Travel day - 450 km from Roussillon in Provence to Issoire in Auvergne. Sort of on the way to Paris. We tend to take the autoroutes for the most part, which are toll highways. It adds to the cost but makes 400 km easy to accomplish, even if there's some traffic.
Issoire is near Clermont-Ferrand, and our hotel for two nights, Hotel Le Pariou, is named after one of the many volcanic domes in the area. The "Auvergne" region is a softer landscape than Provence. It has a patchwork quilt of farms, but still lots of elevation changes, especially with the occasional volcanic "col." As much like England as Provence was like Italy.
Our hotel has spacious grounds, and we enjoyed the outdoor pool - wasp-free for Jenn. The town is really quiet. Really quiet. Especially for a Saturday night, and we were eating around 7 or 8 PM. We actually had Tex-Mex food and it was pretty good, dining outside and then walking back to the hotel despite the fact that the sidewalks had been rolled up.
("Vulcania." This place is entirely logical)
Vulcania! Never heard of it before, but, through Jenn's research, Anica was really looking forward to this place. It's kind of a volcano theme park, but not with roller-coasters, nearer to being a science centre. All five of us went on all the various simulators/rides. Most of Vulcania is underground - in and around a giant cone with a crater in the middle. There's a simulation that takes you to the centre of the earth, another that simulates eruptions of nearby volcanic peaks, a fantasy scenario involving a dragon...
We also saw a regular twenty minute film in a huge movie theatre; in another theatre we watched and listened to a lecture where the speaker used google earth (or something like it) to tour the earth's volcanic areas. He spoke French, but we got the gist.
("Vulcania." I'll have mine in a cone, please)
They had a really good cafeteria (it amazes me what a high priority the French place on quality food everywhere, whether it's a gas station on the highway or a cafeteria at a tourist attraction).
In total, we were at Vulcania almost seven hours - a full enough day. We looked at Puy de Dome before driving back to Issoire for a dinner at the only (practically) place open Sunday night near our hotel...Subway. With the music playing, Anica was able to add to her total of "songs heard in France that are on her i-Pod playlist." Apparently, the most popular song right now (in Canada or France) is Flo Rida's "Whistle." I joke that the music video station here only has six songs they ever show. We didn't have TV in Roussillon, but we've had it on in the hotel here, as you can see.
About 350 km took us to Chenonceaux, our last stop before returning to Paris and the flight home. Mainly we're here to see the famous chateau of the same name as the town (without the x).
Today was raining, though, so we checked into our hotel (luckily the rooms were ready just after noon). The hotel, La Roseraie, is beautiful. Old building with twisting staircases and we have huge rooms. Especially ours! Anica actually has her own separated room, in pink wallpaper, with the main room having blue wallpaper. The bathroom alone is bigger than some hotel rooms we've seen.
We ate lunch at a place across the street, the rain pouring down. I guess it didn't matter that it was a REALLY leisurely lunch, since we had nothing else planned. I wasn't feeling well, however, and didn't finish my lunch - in fact, that was it for me today. Sick.
I missed out on dinner at our hotel later - Jenn and Anica told me about their nice "menu" of escargot as the first course, then mackerel (Anica), steak (Jenn) and profiteroles.
(The classic Chenonceau view)
Chenonceau day. We took the easy option of the hotel breakfast, and I was feeling better enough to give it a try. We then walked all of 400 metres to the entrance of the chateau grounds. It's not a big town...
The "driveway" is a long, very tall escort of plane trees.
The chateau is really interesting, magnificent not because of its size, but its setting and design.
The tour used i-pod video/audio guides. We were in the various rooms of Diane Poitiers and Catherine de Medici, the women who made Chenonceau. The "gallery" has a distinctive white and black floor in the room that spans the Cher River. From the exterior, these gleaming white arches give the chateau its signature look. Then there are the gardens: the mistress Diane's (she made the big one) and the queen Catherine's from when she took over.
(The original HGTV reality show at Chenonceau)
We also had lunch there, then made our way through the labyrinth, strolled the outdoor vegetable/flower gardens, and visited Anica's favourite, the donkeys! She also enjoyed the salamanders all around the big garden. Chenonceau has a ton of history to it, great stories, really one of the best places to see in France. My parents had been before, and I'm glad they encouraged us to come here on this trip.
I can't believe it's August! We had only 150 km or so to go today to arrive in Paris, to the CDG airport where we dropped off the Peugeot. I can't say enough about this lease plan. It was actually easier than renting a car for a weekend in Ontario. And with this, you're guaranteed the exact vehicle. It's just like getting a brand-new car. We had our Peugeot 5008 for about the mininum amount of time (three weeks), but the longer you lease it, the more economical it becomes.
Our last night in France was at the Novotel at the airport, just because our flight's in the morning. My parents decided there was more than enough to do (especially with the free shuttle between terminals) in the airport terminal, so they stayed put today. Jenn, Anica and I took advantage or the RER (commuter trains) terminal connected to the Novotel to go back into Paris one more time! It was costly, there was a lengthy train delay, the trains weren't air-conditioned and it was hot, Paris was a lot more hot and crowded now that it's August, and yet...it was worth it. That's not just me saying it, all three of us agreed.
We got out at Place de la Concorde, battled the grounds in the food-court beside the Louvre in order to get a snack and a washroom to use (but whatever "air conditioning" they had was pretty feeble), and then walked along the Seine. The urban beach was set up on the lower level, an amusing sight.
Eventually Jenn said, I think if we go up from the river here, we'll come to Place des Vosges. She was right! Who needs a map? The nice thing about Place des Vosges is that it's shady and tranquil. We sat on a bench for at least an hour, just people-watching. Then we walked a couple of blocks farther and went to Chez Papa again, since it was one of our favourites in Paris.
The ride back to the airport was much quicker - we lucked out by getting an "express" train. We chatted with a woman from Brazil who was just in Paris for a lay-over.
The flight was fine and we're all home safely. We had an amazing month together. Writing about it in this blog makes me realize how much we saw and did! My parents were healthier than Jenn and I were on the trip. They had lots of energy and walked and climbed and did everything. We got along, I would guess, far better than most families would on this length of trip. There were moments when we got on each other's nerves, but nothing major.
The real conclusion is a thank-you. My mother and father paid for far more than their "half" of this trip, without going into too much detail here. This was a wonderful opportunity to share some of the most beautiful places in France. We now have memories and experiences that all five of us will treasure. I love my French family!