In November 2018, I took a trip with my coworker (and friend), Sianna, to France. Having bonded over our mutual love of France, French, and pastries, we somewhat spontaneously booked a 10-day trip to France over Thanksgiving. Boy am I glad we did!
While both of us wanted to visit all of France, we knew conceptually that would be impossible. France is huge and getting from one end of the country to another in such a short amount of time would not be feasible. Instead, we settled on three regions we could easily reach from Paris.
Our trip to France included time in Paris, Strasbourg, more of the Alsace region, Baden-Baden, Germany (why not?), Rouen, Yport, Etretat, Saint-Malo, and Auray. This sounds like a lot, I know. That’s the problem with traveling with a full-time job and still wanting to see new places. But overall, we had a great trip and loved getting to explore new regions of France.
Day One: Paris
It’s always interesting going back to France. As a French major, I have a profound love for the French language and culture, but residing in America, I don’t often get to experience it. Much to my surprise, my exhausted, jet-lagged self was able to explain to the border patrol officer what Thanksgiving was in French. At least I think I did – I know I talked about pilgrims and Indians and a meal.
I waited at the airport for Sianna for a few hours, making sure to stay on meal schedule, and awake, which wasn’t too hard given that the train station at the airport is freezing. Once we met up, we took the RER B into Paris, getting off at Chatelet-Les Halles and heading to our Airbnb in le Marais.
For the rest of the afternoon/evening, we just spent time exploring le Marais. Le Marais is one of my favorite neighborhoods in France, so I was excited to get back there. Surprisingly, I still remembered my way around – and even got asked for directions, and knew how to direct the two lost women who approached us!
For dinner, we had my favorite meal in Paris, falafel at l’As du Falafel, before getting a crêpe dessert at la Droguerie, my favorite takeaway crêperie in Paris. (You’ll notice that our trip largely revolves around food). Walking around and seeing the Christmas lights was a perfect first day in Paris.
Day Two: Strasbourg
We chose not to spend too much time in Paris, given that both of us were familiar with the city and wanted to spend our time exploring more of France. After a leisurely morning wandering around le Marais and eating pastries (no surprise), we boarded a Ouigo train en route to Strasbourg.
Our first stop was Strasbourg Cathedral, a beautiful medieval cathedral that dominates Strasbourg’s skyline. We even made it to the top of the cathedral on the last day it was open before it closed for renovations. How lucky!
Indulging in some vin chaud (mulled wine) and crepes, we wandered around the city center contently. We even stumbled upon the opening ceremony of the Christmas Market before heading to our Airbnb for the night.
Day Three: Baden-Baden/Strasbourg
Our next morning took us to Baden-Baden, a cute little spa town near to the French/German border. You can tell it was made for the wealthy given the number of mansions, Bentleys and other fancy cars there. Surrounded by a park, the entire town smelled of fresh earth. We walked around for quite a bit, even making it to the more residential areas along the hillside before heading to one of the baths. We even felt some hot water coming up naturally from the spring below.
For lunch, I made sure to have a tarte flambée, a regional speciality that is much like a flatbread pizza with crème fraîche instead of tomato sauce. We sat outside under heat lamps and faux fur blankets amidst other tourists enjoying the chilly, sunny weather.
After lunch, we wandered around the town for a little longer and then headed back on the road (after a mishap at the parking garage due to neither of us knowing German words having to do with parking) and back to Strasbourg.
That evening, Sianna and I took a tour in French of the Strasbourg Christmas Markets. I really enjoyed getting an understanding of the Christmas markets from a different perspective, but that’s a story for another time.
We ate our weight in crêpes before walking around the city some more and heading back to our Airbnb.
Day Four: Alsace
We had some stressful car troubles before we were about to set off for our mini Alsace road trip. Luckily, everything got sorted and we were on the road without having to wait for a mechanic to arrive.
Alsace is a fairytale. With rows upon rows of grape vines and farmlands surrounded by mountains, fog evaporating into the morning air. Some of the most beautiful land I’ve seen.
We went as far south as Colmar, a town I had visited back in 2015 during spring. So much more colorful than Strasbourg, Colmar is even more beautiful with all its Christmas lights. We chose a packed café (always a good sign) for lunch, where I had a jambonneau, another speciality.
Our next stop was Riquewihr. After Colmar and Strasbourg, the rest of the towns in Alsace are rather small. We spent around 20 minutes in Riquewihr, making a circle around its center.
Next stop was Eguisheim, the inspiration for Beauty and the Beast. A little more crowded than Riquewihr, Eguisheim was straight from a storybook. This walled town is magical and well worth a visit, even at dusk.
Our final stop before heading back to Strasbourg was a church on the top of a hill in the middle of a vineyard. We got there as it was turning dark and enjoyed beautiful views of the countryside (while I made a mental note to return with my parents for a vineyard road trip).
Day Five: Strasbourg
I spent the morning wandering around Strasbourg on my own, really covering just about every street in the city center. I walked up and down random streets, found the hidden Christmas markets (designed for the local Strasbourgeois), and walked up to the roof of the covered bridge for a phenomenal view of the city.
After another crêpe lunch (read all the way to the end of this post to see how many we ate in 10 days), we took a river cruise to learn more about Strasbourg and its history and to see parts of the city we knew we wouldn’t be able to cover on foot.
I ate dinner at my favorite restaurant in Strasbourg, La Corde à Linge, and my spaetzle was just as good, if not better, than the last time I ate there!
Our last night in Strasbourg was spent purchasing souvenirs at the Christmas Markets and taking in everything before we packed up and headed to our next leg of the trip: Normandy.
Day Six: Rouen
Day six was largely a travel day. We departed Strasbourg for Paris early in the afternoon and then transferred stations to head to Rouen. Exhausted after having sat backward for 2 hours and having dealt with an extremely crowded TER train to Rouen, we decided to just eat more crêpes and head to bed. Travel isn’t always glamorous and doing things!
Day Seven: Normandy
I went to Normandy in 2015, to see the D-Day beaches. This time around, our itinerary brought us to the coast of Normandy, but with less historical weight.
Our first stop was Yport, a sleepy town nestled on a beach between two cliffs shooting straight up from the ground. We spent about an hour walking along the rocky shore and taking pictures of the beach and cliffs. There were maybe 10 other people out and about that day, but given the casino and shuttered cabanas, I can only imagine how crowded it gets during summer.
We then followed the coastline over to Etretat. Again, given that it was the offseason and most things were closed, we settled on a subpar restaurant for lunch since it was the only thing open. Despite this, however, the cliffs were fairly crowded. I can only imagine what they would be like on a summer day.
On our way back to Rouen, we stopped at Jumièges Abbey. While in ruins now, you can get a sense for just how large and powerful the Abbey would have been in its day.
Day Eight: Rouen + Bretagne
Day eight was the big drive of our trip, taking us from the heart of Normandy over to Bretagne. We explored the city center of Rouen a bit before hopping into the car to begin our journey. While pretty, it doesn’t have my heart as Strasbourg does.
Sianna and I stopped off in Honfleur briefly, to check out the port (something out of a movie!) and to grab a sandwich for lunch. If you like seafood, you should definitely head to Honfleur, given that just about every single restaurant was a seafood one.
From Honfleur, we began the long journey to Saint-Malo, stopping for gas and a bathroom break so we would have enough time to explore the famed walled city.
Saint-Malo is unlike any city I’ve ever seen before. While most walled cities are no longer walled in, Saint-Malo is still completely surrounded by its walls, so much so that parking on the outside of the walls and walking inside is the norm. I can only imagine how crowded this place is during the summer, but in November it was virtually empty.
What’s great about Saint-Malo is that during low tide you can walk out to the small islands in the bay. You not only get a great view of Saint-Malo itself but also get to see the true scale of this walled city. Because our Airbnb was in a small village, we decided to indulge in an early crêpe dinner featuring the best caramel I’ve ever had in my life – and I don’t say that lightly.
Our drive to our Airbnb was interesting, to say the least. With no street lights and little idea where we were going, we were driving along in the pitch black, the kind of darkness where you can’t see anything in front of you. Luckily, we made it unscathed and safely into our Airbnb perched atop a cliff over a beach (which we couldn’t see because it was too dark). We went to bed not knowing where the sky ended and the ocean began.
Day Nine: Auray + Paris
The next morning we woke up to the prettiest oceanfront views I had ever seen. Pictures just don’t do it justice.
And so began our drive to Auray, a quaint little town on the south coast of Bretagne and Sianna’s former home in France. We took a stroll around town with her host grandmother, ate delicious crêpes (bringing our total for the trip to a whopping 35), and then it was my time to hop on the train back to Paris for the last leg of my trip.
In Paris, I spent about two hours talking with my Airbnb host before leaving for dinner at the second best falafel and a nighttime walk around Paris. After seeing the Pantheon for the first time without scaffolding (I’ve seriously been trying since 2012), I headed back to my Airbnb and spent the rest of my night talking with my Airbnb host, her mom, and her daughter with one of their cats on my lap.
Day Ten: Paris
I spent my last day in Paris wandering around. I walked 12 miles around Saint Germain, le Marais, the Latin Quarter, and like half of the rest of the city, stopping in my favorite spots and exploring some new places I had yet to visit.
This was the first major day of the Gilets Jaunes protests, so a lot of the major tourist sights were shut down to reduce potential damage. While part of me wanted to ‘do it for the gram’ and head over and check out the protests, I do value my personal safety and being alone in Paris heading straight into semi-violent protests probably wouldn’t have been the smartest idea.
Funnily enough, I made it home after dinner just as my French family was heading out for dinner (I’ll never get used to French dining times). I used the quiet time to pack, write, and regroup for my journey home the next day.
Day Eleven: Home to NYC
The ease of getting from Paris to CDG Airport eased my travel anxiety – not to mention the easiest airport check-in process ever (seriously, who knew France would be superior at efficiency and customer service!).
Despite the worst migraine I’ve ever experienced starting just after I touched ground in NYC, I was so grateful to have returned to France for the first time in four years.
The end of a trip is always filled with mixed emotions. On the one hand, I never want to leave. I love France and its people and its food. On the other, living out of a suitcase gets annoying and the anxiety that comes with travel can sometimes be overwhelming. Nevertheless, travel is what fills me and every trip I take I prove my anxiety wrong and become stronger than ever before.