Villages and Vineyards of Eastern France - September 3 - 16, 2012

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Introduction

Tour Route Map


Our four day whirlwind tour of Paris ended too soon. Disappointing as that was we had another two weeks in France ahead. Leaving Paris behind we rode the Train à Grande Vitesse, TGV or High Speed Train, from Paris to Reims. Leaving the Reims railway station we wandered through a park to the hotel where our Rick Steves' tour group gathered. The map, left, illustrates our route through the "Villages & Vineyards of Eastern France". We were met by our guide, Chris, who had studied in France and spoke fluent French. This came in handy as I fell ill and she took me to a French doctor and translated. My limited French, Bonjour, Merci, s'il vous plaît, and Au revoir leaving me a bit short in the symptom describing business.





The Champagne-Ardenne Region - Reims

Reims Photo Collage

The Champagne-Ardenne Region - Reims

While I enjoyed Paris I'm not particularly comfortable in large, crowded, cities. The departments of Paris we visited included tall building and narrow streets. All 1000 feet of the Eiffel Tower couldn't be seen from our hotel less than a quarter mile away. Narrow streets and tall buildings often blocked the sky. Reims, I recognize we didn't see much of the modern town, was bright with large open public spaces.

In the photo above, top left, a most charming Archangel Gabriel Angel, the Smiling Angel of Reims, and symbol of the city, greeted us at the center west entrance to the Reims cathedral. Top center, the main entrance to the cathedral. During WW I the German Army bombarded the cathedral causing significant damage. Structural damage has and is being repaired but it was decided to leave cosmetic damage due to shell fire to remain as a reminder of the war. The first Frankish king, Clovis, was baptized in Rheims where most of the French kings came to be crowned. Upper right, French cities appeared to vie with each other for the most beautiful cut flowers. The winner was wherever we were at the time. Right, second from the top, two avid accordion players meet on the street. Right third from the top, we boarded our train to Reims at the Gare de l'Est in Paris. Bottom right, the art-deco chandelier in the foyer of the Carnegie Library of Reims. Bottom center, an equestrian statue of Jeanne La Pucelle, later known as Jeanne d'Arc stands in the Place du Martroi before the Cathedral of Reims. Bottom left, on this first day of the tour we met at the Hotel Continental on the pedestrian city center commons a few hundred yards from the train station.


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The Alsac Region - Colmar

Colmar Photo Collage

The Alsac Region - Colmar

I favor white wine and the Alsace region of France is the perfect place to indulge. Leaving Reims we bussed to Colmar. Over the centuries the Alsace was ruled alternatively by the Germans and the French dependent on the outcome of the previous war. Over the span of a few generations members of a single family could feel either German or French by accident of date of birth. During WW II the German government absorbed both Alsace and Lorraine into Germany proper. Alsacion men, French men, were drafted into the German army.

In the photo above, upper left, a vendor offers fresh strawberries in the Colmar market. Top center, candies of every description are available in la confiserie, candy stores, throughout the town. Top right, I was torn between la confiserie and la boulangerie, the bakery, with the bakery usually winning out, chocolate filled croissants a favorite. Lower right, a view from our hotel room window. We enjoyed a dinner at the restaurant there. Colmar's an old town, medieval half-timber frame architecture and pastel painted stucco predominate. Bottom center, bring me hot chocolate and Café au lait in large bowls. Bottom left, with canals lacing the city the sounds of flowing water were never far away. Our favorite restaurants fronted the water, an added bonus. I learned how to eat the French way, take a bite, put down the utensil, savor the taste, enjoy the conversation, watch people passing by and take a sip of wine, repeat. From Colmar we took day trips along the Route du Vin.


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The Burgundy Region - Beaune

Paris landmarks

The Burgundy Region - Beaune

Beaune is the regions wine capital. The town's compact, portions are still inside the medieval walled city. Everything we wanted to see was within easy walking distance, as long as we didn't become lost on the winding, twisting streets. In the photo above, lower left, our hotel in Beaune, the three star Hotel des Ramparts is built into the original city walls. Upper right, we gathered in the hotel's courtyard for our room assignments and later for an impromptu dinner of goodies we all purchased at the Beuane Market Isolated from the noise of the street by the sturdy hotel walls and lushly planted, the courtyard provided a refuge from the busy day. Lower right, From Paris on down many of the cities we visited featured a carousel. This gem was on Place Carnot, the town square. Bottom center, Saturday the Place Carnot hosts a flea market offering food, antiques and clothing. Joyce bought an olive oil cruet to remember Beaune on returning home. Top left, the Hôtel-Dieu houses the Hospices de Beaune a hospital founded in the 1400's now a museum. Each year it hosts a prestigious wine auction.


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The Burgundy Region - Chateau de Rully

The Burgundy Region - Chateau de Rully

The Burgundy Region - Château de Rully

We took a day trip to the Château de Rully for wine tasting and a picnic. In the photo above, upper right, Joyce and I stand before one of the chateau's vineyards, foreground, and the castle, background. Bottom center, the group gathered in the castle courtyard to meet comte Raoul de Ternay of the Montessus family, the current hereditary owner, to learn of the castle's history before beginning our tour of the interior. Hosting tours is the only way the chateau can be maintained in the face of high, and rising, taxes and upkeep. Bottom left, Chris, our tour leader, and the comte served generous samples of the chateau's wines. Upper left, Chris hosted a picnic on the chateau grounds. I gravitated toward the sweet side of the menu. Lower right, serve yourself was the order of the day. Note, I've arranged to be the first in line.


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The Rhône-Alpes region - Chamonix - The Town

The French Alps - Chamonix the Town Photo Collage

The Rhône-Alpes region - Chamonix - The Town

Exiting a highway tunnel into the Chamonix valley we left behind green rolling hills entering one of white, jagged mountains, magnificent. In the photo above, upper left, Mont Blanc dominates the view from any point in the town. Above, upper right, is the view from our room in the Hôtel de l'Arve. Lower right, tamed by a canal, the Arve River carries glacier melt-water through the city. We found restaurants with views of the river a favorite place to eat and watch the world go by. Bottom center, an oompah band set up in the main town square entertaining the crowd. The more beer consumed the better the band sounds. Lower left, a paraglider soars over the town. Throughout the year flyers launch from both sides of the valley surrounding the town. Lessons and tandem flights are available the entire year.


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The Rhône-Alpes region - Chamonix - The Mountains

The French Alps - Chamonix Photo Collage

The Rhône-Alpes region - Chamonix

In the photo above, upper left, a two stage cable car system takes you to the tip of the Aiguille du Midi, the Needle of the South, a mountain in the Mont Blanc massif. Upper right, a view of Mont Blanc from the observation platform, shown bottom center, at the top of the needle. We watched climbers making for the top of Mont Blanc along two routes up the mountain. Bottom center, we watched from our car as another headed toward the intermediate stop at Plan de l'Aiguille at 2300m. Bottom left, Joyce and I stopped at the Plan de l'Aiguille for a snack before continuing on the second car.


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The Haut-Vaucluse Region - Vaison la Romaine

Vaison la Romaine

The Haut-Vaucluse Region -Vaison la Romaine

The history of the small town of Vaison la Romaine spans more than 2000 thousand years. The medieval castle of the Counts of Toulouse of the Haute Ville (upper town) overlooks the ancient Roman city of Vasio Vocontiorum. In the photo above, upper left, a Roman bridge crosses the Ouvèzeover river. Recent flooding destroyed a modern bridge upstream but the Romans built to last. The bridge connects the medieval and modern portions of the town. Top center, the medieval town dominates the modern village. Top, third from the right, these steps, worn by centuries of wear, lead to our upper floor room in our hotel. Top right, the remains of a Roman villa are just off the town center. Right center, is my hand touching the same place as the artisan who built it so many years ago? Bottom right, our room in the Hotel Le Beffroi featured high ceilings and a lock right out of the middle ages. Bottom left, the main shopping street where I found a lovely wool scarf to give to my friend Sue who took care of my horse while I was away.


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The Vineyards of Côtes du Rhône

Côtes du Rhône Photo Collage

The Vineyards of Côtes du Rhône

Our tour of the Côtes du Rhône (Hills of the Rhône) began in Vaison la Romaine. In the photo above, upper left, Joyce and I in the village of Séguret in the Departement of Vaucluse. From here the vineyards of Côtes du Rhône opened before us. We visited a winery located between Séguret and Mont Ventoux. Upper right, grapes in the vineyard of Domaine de Mourchon. Yes, I did take liberties with the saturation settings. Our tour began in the vineyards where a combination of limestone rich soil, Rain and sun at just the right times and skilled field workers produces the raw material for the vintners magic. Lower left, what we came for, sampling great wines. I of course drink the wine just to enjoy the pallet cleansing breads. Bottom right, we joined the winery owner and his family at their beautiful Chateau. Bottom center, a small sample of the foods tempting us. No problems with left overs as the family dog helped himself to the goodies after we were served.


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The Provence-Alpes-Cote d'Azur Region - Nice

Côte d'Azur - Nice Photo Collage

The Provence-Alpes - Cote d'Azur Region - Nice

Nice was 'nice.' Sorry, couldn't resist the pun. With Italy close by the Italian influence is apparent particularly on the food. Fresh pasta dishes, lots of them, dominated many menus. Gelato stands are not hard to find either. In the photo above, upper left, sliding doors in our hotel, the four star Hotel Suisse, opened onto a small balcony overlooking the Mediterranean. Upper right, the Basilique-Cathédrale Sainte-Marie et Sainte-Réparate de Nice located on the Place Rossetti. Lower right, no sand on the beach? No problem. Toughen the soles of your feet. Only a handful of beaches featured sand and that sand is trucked in. Walking barefoot on these hard pebbles, 'galets', is not fun. Topless bathing is acceptable on most of the beaches. My observation though is them that should, don't. Them that shouldn't, do. We walked the Promenade des Anglais morning through evening. The English Walk extends the length of the beaches. Bottom center, Vieux Nice, or Old Nice features narrow streets and tall buildings dating from the 1500's. Bottom left, Joyce with the Nice le Port, the Port of Nice, in the background.


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Epilog

Until recently I'd never expected to be in France, let alone Europe. Having a seasoned traveling companion pacified any qualms I had if traveling on my own. Every few days I pinched myself thinking "Hey, I'm in Paris, France or Europe.


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Updated:November 18, 2014