As in the US, there are many foods associated with the traditions of Christmas in France. In our experience with friends the big feast has always been dinner on December 24 that begins with oysters and often foie gras and always served with champagne. Roasted turkey with chestnut stuffing for the main course and it wouldn’t be dessert without the Bûche de Nöel, that cylindrical cake beautifully decorated as a yule log. If you’re in Provence you’re likely to see 13 additional after-dinner sweet treats including dried fruits and nougat. In our house, especially if we’ve partaken in one of those bountiful Christmas Eve banquets we take the next day off from the dining table, preferring to have “small bites” in front of the fire. We then spend the day reading and today it will be with some of the following books to help us answer, “Where do we go on vacation next?”
The Michelin Company first printed a travel guide in 1900 to encourage road trips in France that would hopefully sell more of their main product: tires. Their publishing services quickly expanded and their current catalog lists hundreds of titles in the “Green” travel guides section, maps and atlases, and of course the “Red” hotel and restaurant manuals containing the coveted Michelin stars. The pair of Green guides here are part of a series “Les Plus Beaux” (The Most Beautiful) with these highlighting parks, gardens, and villages, all of which are reached easily enough by car while getting there by train can be challenging. At the top of this page, on the tab labeled “Topics & Tags,” there is a section on using public transit to see many of these picturesque destinations.
Next is a book and map combination, or at least that’s how we use them, since they both cover rail routes in Europe. The book has 50 main journeys plus 26 “sidetracks” that are shorter excursions or further information about an area. Route details include suggestions of where to break your journey for the night with ideas about where to stay. The map (featured photo across the top) shows 6000 cities and towns with the rail lines, high-speed or conventional, that connect them. We especially like that scenic routes are outlined in green, making them easy to identify. A sheet-size magnifying glass is helpful to see the locations of those thousands of stations.
A similar book, but just for France, is Vacances en Train with the subtitle of “40 trips without a car to cover France from station to station”. All journeys start from one of nine big cities with details about what you will see along the way, where to stop off before reaching the final destination, and even ideas for a local treat such as a pastry or a beverage. In the gallery below I’ll put a map that shows the 9 originating stations and where you can get from there.
Our first blog post of the month for this past October started with “Slow Boat” and we’ll finish off today with “Slow Train” since that’s the title of a book written by a journalist for SNCF, the national railway of France. There are 30 escapes (map in gallery below) to get you out into nature using the smaller rail lines “to discover France far from the aseptic highways and infernal pace of the TGV” as the book cover says. As with the Vacances book above, there are suggestions for side trips and local specialities to look for.
We found all of these books here either in local stores or from online French retailers. Only the Europe by Rail guide is in English but the others are easy enough to follow even without being fluent in French. Titles, authors, and ISBNs are below.
Good reading and Merry Christmas!
This just in: The French amusement park Le Puy de Fou now has a website devoted to Le Grand Tour which is their brand new vintage-style luxury train journey around France starting next summer. It sounds similar to the trip we took earlier this year in Spain. Hmm, I wonder…? Anyway, here are 2 links, the first is an at-a-glance version from the Park while this is how to book it: https://www.legrandtour.com/
Les Plus Beaux Parcs et Jardins de France, Michelin 978-2067219687
Les Plus Beaux Villages de France, Michelin 978-2067226470
Europe by Rail, Nicky Gardner & Susanne Kries 978-3945225011
Rail Map Europe, European Rail Timetable 978-0995799820
Vacances en Train, Michelin 978-2067253230
Slow Train, Juliette Labaronne 978-2081442931