Brad and I are traveling through France using Rick Steve’s Guide to France, 2012 edition. When we went on our honeymoon to Italy, exactly two years ago next week, we used the 2010 edition of his guide to Italy. We had a wonderful time, in part due to the fact that his guides take a lot of the work out of finding the best places to sleep, eat, and play. So choosing his guide to France was an easy decision. All of the hotels we stay at are recommended from the guide. However, not all of the restaurants are, which I will note.
Brad and I are wiped out from our first full day in Amboise, which is in the Loire Valey (mid-Western part of France). But I’ll tell you more about that tomorrow. Here’s what we did yesterday.
We left Charlotte at 4:40 pm and arrived in Paris at about 6:30 AM (8 hour plane ride + 6 hour time difference), grabbed a baguette and a cafe au lait (coffee with steamed milk) for me, then got on a train at about 10 AM. We took the train to the Loire Valley, then hopped on a regional train which took us to Amboise. From the train station, we walked about one mile to our hotel.
On the way we grabbed lunch, as far away from the touristy party of the town as possible. I wish I could remember the name of the bistro, but it escapes me at the moment. I ordered a salad with prosciutto, gruyere, apples, oranges, and a vinaigrette with romaine lettuce. However, I was only sure that ham, cheese, and salad were coming to me when I ordered it. You have to be a bit adventurous when traveling to a foreign country. Brad ordered a crepe with prosciutto, gruyere, and potatoes. Very tasty and rich.
This is our hotel — the Hotel le Clos d’Amboise. It’s very Frenchy.
The courtyard is lovely and it has all these nice seating areas, like this one which is tucked away. We have that same bush to the right in our back yard.
A view of the courtyard from the balcony outside our room.
To the right of our room — a huge wall with ivy growing up the side and a bust.
The courtyard from the other side
Another view of the hotel
The door to the suite leading to our hotel room
When we first arrived, our room wasn’t ready so Brad and I left our bags with the concierge and fell asleep for two hours on lounge chairs at the pool. It was wonderful.
When we woke up, our room was more than ready.
We are staying at a variety of places in France and for this particular town, we decided to go with a nice place (but not the most expensive of the ones recommended in the guide) and the most economical room.
It’s small, clean, and more than adequate. However, it does not have air conditioning, which we didn’t know until we checked in. However, it isn’t too warm due to a fan in the room and the cement walls, which are better at holding in cool air than a lot of other materials.
The rest of the bathroom, which is quite spacious
The desk area
The view from the doorway
Brad and I are convinced that this painting on our wall is of young Nicole Kidman.
Hydrangeas are one of my favorite flowers but I never see them this color in the States.
As you can see the flowers and courtyard is impeccably groomed. Why can’t I get my geraniums to bloom like that?
Here is the salon — a common area where breakfast is served in the morning for 12 Euros per person.
From what I can tell in my limited European experience, it’s common for hotels to provide books in an array of languages for guests. I haven’t looked closely at these, but we spotted Harry Potter among the selection.
The stairs leading up to other rooms
We are staying on the first floor in room #2.
The bar, where you can get a 1/2 bottle of wine for 7 Euros. They also have liquor drinks as well.
Another view of the bar
Another view of the salon
Before our dinner reservations, Brad and I shared this half bottle of regional white wine.
We enjoyed it on the terrace, just outside our room.
Our dinner reservations was at L’Epicerie, which is a couple of blocks from our hotel. The town is very quaint and the architecture is what you would picture in a small French town.
This alley is for pedestrians, not cars — it’s so narrow!
After wandering around and not finding L’Epicerie to be where it is indicated on the guide’s map, we stopped at another hotel to ask for directions.
We joked that the nicer hotel also had a much nicer concierge. He was happy to give us directions. In our concierge’s defense, he might not be able to understand our English very well, which is why he gives us a confused look each time we speak to him.
Finally, we found L’Epicerie and after perusing the menus, decided to both order from the preset menus. Brad ordered from the 29 Euro and I ordered from the 34 Euro menu because each of these menus had things we both really wanted.
The main factor for me was the escargots on the 34 Euro menu. As we looked over the menu, I guessed what Brad would want to order off his menu and I got everything 100% correct, so Brad asked me to do all the ordering. That’s how you really know someone.
I think our waiter was quite surprised when the lady of the table ordered for her husband and herself. Haha.
I LOVE escargots. I’ve never eaten an escargot that I didn’t like. And these were the best I’ve ever had. Some people are adverse to eating snails, but if you’re on the fence, just think of them as shellfish that happen to live on land. They’re really no different than eating a clam or mussel. That is, except they taste even better. If you know me, then you know I adore mussels, so that’s really saying something.
These escargots were amazing, but I really had to work for them. I’ve never had to dig them out of their shells before. I never would have gotten to a few of them if Brad hadn’t helped. I was afraid that I would repeat that infamous scene from Pretty Woman when one goes sailing across the dining room.
“Slippery little suckers”.
Brad ordered the foi gras. He likes it best seared, but it seems that the pate version is the only way it is served here (at least in this region of France). I do not like pate, so I didn’t even taste it.
I’m well aware of the inhumane treatment of geese and duck in order to produce foi gras, which is why I never order it. But Brad is his own person and we make our own dietary decisions. There is actually a really interesting bit about it in Rick Steve’s guide, which explains the French way being far more humane than the way we treat cattle and chicken in the U.S.
For his second course, Brad ordered filet of duck in red wine sauce.
We thought this dish was just okay. The wine sauce was very sweet, which was surprising. The little fried bits were interesting, but not really our cup of tea. To tell the truth, neither of us know what the beige thing on the left side of the plate is (maybe artichoke?), but it was extremely bitter.
I ordered filet de beouf (filet of beef) in a mushroom sauce. It was good, but I actually prefer mine a bit more rare than how it was served. The little fancy cream things on my plate are potatoes (Dauphinoise potatoes). I’m pretty sure the thing in the cup is polenta with a sundried tomato garnish. The brown lump on the right was quite tasty and was made up of potatoes and herbs once cut into. Both Brad and I had a baked tomato with breadcrumbs, to the left of the polenta.
This was good, but not phenomenal. We often joke that we eat so well in the States that we won’t be amazed with European cooking, but maybe the rest of the trip will prove otherwise.
The third course was cheese, which is so different than eating cheese plates as an appetizer in the States. In France, your waiter will bring a huge selection of cheeses which you can choose from. Our waiter was very nice and allowed Brad to choose four, even though he was only supposed to get three on his set menu.
I was quite shocked by this course. I consider myself a great lover of cheese, but I think French cheese got the best of me.
It was really stinky. If I had to compare its smell to something, it reminded me of a well manured pasture. I don’t mind a bit of this in cheese, but French cheese is quite overpowering for my tastebuds. I guess I’m not so sophisticated after all. So I’ve learned something about myself — I prefer mild cheese.
But maybe I’ll change my tune, like when I returned from Italy and had grown so accustomed to their strong dark coffee, that I had to change my coffee brand when I returned home.
By the fourth course I was so stuffed, but couldn’t turn down this pyramid of chocolate. I didn’t eat it all but I did some significant damage.
Brad ordered creme brulle and said that it was good, but not the best he’s ever had.
Brad offered to snap a photo of a group as we were leaving the restaurant and they did the same.
We went immediately to bed once we returned to our hotel. However, I woke up at 4 am and read for about an hour. I’m reading Julia Child’s My Life in France which is quite appropriate, don’t you think? I love to read books about the country in which I’m traveling. Reading Under the Tuscan Sun in Italy on our honeymoon made it that much more vivid.
Around 8 am, we got up and got ready for the day. We opted for the hotel breakfast and this was most of what I ate — a small croissant, plain yogurt (I added honey), a date, and a bit of cheese. Brad and I also split a very small (think smaller than your palm) pain chocolate, and a very small apple.
We also drank about two carafes of good strong French roast coffee with a bit of milk. Heaven.
The sun was overcast and we spent quite some time considering how that would factor into our plans for the day.
I hope to continue the story tomorrow, but one must be flexible when traveling. We’re having a wonderful time and I’m excited to share our experience with you all.