I know I just started this blog but I aready have the most definitive advice on traveling with a baby: bring a grandparent with you!! Let me back up a minute. In October, my dad sent the family an email coordinating Thanksgiving and Christmas plans, saying the my step-mom’s family was having an extended family reunion in France and they would be attending. Craig immediately responded with a (half) joking email that he and Benton had been learning French and would love the chance to practice in country. Before we knew it, we had been invited along to a family reunion that we were only peripherally connected to. I was coming off of a 26 hour shift to close out our busiest time of year for my business, just in time to pack up my family for 10 days on our first international trip with our baby. Needless to say were all a little haggard on our overnight flight to Paris.
We collected our bags, met up with the other 5 members of our family, ate our first of countless croissants, packed up our two rental cars and headed South West towards our home for the next few days. On our way we stopped for lunch and to tour Chartres Cathedral, just your casual neighborhood church HA!
La Flocellière – The impetus for this trip was an extended family reunion for step-mom’s family which was taking place at the privately owned and renovated Chateau de la Flocelliere. The grounds were made up of three different buildings all with their own character, and gardens that were beautiful even though nothing was blooming. We had no real plans for the few days that we were there other than exploring the grounds, large family meals and getting to know our new extended family. If you are ever looking to have your wedding at a chateau in rural France, this is THE place to do it!
Day trip to La Rochelle – It felt like herding cats, but we managed to load up 8 adults and a baby to take a day trip to the coastal fort city of La Rochelle. We walked through street markets, ate waffles at small fair, bought French candy (for research purposes of course), walked along the Bay of Biscay and toured the fort that used to protect the city.
La Rochelle was laid back and warm, and the perfect place for a quick day trip.
The Loire Valley – We spent 5 days driving around the Loire touring chateaux, wine caves, eating the best French food and cheeses, and taking in the landscape. On our way to the Loire, we stopped at Abbaye Royale de Fontevraud, a stunning abbey and gardens founded in 1100.
We visited Amboise, Chambord, Chenonceau, Chinon, the mediaeval city of Loches, Saumur, Tours, Azay le Rideau, Vilandry, and Cheverny. We also drove by Usse at sunset but were unable to visit. Even thought we saw so many chateaux, you could easily spend another two weeks tooling around and still not visit them all.
Although visiting during the off season meant some of the places we wanted to visit were closed or had reduced hours, there were no crowds and some chateaux had reduced entrance fees and we felt like we had the place to ourselves.
It was misty our entire visit to the Loire, and while we were cold we felt like we were in Game Of Thrones.
When we were staying in Amboise, my dad surprised us with an evening of babysitting and a reservation at the Michelin starred restaurant Chateau de Pray. We ate one of the best meals of our lives slowly, with two hands while talking to each other. It was the such a wonderful surprise and one of the highlights of our trip.
For New Year’s Eve we opted for the perfect French snack-dinner in our hotel room instead of an over priced prix fixe NYE dinner at a stuffy restaurant. Our baguette, butter, ham and cheese sandwiches were the perfect way to ring in the new year.
A few days in Paris – Because we booked our flights so late we were forced to spend a few days in Paris just the three of us at the end of our trip and fly home on Jan 4th instead of Dec 31st, woah is me. I found the perfect studio apartment on Ile Saint Louis for under $90 a night. We dropped our bags at our VRBO, ate a filling lunch of boeuf Bouruignon, and set off to tour the city a bit the last few hours my father was with us. Benton napped in the car with my dad while Craig and I walked around the Eiffel Tower with our closest 10,000 friends. It was certainly overwhelming after a few days in the desolate by comparison Loire Valley. We walked through the Christmas markets, then walked home along the river and past Notre Dame lit up at night.
Notre Dame, Sainte Chappelle, Conciergerie and the Louvre – We almost skipped the stairs up to the top of Notre Dame because of the line and the cold rain, but we took turns waiting in line and drinking espresso at the café across the street keeping Benton inside and out of the rain. Even though I didn’t take any pictures from the top, I assure you it is worth it.
My dad had told us that we absolutely must visit Sainte Chappelle, that he thought it was one of the most beautiful places in the world. When you first enter, you start under the main church in an exhibit hall and gift shop. Craig and I looked at each other with the same “what was my dad talking about” face, thinking that either we were missing something or my dad had lost it before realizing there are hidden spiral stairs in the back of the hall that take you up to one of the most spectacular examples of stain glass in the world.
We did not realize until it was too late that you can buy a discounted joint ticket to visit both Sainte-Chappelle and the Conciergerie but you only get the discount if you buy the joint tickets in advance. I tried to use my Sainte Chappelle ticket stubs and baby in my arms to sway the ticket seller to give us the discount, but it didn’t work. You should also buy your tickets to the Louvre online in advance to skip the lines once you get to the museum. If you are staying in Paris for more than a day or two, or you plan on going to more art museums, you can buy combo tickets for the Louvre and Musee D’Orsay and more at a serious discount.
After a day full of sight seeing the day before, we chose to spend our second full day meandering through the streets. We walked over to La Marais neighborhood, where we drank a leisurely espresso, bought “walking around cheese” at a lovely local cheese shop, went in to a church that had their doors propped open during a small service. We waked over to the 14th to have the most lovely 3 hour Parisian lunch with our new extended family who we met the week before at La Flocellière. After lunch we visited Musee Marmottan which houses one of the largest collections of Monet’s work. I did a terrible job taking pictures on our last day and only wound up with these two, but they do a perfect job representing our time in Paris.
This trip was the perfect mix of family, new friends and alone time, staying in one place and moving around, city and country side. We were very nervous about our first big trip with baby Benton and with the unfounded stereotype that the French disdain children. What we found was the exact opposite. It was so wonderful to travel in a country that fully supports families and new mother. Museums and cafes offered to heat up bottles for us. Hostesses found us tables faster when they saw I was holding a baby. Almost every single bathroom had clean padded changing tables. We were moved to the head of almost every line at the airport leaving France. It truly was the best way to reignite our family travel bug!