Monday, July 19, 2010

Chambres d'Hôtes: Bed & Breakfasts

Astrid and I both decided we did NOT need to go the hotel route on our week's drive through France, therefore, long before we left, we started Googling for B&Bs. It had been years since I'd been to a B&B but I hadn't forgotten how much I love them. It was Astrid's first time.

On our way south from home, driving through Holland 31 miles to the Belgium border and then another 96 miles to the French border (the proximity still blows me away), we knew we would be driving around the Paris perimeter. What we didn't know was that it would take us an hour to drive those 24 miles around the cig bity (at which time I happened to be driving). We'll probably never do that again.

After 425 miles from home, around 5 p.m., we arrived at our first B&B: Le Petit Nançay in Thenioux, France:

This was the first B&B we confirmed for reservation long before we left for France. At least 4 other groups of people were also there at the same time, from England, the Netherlands and France, so we had 3 full tables at breafast time. It was wonderful and we totally recommend the place. The farmstead is from the 1500's, as I recall, and is a work in progress for Michèle and Joél, the proprietors.

Then we were with our Dutch friends, Pim and Lia, for the next 3 nights...our own personal B&B in Montaigu-de-Quercy:

The front of their house is totally shaded and hard to find if you didn't know the exact place to find it. But the back is open to the rolling hills and their own spring-fed swimming pool. It so happened we were there at a very hot time for most of Europe (I'm wearing a sweatshirt right now as I write this), so the swimming hole was a big plus (even if I didn't use it myself). It was here also where we watched Holland beat Uruguay in our semi-final World Cup game. I was wearing my magic orange shirt.

Besides visiting Pim and Lia, our main goal of the week was to vist Mont St. Michel on the north coast (next post). But when we left Montaigu-de-Quercy in the south of France, we knew only that we would take our time to get there and would stop somewhere along the way, hopefully at a B&B that still had room for us. Almost the minute we got in the car to start north, we made the decision to NOT visit Bordeaux like originally planned (last post). A Cig Bity. Suddenly we were not into cig bities. So, going with our mood, we drove through Bergerac, Angoulême and then stopped for 1.5 hrs. in Cognac for a nice break.

Commercial intermission: To be more specific, we stopped in Cognac to buy a bottle of Cognac from Cognac in Cognac. Astrid had special memories of drinking cognac with her father from age 17 till he died 10 years later. This was a holy moment for me because I began to feel how important this was for her. She found the Napoleon brand similar to what her dad always bought. It may take us a year to drink it on only special occasions, but every time, it will be in remembrance of him.

From Cognac we continued north past Niort and Nantes and started looking for unreserved lodging...hotel or B&B, it didn't matter which. We knew we'd find something between Nozay and Chateaubriant, an 18-mile stretch. But little did we expect to find a delightful B&B just outside Nozay...with an available room: Grand Jouan in Nozay, France:

We arrived at 9 p.m. and still hadn't eaten supper. We had bread and cheese and fruit but no wine (cognac, yes, but no wine). We asked Monique if we could buy a bottle from her. YES. (She actually said it was gratis when it came time to pay but we paid, of course.) So we were happy campers, eating outside on the terrace table. When in France.... Later, before going to bed, we saw Pierre watching Spain beat Germany in the World Cup soccer match...determining who would play Holland in the final that next Sunday.

Then Mont St. Michel and our last B&B of the week, reserved for our last two nights: La Crépellière in Le Mesnil-Garnier:

This happens to be owned now by an English couple who met in Hong Kong and then moved to France, married for 7 years. What they have done to this place is beyond incredible and reminded me of sister Nancy who turns anything she touches into gold. One thing they offer is a 4-course evening meal, with a bottle of wine, for €50/couple, which we decided to order for our Last Supper in France before driving home the next day. We were the only guests that night and had our own private dining room. For the price, it was a no-brainer.

From this B&B we were able to drive to Mont St. Michel one day (next post) and to the Normandy coast (Utah Beach) the next day, before ending our week's vacation. It was the cherry on top of the whipped cream on top of the cake!

Enough for now. Little by little, beetje bij beetje, I'm getting through the pictures, loving every memory that passes my eyes. Thanks for coming along for the ride!

[Sad to say, the final game of the World Cup once we got home did not go in Holland's favor, but it was still well worth the ride!]


  1. This is a dream, and I envy you, and am happy for you, beyond what I can say. Stones and bricks, hundreds of years old, mingled with green leaves and vines and fields - there is nothing more heavenly to me. And the whole B&B thing, the informality of breakfast with the owners hovering and serving delicious treats on real dishes and sharing their lives. It's just too special.

    I love hearing about Astrid and cognac. We bought a bottle to put in the Baccarat crystal decanter I got in my inheritance. We've sipped it now and then.

    Just a beautiful post, that fills me right up to the brim.

    Looking forward to that next post. :)

  2. Ginnie, if I didn't live in France myself, I'd envy you too. B&Bs are the way to go, and once I experienced one, I would never go back to staying in a hotel unless I absolutely had to. And European ones generally have atmosphere and history by the bucketful.

    The contact with the owners and other guests is unique, and it looks like you happened on some places that were pretty special. The type of people who both run and stay in B&Bs are those who like the unexpected and are open to others - just like you!

    I've been to Cognac as well, although my memories of it are dim. How wonderful that there was some special significance there for Astrid, and by extension, you too.

    Looking forward to the next stage - you must be having a ball going through those pictures. Does it leave you any time to do your Dutch lessons??

  3. Just beautiful!

    I was thinking of you during the World Cup while your team was doing so well.

  4. Oh what a dreamy road trip. I haven't been on a b&b bec each time I check for accommodations, I find hotels much cheaper than them and of course the budget dictates where we stay.

    OMG, within 100 miles you passed two diff countries. How cool is that. If I start in SF, I would be driving for 8 hours and I'm still in San Diego :(

  5. You did a wonderful job with those collages and they bring back a lot of great memories of a wonderful week.
    It is amazing what we did and saw in that week, I have been to places I had never seen, that is the fun part of it.
    The B&B are a delight, I just loved them, the first day my French was a little rusty but after a few days I did a little better.
    I hope that we are able to make a trip like this again in France soon.
    The cognac taste good, I am glad you like it too, It won't last a year, all the best reason to go back again..... :)

  6. Ruth: I saw so much of this through your eyes and ears, dear sister, more than you know. The cognac will not last a year, Astrid says, so I guess we'll just have to go back. How fun is that! :) And as we speak, I'm working on the next post: Mont St. Michel.

    Deborah: I know that hotels can be a tad cheaper but after all is considered, the B&B route so makes sense. You get a slice of life you could not possibly get otherwise. And yes, this was a trip about learning more of Astrid and her own memories. That was very special! I AM having a ball going through the pictures. YES!

    Karen: Thanks for thinking of us during the World Cup. It was so close we could taste it! (sigh)

    PC: The hotel chain we would have stayed at in France was only €10-12 cheaper, so we decided to be extravagant for the experience and memory. We're glad we did, though that one night we would have stayed in a hotel if we had to. Can you believe how close we are in this part of the world, one country next to the other like this?!

    Astrid: You know I always eat up your support of these posts, especially since you are so much a part of them. Thank you, mijn vrouw! I love that you are seeing all these new places with me, even though they were so close to you all your life. Maybe you were saving them for me? :)

  7. Little by little I'm catching up on blog reading. Lovely story of a weeks worth of vacations! And the b&b's, that is what we loved the most too about our trips. We've tried to do that more and hope to continue..

    Great pics and can't wait for more.. Now I'm hoping to get some done this weekend too!

  8. Thanks for sharing these photos and stories. Bed and Breakfasts can be wonderful experiences and these look great. :)

  9. ET: Glad you're catching up and thank you, Jen! I'm doing it every week on Monday, I've decided. :) All in one swell foop.

    Tim: I've never had a B&B experience I haven't liked! :)

  10. I would have enjoyed your trip – sounds so nice. I have never been to a French B&B as I would stay with family or since I don’t like to drive, stay in the center of town. I loved B&B from staying in England as a teenager and try to find some in other places – have a great one in Victoria, Vancouver Island and remember one in Amsterdam fondly. I just don’t think they have them in down towns in France like in other countries. I could be wrong on that. The ones you showed us have so much atmosphere – they just look it.

  11. Vagabonde: Since we have had good experiences, we will keep finding B&Bs everywhere we go from now on. It's such a good memory and one you can usually depend on. Thanks.