Hi friends, don’t fret I’m still here. I’ve been hibernating. We’re at the tail end of a chilly grey winter, and while I’ve been severely deprived of light and warmth (hello pasty skin and dark circles) it hasn’t been all bad. Some extra-crisp days in January saw the kids happily stomping around on crunchy frozen grass and marvelling at puddles-turned-skate-rinks for pigeons. We had a few sprinklings of snow - just enough to tickle your nose and powder your eyelashes. Those weeks, it was all very much heads down and coats buttoned. But THIS week. Oh this week. Cherry blossoms, short sleeves, smiles and a mysterious yellow ball in the sky have all been sighted in the so-called City of Light. Spring has positively pinged in Paris and I’m not the only one pleased. Take for example, a man in Pigalle this morning. He was joyously, no, rapturously worshipping the sun with arms out-stretched to the heavens. I was impressed with his ability to 'be in the moment' while drinking a bottle of 1664 at the same time. Kudos!
In other news I have just returned from a 3-day mini-break with some wonderful women I’ve met over here. A few drinks one night with a bunch of Australian expatriates brought about some exciting plans for a ladies-only ski trip. After the pinot wore off and we grappled with the logistics and cost of ditching our families for the Alps, we toned it down to a more manageable jaunt to the plus proche et mois cher (closer and cheaper) Loire Valley. It turned out to be the perfect way for the three of us to unwind whilst exploring the many UNESCO heritage-listed treasures on our doorstep.
Time was precious, so we outlined the main objectives (key performance indicators) for our kid-free, man-free, city-free weekend. The projected outcomes were simply for participants to RELAX and ENJOY themselves. To achieve these outcomes, it was necessary to outline a number of key-performance-indicators.
Anna, Julia and Bree’s mini-break KPI’s were as follows:
Do something outdoorsy. Paris is such a bustling, busy and sometimes cloistering city that the idea of wide open space and fresh air becomes a little far-fetched and dream-like. So we followed our dreams and took a walk. Julia navigated this 8km walk behind the town of Saint-Ouen-les-Vignes which was on the way to our weekend base in Azay-le-Rideau. We parked the car near the church and wandered off, stopping frequently to check the map and take in our surrounds of lush green fields, swift-running streams and old stone bridges. In the late afternoon we were treated to stunning skies of pastel pinks, yellows and mauves. The weather was delicious - clear and mild with a soft warm breeze. KPI = SATISFIED.
Eat good food. We did extremely well in the food area. On the first night we ate at our hotel restaurant which was a lazy decision but also a very good one. The dining room was near-empty and as such were given first-class treatment by the staff. The 4-course meal at €33.50 was impeccable. We enjoyed a well-matched bottle of Bourgueil (the region) cabernet franc (the grape). I had a proper food-wow moment with the salted caramel mousse - just one of the sides to an apple and pear crumble that was as comforting as a hot-water bottle on a cold and frosty night.
The second night was a highly-rated restaurant (through Trip Advisor) called L’Aigle d’Or (the Golden Eagle). Again, we were spoiled rotten by the service. The bill was almost double the night before but worth it as a little splurge. "Cheaper than skiing” was my weekend mantra, and it justified more than one expense. There were lots of fancy in-between extras (impressive but possibly unnecessary) that rendered me over-indulged and my jeans button screaming for immediate release. The highlight for me were the Saint Jacques (scallops). KPI = EXCEEDED.
Do some wine tasting (and bring home souvenirs). In the past, I haven’t had great luck finding wineries that are happy to provide tasting without an appointment or fee. Chris and I had had a few unwelcoming experiences in Bourgogne that left us lamenting the casual and friendly vibe of wineries home in Victoria. In contrast, the Loire Valley tourism authority have made a concerted effort to ensure local wineries are accessible to the public. This was gladly evident at the Baudry&Dutour winery, where we were welcomed with open arms and a range of corked bottles, along with plenty of info on the wine process from grape to guzzle. Anna showed herself to be quite the connoisseur identifying the tannins, notes, tones, hints, winks and afterthoughts of each wine. Julia and I displayed the breadth of our palates by drinking and pointing, “mmm I like that one.” We left with a couple of bottles each so KPI = SATISFIED.
Explore a castle or two. The Loire Valley is practically littered with olden-day grandeur and it would be impossible to miss the ubiquitous châteaux. We saw two of them up close and a few others from afar. We especially liked the one at Azay but will hopefully return when current renovations are finished. The gardens at the Château de Langeais were gorgeous with some beautiful play areas for kids surrounded by nature and views of the village. KPI=SATISFIED.
Go to a market. We spend the morning in Amboise, which broke up the drive back to Paris nicely. I’d read good things about the market there. Whilst I was disappointed not to find my favoured kind of ‘brocante’ (second-hand wares) it really was more of a farmers market with a large range of high-quality local produce. Amboise seems to be a very content little town with a relaxed and friendly vibe. We shared some midday champers (pardonez-moi, sparkling white) with the local merry-men and had a blast. It helped a lot that Julia speaks perfect French and could understand their quirky questions like “how do you cook your kangaroo” and “how great is New Zealand?” KPI=EXCEEDED.
Sleep. Ah sleep. Such a precious commodity. Anna and Julia are both mamas of young babies, so uninterrupted sleep was high on the agenda. Despite having slightly older kids, I too can appreciate uninterrupted sleep (who doesn’t) especially when it allows me to wake entirely of my own accord. KPI=SATISFIED.
Stay somewhere nice. We stayed at Le Grand Monarque in Azay-le-Rideau. As the French would say it was calme et tranquille avec beaucoup d’espace. The beds were tres confortable and the shower was good. We stayed in the family room (2 rooms, 3 beds) which was perfect for us and would suit any family or group of 4. It was €144 per night which felt like a steal. It was right next to a small market where we browsed and champagned (again) with the townsfolk. We took our time with the extravagant breakfast buffet which was as good as any fancy hotel except this one had the freshest croissants, the freshest baguettes and an impressive array of locally sourced soft cheeses. Of course they did! It’s France! KPI=EXCEEDED.
I’m happy to report that all KPI's were indeed satisfied and/or exceeded. On Sunday evening, three women returned to the city feeling relaxed and ready for the week. Outcome achieved! To our pleasure, our families managed so well without us we were inspired to begin a whole new project. We do love a challenge.
Have you taken a ladies-only mini-break lately? Or indeed any kind of break? Was it all that you projected it to be? Tell me about it. And don't forget to subscribe to my mailing list by clicking on this link.