This was a rather roundabout way to get to Paris, as it took us through Italy, Switzerland and Luxembourg, but it made for a great trip.

We took the coastal freeway to Savon and from there, turned up to Turin, until we reached our first night’s stay just north and outside of Turin in the the Canavese Valley. There are numerous small towns in the area, situated in the foothills of the Alps. We stayed at a small B&B just outside of the town of Strambinello, called the Castello (Castle) di Strambinello. It would be just outside, west of Ivrea, off the freeway that travels from Turin to Aosta.

Lovely B&B, would certainly have made our HBM hotels in Mexico, except for the fact that it is a B&B, and there is no check-in/reception, and when you need someone you have to do a little searching. But everything else makes up for. Very spacious rooms with an entrance way/study. King-size bed, fireplace and sitting area. Also comes with a servi-bar that if filled with drinks, beer and wine, on the house.IMG_0034

We visited a few towns nearby but there really wasn’t much to see. We had dinner in the town of Colleretto Giacosa, a few minutes from the hotel in the restaurant Del Monte. Lovely dinner of Scallops St. Jacques in a tomato sauce with fried zuchini flowers, rizotto and raviolis, and panna cotta for desert. We shared a bottle of Carema, the local wine. Nice, not fruity, wonderful with the meal.

It was a lovely drive from Turin up to Bern Switzerland. The first half was freeway that made its way up the middle of a valley, and as we made our way the mountains slowly became taller and seem to move closer towards us. By the time we arrived at Aosta, there was little room for a four-lane freeway, our road became two narrow lanes that began to snake over the mountains towards Switzerland. The San Bernardo pass is so narrow and high up that the road is covered with a cement roof, providing protection from falling rocks and keeping the road clear of snow in the winter. And then we drive right through the middle of a mountain, inside the San Bernando 10 km tunnel.

We perhaps could have drove over but as we got to the other side the cloud was so dense it most likely would have taken us hours to get from one side to the other, and we wouldn’t have been able to see a thing anyways. Once in Switzerland the valley on the other side began to open up, and we took in what is most certainly Switzerland; a lush green valley with small clusters of homes perched on the valley sides, surrounded by green green fields and clusters of trees. The valley walls begin a vertical climb, reaching up to raw and ragged rocky peaks with just blue sky and a few clouds beyond. The roofs that were made of slate became red-tiled again, the fields were an intense green with no fences between properties, clusters of small forests, all adding to the pleasant pastoral scenery. Everything in Switzerland is clean and crisp!

We arrived at 2PM in Bern, checked into our B&B located by the train station, and walked into Bern. Our room was rather plain, but large for European standards. We shared a bathroom with others, and our view was of the train station. But it was clean and well operated – Swiss style and inexpensive.

The historic area is large, but walkable in an afternoon. We spent two hours walking its streets before returning for a nap, and then back out again for more exploring, pizza dinner and then a walk back home. Bern is a town of clock towers (Swiss love their timepieces!) and fountains, with numbers of them throughout the town. Bern is also 270º surrounded by water as it is situated on a hairpin turn of the Rhone river, so there are numerous bridges crossing the Rhone. The are numerous lovely buildings, such as the federal building, as this is the capital city of Switzerland.

From Bern we travelled a short distance, into France, and stayed at a charming B&B (La Maison a Cote) in the town of Pontarlier. Not a big town, it didn’t take us long to walk its downtown streets. What was most interesting was the Chateau de Joux which is at the entry of the town, guarding the pass between the mountains into France. Flo stayed at the hotel to rest and I did a tour of the Chateau, which was amazing and would do it again.

Valley drive following Le Doubs river.

Valley drive following Le Doubs river.

We stayed in Pontarlier just one night, leaving the next morning for Beaune. We decided to take some back roads and discovered a great drive through a valley following the Doubs river. We took the N57 up to Mouthier Haute Pierre, and then the D67 to Organs. We passed through the riverside town of Organs, where we walked around a bit, and then continued, visiting the very classically stylish chateau of Cleron, situated along the banks of the river.

We arrived in Beaune in the late afternoon to our hotel that lies just outside of the town, the charming Chateau de Challanges. Situated in a small forest and surrounded by trees and gardens, the hotel was delightful. It may have been better to be in Beaune, but if exploring the wine region, this is a wonderful place to use as a base. And if you really want to see the area, they hotel also has a helicopter and offers tours!

We went back into Beaune for dinner in the evening, first walking around town and then began searching for a restaurant that was open. This was a little difficult as a lot of the restaurants are closed on Sunday and Monday. We settled on Le Fleury, situated behind/next to the Hospice. We both had the Bouef de Burgundiose, followed by the cheese plate and then an amazing dark chocolate, mousse with dried fruit dessert. Amazing. And it was washed down with a wonderful bottle of Chorey les Beaunes, Tollot-Beut 2012, which we ended up buying six bottles of from the manager of Chateau de Challanges.

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Choir music venue in the Beaune wine museum

It happened to the week of the Music Festival, when throughout France music events are held in most towns and villages. Throughout the old town area there were numerous free venues to take in; and it was a lot of fun.

Walking the streets of Beaune

Walking the streets of Beaune

Beaune is a wonderful town for walking, a lot to take in, and I look forward to a return trip to take in even more. Many of the roads are pedestrian only and cobble stoned, and are lined with wine shops, wine bars and restaurants with extensive wine lists. Lovely architecture, very clean and easy to get around.

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It’s definitely necessary to take in the Hospices of Beaune, or Hôtel-Dieu de Beaune, which is a former charitable almshouse or hospital. It was founded in 1443 by Nicolas Rolin, chancellor of Burgundy, as a hospital for the poor. The original hospital building is one of the finest examples of French fifteenth-century architecture, and is now a fascinating museum. It served as a hospital right up into the 60s, for more than 500 years. Audio recordings are available with the entry price and it is very well documented and extremely interesting.

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The main hall of the Beaune Hospice

Luxembourg reminds me of Andora; a small country that offers offshore-like services. But rather than being surrounded by ski hills and high mountain peaks, Luxembourg has rolling hills, and a very picturesque capital of Luxembourg City.

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Our trip finished off in Paris, where we met up with my parents who were finishing off a river cruise. We visited the Louvre together, arriving only to find a long, long line of people waiting to purchase tickets. So we walked the gardens instead and had lunch at a bistro by the reflection pond. When leaving we found that the line was no down to only a few people, so we bought tickets and did the tour of the Louvre. I guess everyone was at lunch! We stayed in Paris for four days and finally took the train back to Nice.

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Entrance to the Louvre

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The Hall of Mirrors