Paris is an incredible city, overflowing with culture, beauty, history and colorful people. However, Paris is also quite arrogant and never steps to the side of the stage to let her French brothers and sisters experience the limelight for a while. This means that anyone wishing to discover the other treasures that lie in L’Hexagone must venture backstage and dig around a little. Let me save you that time and effort though, and take you on a little tour of the two beautiful villages I found: St. Malo and Laval.
St. Malo is an ancient port city lying on the northwestern coast of Bretagne, France. Boarding the Brittany Ferry in Portsmouth, England, my aunt and I sailed across the English Channel overnight and the next morning, my eyes were met by the stony walls and bustling harbor of St. Malo. Men playing pétanque in the morning sun, women strolling down the cobblestone street to the boulangerie and the melodious dong….dong of the 12th century cathedral’s bells greeted me as I walked along the principle cobblestone street that runs through the entire village. I followed my nose and my stomach to a quaint café, tucked away in the heart of St. Malo, and lost myself in a warm buttery croissant and creamy hot chocolate. I meandered into a few little shops, regretfully bid farewell, and hopped into the car for the 2-hour drive to Laval, a small village resting on the River Mayenne in Pays de la Loire, which is in north–western central France. Surrounded by trees, flowers and to my surprise, golden cornfields, we pulled up to the brick farmhouse that would be home for the next 3 days. A jolly elderly couple, old friends of my aunt who had invited us to stay with them, came out to meet us, then lead us to the garden where we chatted and enjoyed fresh, crusty bread and homemade blackberry jam. Over the course of my time there, they took me to a farmers market where I tasted the best cheese in the history of mankind– Gouda, Brie, Chévre, Mimolette, Munster, Roquefort and my favorite, Camembert. I watched fireworks light up the night sky and sprinkle their reflections over the river on Bastille Day, devoured authentic crepes that oozed with local whipped cream and strawberry jam, and slept in soft, grassy fields as a light breeze tossed my hair. I listened as they jabbered away en francais with their friends, complaining about the government, and tried my best to practice my own French, chiming in when I could.
This voyage opened me up to a whole new culture and lifestyle so opposite from my own in California. These people were never in a rush, not worried about trivial things like hair appointments and grooming the chihuahuas. I learned to slow down and notice the little things that make life beautiful. The best way to truly ‘go’ to a city is to live like the locals do, immerse yourself in the language and the idiosyncrasies of the culture. Otherwise, you are simply an annoying tourist.
(I understand that most people are not fortunate enough to have a local family to stay with, so in such a case, I recommend staying in one of Laval’s hotels, such as the Marin Hotel. If you care to spend more time in St. Malo, which I highly recommend, there are many lovely places to stay, like Hotel Du Louvre.)
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