We spent our fall break this year in the south of France and Barcelona. While the weather was a little rainy some of the time, the temperatures were warmer than in The Netherlands, making this an ideal trip before winter sets in.
We began by driving to Dijon, France. We decided to stop for a quick lunch of Oeufs de Meurette (a poached egg in red wine), escargot, boeuf bourguignon and a prawn and chorizo risotto. We also tried a regional aperitif called kir, a sort of fruity liquor. And of course, no meal would be complete without some dessert. We chose chocolate mousse, a lemon meringue tart and chocolate fondant which is like a lava cake. The meal was good, but our favorite dish, aside from dessert, of course, was the poached egg.
After our lunch, we ventured out into the city where we saw Dijon Cathedral which featured a very beautiful tile roof, Palace Ducal (the former seat for the Dukes of Burgundy), and St. Michel de Dijon (where I saw this statue featuring the women in Jesus’s life which I really enjoyed as they are not often depicted all together).
We then stopped to look at a giant sculpture outside a local museum and walked to Notre Dame of Dijon. The cathedral had a very interesting front facade with an abundance of gargoyle type figures. Inside, I found a tapestry that was very lovely. On the side of the cathedral, you can find the remnants of an owl sculpture that you are supposed to touch for good luck; so we did!
Finally, we walked down Rue de Forges looking for number 34. At that location, behind the front wall of the building, there is a small courtyard at the end of a passageway where you will find the old walls of the building and a very nice spiral staircase. You might never know it was there behind the modern building front.
On our way out of town, we stopped at Regazzoni Andre, a bakery, for some gougeres, a cheese puff pastry. It was alright but had a strong cheese flavor that not everyone was sure they liked.
Our overall impression of Dijon was that it was a city with areas in which you could really almost feel the people walking the streets 200 or more years ago juxtaposed with very modern shops and other buildings.
After leaving Dijon, we drove to Lyon where we took a nighttime stroll around the Presquile District enjoying many cathedrals, buildings and bridges lit up.
We had dinner at Aux Trois Marie where we tried Kir Royal, a bubbly version of Kir as well as potato salad with sausage, Lyon sausage over polenta, and quenelle, a sort of souffle with a cream-based fish sauce. All of it was very good so we decided to top it off with two kinds of cheese that are common to the area, Cervelle de Canut (which was a strange dessert as it was an almost cottage cheese-like dish with scallions in it) and Saint Marcellin. We also tried Tarte Lyonaisse with features Lyon’s famous pink pralines.
On our way back to our apartment, we got a special treat when we walked by a gentlemen’s club with an employee out front -a man wearing a dress with his genitalia hanging out of the bottom!
Our second day began in Lyon. On our way to the funicular station, we walked down some quiet streets one of which contained a large puppet show house. The funicular took us up the side of the hill to the Fouviere Basilica and the Roman Theater ruins. The Basilica had very pretty ceilings and tiled mosaic walls but no pictures were allowed. From the Roman Theater, we had some nice views of the city.
After coming down the hill, we looked at the Lyon Cathedral which was very plain on the inside, and we stopped at La Marquis, a bakery and confectionery where we tried some local treats- brioche de praline, Bugnes (fried flat dough with powdered sugar) and Coussin de Lyon (different flavored soft candies). The building where the shop was located was built in 1489.
Next, we walked an old passageway referred to as the Long Traboules. This passage was behind modern buildings and contained many spiral staircases like what we saw in Dijon. The passages and stairs were used in the past by silk weavers for transporting goods. We also walked by a silk store and got to see a real silkworm producing silk. There were also many puppet stores, some featuring the famous puppet Guignol who was inspired by the silk weavers and was created in Lyon.
Something else that we saw a lot of in Lyon was Le Petit Prince merchandise and books. As it turns out, the author was, of course, from Lyon.
After all of this, it was time for lunch, and we stopped at a small restaurant and sat on the street for a lunch of Lyon sausage, onion soup, Bresse Terraine (a pork and chicken pate) and Salad Lyonnaise.
And since we love to try the desserts too, we stopped back at La Marquis for a piece of Tarte Lyonnaise, Pedu Saint-Jean (kind of like French Toast) and Tropezienne (a whipped cream type filling sandwiched between two layers of cake or brioche). Apparently, it was actually created in St. Tropez in the 1950s and named by Brigitte Bardot, but this was the Lyon version.
Lyon is well known as a culinary haven, and it definitely did not disappoint. The city had a good vibe and lots of areas to wander around so we enjoyed our time there.
But after lunch, we left Lyon behind and drove on to Avignon for a quick stop to see the Palais des Papes (Popes Palace), Notre Dame des Doms, a park next to the Palace with a view of the remains of a medieval bridge, Pont St. Benezet, the Rue de Teinteruiers (an old street) and the Place de l’Horlage (a busy square of shops and restaurants). While we walked, we stopped at a bakery for a couple giant meringues and Calisson de Provence, a small candy that was reminiscent of marzipan.
Finally, we ended our day by driving to Nice where we checked into our apartment and had a dinner of Farci (vegetables stuffed with a bread crumb mixture), Socca (a soft chickpea bread), Salad Nicoise, Beignets of Cauliflower, Panisse (a crispy bread made from chickpeas), Pissaladiere (kind of like pizza with toppings of olives, caramelized onion and anchovies) and Danube Nicoise (a meat stew) along with a nice Rosé from the region.
On the third day, we drove an hour into Monaco for the morning. The hour drive turned into 1 and a half after we got stuck in a line of traffic, emerged and then made a wrong turn and had to sit in the line of traffic again. After that fiasco, we had to try to find a parking garage with available spaces and the one we found was insanely small for an average-sized car, had the strangest layout of parking spaces and had an issue on one level causing the staff to try to get everyone to back up a narrow curve. By the time we parked, everyone’s nerves were shot! When we finally got out of the car, we decided to get a mid-morning snack of Barbagiuan (a fried dough stuffed with swiss chard and ricotta) and Pissaladiere.
Next, we walked to Monte Carlo casino where we saw lots of fancy cars-Rolls Royce, Lamborghini, Ferrari.
After that, we walked through a heavy drizzle to the old town where we saw the palace, old streets and the cathedral where Grace Kelly and Prince Rainier were married and buried.
Finally, we walked back along the Jardin St. Martin (a garden along the coast) to a bakery on one of the small old town streets to try some Fougasse (a bread similar to Foccacia). We got a couple of different varieties-cheese, ham and cheese, gorgonzola and olive oil- but decided that the olive oil was the best.
We drove back to Nice where we tried another restaurant’s Pissaladiere, Farcis, and Socca and decided it was much better.
Then we spent the rest of the afternoon walking around Nice. We went to Nice Cathedral which was very nice on the inside, Parc de la Colline du Chateau which was on top of the mountainside and featured a waterfall. We stopped at an Israeli cemetery near the park and then walked down along the Cote d’Azur on the Promenade des Anglais.
Back in town, we walked through some of the streets, checked out a few shops and had drinks and a chocolate fondant at a street cafe.
Later that night, we ate at a very small, cozy restaurant where we had spinach gratin with mussels and a tomato tart as an appetizer and then tried pasta pistou (pasta with a kind of pesto sauce made from olive oil, basil and garlic rather than pine nuts), ravioli Danube and calamari. We followed that with chocolate mousse and creme brulee for dessert. It was a very delicious meal!
Next up, we left Nice and headed to Marseille, the oldest city in France. We began our day at the Palais de Longchamp. It is a very beautiful building and fountain, set in front of a large park, which was built in the 1800s to celebrate the water system of the city.
Our next stop was the old port area. From there, we ventured into the surrounding city streets to see a couple of churches. Along the way, we stopped in a bakery to buy the famous orange-flavored local biscuit, Navettes. No one was a fan.
The first church we came to was a very small and plain church. The second was called Major Church, and it was very large and done in a Byzantine rather than Gothic style which meant it featured pink marble, colorful ceilings, and mosaic-tiled walls and floors.
After viewing the church, we wandered through Le Panier district and back to the Old Port which was filled with sailboats. Overall, we found the city to be pretty dirty and very graffitied, but there were some nice features on some of the old buildings like the ironwork. After walking around, we found a restaurant at the Old Port and settled in to try several local specialties.
The meal began with Pastis, an aperitif that was very strong and tasted of black licorice, along with tapenade and Panisse (chickpea bread). The main meal consisted of Bouillibaise (fish stew that originated in Marseille), aioli (garlic, olive oil and egg sauce eaten with shellfish, cod and vegetables) and Moules Marinier (steamed mussels) with Cassis (regional white wine).
As we passed on dessert at the restaurant, we stopped at Chez Magali, a small stand in a different part of town, for a piece of deliciousness called Chichi Fregis. This is like a very large and dense orangy flavored churro served hot and covered in sugar. It was awesome!
After getting our fill of delicious food, we had a long drive to Barcelona. Once there, we checked into our apartment that was across from the Sagrada Familia, the famous church by Antoni Gaudi. We strolled around the church after dark and then went to dinner at Cal Boter.
At dinner, we had Esqueixada (cod salad), Escalivada (grilled eggplant and red pepper in olive oil), Pa Amb Tomaquet (a toasted bread smeared with tomato), Jamon Iberico (famous Spanish ham), snails and Botifarra (sausage with white beans). We also had to get a bottle of cava-not only is Barcelona known for cava, but it was very inexpensive. Finally, we ended the meal with Crema Catalana (kind of like creme brulee) and Mel I Mato (cheese with honey drizzled over it).
Upon leaving the restaurant, we discovered there was a thunderstorm outside, and we had to walk back to the apartment in the pouring rain. It was not the most favorable end to the day, but we survived!
Our first full day in Barcelona began with a trip to Casa Mila, one of Gaudi’s buildings in the city.
After viewing the architecture and examples of what the rooms looked like when they were used as a residence, we stopped for a breakfast of pastry, Pa Amb Tomaquet (bread with tomato smear) and hot chocolate (which in Barcelona is served as very thick chocolate).
Then it was off to Casa Batllo, another Gaudi building. We found this one to be too crowded to appreciate.
After this, we made our way to St. Pau Hospital. It was an entire complex of buildings that used to be used as the hospital but now houses training facilities, art exhibits, a museum and parts of the college of medicine. The exteriors of the buildings were very interesting and pretty but the insides were nothing spectacular and the layout of the museum was rather confusing.
With all of this walking, we had built up quite an appetite so we stopped for a lunch of red wine, Escalivada, Catalan beans, Iberico and chorizo, sausage, Bomba (potato croquette) and empanada.
After lunch, we decided to complete our tour of Gaudi work at Park Guell where several of his pieces are installed. There were also some amazing views of the city and coastline from the park. Of course, you had to be high up to get such sweeping views and the walk up to the park was a killer!
After the park, we went to the Gracia neighborhood to sit in a square and try a snack of Coca (a large pastry with pine nuts) and Panellets Pinyons (pine nut candy).
After this quick break, we walked around the exterior of Sagrada Familia and went to the Gothic district to see Placa del Rei and the Music Hall which was a very cool building. We walked around the area which had many interesting buildings before heading to Las Ramblas (the famous boulevard with many stalls and shops). Off of Las Ramblas was the open market which we walked through on our way to dinner at Can Cullertes.
At dinner, we had cava, Escudella d’Olla (broth with meat which was very much like chicken noodle soup), grilled calamari (so good), paella and cannelloni followed by Crema Catalana.
Our second day in Barcelona was a slower pace. We began with some hot dark chocolate and churros for breakfast at La Granja M. Viader. It was a great breakfast until one of our children proceeded to throw up in the bathroom.
After breakfast, we walked down Las Ramblas to Barcelona Cathedral and then to a bakery where we tried Xuxo (fried pastry filled with crema Catalana) and Coca de Crema(another cream pastry). At this point, said child threw up again in the public trashcan in the middle of the busy square.
We decided to go ahead and head to the beach area where we sat looking at boats and ate some lunch. We tried sangria, Bomba, Patatas Bravas (potato cubes with spicy cream sauce) and Fideua (paella made with noodles instead of rice). Said child did not eat any of this, but instead threw up one final time in this bathroom.
After lunch, we walked to the beach. It was a sunny, warm day so the beach was very crowded. We decided not to stay too long and went back to our apartment to rest for a while before dinner.
When we did head out, we decided to go to a tapas bar. The adults tried Cruzcampo beer and cava in addition to tapas of Iberico, tortilla (egg and potato tart), Pa Amb Tomaquet, calamari (which was amazing), albondigas (meatballs), Bontifara (sausage and beans) with mushrooms and croquettes (honey and cheese, onion and cheese, ham, and chicken). It was all very good!
After dinner, we went to Montjuic Fountain to watch the water and light show. It was a nice show, but there were a lot of people there.
Some of you may be wondering if Barcelona was safe as they were experiencing revolutionary protests of the government. We encountered no problems, but on our last night, we did see a small group of protestors very peacefully chanting. Other than that, the only sign of any disturbance was the number of yellow ribbon signs painted on buildings, the sidewalk and signs as well as hanging from people’s windows.
We drove back into France through some of the French countryside with many vineyards on our way to Carcassone to see the medieval citadel. We toured the area inside the city walls as well as the castle and ramparts. We enjoyed an informative movie about the citadel and the church was nice.
We stopped for lunch inside the city walls. We tried cassoulet (sausage, pork and beans casserole), galette of ham, cheese and egg (like a crepe filled with those items) and chicken Carcassone (chicken legs with vegetables).
After lunch, we drove to Limoge for a stopover to sleep.
Our final day was mostly spent driving, but we did stop in Paris to see the Van Gogh immersive experience at the Ateliers Museum. It was very cool and an interesting way to view Van Gogh’s art. There was also an exhibit on Japanese art that was very good.
Before leaving Paris, we stopped in a small restaurant near the museum for a lunch of mushrooms in cream sauce with a poached egg, vegetable ratatouille with polenta and goat cheese and a beefsteak. Our final hoorah was a dessert of chocolate mousse and sticky toffee pudding. It was a great way to end the trip!
Overall, our trip was a culinary delight, we enjoyed many architectural pieces, historic buildings, beautiful scenery and we were able to add in an educational component as one of our children had recently studied Gaudi’s works and Van Gogh’s work last year. We’ll call that a success and a trip well done!