Tag Archives: France

A Trip to Pezanas and Vegan Self Catering in France

Last month, we strapped 3 mountain bikes to the top of the car, headed through the Eurotunnel and made our way to South West France for our summer vacation.

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It’s the furthest south that we’ve ever travelled by car and we split the journey over two days, with a stopover at Orléans. The next morning, we continued our journey which took us over the spectacular Millau Viaduct, the tallest bridge in the world!

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We hired an apartment just outside Pezanas, a beautiful historic town with lots of charm and atmosphere.

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Our Summer Adventure in the French Alps

During the school summer break, we strapped three bikes to the roof of our car and headed across on the Eurotunnel to France. Our destination – the beautiful French Alps.

Beauregard

La Clusaz, a short drive away from our hire chalet, soon became our favourite place to hang out. It’s a great family-friendly place, with so many activities going on that I felt like I’d landed in a scene from Where’s Wally!

La Clusaz

The village was filled with activities for all ages – inflatables for the small kids, summer luge, zip wires and a big air bag for the older kids, as well as an ice rink and swimming pool.

La Clusaz Collage

Lil’ L loved the big air bag! The slope is actually designed for ski jump practice but, in the summer, you can slide down it in an inflatable tyre. It was really popular with kids and adults alike. Literally everyone I watched jump had a big smile on their face :o)

Lil' L Air Bag Jumps Collage

From La Clusaz, you can take cable cars up into the mountains for hikes, cross country biking and downhilling.

Beauregard cable cars

Our hiking adventures took us through alpine meadows…

Beauregard hike

Alpine flowers

through forests and streams…

Hiking - Beauregard to La Clusaz

Hiking - La Clusaz woods

and up and down rugged hills…

Col de la Croix Fer Hike

where we came across these beautiful creatures

Cow in the Alps

The weather wasn’t the best, but we made sure to make the most of the sun when it came out.

Hiking from La Clusaz

We did get caught out one day whilst hiking on the top of a mountain. The sky suddenly went dark, and then the most almighty storm set in. We ran as fast as we could down the mountain, slipping and sliding in the torrential rain, with deafening claps of thunder and forked lightening overhead. It was exhilarating (and just a little bit scary too!)

Beauregard view

For the first time ever, it was me that was left trailing behind on the bike rides!

Cycling adventures

It’s incredible how much Lil’ L has improved at hill climbing in the past year. Last year, I was the one waiting at the top of hills as M patiently coached him up the hill. Now, he flies up the hills and stands waiting for me!

Lil L Biking Collage

I’m seriously going to have to up my game as I don’t want to be ‘slow mum’. That’s just not cool!

As well as hiking and biking, I loved running in the stunning countryside surrounding our chalet. After climbing up and down hills for three weeks, my body’s definitely stronger and more toned. I’d love to keep it that way!

Cycling from Thones

Other activities that Lil’ L loved this holiday included swimming, reading, playing chess and Diablo. He’d been patiently waiting for a new Diablo for weeks so, when we finally gave it to him at the Eurotunnel terminal, he couldn’t wait to get started. He even managed to spin it in the car!

Lil L France Activities 2014

We were really pleased with our hire chalet, which was spacious, modern and came with a fully-equipped kitchen. When in France (with the exception of Paris), we always prepare our own meals. Not only does it save us a small fortune, but it can be difficult to find vegan-friendly eateries, especially in this area of the Alps (aka ‘Cheeseland’!).

In fact, I didn’t see a single vegan option on the menus I looked at. No matter though, as I was more than happy to cook, especially as M was around to help out. Back home, I’m usually in the kitchen on my own, so it was lovely to have some company!

Thones Chalet Collage

Since we were travelling by car, I took a few supplies from home that would either be hard to come by (like nooch and nettle tea) or a lot more expensive in France (like big packs of almonds and cashews). I also took some herbs and spices to save having to buy more.

Fortunately, non dairy milks and yogurts are readily available in the French supermarkets. The Bjorg brand has lots of vegan-friendly products, including delicious mushroom and aubergine pates. We found them on the ‘Bio’ (organic) aisle, along with the milks and tofu. Bjorg tofu is different to the tofu you find in the UK, as it’s UHT and doesn’t need pressing. It’s chewier than our regular tofu, but I find it works well when diced into small cubes and cooked in sauces.

Vegan Food in France Collage

The one thing that always catches me out in France though is the hummus – for some unknown reason, most of the brands contain cheese!

Mixed Salad

All the meals we made were simple and quick to prepare. For lunch, we loved big colourful salad plates, beans on toast (we found Heinz baked beans on the world food aisle!), or baguettes filled with stir-fried veg. For our main meals, we enjoyed pasta, curries, fajitas, French bread pizzas, stir-fries and couscous dishes.

Creamy Red Lentil Curry

The three weeks flew by and, before we knew it, it was time to head home. We’re now back into the routine of work, school and evening clubs and activities, so week days are pretty full on. I’m looking forward to lots of weekend biking adventures though, crunching our way through piles of Autumn leaves. I just need to sneakily get some extra hill practice so I can keep up with those boys 😉

I hope you had a wonderful summer too
Did you manage to get away on vacation or for day trips?
What was the highlight of the summer for you? 

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Filed under Biking, Vacations, Walking & Hiking

A Special Trip to Paris – May 2014

During May half term, we headed off on the Eurostar to spend a few days in Paris. Our buddies are living there for a year, so it was wonderful to see them and share in their amazing adventure! We stayed at their fab apartment in Issy for two nights, then moved to the heart of the city and spent two nights in Montmartre.

Me & Lil' L on the Metro

This photo makes me chuckle! 😀

We were determined to make the most of our short visit and packed a lot into each day. We visited the classic Paris sights – Louvre, Sacre Coeur, Notre Dame, Eiffel Tower, Galerie Lafayette – as well as a contemporary art market and Marvel Super Hero Expo (much to Lil’ L & M’s delight!)

Sightseeing in Paris

Most of my visits to Paris have been in Autumn/Fall, so I’d forgotten just how busy the city can be during the summer months. After quick stops at the tourist hotspots (which were heaving with people), we took up our favourite activity which is to simply wander the streets (or “flâner” as I think they say in French). For me, this is the best way to truly experience Paris.

Street View of Sacre Coeur
As well as soaking up the Parisian atmosphere and admiring the stunning architecture, we had lots of fun spotting street art by the infamous French Invader.  Apparently, there are over 1000 pieces of his art in Paris alone!

Invader Collage

I also loved spotting all the love graffiti that’s sprinkled across the city. I wish all graffiti had this sentiment!

Love Graffiti Collage

Lil’ L has never been to Paris before and he was most excited about seeing the Eiffel Tower. I was keen to take him at nightfall so he could see the tower lit up. I didn’t tell him about the hourly ‘sparkle’ as I wanted it to be a suprise 😉 We were on a bus heading to the tower when the 10 o’clock sparkle happened. Luckily, the bus turned a corner just in time, and we caught the whole show. I loved watching Lil’ L’s face as it sparkled. It was really special

Eiffel Tower Collage

We also caught the 11 o’clock ‘sparkle’ from the Trocadero. As an added bonus, the Paris Slalom World Cup Inline Skating battles were taking place and we got to watch the top three men in the world battle it out for first place. The Korean guy that came first was totally awesome! He wasn’t even phased when some idiot kept flashing a laser in his face. If you’ve got a keen eye, you might even spot me, M & Lil’ L in the background 😉

We made sure to balance the walking and sightseeing with plenty of chill-out time at cafés, parks and the apartments.

Lil L in Paris Collage

If the sun’s out, Jardin du Luxembourg is a great place to spend an afternoon. I loved watching the sailboats gliding across the pond. Very relaxing indeed!

Jardin du Luxembourg Collage

And of course, we spent a fair amount of time eating too 😉 I was amazed at the amount of veggie options that are now available in Paris, catering for all kinds of dietary choices from raw, macrobiotic, gluten-free through to hamburger joints and fast food. There are also ‘Bio’ (organic) supermarkets where you can stock up on health foods.

If you’re planning a visit to Paris, I highly recommend checking out the restaurant reviews on HappyCow and Trip Advisor. We tried a few places (including M.O.B. vegan burger joint and Pousse Pousse), but there were two clear favourites. For a quick lunch option, we loved Maoz Vegetarien near Notre Dame, which serves falafels stuffed in pittas to which you add salad and dressings from the self service bar. There was a great selection of salad options, including yummy beetroot and cumin-spiced carrots.

Veggie Restaurents in Paris Collage

In the evening, we enjoyed a visit to Vegebowl which serves Asian cuisine. We arrived as it opened and the place quickly filled up (always a good sign!) 90% of the dishes are vegan and those including dairy are clearly marked. A 3 course meal cost 12 euros, which is cheap for Paris. The dishes are named after their meat counterparts (which me and Lil’ L found a bit creepy) but the ‘meat’ was essentially tofu. We tried a whole range of dishes and all bar one (the Lemon “Chicken”) were really tasty. We especially loved the Basil Stir Fried Tofu, ‘Cashew “Chicken”’ and ‘Sweet and Sour “Pork” balls’.

After reading Vegan Miam’s review of the Gentle Gourmet Café, I’d really wanted to check out their vegan French desserts. Unfortunately, the two occasions we happened to be nearby it was mid-afternoon and the café was closed. Next time!

Finally, to round off what was an incredibly special trip to Paris, in the departure lounge at Gare du Nord, we spotted Hannah and Dan from our favourite band, London Grammar. They were on their way home after playing at the We Love Green Festival. I’ve listened to their album ‘If You Wait’ hundreds of times and it still sends shivers down my spine. I couldn’t resist popping over and saying hi to Hannah. She is so lovely!

I’ll leave you with ‘Sights’. Enjoy! xx

 

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Goult, Provence, Summer 2013

Last month, we were lucky enough to visit the beautiful region of Provence in France. We travelled by car, stopped overnight in Fontainebleau, then headed to the historical village of Goult, which was to be our home for two weeks.

Goult Provence France 2013 2

We stayed in a sweet little cottage, which we rented from Eva, a very kind and welcoming Swedish lady that had lived in Provence for many years.

The cottage had everything we needed for a comfortable stay, including a fully equipped kitchen.  Whenever we stay in France, we tend to prepare our own meals. It’s way cheaper (we would easily have spent £60 per day if we’d eaten out), plus I’ve found it near-on impossible to find vegan cuisine outside the big towns and cities.

La Joliette Goult Collage

I did bring a few supplies from England with me (mainly bags of raw nuts as these tend to be expensive in France). We bought fresh bread, salad, fruits and veg from the shops in Goult and did our main grocery shops at the hypermarche in Apt. The big supermarkets often have a ‘bio’ (organic) aisle which stocks health foods, wholegrains and ‘free from’ products. We found non dairy milk (including Alpro) in the long life milk section, and soya yoghurts (such as Sojasun) on the chilled yoghurt aisle. We also found big tubs of ready-made houmous, much to Lil’ L’s delight 😉

Lil L at La Joliette, Goult France 2013

All the meals we prepared were quick and easy. For lunch, we’d have big plates of salad and crudites, served with freshly baked ‘6 cereales’ bread. We also found Heinz baked beans on the ‘International’ aisle of the hypermarche, which made a tasty quick lunch served on toast.

For evening meals, I’d stir fry a big pan of veggies with spices, then use them as a basis for Mexican fajitas, Moroccan couscous or Indian curries. We also made tomato & basil pasta dishes, red lentil dals and French bread pizzas.

While we were out and about, the boys did eat the odd ice cream, crepe or patisserie but I stuck to nuts, seeds and dried fruit snacks. My stomach appreciated it.  Normally on vacations my stomach feels very unsettled but not this time. I didn’t have a single stomach ache whilst we were away 🙂

We enjoyed so many activities on this vacation! In the mornings, there was tennis playing and frisbee throwing in Goult; swimming at nearby St Saturnin; exploring in the Foret des Cedres in Bonnieux; paddling in the crystal clear waters at Fontaine-de-Vaucluse and plenty of biking 😉

Provence Activity Collage

After lunch, we would often go exploring by car, hiking up to hill-perched ancient remains…

St Saturnin Provence France 2013 4

and visiting nearby towns and cities, including the historical and vibrant Avignon.

Avignon Summer 2013

Back at the cottage, we would chill out in the ‘cave’, reading, drawing, playing cards and watching films.  Early evening, I also enjoyed going for runs up and down the hills round Goult, taking in the beautiful scenery 😀

Goult Provence France Summer 2013

Biking was a big part of our vacation this year. We took our own bikes (strapped to the top of the car) and enjoyed exploring Goult and the surrounding countryside. We cycled past vineyards, olive groves, lavender fields and through cedar forests. It was such a feast for the senses!

Lil' L Biking back from Bonnieux, Provence, France 2013 2

Often, in the mornings, we would cycle to neighbouring villages, which tended to be perched on top of a hill.

Bonnieux Provence France 2013 3

It was challenging at times for Lil’ L …

Lil' L Biking in France 2013

… and there was the odd injury :/ …

Lil' L Biking Injuries in France 2013 3

… but it was worth it.  In addition to the great sense of achievement he felt at having ‘conquered’ another hill, there were the rewarding refreshments at the village cafes…

Lil' L in Roussillon France 2013 2

and spectacular views to take in

Me Biking in France 2013

I also took on my own challenge this year and decided to ride a section of Mont Ventoux.  I hadn’t done any hill training on my bike this year, so I knew I wouldn’t be in shape to ‘conquer’ Ventoux, but I thought I’d at least attempt the last 6.5km section.

I left M and Lil’ L eating nutella crepes at Chez Reynard…

Lil' L eating crepes Summer 2013

… and set off on my Marin full suspension mountain bike (much to the amusement of the ‘roadies’) ….

Me on Mont Ventoux Summer 2013 2

… praying that my 13 year old gaffer taped shoes would hold out!

The final 2km seemed more like 20km, but I eventually made it to the summit.

Me Cycling Mont Ventoux

It was a fantastic experience. I’m so glad that I did it!

The two weeks flew by and it was soon time to pack up and head back home, feeling refreshed, revived and fitter than when we’d arrived!

Lil' L leaving France Summer 2013

Provence is such a beautiful area of France.  Hopefully we’ll be lucky enough to return one day

Me & Lil' L in Goult France 2013

 

Do you choose to cook on vacations? If so, what are your favourite dishes to make? Do you have any tips for quick and easy meals?

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Beautiful Time en Provence

We’re back from our summer vacation in Provence, France.  We had the most amazing time!  We rented an apartment in the chateau at St Laurent du Verdon.  The chateau and its grounds were truly beautiful.

Our apartment was on the middle floor, far left.

Here’s a shot of the interior.

Within the chateau grounds, there was a fantastic swimming pool, tennis court and boules court.  We also brought our bikes. 🙂

We had the most amazing bike rides from the chateau, passing lavender fields and pine forests, stopping off at little villages for a nice cold juice.

Biking was a great way to experience Provence and immerse yourself in the heavenly scent of Provencal lavender.

Only a short distance from St Laurent was the Gorge du Verdon.  We had lots of fun kayaking in the gorge.

The scenery in this region was spectacular.  Probably the most beautiful village that we came across was Moustiers Sainte-Marie.

Lac St Croix was only a few minutes away, and was a great place for bathing and picnicking.

France is not the easiest place to be vegan or vegetarian.  We’re used to this, so it’s not a problem for us.  In fact, there were a number of occasions where we just couldn’t help smiling at the comments made by restaurant staff. 😉

On this trip to France, I noticed that ham (jambon) was extremely popular.  At the motorway services, I couldn’t find any sandwiches that didn’t contain ham.  Even the cheese sandwiches included ham!  I can only guess that French people in this region are partial to ham.  In Orange, we stopped by a pizzeria and the ordering went as follows … (BTW, apologies for the poor French):
Lil L: “Une pizza margherita s’il vous plait”
Waitress: “Avec jambon?”
Lil L: “Non merci”
M: “Une pizza aux champignons s’il vous plait” (mushroom pizza)
Waitress: “Avec jambon?”
M: “Non merci”
Me: “Une pizza vegetarienne s’il vous plait”.
I was just waiting for the waitress to ask me whether I want ham on my vegetarian pizza, but she just paused, wrote on her pad, and left. 😉

The funniest episode was at a snack bar at Lac St Croix.  The menu stated that they offered tomato and mozzarella paninis.  M thought his luck was in.  However, when he ordered, he was told that all the tomato and mozzarella paninis had been prepared and… yes, you’ve guessed it… they all had ham in them!!  The lady kindly offered to prepare him a fresh panini without ham.  Her colleague, though, was totally baffled.  I heard her asking “Mais, pourquoi pas de jambon?  Pourquoi pas?”.   To end her confusion, I piped up with “Nous sommes vegetariens”.  Her response… “Oh L’HORREUR!”  M and I cracked up!  I’ll never forget the look of distaste on her face.  Hilarious!

Anyway, I was very happy to cook our meals and it saved us from being bankrupt by the weakness of the pound against the Euro.  The rental apartment had a fully stocked kitchen, and it was a joy to cook in.  We bought lots of fresh veggies and fruit from the markets and found some great items in the local supermarkets, including lots of non-GM soya products (France has a great soya producer called ‘Sojasun’ which produces soya yoghurts, milks, etc).

All the meals I cooked took less than 30 minutes to prepare, they were easy and, most importantly, they were a great hit with M and Lil’ L.  Here’s a pic of the veggie chilli I cooked:

It was so simple to make.  I sauted some chopped onion and garlic, then added a jar of tomato sauce (passata) along with some diced sweet potato, chopped red pepper, grated carrot, some sweetcorn, canned brown lentils and kidney beans.  I added some vegetable bouillon and paprika for flavouring, and a small amount of chilli powder.  It only took about 15 minutes to cook through, and we served it with toasted wheat tortillas, cut into segments.  Delicious!

I’ll post some more holiday recipes in the coming weeks.  School started back today, which is a bit of a shock to my system.  I’m totally unused to early starts, packing lunches, ironing uniforms and so forth, but give me a week or two and I’m sure I’ll be back into the swing of things.  It’s been a great summer! 🙂

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