Take the small roads for a local experience
It’s great to see the famous sights and big cities when traveling, but the real memories are made in off-the-beaten-path adventures where you get to slow down and experience the country, not just watch it fly by through a tour bus window. The best vacations include a combination of the two. Don’t get me wrong; there are a lot of benefits to traveling on a tour. Tours allow you to travel care-free, with no planning. But sometimes, you have to just wing it and see where the adventure will lead. Here is a story from one of my trips to France and the surprising places you can find when things don’t go as planned.
After a flight up from Madrid, we arrived at Paris’ Charles de Gaulle airport by mid-afternoon. I rented a small car and soon we were out of the airport and on the highway toward Paris. It being Friday afternoon, I was prepared for some traffic jams, but so far it didn’t seem too bad. The highway leaving the airport was virtually free of cars, but by the time we reached the Périphérique, Paris’ big ring-road around the city center, we were in bumper-to-bumper traffic. It wasn’t quite at a standstill, but we were inching along at less than 10 mph.
Knowing Paris, I figured we were in store for at least an hour of stop-and-go traffic. But surely by the time we turned off the Périphérique and headed southwest it would thin out to nothing. After two hours and less than 20 kilometers, I knew it would be hours before reaching Amboise. To make matters worse we had no hotel reservation, no real plan for the next two days, and no plans for the night’s dinner. What we did know was that reaching Amboise in the afternoon was now out of the question.
Luckily I had my GPS unit with me and we got it up and running. After another hour on the highway, in the miserable traffic, we finally found a two-lane road that would take us through the countryside to the Loire Valley. Well anything would be better than sitting in traffic for hours on end…so we took the little road.
Immediately the road was clear, and it was smooth sailing. Until we came to the first town. Friday afternoon must be the time for everyone to get out and go somewhere because there was loads of traffic. Although, it was nowhere near as bad as what we had encountered on the highway. The next hour passed with us speeding along our way in the rural areas between each little town and then slowing down in the town centers. This wasn’t bad though. We got to experience several small rural towns in France.
By now it was getting late, probably close to nine o’clock. I’d planned on finding a hotel in Amboise, but that was still an hour away. It really didn’t matter what time we arrived as long as we could get rooms for the night and a good meal. We were somewhere along the Loire River near Chambord when I saw it…and drove right on by. We had a goal and destination in mind, but that place back there looked like my kind of place. So at the next round-a-bout I did a 180 and decided to go back to check it out.
La Ferme des 3 Maillets
The place was an old two-story stone building with ivy climbing up the side. There, in huge painted-on letters, was a sign advertising “Hotel** and Grill.” Even with my limited French vocabulary I could tell we could find rooms and food. As I pulled into the gravel parking lot I knew I’d made a good choice. There were several cars and the people milling around were all speaking French. I walked into the lobby and really had to dig deep into my French vocab to ask if they had two rooms and dinner. The lady at the desk said “no problem” offered a really good price and booked our dinner for us too.
We settled in and then walked back downstairs for dinner. The restaurant was just what you’d think a farmhouse grill would look like in the US. In sort of the “Cracker Barrel” style, there were ancient tools and other decor hanging from the walls and ceiling. On one wall there was a huge stone fireplace, complete with a cozy fire. Large picture windows looked out onto a little garden and the wheat fields beyond. I think we were one of the last seatings of the evening because all the other tables were either empty or filled with people involved in dessert or conversation.
The food was wonderful! Natalie and I had escargot, an assortment of duck, steak, vegetables, and dessert. All was washed down with a local Loire Valley wine. La Ferme des 3 Maillets is one of those rare finds that only happen if you let go of your inhibitions and get off the beaten path. Even though the staff spoke very little English and Natalie and I spoke very little French, we all managed to get our points across and have a great time.
Often, I have people ask about the idea of the “French being a bit arrogant.” First of all, I don’t buy into the idea and secondly, experiences like this one are proof that this is just a stereotype. The staff at the inn were wonderfully hospitable and went out of their way to make our dinner and our stay a grand experience. I’d go out of my way to eat and stay here again.
So when you’re traveling, just remember not to panic when things don’t go as expected. It is often the unplanned adventures like this one that turns out to be the most fun. And if you are ever in the Loire River Valley near the town of Avaray, find La Ferme des 3 Maillets, stay a night, have a great dining experience, and really get a chance to explore another side of France.
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David McGuffin is Founder and CEO of David McGuffin’s Exploring Europe, Inc., based in Middleburg, Florida. You can connect with him on Twitter, Facebook, Google+,LinkedIn and YouTube. David spends his time in Europe organizing and leading small group and independent tours to European destinations. In business since 2001, David has provided exceptional travel opportunities to several thousand satisfied customers. You can find out more about David and his European tours at his website, http://davidmcguffin.com.