about the banlieues (suburbs) and the districts close to Paris?

Paris. We’ve all seen the thousands of photos shared on social media. We all know what the Eiffel tower looks like. And the Louvre too. And most of us Francophiles have heard the song “Champs-Élysées” and have either been – or want to go – shopping on this famous boulevard. “Now I feel like a real Parisian,” I heard one tourist say out loud as she let her friend hold her fancy shoppingbag from Ladurée – containing overpriced macarons- while she was trying on a beret from a souvenir stand. She was probably the kind of tourist who came to Paris determined to visit the same sites, do the same things, and share almost identical photos with others who had been there and done that before her. Or maybe she wasn’t like that at all. Maybe she just didn’t know any better. Maybe she even wanted to befriend locals and get to know the REAL Paris. Maybe even….the towns and villages close to Paris? Certain Parisians would probably burst out laughing and tell you you’re wasting your time exploring the suburbs, when everything you need is right there, in the centre of Paris. Others would encourage you to see absolutely everything and maybe even offer to come with you. Me, I am a curious soul, interested in seeing every corner of France – and not just the ones mentioned in glossy magazines. 

Before I moved to Paris, I was completely unaware of all the amazing places located only a stone’s throw away from the big city. Parks as beautiful as the ones in Paris, enchanting castles, charming little villages, lovely cafes and restaurants. It’s enough to make you wanna book a flight to Paris – without even visiting Paris.

I will write about each department individually, as this post would seem never-ending, otherwise. You see, the outskirts of Paris have quite a lot to offer!

First, I’ll take you a bit further than just a stone’s throw away, but still not too far to qualify for a spot in this series:

Oise

Parc Asterix

Oise (named after the river Oise) is a department 84 km north of Paris. The biggest tourist attraction of the department is also one of the most visited annually by locals; Parc Asterix – a theme park based on the stories of Asterix (a series of French comics). The park has a large variety of roller coasters as well as many other attractions and shows.

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Beauvais

If you’re flying to Paris with Ryan Air, you’ll be arriving in Beauvais, which serves as the capital of the Oise department. I have never been to Beauvais myself, but I’d love to visit the city’s spectacular gothic cathedral (Cathédrale Saint-Pierre de Beauvais)  and photograph the facade of the Museum of the Oise Department, which is a museum in the former bishop’s palace and is classified as a historical monument. And why not visit one of the expositions at the museum while you’re there?

Senlis

Medieval town Senlis is another destination you should add to your list. Visit the impressive, Gothic cathedral – a national monument of France. The ruins of the Royal Castle is also worth seeing. The actual castle dates back from the 1200’s. Once you’ve visited the cathedral and the castle ruins, sit down and relax with a glass of red or white in one of the local restaurants.

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Château de Pierrefonds

Another must-see is the Château de Pierrefonds, a beautiful medieval castle built between the late 1300’s-early 1400’s. I visited the castle last year, and coincidentally  got there in time for the local medieval festival. I bought myself some souvenirs and farmers produce from the festival market and enjoyed a tasty crêpe to-go!

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Château de Chantilly

Last but not least, Château de Chantilly, a historical castle located in the town of Chantilly. The chateau houses the Musée Condé, which is one of the finest art galleries in France and is open to the public.The park is a French formal garden, which is the same style of garden as the ones of Versailles. While visiting the beautiful garden, we saw happy newlyweds posing for photos, using the gorgeous nature as a backdrop for their wedding photographs. The estate overlooks the Chantilly Racecourse (Hippodrome de Chantilly) , and the Great Stables. Make sure you check out the equestrian shows and demonstrations while you’re there. It’s great fun to watch!

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Château de Montvillargenne

Would you and your significant other like a romantic celebration at a 4-star spa hotel? Then check out Château de Montvillargenne. My partner and I celebrated our one year anniversary at this luxurious chateau. They have an indoor swimming pool, sauna, Turkish bath and they offer a variety of spa treatments – including a duo massage for couples (we tried it, we loved it!). The rooms are neat, the interior is modern and the restaurant serves fine gourmet cuisine. If you’re already in the neighborhood and if you have the budget for it – why not spoil yourself a little?

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Château d’Ermenonville

Set in a medieval chateau, this sophisticated hotel château d’Ermenonville is located in a calm environment – in the heart of the Ermenonville forest, overlooking the Jean-Jacques Rousseau Park. The restaurant has a good reputation and I’d love to dine there someday soon. Just waiting for yet another special occasion.

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And you, will I see you in the department of Oise?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Getting Personal: Paris is for lovers

It was a sunny afternoon in April 2015. My train had just arrived in Paris Gare du Nord, and I was so excited to finally see my Parisian boyfriend again. We had both been counting down the days for several weeks. We had Skyped, WhatsApped, texted, shed a whole lot of tears and felt the blues while we were waiting for April 15th to come along.

Norway is my country of origin. However, it’s been a while since I could call Norway my home. I’ve always traveled a lot and changed my place to call home whenever I got sick of the current location and lifestyle – or climate, for that matter. I have lived in the UK and the US, and I couldn’t stand the thought of moving back to my hometown in Norway after a fun year in Florida. So I traveled. To Poland. To Czech Republic. And it was in Prague which I had spent four amazing days with the man who ended up becoming my boyfriend. We had talked online for several months while I lived in the US, and we finally met in the romantic capital of the Czech Republic. This man was my soul mate. I felt it. And I was willing to take a risk for him. I was willing to move to Paris, so that we could be together.

I had been to Paris before. Briefly. In 2013 I had seen the Eiffeltower, eaten at touristy restaurants, seen the Louvre without entering the museum and seen the Notre-Dame. I remember falling in love with the city, mostly because of the lovely pastel macarons, delicious tarts and warm, buttery croissants. I was in love with the smell of crêpes and the taste of good fruity red wines. The small Parisian apartments in the Hausmannian buildings with their little balconies – often beautifully decorated with flowers – had become my biggest day dream. I wanted to live there. I wanted to be one of those people who were sipping espresso and eating jam on toast on the balcony while watching people pass by on the streets below. And I don’t even like espresso or jam on toast. I still wanted to be one of those people.

Moving to Paris was a whole different experience than what I had imagined it to be. My boyfriend took me to his apartment. My new home. It was not in the centre of Paris, but in the southern suburbs of the city. No Hausmannian building, but a yellow four storey brick. Not quite the idea I had in mind. At least the inside of the apartment was neat and modern. And the person living there was the man of my dreams. Which was a lot more important than the architectural style of the building I was moving in to.

Little did I know how much of an emotional roller coaster this would be, this new life in France. I took French lessons, made friends, lost friends, learned the language, got lost in translation, learned the local costums, made a fool of myself several times, laughed, cried as I’ve fallen in and out of love with Paris. And back in love again. And so it goes, on and on. All my friends in Paris are expatriates, like myself. We all share the same story. Boy meets girl, girl moves to Paris to live with boy. We all complain about the same things. About how Parisian girls won’t even give us the time of day so we’re just stuck with other expats. About how French bureacracy is a pain in the butt. About how going on strike seems to be the national sport here. And last but not least, how much we miss our traditions from home. France is not really a country of traditions. It’s a country rich in culture, but not traditions. Who would have known I’d miss my Norwegian holiday traditions as much as I do now?

Thanks to LinkedIn, I got headhunted for a teaching position in Paris. I now teach Norwegian to French students who are planning to expatriate to Norway. I teach them not only my language, but also about the traditions, the culture and the Norwegian gastronomy. The things I hold dear and miss the most when I’m away from the place I used to call home.

I still don’t call Paris my home. Paris is still my roller coaster ride. And only time will tell if the roller coaster ever stops, or if I’ll eventually evacuate – together with the love of my life.

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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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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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