We are now a mere 2 days from leaving Paris and heading back to the United States, but we have had such fun this last month that I’m dying to document it here so we can re-live every wonderful moment of it when we’re back at
boring old home sweet home. (Can you tell that my feelings about leaving are a little conflicted?)
Anyway, upon the recommendation of friends and all-things-France experts, Gaelle and Nikhil, we decided to get away for a long weekend of upscale camping in the Loire Valley at Huttopia. Things did not start well, for while Chuck was stuck in the line from hell picking up our rental car a few metro stops away, I was still packing and Ruby was lying sprawled on the floor with a fever and a tummy ache. Sure enough, a few minutes later, she said she had to go to the bathroom, and just made it there before throwing up (luckily, mostly in the toilet). So by the time we had made it into the car with our stuff and our sick little angel, we were running a couple of hours behind schedule. It was not a pleasant ride for sweet Ruby (I will spare you the details), but we finally arrived at our campsite 2.5 hours later, after driving through fields of sunflowers and hay bales, and immediately fell in love with our little cabin on the edge of a small lake.
While Ruby rested, Piper and Chuck checked out the campsite, which included a little steam train, a small restaurant with homemade pizza, excellent steak haché (according to Piper), and fresh crepes, as well as an outdoor pool.
Our cabin had a small kitchen inside and even had a dishwasher (my preferred level of camping includes significant amenities and indoor plumbing), along with a little gas grill that we brought out onto the porch the first night to grill hot dogs (kids) and provencale pork and merguez sausages (adults), which we ate with my homemade potato salad. Ruby was feeling better by this point, and was even able to eat a little bit before she and Piper headed up to their little loft area to sleep. With no TV or WiFi, and spotty cell reception, Chuck and I spent our evenings kicking back on the front porch with glasses of wine watching the sunset and trying to decide if the small black creatures swooping over the river and near the trees were bats. One evening, there was even a concert by the pool with a lovely jazz/soul/rock singer. We took the kids with us to listen to a few songs before bed, and then could hear more of the concert wafting onto our porch while they left. Honestly, it was bliss (bats or no).
The next morning Ruby was still a little under the weather, but Piper wasted no time in introducing herself to the neighbors. The French family in the cabin next door had a little girl, Louane, who was a little younger than Piper, and a boy, Malin, who was a little younger than Ruby. Despite the language barrier, they became fast friends, running around outside and between our cabins. And by noon the second day, Ruby was back to full strength and able to join in. Piper and Ruby quickly found sticks that they declared to be magic wands, and I believe they were playing extended Harry Potter-inspired games together though the French children could have been playing something entirely different for all they knew. No matter. We sat by the lake, took paddleboat and canoe rides, and played in the pool (weather was not really hot enough for me to want to jump in, but that didn’t stop the kids).
The site also had lots of organized activities for kids and adults, like tree-climbing and cooking lessons, and had brochures and advice for exploring the Loire Valley. And, best part, they had a local bakery that would come and deliver fresh baguettes, croissants, and pain au chocolats. You put your name and placed your order on a sheet on a clipboard in the afternoon, and in the morning, you would walk over to the little campsite store and pick up what you had ordered. After the first day, Piper took over ownership of this process, placing our orders in the afternoon, and then taking the money over to the shop in the morning to pay for and pick up our bread and pastries. All by herself! She was so proud that I was sorry we weren’t staying longer.
The third day, we ventured out and had lunch at a creperie in the nearby town of Langeais (with its own chateau of course) and then went on to the chateau at Villandry. The chateau itself was lovely, but the gardens were truly spectacular. The kids particularly enjoyed a hedge maze that they ran through again and again seeing how quickly they could get to the tower in the middle.
Upon returning back to our cabin, I got our dinner ingredients prepped while the girls found their new friends again. The neighbors had invited us earlier in the day to “prendre un verre” (have a glass of wine) with them before dinner so we headed over, bringing with some baguette slices and a little jar of a locally-made smoked fish spread. They were both very nice, and I was so impressed with us for conducting our whole conversation in French! (Well, there were definitely a few “comment dit-on’s” and “je ne comprends pas’s”, but overall our French was better than their English, and we at least managed to get our points across.) Chuck said I even made them laugh a few times! (And I choose to believe he meant on purpose and not at my mangled French…)
For dinner, we pulled the grill out again and had a delicious appetizer of grilled mushroom caps stuffed with bleu cheese and wrapped in bacon.
Then, for the main course, I piled greens on a piece of foil, topped it with some thin sole fillets (sprinkled with sea salt and coarse black pepper I had brought with me--camping doesn’t mean you live like a savage does it?), black olives, sun-dried tomatoes (still eating the dried ones we bought in Italy that I rehydrated in oil and keep in the fridge), and a couple of lemon slices. Drizzle over a little bit of olive oil and you’re good to go.
We charred the bottom of the packs a bit, but the fish was perfectly flaky and absolutely delicious. The best part? No mess to clean up!
For dessert, we introduced Piper and Ruby’s new friends to s’mores, French-style. Graham crackers don’t exist here, so I improvised with some plain shortbread cookies, and we even managed to find marshmallows (inexplicably pink). Chocolate was not a problem. :) We toasted the marshmallows lightly over the grill, smooshed them on our chocolate and biscuits, and hopefully introduced a new generation of French children to the deliciousness that is a s’more. I wouldn’t be surprised if it catches on.
At the end of the trip, I found this sitting among Piper’s stuff. She and her friend Louane had both written “Piper + Louane = friends” in their respective languages. Love.