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If you have been anything like me lately and practically running around like a chicken with its head cut off, you’ll know that there is nothing more desirable than a peaceful place to escape to in order to leave the bustle and stress of Paris behind. While this place could have a variety  of names (Cote d’Azur, Biarritz…to name a few), there is one that you might not have thought of and that won’t break your bank.

It’s called Giverny. Yes, like in Claude Monet‘s Giverny. A glorious place where a serene calm reigns and a natural beauty is in abundance. Only an hour from Paris by car, and an hour and a half by train (trains leave out of Gare St. Lazare and get into Vernon – from Vernon it’s a 15 miunute bus ride), Giverny is close enough to do a day trip, and well worth a weekend stay. A small ivy covered town, its a step back into the past to a time when artists such as Claude Monet flocked to the countryside to capture pictoresque landscapes on their canvases and sip tea in a blossoming garden. Giverny, with its quaint cafes and darling bread and breakfasts allows one to slow down and take in what was the great inspiration behind some of the most stunning chef d’oeuvres of the 19th century. Lily ponds, flower gardens, orchards, row boats… Giverny has preseved it all and is a must see at any time of the year.

For museum information visit the Claude Monet Foundation’s website. The museum holds original pieces and often has great exhibitions, the current one is impressionism featuring. I highly recommend visiting Claude Monet’s house and garden, which allows you to see how he lived at the time, and to visit his unique gardens and lily pond. The walls of his house are adorned by an exquisite collection of Japanese art that Monet cherished – so also very much worth the visit. For those who love impressionism, viewing the actual lily pond is truly a spectacular sight that could keep you gazing dreamily for hours! My photos don’t do it justice!

Ourcq Canal

Not too long ago, I was enjoying an afterwork picnic on the banks of the Ourcq canal with some friends. As I gazed at the moss green water, I contemplated what it must have served as back in the day…perhaps a way to transport goods into the city? Where does it start?

That’s when I decided it might be worth exploring…exploring by bike. The following weekend, along with a friend, I rented a bike for a day at 20 euros (see here) and set out to ride up the Ourcq canal for as far as I could go.

The Poudrerie Forest

With no cars and a paved bike path the whole way, I rode approximately twenty kilometers to discover, to my suprise, grassy lawns, flowers, fishermen, kayakers, and a peaceful forest (Le Parc National Forestier de la Poudrerie).

Not only was I getting some serious exercise, but I really felt like I was outside of Paris on an adventure. Once we got out of a slightly industrial zone just north of the Parc de la Villette, it was just a long tree-lined rode along the glistening Ourcq canal. When we came across the Poudrerie forest, we pedaled on some trails through the forest and found ourselves the perfect picnic spot facing a large pond with a small island in it. Very picturesque!

Fishermen along the canal

While the Ourcq canal continued on without us, its source still a mystery, we vowed that the next bike ride would start off from where we started. We’ll get to the end someday!

All in all, if you want an outdoor, sporty day trip outside Paris for cheap, cycling up the Ourcq would definitely be up your alley. Just make sure you bring a picnic and som sunscreen, as there is hardly anything along the canal, and you are exposed to the elements. However, if you make it to the Poudrerie forest, there are some small snack shops, and one in particular that is inside a building that ressembles small castle.

Here is site (in French) with a good map and some background information: http://www.aufildelourcq.org/loisirs/promvelo.php

Happy cycling this summer!!

Deauville beach

Nothing announces the arrival of summer like a trip to the beach!! While Paris might seem rather isolated from any swimmable bodies of water (the Seine should not be considered swimmable, and neither should the Canal St. Martin though I have seen a brave drunk soul in the latter), Paris is only a two hour train ride away from large sandy Atlantic beaches.

Deauville-Trouville,  twin coastline towns in Normandy,  are absolutely  fabulous destinations for those looking to get out of the city for the weekend or even the day.  Trains go out of Paris’s Gare St. Lazare every hour so you can easily get there early to enjoy a full day at the beach, and then come back at a reasonable hour after you have enjoyed a nice seafood dinner. (for a SNCF train schedule click here) The Deauville-Trouville train station is about a fifteen minute walk form the beach, and walk is really nice because it leads you through the charming town of Deauville where you can peek into darling little boutiques along the way.

Deauville's twin town, Trouville.

Deauville’s beach is a classic with all its multi-colored umbrellas, beach front cafés, and of course the “changing rooms” of the rich and famous. The boardwalk offers public restrooms, ice cream stands, sandwich places and the odd beach store selling hats, sunscreen, towels….and anything else you might have forgotten. Just don’t expect it to be cheap! The water temperature in summer is refreshing and warm, okay, so not Mediterranean warm, but warm enough for enjoyable swimming and splashing around.

I have made it a yearly tradition to go with friends, and I have yet to be disappointed! It is truly a mini-vacation where you’ve thoroughly escaped the hustle and bustle of Paris, and entered that “endless” summer vacation zone!

Deauville's signature umbrellas