Who was traveling? Ages?
Wife – April Abate-Adams, 50
Myself (Mark Adams), 49
Date of trip?
Arrived in Barcelona October 1oth
Arrived France October 12th
Left France October 18th
Rank your favorite activities and places on this trip (list at least 10)
- Aiges Mortes Fete Votive – Crazy horse and bull rodeo festival that we ended up at on a whim, recommended to us at the last minute.
- Bike riding from Montpellier to Sete
- Carcassonne walled city and our private walking tour.
- Carcassonne – Canal du Midi tour.
- Our awesome VRBO in Carcassonne, just below the wall.
- Collioure – We wouldn’t have gone without your recommendation. Unbelievable. The water was still warm enough to go in for a dip.
- Lastours – Castles all to ourselves. We loved the hiking aspect of getting up to the castles and due to the time of year, we only saw about 4 people the entire time. I loved the hike, even though we could not find the actual trailhead right away because none of the signage was in English. Once we figured it out, it was a great hike and is doable for people not in the best of shape. Although, I would caution that once you get to the ruins, there is a lot of uneven stone, whic
- Montpellier – Plaza de Comedie & Esplanade Charles de Gaulle
- Montpellier – Market
- Montpellier – Gazette Café, getting a ‘locals’ tour from friends and eating fried razor clams.
- Nimes – Arena and walking tour to Jardins de La Fointane
- Marseille – Old Port waterfront restaurants
Did you stay at hotels or apartments? Please list them and write a sentence or two of what you liked and didn’t like about each.
If we are going to talk about Barcelona, we splurged and stayed at the Raddison Blu @ La Sagrada Fimila. 5 stars. Rooftop pool. Incredible breakfast.
Perpignan – Kyriad Prestige Centro del Mon. Surprisingly nice. We only picked it because it was at the train station and a few minutes from the car rental place. Surprisingly nice (and cheap). I can look up all the process of places if you want to know.
Carcassonne – VRBO 2 BR house at the base of the west wall (D104). Amazing. Private garden. Quiet.
Montpellier – Best Western Plus Comedie. Great location, across from train station, but do not recommend this place. Smelled like it was just fumigated and then we opened the windows to air it out and a ton of mosquitos came in. We couldn’t take it and left a day early and went to Nimes. We lost our money. They wouldn’t give us a refund.
Nimes – Hotel le Pre Galoffre. This is a small boutique hotel that appeared to be a converted farmhouse. It is very nice. The service was incredible. The staff was so nice. If we discuss this, you need to emphasize one thing to your listeners. I found the hotel on Tripadvisor, last minute, due to the issue with the hotel in Montpellier. The Pre Galoffre shares the same parking lot with Le Mas de Galoffre. They are not the same hotel, but were affiliated previously. Some of the reviews are for the more upscale Le Mas de Galoffre and some of the images on various travel websites are mixed together. The Le Mas de Galoffre has a much nicer pool and it was still open in October. The Pre Galoffre’s pool was much smaller and closed in October. The La Mas de Galoffre seemed to have a much nicer restaurant. We wandered over there when we first arrived, assuming that we could dine at either and roam the property. We were met by a slightly rude woman (the owner I think) who basically told us that the hotels were not connected and the restaurant was for their guests only.
The hotel is just a bit outside of town, in some farmland.
Marseille – AC Hotel by Marriott. We dropped our rental car off in Marseille the night before because we didn’t want to have to deal with driving to the airport. We wanted to get around Marseille by Metro, so we picked this hotel near a major metro station. It is right next to the Orange Velodrome. I was a bit reluctant because I try to get away from Americanized business hotels when I am on vacation, but this was a pleasant surprise. One great thing about Marriott is that the staff is very professional, and the service is always very good. And business hotels such as this cater to world travelers. The rooms were big and the AC was nice and cold. They had an amazing, heated pool and breakfast buffet. The pool looked like it would be really fun in the summer. There was an old ice cream truck converted into a margarita bar beside the pool. It was closed while we were there.
Did you have favorite restaurants? Please list them and say what city they were in.
I posted a funny quip about my wife on Facebook. I might need her permission to share it. The most expensive place that we went to was in Carcassonne. It was our first Michelin starred restaurant. 3 stars. La Table de Franck Putalet at Hotel Le Parc. The joke was that I was out in the garden at our VRBO taking pictures and April was really hungry and wanted an early dinner. I said “anything is fine”. She did a restaurant search for places within walking distance that took reservations but didn’t look at prices. It was over $300 for the two of us. I love a great dining experience and the ambiance was amazing. But the food wasn’t worth $300. The wine was great. The cheese coarse was amazing. I called it the toolbox full of cheese. I have pictures. They wheeled this big cart out and started opening all the drawers, exposing every kind of cheese imaginable. I had a weird cold soup with caviar on the top.
When we saw that this restaurant was a Michelin star restaurant, I was very excited to try it since I have never been to a Michelin restaurant. We had several people waiting on us for each of the various food courses served. This was something unique that I hadn’t experienced before. My takeaway with this type of dining experience is that it is more about the chef experimenting with food presentation and flavor combinations than it is actually about great tasting food. You can expect your main course entree to be very aesthetically pleasing and very small. Mine was 3 scallops- each with a scoop of caviar on top. This is something that people should be aware of before they go.
We had a great last meal in Marseille along the waterfront. I’ll have to look up the name of the restaurant but the scene was amazing. We had Kreig and a giant seafood platter along the water.
We had mostly a good meal in Perpignan. The hotel recommended Le Restaurant Jean. It was a great atmosphere, outside seating under a canopy in a quiet neighborhood. There was a cat that walked around and greeted everyone, especially when they got fish. Everyone seemed to be locals. I ordered escargot and the waitress said, “most Americans don’t like them. We’ll make sure they are cooked extra”. I didn’t think anything of it, but they were overcooked and rubbery.
What were your favorite foods on this trip?
I love all types of seafood, so I really enjoyed Marseille. I ate a lot of fresh seafood.
April got a burger at Boris’s in Montpellier on Plaza de Commedie and there seemed to be a bit of a language barrier with the waiter. The burger was straight up raw in the middle. My snails were cooked just right though 😊
How did you get around? Trains? Car rental? Metros? Walk?
We had a car from Perpignan to Marseille. We didn’t have many issues. The refinery workers strike started the day before we picked up the car, so we were very nervous. We had a hybrid Fiat 500 so we didn’t use much gas and we didn’t see any issues other than in the big cities. We saw some stations closing in Monpellier and long lines at the highway rest stop gas stations when coming into Marseille.
We had an issue with not being able to buy train tickets between Barcelona and Perpignan, so we had to scramble last minute and take a Flix bus which worked out well, dropping us at the train station that we were trying to get to. It was a bit unnerving and the bus driver didn’t speak any English. I think we bought the tickets through a third party website and we were showing them to him on our phone and he was getting upset.
Overall, we were very happy with taking the Flix bus. The seats were comfortable and the bus had WiFi. I would recommend it to people who need an alternative to the train.
What did you learn about France on this trip?
We had thoughts of possibly retiring to Montpellier but after experiencing the traffic and the expenses (much more expensive than the smaller towns), we are reconsidering that.
We learned that the grass isn’t always greener on the other side. While we still want to move there one day, we have built up in our heads this panacea of a perfect land with no issues. Traffic can be bad in the larger cities. The gas strike was unnerving. Some of the service was poor.
Did you make any mistakes on this trip?
We tend to always say we should have done one more day here, one less day there…We probably would have done a day in Sete.
We tend to do a ton of research for trips. This time, I didn’t research restaurants as much, so we would have had a better plan in Carcassonne if I did.
We tend to normally stay at more VRBO’s and less hotels, so I probably should have researched that better. We could have stayed in an apartment just outside of Montpellier and taken the train in. it would have been cheaper and easier.
And even with all of my cycling experience, I didn’t do a good job of preparing our route from Montpellier to Sete and assumed Google maps would be good enough. As you astutely mentioned in one of your recent podcasts (the one with the family that watched the Tour de France in Carcassonne), Google Maps isn’t great for bike routes. It had us riding through some busy roundabouts and through a not very picturesque part of Sete where there were some oil refineries (very industrial area).
We were running late, coming back from Sete and were worried that we weren’t going to get back to the bike shop before it closed. So we went to the train station in Sete and took the train back to Montpellier. We got to the train station and none of the automated ticket machines were working. The train was already at the platform, so we just got on it. When the conductor came by, we showed him the receipt that said “Error. See attendant”. We tried to work through our limited French and the conductor’s limited English to tell him that we would be happy to purchase the tickets from him. By the time we were able to communicate, the train was pulling into our stop. His little credit card machine was being very slow, so he reluctantly let us off for free. In hindsight, we should have listened to Annie’s advice and found the conductor as soon as we go on the train. We came across like arrogant Americans. The conductor had ever right to make us miss our stop, but he didn’t.
I had one last thing to do before we left the US and I forgot, and it ended up costing us quite a bit of money. I didn’t preplan the trip from our hotel in Marseille to the airport. When we got to the hotel that night, I asked the concierge “what is the easiest way to get to the airport?” He said that the easiest way was a taxi. He scheduled a taxi for us. What I should have asked was “what is a reasonably priced way to get to the airport”. That was a $75 taxi ride. We could have easily taken the metro because we were not in a rush. Lesson learned. The hidden message here, that I have experienced in a lot of cities, is that if you are staying at an expensive hotel or a hotel that caters to business travelers, the concierge will often assume that you don’t care about cost and that you are likely traveling on the company’s expense. You need to ask how much will that cost?
Is there something you didn’t like very much and wouldn’t recommend?
I wouldn’t say that there was anything that we didn’t like too much. Montpellier wasn’t our favorite, but it wasn’t terrible.
We were surprised at how the walled city of Carcassonne almost completely shuts down at night. Our first night, we walked up there for dinner and after the tourists get out of town (only a few hotels as you have mentioned many times on your podcasts) around sundown, there isn’t enough reason for them to stay open. There were enough places that we had some options, but only a handful of places.
April and I are in decent shape and had no issues getting around. In fact, we like to walk a lot or hike while we are on vacation to burn off all of the extra calories. I have to say though, with all of the great things about France, I feel that it could do a better job for folks with mobility issues. In Carcassonne, from our VRBO to the walled city, our choices were to walk up a dirt path with steep switchbacks or take a set of very steep stairs. I assume that anyone with mobility issues would need to approach the city from the north, main entrance, where you could be dropped off at a much higher point. All of the uneven pavement was a bit unnerving. Travelers who have stability issues should be aware of this before visiting Carcassone.
What tips do you want to share with other visitors?
Keep an eye on Schiphol (Amsterdam) airport as the issues there continue to evolve. We didn’t experience any delays, but a lot of flights are being cancelled through there.
If you fly through Amsterdam and have a long layover. I would not recommend leaving the airport to do any sightseeing due to the long wait times going through TSA to get back into the airport. At last check, TSA wait times were running at around 4 hour lines. I wouldn’t risk it.
Overall was your trip restful or stressful?
Mostly restful. The stress was manageable. Just the usual, navigating old cities, trying to find parking.
How did the podcast and other trip reports help you prepare for your trip?
You are amazing Annie. Your itinerary was amazing and worth every penny. We also had the benefit of getting to know an American couple in Montpellier that April befriended on another travel blog.
And having been to France once before in 2013, and having taken a French language class this past summer, gave us some confidence while traveling.
Feel free to add anything else you think would be helpful to prepare for our conversation.
Weather – We really lucked out. Mid October and the weather was 60 to 70 degrees F (16-22c) the entire time. It looked like rain one day in Carcassonne, so we had the rain jackets on for all of about 5 minutes.
Offseason travel – This can be a great thing. We avoided crowds. We didn’t really need reservations at any attractions or restaurants and almost everything was open. One downside was that I couldn’t help but thinking how beautiful many of the gardens and surroundings would have been in the spring or summer. We also were able to stay at some incredible places, for cheap money and we were able to book them only a month in advance. My advice to anyone who can chose when to visit, decide what is important to you. If you are worried about rain, go earlier. We got really, really, lucky. If you are into flora and fauna, perhaps go in the spring or summer.
Lack of English in small towns – We particularly noticed in Coullier, Lastours and Aiges Mortes, there is very little English signage explaining the sites. There was an English handout that they gave us at the fort in Coullier. Other than that, it was very limited. It is great to get out of the big cities and see rural France. We love doing that, but you have to understand that these places less traveled by Americans are going to be a bit of a challenge. Had we prepared better, we probably could have downloaded English guided tours onto our phones. Annie just needs to expand her guided tours of Paris to ALL of France 😊