Lyon & French Alps

 

Dan recently had the opportunity to join a weeklong project in Lyon, France.  Of course as it was a new city for us, I quickly wanted to join!  So I arrived on Friday at the end of the week for a night in Lyon then the weekend in the Alps.

After Dan finished up work on Friday, I met him in the city centre where we walked around exploring.  The city is really adorable – I couldn’t believe how many cafe’s, restaurants and bars there were! It’s a very small, but incredibly charming city built around the confluence of the Rhône and Saône Rivers.  I wish we had more time there than just the one evening…

 

Lyon is known as one of the gastronomic capitals of the world.  It is FILLED with Michelin starred restaurants and is home to some of the most infamous culinary institutes.  I’m a HUGE Anthony Bourdain fan (R.I.P.), and love to follow his recommendations as we travel around the world.  One of my favourite episodes of Parts Unknown was his Lyon trip.  He visited Paul Bocuse’s restaurant and was able to dine WITH Chef Paul himself!  Watching Anthony Bourdain’s excitement and respect for such a chef made me want to experience those feelings as well.  I had just been promoted at work, and Dan told me we were going to go out to dinner to celebrate that evening.  Never did I think we’d be able to get into Paul Bocuse – but somehow Dan managed to secure a booking!!!

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We indulged in the most memorable six course meal:

  • Amuse-bouche de l’Auberge
  • Duck foie gras terrine, ginger jelly, dried fruits chutney [Kirsten] & Traditional Lyon quenelles of pike with crayfish, Normande sauce [Dan]
  • Filet of beef Rossini, Périgueux sauce [Kirsten] & Fricassee of Bresse chicken in cream sauce, morel mushrooms [Dan]
  • Selection of fresh and matured cheeses from ‘La Mère Richard’
  • Delicacies & Temptations
  • Fantasies & Chocolates

Two things in particular stood out to me; first was the veal sweetbread that was on top of my beef filet – out of this world delicious! And secondly, was the dessert cart.  I wish I was able to take better photos of them (because there were FOUR – not just ONE dessert cart!) I had a hard time containing myself and not asking for a sampling of each of the desserts offered!  It was such a special evening and was by far the best meal of my life!


 

Part two of our trip kicked off early the next morning as we hired a car and drove off east towards the French Alps.  Our plan was to arrive late morning and spend the afternoon hiking.  However…the World Cup was on (and France was playing) and it was nearly 100 degrees out, so we decided to take it easy and just drive and stop in a few small villages along the way and then watch the match at a local pub.

It was such a beautiful drive climbing up and up through winding steep mountain roads, to where we stayed at a beautiful catered chalet.  The house was built into the rocks.  It was quite a striking mix between old/mountain rock and modern.  The area even had a local friendly donkey that greeted us 🙂

 

 

The next day we set off for a full day’s hike in the alps.  Dan chose a beautiful trail around one of the ski resorts with views of Mount Blanc.  The weather was absolutely perfect!  It was quite funny because it was about 70 degrees and sunny, but parts of our hike were still through the snow!

We love adventure trips, and this one in particular because it was such a contrasting trip – gourmet meals to trekking in the alps.  It was also really cool to see this area in the summer as this was a similar area we were in the winter for our ski trip!

Skiing in Chamonix, France [Chalet Bibendum]

Woo hoo! It’s ski season!  And we live in Europe – so we get to ski the Alps!  The first taste we had of skiing the Alps over two years ago in Innsbruck got us hooked! I’ve been looking forward to this trip for months now.  We rallied together a group of 8 of our friends, rented the most INCREDIBLE chalet and headed off to Chamonix for a long weekend of shredding!

Let’s first talk about our Chalet.  This was by far the best AirBNB I’ve EVER had.  It was unbelievable!  It was beyond perfect for the 10 of us, as it had 5 beds all with their own ensuite.  The centre of the chalet featured a stunning fireplace, the peaked trusses made the perfect frames for large windows highlighting the French Alps, and I can’t forget the massive chef’s kitchen, which was a total vision board in reality.  The host had a total eye for style as everything flowed together perfectly…from the funky, Moroccan lamps and rugs to the modern copper bath tubs. Not to mention, it was right in the middle of the Chamonix Valley, so all of the skiing areas were a quick 5-10 minute car ride away.  Oh and while I’m mentioning a car ride…I feel I should share a photo of this beautiful beast that transported all TEN of us for the weekend!  Dan was an incredible bus driver for all of us…this thing was hilarious, but totally perfect for the occasion!  🙂

*Links to Chalet so you can book your own dreamy holiday: Chalet Bibendum & Chalet Bibendum AirBNB

For our first day of skiing, we visited Le Tour.  Everyone was at very different skiing level’s, so we tried to all stick together, but inevitably, we ended up splitting into a few smaller groups.  Conditions weren’t the best as the clouds were very low and there was a lot of snow so it was difficult to see about 5 feet in front of you sometimes.  But we were skiing…in the Alps!  So can’t complain!  One of my friends recommended taking one of the very long red runs down the back of the mountain that ends down at an adorable little ski village, Valorcine.  Although this run wasn’t very fast or difficult, it ended up being one of my favourites because of how beautiful it was!

That evening we were all exhausted from a full day on the slopes.  I cooked a big family style spaghetti Bolognese.  Erin decorated the table beautifully, and we all sat around the massive table stuffing our faces and enjoying the family-like atmosphere.

For our second full day of skiing, we went to Brevant/Flegere.  The conditions were a bit better that day, but this area was definitely much easier than Le Tour.

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That evening, we went into Chamonix for drinks and dinner.  We found this really cool self-serve beer bar and then a pizza restaurant, where again, we stuffed our faces.  It’s amazing how hungry skiing makes you! The actual village was adorable too.  I wish we had a bit more time to explore the area (particularly the shops!)

On Monday, we had a half day before we had to go back to the airport.  Dan and Kent went off skiing on their own, while the rest of us stayed back and relaxed/packed up.  The two of them took Grand Montes by a storm and shredded hard for those 3 precious hours.  They said it ended up being some of the absolute best powder skiing conditions either of them have ever had!

It was an incredible weekend with a fantastic group of friends!  Can’t wait to get back on the slopes again!

French Rivera & Cinque Terre

It’s hard to believe that SIX years ago Dan and I exchanged “I do’s” and promised our lives together forever.  I feel so blessed to share my life with my best friend and adventure all around the world with him.  For our anniversary, we decided to take another road trip.  This time we went to the French Rivera and Cinque Terre, Italy.  We decided to make it a long weekend as it was our anniversary! We did a nice loop, starting and ending at Nice. It was a lot of mileage, but the views along the way were unbeatable!

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We flew in Thursday morning and grabbed our rental car.  We checked into our hotel and quickly hit the beach.  Our hotel was located in a quiet, secluded area between Nice and Monaco which provided us with the most amazing little cove of private beach.  We spent the afternoon floating in the turquoise water and walking along the coast.  That evening we went into Nice’s city centre to have dinner and drinks.  We found this amazing cave restaurant where we feasted on great Charcuterie and cheese and had great wine.

The next morning we drove into Monaco.  I’ve never seen so much wealth in such a small concentrated area!  Dan was in super car heaven, as every 2 minutes another insane super car would drive by!  And the yachts…don’t even get me started!  It was unreal how large these “boats” were…and how many of them there were!  Not just one or two big boys…we’re talking hundreds!  I thought some of them were cruise ships…but no…just private family boats 🙂 Monaco was a lot of fun.  You probably don’t need more than a half a day there, but if you’re in the area, it’s 100% worth checking out.  We really enjoyed it.

 

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After lapping in the luxury, we hopped back into our little European car and started making our way over to Portofino.  Of course, after about an hour of driving, we had to stop on the side of the road for a dip in the water 🙂

The stretch of drive from Monaco to Portofino was our favourite of the trip.  The expressway follows the coast and ducks in and out of mountains the whole way.  Bridge, tunnel, bridge tunnel, bridge, tunnel…you get the point!  It was really beautiful.  We arrived at our AirBNB just outside of Portofino (in Rapallo) in the early evening where we freshened up and headed into Portofino for dinner.  What a night it turned out to be!  About 10 minutes into our drive we were stopped by the police!  We were informed that as Portofino is really small, they weren’t letting any more cars in for the evening because it was already full.  After a few minutes of discussion, we were somehow allowed to advance and try to get in.  We found a parking spot and quickly found out the reason why the town was shutting down…Ferrari was hosting an event in the town square, literally taking up the entire space! They were holding the world premiere of their new Ferrari Portofino!  The whole town was lined with a red carpet, massive tents, fancy tables and guest dressed to the nines!  We clearly didn’t fit in…ha!  We were able to walk around the edges of the town and catch the views from the peripheral.  Our dinner plans were also thwarted as Ferrari had booked out every restaurant on the waterfront…!  But we were able to grab a pizza 🙂 It was quite the scene and we really enjoyed the environment.  It was a bit unfortunate that we weren’t able to do Portofino as we had hoped, but we got to see the premiere of the car and walk the red carpet which was quite fun!

 

20170909_155550The next morning we made our way down the Italian coast for the Cinque Terre portion if our trip.  Cinque Terre (CT) literally means 5 towns; and these towns are cute little colourful towns built into the seaside cliffs.  We stayed in the most southern town, Riomaggiore.  We ran into a few hiccups during our time in Cinque Terre.  Our main plan for our time there was to hike from our town up the the northern most town, Monterosso.  Unfortunately, the hiking trails from our town up to the third town were closed for repairs.  Okay…so we start at the third town and make our way from there!  We bought our tickets (you have to have a trail pass to walk the trails), and started our trek!  We hiked for about 10 minutes when we reached the first trail checkpoint to show our passes…and were informed that all of the trails are closed for the day because there is a “chance of rain”.  SO – during our few days in CT, because there was a chance of rain in the forecast, we weren’t actually able to hike at all! It was super unfortunate as we love hiking and there really isn’t much else to do in the area besides take in the views!  (Oh – and it only rained at night! The sun was out during most of the day!)

Luckily, our friends Gina and Charles ended up being in CT the same time as ourselves so we are able to hang out and make the most of it!  We took the train from town to town, ate a lot of pasta, pizza and gelato, drank incredible wine and spent a lot of time relaxing!

Cinque Terre was beautiful!  Although we had some unfortunate circumstances, we were glad we went and we’re able to see it.  I do think the area has become overrun with tourists.  We felt like we were in Disney Land being shuffled around with all the other tourists.  It’s sad that the natural beauty and history of the area is now overshadowed by pushy foreigners.

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We also managed to shoot a beautiful six year anniversary photo!  We’re past the point of being able to take selfies now – need two hands!

Six Years!

For our last day, we had intended to stay in CT for the full day, but as the trails were still closed (with no rain…) we decided to make our way over to Parma to check out the home of Parmesan cheese!

We went to Hombre Farms for a tour of the Parmesan cheese process.  They are a unique farm because they are a fully closed circuit.  Meaning, everything comes from just them!  They grow the feed for their cows and their cows provide everything for the cheese. And they are 100% organic.  The owner is also an avid car collector, so we were able to walk around his “garage” to see some of his collectibles!

As we still had a few hours to spare until we needed to head back to Nice, we decided to check out the Ferrari museum and factory in the neighboring town of Modena.

After drooling over cars we’ll never be able to afford, we started the trek back to Nice!  We arrive back just in time to catch a little of the sunset on the beach before dropping the car off and flying back to London! Although not everything went as we had hoped, it was such a beautiful trip.  We love taking road trips! Happy SIX YEARS DAN!

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Wine Weekend in Bordeaux

Woo hoo!  Another long bank holiday weekend! Thank you England! Dan and I love wine, and when we moved over to London we said we wanted to be sure we did at least one long weekend in one of the best wine regions in Europe. SO off to Bordeaux we went!

We rented a car at the airport and headed over to spend our first day just east of Bordeaux in Saint-Émilion.  The town and surrounding area is really cool and worth checking out.  The medieval town is full of beautiful churches, ruins, shops and history.  It sits up on a little hill, so it looks very majestic among all of the vineyards below.  We did a morning tour/tasting, lunch in the town then another tour/tasting in the afternoon.

DSC05692Our morning tour/tasting was at at Château Franc Mayne.  Out of all of our tours from the weekend, I think this one was the most unique.  We were able to walk through their underground tunnels!  In the Saint-Émilion region, there are approximately 200 kms of underground limestone tunnels.  A lot of the chateau’s are interconnected and can lead all the way into the town.  They were originally limestone mines and were later used as shelter during the wars. Now they are used to store and mature wine.  It was fascinating to walk through!  We were surprised to learn that all of the wines in the Bordeaux region are blends.  Typically, the grapes used are: Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Petit Verdot, and Malbec.   Most of the wines we tasted had Merlot as the base (60-80%).

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Château Franc Mayne

After our first tasting, we went into Saint-Émilion to explore and have lunch.  No surprise, we had wine, fromage and Charcuterie!

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For our second tour and tasting, we went to Château Soutard.  It is a beautiful working winery and is very modern compared to many of the other Chateau’s in the region.  The facilities are incredibly posh, which made it really fun to explore and learn about the history and their wine making process.  We learned that this was one of the first chateau’s to start planting grape vines in rows versus clusters.

Unfortunately, out of all the tastings and visits from the weekend, this one ended up being our least favourite.  The wines were very acidic, which is true to the region’s taste, but definitely not one of the flavour profiles we love in wine.

After our tour, we drove over to Château La Mothe du Barry, where we were staying for the night.  We nailed it with our lodging for this trip!  Our room at this chateau was UHH-MAZING! It was an old wine vat!  It was super modern and unique.  And the place had the most perfect little pool, which is where we spent the remainder of the afternoon.  We were able to taste the chateau’s wines poolside.  The owners of the chateau were so accommodating and nice. And the breakfast was worth the stay itself!  So delicious and all homemade.  Can’t recommend this adorable place enough!

For day two, we drove up to the Médoc region, just north of Bordeaux.  This area is absolutely brilliant!  The region is filled with tiny villages and massive chateau’s dotted through the rolling hills and vineyards.  It was so beautiful to drive around with the windows down, music up and smiles on our faces.

The first chateau we stopped for a tour and tasting was Château D’Agassac.  Talk about storybook chateau!  WHOA!  I still can’t believe this place was real…it was so cool! And our guide was amazing and their wine was the best we tasted from the weekend!  We found that most of the chateau’s wine making process is pretty much the same, but at this one we learned that they put in egg whites with the wine during the aging in the barrel’s to collect the sediment from the grapes.  The egg whites have no taste and do not alter the wine at all, so it is an easy way to extract the unwanted sediment.  Very interesting…

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Château D’Agassac

After our tasting, we drove up to Pauillac for a quick lunch by the river.

We then decided to drive over to the coast to cool off and spend the afternoon by the sea.  We went to Soulac-sur-Mer and immediately hit the beach!  The weather was so fantastic the whole time we were away – mid 80’s and sunny!

For our second night in wine country, we stayed at Hotel Rollan De By.  Again – totally nailed it with the accommodations!  Everything was perfection!  The room, the chateau grounds, the vineyard, the host…everything! Oh, and the breakfast! SO GOOD! We were even given a tour of the operations and a tasting.  We got to taste the wine straight out of the vats too! We ended the evening with a wonderful French dinner at Table Tartine.

On our last full day in wine heaven we drove over to another seaside town, Arcachon.  The area is known for their fresh seafood, especially oysters and mussels which are harvested locally.  So we immediately hit up a local spot for some fresh mussels!  We then went over to the Dune of Pilat, which happens to be the largest sand dune in Europe!`  We spent about an hour swimming in the sea and exploring the coast (which was filled with mussels!).

We finished our weekend off in Bordeaux’s city centre.  The city is very small, so we were able to hit all of the highlights in just one afternoon/evening.  We walked the river, saw the Palace and the large cathedrals, before finishing the trip off with one last French meal: wine, cheese and meat (again)! It was the perfect end cap to an amazing long weekend away.  The city of Bordeaux is cute, but pales in comparison to the countryside!

Byrnes Visit + London Marathon

Riley and Brittany visited!!!  Riley was Dan’s roommate throughout college and they’ve stayed really close friends since.  Riley and Brittany got married last year (we went back to Michigan for their wedding).  Since they started dating, (actually right before Dan and I got married!), I’ve grown close to Brittany as well and the four of us have such a great time together.  We were so happy to host them for a week!

The day they arrived, we did a little bit of sightseeing around Hyde Park, Kensington Gardens, and our neighbourhood.  That evening, Brittany and I went to the restaurant on the top of the Walkie Talkie building in London while the boys went to a Premier League football match!  The views from our dinner were incredible! And we timed it perfectly to catch the sunset too!  The boys had an amazing time at their football match as well.  Dan said the atmosphere was unlike any other match he’s been to before.  Crystal Palace beat Arsenal 3-0!

We spent the next 2 days exploring London seeing all of the sights and sharing some of our favourite restaurants with the Byrnes.

As they were here on Easter weekend, we had Friday off and took a nice quick one night trip to Paris! Lucky for me, my birthday also happened to fall on Easter weekend this year! So I got to spend my second birthday in a row in PARIS!

We took the Eurostar over early Thursday morning and headed straight to the bakery to grab a French baguette then over to the Eiffel Tower.  I don’t think this sight will ever get old!  It’s so unbelievable.  There is something so special about the ET.  I could just stand in front of it for hours and admire it!

We then explored Champs-Élysées and then made a stop to my favourite macaroon place  – Laudree!

That evening we went to a Steak & Frites dinner.  It’s an awesome restaurant where there is no menu – they only serve steak & frites!  They ask you how you want your steak prepared then bring you a plate of steak, frites and incredible sauce!  When you finish, they come around and bring you a whole other plate!!!  It was an amazing dinner – we LOVED it!  After dinner we grabbed some French Rose’ (boxed – ha!) and had a picnic in front of the Eiffel Tower.  This was my favourite thing we did in Paris last year, and we had to share this experience with Britt & Riley!  The ET at night is magical!

On Friday, we explored a bit more around the city before hopping back on the Eurostar to go back to London that night.

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As Friday was MY BIRTHDAY (!!!)! We started the evening off with a quick stroll through Harrods then we went to one of my favourite restaurants, Burger & Lobster for some birthday lobster!  It was incredible, as always!

On their last day in London, we spent it checking off the rest of the London sights from their list of must-see’s!  It was an incredible visit from incredible friends.  We love Britt & Riley and miss them so much!


In other news, Dan ran his first marathon!  The London marathon is super hard to get into, so Dan and Kent were able to get in by running for a charity!  This is Kent’s 7th(?) marathon!  I am so proud of them with all of their training over the past many months.  I know it was hard for Dan because we had a lot of travel and he had a long work trip to Japan right in the middle of his training schedule!

The day before the marathon, Dan had quite the surprise coming.  His brother, Scott, and I devised a plan to have Scott fly over to cheer Dan on for the marathon.  We pulled off the surprise and Dan was so happy to have Scott here!

 

Post-race celebrations!