The botanical garden on the Cider Route in Normandy, France

Back in August, my parents traveled all the way from my native Norway to spend a week vacationing with me in France. More precisely in Normandy.

The beautiful region known for its apple cider (and calvados) production, cheese production (some smelly, others not so much)  and the quaint half-timbered houses that are ever so charming and fairy-tale-esque!

Being given a whole lot of responsibility and becoming my parents’ personal ambassador of France (you know, considering I live in the country and all) I went out of my way to make sure we wouldn’t spend a single second of the day being even remotely bored. While doing my Normandy-research, I found plenty of articles about some kind of a Cider Route.

“When in Lower Normandy, you have to check out the Cider Route (La Route du Cidre) in Pays d’Auge. It’s a 40 kilometers stretch of idyllic scenery, pretty little villages and home to several producers of the “AOC Pays d’Auge” cider”.

Alrighty, then. Off to the Cider Route, we go!

Was it worth exploring?

You bet your sweet ass, it was.

If you weren’t already in love with the French countryside before, you sure will be after a day or two spent exploring the scenic Cider Route. The rustic charm of the half timbered houses and old fashioned cafes, makes you feel like you’ve just stepped right into a fairy tale. The traditional farmer’s markets and the cider farms, now this is the icing on the cake. It sure completes the ambiance Normande!

But… Yes, there is a but.

As amazing as it all is, at one point you might wanna take a short break from all that cider shopping and village hopping and do something else, I’m certain.

Because things can get kind of repetitive. And you can get kind of broke.

Luckily, on the Cider Route itself, there is indeed another activity you shouldn’t look past.

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If you’re someone who enjoys photography (nature, macro, floral) , idyllic picnics, beautiful parks and romantic gardens – or you’re a painter/artist searching for inspiration; you’re in for a treat.

Creative souls and nature lovers alike; you are gonna love Les Jardins du Pays d’Auge (the gardens of Pays d’Auge)!

These charming botanical garden is open from May 1st until October 20th, which means you might want to hurry up if you wanna spend a day in this picturesque location before it’s closed for the season.

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Back in August, while exploring the Cider Route with my mother and stepfather, I took them to Jardins du Pays d’Auge – and, just as I expected, they loved every minute of it.

Well, except from maybe the thirty minutes of sudden rain showers. But hey, Mother Nature decided it was time to water the plants – and just happened to water the three of us at the same time!

According to the lady at the ticket counter, we would need about one hour and a half to quickly see everything Jardins du Pays d’Auge had to offer. The different themed gardens, such as the rosary, the devil’s garden (Jardin du Diable), the angel’s garden (Jardin des Anges), and the September garden (Jardins de septembre), were the perfect spots for photo-enthusiasts like myself – and my mother, to take lovely photos (of each other as well as the flowers and plants).

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While strolling through the gardens, at one point you will end up wandering through a maze, which will then lead you to a cute little chapel. With music playing inside of it.

Apparently the gardens are available for wedding ceremonies, so I guess the chapel is used when celebrating the most romantic events of them all. The big day.

Would you set your future wedding to a botanical garden? I sure would (if my significant other was up for it)!

On site, there are some traditional half timbered houses open for guests to explore. These houses are fully equipped with different tools formerly used in production of food, hardware and clothing, back in the good, old days before modern day technology.

As my stepdad is an engineer and naturally curious about how everything is/used to be made, this was without a doubt his favorite part of the visit.

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My mother, on the other hand, was ecstatic when we walked past a small stable with two donkeys in it.

Random, I know.

She went photo-crazy and took maybe thirty pictures of the poor animals, all from the exact same angle (as they were busy eating and couldn’t give a rats ass about my mom) and then she acted as stubborn as the donkeys themselves, when my stepdad tried to pull her away from them so that we could move on and continue our visit.

I’m not sure if it’s allowed to bring your own food into the gardens or not, but we did it anyway. Earlier that day, we bought a couple of sandwiches from a nice little bakery in the village of Cambremer (where Jardins du Pays d’Auge is located). We hid the goods in my stepdad’s backpack and saved them for the right occasion; picnic time in beautiful scenery!

If the weather (or the staff) is telling you your picnic ain’t gonna happen, and you happen to be so hungry you’d easily start chewing on flowers and leaves from the trees, fear not. Put the flowers down and wait until you’ve finished the tour around the gardens.

You see, on site – just in front of the entrance to the gardens – there is a lovely crêperie just waiting for your hungry belly to be fed with delicious galettes (savory pancakes) and crêpes (sweet pancakes).

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Well, if you’re visiting the gardens between May and September, that is.

My parents and I, finished our sandwiches, finished the tour, and ended our visit. The rain showers had made the grass wet and slippery, which again had made our shoes wet and muddy. But it didn’t bother me, nor my parents. In fact, my stepdad was thrilled.

“Now, this has been a great day. Beautiful scenery. Tranquility. This beats all the villages that kind of look the same, anyway”.

His words, not mine.

Go to LesJardinsduPaysdAuge.com for more information and updates.

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Day trip to the Gardens of Versailles? Check out The Fountains Shows and Musical Gardens – before it’s too late!

Since April 1st and until October 29th, there’s a special event taking place in the magnificent Gardens of Versailles – and you don’t want to miss out on the fun.

I was lucky to spend an entire Sunday in the Gardens of Versailles last month and let me tell you, although it was quite windy that day and we weren’t exactly blessed with a cloudless blue sky, the wind was not the only thing that had me blown away that day!

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Enjoy the Musical Fountains Show

Les Grandes Eaux Musicales de Versailles (The Musical Fountains show of Versailles) is a celebration of the history and the beauty of the Gardens of Versailles – and a celebration of all the spectacular fountains located throughout the gardens.

Stepping on royal ground while classical music is played in the background and watching the fountains dance along to the melody – now that’s an experience that’ll have you feel like the queen or king you deserve to feel like. Even if only for a day.

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Study the map – or risk getting lost and missing out!

The first water display starts at 11 am. You will be handed a timetable and a map once you enter the gardens, and it’s up to you to keep track of what direction to take and which water display you’ll prioritize to see. Because, trust me, there’s a lot!

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I was there with my boyfriend and his parents and we tried to see every single water display, but ended up getting kind of lost in the maze while walking from one part of the gardens to another. I don’t remember who started yelling at who, but somewhere along the line, someone got irritated because someone else were guiding them in the wrong direction, and then…we missed out on one of the preferred water displays as we didn’t make it to that specific fountain in time for the show. Bummer.

So, beware of that. I guess that’s the only negative thing I can say about French gardens and landscape with symmetrical and geometrical designs. They’re kind of like labyrinths! For someone who’s really good at getting lost everywhere, the Gardens of Versailles is just the perfect place to be if you don’t want people to find you. And you won’t even know where you are, yourself either.

And just so you know; the public toilets are also hidden in the maze somewhere.

There you go. Trust me. Study the map as well as you possibly can and there will be no issues!

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Let’s dig into a little bit of history

Ah, the famous Château de Versailles. Just seeing the palace itself – even from the outside – and enjoying the view of the spectacular gardens (especially the Orangerie) is already a magical experience on its own. No wonder the chateau and its beautiful gardens is a UNESCO World Heritage Site!

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If you’re someone who’s intrigued by the history of French Royalty and want to see the most famous gardens of them all, I’ll assure you, you’ll have a fantastic time visiting the historical Gardens of Versailles.

The history of the gardens (as we know them today)  dates back to 1661, under the reign of Louis XIV (also known as the ‘Sun King’). André le Nôtre might just be one of the most famous gardeners in history, and the style “French formal gardens” has its noble reputation thanks to him. The style has been widely copied by other European courts and most gardens of this style is usually compared to the famous Gardens of Versailles. Starting his career as the gardener to the king’s uncle, André le Nôtre later gained fame and fortune for creating some of the most beautiful gardens of the 17th century. He was the mastermind behind the creation and renovation of the Gardens of Versailles – a project that took about 40 years, and thousands of workers, to finish!

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How we ended up having breakfast in the Gardens of Versailles

That Sunday morning spent in Versailles, my boyfriend and I were kind of hungover and extremely tired from a late night out, the previous night. We got up later than planned and didn’t even have time to eat breakfast. To make the morning a little more pleasant, we went to our favorite bakery and bought croissants, pain au raisin (my favorite) and pain au chocolat and drove as fast as we legally could, en route to Versailles. And then we realized we’d forgotten to bring our prepaid tickets. Oops!

We got to Versailles in time for the first water display and everything went according to plan. Well, apart from getting lost in the maze. That was not a part of the plan.

The security guards didn’t care about my handbag being stuffed with a greasy paper bag with probably 10 different pastries inside of it. I’m actually not sure if it’s allowed to bring food and drinks to the gardens or not, but we did – and we enjoyed it.

Relaxing on a bench and enjoying the view of what might be one of the most beautiful gardens I know, made me forget all about being tired and slightly hungover. And eating those delicious pastries at the same time, yeah, that totally made everything a million times better.

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Why YOU should go

Most people who plan a trip to Versailles, go there specifically to visit the palace – which is understandable. Château de Versailles is absolutely gorgeous, and an important part of French history.

But don’t turn down the opportunity to visit the gardens!

And while you’re there, take your time. Don’t rush.

Go for a romantic walk with your significant other. Feel the magic while watching the water displays with your children. Enjoy the music. The nature.

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The Gardens of Versailles is the perfect place to take beautiful photos from all different angles. Landscape photos, photos of the beautiful fountains and sculptures, photos of the dancing water, portraits of your partner, selfies with friends. And photos from above, capturing the symmetrical design that is the trademark of the French gardens.

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The Story of my trip to Narbonne (South of France) – and why YOU should visit!

“Seriously?! You’re going to Narbonne….without me?”

Those were the words that came out of my boyfriend’s mouth after I told him I’d continue traveling for a week, instead of going home right after my trip to Toulouse. Little did I know that he had planned for us to explore that town together. Little did I know that he even knew anything about Narbonne at all – because I sure didn’t (then again, I’m not the French one in this relationship).

My reason for booking a night in Narbonne was no other than it being conveniently located as an overnight stay, before continuing my journey to Spain. Based on the photos I’d seen online, it did also look like a nice little place to hang out for a day. Not even for a second did it cross my mind that my significant other had considered it as a perfect location for a romantic weekend getaway and the ultimate place to go for a wine tasting experience.

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As I arrived at the Gare Routière (the bus station), I was greeted with sunshine. And heat. My black polka dot dress was accessorized with black tights underneath, and my cleavage and bare sleeves were hidden inside of my denim jacket. For the climate back home, that would have been a perfectly appropriate outfit for a spring day. Maybe I’d even add a scarf, just for the sake of layering. But here, all those layers were killing me. I was sweating like a pig. I felt like the spirit of the town was calling me, saying something along the lines of “welcome to Narbonne. Now, take off your clothes!”

My accommodation for the night was a lovely bed&breakfast called La Maison Gustave. The girl at the reception helped me carry my luggage to the room and gave me a list of restaurants to check out and things to do in Narbonne. The room looked exactly like the kind of bedroom I always wished I had; Scandinavian style interior, light colors and with a gorgeous view from the window. From my room I could see the old palace and it looked absolutely amazing! I don’t know about you, but that sure beats the view I’ve got from my bedroom window at home (view over a large construction site).

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For one second there, I imagined all the gorgeous Instagram-photos that could’ve been shot there. Just imagine a large coffee cup and avocado toasts and me in a silk robe, as part of a pretend “breakfast in bed” sorta photo shoot …Or don’t.

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I removed my sticky black tights and took off my jacket before heading out to explore the town. I wanted to visit the palace (Palais des Archevêques) and the Narbonne Cathedral which is situated right next to the palace, and I wanted to take some beautiful photos by the Canal de la Robine.

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As much as I’d like to pretend I’m not, I’m probably always gonna be that stereotypical woman who loves to go shopping. My fingers were itching to spend money on something new – whether it would be artisan biscuits, new books, sandals, hair care products, whatever. But, being on a limited budget I decided I’d be better off splurging on a huge meal later, instead of buying a bunch of stuff I’d have to carry around for the rest of my journey. So I went to a bakery and bought myself a pastry instead.

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Biggest regret of the day. The pastry, a religieuse (why on earth that thing is called “religious” remains a mystery to me), left my hands sticky with melted chocolate sauce going everywhere, while chocolate cream kept pouring out as I took a bite of the pastry. How was it even possible to stuff that much cream inside of that little thing? And why didn’t anyone ever tell me those should be eaten with a spoon, and not with my hands. My face ended up looking like a two year old’s face after eating chocolate cake for the very first time. Good thing I wasn’t there on a date!

I wandered around for a couple of hours until my feet started hurting, thanks to the combination of poor quality shoes and sweaty, swollen feet. Whoever said ballet flats are good for long walks is a big fat liar. By then I’d done quite a lot of window shopping (and no actual shopping), I’d visited the Tourism Office (to find out what I could have done in Narbonne if I had more time – or a car), I’d gotten lost while wandering off to places that turned out to be all residential neighborhoods with nothing to see (where an old man laughed at me and said “clearly you’re lost, little girl” in French).

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I finished the evening with a kind of expensive but delicious meal at Restaurant Gaia. The waiters were surprised, and seemed quite confused – kind of uncomfortable, even – to see someone enter the restaurant without a companion. As if solo travelers don’t eat?

Because of this strange welcome, I already regretted entering the restaurant by myself. I should have just ordered a burger somewhere. It would have made me feel less humiliated. But getting up as soon as I’d been seated, to make my great escape would look even more ridiculous, so I decided to stay.

I ordered a three-course menu, completely forgetting about the fact that I was alone and should have just gone for a main dish and get the eff out of there as soon as possible. To make matters worse, they didn’t serve wine by the glass, so I had to take a half bottle. Fine, I thought. It was probably small anyway. Right?

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Wrong. It got me drunk. And the staff gave me a bunch of magazines to read, while eating. Probably because I looked like a sad, lonely, pathetic little girl who’s getting drunk on her own and comfort-eating like crazy. I’m sure they thought I was single, with six cats waiting for me at home. I’m sure I would have thought the same if someone like me walked into a fancy restaurant all by herself, got drunk and ate a huge meal – without anyone to share the experience with.

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I must admit, though, the food was pretty damn delicious. By the time I got the dessert, I was too drunk to remember to take a picture. Hence its absence.

Before going to sleep, I watched Eurovision on TV and let my sweaty, swollen feet rest on the comfortable, Instagrammable bed.

Narbonne, I shall re-visit you. But next time, I’m bringing a plus one!

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So, if this post made you go “I’ll put some pants on, pack my bags and go there ASAP”, here are some ideas for what to do in Narbonne (apart from the things already mentioned):

In the town center:

Near Narbonne (by car)

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