I can’t believe we’ve already been in Europe for a month!
The kids have taken to traveling like birds to the sky – the boys’ favorite saying is “I just need to spend one night in a new place and then I’m used to it.” We didn’t have many worries about their ability to adapt on the road, and any we did have were put to rest while I put them to bed a few nights ago after our second day in Venice (a walking self-wandering tour of Venice & a very expensive but necessary 30 minute gondola ride). Part of my bed-time routine is to ask the boys what their favorite part of the day was and as I tucked them in and asked them this question their joint answer was immediate – “the little fish!!!!!” In all the canals, schools of tiny fish dart among the pilings. And while we adults (and teen) looked up & out, the boys looked ALL around. As Valentin, Camille & I marveled at the romantic architecture and historic canals, frowned at the cost of a gondola ride, and felt the press of tourists all around, the boys found joy in the simple beauty of the fish.
So if you have children – even small children – and are holding off on traveling because you aren’t sure how it will go – or if the kids will appreciate it – just go. Just go & the kids will find their own joy in your travels.
We started our epic European road trip (yes, road trip! – Valentin’s uncle LENT US HIS CAR for freeeeee!!!! Calling the vehicle a car may be a bit of a stretch though . . . we affectionately named this beast Tanker. We found the learning curve on a vehicle this big is, unfortunately, just as big; we’ve both hit a few curbs & had a few close calls on the very narrow French roads (most country roads are wide enough for only 1 1/2 cars – one of the cars has to pull off on the grass!). I thought I knew how to drive a good size vehicle after getting comfortable with Vixen (our F250) but I was wrong. I can say with certainty, however, that my parallel parking ability has now been honed to perfection.
Saint Emilion & Bordeaux
We started our tour in Le Mans, France – Valentin’s family’s hometown (see previous post), then headed down to wine country (Saint Emilion (full album here) & Bordeaux (full album here)) with the in-laws & brother & sister-in-law. Saint Emilion now ranks as one of my top 10 cities with its romantic medieval cobblestones and winding, uneven streets.
Bordeaux is a gorgeous city that I’ve had the pleasure to visit before. The ancient buildings that line the waterfront are truly awe-inspiring and the city itself is full of charm.
If you are visiting wine country, I highly recommend mapping out the Chateaus you wish to visit before going. We only visited two wineries and Melissa (fellow American and fabulous sister-in-law) and I were understandably disappointed at the lack of free authentic French wine and gorgeous French Chateaus.
From Saint Emilion, our family of almost 5 (Camille stayed behind in Bordeaux to visit with her birth mom/Valentin’s practice wife – STEALING THIS TERM FROM RORY DANNER – for a couple weeks) set out for the tiny medieval town of Eymoutier, France (full album here). This town also made it to my top 10 cities for its undeniable authenticity & beauty. If you are planning to travel to France – avoid the big cities. Yes, spend a day in Paris because its Paris, but the small towns, and the wonderful countryside in between, is where the true beauty lies. Our Air BnB stay near Eymoutier is run by a truly amazing couple – an American (Lori) & a Brit (Chris), whom I now consider friends. Their hospitality was moving, the Gite they converted from a goat shed to a well-equipped house was homey & charming, and and the location was beyond relaxing. We shared a few evenings of drinks & camaraderie, swapping traveling tails, and I hope to meet up with Chris & Lori again down the road.
The property is also home to an abandoned rock quarry, which now looks like something straight from the Jungle Book. The afternoon we spent exploring those ruins has been one of my favorite ‘day trips’.
Lori & Chris also suggested a visit to some ruins close by the AirBnB – Mont Gargan (full album here). The ruins are only accessible from a hike trail that leads away from a random unmarked pull-off halfway up the mountain. This became one of my other favorite day trips, partly because it wasn’t a tourist spot – we only say a few other hikers on the way up and back!
Le Cite Des Insects (full album here) was an unexpected gem of a find. The museum showcased some very interesting live specimens, including a huge living ant colony. Facts, trivia, puzzles, and discoveries abounded in this compact but impressive museum.
During our Eymoutiers stop we also visited the heartbreaking Oradour Sur Glane – a must-see for anyone near the area (full album here). This museum detailed the massacre of almost every single man, woman, and child during WWII in Nazi-occupied Oradour Sur Glane, as well as the history of the French resistance in the area. Make sure to pay for the audio-guides as well as entrance to the museum and town ruins. -these audio-guides correspond to numbers throughout the exhibit and have been one of the most well-organized & thorough audio-guides of any museum I have ever been to. Due to the overwhelming horror of the first-hand accounts in the movie halfway through the museum, I had to skip the last half of the museum. The town itself was hauntingly beautiful & melancholy, left untouched, as a tribute and reminder of the cruelties of the war.
From Eymoutiers we headed further East to Besanceuil, enjoying the picturesque French countryside along the way. During our drive, we happened upon an ALL YOU CAN EAT buffet. In France. I never thought I’d see the day….. But I’ve got to say – America, we’re doing this thing all wrong. Golden Corral who? China King what? The Royal Wok was simply . . .
Bottled beer? Beer on tap? Wine on tap? Bubbly from the bottle? Espresso? Schnapps? Cheese? Salad? Sushi? Ready to eat Chinese? Cooked to order? Anything, anything at all . . . it was all here, and all you could eat and drink. I kid you not. Check out the rest – full album here
Besanceuil is a slice of paradise with easy access to numerous small, romantic towns, chateaus & castles. Chateau Cormatin (full album here) was a family favorite with several well-restored halls and chambers, as well as perfectly manicured grounds and a fun maze through the bushes.
The medieval town of Cluny (full album here) was a beautiful 20 minute drive from our Besanceuil AirBnb (a lovely Gite with pool access! Listing here). If you visit Cluny make sure to climb all the way to the top of the bell tower for a breathtaking view! We purchased tickets to get us into various parts of the old-town. One of the small museums wasn’t worth the visit (though the spiral staircase caught my eye), but the Cluny Abbey museum was simply amazing. The Abbey, founded in 910 (yes, you read that right!) was once the oldest and largest church in the world – until St Peter’s basilica was expanded. The footprint of the building is mind-blowing, seeming to stretch from one side of the city to the other. Sadly, only a few small parts of the original building remains because the majestic abbey was torn apart and used as a quarry from about 1800 to 1825.
So much fun, so much to see – thanks for joining us on this adventure! Our family is loving and learning on the road! Onward and upward – my next installment of our adventures will be on the amazing Lyon & Chambery, an old town nestled at the base of the majestic Alps!
You can keep up in real time with our adventures on Instagram & Facebook (if you don’t want to have to wait for a re-cap!!!) TheTraveling5
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