Draguignan, France

I know what you’re thinking and no, unfortunately, this is not a city for drag queens. Quite the opposite in fact. We went to Draguignan to say hi to our friend’s aunt who is a nun in a convent there. Apparently the funny name of the town comes from an old legend about a bishop, called Saint Hermentaire who allegedly killed a dragon and saved a bunch of people back in the day. Strange story, but I'll take it. 

It was cool to see how they live and it was quite impressive to see all the handiwork these charming ladies do! They’ve renovated the whole place themselves! We learned about their efforts to help others in need, and it definitely inspired me to find new ways to volunteer in my free time. The nuns were all very kind and invited us to a delicious lunch and a tour of the town. 

Nice, France

There’s just no better way to say it, Nice was so nice! Ha. See what I did there? But really, Nice is much nicer than Cannes in my opinion. Cannes just sort of feels a bit fake and plastic next to it (not that I didn’t enjoy passing though Cannes again and having a flashback to the time I went to the Cannes Lions Festival!). Walking around we noticed a cool-looking waterfall peeking at us from the top of a big hill. We found our way up the Colline du Chateau and were rewarded with an incredible view of the city. We had some Nicoise salad and some fresh fish soup, paired with some crisp white wine and the endless secondhand smoke from our french friends - it felt pretty damn authentic.

Antibes, France

Again, we were lucky enough to stay with our friend in her family’s summer house in Antibes (right by the legendary Hôtel du Cap Eden Roc, where Hemingway and Picasso used to hang out - NO BIG DEAL). This house was the perfect place for a group of 7 twenty-something-year-olds to get snobby, brag about our cooking skills, and soak in the summer sun with umbrellas in our cocktails. It felt like “L’auberge espagnol” with so many international people the house. English, Spanish and French were all spoken and mixed together like some crazy drunk version of It’s a Small World. The south of France is usually the kind of place I try to stay away from since it’s so overcrowded with tourists, but we discovered a part of Antibes that made our stay there 100% worthwhile. Right there, in the midst of all the millionaires’ villas, there’s a little dirt path that transports you to another world. Just picture it: beautiful limestone cliffs that lead off into the brightest bluest sea you’ve ever seen, and then breathtaking paths that wind around pine trees and olive trees. It’s amazing. I was surprised to see how narrow and uneven parts of the path were, but that only made it even more perfect for a hike! Along the trail, we spotted some locals casually jumping off some of the cliffs. Nervous and excited, both of us managed to summon up the courage to jump off that 12 meter (40ft) jump. WOO! I highly doubt I’ll ever have the guts to do that again, but it was definitely an experience worth having at least once in a lifetime. 

The old town of Antibes is super cute. There’s a very nice fresh foods market that is accompanied by great accordion street performers who add to the happy ambience of the place. We stuck around the town for Bastille day and we saw the fireworks show from the top of a hill by a lighthouse. What an amazing sight to see! During the night, we went out to a club in Juan les Pins which was great fun, and on another night we checked out a beach club on the way to Nice called “La Siesta” where we danced our little sandy feet off into the night – but none of that comes close to the fun we had just goofing around the house making good food and playing endless card games. (Take me back!)

Mouriès, France

On our way to Antibes, our friend let us crash at his place in Mouriés, a small picturesque village near Montpellier. It’s definitely not on your typical tourist destination list, but if you’re looking for a quiet, peaceful place to just go relax, this might be it. The area is known for it’s olive oil production and its many traditional festivals. We arrived on a deathly hot summer day, but luckily, our friends' beautiful pool and crisp white wine came along to gracefully save the day.

Lacanau & Arcachon, France

Another thing that I love about Bordeaux is how close it is to the beach! We made a few day trips to the nearby coast during our stay in Bordeaux.

First we checked out Lacanau which was only about an hour away. We went straight to the beach, but I’ve heard great things about the lakes and nature reserves in the area so I guess we’ll have to save those for next time! Lacanau’s beach area has a large pedestrian strip lined with tacky shops, restaurants, and ice cream kiosks that lead you right to the water. The beach itself has nice soft sand but the water seems to have a very strong and powerful current. We constantly had to move our stuff back as the tide rose and rose. At one point, we tried to make a sand moat around our stuff and create our own little island. It actually worked pretty well… for a little while. After our last failed attempt there was only one thing left to do… drink mojitos and margaritas! 

Arcachon is also about an hour away from Bordeaux and I think out of the two, this was my favorite. It’s a cute little beach town that emits an appropriately relaxed mood. We wandered through the town a while and stumbled upon a lovely market with fresh produce and seafood that was all pretty much still alive. Once our stomachs started to grumble we decided to sit down at a place that had a sign announcing they served “moule frite au roquefort” AKA blue cheese mussels and OH MY GOD they were SO freaking delicious. After that, all we wanted was a siesta under the sun so we walked over to the beach to catch some rays. The tide in this one was good to us and stayed put, so we were able to relax in the perfect sand and dream about the mussels we had just devoured.

Bordeaux, France

Let me just start off by saying I’m seriously considering moving here for a while. Bordeaux is amazing. It’s like a smaller, better Paris (sorry Paris, I still love you!). Bordeaux has a really cool, down-to-earth vibe and every café, restaurant, and bar seems to call you in to enjoy the jazzy atmosphere. Darwin on Wednesdays in the Magasin Général is a must for the artsy bohemian hipster crowd. And every other day, feel free to go across the street to La Guinguette Chez Alriq for a nice dinner or wine accompanied by live jazz. Also, don’t leave Bordeaux without heading over to iBoat for a fun dance party… on a boat!  If you like wine, check out "L'&tiquette"! One of the days there, we went to a dégustation (opening/tasting party) there and we got to try some of the best wines I’ve ever had IN MY LIFE. You don't even have to be an expert since their wines are easily labeled as "fresh & crisp" "light & delightful" or "strong & spicy" – Trust me, the French really know their wine!

For food, I highly recommend the restaurant Le Bar de la Marine. It’s a hidden gem with amazing food and perfect garden seating. There’s also a cute tiny café by the old city called Label Terre which serves fast, fresh, local and seasonal quiches, salads, and sandwiches for your healthy and delicious afternoon fix. They also have free WiFi so we were happy to camp out there for a few hours and get some work done. Honestly, I can't wait to go back.

Velles, France

Conveniently in the area, we decided to pop by Velles to visit some friends for a birthday party. The party’s theme?: “Your mother wouldn’t let you go out like this". Fake tats and piercings filled the farm house patio that night as we danced and drank tequila under the stars. The next day we were shown around the family property. Casually, this includes a series of CASTLES, acres of fields, a lake, and a forest where they hunt twice a year in a big event that the family organizes. Our new friends Marie, Raoul, and their mother were the best hosts anyone could ever ask for. Their grandmother lives next door (in one of the family castles) and I swear her house feels like you just stepped into the game “CLUE” because each room has its own theme, dictated by the wallpaper. IT EVEN HAS A SECRET PASSAGEWAY that leads to the study... I felt like a kid in a candy shop. Seriously, Wes Anderson should use this house in one of his movies. Unfortunately, I was to scared of coming off as rude and didn’t manage to take any photos in there! I’ll have to return! You might be able to check it out too if you ever choose to do the “Camino de Santiago de Compostela”. The grandmother is so cool, she offers housing for travellers passing through on the pilgrimage walk.

Orléans & les Châteaux de la Loire

Orléans took me by surprise with its beauty. We took a stroll around the old town and admired the majestic cathedral 'Ste-Croix’ and the half-timbered architecture sprinkled across the city. Our friend Marine went to boarding school here, so she was the perfect tour guide. We were sipping on some wine, dangling our feet to the Loire river, when some live music called us to the dance floor. We danced our feet off until the night took over, and after all that, a good meal was in order! So we walked back into the old city, and decidedly stuffed our faces with delicious tartines and foie gras. 

After checking out Orléans, the next “must” in the Loire Valley area is of course to check out the beautiful Chateaux! 'Chateau de Chenonceau’ is by far the prettiest castle I’ve ever seen. It was mostly used by women (kings’ mistresses and/or widows) so it definitely has a nice feminine touch. The castle, even with its beautiful arches that cross the Cher River, is of a size that when compared to other overly-lavish estates, feels surprisingly cozy and actually quite liveable. It also looks just like a castle straight out of a Disney movie - mommy can I be a princess now?! One of the most impressive parts is getting lost in the maze garden designed by Catherine de’ Medici. If you ever visit, give it a try and see if you can find your way out without any breadcrumbs!

Normandie, France

We hit the road with Marine and our other friend Hayley and eagerly started our France-to-Croatia road-trip! Our first stop: Normandy. Besides visiting for its historical associations to D-Day, there are many more reasons to check out the Normandy region of France. Like for example, their seafood and cheese! If you're a fan of scallops, mussels, and camembert (like we are) you should definitely plan a visit to the shore. If you're somehow a very sad human and you don't enjoy those lovely things that bring happiness to the world, you can also just visit to see all the pretty boats!

On the road, we could already start seeing some typical Normandy chaumières scattered along the countryside villages. Little castles and forts seem to pop up everywhere you look! As the sun was starting to set, we arrived in Cherbourg where we would be staying with a friend for a few nights. He warmly welcomed us to his home and took us out to see the beautiful sunset in the chilly seashore. But even looking out at those beautiful orange and pink clouds kissing the waves, I could’t help but think of the thousands of soldiers and servicemen that died on those very same waters so many years ago. 

Since we were already in the area, we knew we had to visit the famous Mont Saint-Michel (which should probably be considered a World Wonder by the way). From far away, it looks like something out of Lord of the Rings. A castle, in the middle of nowhere, that seems to be floating in the water. Inside however, the magic can get a little bit lost. All of the sudden, you find yourself shoulder to shoulder with the most irritating tourists.  So we did our best to ignore them and walked right up to the shop where we bought copious amounts of La Mère Poulard’s famous traditional biscuits. SO GOOD. We also took a break from the walking and tried one of the traditional galettes. They're basically a spongier, savory version of a crêpe, and they're absolutely delicious. Most of them I think come with an egg sitting right on top... mmm.  

Fun fact: In French slang, “making a galette” is also used to describe when a person is so drunk, they vomit all over making a huge mess! Believe me, once we learned this term, it was used many times in the remainder of our trip (*Disclaimer: not that we were ever the ones making any of the galettes of course!*)

Bazemont, France

Just outside of Paris, Bazemont is a small town where we spent some days with our good friend Marine and her family. We were amazed the second we saw this beautiful countryside home with vines and flowers growing up and around all the walls. There’s also a garden surrounding the house where Marine’s mom grows all kinds of fresh herbs and berries to use in the kitchen - for a pair of proper foodies like us, this is heaven.

Marine’s parents were incredibly welcoming and they showed us the ins-and-outs of proper French tradition. For example, we had apéro with them every evening (AKA pregame your dinner with some drinks and appetizers) and we learned that eating salty food in the morning –like our beloved eggs– is considered very strange (Marine would joke that it's simply BARBARIC!) . They always encouraged us to practice our French with them and they were just so cool! The kind of people that you meet and you think, if we were the same age, we would hang out all the time. I mean, just take a minute to appreciate Marine’s father’s amazing little car in the pictures below –now that’s a cool dad! And better yet, they have a huge pool in the patio! So obviously, we decided to have a big summer bash and invite all of Marine’s close friends to come over to party. We really had such a great time there. Whoever says the french are not friendly should meet Marine and her family because they could not be further from that description.

Paris, France

Paris. City of love and romance. Cultural center for art, fashion, gastronomy, and mean waiters. Beyond the obvious Eiffel Tower, Notre-Dame, and Louvre, this city has so much more to offer if you know where to look. We were lucky enough to be shown around by a local and got to live “like Parisians” for a couple of weeks.

During the day, we walked around Paris, ate some delicious macaroons from Angelina, and found our way to the AntiCafé Louvre in the Rue de Richelieu - which is awesome. It’s the perfect place to sit down in a comfy sofa and get some work done (if you’re a designer-blogger-traveler like me). In this cozy little café, you pay for the hour instead of paying for each individual coffee. Great concept right? Basically, for just €4 an hour (or €12 for the full day) you get unlimited coffee, teas, toast with different kinds of spreads, snacks like carrots and hummus, little biscuits and of course high-speed WiFi. There’s even a friendly barista who prepares nice cappuccinos and espressos - all included in those €4! You also get access to their projector, printer, scanner and board games. Plus, you can bring your own snacks if what they have isn’t enough. It’s also a good place to make some new friends that are also freelancing or working on some kind of start-up.

As for the nightlife, my favorite local hangout area we went to was the "Canal Saint Martin". First, we went to "Paname Brewing Company,” which is a cool beer spot with a great atmosphere that just recently opened up. Then we checked out the péniches (boat bars) to watch the sunset, and headed over to the "Point Éphémère" for dancing, free photo booth pictures, and cool people. We also got to experience the craziness of “La Fête de la Musique” which is the Parisian way to celebrate the summer solstice with a day of free live music all over the city. So much good energy filled the streets of Paris and signs everywhere read “faites de la musique” which means “make music” and plays up the name of the festival.