Let yourself be drawn by the stronger pull of that which you truly love. -Rumi     

Vince and I were planning our wedding at the same time I was running for the U.S. Congress…talk about multi-tasking! We had a beautiful day celebrating with our family and friends, but we only had time and resources to take a one day to escape together before it was off to the race again.

Two years later on our anniversary, he surprised me with tickets to France for our honeymoon at last. I had been to France a few years before with my best friend, Bettina, who grew up there, and we had a wonderful time. I went to all the “must-see” museums and attractions, but my trip with my husband was going to be something just for us. “What do you want to see?” I asked. His response was to see the real people of France and how they live. Vince had a few destinations in mind, and he wanted to rent a car to drive around the country.

After a few days savoring and shopping in Paris, we drove through the country…2,700 kilometers of France to be exact! We went to as many regions as we could fit in, meeting lovely people wherever we went…even the top-ranked chef in all of France, just by chance! We toured Champagne caves with a 4th generation maker, saw how Mauviel copper pots are made, and walked the ancient labyrinth in Chartres Cathedral. Most spectacularly for us, we visited a small factory in the south of France that makes vintage stockings on Reading 100 Machines imported by the United States to Europe after World War II as part of the Marshall Plan. We had heard of the Reading Machines because Reading, Pennsylvania, was part of my district when I was running. Stockings are a lost art, yet I love the ones with the seams up the back. Vince researched to find where the Reading machines went, and some of the lone survivors are in a tiny village tucked between the mountains in southern France. The owner of the factory was so excited that we came to see the shop. It was started by his grandfather long ago, and he graciously spent time sharing the incredible process of how these machines make fully fashioned vintage stockings. Bonus…I got some souvenirs!

It was a magical trip, but what made it special was we didn’t do what everyone else does. We made it exactly what we loved to see and caught all sorts of beautiful vignettes of people, pets, and places that exude character. Like Vince was hoping, we kept it real and in the meantime, discovered new things we loved and how vibrant life is. People around the world are loving, magical, and kind. We came home inspired with ideas and ready to create new things at our home. I hope you enjoy these photos of our special trip. When you go to explore, keep it real and do it in a way that fits your desires and your budget. The world is your oyster…go find your bliss!

Here are some of our tips:

  • Where to stay: Find less expensive but very chic boutique hotels around Paris. We stayed at the Hôtel le Petit Paris near the Sorbonne and excellent shopping & restaurants. We loved the area around Saint-Germain-des-Pres. The DaVinci Hotel is spectacular. When we were outside of Paris, we used Booking.com to find wonderful bed & breakfasts. In the Champagne region, we chose the Chambre D’hôtes Les Epicuriens, and Laure, the hostess, serves the best breakfast ever! She was also very helpful in navigating the area to find smaller domains for tours. When we headed into the Languedoc region, we stayed at Château Rieutort which is an incredible old château still operating its own winery. Peter and Karina were magnificent hosts who make you feel right at home! The foods prepared were lovely as were the spacious rooms. This location has a full spa and pools and is central to extraordinary wineries. We adored the town of Pézenas and if you are looking for an idyllic French town with open markets, this is a must stop. We happened to be staying at the Château during a celebration, and we were invited into the party!
  • Eating out: Every corner in Paris has a bistro which serves café and all the typical French staples. We usually had a late breakfast…which if we had some wine would linger into lunch. Lunch in most towns in France is served between 12-2 p.m. and if you are outside of Paris, you might have a hard time trying to find somewhere that will serve later. Aperitifs usually precede the dinner hour which tends to be later in the day. One thing we discovered is going into a local butcher and getting a small chicken with roasted potatoes for dinner. We would have a picnic with a great bottle of wine (which are everywhere in France!) and even grab a few treats like some olive paté in southern France or a luscious dessert. We had one that was a pistachio raspberry dream…still trying to figure that recipe out! Of course, France is known for its spectacular breads, croissants, and hundreds of cheeses. Have fun exploring the local stores…there are so many options beyond the typical restaurants. We also were fortunate to have friends in Paris who welcomed us to their home for an evening together.
  • Language: Try to speak French as much as possible…the French appreciate if you at least try, and once you get away from the major metropolitan areas, you will need to know some basics.
  • Getting Around: We used the metros in Paris and rented a car to see the rest of the country as we wanted to go to places where the trains didn’t reach. The trains are also a very good way to get back and forth. Be aware of public transportation in the event of a strike, which we didn’t know at the time happens regularly in Paris. We got a little stranded at one point, but eventually everything goes back to normal.
  • Places to see: Research things you love and attractions that are on your wish list. Often you will do better if you get to major attractions early in the day to avoid lines, and you can always save the shopping for later in the day! Churches surround the country and are worthwhile to tour. Our favorite was Chartres Cathedral–built in the 13th century, it is over 117,000 square feet! It is also home to one of the world’s remaining labyrinths. Keep an eye out for cool architecture and hidden courtyards that open to a whole new world of shops and restaurants!
  • Fashion: Paris is the most extraordinary place to shop. There are name brand locations, off the beaten path consignment shops and of course Le Bon Marché which is incredible. We stopped at the Paris Flea Market, but it is so overwhelming if you don’t have a plan. We liked the smaller antique shops we found in various towns.
  • Tours: Whether you want to go to a winery or a famous factory, many give tours, but you have to check schedules to make sure they are available on your desired date.
  • Shoes: Some will stress the importance of wearing sensible shoes…well, I would never suggest that! Stilettos are always welcomed in one of the most fabulous fashion capitals in the world!

All photos credit: Vince Moro. Copyright Queen Junction. Please do not use without permission.

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