France ~ Our Paris and Verdun Adventure
A year ago Ravi and I were adventuring through Paris, France with a little side jaunt to Verdun before making our way down to Barcelona, Spain. And yes, it has taken me an entire 12 months to finally get around to this blog post!
While on vacation, I told myself that I’d have our trip recapped here on the blog by no later than end of August—2015. Which turned into September. Then I promised a couple of people that were heading to Paris and Barcelona that I’d share everything before their trips rolled around….in October and November. Oops. A conversation would have to do.
By the end of the year, so much time had passed, that I started thinking a post on the one year anniversary of the trip would certainly take the pressure off, so here we are!
There aren’t really words to express how wonderful this vacation was. It was definitely the life refresh I needed at the time (and could really use again!).
We spent 5 days in France, hitting a few of the big attractions, but were careful to not over schedule ourselves so we had plenty of time to wonder the streets, relax, and – of course – eat lots of food. For the purposes of keeping this post to a manageable length, I’m just going to include some of our favorite discoveries and a few important tips/recommendations that might help one of you in planning your own trip one day.
First things first. Before leaving the U.S. I created a map of all the possible places we might dine and visit in Paris so even if we didn’t have a set plan, we’d have something to reference no matter what part of town we ended up in for any given day. I also downloaded Patricia Wells’ app, The Food Lover’s Guide to Paris, and highly recommend it. It’s $4.99 well spent.
Our hotel was in the 7th Arrondissement near the Eiffel Tower, so I plotted based on that location as our starting point. Note: we loved that neighborhood as our home base, as there was so much to do nearby and the view of the Eiffel Tower from our balcony wasn’t too shabby either! Worth checking out if you’re in that area: Rue Cler was a lovely pedestrian street nearby that had lots of little shops, bistros, bakeries and open air produce markets.
Pastries on Rue Cler
Since we were staying so nearby, the first thing we did upon arrival to Paris was go on a tour of the Eiffel Tower. If I was a better planner, I would have attempted to get advance tickets to save a little money. You see, you can book official tickets directly, but in order to do so, you have to stay up late exactly 3 months before your desired date in order to snag the precious few they release.
Alas, I didn’t think that far ahead, so a couple of weeks before we left, I booked a ‘skip the line’ tour instead through Fat Tire Tours and while we paid a bit more by doing this, it was totally worth it. I am not one for waiting in lines for 2 hours. Nope.
Berthillon Ice Cream in Paris
Many say that a visit to Berthillon is an absolute must when in Paris. And that you should visit the original location. So I did. Was the wait in line worth it? Oh, it was delicious. Did I see stars? Hear angels? No, I wouldn’t go that far. But if you’re in the area, it’s definitely a delicious treat on a hot summer day.
Experiment Cocktail Club, Paris
When you envision yourself drinking in Paris, you probably have a glass of wine in hand. While I was able to drink some red wine for the first time in 4 years (yay for organic, all natural French red wine!) without having an allergy attack, we also searched out really great cocktails. Because, as you probably know, cocktails are my jam.
The Experimental Cocktail Club was perfection. Definitely a must for all cocktail lovers visiting Paris.
Gregory Renard’s Cacao et Macarons at 35 rue Daubenton (no website)
By far, one of the best things we did during our time in the City of Lights was the Paris By Mouth walking food tour. The ‘Taste of the Latin Quarter‘ included tastings at six spots and took a little over three hours. These small group tours can accommodate a maximum of seven people (probably because some of the establishments you visit are pretty small), but there was only one other couple on our tour, so just a total of 5 counting our guide, Emma.
Gregory Renard’s Cacao et Macarons
Our first stop, Gregory Renard Macarons, was a life altering experience for me. Okay, so maybe that’s a little strong, but it certainly changed my opinion of macarons. In all honesty, I’ve never cared much for them and have been a bit baffled by their popularity. Sure, they’re cute and come in lots of fun colors, but in my opinion, there are dozens of sweets I’d rather eat.
But that day, as the salted butter caramel macaron melted in my mouth, I got it. Guess I just needed to eat real French Macarons for that to happen!
Carl Marletti pastries
And it wasn’t just French Macarons that opened my eyes, but basically every Parisian pastry I sampled. Man, these people know their baked goods. At Carl Marletti it was a taste of their tarte au citron (lemon tart) and a chocolate éclair that did me in.
Then it was on to chocolate- specifically chocolates from Meilleur Ouvrier de France (MOF – the highest rank for French chocolatiers) at Mococha. These cases at this little shop were full of gorgeous truffles almost too beautiful to eat. Almost.
Our Paris By Mouth guide, Emma, and pastries galore at Carl Marletti
We may have started the morning with sweets, but pretty soon we were moving on to more savory territory, including my favorite stop of the tour, this incredible little cheese shop. The building, the street, the cheese… I loved everything about it!
Androuet Cheese Shop, Paris
At Androuet we picked up a plethora of cheeses to sample for later when we would be able to sit for a while with a bottle of wine.
Check out this spread. Yes, this is what heaven is made of…
- Chavignol – ash-covered goat cheese from the Loire Valley
- Brillat Savarin – a triple cream cow cheese made in Normandy
- Camembert – 6 week old, blooming rind cow cheese from Normandy – this particular one aged with cider
- Munster – washed-rind cow cheese, from Lorraine
- Comté – cooked pressed cheese, 18 months old, from the Franche-Comté region
- Ossau Iraty – a 17 month old, pressed cheese made from ewe milk from the Pyranees Mountains
- Roquefort – blue (sheep) cheese, made by artisanal producer Mr Carles
Cheeses at Androuet, Paris
Across the way, we popped into La Boucherie Saint Médard (at 119 rue Mouffetard) and picked up Saucisson de Montagne (air-dried, cured ham “from the mountains”), rillettes a l’oie (goose meat butter), and the mousse de canard (duck mousse), to eat alongside our cheese spread.
By this point, it was around noon and time to rest our weary feet (I wasn’t actually tired, just dying to dig into all of that CHEESE!). At Maison Claudel Vin & Whisky , our final stop, we were able to kick back, enjoy our decadent spread and get a little loopy on a few bottles of wine. Exactly what you should be doing at lunch in Paris, right?
Both a shop and tasting space, the business was started by a couple with dual obsessions, wine and whiskey. The walls are lined with hundreds of bottles of each, and they have dozens of wines and whiskeys by the glass that you can choose to sip on the spot.
Proper Lunch in Paris: Triple Cream Cheese and Wine.
You’ll probably notice that I haven’t mentioned any real “meals” that we had at specific restaurants. While most of the lunches and dinners we had were good, nothing was absolutely amazing, so I’d rather let you discover your own places if you travel to Paris.
But, there was one spot that we completely stumbled upon by accident that turned out to be our best meal of the trip, so you get to see and hear about it~
Le Christine, 1 Rue Christine, 75006 Paris, France
It was the end of a very long day of sightseeing, and we were both tired, grumpy and starving. I didn’t have a plan, and my app wasn’t coming up with anything interesting for the area we were in. I’ll be honest – we fought. We stopped speaking. Hey, I was hangry. Here in the most romantic city in the world, I was feeling anything but romantic.
We zig zag’d in and out of side streets and alleys, making our way in the direction of our hotel, just hoping we’d spot something along the way.
And then Le Christine appeared – a lovely, bright orange beacon.
I’ll admit, the cute exterior is totally what got me. I barely glanced at the menu posted outside the door. All I knew was that this place looked happy and at the moment, I wasn’t, and I desperately wanted to be.
So in we went!
Hallelujah. This is just what we needed. We settled into a table next to a big wall of windows that looked out on the quaintest little courtyard I’d seen since our arrival in Paris. Pretty soon there was a bottle of wine chilling next to me, and all was well with the world again.
Funny how good food, good wine and a change of scenery can lift your mood in no time flat.
Lamb at Le Christine, Paris
Happy again, I didn’t think the night could get any better. But it did. Dessert arrived and like, whoah. Absolute best dessert of our trip: Ginger & green tea ice cream on top of milk chocolate mousse on top of dark chocolate mousse on top of sponge cake with roasted plums. Angels were definitely singing.
Best dessert of the trip at Le Christine
Perfectly content and once again feeling romantic, we left the restaurant and started to make our way to the Seine for the cruise we’d booked. We picked up a bottle of wine and some plastic cups along the way- best decision ever.
I highly, highly recommend doing a Vedettes du Pont Neuf nighttime river cruise. We absolutely loved it– in fact, it might have been the highlight of our entire stay in Paris. Perhaps it’s because we saved it for our final night there and I’d had quite a bit of wine, but all I know was that it was lovely.
I researched several cruise companies before settling on Vedettes because it had really great reviews and seemed more the kind of vibe we were going for. Tickets are $14 if you purchase in person, but only $10 if you purchase online in advance (which is what we did). The boats leave every half hour, and the ride is 1 hour long. We opted for the 9:30 pm cruise because this was at sunset and when all the lights would start coming on…and it was magical.
The perfect last night in Paris.
I know that was a lot of words and a lot of photos of Paris (even though it didn’t even cover a fraction of our time there!), but don’t worry, I’m not going to write that much about Verdun.
First, most of you are probably like- what is Verdun? Yeah, that’s what I said when we started planning this trip and my husband told me he wanted to travel there while we were in France. Huh? I’ve never even heard of this place, and why would I want to waste a day of my time there?? I’ll admit I didn’t have the best attitude about it.
BUT – I knew I was going to get several days to focus on my love of food (which he sometimes doesn’t care a thing about), so I needed to give him at least a day to do something he really wanted to do.
So that’s how we ended up traveling by train from Paris to Verdun, a small city in northeast France, on the banks of the Meuse River.
Whereas Paris has a population of over 2 million people, Verdun has only around 18,000 residents, which is larger than my own Kentucky hometown, but certainly small by most people’s standards.
The entire reason Ravi wanted to come here is because it’s known as the site of the WWI Battle of Verdun. Yes, he’s a history buff. (Guess what? I’m not.)
We spent the day touring battlefields, museums and memorials. Not typically my scene, but it actually turned out to be a lot more interesting than I expected it to be.
But the best part for me was just wondering the streets of this little town. The change of scenery from the big city was quite refreshing. There were so many lovely architectural details around every corner that I found myself snapping pics constantly – doors, windows, bridges, gates, storefronts.
Bunker in Verdun, France
While almost every building here seemed to be very, very old, there were definitely modern touches too….like the Pizza ATM.
Yes, Nashville may have a cupcake ATM, but Verdun has us beat with their Pizza ATM!
Pizza ATM in Verdun, France
While I originally may not have been fully on board with taking this little side jaunt out of the city, it unexpectedly turned out to be a great day, so I’m really glad we did it. And between all the history and sightseeing, I still managed to search out the best mussels and frites in town. Because, you know, that’s what I do. The food is what vacation is all about, right?
Mussels and frites in Verdun, France