French friends, festivals & La Fleuriste… France après Covid.

French friends, festivals & La Fleuriste… France après Covid.

Sometimes a building just talks to me... but even though it was love at first sight with La Fleuriste, my dream French property is still out there somewhere!

Guest: Paul McVeigh

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Over the past couple of years travelling anywhere has been a challenge and for most people, it has been completely out of the question during what I call “the lost COVID years”.

My husband Paul has travelled in France a number of times with me pre-COVID (which we chatted about way back in episode 16 and 17). That trip included a visit to Paris, followed by a roadtrip to Provence. On our more recent trip to France in the French summer of 2022 we went on an epic road trip after another Paris stay.

This blog post and related podcast chat is part 1 of a two episode sequence, as there is just too much to fit into one episode!

In this part 1 we’re exploring our arrival and stay in Paris pre our roadtrip, as well as our wonderful experiences that followed in the Loire Valley and down in the Pays Basque, and next time we will focus on our return back to Paris that took us through the Dordogne, and our final days in Paris before our return to Australia.

Hot weather tourists

Luckily for me Paul shares my love of France and all things French. For this recent trip I went across to London first and had a week or so in Paris before Paul joined me. I left London on their hottest day on record and then arrived in Paris for only the third time in recorded history that Paris had experienced days over 40! So my advice is to really consider if travelling to Europe in the high peak of summer is right for you, because even people who like hot weather may find the intensity of energy required when travelling and being a tourist in a city like Paris, will be difficult in the extreme heat and you don’t really get good bang for your buck when you can’t maximise your time there.

Accommodation musts

I have a couple of not negotiables for choosing accommodation when travelling to France. One is that the apartment or hotel must have a lift if not on the ground floor, as many of those gorgeous old buildings were built before the technology of a lift and only have staircases! Beautiful ornate staircases in some places but not much fun to carry luggage up and down! So a lift is crucial for me and my second not negotiable is either air conditioning or heating depending on the season. during this stay in Paris we had a cute Airbnb on the top floor in the little dormer windows of a beautiful old building on the Ile St Louis with a divine view of the river, a lift and aircon! But even with that I found that it was just too hot to do more than one thing a day and I needed to return to the apartment most afternoons to recover from the heat.

Paris like a local

Before Paul joined me, I caught up with some gorgeous friends I have chatted to previously on the podcast.

I went to Versailles to meet amazing baker and pastry chef Molly Wilkinson. I had a picnic in the Buttes-Chaumont parc in the 19th with tap-dancer extraordinaire and Paris author, the divine Ruby Boukabou. I had early morning coffee with photographer and podcaster Krystal Kenney. I enjoyed a wonderful late arvo Aperol Spritz with French Lifestyle Coach the gorgeous Beeta Hashempour and I had after work drinks like a local on the river with author and all-round beautiful soul Lindy Viandier! It was a jam-packed week! But it was a week where I wasn’t a tourist, rather more seeing the city with people who lived there. That was my favourite part of being in Paris on this trip, the deeper connections I made with some beautiful people.

Meandering around the Marais

One afternoon after Paul arrived, we just meandered around the Marais in the region not far from the Rue de Rosiers and also near the St Paul area. I don’t think we had any plans so we stumbled across the Musee Carnavalet which had a café just opened in its beautiful gardens. The museum is free to get in, not too busy and was fascinating too. I highly recommend looking it up and going there.

We wandered onto the Place des Vosges with its gorgeous wide colonnades and big square. We found a little door in one corner of the Place de Vosges that took us through to what seemed like a secret huge walled garden where there was a violinist playing in a shady corner. The acoustics were incredible and it gave the whole moment an air of a magical discovery.

We wandered back through the Place de Vosges and did a spot of shopping in the winding streets of the Marais where we found a terrific truffle store in the Rue de Rosiers. A perfect place to purchase some special treats to take home.

Chinon, Loire Valley

So from Paris on this trip we caught the TGV to Tours where we hired a car. We then drove to one of my fave places in France, Chinon in the Loire Valley. Tell me what you thought of Chinon.

We stayed in an Airbnb in the medieval part of the town. It’s a fascinating place on the banks of the Vienne River and has a history that goes back to prehistoric times as well as the many significant historical events occurring through the middle ages right through to the revolution. Joan of Arc road out from the fortress to battle in the mid-1400s and for many years Chinon was the favoured royal residence of the French kings. It’s now a UNESCO World Heritage Site and over the last 50 years or so it has been undergoing some careful restoration. For me though, I just love the feel of the place, the weekly market, the wine of the region, the quaint streets and connection to the past, the gorgeous people.

I always like to buy one thing of quality on each trip rather than lots of little cheapo things which will only get turfed out at some point or break as soon as I get home! On this trip I bought  a lovely vintage serving platter from a brocante in Chinon. A beautiful reminder of our holiday now we’re back home.

Buying a house in France?

So one reason we went to Chinon on this trip was because it was near a house that I had fallen in love with on the internet! The lovely Karen Horne from Dream French Properties has been on the LFF podcast before and she posted about a quaint little house on her Instagram. I chatted to her about it and then got in touch with the agent. The house still hadn’t sold by the time we got to France so I made an appointment to go and see it in a nearby village of Les Trois-Moutiers. The agent met us at the house. I fell head over heels in love with the house. Every room just spoke to me and I could see so much potential. It even had a cat that followed us around and I am such a crazy cat lady I thought that must be a sign! But alas there was just too much work to be done for the amount of time we could realistically spend there every year.

Andrew Prior Fabulously Delicious

Winding our way south we made our way to a beautiful little village, Montmorillon to stay with the wonderful MasterChef-alumni Andrew Prior. Andrew served us a seven-course meal which is now equal to a previous lunch experience in the Dordogne which I often describe as the best meal of my life. Sitting in his garden and eating in the fading French light was such a beautiful experience.

The next day Andrew and I took a beautiful morning stroll with his pupsters through Montmorillon and he pointed out loads of interesting sights to see. I realised then that even in little obscure villages like that, which I’d never heard of before there are fabulous things to see and experience in France.

Our French Family in the Pays Basque

Our road trip continued further into the south west and we stayed for a week or so with our Loulabelle’s FrancoFiles fave French correspondent Sarah Zwick from Be My Guest Immersions and her family (who refer to themselves to me as my French family!) Sarah hosts immersions in their beautiful home in the Basque region and they are so welcoming!

Fêtes de Bayonne

We were there during the time of the Fetes de Bayonne which is an incredible festival that always starts on the Wednesday before the first Sunday in August. As a tourist it can be difficult to navigate without some preparation so if you’re intending going to the Fêtes de Bayonne make sure you do a little homework before you get there! Check out the links below.

There are also some particular customs to be aware of when making your preparations. Everyone wears white to this festival so if you’re planning on going for more than one day make sure you pack enough white clothes to get through all your planned days of shenanigans! Most people wear a red scarf around the neck which you can buy in stalls near the entrance to the festival if you don’t have one, and a red sash like a cummerbund around the waist.

One environmentally friendly concept they have at the Fêtes de Bayonne are little plastic cups printed differently each year and collected by festival goers. Cups can be brought back each year and then exchanged for new ones at all of the bars throughout the city.

There are loads of things to see and experience which I chatted about with Sarah in podcast episode 71.

Basque villages

There are so many cute Basque villages. The port town of St Jean de Luz has the exquisite church of St John the Baptist that Louis XIV built for his marriage to Princess Maria Theresa of Spain.

The little village of Sauveterre de Bearn is so quaint on the side of a hill with a medieval church and a restaurant which was almost more like a pub, kind of unusual in France. It had a deck with a beautiful view over the valley and creek down below.

There are a number of Plus Beaux Villages, which are villages that meet the criteria to be declared one of the most beautiful villages in France, and we visited La Bastide-Clairence which was founded in 1312.

Even the villages that don’t fit the formal criteria of the Plus Beaux Village rules are just so gorgeously quaint with their stone walls, painted shutters, tiny streets with greenery finding any tight spot to grow from and tumble out over the buildings. I also love their quirky doors! Some of the doors and doorways are just works of art!

Piment d’Espelette

A particular feature of cooking in the Pays Basque is the use of Piment d’Espelette.

Piment d’Espelette is a wonderful peppery chili. We have brought some home and add it to many chicken and fish dishes. Find some ideas for using Piment d’Espelette here.

Petit Train de la Rhune

I have visited one of the favourite tourist attractions of the Pays Basque before. The Petit Train de la Rhune was something I was so looking forward to sharing with Paul. The train travels up the steep incline on the side of the 905m Rhune mountain and although not as high as some other mountains in France, the views are spectacular. From the top you can see Spain one way and France the other. There are photos on plaques at the top to assist with identification of what villages and towns you can see stretched out down below.

When Paul and I visited on this trip, we got there early because of the predicted heat but the top was still above the clouds so we couldn’t see a thing through the mist! The cloud started to lift about the same time we headed back down the mountain and we did get to see the wild horses that live along the track called Pottok which are incredibly beautiful. They’re a registered separate breed of horse in Spain and are in danger of extinction, so it was very special to see them.


We heard so much music at the Fêtes de Bayonne! We have added a couple of new tunes to the LFF Spotify playlist. One from the Fêtes, as well as a current song on the French charts that played daily on the radio during our road tripping! Their YouTube clips are here below:

Cette année-là by Claude François (the ripper French version of December 1963 by the Four Seasons)

PS: Je t’aime by Christophe Willem


We loved the Gâteau Basque that could be bought in most towns in the south-west corner of France. Find a recipe to make your own below or buy one ready made from Frenchilicious Kitchen in Melbourne, Australia.

Gâteau Basque recipe

More Links:

Musee Carnavalet

Fêtes de Bayonne – info & links

Les Plus Beaux Villages

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