Paris and Beyond

Our Personal Tour de France & Other Exciting Adventures!

Archive for the month “August, 2019”

And then… there was Paris!

Once we had survived the heat wave and rejuvenated ourselves at the Château, it was finally time to ride into Paris and celebrate the end of our Tour. So Norman joyfully relinquished our car in Bordeaux and we boarded the TGV high-speed train bound for Gare Montparnasse. Riding in style and luxury, we arrived in the City of Light ready for the last circuit in just over two hours.


Each time we have gone to Paris, we have stayed somewhere in or near the famed Saint-Germain-des-Prés neighborhood in the 6th arrondissement. Since World War II, it has been known as a cultural and intellectual hub frequented by many notable writers and artists such as Hemingway and Picasso who reputedly hung out at places like Les Deux Magots and Café de Flore. Being one of Paris’ wealthiest neighborhoods, we could never afford to live there, but it is always a treat to stay in the area for a few days because it’s so well-connected to everything you would want to see or do.

This time we chose the small, family-run boutique Hôtel Signature located on a quiet side street — oversized room by Parisian standards, inner courtyard view, air conditioning, elevator, breakfast, and champagne — all the requirements for a perfect finale. We knew this would be our last full-length Tour de France so we decided to go all out, but we wanted to do it a little differently.

We spent our time doing simple things most of which were within walking distance though we did take the metro once or twice. The best part was seeking out non-traditional French food every day. In the process, we discovered some great international cuisine. The first evening we went to Saigon d’Anton and enjoyed a delicious and very authentic Vietnamese dinner of Pho and Bun, two favorite dishes we have been missing since moving away from California. I also ordered a unique lemon sorbet served in a real lemon providing a refreshing ending to my meal.

Afterwards, we made our way to the Luxembourg Gardens for an evening stroll on the way back to our hotel.

02E4AB0D-BBF6-48CF-BC70-5A19BCC39336On Day Two we found our way to the Lupicia Tea shop, a tea brand we’ve loved to drink for years. This Japanese company has just recently closed all but one of its US outlets (inconveniently located in Hawaii) so I was thrilled to pick up some more of their excellent teas.

Later, we crossed the Pont des Arts taking in one of the most iconic views of the city. You may have noticed that we updated the header photo on this site with the panorama Norman took from where I’m standing. The original version was taken in 2006. Interestingly, the view hasn’t changed much which I suppose is a good thing.


We continued on to explore the grounds of the Louvre and beyond…

…where there’s some cool architecture —


Then we stopped for a quick Sushi lunch.


For dinner, we chose Evi Evane (which translates as “Cheers!”), an upscale Greek restaurant run by two very talented sisters. We squeezed ourselves in to a perfect little table in this tiny place and what an absolutely fantastic experience it was — probably the best Greek food we’ve ever had. No surprise once we learned that sister Dina Nikolaou who is responsible for creating the menus (supervised in-house by sister Maria) is a highly-trained and well-recognized Greek chef.

Below left – Pikilia (Assortment of cold appetizers): Tarama, ktipiti, tzatziki, fava, mélitzanosalata, purée d’olive; Center – Dolmas; Right – Grilled Octopus

Wednesday, July 31st, was not only the last day of July but also the final day of our tour and, additionally, my birthday. Making every effort to fit in as much as possible, we began by revisiting the beautiful royal chapel, Sainte-Chapelle.

From there we walked through the Île de la Cité until we reached Paris’ most renown cathedral, Notre Dame. Since the fire in April, it has been well-barricaded making it difficult to appreciate as a tourist destination. However, due to its size you can still see quite a lot. It was interesting to observe its current condition and the progress rapidly being made on its restoration.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Returning to the hotel for an afternoon siesta, we popped in for lunch to another tiny establishment this time run by two brothers called Cook’n Saj specializing in Lebanese fare.

Of course, we had to check out the inviting array of sweets at the cleverly named Hugo and Victor Patisserie just around the corner from the hotel. What’s a birthday without cake?!

Finally, we took the metro directly to the Louvre for an evening visit. Last time we employed this strategy for a time with fewer visitors, it worked out really well but such was not the case on this night. It was crazy busy! We were only able to spend a couple of hours before we had to escape. We’ll be back another day.

After already having had champagne and cake, you would think the day would be over. But NO! It was still relatively early so we decided one more dinner at Evi Evane was in order. Fingers crossed with no reservations for such a small and extremely popular place, we set off on our conquest. As luck would have it, there was one table left for the evening and it was ours. Maria remembered us from the previous evening and we were rewarded with an even more spectacular meal.

To top it off, she surprised me with a birthday dessert, dimmed the lights, and led the entire restaurant in singing “Happy Birthday”… in English! Wow! I was not expecting that! We couldn’t have achieved a better finish.

Sharing Our France

E669DF9D-A0BD-4094-B67D-02F1F3F95750As you learned in the previous post, part of the inspiration for this trip was an opportunity to stay in the manor house at the Manoir des Granges. But truthfully, the majority of the motivation was to share all the things we love about southwestern France with our son and his friends. And share we did!

At first, Lorenzo’s friends were a little skeptical about spending a week out in the middle of nowhere with his parents. You can’t blame them. They really had no idea what they were getting into. However, our various recommendations for daily adventures worked out well for them. Coupled with the availability of a large private pool and fabulous local food and wines plus the unique qualities of the Manoir, they seemed to have a really good time. We were really pleased to see them enjoying much of what we love about the Dordogne and southwestern France. As you can tell from these photos, they do know how to have fun!


“The Kids” started off their journey with a short stay in Paris including a spectacular dinner at Bernard Pacaud’s Michelin three-starred restaurant, L’Ambroisie — quite a contrast to what awaited them in the Dordogne. Here they are decked out in their finest for that evening.


Ryan, Amy, Lorenzo, & Jacob

They even managed to squeeze in a few major sites especially for first-timer, Amy… Lorenzo’s friend since 5th grade, 22 years ago.

Sunday – Bastille Day

43DB8976-E12C-4AD9-B1D3-08D1495D893FAfter arriving in Bordeaux from Paris via the high-speed TGV train, the Kids hung out there for a few hours and even whisked through La Cité du Vin, Bordeaux’s new wine museum.

Still reeling from jet lag and lack of sleep, they made it to the Manoir ready to experience a week in the countryside. Coming from their home cities of San Francisco and Los Angeles and spending some time in two of the largest cities in France, they were looking forward to a less hectic lifestyle for a few days.


The Kids made the requisite trip to the local grocery store stocking up on all kinds of local delicacies and treats for the week. Meanwhile, we headed off to Sarlat on the first in a series of “revisits” and ate a light lunch surrounded by some medieval grandeur.


That evening, Ryan, who served as Activities Director & Food Connoisseur during their stay, produced this delectable dinner spread for all to enjoy.

Over the week, the Kids also became well-acquainted with the large private pool and took advantage of many opportunities to spend idle hours there simply relaxing — something they rarely get to do in the midst of their typical daily grind in the tech industry.


Most mornings began with breakfast often featuring eggs cooked-to-order by Ryan and/or Jacob accompanied by fresh pastries Norman acquired from the bakery just a five minute walk away.


It was time to explore farther afield, so we set the Kids off on a 27-mile loop through the Périgord that encompasses the quintessential towns of Sarlat, Domme, La Roque Gageac, and Beynac. We had driven this route in 2012 (read about it here) and knew it would be a great introduction to the unique history of the area. Later, Norman prepared a delicious meal of Cassoulet to finish off the day.


Requesting another recommendation, we suggested a visit to Bergerac and the Château de Monbazillac that we had discovered on our 2015 trip. Read about our experience.

Continuing the theme of revisiting favorite places, we returned to the beautiful village of Brantôme where we ate a tasty bistro lunch along the river and wandered the charming streets.



Despite being seemingly out in the middle of nowhere, there are a few notable restaurants in the vicinity of the Manoir where you can make reservations for a special meal. One of these is the Auberge du Coq run by a former Michelin star chef who decided to leave the stress of the big city and retire with his culinary skills to the country. We all dined there together choosing some delicious options from the three-course menu. Merci beaucoup, Ryan!

And, yes, I had Foie Gras twice on this day!!


Officially declared “stay-at-home” day. Even if you are young, you have to stop and rest sometime! Directly across the road from the Manoir is an archeological site called La Roque Saint Christophe — an easy walk and entertaining window into the past. The Kids ventured over in the cool of the morning to check it out and returned with intentions of canoeing, but, in the end, the relaxation of the pool called to them again. Time to kick back and take it easy.

For this evening’s gourmet dinner, we were all able to walk right up the road to La Table de Moustier, a small restaurant with big flavors and superb enthusiastic, multilingual service provided by a very talented husband and wife team. Once again, we ordered from a three-course menu and were extremely delighted with the results.


Below is just a sampling of our various dishes…

I have to say that eating well and drinking some fabulous wines played an important role in the success of this week.


The Kids went all out for the grand finale of their week making the 5-hour round trip to Toulouse. It had been Jacob’s lifelong dream to visit the Airbus Factory located there and his friends were determined he should have the experience. There was a slight compromise… Ryan accompanied Jacob on an engaging tour and museum visit, while Lorenzo and Amy spent the day hanging out and shopping in the Place du Capitole, the central square of the Pink City. We made our own Toulouse trek in 2012.

While the Kids were out and about all day, Norman and I made one last revisit to the hilltop bastide of Domme for that spectacular view of the Dordogne River and Valley it so uniquely provides. Another light lunch and we were on our way back to the Manoir through the lush green countryside.


Since three of us had upcoming birthdays, a small celebration seemed a fitting way to end this wonderful week. I arranged for a traditional French cake called a Croquembouche which is a tower of vanilla pastry cream and caramel-dipped profiteroles decorated with sugared almonds.

With candles lit, we made our wishes, and served up glasses of our favorite Bonhoste white and rosé Crèment while pulling apart and devouring the delicious pastry. When asked if we would reveal our wishes, Lorenzo stuck with tradition and kept his to himself. Jacob admitted his wish was to move to New York. I replied that I didn’t make a wish because I had already gotten mine… to return to France and have the opportunity to share what we love about it with others exactly like we had that week.


Joyeux Anniversaire and May all your wishes come true!!

The Prequel

Our two stays at the Château de Courtebotte served as bookends to our (almost) final destination — our beloved Dordogne Valley, specifically the Périgord Noir — land of walnuts, truffles, medieval towns, and the caves of early man. This is the area where we had hoped and planned to make our retirement home. In fact, one particular location was the entire inspiration for this trip.

This is how it came about…

We first discovered the Dordogne on our 2012 Tour which took us throughout many regions of France. One of our stops was in the tiny community of Peyzac-le-Moustier where we stayed for a week in the Haybarn, a self-catering gîte at the Manoir des Granges. We didn’t sit still for a moment and took off in every direction day after day exploring all the amazing sites in the surrounding areas. For some background, read The Three C’s of the Périgord. It was the perfect home base for a wide variety of experiences which helped us narrow down our choices for a retirement location. Here we are enjoying the gîte life at the Haybarn…

Tour #2 in 2015 was focused entirely on southwestern France with the goal of pinpointing our retirement spot. We stayed in many different places including the Manoir des Granges once again. We enjoyed even more daily jaunts to beautiful places like Brantôme and the community of Annesse-et-Beaulieu where we located a house to rent for the following summer. Here’s an account of some of our experiences in the Perigordian Countryside.


Beautiful Brantôme

True to our plan, we set off on Tour #3 in June of 2016, settled into our little house, and prepared ourselves for a serious French property search. Of course, if you have followed the blog, you know how that turned out. Even though weren’t staying with them, when I got sick, our hosts Paul & Philippa from the Manoir des Granges came to visit us in Annesse-et-Beaulieu offering advice, translation assistance, and moral support during a most difficult time which we so greatly appreciated.


Our House in Annesse-et-Beaulieu

In August of 2018, after a year-and-a-half of treatment, I was feeling brave and anxious to make another French trip. At the Manoir des Granges, in addition to several gîtes, there is a large manor house (Manoir) available to rent. With its 6 bedrooms and 6 en-suite baths, it easily accommodates 12 people.

Here’s a video about the Manor House.

I had always wanted to stay in the Manoir, so I suggested to our son, Lorenzo, that he round up some friends and plan to join us for a week in July of 2019. To be honest, I never really expected this idea to come to fruition. Low and behold, a couple of months later, Lorenzo informed me that he had several interested parties and we could move forward with our vacation plan. That’s when I decided to organize one last big trip centered around this week in the Dordogne… starting in Spain, the country that had been so elusive in my life for so long.


The Manoir

I studied the calendar working backwards from our planned stay in the Dordogne and came up with an itinerary for Tour 2019 that would include many of the most popular cities in Spain plus some favorite previous destinations such as San Sebastián, and the Château in Saint-Jean-de-Blaignac. Originally, we were going to fly home from Bordeaux but chose to add three more days in Paris as a bonus making it somewhat easier to return home via Portland. As the saying goes, Paris is always a good idea.


Norman was a bit nervous about whether or not I would be able to handle the trip. While I certainly didn’t have the stamina I had for this sort of travel in the past, I managed quite well with my important (and culturally appropriate) daily siestas.

Now that you know how it all began, I imagine you’d like to know just exactly how that week in the Dordogne turned out. Check in tomorrow to read the full story.

On to France

At this point in our journey, it was time to say “adios” to Spain and “bonjour” to France. So after a long, relaxing week in San Sebastián, we set out for our favorite French château. It turned out to be such a relaxing portion of our trip and certainly the last time we would ever undertake such a long vacation, that we completely left the blog behind in favor of being present in the moment. But now that we are finally home and almost entirely recovered, it’s time to begin to tell the rest of the story.

Every once in a great while when you are traveling, you encounter a place you could visit time and time again with equal or more delight. The Château de Courtebotte is one of those rare places. This is where we began our aborted 2016 trip so it was important that we return and do it right. Located in the tiny community of Saint-Jean-de-Blaignac on the bank of the Dordogne River at a bend that provides a spectacular view, this 17th century Château was purchased by its current owners about 10 years ago and renovated in a unique manner. While still maintaining important period features, they have redone the interior of the house with utmost attention to detail and elegance. There are modern touches and finishings everywhere making it the most inviting and comfortable historical building we have ever experienced.



There are five luxurious bed-and-breakfast type rooms located upstairs in the Château itself as well as several self-catering suites and gîtes on the property. Our favorite accommodation is the air-conditioned Suite Ô with a kitchenette and its own very lovely, private patio where Norman has spent much time drawing and painting in addition to serving up some delicious meals. We also experienced a few days in the double room Suite Capri — no kitchen but lots of comfort.

The entire Château is yours to enjoy no matter where you stay from formal living room and entertainment room to a billiards room where we brushed up on our pool skills. It would be the perfect setting for a live game of Clue.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Outside in the spacious well-manicured grounds there is something for everyone — large swimming pool, saunas, trampoline, ping pong, swings, and playhouse for the kids.


A strikingly beautiful place such as this would be nothing without superior hospitality to match and that is exactly what you find at Courtebotte. Isabelle, your French host (whose English is fortunately way better than my French), makes sure you well taken care of. For an extra charge, she offers breakfast daily. This is no ordinary breakfast. It starts off with the best French tea, chocolate, and coffee accompanied by traditional freshly baked and delivered croissants and mini baguettes. Isabelle and her staff then prepare a dazzling array of small plates including homemade yogurt, granola, and jams, fresh fruit, juice, cheeses, tarts plus eggs made-to-order. Every morning we vowed to eat less but never succeeded in convincing Isabelle of this fact so the plates kept coming and we kept eating. It was impossible to turn down such a tasty breakfast feast.

There is also an opportunity to enjoy a gourmet dinner twice a week which consists of at least four courses with wine pairing. For this, all guests are seated at one long table turning dinner into a 3-4 hour event with much lively international conversation. We have had French, British, Dutch, German, Canadian, and Australian dinner companions on various occasions. Getting to know people from different parts of the world is definitely one of the best aspects of our travels. When we really hit if off, we even exchange open invitations to visit each other in our respective countries. That is a really exciting proposition.

Aside from simply relaxing and enjoying this unique environment, there is plenty to do just a short distance from the Château which is situated in one of the most famous wine regions in the world. The city of Bordeaux lies one hour west where you will find a new wine museum, river cruises, and the fascinating Miroir d’Eau, the world’s largest reflecting pool.


A short 15-minute drive will take you to Saint Emilion. This is a cute, touristy little town offering distinct local wines from endless shops that line the narrow, hilly, cobblestone streets. We visited in 2012 and again in 2015. This time we popped in for a quick revisit and tried out the Café Saigon for some Vietnamese fare, a pleasant change from all the rich French cuisine.


Dotted around the entire surrounding area are innumerable wineries such as the Château de Bonhoste whose wines are featured at Courtebotte. Accompanied by the winery’s adorable mascot, Gabby, we were given an outstanding tour and tasting on this visit resulting in the purchase of more than a few bottles of wine — reds, whites, rosés, and our favorite, the sparkling Crèment. While purchasing wine on a menu at a restaurant in France can be quite expensive, buying directly from a winery is extremely affordable. All our bottles ranged from $7-10 and were far superior to anything we would buy for that price in the US. By comparison, wines featured at American wineries typically run from $25-45 per bottle. At a French grocery store, $3-5 will yield excellent wines as well.

Since we spent much time in Spain on this trip, we have been particularly interested in saffron. We discovered a small winery nearby with a side crop of French saffron where the 5th generation owner gave us a pleasant tour and explanation of saffron cultivation. We learned that when you are using the “real deal” (authentic saffron), you need only use a few threads which differs greatly from the amount Norman has typically used when preparing paella. Of course, we purchased some to bring home and it will be interesting to see if less is truly more. We also bought some intriguing saffron-infused products which we had to consume during our travels: honey, orange jam, mustard, and syrup which can be added to water or sparkling wines. The saffron honey was our favorite and we had to make sure to eat all of it before we left. At home, we get high quality honey from a small local farm and are going to try to make our own saffron infusion.

We were fortunate to be able to visit the Château twice on this trip — once on the way into France headed to the Dordogne and again on the way out before returning our car to Bordeaux and taking the TGV train to Paris. If there were only one reason to return to France, the Château de Courtebotte would be it.


Post Navigation