I went to France and Barcelona in May 2019. It was the first time I’d been to Europe, and I had a really great time. Our itinerary was to stay Lyon for three nights, then take a road trip to Barcelona. The lead up to the trip was super busy, and the organising was super complicated because the kids weren’t coming with us, so I had to spreadsheet their two week schedule for everyone who was looking after them.
It was a relief to get on the plane, and I’d been looking forward to sitting down for a couple of days! We stopped over in Singapore, and on the 12 hour flight to Munich my knees got sore.
When we finally arrived in Lyon, we stayed in Sylvie’s cute Air BnB apartment in Lyon, which was perfect for feeling a little bit like a local. I loved the traboules–long stairways which connect streets. There’s a pic of one below, where all the faces of the steps are painted…very pretty. There were plenty of coffee shops and restaurants within walking distance and it was fun staying in a busy part of town, the first arrondissement. I practised my French a little, it wasn’t too bad!
On the first day we explored La Fontain de Trion and some Roman amphitheatre ruins, which have been revamped as a music venue, and a nearby winery and goat farm. We ate lots of yummy food, including snails at Brasserie Georges and a Lyonese salad at Le Bouche a Oreille. We also went to Lyon Cathedral and saw the Astronomical Clock and some people hitting each other with swords.
When we picked up our rental car they kindly gave us an upgrade on what I’d requested, which we really didn’t want. It felt pretty huge and ridiculous driving through the tiny lanes of Aix and Carcassone in an E-Class diesel Merc. It did make for fun highway driving with some kick in super sports mode. We drove a long way, from Lyon to Barcelona, over a week. Because we went one way there was a very pricey one-way fee. Tolls were another cost which surprised us. We probably paid about E200 in those.
Driving on the other side of the road was much easier than I’d expected, with a few little mental adjustments required, like exits being on the right. We found a parking spot just outside this great restaurant in Avignon, for our first road trip lunch.
We were lucky to enjoy a visiting art show from the Guggenheim in New York, at the local gallery in Aix en Provence.
The next morning, after walking around in circles for hours looking for a post office (and being distracted by biscuits, lavender and tea) and after driving around in circles for an hour (due to our GPS trying to take us through roads closed for markets with special poles in the middle of the road which only went down for locals)…
…we finally made our way out of town and headed for Les Salles sur Verdon. It was a decent drive up into the mountains, then appeared the amazing blue Lac de Saint Croix. Our room was okay but the view was fabulous, as was breakfast, and the price of E88. We had dinner at a restaurant called L’Escapade, and the vegan (I think?) ravioli was amazing, as was the steak. I’d love to go back to Les Salles sur Verdon, as the climbing and canyoning look fun. This was the most remote place which we stayed in, and I wish we’d had more time there.
We set off to Carcassone, for our biggest driving day of about 400km. In Carcassone we had dinner at a truffle restaurant, and explored the battlements.
We went on to Figueres, then dropped by Lloret del Mar to see the sea, then went on to Barcelona, where we stayed at Las Ramblas, ate seafood at the markets and explored Gaudi House, Sagrada Familia, and Palau de Musica. I didn’t take photos in Sagrada Familia or Gaudi’s house, because I was more in a mood to see and feel. Sagrada Familia is very beautiful, a symphony of stained glass. I don’t think I could have done it justice with my cameras.
I found the combination of art and faith in Barcelona very beautiful and interesting. I did a little rock climbing and was delighted to find that the gyms served beer!
Our day trip to Montserrat and a local winery was wonderful. The story of Montserrat and the Black Madonna is interesting. Shepherds found the Black Madonna statue in a cave, and when they tried to bring the statue down it became too heavy to carry, so they built a church and then a monastery on the mountain. It makes me wonder who carved the statue… how it came to be in the cave. The road up to the monastery and little town is a popular running and bike riding route now, and you can also drive up or catch a cogwheel train or skyway.
A children’s dance competition was on when we visited, and the music echoed around the mountains beautifully. My first introduction to Montserrat was through Llibre Vermell, the Red Book. Worth a listen! After visiting Montserrat, we had lunch at a local winery and then returned to Barcelona.
It was a great trip and I really enjoyed it. So nice to get away, to be free from working, organising the kids and running around town. It was lovely to meet French and Catalonian people and learn about their culture, to try different kinds of food and experience a different climate and lifestyle. It’s also lovely to be home, and I feel a lot happier and less stressed than before we went away.