Is France "Mecca" for Wine Geeks?

Notre Dame Cathedral

If you are into wine, like I am, then many of your vacations revolve around wine and food.  So, when your 35th wedding anniversary rolls around, you might look for a special getaway. Towards the end of 2018, we started gathering ideas. Then, out of the blue, we hear about a Rhone River Cruise with one of our favorite wineries, Dragonette Cellars. It would be a one-week river cruise up the Rhone River valley, sponsored by Food & Wine Trails, on a Uniworld River boat.

Eiffel Tower
After you start looking at the cost of airfare, and the time it takes to get there from the west coast of the United States, it makes sense to at least spend a little more time in France. So one week turned into two weeks, then you discover all the potential sites you can see, and it grows even further. By March, our itinerary had grown to just short of three weeks in France, with a one-day side trip to Monaco.

The trip was roughly broken into three one-week segments. The first week was spent in Paris, Loire and Nice. The second week was on the river boat heading from Avignon to Macon and back to Lyon. And, our third week was spent in the wine country from Lyon to Dijon.

While my blog has traditionally focused on wine and food, the next series of blog posts will be a combination of travel tips, experiences, and of course food and wine in the different regions of France.

Loire Countryside
Ten general observations: 1) the French are connected to their smartphones. More so than what we see in the US. They all wear headphones. 2) The cheapest way to get around, other than walking is via the metro, or by train. Taxis are expensive. 3) Traffic in Paris is worse than Los Angeles or Seattle. 4) The people in Paris, in general, are not nearly as friendly as the people in Southern and central France. 5) Hotels don’t use bar soap. They are all stocked with liquid soaps. 6) The bakeries and fruit/vegetable markets are better than anything seen in California. 7) The coffee is strong, but less acidic than American coffee. 8) Every town is full of art and history (brush up on French history before going…you be more impressed). 9) The Mistral Winds are real, and they blow all the time. I can see how it might drive people crazy. 10) France is a beautiful country, and is much more forested than I had envisioned.

Tasting in the Hermitage Vineyards
My first tip for three weeks of travel to France is to start planning early, and do a lot of investigation through travel guides, blogs, and videos. Talk with friends that have traveled to the regions you plan on visiting, and understand that you won’t be able to see everything on one trip. 

Secondly, try to learn the language. Even if it is just a few words and phrases. Almost everywhere we went, the people spoke English, but even showing the slightest attempt to speak French gets you a long way. "Bon Jour" is the universal greeting.

Don’t worry about what to wear, to fit in. They will know you are an American anyway. Wear what is comfortable and doesn’t “scream” that you are a tourist. For example, I was told that white tennis shoes should never be worn by men, as you will stand out. Not true, and I wish I have brought my white tennis shoes, as they would have been much more comfortable than the shoes I brought. The first two days in Paris, we walked just under 30 miles. My feet were worn and blistered. Oh, how I wish I had brought those shoes. Walking on cobblestones, and for long distances, wear what is comfortable!

Bakery in Arles
Plan ahead, and go to a currency exchange before heading on your trip. My local bank offered a great rate and no exchange charge for converting dollars into Euros. The rates are better than what you will get at the airport, or even foreign banks. You will need cash for your taxi from the airport to your hotel. Most of the time, using a credit card will get you the best exchange rate. We were warned to make sure our credit card was a chip card, with a pin number. But, I never had to enter a pin number the entire time. The chip, however, was necessary, as almost every place required it.

If you are planning on tours, research and read the reviews, and book early. Many had discounted prices for early booking. Also book your train tickets as early as you can. The train is the way to go in France. It is cheap, fast, and comfortable. You can book through a US based company., called Loco2. We were able to book first class tickets with reserved seats, and even get lunch vouchers. Our most expensive train trip was the six hours on the high-speed train from Paris to Nice, and was only $100/person. But, try to pack light for your trip, as hauling your luggage around the train is a bit of a challenge, and there is no one there to help you. Heck, on one of our train trips, no one ever even checked for our ticket. Bags are not checked, and security is a little on the slacking side
My last tip before getting into the actual travel recap is to get a Global Entry card. You will obviously need a passport to travel to Europe, but having the Global Entry Pass will speed you through lines leaving and entering the United States. That card probably saved us about three hours of waiting in line. So, if you don’t have one, plan well before your trip and apply.

The hill at Hermitage, taken from St Joseph Vineyards
Over the next couple posts, I will recap the trip with our experiences, travel locations, dining spots and wineries visited. I hope you will stick with me, and I hope to inspire you to take your own trips. As I read somewhere, “Don’t let others tell you about France, go see it yourself.”

#WineTasting #WineTravel #Wine #WineEducation #FoodandWine #WineEnthusiast #wineExpert #WinePairing #WineBlog

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