August 21, 2017

9 Reasons to Visit Le Mans France

Over the weekend my husband was watching the 24 Hours of Le Mans car race. He’s the race fan, so while he was giving me a little education on the cars and watching the race, I set out to discover more about Le Mans itself.

 
Le Mans France is situated about 113 miles south west of Paris in the Pays de Loire region. Sitting along the banks of the Sarthe river, Le Mans dates back to Roman times which gives the city a vast and varied history including ties to the Plantagenet royal family. Geoffrey V. d ‘Anjou (Plantagenet) was born in Le Mans during 1113, married Mathilda, daughter of Henry I of England, in Le Mans and his tomb is here too. The marriage of Geoffrey and Mathilda gave us Henry II a future King of England.

Here are 9 reason to visit Le Mans!

1)  All car enthusiasts will be interested in visiting Le Mans. There are 2 race courses in the city but the most famous race is the 24 Hours of Le Mans which has been taking place since 1923. A visit to the Musee de l’Automobile is enjoyable for everyone.

 

Gallo Romaine Walls Le Mans France

Le Mans Gallo Romaine Walls by OldLion

2)  The fortified Old Town is surrounded by Gallo-Roman walls which were built during the 3rd century to defend the city and are some of the best in all of France. A stroll through the Old Town is delightful as you pass many cobbled streets and half timbered houses.

 

Cathedral St. Julien Le Mans France

Cathedral St. Julien Le Mans France 080804 467 by juergen.mangelsdorf, on Flickr

3)  The Cathedral St. Julien rivals the magnificent cathedral in Chartres. Visitors are quite taken by the cathedral’s Gothic flying buttresses, Romanesque portal and stained glass windows. The oldest part of the cathedral dates back to the 11th century. The cathedral is also where Geoffrey married Mathilda and the resting place to the wife of Richard the Lionheart.

4)  The Sarthe River cuts a beautiful image through the city. Overlooking the river is Le Menhir, a monument to Celtic beliefs that has been looming over the town for 5,000 years.

 

Palais des Comtes du Maine Le Mans France

Palais des Comtes du Maine and brithplace of henry II Le Mans by Benchaum

5)  Today the city hall is in the Palais des Comtes du Maine which is the birthplace of Henry II.

6)  The Tunnel was built in the 19th century to make access to Le Mans easier but it also has some interesting lighting and landscaping along with a monument dedicated to Wilbur Wright.

7)  Besides the Roman walls, there are other items attesting to Le Mans’ Roman heritage including the Crypte Archeologique des Thermes Romains. In other words, remains of the Roman baths have been discovered near the river and are open to visitors.

 

Abbatiale de l'Epau near Le Mans France

Abbatiale de l'Epau by Benchaum

8)  Just at the edge of town is the impressive Cistercian Abbey of l’Epau. Founded by the wife of Richard the Lionheart, the medieval Abbey is situated along the Huisne River and offers a sanctuary for those seeking peace and calm

9)  Le Mans is home to many museums. Museums full of natural history, Automobile history, aquariums, Egyptian artifact and art. But to learn more about Le Mans and its history from Roman times through the 15th century, don’t miss the Museum of Archaeology and History of Mans on Plantagenet Square where you’ll be able to explore the vast history of the city dating all the way back to 50 BC and its Roman settlement.

 

Old Town Le Mans France

Le Mans, France by Sue Elias, on Flickr

Looks like there’s much more to Le Mans than cars! No wonder it has also been the site of many movies including Cyrano de Bergerac, Man in the Iron Mask and The Three Musketeers.

Next time I’m in the area I’ll be stopping by,

Will You?

Slovenia: Tiny but Beautiful!

From the Adriatic coast to the mountains of the Alps, tiny Slovenia is one of Europe’s most impressive countries and yet one of its best kept secrets.

Wedged at the crossroads of Austria, Italy, Hungary and Croatia, Slovenia is a unique blend of each country. Roughly the size of New Jersey, the surprises waiting for visitors include beaches, rolling green countryside, quaint Alpine villages, interesting architecture, snow-capped mountains and a multitude of outdoor activities.

I’ve never been to Slovenia but here are 7 reasons I would visit Slovenia!

1.  Beautiful coast along the Adriatic

Sitting on a beach in Piran you’ll feel like you could be on the French Riviera or Italy but you’re actually enjoying the beauty of the Adriatic from Slovenia! Piran is home to lovely views, rolling vineyards and a wonderful Italian cuisine but not the hordes of people, yet!!

 

Piran Sailboats Slovenia

Piran Sailboats Slovenia author: Ubald Trnkoczy from Slovenia Tourist Board

2.  Wine

The hills near the Austrian border are full of vineyards producing wonderful Slovenian wine! The last few years have seen a huge growth in the quality and quantity of wine produced here. At the same time, tasting rooms and Vinoteka’s have popped up all over Maribor’s streets.

3.  Fairy Tale Castles

There are hundreds of castles in Slovenia. Some rest on hills overlooking towns, cling precariously to the side of a mountain, sit in the middle of lakes and rivers while even others are linked to underground caverns.

 

Predjama Castle Slovenia

Predjama Castle Slovenia by Ayack wikimedia

4)  Cities

The cities of Slovenia are traditional and charming. Ljubljana, the capital, is a blend of Old World charm and contemporary energy. The picturesque medieval city of Skofja Loka is nestled amongst green rolling hill, Piran still has its town wall and Ptuj is the countries oldest city.

 

Skofja Loka Slovenia

Skofja Loka Slovenia from wikimedia

5.  Alpine Mountains

The Julian Alps are a mountain lover’s paradise full of hiking, climbing, skiing and other outdoor activities.  It is here you’ll find inspiration in Triglav National Park home to the highest peak in Slovenia, Mt Triglav ( 9,396 feet).  The lakes, rivers, mountains, villages and flowers of the Julian Alps create a picture perfect spot to unwind and enjoy nature.

 

Alpine Valley Slovenia

Alpine Valley Slovenia by Matijap wikimedia

6.  Caves

Not only is Slovenia beautiful above ground but it shines underground too! With over 8,800 caves, Slovenia has more than its share of caves. The world’s longest cave, Postojna Cave, will take your breath away and the underground canyon in Skocjan Cave is amazing. But these two caves are just the tip of the iceberg!

7.  Rivers and Lakes

The rivers and lakes of Slovenia only add to its charm. Famous Lake Bled is probably the most photographed place in the country but is still a tranquil spot especially since motor boats aren’t allowed. Bigger Bohinj Lake is pristine and surrounded by stunning mountains and some say the Soca River is Europe’s prettiest. The emerald water of the river allow for great rafting, kayaking and fishing while the lakes are great places for hiking and biking.

 

Lake Bled Slovenia

Lake Bled Slovenia author: J. Skok from Slovenia Tourist Board

 

 

What do you think, is Slovenia worth the visit?

Three European Festivals during June

Now that we are mid-way through Spring, its time to look forward to Summer! With summer comes warmer and longer days which brings people outside. While everyone is enjoying leisurely bike rides, picnics and the wonderful fruit and vegetables that only summer brings, Festivals start happening too!

And in Europe there are an abundance of Festivals.

Today I’ll introduce you to 3 Unique Festivals taking place during June.

 

First we’ll head to the Czech Republic where we’ll get to experience history over the Summer Solstice weekend.

Royal grandstand at Five Petalled Rose Celebration Cesky KrumlovCrowds at Cesky Krumlov's Five Petalled Rose Celebration

Cesky Krumlov, known as one of the Czech Republic’s prettiest towns, is full of Renaissance era buildings, cafes, pubs and a wonderful castle. This Bohemian village is also home to the Five-Petalled Rose Celebration which takes place each year over the Summer Solstice. This festival will take you back to the Renaissance when the town was ruled by the Lords of Rosenberg. Enjoy taking a step back in time as you watch Knight’s tournaments, enjoy medieval music, wander craft fairs and meet the famous people from Cesky Krumlov’s history! The Five-Petalled Rose Celebration takes place June 21-13, 2013.

Welcoming Royalty at Royal Silvering of Kutna Hora Czech RepublicKnights on horseback Royal Silvering of Kutna Hora Czech Republic

Medieval Kutna Hora relives its history every year during June. You’ll be whisked back 600 years during the Gothic Royal Silvering in Kutna Hora. Welcome King Wenceslas IV and Queen Sophia of Bavaria while watching Knights ride into town, jousting tournaments and dancing to Gothic music. Later take part in the Silver Mass at the lovely Cathedral of St. Barbara. The Royal Silvering in Kutna Hora will bring history alive to all those in attendance and takes place June 22-23, 2013.

Battle of Wine in Haro La Rioja SpainCelebrating the Spanish Wine Battle Haro Spain

For the last festival we’ll head to Spain for the La Batalla del Vino or the Spanish Wine Battle! In northern Spain is the Rioja wine region and the town of Haro where every June 29th there is a battle.This isn’t a normal battle but you will want to be armed! Attire for the battle is white adorned with a traditional red scarf tied around your neck. Your morning will start with a group climb up the Cliffs of Bilibio for mass and then all kinds of crazy gets going. Armed with squirt guns, super soakers or bottles filled with wine, attendees start squirting everyone! Then around noon, the wine soaked group makes its way to the center of town for more celebrating and maybe a Bull fight, if you’re so inclined!  Make sure you bring a change of clothes!

 

Would you attend one of these Festivals?

 


Photos of both festivals in Czech Republic are used courtesy of Czech Tourism.
Photos of Spanish Wine Battle by bigSus on wikipedia

Albarino Wine Led Me To Galicia Spain

Exploring Europe through its wines can lead you to some wonderful adventures. That is why I love trying different European wines even while home.  I recently had the opportunity to try a wine made from a grape I’d never heard of, Albarino.  Once I discovered it was from Spain I had to learn more about the region producing Albarino wine!

This led me to the rugged Northern coast of Spain, Galacia.

Galacia is not on the normal tourist track and since it is separated from the rest of Spain by a mountain range, it has a very different feel to it.  In Galacia you’ll experience a different language and a strong Celtic influence especially in its music which still uses bagpipes.  Set along the Atlantic coast, the region also boasts a very strong seafaring tradition.  Inland the region is full of rugged and wonderful mountains.

Here are 5 reasons you might want to explore Galicia!

1. Albarino Wine
One of the wine worlds best kept secrets is the Rías Baixas area, home to Spain’s Albarino grape.  The grape has been growing in the area for 900 years and produces a crisp white wine that pairs well with seafood.  The wine region is mainly centered on Cambados where you’ll find a bodega in an old castle and an annual wine festival.

Vineyards in Spanish Wine Region of Galicia Spain

Vineyards in Spanish Wine Region of Galicia by Enrique Dans

2. Santiago de Compestelo
The most well known city in the Galicia region is also one of Spain’s most beloved.  In the center of town you’ll find Plaza de Espana which is bordered by the Baroque cathedral, a Romanesque college and Neoclassical city hall. The cathedral has been the goal of pilgrims for hundreds of years and is known for its Baroque façade, a Romanesque sculpture and the crypt of St. James.

Santiago de Composteleo Cathedral Galicia Spain

Santiago Cathedral by Luis Miguel Bugallo Sanchez

3. Beaches
The coastal area of Galicia is full of scenic, windy and sometime treacherous shoreline.  Take time to explore some of the estuaries and enjoy the beaches.  The many resorts are full of wonderful streets with Gothic arches and churches as well as miles of sandy beaches and beautiful clear water.   The beaches are so inviting you’ll want to grab some bread, cheese and wine for a wonderful seaside picnic!

Beach along coast of Galicia Spain

Playa de Catedrales, Galicia Spain by AndyRobertsPhotos, on Flickr

4. Quaint Villages
The quaint fishing villages, gorgeous scenery and sandy beaches of Galicia are the heart and sole of the region.  The list of villages include La Coruna which is Franco’s hometown, Lugo is known for its Roman wall, preserved ramparts and shellfish festival while Baiona is a chic resort known as the first town to know of Columbus’ discovery and its medieval architecture.

Plaza do Ferro in Ourense Galicia Spain

Praza do Ferro in Ourense by Jose Luis Cernadas Iglesias

5. Varied outdoor activities
Galicia is also known for its outdoor adventures.  While the coastline adventures revolve around water sports including sailing and surfing, the rugged hills entice the hikers and walkers.  Other adventures include hot air ballooning, golf and horseback riding.

Inland scenery Galicia Spain

Galicia Inland by OndasDeRuido, on Flickr

 

Is Galicia calling you?

Experiencing Fairy Tales in Germany

The image that comes to your mind when you hear the words Germany and fairy tale is probably the oft pictured Neuschwanstein Castle and it’s no wonder. This spectacular castle that sits deep in the countryside of Bavaria is a photographic gem and truly leaves me awestruck every time I see it.  I have often heard that Walt Disney used this castle for his image of Sleeping Beauty’s castle and while I can see the resemblance there is more to Germany and Fairy Tales than you may know!

Neuschwanstein Castle Bavaria Germany

Neuschwanstein Castle by Valerio Bruscianelli

Many of the fairy tales we grew up with were written by the Grimm Brothers who were born and raised in Germany. The areas where the brothers lived is also where they gathered the inspiration for their famous tales.  Since the Grimm Fairytales have been published in 160 languages you do not need to visit Germany to enjoy them but if you want to experience them a journey on the Fairy Tale Route is necessary.

Wilhelm and Jacob Grimm Monument Hanau Germany

Wilhelm and Jacob Grimm Monument by Renftel courtesy of Deutsche Marchenstrasse

The Fairy Tale Route has been one of Germany’s Scenic Drives since 1975 and stretches 370 miles from Hanau, outside Frankfurt am Main, north to Bremen, a major port city on the Weser River.   It is in the medieval villages along the Fairy Tale Route where you will see these tales come to life through re-enactments, costumed characters, parades and puppet shows.

Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm were born in 1785 and 1786 in Hanau Germany. Today Hanau is home to a monument of the famous brother, an annual Fairy tale Festival and the lovely Baroque grounds of Philippsruhe Palace.

Bad Wildungen Panorama Fairy Tale Route Germany

Bad Wildungen Panorama by Asio Otus

Steinau is where the brothers spent much of their childhood. You can visit the Brothers Grimm House which was over 200 years old in 1791 when they arrived in Steinau, wander cobblestoned streets lined with half-timbered houses and visit Steinau Castle.  Originally designed as a medieval fortress and later renovated in the Renaissance style, the castle is home to a Grimm museum full of personal effects of the Grimm family including the family Bible and a copy of the original Grimm dictionary. If you spend time in the woods surrounding Steinau you may find Little Red Riding Hood or Hansel and Gretel!

Marburg on the Lahn Fairy Tale Route Germany

Marburg on the Lahn by Matthiahess

Rising up from the Lahn River, Marburg is where the brothers went to law school.  You’ll want to wander the old town full of alleys, old buildings and tons of charm.  Other highlights include a spectacular castle on top of the hill and St. Elizabeth’s Church which is the oldest pure gothic church in Germany.

Hercules Monument Fairy Tale Route Germany

Hercules Monument by MalteRuhnke on de.wikipedia

The brothers lived in Kassel for 30 years and worked as librarians at court of Jerome Bonaparte, Napoleon’s younger brother.  Main sights to see in Kassel include the Brother Grimm Museum in Palais Bellevue which possesses a personal copy of the fairytales with annotations by the brothers, the Schloss Wilhelmshohe home to the Staatliche Museen housing the 2nd largest collection of Rembrandts in Germany, the stunning Herkules Monument and the collection of medieval armor and weapons during a visit to Lion Castle.

Sababurg Castle Fairy Tale Route Germany

Sababurg Castle courtesy of HA Hessen Agentur GmbH

Above are the main cities associated with the Brothers Grimm.  Continuing along and in between is the medieval Castle of Trendelburg which was the setting for Rapunzel and the 650 year old Castle Sababurg where Sleeping Beauty slept for 100 years. A visit to the Schwalm region allows for a hike through the dark forests where Little Red Riding Hood’s adventure took place.    The legend of the Pied Piper can be relived in picturesque Hamlin and Bremen is home to the Bremen town musicians.

Forest Sababurg Fairytale route Germany

Forest Sababurg by Michael Fiegle

Yes there is an over abundance of sights and events related to fairy tales but there is much more to be found here. The Fairy Tale route crosses medieval villages with preserved city walls, romantic old towns, ruins of a fortress belonging to emperor Barbarosa, 15th century witch towers with dungeons and forests that are part of UNESCO World Heritage.

Edersee Fairy Tale Route Germany

Edersee from wikimedia

I think it’s fair to say the Brothers Grimm have made an impact on all of us. Even if you’re not directly familiar with their fairy tales you’ve experienced them through other books, movies, cartoons and cultural icons like Disneyland.   December 20, 2012 marked the 200th anniversary of the first edition of Grimm’s Fairy Tales and Germany will be celebrating the brothers during 2013.

So let’s all give our thanks to the Brothers Grimm and if you’re in Germany, why not stop by!

Would you enjoy a trip on the Fairytale Route??

Castles Along the Vistula

The rivers of Europe wind their way through the heartland of the continent. Historically, cities were established along rivers because they offered drinking water and transportation.  Today we admire the old-world cities, historic villages, beautiful countryside, medieval cathedrals and enchanting castles found along the banks of Europe’s rivers.

Along with the Thames, Seine, Danube and Rhine rivers, the Vistula is one of Europe’s great rivers.

Vistula River near Torun Poland

Vistula River near Torun by Pko

Traversing Poland from south to north, the Vistula is the largest river in Poland traveling 651 miles before reaching the Baltic at Gdansk.  Although the river passes many of Poland’s greatest cities it also flows past near picture perfect mountains, foothills, enchanting cities, grassy banks full of flowers and castles.

Here are some of the castles and palaces you’ll find along the Vistula.

Wawel Castle Krakow Poland

Wawel Castle Krakow by Eigenwerk

Wawel Castle in Krakow


Standing 150 feet above Krakow is Wawel Castle.  Built in the 10th century and starting out in the Romanesque style, the castle today is a mix of Romanesque, Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque styles.  Wawel castle remained the home of Polish royalty for 500 years and is known for its elegant rooms, galleries and tapestries.  The grounds also include a cathedral which houses the royal tombs.

Baranow Sandomierski Castle Arcade Poland

Baranow Sandomierski Castle Arcade by Jerzy Strzelecki

Baranow Sandomierski Castle Poland

Baranow Sandomierski Castle by Jerzy Strzelecki

Castle of Baranow Sandomierski


This beautiful castle, also known as “Little Wawel”, sits on the east side of the Vistula river.  It was built from 1591 – 1606 in Poland’s Mannerist style.  The Mannerist style usually has ornate attics, side towers and arcades and was replaced by the Baroque style.  Today this castle serves as a museum, hotel and conference center.

Janowiec Castle Ruins Poland

Janowiec Castle Ruins by Piotr J


Janowiec Castle


The castle was originally built during the 16th century and today is mostly in ruins although there are renovations taking place in an attempt to bring the castle back to life.  This impressive castle and grounds are worth the short hike and include a museum on Royal Interiors.

Pałace Wilanow Poland

Pałace Wilanow by A. Osytek


Wilanow Royal Palace


Wilanow, a suburb of Warsaw on the left bank of the Vistula, is home to a Royal Palace that was built for King Jan III Sobieski as his summer residence. The Baroque 17th century palace is considered by many to be one of the most beautiful buildings in Poland.  The interiors are said to be exquisite as are the lawns and Italian style gardens.

Royal Castle Warsaw Poland

Royal Castle Warsaw by sfu

Royal Castle Warsaw Ballroom Poland

Royal Castle Warsaw Ballroom by Marek & Ewa Wojciechowscy

Royal Castle in Warsaw


For centuries this Royal Castle was the residence of Polish Kings and the Seat of Parliament. In fact, Nicholas I of Russia was crowned King of Poland here in 1829. This 15th century Gothic castle has a commanding brick façade but is best known for its spires.  At the center is the Sigismund Tower with clock which has become one of the symbols of Poland’s capital.  Many of the rooms have been restored including the Royal apartments and Houses of Parliament.

Pieskowa Skala Castle Poland

Pieskowa Skala Castle by Marek & Ewa Wojciechowscy


Pieskowa Skala Castle


The position of this castle really lends to the fairy tale feel you get when visiting Pieskowa Skala.  Dating back to the 14th century, the castle sits on a limestone cliff and is part of a series of castles built to protect the area during Medieval times.  Pieskowa Skala castle is inside the Ojcow National Park and was built in the Renaissance style.  While visiting make sure to see the beautiful courtyards and visit the renovated rooms and artifacts from the local area.

 

Well that’s just a taste of the Castles along the Vistula!

 

Have you been to Poland and any of these castles?

Discovering Ireland!

Last month I wrote a post about my European travel dreams for this year. I still haven’t made any plans yet but as I go over my European dreams I’ve been asking myself, what is it that draws me to Ireland?

In no particular order, here are 6 reasons Ireland is calling me!

Dramatic Landscape
Ireland is known for her spectacular scenery, varied landscapes, cliffs tumbling to the sea, seascapes, lakes, and many shades of green. I want to experience the translucent lakes of Killarney, see the masted boats in Kinsale harbor and picture perfect towns like Inistioge and Adare. In the southwest, the Beara and Iveragh Peninsulas are full of wild and gorgeous scenery while the Dingle peninsula is known for its harsh but beautiful land and seascapes. Ireland is also home to many prehistoric sights including the eerie megalithic tombs, ancient huts and rock formations found in the Burren. And then there is the excavation at Ceide Fields which is home to settlements older than the pyramids!

Cliffs of Moher Clare County Ireland

Cliffs of Moher by Shannon Development

Pubs, Music, Beer, Whiskey & Tea
Ireland seems to be synonymous with Guinness but besides this traditional beer, I’d also like to enjoy many of the ales the country is known for. Even though I’m not a whiskey fan, a tour and taste of this locally distilled beverage will make it on my itinerary! One of the things Ireland is most famous for are its pubs and it’s the pubs that are probably on the top of my list. I want to experience traditional Irish music and have conversations with local folks, which will be the best souvenir! Afternoons of tea and dinners of traditional Irish food will top off my culinary discoveries.

Jameson Distillery Dublin Ireland

Jameson Distillery by the Jameson Distillery

Lodging options
Ireland is known for its hospitality and one way to experience this is through the many different styles of lodging. From farmhouses, cottages, country houses to Bed & Breakfast’s and elegant castles there is a vast array of choices and I want to experience many different types including a Castle! Dromoland, Ashford and Adare Manor are some of the more famous in this category but there are other Castle hotels, such as Ballynahinch Castle, that are not as well-known.

Ballynahinch Castle Hotel Galway Ireland

Ballynahinch Castle Hotel by Manor House Hotels

History, Castles, Cathedrals and Fortresses
Anywhere I travel, one of my joys is learning about the local history. To say Ireland has a vast and varied history is an understatement. Ireland’s history dates back to 8000 BC and has seen invasions of Vikings, English, Normans and others. The tumultuous history includes wars for independence and other rebellions which have all left their mark on the country but have also made it what it is today. The remnants can been see in the many castles, fortresses and cathedrals dotting the land. “The gift of gab” will be mine after visiting Blarney Castle and its very famous stone. There are Bronze Age forts, monastic sites dating to early Christianity, Viking walls and Georgian estates strewn across the land. Waiting is Charles Fort, which has stood since Norman times, James Fort, Bunratty Castle, Kylemore Abbey, medieval Trim castle and the well preserved Cahir Castle.

Kylemore Abbey Connemara Ireland

Kylemore Abbey by Chris Hill 2006

Outdoor Activities
Normally I prefer sailing in fair weather but would make an exception to sail the waters near Ireland. Sailing is such a peaceful endeavor and when it comes with amazing views, I just don’t think I could pass up spending some time on the seas. With all the wonderful landscape I’ll find in Ireland, hiking seems like the perfect way to see and experience parts most people miss. I grew up fly fishing and wouldn’t miss a chance to drop a line in one of the pretty rivers traversing Ireland.

Killarney Lakes Kerry Ireland

Killarney Lakes by Tourism Ireland

People
When I visit Ireland, I want to take the time to really experience Ireland and a big part of this will be its people. I have long heard about the wonderful people in Ireland, in fact, I don’t think I’ve ever heard a negative thing said about the Irish! The Irish are known to be friendly, relaxed, funny and kind. A fellow travel blogger, Jeremy Branham said in an article on Irish Central “. . . the Irish people are the friendliest I’ve ever met.”

American Folk Park - Bluegrass Festival Omagh Ireland

American Folk Park - Bluegrass Festival by Geray Sweeney

For a small country, Ireland seems to have more of everything. Each turn of the road displays more green, more history, more soul, more beer and I want to experience it all!

Why would you go to Ireland?

All images are courtesy of Tourism Ireland.

European Villages Discovered-Saint-Cirq-Lapopie

A few years ago I was able to spend a few days in the Midi-Pyrénées region of France, specifically Cahors and Rocamadour.  I remember being amazed at the beauty of my surroundings as we drove through the countryside. As my eyes fell on beautiful village after beautiful village I found myself wondering why the area is not more popular with American tourists.  I also vowed I would return one day to spend more time exploring this beautiful region of France!

Today we’re discovering a European village from the Midi-Pyrénées region, Saint-Cirq-Lapopie! 

Saint-Cirq-Lapopie France by Adam Baker

Saint-Cirq-Lapopie France by Adam Baker

In an area known for chateaux, prehistoric caves, scenic villages, truffles, lazy rivers and the almost black Cahors wine you will find Saint-Cirq-Lapopie.

Restaurant Saint Cirq Lapopie France

Outside restaurant Saint Cirq Lapopie by tristanf, on Flickr

Known as one of France’s most beautiful villages, Saint-Cirq-Lapopie rests precariously on a rocky outcrop high above the river Lot in Southwest France.  Its situation along the river offers stunning views but also provided a great defense protecting the village from many battles that have taken place in the area including an unsuccessful attack in 1199 by Richard the Lionheart.

Lovely Alley Saint-Cirq Lapopie France

Saint-Cirq Lapopie: Alley View by Nick Dimmock, on Flickr

During medieval times, Saint-Cirq-Lapopie was home to four important families each of which has left their mark on this beautiful village. This is also the reason there have been many chateaux and churches in the village.  Remaining today are 3 chateaux and a Gothic church, dating back to the 15th century, with an amazing view over the Lot river valley.

Saint-Cirq Lapopie France Church and Rooftops

Saint-Cirq Lapopie: Church and Rooftops by Nick Dimmock, on Flickr

Like Rocamadour, Saint-Cirq-Lapopie is on a pilgrimage path leading to the Santiago de Compostela which is also the reason for its popularity during medieval times.  Today, the entrance to the village is still via the medieval stone wall and gate.

Saint Cirq Lapopie France

Saint Cirq Lapopie Panorama by TwoWings

Wandering the village visitors will see houses dating back to medieval times many of which still bear the steep tile roofs.  Some are made from stone found in the region and others are constructed in the half-timbered style.

River Lot View Saint-Cirq Lapopie France

Saint-Cirq Lapopie: River Lot View by Nick Dimmock, on Flickr

Arriving at Saint-Cirq-Lapopie is almost as wonderful as the village. The road meanders along the Lot River before rising up to display the pastoral countryside of the region.  The surroundings of the village are as dramatic and beautiful as the village which makes Saint-Cirq-Lapopie dazzling no matter which direction you look!

 

Do you enjoy wandering small European villages?

Thanksgiving & Beaujolais Go Together!

Something wonderful took place last Thursday and to most of us it went by unnoticed.  This year’s Beaujolais Nouveau was released and is now available for purchase! Traditionally released on the 3rd Thursday of November, Beaujolais Nouveau is a wine whose release is celebrated across France.  I think it is so nice of the French to release the most wonderful smelling wine ever (in my opinion) just in time for Thanksgiving, and it goes wonderfully with the popular meal of the day – Turkey!

Beaujolais Nouveau France Wine

Est arrivé by theogeo, on Flickr

But where do these grapes come from and why should you visit the Beaujolais region of France?


Lying north of Lyon in the Rhone-Alpes and Burgundy regions is the home of Beaujolais.  Often forgotten by tourists, this region is known for its green hills, flowery villages, interesting geology, architecture, wine and over 1500 km of walking trails.  Wandering Beaujolais you will find delicious and affordable wines and vineyards dotting the gorgeous countryside.

Here are some of the reasons you might want to add the Beaujolais to your next visit to France!

The Stone

The scenery of the region is quite varied.  In the north you will find dense dark forests of fir trees while the south starts to shine as soon as the sun rises!  They say this part of the Beaujolais has the feel of a Tuscan village and if it’s true, its largely because of the StoneEverything from houses, chateaux and churches are built in the golden colored stone of the region. The contrast of the gleaming stone against the green countryside is amazing.

Oingt Beaujolais Region France

Oingt by peg, on Flickr

The Wine

The Beaujolais region is covered by vines along its 34 mile length. Between the red wines from the Gamay grapes to the white Chardonnay, there is something for every taste.   Beaujolais Nouveau can be found in the southern part while the other 10 crus are more in the northern portion.  A great way to experience the region, including tasting the wine, is to follow the Beaujolais Wine Route.   In fact, there are 7 GPS audio-guided tours to help you discover the Beaujolais region, its villages and wines!

Chateau de Bagnols Beaujolais France

Chateau de Bagnols by Corona Mejora Tu Vida, on Flickr

The Hameau Duboeuf

Speaking of wine, there is an actual theme park dedicated to wine and vine especially of this region!  The Hameau Duboeuf takes visitors on an exploration of winemaking’s 2,000 year history.  You can explore the ways trains helped transport the wine, understand how geology and grape varieties affect the tastes, learn about corking, discover how to make wine and, of course, taste some wine!

Beaujolais France

Beaujolais by welix, on Flickr

The Villages

From Beaujeu, in the north, the historic capital of the region with an oil mill to the medieval beauty of Oingt in the south, this region’s villages will not disappoint!  Visiting the Beaujolais region you will find charming hilltop villages offering panoramas which will delight everyone.  Traveling the region, you will also come upon many Chateaux including the Chateau de Bagnols which is now a world class hotel.  Near Romaneche-Thorins there is a 17th century windmill with amazing views of the Saône.  Yes from drawbridges, local craftsmen, ancient chapels and river valleys, the villages of Beaujolais make for a very peaceful, beautiful and delightful experience!

Romaneche-Thorins Beaujolais France

Romaneche-Thorins from wikimedia

Those are a few of the reasons to visit the Beaujolais.  Now go out and grab some Beaujolais Nouveau to personally sample a little of the region!


Happy Thanksgiving to you all!

Dreaming of a European River Cruise

The other day I received an email from Viking River Cruises that got me thinking.  The subject of the email was “Where would you go?” and now I’m dreaming about which European River Cruise I would most like to enjoy!

I’ve never been on a river cruise for more than a day but have to admit I am intrigued by them. The friends and relatives I know who have taken river cruises have all returned with rave reviews.  Without fail they have enjoyed the educational and cultural aspects along with the views and social camaraderie!  One of the things I’ve enjoyed most about the day cruises I’ve taken on some of Europe’s greatest rivers- Seine, Rhine, Thames and Danube – are the spectacular view you get from the river.  What could be better than arriving in Europe’s cities in the same manner as the discovers of yesterday?

So where is my dreaming taking me. . .


Portraits of Southern France 

Saone river at Lyon France

Saone river at Lyon by Jack

Gliding along the Saône and Rhône rivers from Chalon-sur-Saône to Avignon includes beautiful vistas, wonderful medieval villages of the Burgundy region and the splendor that is Provence. I’ve never been to this part of France but when you combine medieval villages, Roman ruins, history, cathedrals, cobbled street and scenery that has inspired artists like Van Gogh, well how could you go wrong?!  Add in the wine and cuisine this region is known for and you’ve got a winner.

Portugal’s River of Gold

Porto Portugal

Porto by Benjamin Dumas, on Flickr

Slowly floating along the dramatic Douro River in Portugal would offer a unique glimpse into this wonderful region. After having a chance to visit Lisbon, the cruise starts in Porto which, in my opinion, is one of the most picturesque cities in the world.  The cruise offers an opportunity to view a region that some say is still unspoiled!    Along the way glimpse vineyards set on steep hills, castles, Baroque architecture, UNESCO Heritage cities and sites as well as Gothic cathedrals.  Oh and don’t forget the food and drink the region is known for including Port and regional wine!  Yes, I think the magical Douro would be a perfect setting for my first river cruise.

Vineyards & Vistas 

Aschaffenburger Schloss along the Main River Germany

Aschaffenburger Schloss along the Main River by Carschten

The Vineyards & Vistas cruise sails along the Rhine, Main and Moselle rivers in wonderful Germany! Yes I’ve been along the Moselle and have enjoyed day cruises on the Rhine.  I’ve even been to Bamberg, Rudesheim and Trier, so why would this cruise interest me??  I LOVE the Moselle and crave to return so I can further explore this river and the surrounding small villages that are bursting with the wonderful wine of the area. Dotting the banks of the Main River are small quaint villages such as Miltenberg, which is a city that calls me! All of these rivers are full of castles, cathedrals, medieval towns, Roman ruins, history and Baroque palaces.  Plus there is also the German cuisine I love so much and cities famous for their Beer!

If I were going on a River Cruise, it would be one of these three options.  Now it’s your turn …

Where would you go on a European River Cruise?