Trip #35-Itinerary For May In Paris And Rural France

For my first trip post-Covid, I travelled the entire month of May in Paris and rural France (the Gard, Aveyron, and Tarn departments). Here are some highlights from the trip: my experiences, accommodations, and favourite restaurants.

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Villages designated as “Les Plus Beaux Villages de France” are indicated with asterisks*. I visited 9 during my trip to France in May. [You can read about all the villages in this post: Most Beautiful Villages of France]. As I continue to write about my experiences from this trip, I’ll update the links to those posts on this page so be sure to check back.

Week 1: Week In Paris

La Samaritaine, Paris (J. Chung)

1. Highlights

(a) Navigo Easy

During my week in Paris, I used the Navigo Easy Metro pass even though I tended to walk everywhere. You just load it up with tickets and tap it to use it on the Metro. So much better than getting the carnet booklet of 10 paper tickets (which they’re doing away with anyways).

Load it up with 10 tickets and you still get a discount. If you think you’ll use the Metro frequently and can time it right, the Navigo Décourverte Weekly Pass might be a better deal as it begins on a Monday but you have unlimited rides covering zones 1-5. Here’s more information on using the Paris Metro.

(b) La Samaritaine

Wall design-La Samaritaine Paris
La Samaritaine, Paris

In 2021, the department store located by the Seine river finally reopened after being closed since 2005. First unveiled to the public in the late 1800s, it took years for the store to be renovated. Even if you don’t want to shop, you’ll want to gaze at the impressive architecture and art deco designs. I’ll have a post about my visit and in the restaurant/bar recommendations. Here is the post about the best rooftop bar in Paris with exceptional views of the Seine and left bank: Le Tout-Paris Cheval Blanc.

(c) Notre Dame Cathedral

Since the devastating fire that took place on April 15, 2019, there have been a number of exhibitions and experiences that recount not just the fire and its reconstruction, but also how Notre Dame was constructed in the first place. Here are 3 that I saw during my visit in May, 2022:

(i) In Front Of Notre Dame

Here is a very nice display of art by 5 comic book artists showing how the cathedral is being repaired.

(ii) Collège des Bernardins

I got tickets in advance to a free immersive experience at Collège des Bernardins (called Notre-Dame de Paris L’Exposition Augmentée) where you learn about Notre Dame Cathedral’s construction in the 12th century and how they are restoring it since the fire in 2019. There were over 27,000 visitors and the use of a tablet assisted in experiencing augmented reality. It ended July 17, 2022, and I hope it will be relocated to a different venue.

(iii) Éternelle Notre-Dame

At first, I was hesitant to attend this virtual reality experience, Éternelle Notre Dame, where you learn about Notre Dame’s history and restoration. I had already been to the augmented reality experience at Collège des Bernardins; however, I decided to spend the 31€ admission and I have to say it was one of the highlights of my trip. SOOO glad I took the trip out to La Défense. I’ll write more about it in a separate post.

In a nutshell, you are outfitted with a backpack containing the computer that runs virtual reality. You wear a virtual reality headset and are escorted into a large room. Here, you meet your “virtual” guide from the 12th century who takes you around Notre-Dame as it is being built. You are elevated (virtually) on a platform to the roof and see how it is constructed back then and today—-after the fire in 2019. I’ve never had such a unique experience in my life. I’d do it again in a heartbeat.

For more about Notre Dame and the sound and light show, I saw before the fire, check out this post Celebrating The Beauty of Notre-Dame de Paris.

(d) Tour Montparnasse At Night

View from Tour Montparnasse in Paris (J. Chung)

There is no better way to get a panoramic view of Paris and the Eiffel tower than from Montparnasse Tower. I’ve been there during the day, but there is something very special about going at night time and seeing the sunset. I highly recommend a visit. Here are some other places in Paris to get great nighttime photos: Seeing Paris In A Different Light.

(e) Paris’ Chinatown for Dim Sum

Being Chinese-Canadian I like to visit other Chinatown areas in the world and try dim sum. I walked around the Chinatown area in Paris in the 13th arrondissement and there were Chinese produce/grocery stores and even a red Wallace Fountain which really surprised me! I ate at the highly rated Chinatown Olympiades.

(f) Bourse de Commerce (Pinault Collection)

Bourse de Commerce (J. Chung)

Billionaire François Pinault’s collection of modern art is showcased in the beautifully renovated Bourse de Commerce. Many people say they like the building more than the art. I would agree.

Address: 2 Rue de Viarmes, 75001

(f) Lunch At Two Bouillons

Check out my post about 2 bouillons that I dined at. These are restaurants that often have art nouveau decor and are known to have classic French dishes at reasonably-priced meals. Bouillon Restaurants In Paris: Which One Should You Dine At?

2. Accommodation:  Citadines Bastille Marais Apartment/Hotel

In Paris, I stayed in an apartment/hotel on Blvd. Richard Lenoir is located in the Marais, basically across the street from one of the best markets in Paris, the Bastille Marché. It takes place on Sundays and Thursdays until about 2:30 pm. I loved the Citadines Bastille Marais apartment/hotel and would stay there again. Here’s my review: An Alternative To Airbnb In Paris.

For prices, check hereCitadines Bastille Marais

Week 2: Château de Guedelon And French Immersion School

I leased a car from Renault again and picked it up at Orly airport where I headed to Ecole des Trois Ponts for French immersion but made two stops along the way: Château Vaux-le-Vicomte and Château de Guedelon.

1. Highlights

(a) Château Vaux-le-Vicomte

Château Vaux-le-Vicomte (J. Chung)

The formal gardens at Château Vaux-le-Vicomte, done by André Le Nôtre (Louis XIV’s gardener) were the inspiration for the gardens at Versailles, so you can understand why they are so impressive. Why the helicopter in the photo? The château was the setting of the villain’s home in the James Bond movie, “Moonraker”.

(b) Château de Guédelon

Château de Guédelon (J. Chung)

This château was #1 on my list of places to visit because it is so unique. Château de Guédelon is being built using only the tools and techniques from the 13th century. To find out more about this amazing site, read my post, “Build A 13th Century Castle From Scratch? Yes, At Château de Guédelon

(c) Ecole des Trois Ponts French Immersion School

This was my 5th time attending French immersion classes at Ecole des Trois Ponts and I decided to do the countryside walks in the afternoon (French classes in the morning), as I did a few years earlier. We did new routes and the entire time I spoke only French. Here’s a recap of my visits: French Immersion Classes In France.

(d) Crit’Air Vignette Emissions Sticker

I got my Crit’Air confirmation email and printed it off and attached the image of the sticker to the inside of my windshield. If you’re not familiar with the vignette, read up on the requirements if you’re bringing a car into France or leasing a car. (If you’re renting, the sticker should already be there). This post is all about the emissions sticker and why you need it: Crit’Air Air Quality Certificate.

2. Accommodation: La Bicoque en Puisaye

I chose to stay at a great B and B in Saint-Amand-en-Puisaye because it was close to Château de Guédelon and had a highly-rated restaurant in town, Restaurant Au Grès Envies.

At Restaurant Au Grès Des Envies I had pasta with tuna. It was okay, but it was the delicious dessert that I especially loved, a pate sablée compote de framboise chocolat—basically a shortbread cookie with raspberry coulis and mint ice cream.

Cost for dinner: 30.5 €

Au Grès de Envies :49 Grande Rue, 58310 Saint-Amand-en-Puisaye

For prices, check here: La Bicoque en Puisaye

Week 3: Anduze, Pont du Gard, Rodez, And The Aveyron Department

1. Highlights

It was a long drive from Roanne to Anduze but worth it because I stopped in two villages  (Pradelles* and La Garde-Guérin*) that are listed as “Les Plus Beaux Villages de France”. They’ve been added to my growing list: The Most Beautiful Villages Of France.

(a) Anduze

Anduze, France (J. Chung)
Train à Vapeur des Cévennes (J. Chung)

Anduze was my base because this is the starting point to take the Train à Vapeur des Cévennes to Saint-Jean-du-Gard. What’s the attraction? I have a “thing” for trains and really enjoyed taking the Little Yellow Train (Le Petit Train Jaune), a few years ago in the French Pyrénées.

The journey is only about 40 minutes one way but it’s the scenery that is the star….as you travel through the Cevennes—over a number of viaducts, through tunnels with a stop at La Bambouseraie en Cévennes, a beautiful bamboo garden.

Saint Jean du Gard is likely your destination for the Train à Vapeurs, so try to beat the mad rush to the restaurants and head directly to Le Bistrot. I highly recommend this restaurant where I had a lovely chèvre chaud salad and wine. The salad was better than average as the crostinis had fig jam plus goat cheese and the salad had two patés, olives, carrots, ripe tomatoes, stuffed mushrooms, walnuts, gooseberries, artichokes, and red onions.

  • Cost for lunch: 18 € (incl a 25cl pichet of wine)
  • Le Bistrot: 4 Rue Pelet de la Lozère, 30270 Saint-Jean-du-Gard

At the back of the hotel I was staying at in Anduze, Hotel du Garage des Cevennes, is a lovely terrace where I had their Entrée/Plat/dessert for 39€: white asparagus, pork sausage, dessert. The local wines are reasonably priced, starting at 5 € per glass.

  • Cost for dinner: 49 €
  • Le Garage des Cévennes: 15 Plan de Brie, 30140 Anduze

(b) Pont du Gard Aqueduct Highlights

Pont du Gard (J. Chung)

After a few nights in Anduze, I stayed one night in Remoulins because I wanted to visit Pont du Gard again. I took the guided tour and although it was only available in French, it was the opportunity to go to the top of the Viaduct. You can’t get that high up unless you’re on a tour. I had done it many, many years before; however, I wanted to do it again. Afterward, I hiked around the area. Check out what the tour like and what other activities you can do: 5 Fun Activities At Pont du Gard

My journey to Rodez was through the Parc National des Cévennes and while it involved many switchback roads, the scenery was breathtaking.

Parc National des Cévennes (J. Chung)

(c) Rodez

(i) Musée Soulages

Musée Soulages (J. Chung)

Musée Soulages is a renowned contemporary art museum that highlights the work of artist Pierre Soulages. While many know Soulage’s stained glass windows at Abbey Church of Saint Foy in Conques, this museum displays works done in various mediums—paintings, engravings, prints, glass, and lithographs, especially those done in black with textures. Soulages was the “master of black”. An additional highlight was having lunch at the museum’s restaurant, Café Bras (my review)

(ii) Musée Fenaille

Admission is included with your ticket to Musée Soulages and the main attraction in this museum is the largest collection of menhirs (prehistoric standing stones representing man) from 3000-2000 BC in Europe. It reminds me of the menhirs I saw in Carnac in Brittany.

(d) Estaing*, Sauveterre-de-Rouergue*, and Belcastel*

Find out more about these “Les Plus Beaux Villages de France” in the Aveyron here

Estaing, France (J. Chung)
Sauveterre de Rouergue
Belcastel, France (J. Chung)

(e) Bozouls

This village was top of my list to visit in the Aveyron because—-look at the photo—the village is on the edge of a cliff and stunning.

Bozouls, France (J. Chung)

(f) Villefranche de Rouergue

Villefranche de Rouergue is the place to visit on Thursdays when the open-air market is held in Place Notre Dame. My timing didn’t work out that way so it was relatively quiet in the square. I did visit the Monastery of Chartreuse St. Sauveur which has tranquil small and large cloisters from the 1500s. What was most very impressive was the Chapel of the Black Pénitents, (Chapelle des Pénitents noirs de Villefrance-de-Rouergue), run by the Brotherhood of Black Pénitents, a religious cult in the 1500s

Chapel of the Black Pénitents-Villefranche de Rouergue (J. Chung)

(g) Villeneuve d’Aveyron

If you love photography, be sure to visit Maison de la Photo where photographs by Jean-Marie Périer are showcased. There are numerous photos of legendary bands and singers, especially from the 1960s and 1970s, including French singers like Francoise Hardy and Johnny Hallyday and bands like the Beatles and Rolling Stones.

Maison de la Photo (J. Chung)

2. Accommodations

(a) L’Hotel du Garage des Cevennes, Anduze

I absolutely LOVED this boutique hotel that had a super breakfast and dinner. Wish I could have stayed here longer.  It’s located in the center of Anduze and free parking is a few blocks away.

For prices, check here: L’Hotel du Garage des Cevennes

(b) La Combe Joseph, Remoulins

This was another great B and B and it was very close to Pont du Gard. It had a number of rooms and a pool. The breakfast was excellent and it was only a 5-minute drive to the centre of town where I had dinner.

For prices, check here: La Combe Joseph

(c) Airbnb, Rodez

The Airbnb I rented was a spacious 1-bedroom apartment and had free parking on the street. It was located only a 15-minute walk from the centre of town. 

For prices, check here: Airbnb in Rodez

Week 4: Millau, Roquefort-sur-Soulzon, Albi, Libourne, and Bordeaux

1. Highlights

(a) Viaduc de Millau Drive And Tour

You will inevitably cross the Millau viaduct as you travel north/south on the A75. The Air du Viaduc de Millau is located west of Millau and provided good views of this most impressive bridge. The inexpensive (6 €) tour takes you to areas that most visitors cannot see. While the tour was only in French, I was provided with a sheet with English translations. I’ll have more about its history and the views you can get in a future post.

(b) La Course Effiage du Viaduc de Millau

This 23.7km race is one of the most scenic races I’ve done in France primarily due to the spectacular views of the Millau Viaduct, Les Gorges du Tarn, and the Tarn Valley. Check out what the race was like: Running In France. The day before the race, the whole town was in a party mood. It was like Mardi Gras, with dancers, bands, performers in costumes, and swing dancers in Place Maréchal Foch.

I went back to this square another night and had a lovely dinner on the terrace at Côté Marché (my review).

3. Excursions From Millau

(a) Peyre*

View from Peyre (J. Chung)

This village has exceptional views of the Millau Viaduc. I had a very good lunch at one of the only restaurants in town which is located beside the Tarn River: L’Estival (my review)

(b) La Couvertoirade*

La Couvertoirade, France (J. Chung)

This village has retained its medieval architecture and has lots of character. It is a fortified town with many artisans and craftspeople. Unfortunately, the Château Templier built by the Knights Templar from the 13th century is only open in June, July, and August.

(c) Roquefort-sur-Soulzon

Roquefort Société Cave (J. Chung)

After my stay in Millau, I headed south through the Tarn valley, seeing more great views of the Millau Viaduc. I spent the day in Roquefort-sur-Soulzon doing 3 cave tours with cheese tastings and having lunch at Roquefort Socété’s restaurant, La Cave des Saveurs (review of my meal). It was a day full of Roquefort cheese! Check out this post to find out more: A Visit To 3 Cheese Caves In Roquefort-sur-Soulzon.

6. En Route To Albi

Brousse-le-Château, France (J. Chung)

I took a hilly, but scenic route to Albi by way of Saint Rome de Tarn, which has a lovely 18-meter high Cascade des Baumes and then visited Brousse-le-Château* (which is another Les Plus Beaux Villages de France). The château is high on a hill and the views from the top are beautiful. Consider having lunch at the Relays du Chasteau (read my review), right by the old bridge leading to the château.

7. Albi

I had been to Albi years before so I did not visit the Toulouse-Lautrec museum again; however, I spent time walking around town, especially in the early morning, taking photographs. 

8. Cordes-sur-Ciel* and Najac*

Instead of taking the more direct route from Albi to Libourne, I headed to Najac by way of Cordes-sur-Ciel. I had been to Cordes-sur-Ciel in 2017 and just wanted more photos because it’s a really beautiful village. The château fortress that is built on a rocky outcrop is the main attraction in Najac and the views from the top are truly spectacular.

9. Libourne

Libourne was chosen because It made it easier to drop off my leased car before heading into Bordeaux the next day. This port town is close to major wineries and on the day I left, the weekly market took place in the town square by the Hôtel de Ville.

10. Bordeaux

Les Bassins des Lumières, Bordeaux (J. Chung)

Weeks before I arrived in Bordeaux I ordered tickets to see Les Bassins des Lumières. It was the main reason I travelled back to Bordeaux. The company, CultureSpaces has created spectacular immersive, digital art experiences and I have thoroughly enjoyed those in Les Baux and Paris.

The immersive show, however, is much different than the shows in Paris and Les Baux as it has been constructed in a former submarine base from World War II. The images of the art representing Venice and other scenes are projected on the walls and they are in turn reflected in the water in each of the areas of the base. The projections are accompanied by classical and modern music. A truly immersive experience. Read more about the immersive exhibitions in Paris, Les Baux, and Bordeaux in this post: The 3 Best Immersive Art Exhibitions In France.

It’s all about wine in Bordeaux and although I had been to La Cité du Vin this time my focus was on visiting some cave wine bars (Bar à Vin and Bistrot des Frérots) and a tapas bar located at the Marché des Capucins (more to come about those places in a future post).

2. Accommodations

(a) Campanile Millau

The hotel Campanile Millau was super and the breakfast buffet was plentiful. One of the best things was that the room had air conditioning. Perfect during the heatwave and after my race. It wasn’t close to the centre of town; however, for this trip, it didn’t matter as the race had shuttles and I had a car. It was easy to drive into town and park. A grocery store is just around the corner.

For prices, check here: Campanile Millau

(b) Hotel Le Pont Neuf, Saint-Affrique

After spending the day in Roquefort-sur-Soulzon, I stayed at the nearby town of Saint-Affrique. The hotel is centrally located and the room was spacious with a modern bathroom. it also served dinner. I wasn’t really that impressed with the town and just used it as a stopover before heading the next day to Albi.

For prices, check here: Hotel Le Pont Neuf

(c) Hotel Les Pasteliers, Albi

The room in my hotel was small, but not too small and the breakfast was excellent. I was also able to park across the street for free overnight because the next day was a public holiday.

For prices, check here: Hotel Les Pasteliers

(d) Logis Hotel de la Tour, Libourne

I was very pleased with the location, room, and dinner at Hotel de la Tour. Parking was around the corner and free overnight until 9 am. I think when I booked the room, the only one that was available had three beds. Didn’t really need that many, but it did give me lots of space! The hotel is right by the harbour and down the street from the market.

I had the hotel package that included room, breakfast and dinner. The wine at dinner was inexpensive (not surprising as you’re in Bordeaux country!). My dinner consisted of a salad with rare bee, perfectly grilled pork on mashed potatoes and a dessert of pineapple presented 2 ways: cooked, fresh, and as a mousse. It was kind of like a pineapple crumble. It wasn’t tangy enough, but the main course was very good.

For prices, check here: Logis Hotel de la Tour

(e) Ibis Styles Bordeaux Gare Saint-Jean, Bordeaux

I wanted my accommodation nearby the train station as I was heading back to Paris the next day. The Ibis Styles Bordeaux Gare Saint-Jean, was perfect.

For prices, check here: Ibis Styles Bordeaux Gare Saint-Jean

Week 5: Paris

1. Highlights

I took the train from Bordeaux to Paris for a few more days before flying home.

(a) Grand Mosque

I have had ice cream in the cafe but never visited the gardens or the inside of the mosque. Glad I did as it’s quite beautiful and reminds me of my time in Morocco.

(b) Panthéon

I have visited it before but since Josephine Baker had been honoured in 2021, I wanted to go back. My only disappointment was not booking a tour of the Dome ahead of time as they were sold out the day I visited.

2. Le Récamier and Le Petit Vendôme Restaurants

Check out this post which describes the delicious soufflés at Le Récamier and bistro fare at Le Petite Vendôme restaurants: 11 Must-Try Restaurants In Paris (By Type).

3. Accommodations

(a) Hotel Choiseul Opera, Paris

I stayed near Opera Garnier. LOVED the 3 star hotel, Hotel Choiseul Opera, as it is very clean, modern (and has a Nespresso machine), has air conditioning, and is in the best location, being very close to the Roissybus pick-up point for transportation that takes you directly to the airport.

For prices, check here: Hotel Choiseul Opera

(b) Ibis Styles Paris Roissy CDG, Charles de Gaulle Airport

The night before flying out, I headed to the Ibis Styles airport hotel. I always do this so I’m not stressed out about getting to the airport on time.

For prices, check here: Ibis Styles Paris Roissy CDG

It was a jam-packed trip and I was so happy to be able to travel again. No problems with getting home or getting my luggage! (I think I beat the crazy summer rush!) But I need to return to the Aveyron as there is so much more to see.

Map Of Key Places Visited

Click on the map or on this link and you’ll be directed to a Google Map indicating all the main towns I visited in this post.

Trip #35 to France: visiting Paris and rural France (the Gard, Aveyron, and Tarn departments).
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