Tag Archive | discover France

Restaurant Review: Fou de fafa (Avignon, France)

My partner and I went on a 6-day road trip last Easter, visiting 2 countries (France and Spain) or 5 towns/cities and more than 12 restaurants. Without a doubt, this was our favorite restaurant in the entire trip.

I’m normally not a fan of number 1s in tripadvisor because they fail me most of the times. In fact, this is the first time I actually think the number 1 restaurant deserves to be the number 1.

Fou de Fafa is located in the Old the Town. We were staying at Hotel Avignon Centre Palais des Papes and it was just less than 10-minute walk from there. The location was pretty convenient for us.

Restaurant fou defafa

The photos here don’t justify how really good the food were. First was the wine option. My partner has issues on sulfites so we asked for a recommendation from the host. She recommended a bio/organic pure Merlot wine and it was very good. Then, there’s the food. The moment we had our starter, warm goat’s cheese wrapped in a pastry wrapper, we knew the rest of the food will be excellent. For the main course, I had the lamb wrapped in aubergine with mashed potato on the side. The aubergine was nicely seasoned, the meat was so tender, the mashed potato and the sauce balanced the flavours. For dessert, I had a chocolate cake – it was so good, I almost didn’t want to share it. The 3-course meal cost EUR 36 plus the bottle of wine we had. It’s a very reasonable price.

The host speaks fluent English and very welcoming. She took her time in explaining the menu and answering our questions.

Restaurant fou defafa

I know the common complain about this restaurant is that they weren’t entertained because they did not have a reservation or they were turned down because there were more than 4 of them. Three things about restaurants like this:

First, it’s a small restaurant with maybe even less than 15 tables. The empty tables you see probably belonged to someone who made a reservation but coming at a later time. I appreciate the fact that they don’t over book so that their guests won’t have to rush on their dinner because other people need the table.

Second, if I’m not mistaken, this is the type of restaurant who gets their meet and vegetables fresh of the market every morning. Meaning, they only stock fresh ingredients; therefore, they are precise as much as possible on the number of plates they can serve that day. I’ve been to several restaurants like this and I say it’s a style. Again, this style maybe the reason why they limit the amount of plates they serve per day. Quality over quantity – this is why the food was excellent!

Lastly, why not allow big groups? Aside from the food, what I really loved about this restaurant is its environment – it’s not loud. No background music, guests don’t need to shout at another to be heard, even the host spoke softly… it has a chill environment. I don’t know if this is the restaurant’s reason for limiting a party to 4 or if it’s more for logistics reason in the kitchen but whatever it is, not having a big loud group creates a lovely dinner environment.

restaurant fou defafa

Restaurant Fou de fafa is located in Avignon’s Old Town (17 Rue Des Trois Faucons, 84000 Avignon, France). Reservation is a must (in case I haven’t emphasized that enough). You can call them at +33 4 32 76 35 13 or write to them at restaurantfoudefafa@gmail.com.

Hotel Review: Mercure Avignon Centre Palais des Papes

This is my favorite hotel in Avignon. It was my second time to stay at this hotel and I’d stay here again. My favorite part about this hotel is its excellent location. The hotel is smacked right in the heart of the Old Town and just few steps away from Palais des Papes. I also like that they accommodate very late check-in. My partner and I stayed at this hotel last Easter when we did our road trip.

One big tip if you have a car and you’re trying to get to the parking garage – do not put in your GPS the hotel’s address! Put in the “Palais des Papes parking” instead. The hotel’s parking is the Palais des Papes parking, which is few meters away from the hotel. Don’t get confused with the other Mercure Hotel which has the direct access to the Palais des Papes parking – yes, there are 2 Mercure Hotel at this area that are just about 300m apart. Enter the Old Town through the entrance on the river ride. This is much easier and the parking entrance/exit is just immediately as you enter the Old Town from that side. If you enter through the city center (this is usually where your GPS will take you if you put in the hotel’s address) and you find yourself driving around and couldn’t even get close to the hotel because of closed streets, especially in the evening, get out of the Old Town and drive towards the river.

There were 2 minor comments on my stay on this hotel. First, the air conditioning wasn’t working yet. This is probably the most commented issue but it is quite normal in France and Switzerland where a/cs are turned off until mid-Spring (heaters are turned on instead). But then again, you can have a hot day/evening in Spring and this kind of set up can be uncomfortable. We tried opening the window but the wind was insanely strong that it’s impossible to sleep with the noise. Second was that aside from the receptionists, I struggled with the staff who didn’t understand even a little of English. They are quite friendly but it can be frustrating to explain as simple as canceling a room service order. The receptionists weren’t that very helpful as they kept on forwarding me to the non-English speaking staff when I asked for help to convey a message to them. Don’t get me wrong, as I said, these are just minor incidents and they don’t out shadow the best points about this hotel.

April Destination: Saint-Genix-Sur-Guiers, & Annecy, Rhone-Alpes

The perfect staycation at Rhone-Apes

The perfect staycation at Rhone-Apes

An Easter weekend in Geneva is also a good opportunity to spend a long weekend up in the mountains or down the south. This year, the Easter weekend was my April destination excuse. It was also a friend’s birthday so we decided to just rent a house in Rhone-Alpes, just an hour drive from Geneva and about 40-minute drive to Chamonix. It was a perfect staycation in the little town of Saint-Genix-Sur-Guiers with friends, game nights, a lot of cooking, and a Jacuzzi.

 

Soaking the sun in Annecy

Soaking the sun in Annecy

I guess it was a good thing that I wasn’t feeling well because I was forced to stay in the entire time. My favorite moment was watching the sunset in the Jacuzzi while sipping a nice rhubarb-champagne cocktail. And since the house we rented is quite far from other houses, we had the rare freedom of playing drinking games and just having fun until 5 am. On our way to Geneva, we stopped by Annecy to enjoy a bit of sun before we wrapped up our Easter weekend.

xx, I.

 

2014 Travel Recap: The Year of Spontaneous Trips (Part 2)

Weekend in Paris

the Louvre's pyramid in the evening

the Louvre’s pyramid in the evening

I visit Paris twice or thrice a year. In 2014, I went to visit in August with a couple of friends to visit a best friend and her adorable little bundle of joy. It was a very relaxing weekend in Paris. We basically just shopped and eat. As all of us have been to Paris, there was really no need for sightseeing. I’m quite a morning person so, in the morning, while I wait for friends to wake up, I take the time to walk around the Tuileries garden which was very nice – it’s nice to see an empty Paris.

Morning walk in Paris around the Louvre area

Morning walk in Paris around the Louvre area

Jardin du Luxembourg in Paris' 6th arr.

Jardin du Luxembourg in Paris’ 6th arr.

 

Hiking in Zermatt

Our 5-turned-2-lakes hiking adventure in Zermatt - everything was so surreal, we looked like we were in a film

Our 5-turned-2-lakes hiking adventure in Zermatt – everything was so surreal, we looked like we were in a film

After coming back from Paris, another friend asked me if I want to join her for a weekend hike in Zermatt because a friend was visiting. Who can say no to Zermatt in summer?! Zermatt is quite nice and has a lot of hiking activities to offer in the summer. We rented a car, drove to Zermatt on a Saturday morning, went hiking in the afternoon, spent the time in the sauna in the evening and had raclette and fondue for dinner. On Sunday, we did the Matterhorn glacier paradise where we took the highest cable car in Europe and visited an ice castle.

Up close and personal with the famous toblerone mountain, the Matterhorn

Up close and personal with the famous toblerone mountain, the Matterhorn

A hike in the swiss mountains means meeting new friends

A hike in the swiss mountains means meeting new friends

view of swiss alps is always breathtaking for me

view of swiss alps is always breathtaking for me

Hiking in Annecy

view of the lake Annecy, France on top of a mountain

view of the lake Annecy, France on top of a mountain

The following weekend after our trip to Zermatt, my friends and I went to Annecy, France for a day trip. While looking for a coffee place a little bit outside Annecy, we learned that the place has a short hiking trail that leads to a very nice panoramic view of the Annecy lake and a waterfall. Not only we were not dressed for a hike that time but us, girls, also brought our shoulder bags with us. It was a short hike but was quite steep, especially the trip down was particularly a little scary since our shoes have zero grip. Of course, we also managed to take another trail down (without knowing it) and ended up in another town where we had to walk for another 30-40 minutes. At the end of the day, we had a really great time – I always enjoy a trip to Annecy.

 

The Ultimate Greek Adventure

When it was time for my solo travel, I was first initially thinking of visiting my friends in California again… but then I thought: the only time I’ll be by myself in California will be never. Also, since I didn’t want to spend so much time in the planes, I decided to just stick within Europe. One day, my friends and I were talking about our favorite holiday destinations and 2 of my friends mentioned Greece – voila! To my surprise though, most of my friends didn’t quite approve at first with me traveling solo to Greece (and island hoping). Greece is massive and getting from one island to another can be complicated, especially if aiming for the non-party islands. But with massive research, I managed to book my favorite solo adventure/summer getaway in Europe.

Athens

at the Acropolis Museum

at the Acropolis Museum

From Geneva, I first flew to Athens. If you read reviews and travel blogs on Greece (in fact, majority of my friends said the same thing), most will tell you that you that you only need 1 day in Athens because there’s not really much to see. Well, I say it depends on who you are talking to.

When I was about 10 yrs old, our neighbor gave me a book on Greek mythology. It was a big book with small texts that reminds me of the encyclopedia – actually, if I remember it correctly, it was more like an encyclopedia-type of book as it had the A-Z of Greek mythology. I first started by reading the texts with photos and I got really fascinated by it that I started reading really reading the book. I must say, I moved on from Disney princesses to Greek mythology. I forgot about my fascination with Greek mythology until Athenian democracy, the Peloponnesian war, Sparta, Persia, the Peace of Nicias, etc. became a part of my language again in college.

So, going back to my main point, when I got out of the plane, the first thing I saw in the Athens International Airport was an advertisement from visa or mastercard that says something like: plane fare to Athens, EUR 200. Seeing the things you only see in school books, priceless!

Yes, that’s exactly how I felt in Athens as I went to see the Acropolis museum, the Acropolis of Athens, the Parthenon, the Erechtheion, the Theatre of Dionysus, etc.

the Theatre of Dionysus

the Theatre of Dionysus

the Erechtheion

the Erechtheion

the Parthenon

the Parthenon

Santorini

There’s something about the sun, the sea, and being on top of a cliff in an island that gives you peace. Santorini was said to be the result of a volcanic eruption thousands of years ago and some even say that this was the inspiration for the legend of Atlantis.

I did spoil my self a bit in Santorini and stayed at the beautiful Rocabella Hotel.

I did spoil my self a bit in Santorini and stayed at the beautiful Rocabella Hotel.

In Santorini, I felt real tranquility – something that I haven’t felt for a very very long time to the point of it becoming something new. Click here for more of my Santorini reflections.

the breathtaking view Sunset of Santorini

the breathtaking view Sunset of Santorini

Oia, Santorini

Oia, Santorini

the beautiful town of Oia in Santorini is the "Greece" we often see in movies

the beautiful town of Oia in Santorini is the “Greece” we often see in movies

Island of Paros

my everyday dilemma in Paros: to hang by the pool or by the hotel's private beach... life is good!

my everyday dilemma in Paros: to hang by the pool or by the hotel’s private beach… life is good!

While everyone goes to Mykonos in summer to experience the fun and wild beach parties, I decided to retreat to the Island of Paros. Paros was just about 2 hrs boat ride from Santorini. The Island is known for its turquois-colored beaches and the town of Naousa is beautiful, quiet, fishing village. For 5 days, the Astir of Paros became my home – yes, I invested on a 5-star hotel and it was worth it! As I was one of the last guests of the season, I felt like I had the entire resort to myself. For 5 days, the only things I need to think about were: 1) where to hang? beach or pool side? 2) what to drink while hanging under the sun, reading my book? 3) what to order for dinner from the hotel’s mouthwatering selection of food? I also had the opportunity to meet the owners of the hotel resort and they are absolutely kind, warm, and welcoming.

having dinner at Astir of Paros is like having a birthday every night... everything in the menu were absolutely amazing

having dinner at Astir of Paros is like having a birthday every night… everything in the menu were absolutely amazing

Astir of Paros' beach side

Astir of Paros’ beach side

While I liked hanging out at the private beach and by the poolside, I also managed to actually go to a yoga retreat at a yoga centre in Naousa. There, I met Irana Ji An, an amazing yoga teacher at the Paros Yoga Retreats & Workshops. I found my love for yoga because of this yoga retreat. Before Paros, I was irregularly practicing yoga for the past 8 months and my yoga studio wasn’t really that good – I was often left guessing if what I was doing was right or wrong. After going to Irana’s retreat for 4 days, I finally understood what my body should feel during and after yoga and I really loved it. With this, I invested in a good yoga studio here in Geneva and have started practicing yoga regularly.

Inside the beautiful cobblestoned town of Naousa

Inside the beautiful cobblestoned town of Naousa

dine by the beach in Naousa

dine by the beach in Naousa

the Galileo ship docked in the main port of Paros

the Galileo ship docked in the main port of Paros

Back in Athens

After having a great time in Paros, it was almost time for me to go back to Geneva… well, almost. First, I had to transit overnight in Athens. It was a late night flight back to Athens so I ended up just ordering a Domino’s pizza in my room (I know, right?). In the morning, I had time to do some shopping around the Monastiraki area.

2014 was indeed quite an adventure for me – full of spontaneous trips and discovering places for the first time. Here’s to hoping for more trips this 2015.

2014 Travel Recap: The Year of Spontaneous Trips (Part 1)

I’m known to my friends as a very organized traveler, to the point of being horrified by spontaneous trips. In 2014, I must say that I got better with this spontaneous business – from road trip to Italy to weekend hiking to the mountains.

Birthday celebration in Milan

Milan's Duomo in the evening

Milan’s Duomo in the evening is beautifully surrounded by lights

I’ve only been to Milan once and we were just transiting to Lugano in 2011. From that experiencing, I thought Milan was nothing special – just a big shopping city. So, when my friends told me that we should celebrate our birthday in Milan, I must admit I was a little apprehensive about it. I thought: there are so many other beautiful places, why choose Milan? In the end, I agreed to do it. To help raise my enthusiasm for the trip, I read a lot about Milan and research on places to go to. Eventually, I learned from the trip that Milan is so much more than shopping and it is a city with lots of character. I went back to Geneva falling in love with Italy – the culture, the history, the food… yes, the food.

After my birthday, another friend of mine realized that the long Easter holiday was fast approaching and there’s no way we are getting stuck in Geneva. Since we didn’t have proper preparation, all the flights to the nice European destinations cost an arm and a leg. So yes, I suggested going back to Italy… this time, somewhere close to the Mediterranean.

The convent of Santa Maria delle Grazzie is where Leonardo da Vinci's the famous last supper is found

The convent of Santa Maria delle Grazzie is where Leonardo da Vinci’s the famous last supper is found

 

A day trip in Morges to see the Tulips

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Morges is less than an hour drive from Geneva and it is famous for its tulips festival in the spring. I’ve heard so much about this tulips festival but have never gone to in my 4 years in Geneva. So, when we had the opportunity to go there last year to check out the festival, we borrowed a friend’s car and just drove there on Sunday.

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Easter road trip in Genoa and the Italian Riviera

Genoa - Italy's oldest port town. Also known as the home of delicious pesto and birth place of Christopher Colombus

Genoa – Italy’s oldest port town. Also known as the home of delicious pesto and birth place of Christopher Colombus

For Easter, my friend and I borrowed a friend’s car and drove to Genoa. Yes, this is one of my first spontaneous trips of 2014. None of us have ever driven to Italy and the only preparation we made was to book a hotel. The only thing I knew about Genoa that time was it is where pesto originated. We got lost several times, even with a sat nav, and took us an hour going around, finding our hotel. One day, we also drove by the cost, with the goal to have lunch at Portofino, and we ended in another town (thinking we were in Portofino). Despite those challenges, Genoa and the Italian Riviera captured my heart and most especially my taste buds! There was no place we went to that we didn’t love the food.

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Cave overt in Satigny

 

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In May, we also participated to the famous caves ouvertes in Geneva (well, the caves were actually outside Geneva) and we went biking! Yes, it was wine tasting combined with hardcore biking. It was probably an 8-10 km (at least) of biking through unpaved roads and extremely steep hills and at the end of the road, you get to drink as many types of wine as you can. It was so much fun! 2014 was also my fist dry caves ouvertes – it always rains during caves ouvertes.

Hotel Review: Hotel Mercure Lyon la Part Dieu

A couple of friends and I just spent a weekend in Lyon to relax and take a break from our routines. Whenever I organize this kind of weekend getaway with my friends, I always prioritize finding a good accommodation. For this trip, I had to look for a hotel that: 1) close to the train station (we were arriving quite late in the evening); 2) can comfortably accommodate 3 people in 1 room; 3) reasonably priced but will make us feel privileged. This hotel was a winner.

Location/Accessibility (4/5)

Hotel Mercure Lyon la Part Dieu is located at 50 rue de la Villette. The hotel is conveniently located right next to the train station and has easy access to the metro, trams, and bus lines that go to the main tourists areas such as the old town, the shopping street, etc.

From Geneva, we took the train to Gare de la Part Dieu (Lyon’s main train station). The train travel takes about 2 hours. At Gare de la Part Dieu, we took the “Porte Alpes” exit (the train station has 2 exits and the other exit is quite a walk to the hotel because you’ll end up going around several blocks).  Upon exiting the train station, on your right, you’ll immediately find a building of several hotels and Hotel Mercure is one of them.

From the hotel, going to the old town or town center is easy. Take the C3 bus from the “Thiers – Lafatte” bus station (from the hotel, walk towards the train station – I think it’s a block or 3-5 minute walk from the train station). Take the C3 bus going Gare Saint-Paul. The old town is the end of the line/terminal Gare Saint-Paul while you can get off from Cordeliers or Hotel de Ville to reach/walk around the town center.

Rooms and Facilities (4/5)

We had the privilege room, which can accommodate 3 persons (our room had a double bed and a single bed) and it was quite spacious. It has an impressively big bathroom and the designs and equipment are very modern. I was impressed that they have a Nespresso machine in the room and they offer cold drinks (water, juice, soda) in a mini fridge for free. The quality of the bed and pillows is very good.

The reception is manned 24/7 and the elevators are pretty new. Although we didn’t try, I noted that the hotel has a restaurant, which is convenient in case you too tired from travelling to go out and eat but would like to have a proper meal.

The free wifi was pretty fast although on our first night, we weren’t getting enough signal in our room therefore we weren’t able to use it. This seems to be just a glitch though since we woke up with a full wifi signal the following day.

The restaurant had a really breakfast buffet. As non-Europeans, when we say breakfast, we mean pancakes, sausages, scrambled eggs, bacons, etc. The patisseries were also fresh and even warm. They also had bio options, which for me was a really good option to have.

Staff and Services (4.5/5)

The staff were very friendly and helpful. Checking in was very quick.

The staff at the breakfast buffet were very accommodating and were checking with us if we needed anything every now and then – a kind of customer service I don’t frequently experience in Europe.

Security (4.5/5)

I love the fact that the elevators were accessible only with the key card. The entrance door also locks up at certain hours in the evening and only the receptionist can open the door – my friends and I were coming back to our hotel quite late and we never had a problem coming in since there’s always someone at the reception 24/7.

Price (4.5/5)

The privilege room rate was EUR 326 (without breakfast) for 2 nights and there were 3 of us. It’s like EUR 55 per person per night for us. This was such a good deal for a 4-star hotel.

Total   : 4.3/5 – Hotel Mercure Lyon la Part Dieu is highly recommended for those who are looking for a hotel close to the train station. True, it is quite far from the city center but the public transportation in Lyon is so easy and convenient that it doesn’t actually matter. It location is so much convenient especially for those who are arriving late in the evening at the Part Dieu train station. It is also not as expensive, considering we had the privilege room.

Brittany, France Part 2: Josselin and Rochefort-en-Terre

On our last day in Brittany, from Vannes, we drove to Josselin and Rochefort-en-Terre before heading to the airport in Nantes. But before that, we again decided to check out the local coffee shops in Vannes for breakfast again. Since it was a Sunday, we couldn’t find an open café that was close to our hotel. What we found out though was the market in Place des Lices was open. In that indoor market, we found a tiny coffee stand and other boulangerie et patisserie. So for breakfast, I had an impressively made caramel macchiato and a traditional butter cake. It was a surprise treat!

Josselin, France

Still a part of Morbihan, Josselin is almost an hour drive from Vannes. Josselin is a medieval town famous for the beautiful Chateau de Josselin – a 10-century old castle of the Rohan family. Apparently, direct descents of the Rohan family still lives in the chateau. I wonder what it feels like to literally live in a castle? From what I got from the castle tour (the guided tour was in French), a part of the castle was constructed during the Gothic period and the Renaissance period. Therefore, if you’re into those things, you’re supposed to see the difference on its façade (I’m not, so didn’t see the difference 🙂 )

The cool thing about our visit was that it happened to be the Journées Européennes du Patrimoine (European Heritage Days) in France that day. The European Heritages Days is an event celebrated by all the EU states (but I think EU countries celebrate it on different days) where buildings, monuments, historical sites, etc. that are not normally accessible to the public are opened. In our visit at the Chateau de Josselin, we got to meet the current owners of the castle, see the founding family in Renaissance attire, and toured inside the castle. I think they normally don’t do tours inside the castle. We paid a minimal entrance fee of like EUR 8. I must say, the whole thing, for some reason, reminded me of Ever After. 

Rochefort-en-Terre, France

After Josselin, we drove for another hour (or maybe a little less than an hour) to one of France’s most beautiful town – Rochefort-en-Terre. Actually, Rochefort-en-Terre reminded me of Yvoire. In fact, I like Yvoire more than this town. But it is still really nice and if you haven’t been to Yvoire or any of the small flower towns in France, then I really think you’ll appreciate Rochefort-en-Terre.  The town is colorful and quaint. We didn’t really do much in this town but walk around. Our highlight though was a visit to the Le Rucher Fleuri, a pain d’epices shop! What is a pain d’epices? Well, it tasted to me as some sort of a fruitcake – only, of different kinds. I particularly enjoyed the gingerbread and the traditional biscuit.

After Rochefort-en-Terre, we drove to the airport at Nantes for like an hour and a half.

 

That’s it for my adventure in Brittany, France!

Ciao!

 

~I.