France 2021

Back to Europe.  It had been 5+ years…definitely longer than I would have guessed back in 2016.  As detailed, we had a trip to Spain and Portugal planned for 2017, but that ended up getting canceled with the house project. 

After wrapping up the house, we owned two houses for a while – not exactly an ideal factor for international vacations.  Then Covid happened. 

In actuality, this trip wasn’t even supposed to be a trip to Europe.  It was initially an attempt to reschedule our Japan vacation planned for fall 2020, which was canceled because of Covid and ended up being the California/Texas trip.

Mid-summer, it became evident that Japan would again not be happening.  That was ok, as we now had far more options as alternatives.  We considered a couple options and itineraries, but ended up with France.  We actually had planned to conclude the trip in San Sebastian (instead of Nice) up until roughly a month before we departed, but too many flight cancellations made that not feasible…and likely for the better.

On that topic, planning with Covid was really not much of an issue except for one thing – flights.  Really, it probably made things like reservations easier to come by.  We did have to obtain the France Covid “Pass Sanitaire” – which was slow, but otherwise painless. 

Flights, on the other hand, were a moving target.  Initially, we were booked in both directions on the British Airways MSY-LHR direct flights.  They were canceled, then the replacements were canceled.  I ended up lucking into two saver Air France business class flights there (MSY-ATL-CDG) and booked those by transferring AMEX membership rewards points to Air France.  On the return, our flights were booked with AA miles.  Once the initial flights were canceled, they give you a much wider selection on AA flights (not other carriers though).  So, we ended up on American Airlines in business class connecting in London on the return (NCE-LHR-MIA-MSY).

Why France?  It made sense given the timeframe and given the fact that it would be just Alyce and I (because of the wine-ing and fine dining).  Plus, all of these locations had been on our list of places to go for a while – in fact we had planned to go to several in our initial France 2016 itinerary.  On the specific stops…

Paris – Paris is one of both of our favorite cities.  There are endless dining options, from the highest of high end to causal bistro fare.  The public transportation is fantastic, and there are plenty of interesting things to see.  Plus, Alyce was pregnant the last time we were in Paris, so she missed out on some things.

Initially, we were going to spend 5 nights in Paris.  However, we lost a night to flight cancellations, and I cut a night to make Champagne a stop rather than a day trip (the other night came from Burgundy).  We ended up with 3 nights in Paris.

Champagne – as mentioned, this was initially going to be a day trip from Paris, but that did not seem to do the area justice.  We turned it into a 2 night stop.

Burgundy – we were going to spend 4 nights in Burgundy in our 2016 trip.  We made some changes, and I’ve been wanting to make to Burgundy since then.  Plus, Burgundy wines are some of favorites – if not our #1.  I was considering 4 nights here initially, but we ended at 3.

Northern Rhone – we planned 3 nights in the Northern Rhone…though at multiple locations within the region.  This is another premier wine region of the world, so wine and food would again be the focus.

Nice – Nice was a stop I’ve wanted to make for a while, but we were going to initially fly from Lyon to San Sebastian because of how much we enjoyed San Sebastian on our 2016 trip.  Flight cancellations made that too much of a headache, but this itinerary was really what it should have been anyway.  We concluded the trip with 4 nights in Nice.

Traveling was relatively simple in that we’d fly into Paris, rent a car, drive to Nice, and fly out from there.  No trains, additional flights, etc.

For communication, we just took our normal phones.  It was $150 for the trip for the two of us – and was well worth it.  I possibly could have saved some by unlocking our phones and buying local sim cards, but our numbers would not have worked and that would have been a pain in the ass.

That’s enough intro…on to the daily summaries.

Travel to Paris (Day 0)

We had an early flight – but not crack of dawn early – and Ubered to the airport.  Flying international business class, we had access to the NOLA skyclub.  It’s new, like the airport, and had pretty decent selections for a domestic lounge.  The flight to Atlanta was uneventful.

In Atlanta, we went to the Skyclub in the international terminal.  It was fine, but it did have the benefit of having an outside seating area.  A nice perk anytime your stuck in an airport, but extra-nice during covid because we got to take our masks off for a couple hours while waiting for our flight.

We did have to get our documents checked before boarding for Paris, but things went smoothly.  Air France business class was definitely nice…much more enjoyable than economy.  That said, it didn’t stand out from some of our other business class flight from the last several years…AA (multiple), Iberia.  The seat was good, and the food and wine were fine.  Thing is, most airlines have upped their business class offerings to the point that they all have pretty nice hard products and none of them go over the top in business class like you would get in first class (at least of the ones we’ve flown).

Neither of us got a whole lot of sleep on the flight, and Alyce was not feeling her best when we landed.  Making it through immigrations was painless (even with the Covid requirements).  We had our bags and were catching a cab within 30 minutes.  I was trying to keep up with the end of the LSU-Auburn game, which was concluding as we landed. 

I’ll add here that even though we did not arrive until the morning, I booked our hotel for the night before.  This guaranteed us the ability to check-in immediately, eat breakfast, and just make things easier.  Plus, it was points – so at least I did not have to come out of pocket for it.

Day 1 (Paris Day #1)

It was a dark, rainy morning for our ride to the hotel.  This was in the forecast and another factor in deciding to keep the hotel room for our arrival.  The final (and perhaps biggest) factor in deciding to keep the hotel room is that the hotel was fully sold out and we were booked in a suite.  Early check-in (before ~3:00) was highly unlikely.

We arrived at the Park Hyatt Paris right around 8:00 a.m. and checked in immediately.  I’m currently a globalist with Hyatt, so we had free breakfast and I used on of my suite upgrade certificates.  The room was booked with points, as this hotel can be quite expensive – especially, this week which was fashion week…or something along those lines.

As mentioned, we were very happy to be able to go straight to our room – especially Alyce, who showered and recharged.  After re-grouping, we went downstairs and ate breakfast.  The hotel has a fantastic buffet and some items to order from the kitchen.  Everything was very high quality.

The room was a very good size for a Paris hotel room, though it was not too large for a suite.  Still the extra space was nice.  Overall, we enjoyed the hotel.  It’s located in a great spot and was very nice.

Following breakfast, we caught a nap.  We didn’t sleep for too long to attempt to minimize jetlag.  Still, the three hour nap really refreshed us and didn’t seem to interfere with our sleep for the evening.

After our nap, we walked over to the Paris Opera House.  We did not go here on our previous trip and really enjoyed it.  The building was incredible.

From there, we hit a couple Paris highlights.  We walked to the Louvre but didn’t go in at this point. 

Next up, we caught the metro to the Arc de Triumph.  It was covered in a wrapping to our surprise.  We weren’t sure if it was construction or what was going on.  Eventually we looked it up and saw it was an art exhibit.

With the little time we had left, we rode to the Eiffel Tower and checked it out again before riding back to the hotel.

Dinner was at L’Orangerie in the Four Seasons – same hotel as Le Cinq, where we ate on our previous trip.  L’Orangerie is a small restaurant set in glassed in room overlooking the hotel courtyard.

As would be the case for nearly all of our meals on this trip, it was excellent.  Food was great, and the settings/courses/extras were more along the lines of a nice two star restaurant rather than a one star. 

We rode the metro back to the hotel and didn’t have much trouble falling asleep.  Overall, it was a great start to the trip.

Day 2 (Paris Day #2)

This would be one of our bigger dining days of the trip.  Still, we made our way down to breakfast – mainly for the coffee.  We otherwise had a leisurely morning before catching the Metro to our lunch at Septime.

Septime was more casual than many of the restaurants we went to, but the food was outstanding.  Additionally, it was a great value – especially lunch.  It is apparently extremely difficult to obtain reservations here in non-Covid times.

We rode the Metro to the Louvre after lunch and actually went in this time.  We both enjoy museums but are not huge museum people, but the Louvre is one our favorites.  The building itself is incredible and there are a lot of neat pieces in it…but the building is the main draw to us.

We enjoyed the nice weather on our walk back to the hotel.  There, we prepped for dinner at Ledoyen.

Alleno Paris at Pavilion Ledoyen is a classic Paris 3 star restaurant, and it came with every bit of the pomp and circumstance you’d expect for such.  But as we’ve mentioned previously with this type of restaurant, none of that matters if the food is no good.

The food at Ledoyen was excellent.  We got to try a lot of interesting ingredients excellently prepared, and the service was the “show” part of the evening.  I can understand how this type of dining is not for everyone, but it really is quite the spectacle and very enjoyable if fine dining is your thing.

By the time we finished, we were stuffed.  Two meals a day is a lot, but that would be a rarity this trip.  We waddled back to the hotel and called it a night.

Day 3 (Paris Day #3)

Still full from the day before, we went down to breakfast and mainly just got coffee.  It was raining again, and we had planned on doing a “free” walking tour.  It’s free in that you don’t pay ahead of time, but tip your tour guide what you feel is appropriate.  Generally, I’m content just walking around on my own, but Alyce enjoys the tours – and I typically enjoy them as well.

Being that it was raining pretty good, we made the call to skip.  We also had another tour scheduled for that afternoon, so we’d still make that one as the weather was supposed to clear up.

Alyce hung around the room, and I went to pick up our rental car while we killed time before the afternoon tour.  As is frequently the case, there was a minor issue when getting the car.  Even though the reservation was prepaid, they needed to physically see the credit card I used to pay for the car.  This is unusual (but I had actually meant to grab the card before I left as it is not one used frequently).  Fortunately, Alyce was at the hotel and was able to send me a picture of it.  They accepted that…and probably would have given in anyway if I wouldn’t have had Alyce available to send a picture.

I had a relatively short drive back to the hotel, but it started off with going around the Arc de Triump roundabout.  It seems like there are 8 lanes and 30 exits at the roundabout, but I made it.  Otherwise, I spent most of the drive trying not to hit pedestrians or bikers…mission successful.  I valeted at the hotel without issue.

We hung around in the room until it was time to head out.  Alyce had some hair equipment issues in that she forgot about the voltage differences when travelling internationally.  This lead to a couple delays, and we were running behind for our afternoon walking tour.

I decided we should walk to make up time and eliminate the variables of metro timing and crowds.  That strategy worked fine…until we ran upon some kind of giant protest/parade completely blocking the direction we were heading.  We had to back track after trying several different routes and catch the Metro.  We were 20 minutes late upon arrival.  The tour had moved.  We could not find them, so we just went and walked around the Montmarte and saw the Sacre Coeur.  While Alyce was bummed about missing the tour, I think she ended up enjoying the area and church.

We caught the Metro back to the hotel to prepare for dinner at Kei.  We were able to walk to Kei from the Park Hyatt.

Kei is a fine dining French restaurant, but it is run by a Japanese chef and brings in some Japanese influence.  I’m starting to sound like a broken record, but the whole experience was again outstanding.  The food was fantastic (and slightly different), and the service was as good as you’d expect.

Kei was a great conclusion to our Paris dining, which I’d classify as nearly flawless top to bottom.

Day 4 (Champagne Day #1)

We had to get on the road for 8:30 to make our first appointment for the day.  We ate a quick breakfast, checked out, and took off in our car.

The driving included about 30 minutes of driving through Paris morning traffic.  This was definitely the most stressful driving of the trip.  There were bikers, scooters, motorbikes, and cars seeming coming from every direction.  As mentioned before, my primary goal was to not run into any of them.  Fortunately, it was a success.  Once we made it out the city, the driving was much easier.

We arrived at Larmandier-Bernier with time to spare and were ready to do our first tour/tasting.  We were with two other groups – 3 Americans from the west coast and a couple from France.  The tour was in English and was interesting.  Making Champagne is a different process from making still wine.

At the conclusion of the tasting, we gathered to taste the wine.  The pours were very small.  And the other groups didn’t even finish the tastes.  Was a little worried at this point.  Also, two of the three people in the west coast group were very unfriendly.  The third was pleasant.

Overall it was a nice stop.  It would have been nice to get slightly larger pours, but no big deal.  We bought some Champagne and took off. 

With some time to kill before our next appointment, we stopped in a grocery we passed and picked up some non-perishable essentials…water, salami.

At 2:00, we had a tour and tasting scheduled at Champagne Billecart-Salmon.  I figured this would be a small group, and it was.  We were joined by another young American couple and a British couple.  Our tour guide was French but had spent time living in the US and spoke very good English.  This was a great group, and everyone was pleasant.

We walked the grounds and then toured the cellars.  Billecart is one of the few big Champagne houses still family owned.  Their personal cellar goes back a long way…Sidebar: many cellars in Champagne and Burgundy end around the mid to late 1940s – WW2…A bummer for sure that all that wine history was destroyed.  Though definitely a very minor tragedy in the grand scheme of the overall conflict.

After the tour, we sat around a table and tried three of their highest end wines.  And the “tastes” were pretty much glasses.  We absolutely got our money’s worth and then some at this tour. 

The Champagnes were all fantastic – as was the overall experience.  They do charge for it, but it’s money well spent.

We made our way to our hotel (?) following the tour.  We were staying at L’ecrin des Vignes.  This was a property with several vacation rental cottages.  Kind of like a B&B, but not a B&B.  It reminded me of some of the places we stayed in New Zealand.  It was a cool spot with a spacious room that was located somewhat near most of what we had planned.

We settled in and got ready for dinner.  We had a more casual dinner planned at Le Jardin at Les Crayeres.  This was the casual restaurant at a nice hotel, which also had a two star restaurant.

The quicker, casual meal was a nice change of pace.  That said, the food was noticeably not up to the standards of our previous meals.  That speaks more to how exceptional our meals had been to this point than saying negative things about this place.  Still, it was one of the less memorable meals of the trip (while being quicker and less expensive as well).

Despite being pretty dark, we made it back to the hotel without issue and went to bed.

Day 5 (Champagne Day #2)

The hotel provided breakfast, and we were the first two there having to get a move on the day.  Breakfast was a nice selection of breads, cereals, etc. with the option for eggs and a wide selection of beverages.

We hit the road to make our first tasting.  This would be at H. Billiot and took place in their office.  We tasted about 5 champagnes and bought a couple to bring with us.  Not a big tour or anything, but the champagne was good and reasonably priced.

We had time to run back to the hotel before lunch, so we did and got ready.  Our plan for the day was to eat at another very highly regarded restaurant: L’Assiette Champenoise. 

We valet parked and started with some bites and a glass of champagne on the patio.  It was a beautiful day and nice start to the meal.  We moved inside and went with the lunch menu with wine pairing (both of which were inexpensive…within this realm of dining).

Overall, this was another fantastic meal.  Both the food and service we great.

We departed full and made our way to our last Champagne tasting at Vilmart.  We had a private tour at Vilmart with a friendly and knowledgeable guide.  At the conclusion, we tasted 5 or so wines.  These were too very good and reasonably priced.  Overall it was definitely a worthwhile tour.

Alyce crashed back at the hotel for a nap following the tastings and wine pairing.  I paid our bill at the hotel knowing we had to get an early start the next morning, and then I walked around the grounds and took pictures.  We watched a TV show or two later in the evening and got to bed early.

Day 6 (Burgundy Day #1)

We were again first at breakfast, ate quick, then took off for Burgundy.

The drive was uneventful and took about 3 hours.  We arrived at Clos de Vougeot in time to do our private tour before lunch.  This castle was an old wine making monastery from the middle ages.  It had a lot of interesting history behind it.  Following the tour, we had lunch with a tasting of 6 wines scheduled. 

The lunch was fine.  The food was more casual, comfort food style.  The wines were good too.  Interesting experience and a really cool spot, but it wasn’t quite up to the rest of the food and wine we had.

From lunch, we drove to Chandon de Briailles in Savigny les Beaune.  This is both where we were staying and where our wine tasting was for the afternoon.  We met with Francois de Nicolay, who makes the win and owns/runs the estate with his sister.  A family (a dad and two adult children) were also tasting with us.  I believe they were from Luxembourg but spoke English.  It was a little stuffy at first, but everyone opened up eventually, and we had an enjoyable tasting.  Plus, the wine was excellent.

This stop was a true vacation rental.  We had a decent sized house to ourselves.  This included a washer and dryer – which was needed at this stage.  It was probably more than we needed, but I booked it because I figured it would help us get a tasting there (it did).

We had a little time to relax and settle in before our dinner at La Lune in Beaune.  I walked around and took some pictures; Alyce caught a quick nap.

La Lune is a small bar service restaurant with a couple tables.  The chef is Japanese and serves French with Japanese influence.  It definitely reminded us of some of our dinners in Japan.  The chef and one helper did everything…took orders, cooked, plated, cleaned, served drinks, etc.  The amount the two people accomplished was very impressive.  The food was very good and our only complaint fo the night was that we sat near the fryer and our jackets smelled a little bit like fried food the next day.  But that’s splitting hairs.  It was a very good meal and a nice end to the day.

Day 7 (Burgundy Day #2)

On our own for breakfast, we made coffee and hit the road.  Our first stop was at Maison Louis Jadot, which is a bigger producer in Burgundy, but they still make a wide variety of high quality wines.  Also, they were open for tours on a Saturday (along with Bouchard Pere et Fils).

We showed up a couple minutes late (a pet peve of mine) because we struggled to find the entrance.  Fortunately, we didn’t miss much and caught up with the tour.  We were the only English speakers in a pretty large group.  The guide would go over things then catch up with us in English when he was finished.  The tour was interesting.  Jadot is one of (if not) the biggest producers in Burgundy, but it still focuses on quality and terroir like most Burgundy wineries.  They showed us all of their wine barrels and emphasized that every one of their wines is treated the same (given the same level of care), regardless of price…outside of the most mass produced wines.

At the conclusion, we had generous tastings of something like 8-10 wines.  It was a good tour and value at $20 a person.

Lunch for the day was at Maison Lameloise in Chagny.  The only note of interest is that we really needed to stop for gas on our way.  We stopped at one gas station, and they took neither cash (Euros) nor American credit cards.  We were out of luck and starting to get a bit anxious.  Fortunately (expectedly?), the next gas station took American credit cards…and I would guess Euros as well.

Continuing the theme of the trip, Maison Lameloise is another very highly regarded restaurant.  We got the lunch menu and had another fantastic meal.  I know I’m sounding repetitive but we really did not have much to complain about in terms of meals on this trip.

Following lunch, we went to Bouchard Pere and Fils for a private tour.  This was a really nice and informative tour.  We walked the grounds, saw the wine making facilities, and toured the cellars.  At the conclusion we tasted 8-9 very good wines.  Another good stop and more reinforcement that Burgundies are some of our very favorite wines.

With nothing left scheduled for the day, we walked around Beaune and toured the Hospice de Beaune, it is definitely worth the stop and is an interesting historical place.

Back at the house, we relaxed and watched some TV while packing up.

Day 8 (Rhone Day #1)

We did not have to get out in a huge rush today, so we made some coffee and loaded up the car.  I met with Francois (who was about to go help pick some graoes) and paid the bill.  We left shortly thereafter.

On the way, we drove through Beaujolais.  Not much was open being that it was Sunday, but we were able to stop at a wine co-op to do some tastings.  Beaujolais wines are unfortunately best known for the bubble gum tasting Beaujolais Noveau.  While those wines aren’t much to write home about, most of their production is the more standard, Cru-Beaujolais wine.  These can be a great bargain because they are good quality and typically very reasonably priced.  Anyway, we tasted some and bought a bottle to bring with us.

I had booked lunch in a small town nearby at Auberge du Cep.  There was a good crowd for Sunday lunch, so it was a good thing we had reservations.  We had a good meal there and continued on to our hotel.

We would move around on our stops in the Northern Rhone.  The first and last nights would be in Tain l’Hermitage, with the middle night essentially at our restaurant’s resort.

Both nights in Tain, we stayed at Fac et Spera Hotel and Spa.  It was nothing to get too excited about, but was nice enough.  It was also centrally located and had on onsite, easy to access parking lot.

With nothing else planned for the day, we decided to go walk Hermitage hill – where the famous Hermitage wine comes from.  It was a hike but had some really cool views at the top and along the way.  It was also nice to up our physical activity level a little bit.

Afterwards, we walked around Tain but it was pretty quiet on a Sunday evening.  We relaxed at our hotel and called it a night.

Day 9 (Rhone Day #2)

This would be a heavy wine day.  We started off at Domaine Marc Sorrel.  There we met with Guilliame, who is the owner/wine maker (after taking over from his father) and runs the place with his wife.  Guilliame was an incredibly nice guy and very generous.  He personally led us around and gave us tasting out of the barrel for all of the wines they make.  They were all excellent – and sold out.  He did say he had a 3 pack that was allocated to someone but was not picked up.  We snapped it up at a steep discount relative to what the wines go for in the US.  It was a really neat experience, and they suggested we walk down to the chocolate museum when we had time.

Well, we had time right then, so we walked over to the Valrhona museum but just did the shop.  We bough a good bit for souvenirs – and ourselves.  They even threw in a good bit of free-bees.

We passed the M. Chapoutier wine bar while walking back to the hotel.  We had checked out already and still had some time to kill.  I mentioned I considered stopping there…Alyce said let’s go check it out.  Sold.  You don’t have to tell me twice.  She apparently was confused and thought this was one of the remaining place planned.  We tasted a variety of good wine and enjoyed the stop, but it probably pushed Alyce over her comfortable limit for the day.

Next, we drove to Alain Voge in Cornas.  We went to the wrong side and ended up taking a detour through Madame Voge’s house…oops.  She was unconcerned.  There the manager gave us a tour and poured their lineup of wines.  Again very good and priced reasonably.  The Hermitage wines can be very expensive, but many other Rhones are reasonable.

We had one last stop before driving to our next hotel.  We were meeting Franck Balthazar at Balthazar wines in Cornas.  I had emailed with Franck, and he said to come on over.  They were clearly deep in winemaking mode.  We felt like we were intruding a little bit and we had some small communication barriers, but Franck gave us a tone of tastings and was very generous and a nice guy.  Alyce even dropped a glass and he laughed it off.  We thanked Franck and headed out.

The drive to dinner was a little over an hour, but it was almost entirely on windy mountain roads.  Alyce was very ready to get out the car by the time we arrived.

We were staying in Saint Bonnet le Froid.  The main (only?) draw in this area is Regis Jacques et Marcon Restaurant and resort.  We were actually staying at the second property, so I didn’t have much expectations.  However, the place was surprisingly spacious and nice.  I did have a major language barrier with the girl checking us in.  She ended up calling a waiter, who was a helpful middle man. 

We had an hour and a half to regroup before dinner.  That helped tremendously for Alyce who was feeling much better by the time we caught a ride to the restaurant.

Regis Jacques et Marcon focuses on mushroom, many of which are seasonally foraged in the area.  We love mushrooms, so this was a winning combo.  Plus, this was another very highly rated restaurant.

While the mushroom aspect may have sounded gimmicky, it really was not.  The meal and service were outstanding.  The chef was out and about serving food and explaining dishes much of the night.  I think his son was running the kitchen.

It was late and the end of a long day by the time we wrapped up the meal, but it was excellent and worth the detour.  We crashed in our room to rest up before getting back on the road the next morning.

Day 10 (Rhone Day #3)

We had a moderately early start after a long day.  It would have been nice to have another day at this stop, but it was time to press on.

Checking out was easier than checking in, and the ~1 hour drive to the Cote Rotie area seemed to be less windy getting down the hill.

Our first stop was at Yves Cuilleron.  A nice guy guided us through a tasting of about 6 wines – all very enjoyable.  We bought a couple and set off to our next stop at Domaine Rostaing.

We struggled to find where to meet with anyone at Rostaing, but eventually we found a guy who looked like he was expecting us.  He introduced himself as Pierre.  Didn’t realize it for a little while, but Pierre was the owner’s son and is working with his dad to eventually take over. 

Two mid to late 20s guys from France joined us on this tour as well.  One spoke English and was friendly (and was the spitting image of someone we know).  I don’t think the other spoke much English.  They were both studying and touring in pursuit of a Master of Wine certification.

Pierre led us through the wine making facilities and cellars.  At the conclusion, he had about 8 bottles for us to taste.  Both the time and tasting were incredibly generous.  This wine is very difficult to find in the US, and they welcomed us in for a very nice tour and tasting.  We bought as much wine as we could reasonably take with us (at a SUBSTANTIAL discount compared to what you would buy it for here).

As we were walking out, one of the guys on the tour asked if we were going to Gonon later (a small winery about an hour away)…why yes we were.  Still not sure how he know that.  I guess he assumed we’d be the two Americans going there as well.  Who knows.

I knew we’d have some time to regroup before our late tour, so I had a reservation lined up for us Bistro de Serine in Ampuis nearby.  We walked there and had a nice lunch.  Solid bistro food.  Walking out, we again saw our friends from Rostaing and said we’d see them in a little while.

We drove back to Tain and checked back in to Fac and Spera.  Our room did not have a balcony this time but was otherwise the same.  Our tour at Gonon was not until 5:30, so we had some to relax and catch up.

Gonon was another small, highly regarded producer.  I had actually thought of cancelling because I didn’t want to impose while these guys are busy, but I’m really glad we did not.

We met Jean Gonon at the winery in St. Joseph; he owns/runs things from his brother after they took over for their father about 20 years ago.  He was a really nice and friendly guy.  Our two friends from earlier were already there. 

Jean took us around and gave us samples of wine currently fermenting and/or soaking.  Definitely not as good as the finished product, but it was interesting to get a snapshot of things along the way.

Next we had a couple barrel samples.  Had the tour ended here, it would have been great.  But, we were just getting started.  Jean led us down to the cellar where he poured about 10 different wines for us from bottle.  The amount of time and number of wines he poured were incredibly generous.  He was very friendly and informative as well.  It really was a cool experience.  We gave our gratitude, and tried to buy wine before heading out…but he said they were completely out. Bummer because this is another one that would have been way less expensive than buying in the states.

We walked to our dinner at Les Mangevins.  This was another somewhat casual (relative to the fine dining places) bistro restaurant.  We had a good meal and walked back to the hotel.

Day 11 (Nice Day #1)

We got up and checked out, then walked around trying to find coffee – but were unsuccessful.  Danger zone.  I was optimistic we’d find some later.

I was initially planning to spend this night in Marseille to allow us to see more in this area and split the drive up.  I also had another fine dining meal planned for the evening in Marseille, but that obviously was a no go when we made the call to power through to Nice.  With the benefit of hidsight, it was most likely the right move to push through all the way to Nice.

Our first stop of the day was the Pont du Gard.  This is a Roman Aqueduct that sounded interesting, but you never really know what to expect at these kinds of sites.

This one was fantastic.  Not to mention…right up my alley with a combination of engineering and Roman history.

We bought our tickets and started off with the museum.  I wasn’t expecting much, but it was really nice.  We spent about an hour and a half in there reading about Roman history in the region and their engineering ingenuity, and I could have easily spent much more. 

After the museum, we walked and saw the aqueduct. It is definitely one of those things that picture don’t do justice.  The fact that it was built 2000 years ago and is still standing today is highly impressive.  We walked to the other side and got a couple coffees from the café.  There was a lookout you could walk up to.  We gave it a shot, and it was a bit of a hike.

Despite spending more time at the Pont du Gard than initially planned, we still had time to ride over to Nimes.  The big draw there is also the Roman architecture and influence.  The city had a central pedestrian only series of streets and shops that was cool to walk through. 

Their amphitheater/coliseum had a audio self-guided tour, which we did.  It was interesting and you got to go pretty much everywhere in the stadium.  Not as famous the actual Coliseum in Rome, but an interesting stop for sure.

By this point, we were running out of time and needed to get back on the road.  The Nimes-Nice drive was about 3 hours.  Fortunately, it was uneventful, seemingly quick 3 hour drive.

Parking at the Hyatt was a little confusing given that the casino takes up 80+ percent of the frontage, but we eventually got where we needed to be. 

Back at a Hyatt, we got the welcome perks of a upgraded room and free breakfast.  It was nice to have a good bit of space after the tighter squeeze in Tain.

We hadn’t really eaten anything all day but were generally ok give the food surplus on the trip.  Rather than eat a meal we went out walking and got some gelato from Grom – which was a gelato shop we ate at a couple times on our Italy trip.  It was good.

Walking around, we did notice a larger amount of tourists in Nice.  Not overwhelming or anything, but more than we had been seeing.  And a different type of crowd.  Hard to explain, but it was just a bit different. 

We settled in at our final stop, watched some TV, and called it a day.

Day 12 (Nice Day #2)

After several days with structured plans and a lot of moving around, we could use a day without much on the official agenda. 

We started off eating breakfast in the courtyard.  The breakfast was good, though not quite Park Hyatt Paris level.  The setting was really nice and the highlight of breakfast.

After breakfast, we set off for a walk around the city.  We started with walking through the old town and markets.  Alyce always loves a good market.

From there, we went and walked the promenade.  The water was beautiful and we had fantastic weather.

Back at the hotel, we had some credit to spend.  So, we got ready for dinner a little early then walked down to the bar area and had some drinks outside.

Dinner was a ~45 minute ride away in the town of Menton…right on the French-Italian border.  We’d be dining at Mirazur, which was possibly the most highly regarded of the restaurants on the trip.

Mirazur focuses the menu on one element for each day.  It really was a pretty varied menu overall with some elements of the specified ingredient.  For our day, the focused ingredient was roots…Onions, shallots, potatoes, squash…beets.

Overall, the meal was excellent.  You could make an argument that it was the best food of the trip – others probably had better service/show (splitting hairs…).  Things were good top to bottom.

On the ride back, we encountered a closed road or two in Nice, which extended our ride.  Not a big deal, but it did add 20-30 minutes to our ride back.

Day 13 (Nice Day #3)

We had another day without too much on the formal agenda.  We started with a light breakfast then went back to the room.  We were within the 72 hour window for our flight home, so I went ahead and did my telemedicine covid test.  Alyce was pretty anxious, but I figured we’d be safe.  We’re vaccinated, and just about everywhere we went required proof of vaccination and sometimes masks. If nothing else, we had 6 tests…so we could take a couple shots at it.

I followed the directions and called in.  About 15 minutes later, I had my confirmed negative results.  Alyce decided to give it a go after me, and she was negative too.

At this point, I had to figure out how I was getting the 2 cases of wine we accumulated (and didn’t drink) home.  My initial plan was to buy two shipper boxes and check them on the flight back, but I could not find anybody willing to sell me one.  A DHL store had them, but would only sell them if I paid for shipping (~200 euros a case).  I also went to a cheap suitcase store as a backup plan, but didn’t see any that would fit what I needed.  I called it for the day and decided to check with the concierge for ideas.  Before heading back, I did some sightseeing/picture taking.

The concierge suggested the big post office, which I figured I’d try the following morning.

With some time before dinner, Alyce and I walked the promenade again and stopped for a glass of win on the beach.

Dinner reservations were at Jan, which was a quick cab ride away.  We ubered in both directions, which worked fine.

Jan is a South African/French Fusion restaurant, so we were excited to try something a little bit different.  Everything exceeded our expectations.  Jan had good reviews and is a one star restaurant, but it punched well above its weight.  The food and service were excellent top to bottom.  Overall a fantastic meal and it reminded me a bit of L’Orangerie from our first night in that it really exceeded expectations.  It even had a first for us…a full cheese room “field-trip” course.  We also did the wine pairing, which was enjoyable.

Day 14 (Nice Day #4)

Last day already.  It had went by quick, but Alyce was definitely reaching her limit in being away from James…I think James was feeling the same as well.  Given that we had lunch plans, we just skipped breakfast and drank coffee in the room.

Before heading out, I did make a quick run to check the post office.  Not luck there, so I went to Samsonite and bought a suitcase.  They were a little pricier than the knockoff store, but higher quality.  And, it was still a fraction of the cost to ship the wine home.

For lunch, we would be driving to Monaco to eat at Le Louis XV.  The drive was pretty quick/painless, and there were not immigrations to clear at the border.  Monaco had all the flashy, showy, fancy stuff you’ve heard about.  It’s a real show-offy place.

Le Louis XV had probably the most impressive, ornate dining room we’ve eaten in to date.  It was very impressive.  They also had about 5 different service carts rolling around with various things.  We did the lunch menu…one minor hiccup was we seemed to sit longer than expected waiting to get a drink and choose our menu.  Not a big deal, but out of the ordinary for these places.  Things were flawless from then on.

The food was overall excellent as well.  It was another great meal and a good finish to our dining.

We walked around for a little bit and scoped out the scene.  We weren’t there long but saw yachts, super fancy cars, etc. etc.  There is probably some more interesting stuff to do, but we got our car and headed back to Nice.

Back at the hotel we started packing.  I had the task of fitting the wine in the new suitcase and my suitcase.  I got about 18 bottles in the new suitcase and 6 in mine.  Fortunately, we were allowed up to 70# per a bag since we were flying business class.  The concierge had also given us some bubble wrap they had to help out.  That was much appreciated.  It was a pain, but I got everything in and felt pretty good about it.  I also packed my stuff while watching LSU beat Florida.

Sidebar: the last time we were in France, Les Miles was fired.  Our first time back to Europe/France, and Ed O gets fired while we’re gone.  I just need to plan a trip to France anytime I want the LSU coach fired.

Anyway, we called it a wrap on the trip and went to bed.


The Trip Home

The airport was only 15 minutes away.  We didn’t have time to make it to breakfast, but some coffee in the room.  Getting gas and returning the car was a non-event.

Check-in was a bit of a cluster with the Covid documentation that needed to be verified.  Given that we were flying business, I figured we would not have to wait in lines for too long…but there was no business check-in.  So we waited for 45 minutes or so.  Fortunately, we had plenty of time, so it was not a big deal – just a bit annoying.

The flight to London on BA was uneventful.  It had the middle seat blocked off for the “business class” seats.  We were served breakfast, and it was ok.  We had to switch terminals in London, but it ended up not being too bad.  We even had a little time to go to the BA lounge. 

Our flight to Miami was on American Airlines.  The seats were a nice lie-flat style.  The food and wine were fine.  Overall, I had no complaints about the flight.  One positive for sure was that they had a better entertainment selection than our flight over on Air France. 

Business class, again, is great.  And most airlines seem to do a very good job with it these days.  It is not the event/spectacle that first class can be, but it is infinitely better than flying in economy.

In Miami, we cleared customs with any issues and had a couple hours to kill.  We made our way to the AA flagship lounge.  It is the same one we had a great experience in back on our 2017 South America trip.  It still was a notable step up form your standard Aadmirals club/domestic club.  Much better food and drink options are available, and it seemed to be more spacious.

Our Miami to New Orleans flight was fine.  Don’t remember much about it.  In new Orleans, we collected our bags.  Everything seemed to be in good shape – even the wine.  Uber was crazy busy, so we did it the old fashioned way and went and got a cab.  That worked out great.  It was slightly cheaper than an Uber (even without surge pricing) and a fixed fare.  We also knew immediately that they would be able to take all of our bags.  Plus, there was no line.  The ride was quick, and we were happy to have made it home.

Concluding Thoughts

This was Alyce and I’s first international trip alone in several years.  We were very fortunate to have help at home to make it happen.  Without James, we made the trip more about wine and food (including the destinations).  Good thing for us…we love wine and food.  We also mixed in some sight seeing and even relaxations, but the finer things were definitely the main draw.

France, overall, was great again.  You hear stories of some people having trouble, but we’ve never had any issues.  I think the most basic effort goes a long way towards having people try to help you. 

For example, the French greet each other upon entering a store, restaurant, anyplace.  A simple “bonjour” upon entry goes a long way to showing you care enough to make some effort to be friendly and fit in.  Additionally, don’t ever just assume someone speaks English.  “Parlez-vous Anglais?” will make it far more likely that you will get any help needed.  I’ve said it before, but if you’re at home and someone just walk up to you and starts speaking a foreign language, you may less likely to go out of your way to work with that person. 

Other than the first couple days, the weather was great.  It was maybe a little cooler than usual for this time of the year, but it was still light jacket weather…so not bad at all.


Driving outside of Paris was not bad.  The hardest part is that blocks are rarely square.  The directions may be to “turn right” – but there could be a fork with 3 rights to choose from.  It can get confusing, but you just regroup and adjust if you happen to make a wrong turn, which didn’t happen often.  Similarly, some roundabouts have 8 exits and they’re not always well marked.  I took the wrong exit for sure a time or two…also made the full way around for a second try as well.  Not a big deal.

Highways/interstates are easy.  The only main differences from the US are that everything is in the metric system and you have to pay tolls constantly.

Driving in Paris was a challenge.  There is just so much action and people everywhere.  Also, you don’t know the local customs on top of that.  I’d be happy to drive in or out of Paris again, but I wouldn’t want drive all over the city – plus, the metro is excellent.


Clearly, we did not skimp on our dining.  I actually had two more 3 star meals scheduled (Anne Sophie Pic and AM par Alexandre Mazzia), but we made the call to cancel.  We love the ultra-fine dining, but you can’t do them all the time.  They are (1) a lot of food, (2) time consuming, and (3) expensive.  Plus, we really enjoy the more causal stops too.  That said, the ultra high-end places are on another level.  I’d recommend that anyone with adventurous tastes who enjoys good food and eating out try this type of place at least once.

Along those lines, I’ve never been a star chaser.  I’m interested in going to the best restaurants in the world, but only if all indications are that it is worthwhile.  I will say, that I’ve found Michelin ratings to generally be a very good starting point.  There have been plenty 3 star restaurants that I’ve looked into and decided to pass on, but our tastes align with Michelin ratings more often than not.

There’s many other things too…the Best Restaurants in the World list, blogs, forums, google/trip advisor ratings, the fork ratings, and on. 

On this trip, I cannot pick a favorite.  L’Orangerie, Septime, Ledoyen, Kei, L’Assiette Champenoise, Maison Lameloise, Regis Jacques et Marcon, Mirazur, Jan, and Le Louis XV could all be the star meal of any trip.  We ate at all of them on this one. 

The costs do add up.  To help on that front, we usually only eat one meal a day (plus included hotel breakfast if available).  The lunch menus can also cost half of the full dinner menu at some places.  And, most times we pass on the wine pairing and just split a bottle.

Another huge factor in the costs department is that we don’t pay for flights and the majority of our nights at hotels.  I also have many other ways to save.

This was a dining trip that will be tough to ever top.  Doesn’t mean we won’t try.


They grow wine all over France…and much of Europe for that matter.  And we enjoy going to new wine regions to taste and learn about the wine and places.

Our preferences have been trending old world for a while now.  We had hit the most well known Italian regions, and Bordeaux.  Burgundy and the Rhone were some of the major area left to visit.

Going in, we knew we liked Burgundy and Rhone wines, but this trip really hammered home how good they are.  Alyce may drink nothing but Burgundy if it were up to here.  Unfortunately for Alyce (and me), Burgundy is the most expensive wine region in the world because it is just not that large and does not produce that much wine – especially the highest quality ones. 

We also were able to reinforce our like of Champagnes.  We (like many) fall into the trap of considering them a special occasion wine more than we should.  But that is a disservice to some of the finest wines in the world.  They are also excellent food wines.

I liked all of our stops, but some went above and beyond.  Gonon, Rostaing, Sorrel, Balthazar, Chandon de Briailles.  We met with the guys that own and run those places, and they in no way needed our business.  But, they were incredibly generous with their time and wine.  It was most appreciated.

Many of the more commercial operations were great stops as well.  Billecart was fantastic.  Bouchard had a very personal feel for being a large operation.  Voge, Yves-Cuillerion, Vilmart, Billiot, Larmandier Bernier, and Jadot were all great stops too.

It was a very successful trip overall on the wine front. 


I liked all of our stops.  Paris…it’s Paris.  You don’t need to read about it from me, but you can read this post and my more detailed thoughts from our 2014 trip if so.  Bottom line – it’s one of our favorite cities.  The food is exceptional at all levels.  Public transportation is excellent and reasonable.  There is a ton of history and things to see.  Plus it is just an interesting place.  I’m sure we’ll be back numerous times.

Champagne started out as a day trip from Paris.  You can ride the train there/back.  But in researching the area, it did not take me long to realize that it deserved its own stop.  And two nights at that.

There are other things to do in the area, but obviously the draw is the sparkling wine.  Champagne is a good stop for wine geeks and casual wine tourists alike.  There are some geeky places to go, but a lot of the places are set up well for tourism.  Most of the big houses do tours/tastings, and many of the small ones do too.  Plus, making sparkling wine is different, so you do get a different experience than just about all other wine regions.

Two days was good in Champagne.  I would be happy to spend more if I had extra time.  But you can get a good feel for it in two days. 

As mentioned, I had tried to make it to Burgundy before.  We had a rental booked and I had contacted many wineries…without much luck.  It was September and most places said they could not take visitors because it would be harvest. 

I didn’t have much more luck this time.  Despite being a month later, many said they would be in vinification.  That’s fine, but I’m starting to think they may just not want many visitors.  Next time, maybe I’ll try April.  I get that they are small operations, but so are Gonon, Rostaing, etc.  Many of the places stated on their website that they welcome visitors.  Maybe next time…I know that I am far more likely to buy wine of places we visit.

We stayed right outside of Beaune, which was a good location.  Inside Beaune would be nice too…really, I think you’d enjoy any of the Burgundy towns.  It’s just a matter of how much driving you want to do.

Again, the main draw was wine, but there were other things to do too.  That said, I wouldn’t go out of my way to make it to Burgundy if wine is not your thing.

In the Northern Rhone, I considered many options for where to stay – cities, breaking it up, staying in one spot, etc.  If not for the dinner at Regis Jacques et Marcon, I probably would have spent all 3 nights in Tain. 

There is not a whole lot going on in the area other than wine, but that’s fine.  I don’t know why a tourist would be there if you weren’t into wine.  And as a bonus, I think they are more open to meeting tourists because they get much less. 

I’d call it a great wine stop, but you could pass if you’re not going for the wine.

We really enjoyed Nice.  It was a nice relaxing end to the trip.  I considered splitting the time between Nice and Provence, but we made the call to spend it all in Nice.  And for this trip, that was the right call.   We weren’t exactly killing ourselves given that we were eating and drinking wine, but we had done a lot of moving around and making appointments.  The unstructured relaxation at one spot was just what was needed at the end of the trip.

Nice itself was a good destination.  The pebble beach was beautiful and relaxing and there was plenty to see/do.  We did see more tourists here than anywhere else, but it wasn’t anything overwhelming.  It had San Sebastian vibes, which is a very good thing in our book.


Covid…oh covid. It really was not a major obstacle on this trip.  It was a much bigger deal for Hawaii.  I did have to do some extended internet research and scheming to make sure we had the covid app to show our vaccinations.  Though, word was that most places would accept a CDC card.

Other than that, wearing a mask was probably the next biggest thing.  Like most people, I’d prefer to not wear a mask, but it is not that bad.  I’m happy to comply with the requirement for the tradeoff of actually being able to travel.

The only test needed was the one to return.  It cause some anxiety (mainly for Alyce), but we hadn’t done anything risky on the trip and were vaccinated.  Odds were, we’d be fine.

A positive was that there were less tourists/tourism overall because of covid.  Definitely not a bad thing.

Final thoughts

This was another great trip.  We got to go to several new destinations that I had been wanting to get to for a while.  Two weeks was good for me, but it was definitely Alyce’s max without James. 

Between the house and covid, we had done much less international travel over the last 5 years than I would have expected.  That’s ok, and we’ll do our best to make up for that going forward.  I would be very surprised if it takes us five years to get back to Europe. 

Till the next time France!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *