So what do for a New Years escapade to France?
Many people ask me what I do for New Years in Paris. Perhaps they imagine New Years in the city of love to be filled with the swirl of the city lights, the gaze on the Eiffel Tower, the romantic cruises on the seine river....
Nyahhh... We go for steaming bowl of Pho noodle soup and tender morsels of Camobodian style Loc Lac Beef at Tricotin - Hands down our favorite Hole in the Wall Asian Diner in Paris.
Why? - It comes down to two reasons: Prices and Reservations.
There are half a million tourists that come to Paris expecting the Soiree of a life time and therefore they make you pay for it. It's ok to shell out $400 for dinner if you flew halfway across the world to get there for that special France moment of champagne and truffles to celebrate a successful 2010 but for us who live here, we will probably eat at that same restaurant a few times in the year so it begins to lose its luster once the price begins to double.
The other reason why? Unless you reserved in November for your must visit restaurant, you will most likely not get a seat unless you are an entertainer with a single word or symbol for your name.
So what would I suggest to you my Jet setter friend?
Experience, the charms of small rural villages in France.
Stay in a quiet bed and breakfast and discover the treasures of the French terroire. Try a real crepe made with the local ground flour, the cream from the dairy, and the eggs from the farm next door. Drink the local wine, and eat a plate of stinky cheese.
If your flying into Paris, its best to do something within easy access. North of Paris, is Normandy. My favorite region is around Mont St. Michel. That in itself is probably the top destination in france outside of Paris.
It is an 11 century monastery built on an island that is only accessible by foot when the tide goes down. The moving tide is the fastest in the world and claims several lives each year. Unless you can run faster than a horse, or surf like a Hawaiian you will most likely not make it back. Luckily there is a bridge now so you don't have to be an expert in tidal charts to get there.
Around there, the food is also quite unique. Especially if your into seafood, but if not, the food is still amazing for the carnivore in you(Agneau pré salé is a lamb that eats a unique herb in the salt marshes of Mont Saint Michel - http://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Agneau_de_pr%C3%A9-sal%C3%A9).
For small villages, I like to go to Cancale, which is famous for its oysters. I like to go straight to the beach where you can buy a dozen fresh oysters for $5 and a bottle of iced crisp white wine to wash it down for $6. Just ask the locals where the trash for the oyster shells are. "Just throw it back into the water!" You mean, I pay 11 bucks AND get to shuck, slurp, and promote littering???!! For some reason it appeals to my caveman instincts just to eat a raw creature and chuck the leftover carcass back into the sea.
Cancale is right around the corner from the Mont St Michel and for evening entertainment you can visit Saint malo around the corner and get a glimpse of how the French used to indulge in luxurious carnival getaways 100 years ago. I consider it the Coney Island of France.
This trip is about a 3.5-4 hour drive from paris. Trains do stop in the areas nearby from the terminal Montparnasse in Paris (Granville and Avranche i believe). http://www.sncf.com/en_EN/flash/
If you want to go East Bound of Paris for a 45m-1 hour drive/trainride, I suggest to take a trip to Champagne country. Reims is the capital of the champagne region, and boasts world class brands such as veuve clicquot (There is a picture of Jean Claude Van Damme attending a party on the wall), Tattinger, and Pieper Heidsick.
For me, I actually like to go a little bit smaller and make my way through Epernay. Think small town, wall to wall champagne houses. Take a car and a designated driver (or a bus tour from the tourism office) for the charming Champagne country road tour and relax those jet lagged feet in one of the local country house spas. Not a big night life here, so spend the night in reims and organize a day tour in Epernay if you fancy to mix partying into the thrip.
You can do bed and breakfast here (Auberge in French), but I think that a stay at a Chateau is simply delightful (pronounce this with a snobby high british accent). Dinner is usually a 4 hour affair, served on silver platters and an endless succession of mini plates inbetween your apperitif, appetizer, main course, cheese course, desert course, coffee, digestive drink, and finally the stick your toothbrush in the back of your throat to induce dietary hurling course.
For the West of Paris, I would recommend to take a 2 hour trip to the king of the castle regions, Tours. Let's just say that a stay at hotel there resembles more of a hunting lodge than a castle. Tours was once a big hunting destination and in most hotels and restaurants that I stayed at, I had to eat next to a stuffed turkey or the head of a slain bambi mounted on the wall.
There is a scenic route that goes through dozens of historic castles. My only reference point before this visit was sleeping beauty castle in Orange County, California so I was pretty impressed to see actual castles with actual inhabitants.
Ok, so we spoke about North, we spoke about East, we spoke about West. What about the South of Paris?
My first introductions to the region South of Paris was in my level 2 French course with Professor Eric at the French Language Institute.
"Here is France. It has 8 sides to it. we call it the Octogon
What is here in the middle of France?"
Classmate 1: Mountains!
Classmate 2: Rivers!
"Professor Eric: There is NOTHING! C'est Vide (empty)! There is No reason to go here! Just avoid it all costs. They don't even have teeth!"
So there you have it folks. Thanks to professor Eric at the French language institute I have no advice for you for South of Paris except for where to get gas.