There was only one event in the area last weekend, plus both Alexis and L’américaine were gone, so I looked at my list of “things I want to see” in France.  Traveling outside of France takes a little too much time for a normal weekend and I end up feeling rushed, but there’s still plenty of France to see!

2017-06-17 09.50.46The winner this time ended up being a trip to Paris.  It’s about 2 hours from Poitiers to Paris by train now and will be just over an hour after the new tracks are finished this summer.  Paris was just serving as my base though – both days took me out of the city in different directions.  And yes, it does still blow my mind that I can just “go to Paris for the weekend” – it will be a long time before that concept quits bringing a smile to my face!
2017-06-17 10.24.20It feels like there are an endless number of interesting things to see in France and, somehow, I’d never been to Monet’s gardens.  June seemed like a good time for a garden visit and it was, but a little crowded as kids are out of school in many places, so the tourists are already descending on France.  If you aren’t tied to a school schedule, September and much of October is still warm and lovely for a visit (same with April & May, but more risk of rain then). The variety and color of flowers was simply stunning though and worth braving the crowds!

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Tips for Visiting Monet’s Gardens
Take the first train in the morning from Paris Saint Lazare to Vernon and follow signs for the shuttle to Giverny (€10 RT) {Be warned that several people who took the €8 RT tourist train ended up paying to take the shuttle back – they said they waited forever and the tourist train didn’t return, so they would have missed the actual train back to Paris}. If you buy entry tickets for the gardens in advance, you enter near the group entrance and can make a U-turn from there directly to the stairs that provide access to the lily pond.  I’d advise going there first as they rapidly become crowded with very narrow paths.
2017-06-17 10.10.58Next, head to the house before there’s a huge queue also!  This is one time when I wished that I was on a tour because there’s virtually no explanation in the house – you wander around and see many of Monet’s paintings, but I envied those with headsets or a guide who had some additional information provided about what they were seeing!

In regards to the return train ticket, I bought mine ahead, expecting to spend a whole day in the village, but it’s an easy half-day.  Even if you take your time in the gardens, you can easily take the train back right at lunch time.  I’d recommend lunch in the village though, so you have a chance to see the little church in the town (where Monet is buried), the art galleries and/or the impressionist painting museum, then heading back on the ~14:00 (2 PM) shuttle.  There are lunch options ranging from a sandwich, dessert & drink for €8.50 to a standard 3-course lunch at the museum for €18.50, and even a €29.90 “fancy” lunch at a cafe in the village.

After a little shopping, it was time for dinner.  There is good food in Paris, but on average, the worst French food I’ve eaten was there.  I made last minute reservations on Fourchette to try Corsican food though and it was delicious!  It was walking distance from my hotel (and Saint Lazare station), called A la Châtaigne.

Vaux le Vicomte
Sunday brought another adventure and what a history this place has! It was the inspiration for Versailles and it’s easy to see why.  The stories of each of the four families who owned Vaux are remarkable.
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The man who had it built, Fouquet, helped restore the finances of France and believed his loyalty to the King was sufficient to withstand the slander of another man, Colbert. Sadly, this wasn’t the case as the king was jealous of Vaux and the artistic company that Fouquet kept.
2017-06-18 13.00.15Jealousy led King Louis XIV to have Fouquet arrested and, when the court took Colbert’s meddling badly and gave Fouquet a “light” sentence of exile from France, the King instead imprisoned him for life.  Below is a sampling of the beauty at Vaux, which raised the ire of a king.

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Fouquet isn’t the only inhabitant who rose to great heights though.  The second family had a great war hero.  The third family, Praslin, managed to keep Vaux through the French revolution due to their good treatment of the villagers and the fourth family had a financial rise like Fouquet (without the unfortunate end). This last family, Sommier, started as bakers, but the son ended up wealthy enough to buy Vaux and restore it.  His son continued the work and the grandson kept the land from being divided by an autoroute.  Even the Sommier women were impressive – one turned Vaux into a WWI hospital after her husband was drafted and several medical advancements occurred there.  It is now the 5th generation (albeit with a different last name) who owns Vaux today.
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Tips for Visiting Vaux le Vicomte
I couldn’t find a combo tour for here and Fontainebleau on a Sunday, which I realized was a good thing because there likely wouldn’t be a lot of people (true). I took the first shuttle of the day, which arrives just before 11. If you want to be on the 13:05 (1:05 PM) shuttle back, you’ll only have time for the audio tour of the Château really.  I’d suggest taking the 15:05 (3:05 PM) shuttle instead and spending some time in the gardens as well!

If you go on a hot day, do the opposite of me and head to the gardens first – a nice stroll through the full gardens took me an hour, plus 30 minutes to sit and enjoy a rest.  The Château audio guide is also about 90 minutes (if you skip all the extra bios of people). This means it’s lunchtime in between, so if you see the gardens first, you’ll spend the cooler part of the day outdoors.  After lunch, visit the Château and end your time with a trip through the carriage museum. Just be sure to catch the shuttle because the next isn’t until 18:05 (6:05 PM)!